Category Archives: Continuing Education

Screen Time

Yes, I know, I have been terribly remiss about posting on my blog lately.  It’s all about screen time:  I spend about nine hours a day at work staring at a computer screen, and when I get home, I hate to spend too much more time in front of a computer screen.

Ok, so it’s about screen time AND self-control:  I should be able to just turn on my laptop for fifteen minutes to write a blog post, but it’s so tempting to just check Facebook (which I actually hate) and then just check my email (far too much work to actually answer any emails, though) and then just check my work email (as if I hadn’t just left work) and then just check the Garnet Hill sale of the day…and then the entire evening is gone and I feel like I’ve wasted my life.  And, more often than not, I never got around to writing that blog post after all.

I see this pattern with the kids who come to the library after school.  They all race here to be the first on the computer (each user gets a half hour on the computer before being bumped for people on the waitlist) and then they slump down in front of the computer and mindlessly play computer games.  Yes, I slump too.  Yes, my web surfing is just as mindless as the computer game playing.  The difference is that I’m a bit older and I grew up without computers – and I am beginning to feel more than a bit mortal and don’t want to waste what’s left of my outside-of-work life in front of the computer.

So I made a goal for myself around the time I broke my foot, mostly because it’s hard to balance a laptop on your lap when you have to keep your foot elevated (which I had to do for eight weeks).  The goal, which I have achieved, was to spend more time reading in the evenings.  It’s been absolutely wonderful – I’ve had time to read books other than the books I need to read for book groups.  I’ve rediscovered Agatha Christie, and now I’m ready to rediscover some of my favorite authors: Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

But it’s time for me to add a new goal to this goal of reading; it’s time for me to spend fifteen minutes a night writing on my blog…and then to exercise that thing called self-restraint and Turn Off The Bloody Computer so that I can read.

What do you think? Can I do it?

Summer institute, final post, part two

The last event of the day on Saturday was the speaker’s reception in the Trustman Gallery, where there was a special installation of art by Karen LaFleur and Tommy Simpson.  Karen LaFleur gave a brief talk about their artwork before we had fifteen minutes of book signing downstairs prior to moving up to the gallery.  As I waited in the enormous line to have David Small sign my books, I had a chat with Sara Pennypacker who was right behind me.  We talked about how much the library’s third grade book group has consistently loved reading Clementine (we’ve used it several times over the last few years), and she very graciously and very sincerely thanked me for doing what I do.  Wow.  That made me feel good.

Susan had to cut off the line for David Small way in front of me, so I headed upstairs to the gallery to wait my next chance.  Twelve years ago, I remember having a fabulous time at the gallery reception, gossiping with my friends and eating the yummy food and getting a wee bit tipsy on the champagne.  This time, I felt like the awkward, friendless old lady, as I watched the current batch of students having all the fun.  It was actually good for me to be so anonymous and so, well, lonely, since I spend most of my days surrounded by children and parents who know and like me.  My daily life is so public that it’s almost impossible for me blow my nose without a child or adult coming up to talk to me mid-snort and sniffle.  Even when food shopping I run into folks that I know – even when I try to disguise myself in grubby clothes, sunglasses, and a baseball cap – and it was definitely healthy to be reminded that I’m “not all that.”  Although it didn’t feel particularly fabulous in that moment, I’ll admit.

So as I stood awkwardly in the small gallery, looking at a drawing for the third time while wondering whether I really needed to get my books signed (and Jean, if I hadn’t bought a copy of Stitches for you I might well have headed home), suddenly David Small and Sarah Stewart appeared and sat down a signing table almost directly in front of me.  And, suddenly, I was third in line to have my books signed.  O happy day, that ends with meeting an amazing author and illustrator, and then being able to get on the road and head home to my even more amazing husband!  I don’t even remember what David Small and I said to each other, but I was once again impressed by his grace and kindness.  And then I left, ducking by the so-young current grad students on my way out (and feeling once again a bit jealous of that graduate school bond and the joy of being in the middle of an intense educational experience).

