This month I almost forgot to renew my BC Library Association (BCLA) membership. I originally got membership as a student for free but now that I’m a totally legitimate professional, it costs money, so it’s something I can easily let slip through the cracks. But letting my membership lapse would be kind of awkward and weird at this point since I’m now officially a co-chair of BCLA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) with David Waddell. Woo!
In his “passing the baton” email to the BCLA and IFC lists the outgoing chair, Jon Scop, commented on how it’s kind of interesting to have an intellectual freedom leadership position going from one male children’s librarian to two male children’s librarians. To me it seems obvious that children’s librarians would be big intellectual freedom advocates.
This was banned books week in the states, and it’s totally commonplace at this point to note how many challenged books are kids’ books like Captain Underpants. Minors are a chunk of our society with very little power and there’s a huge swathe of society that wants to protect kids from ideas adults don’t want them to have. I see my role as a children’s librarian as serving kids, not their parents or teachers, which is quite fundamentally anti-elitist and subversive (one of the things I love about librarianship).
Saying “I can’t let you see that” to a segment of community members just because they don’t have a bunch of legal rights (to vote or drink or go to war or whatever) is kind of anathema to the librarian ideal. While teens are fierce defenders of their own intellectual freedom, librarians are natural adult allies, especially since we don’t have any real power over them (I suppose we can kick them out of the library), just expertise to offer. As a children’s librarian, part of my job is to take seriously what kids are interested in pursuing when they are looking for help, and not saying “Ugh, more Fairies/Pokemon/Sparkly Vampires?”
One of my formative kidbrarian experiences happened on my first day working a refdesk (which I blogged at the time). I’m still proud of my instincts to bring the 12-year-old kid over to the shelf where we kept Mein Kampf. In one of my post-MLIS job interviews I was asked what I’d do with an 11-year-old girl asking about Fifty Shades of Grey. In that interview I fucked up. I tried to make myself more hireable by waffling a bit and adding some more questions to my reference interview to make sure the kid knew it wasn’t a book for kids. Seriously, I hate that I did that and I totally blame the whole job-search process for making me less than confident in my ideals and whether someone would actually hire a kids librarian who wouldn’t blink at giving an 11-year-old steamy fanfic. That’s the kidbrarian I want and try to be.
Yesterday I was in a middle school talking to a bunch of 8th graders about the library and why we’re relevant to them. This was one of the things I stressed to them. In the eyes of our library, once they’re 13 they have adult cards and we won’t tell anyone what they’re borrowing. I told them that we don’t care if they want to read Pokemon comics (or other materials “below their level”) or Anais Nin. If we find something for them and it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. That’s the whole point.
Anyway, all that is to say that youth librarians make total sense as intellectual freedom defenders (but I won’t subject you to my theories of why it makes sense there’d be a confluence of male children’s librarians doing this stuff, because I wouldn’t want to paint any other librarians with my weird gender-role identity issues). I’m looking forward to working with BCLA’s IFC on these issues, but as always whatever I say is just me talking, not official views on anything unless I clearly mark it as such. You can read our blog and follow us on Twitter.
Lud-in-the-Mist is a fairy story by Hope Mirrlees that was written in the 1920s but doesn’t feel especially out of date. There are some stylistic choices with the point of view never holding still with one character for long, which doesn’t feel very disciplined, but it’s completely forgivable because the story is so pleasant.
Lud in the Mist is a boring little town just to the East of the Faerie lands. When people start acting strangely the Mayor tries to get to the bottom of things and discovers smuggling of faerie fruit, which is such a tremendously obscene thing to eat or even discuss that in the court records it is referred to as silk. All sorts of things happen with this faerie fruit, including to the Mayor’s son and a whole school full of girls (guess which one is more of a concern). There are reversals and clever bits and friendship and strange oaths and it’s all quite charming.
It’s been a while since I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell, so the stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu that dealt with characters from that novel probably had a bit more for recently finished readers, but as a book of fairy stories, the whole collection was very good.
Embroidery emerges as a motif in a couple of stories, but faerie are far far more prominent. I enjoy Clarke’s depictions of the fae as being bizarre aliens who don’t understand human concerns very well. The story set in the town of Wall (from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust) was probably my favourite in the book because the human was clever enough to get out with his skin intact, but not able to pull out a real victory. It felt very satisfying in the way a much older story would, which is what you want out of a book of faerie tales.
Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement is about a kid who isn’t normal. Oh sure Mackie has friends at school, but he also has severe reactions to the sight of blood and reacts badly to stainless steel and he has to stay out in unconsecrated ground when his father preaches at their local church. Mackie tries to keep a low low profile because his parents have always taught him about what awaits those who are different in the town of Gentry. But when Tate’s sister dies, Tate forces Mackie to quit not looking at the things that make him and the whole town weird.
I liked this book better than Holly Black’s Tithe which is an obvious comparison. It was interesting to read a faerie book where the fae person was a guy, and his relationships with both his male friends and the girls in the book were excellent and believable. There was angst but it wasn’t overpowering, ominousness that went somewhere. The only thing that felt a bit weird to me was the dropping of the musical subplot. It fed into the larger issues Mackie was going through but I’d hoped it would tie in a bit more. But that’s just quibbling. This is great, creepy YA stuff (probably a little fluffy for adult readers who want something dark about stolen children though).
The Wee Free Men isn’t the best title for Terry Pratchett’s excellent book about a girl, Tiffany Aching, who becomes a witch-hero.
Like The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents this is an excellent younger readers-focused book set in the Discworld but kind of off to the side somewhere. It has less to do with storybook tropes, and more with analysis of what a witch actually does.
Basically Tiffany Aching is a ten-year-old badass through her careful paying of attention to things and when her little brother (who she doesn’t really like) is kidnapped by otherworldly creatures she goes off to save him because who can wait for the “real witches” to show up? She’s got help from a toad (a bit) and the titular Wee Free Men, who are pictsies that fight and steal and cuss. They’re kind of awesome and stuff, but it bugs me that the book is named after the assistants, rather than the hero. I guess there are a lot of them, and they may have intimidated Sir Pratchett.
Another one for my SFF and YA class, Holly Black’s Tithe started off well, but I liked it less as it went on.
Kaye is a fifteen year old girl who’s kind of weird and when her mother’s boyfriend tries to kill her mom in a bar, Kaye and her mom move back to the Jersey shore where Kaye grew up. She meets a mysterious gothic stranger in the woods/beside the turnpike and helps him and then things keep moving, getting Kaye further and further involved in the hidden Faery world.
What I liked about the book was its lack of a “meet the fae” kind of episode. Kaye’d always talked to faery as a kid, so she kind of knew stuff about them without having to have it explained. There wasn’t a tonne of explanation in the book. In some ways this was good because it felt more like regular life where the meanings of things aren’t expounded upon at great length, but as it went on it all felt a little shallow. At first it seems like you’re being dropped into a world and you’ll figure stuff out later, but aside from the central mystery, that never really happens. You have enough information to go on, but it doesn’t feel deep. There wasn’t a lot of mythic resonance or whatever, even in these scenes where knowing the true name of a faery is holding so much power, and the scenes in the Seelie and Unseelie Courts have been done much better in other places.
My favourite bit in the book is a gay character’s description of coming out to his family:
“Mom, you know the forbidden love Spock has for Kirk? Well, me too.”
Kaye is resourceful and figures shit out on her own, a good protagonist. There’s a bit of sexytime stuff, but nothing crazy. I mean, yes there are some kisses and longing and groping but it’s all pretty relaxed. (I obviously had a British edition, since this girl on the Jersey shore kept on saying “knickers.” Copy-editing is weird.)
The ending of the book felt rushed and there are obviously more in the series since the resolution seemed kind of trivial. I’m not sure I personally would keep reading them. I’ll gladly recommend it though.
The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher isn’t much of a mystery but is super cool. The conceit of the book is that it’s David Ellwand’s journal from going out walking by a mound in England. There in a ruined house he finds a box. The box is full of stuff, including wax cylinders which he sends away to have put on CD. The middle part of the book is the transcription of those wax cylinders with pictures of the box’s artifacts. The whole thing is beautiful, and is all about faerie and seeing things that aren’t there and how it all relates to early photography. So neat. The story is fairly predictable but the pictures of all the items, including a tiny suit of armour made from mussel shells and the stone glasses and hat camera used to see the invisible, are wonderful.
I read Holly Black’s The Good Neighbors at work this week. It’s about a teenaged girl whose mom has disappeared because she’s a faerie and her dad is being charged with murder. It was all right, and looked very nice, but it was 144 pages of set-up. Like reading the first chapter of a book. Nothing happened. Sure, stuff happened, but nothing interesting. The main character, Rue, was trying to be so blase it just made the whole thing glide by without any real connection. Solidly meh.