This week I hosted two preschool visits to the library on consecutive days. They were the same adults but different kids (mostly – a couple were there both days). I liked that arrangement because I got to directly fix things that went less well the first time through.
So here are the books I used. Neil Gaiman’s new picturebook Chu’s Day was our opener (after our welcome to storytime rhyme). It worked well with both groups, who really got into the “Ah ahhh ahhhh… No.” conceit. The only problem is that the “bad things that happen” probably require a bit closer examination to really admire the art. And the ending seems to leave kids wanting more.
I tried using Never Take A Shark to the Dentist the first time, because the cover was really attractive to the kids. The book ended up being a little high-concept for 3-4 year olds, but it was super easy to skip pages when that became apparent.
Stop Snoring Bernard worked really well in both groups. I got the kids to help with the snoring noises and in each group someone had one of those Cosby moments when they told everyone about one of their family members who snored. They also got to name some zoo animals, which helped keep everyone involved.
We did Shapes That Roll in the first session, but it was our last book and I think it would have played a bit better with more time to really get into all the shapes and explore them a bit. As it was we just kind of went with the rhyming.
In today’s session I replaced a couple of the less well-received books with a couple about trying very hard to be quiet. Mattoo, Let’s Play is about a loud little girl with a pet cat who forms a bond once she learns that some animals are best attracted by being quiet. We also did Read to Tiger which is about a tiger being very distracting when you’re trying to read. Everyone had fun making the loud distracting noises.
We did a dinosaur song both sessions it all worked out pretty well. Even the kid who was mad he wasn’t there to see a puppet show was unsullen at the end (that could have been because he was finally able to leave).
I’m going to try doing a few more of these types of storytime post-mortems because of something I took away from Miss Julie’s blog post where she mentioned:
In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship.
She goes on to discuss how technologists get all the “rockstar” status in our profession and no one cares about the bloggers who write practical things about doing the feminized work of dealing with kids. Since I’m guilty of writing the odd impractical technology rabblerousing bit, I want to make sure I’m also blogging some of these more practical day-to-day things too. It’s part of that whole advocacy for the importance of libraries and librarians thing to show that the non-technological stuff is important too. So here we go.
Killing Velazquez is the story of a teenager being involved with a priest doing inappropriately sexual things in Quebec in 1983. The frame for the story is a news report in 2000 when the priest is apprehended in France for doing the same sorts of things. That frame is interesting because you know what the big problem of the story is going to be, and you’re bracing yourself for it. The story proper begins with Philippe out in a Wolf Scouts camping trip, so I was suspicious of the pack leader. And then Philippe is in Catholic school and I was suspicious of the priest teacher. And then, only then do you meet the priest that’s the predator. I really liked how the story did that.
The story does a very good job with the whole story. It’s not graphic and sensational, not played for melodrama, but creepy and effective. The way the priest gives gifts and says stuff like “Now that you’ve accepted my gifts, we’re friends” put terrible chills down my back. The story also does interesting work with contrasting tradition and cool new ways of doing things, using Velazquez and Picasso as the analogy. I also loved how Girard brought in speech from the next scene panels ahead of time (in white-on-black text but coming from in-panel sound sources). It’s one of those cinematic techniques that I’m not sure I’ve seen done in exactly this way before.
I love Ben Templesmith’s work with Warren Ellis on Fell, and his art is really cool in 30 Days of Night (even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the story). Wormwood, Gentleman Corpse sells me on Templesmith as a writer (well, this and his Twitter feed).
In Birds, Bees Blood and Beer we meet Wormwood and his clockwork genital-less companion. An ex-girlfriend of Worm’s is supposed to be guarding a portal between realms and stuff keeps on sneaking its tentacly way through and erupting out of people’s bodies. Wormwood has to get things sorted out to keep his beer supply and the rest of reality intact the way he prefers it.
I love Templesmith’s art. It’s got this rough, yet digital nature to it that a lot of people try to imitate, but man, he’s just good. And then i loved the characters. Because Wormwood is possessing a corpse, terrible things can happen to the body with little serious trauma to the character (he gets his head blown off and his body ripped in half in this volume). I love that kind of posthuman type stuff, even when it’s dressed up in magickal garb instead of nerd-rapture accoutrements.
Lots of blood and cussing and strippers so probably not a book destined for the shelves of younger readers, but it works really well for tough-talking neo-noir magicky stuff (for my money this is similar to and better than Sandman Slim)
I read Rose Sees Red because the only Cecil Castellucci books I’d read before were her comics for the Minx imprint a few years ago, and supposedly she’s one of the queens of YA. This was okay, but not as good as Plain Janes (the first one at least).
Rose Sees Red is set in the 1980s, which she doesn’t actually tell the reader until maybe halfway through the story. You can tell beforehand that something is off about the setting though because of the ominous nature of having Russians live next door, and KGB jokes and comments about David Bowie and leg-warmers. But honestly, all of that could fit into a story about today, except when the kids go to a No Nukes rally. There are signposts that tell you this is either the past or an alternate reality (the obvious signifier of the World Trade Center standing shows up, as it must in any story about pre-9/11 New York). I wonder if it was set up to be a puzzle to make the reader feel clever for figuring out it’s in the ’80s, or if she thought it was completely obvious and therefore didn’t require any indication.