Sunday morning it was tough to haul myself in to Boston for “just” one speaker, but Jim raised his eyebrow and suggested that I might regret it if I didn’t (wise, wise husband), so I did.  As I waited at my solitary table (the tables in the conference center sat three people), feeling once again like an old fuddy duddy, my old – or should I say “former”? – professor and independent study advisor Cathie Mercier sat down next to me to say hi, and I finally felt once again like maybe I’m not too stupid for this world of children’s literature stars.  Cathie is smart and cool, and it was really good to spend a few minutes catching up with her and hearing about how the children’s literature program at Simmons has grown and changed.  It’s much bigger now, she said, and the average age of the students is indeed much younger – an encouraging thought for me, leaving me feeling much less old.  Cathie didn’t say this, but I’m guessing that the lousy economy is driving this young women and men directly from college to graduate school, unlike when I attended all those years ago and 99% of my classmates and I had spent several years in the working world before coming back to school.  I do think there is a definite benefit to having spent time in the real working world before engaging in advanced study, but today’s twenty-somethings don’t really have much of a choice in that matter, if they are unable to find work.

M.T. Anderson was the speaker of the day on Sunday, and he gave a terrific and enlightening talk on books and ebooks.  I should have taken notes, but of course I didn’t, but what I took away from his talk was a renewed hopefulness for the world of books and publishing.  He pointed out that ebooks lend themselves to all kinds of innovation and experimentation, like non-linear plotlines in which readers can choose plot direction for themselves as they read.  But he did also talk about how any aspiring authors and illustrators in the audience might want to “keep that barista job,” as authors and illustrators are bound to suffer from lowered incomes due to the pricing of ebooks.  And I do wonder about something that neither Anderson nor any of the other speakers mentioned when discussing ebooks: that ebooks, for the most part, cost money, since publishers are not too friendly about making ebook copies available for library circulation.  I worry that this will cause a societal stratification – those who can’t afford to purchase ebooks might be pushed out of the reading world, and soon only those people with money will be able to read.  And with what appears to be the disintegration of the middle class, this could mean that only the very wealthy will be reading.  Please, let’s keep reading and books alive and viable through our public libraries, whether it be in traditional book format or ebook format or a combination of both; our country’s intellectual health depends upon it.

But back to the institute.  After a concise and intelligent closing by Cathie Mercier and Megan Lambert, in which they highlighted each speaker’s thoughts and contributions to the institute, we headed down to the cafeteria for a lovely brunch.  Being one of the first to head down, I got my food and sat a table alone, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t remain alone; but the two women with whom I’d forged some connection over the weekend were not in attendance at the brunch and I, again, felt like an extra wheel.  But then Susan Bloom, bless her lovely soul, called me over to her table and I re-met one of my former classmates (whom I hadn’t known very well at all, but it was good to talk to her), and Susan then asked me why it was that she knew that I had worn long white gloves at my wedding and been married at a church in Concord.  I finally figured it out: my sister’s friend Marie, who used to work at Simmons, had come to our wedding and taken lots of photos – she must have shown those photos to Susan and Cathie.  How small our world is!

And last, but certainly not least, I asked Susan whether it would be ok to for me to ask M.T. Anderson to sign my books, since I really needed to be heading home.  And with her blessing, I did.  I told him that all of the librarians in my library were jealous that I was meeting him, and he asked which library, and when I told him, he stopped, looked me in the eye, and said, “I used to live there!”  Yes, indeed, he lived in the town in which I work for a couple of years, and spoke quite fondly of the town and the old library, and told me that he even wrote a story about the time he spent in that town.  (A story which I have since found and read, and he does a lovely job describing the town in the first paragraph of the story.)  What a neat coincidence, and what a happy way to end this inspiring, humbling, and intellectually stimulating weekend.  I’m so glad that I went, and so glad that I have so much mental fodder to chew on and digest for a long time to come.  It’s good to step outside my “comfort zone,” and even better to step back and look at the larger view of children and books than I see in my daily life.

Summer institute, final post, part one

A week has passed since the first day of that three day institute at Simmons, and since it’s summer reading time, I’ve hosted three storytimes, one book group, a puppet-making workshop, Paws and Read, a Book Gobblers readaloud, the Robert Rivest comic mime show, and a movie night in that week.  Which means, of course, that my memories of the institute are fast becoming fuzzy.  So I’ll just write a brief recap of what I experienced on Saturday and Sunday at the institute, with my apologies for not remembering more details…

Saturday morning I arrived at 8:45 to an already full room, and so I claimed a seat at an empty table near the back – which also happened to be directly in front of Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier and directly behind Sarah Stewart, author and wife of David Small.  Pretty erudite neighbors for this small-town librarian.  Bryan Collier began the day with his talk about his illustrations for Dave the Potter.  The more I pay attention to this book, and the more I learn about it, the more I love it; and I was very impressed by Bryan Collier and his presentation.  I do wish I’d been a little braver and asked him to sign my book after he came back to his seat, because unfortunately he didn’t attend the evening’s speaker’s reception.