Anyway, the story is about a girl who used to have friends but then chose to dance so she now has no friends except for the Russian girl from next door who appears in her room one night and they go to a party and experience the wonders of art on the streets of New York.
The Blue Dragon is a gigantic comic done in a Chinese brush and ink style. It’s about a Canadian man living in Shanghai and two women, one from Montreal, and an artist from Shanghai. The woman from Montreal is in China to adopt a baby.
The story is adapted from a play, and it feels very much like a play, with things happening off the page and discussed with restraint. It’s a beautiful book and does the bilingual stuff very well since there’s so much room on each of the massive pages for the text to slip in.
The main reason to read this book is for the art, which is very good. If you like a lot of intricate plotty things you’ll be disappointed.
There’s a lot less to this book than the first one. There’s an attempt to get a grant and everyone is negotiating romantic problems and generally it didn’t grab me the way the intersection of art and terrorism in the first book did. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me want to shove it into people’s hands the way the first did.
In The Plain Janes, Jane has moved from Metro City to the suburbs after a terrorist attack. Her parents think life there will be safer. Jane misses the life of the city and now she has to start up at a new school. The book is about her trying to start up a guerrilla art group with a bunch of other girls named Jane, despite the advances of the popular girl to get her to stop being a loser. There’s also a subplot about a boy in a coma back in the city whose name she doesn’t even know.
I really liked this book, even though the hysterically overprotective mother was probably a bit over the top (or maybe that’s just my aversion to such people showing through). The idea of art being important, especially in the boring places where people end up living is a great story.
This was another book from the Minx imprint from DC Comics that folded. It had a lot of good YA female friendly stuff, but it didn’t really sell so I think they just got folded back into Vertigo. Kind of sad, really.
Blacksad is a collection of three noir comics in a world of anthropomorphic animals. John Blacksad is a private investigator who is also a black cat. He does the standard noir detective shtick of solving crimes, working with people he doesn’t like and never coming out ahead.
The world has characters who fit into their animal roles, it’s not like there’s a bear society and a cat society; everything is a lot more individual than that. In the second story in the book there’s a Nazi in all but name group of white supremacists with polar bears, arctic foxes, snowy owls and weasels all dressed up in uniform with red armbands with a snowflake.
The art is very painterly with lots of detail and a colour scheme that makes me think calling this noir might be off. It isn’t filled with shadows at all, just muted colours. The edition I was reading was really big so you had a lot of room to really look at the art.
Very well executed detective stories which I liked a lot. They’d work even with lesser art, but with the great art it makes the book something special.
I’ve actually reviewed A.B. Sina’s Prince of Persia comic before and it was on the basis of that memory I suggested it for our YA reading circle on Comics and Videogames. We read Scott Pilgrim, Level Up, Kimmie66 (which it appears I’ve never reviewed) and Prince of Persia and discussed them for class. It was good discussion each week, lots of fun. Sitting around for 40 minutes and talking about the shit we’ve read is pretty much my idea of a good time.
Anyway, this time I didn’t like Prince of Persia so much. It felt to me like the two storylines (taking place centuries apart) were just covering up for and over-complexifying two bog-standard royalty narratives. The characters didn’t seem very fleshed out, relying on the reader to fill everything in.
That said, the book is still beautiful. One of my favourite visual motifs is how Ferdos (the princ in the ruins) told Shirin stories and those stories were illustrated like old Persian paintings, with the borders and lack of perspective and everything. The colours were rich and not garish, which allowed the mystical peacock to really stand out.
So I still liked the book, but it wasn’t quite the book I’d remembered when I pitched it for the group. I’d be a bit more careful about recommending it in the future, especially to someone who just wants a Prince of Persia book because they want something similar to the videogame (which really, this isn’t).
David Shields’ Reality Hunger was a treatise on the slippery nature of facts and how that makes nonfiction a way more interesting genre of writing than fiction. Each of the paragraphs is numbered, and he liberally quotes people without indicating his sources.
There are bits I recognize like the famous Dubya aide dismissing the “reality based community” but there was also stuff about Ichiro being present in the moment when he catches a fly ball. There’s a lot about James Frey and how he was pilloried for making things up. He talks about hip hop and Girl Talk and the Grey Album. He talks about collage novels, and about how a discursive text in which nothing at all happens or a collage novel has so much more art to it than something with a narrative.
I tend to be conservative when politicians fuck with facts, and this book didn’t change that, but the malleability of facts outside of politics makes the fiction/nonfiction gap much more interesting to me. Also, the difference between autobiography and memoir had never been clear to me, but now it is.
One of the things I loved the most was the notion that most novels are structured to build up a story around the handful of things they want to say. That there are 7 or 12 bits in a novel that are the point of it, and the rest of the story is like the early stages of a rocket, that fall away as the space pod heads to the moon. But. What if you constructed a piece of writing where everything was one of those little space pods of idea? What if you constructed it from other people’s words? What if you eschewed story, which has so little to do with the way we live (unless we make our memories fit in with the received language of how a story is supposed to go, which is all we do anyway) for really clear thinking about ambiguity?
I loved the fuck out of thinking about this stuff, and this book was the most inspiring, brain-tickling thing I’ve read in a long time. Maybe I should read more nonfiction.