After Collier came the amazing David Small, who discussed his memoir Stitches.  He began with a short film he’d made of Stitches, and it was fascinating to watch the film and to also watch Sarah Stewart watch the film.  I was most impressed by David Small’s evident lack of bitterness over his harrowing childhood; few people could survive that youth with his grace and dignity.

Then came another professional connections session, and I chose to go hear Vicky Smith, editor of children’s book reviews at Kirkus, discuss interactive book apps for the iPad.  Very informative, and lots of useful information for me to bring back to my role at the library.

Then came lunch, a yogurt and sandwich brought from home, quickly eaten – then to sit outdoors and enjoy the perfect summer day.  Being a pale type of girl, I sat on a bench in the shadow of one of the buildings that has been built since my grad school years at Simmons, and I marvelled at how much the campus has changed.  Where there once was a parking lot is now a green quad with huge new buildings and an underground parking garage; the main campus building has a big glass pimple where there once was an outdoor patio and stairs down to the parking lot.  Inside that pimple is the new student union or whatever it’s called, and underneath that student union is the revised cafeteria area.  And sadly, it’s almost impossible to see the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum now from the parking lot-turned quad: I could only spot a small scrap of the museum in between the old main campus building and the new building where the parking lot valets used to triple park our cars underneath shady trees.

Barbara O’Connor got the after-lunch speaking spot, and I felt badly for her, since I and many other people were a little sleepy after eating.  The older woman sitting in front of me – she took the spot previously occupied by Sarah Stewart – fell completely asleep, though gracefully so with her head against the wall.  But O’Connor gave an excellent talk, and I’m thinking about using one of her books for one of my book groups this year.

Next up was Helen Frost, who treated us to a combination of PowerPoint presentation and poetry reading.  I love that the poetry she read to us was genealogically based – about aunts and uncles, great-aunts and grandmothers, great-great-uncles and nephews and grand-nephews.  Lovely stuff.

Before I knew it, it was 3:00 PM, and time for another professional connections session.  I was near the point of burn-out, and needed a break, so I wandered through the improvised book store for a minute, then mentally slapped myself and forced myself to leave before I bought any more books; then I found the double-wide brownies and decaf coffee that had been put out for us and found a quiet chair to settle into while reading Stitches.  I hadn’t read Stitches before, and wanted to dip my toe into it before meeting David Small at the speaker’s reception.  It’s a stunning work that lives up to all the praise and adulation that it has earned.

Two authors remained for the day, both of them excellent and funny speakers.  Sharon Draper came first, entertaining and enlightening us with talk about her work interspersed with reading from letters she has received from kids and teens.  I really like Sharon Draper, and would love to see her in action as a teacher, since I’m willing to bet she’s amazingly good at simultaneously motivating, engaging, and challenging her students.  And she’s a darn good writer, to boot.

Jack Gantos, of course, brought the house down with his witty imagining of his own mausoleum in the cemetery of children’s literature canon fodder.  I can’t and won’t try to replicate his talk here; the best that I can do is to recommend that if you’re given the chance to hear Jack Gantos speak, you should jump at it.  He’s not only funny, he’s also wise, and puts out thoughts of great substance disguised as pure entertainment.  I was also impressed that he attended the entire institute, listening attentively to every other author and illustrator who spoke; I believe that he was the only author/illustrator who did attend the entire weekend.  And he was kind enough to sign the two books of his that I brought, listening to me politely as I blathered on about how he signed books for me twelve years ago, but Pippa peed on those books when we first moved to our house and were still renovating, meaning that my books were in boxes and susceptible to the angry peeings of an uprooted semi-feral cat.  He even immortalized Pippa on the title page of my copy of Happy Birthday, Rotten Ralph, drawing a cat on one of the colored bubbles and labelling it “Pippa.”  Nice guy.  (And, by the way, he sat directly behind for the second part of Saturday, after Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier had left.  I wonder if any of that greatness will have spread in my direction?)

Tune in tomorrow for the final post on my Boston adventure…

Day one, part two

In my last post I forgot to talk about the professional connections workshop that I attended Friday morning, a fascinating presentation by Adrienne Pruit, special collections archivist at the Free Library of Philadelphia, on “‘The Nightmare of Pedagogues’: Tomi Ungerer’s Subversive Body of Work.”  I almost didn’t go to this session (attendees are given a choice of five different professional connections sessions) because I don’t know much about Tomi Ungerer – and the woman who sat next to me for the first part of Friday made me feel like an idiot: “Do you know Tomi Ungerer???  Do you know his work??”  Oh dear, I thought, I’m so illiterate – I can’t go to this session.  But I did anyway, and I’m glad I did – I learned a lot.  Adrienne talked to us about what she and her team of archivists do, what collections they are working on cataloging (the only one I remember besides Ungerer is Virginia Lee Burton’s Life Story), and told us quite a bit about Ungerer.

Then we had our lunch break, and we came back from lunch for the disappointing announcement that Mordecai Gerstein would not be speaking; but, in his stead, Laban Carrick Hill stepped up to the challenge and gave a great talk entitled “Wonder Where Is All My Relations: Negotiating Identity and Self in Children’s Literature.”  Hill is author of the fabulous Dave the Potter, illustrated by the amazing Bryan Collier.  If you haven’t yet read the book, go buy a copy.

Then came a presentation by Sandra Jordan, Jan Greenberg, and Brian Floca, authors and illustrator of Ballet For Martha: Making Appalachian Spring.   I enjoyed hearing about how Jordan and Greenberg write collaboratively;  it fascinates me that there are people who can do that, and do that successfully.  And then Floca showed us some of the photos and video that he used from the Martha Graham dance company to assist him in creating the gorgeous illustrations for this book.  Yet again, another terrific book created by talented people.  It’s truly amazing how many of these talented people I got to listen to over those three days; I’m not sure my brain has totally absorbed all that I saw and heard yet.

Then came another professional connections session – this time I chose a presentation by a designer at Charlesbridge Publishing on how she designs picture books.  And then >whoosh< back for another speaker, Sara Pennypacker, author of the Clementine series of books.  Pennypacker is an engaging and funny speaker who had lots to say about life and kids and literature.  I love that she is proud that her character Clementine belongs to a whole, functioning family, and that she based Clementine on her now-grown son’s personality.  She pointed out to us that Clementine is a gender-neutral character, something so obvious that I’d missed it.

Next up were the spirited and intelligent pair of Victoria Bond and Tanya Simon, co-authors of Zora and Me.  I haven’t yet read this book, but can’t wait to do so; perhaps it will even work as a book group book.  And once again we got to peek into the inner workings of an author collaborative team, as Bond and Simon led an incredibly engaging conversation with the audience.  I was really, really impressed by these ladies, and am only angry with myself for being too tired/intimidated to talk to them at the speaker’s reception at the end of the day.

But wait – there’s more!  Friday was the loooong day of the institute, stretching from morning coffee starting at 8:00 AM through to the final lecture of the day which began at 7:00 PM (and yes, there was also a reception afterwards).  Jacqueline Woodson – how do I describe her lecture?  Smart, quick, poetic, graceful, inspiring; all of these can apply, and more.  I really enjoyed hearing her speak, just as I enjoyed hearing her speak twelve years ago at my first institute, and I only wished that my sister could have been there, too, because Woodson’s poetic sense would have suited Jean, I think.  And when I met Woodson at the speaker’s reception, I told her that, and wished that I had bought a book of hers for Jean (but I didn’t…sorry…the wad was already spent, and there is a copy of Stitches coming my sister’s way).

Swaying on my tired feet at the speaker’s reception, dreading the drive home, I waited in long lines to meet Gene Yang, Sara Pennypacker, Brian Floca, and Jacqueline Woodson.  At times like those I feel sort of like a vulture, swooping around the authors and illustrators, waiting for them to sign my book.  It makes me feel a wee bit dirty and cheap, actually, but of course that didn’t stop me from asking each of them to sign some books.  And I know that it’s a good way for the authors and illustrators to sell books and to spread the word so that even more books are sold – but still.  Sometimes I look around the room and see glints of rather revolting autograph lust in the eyes of my fellow fans, and I try awfully hard to not be like them.  But then again, I am like them.  Alas.

And so ended Friday.  I left home at 7:00 AM and returned back home to a worried husband at 10:15 PM (this is why I drove and didn’t take the T, even though the T would have been the socially responsible option).  Worn and tired, yet also invigorated, I fell into bed to get some rest before another long day.  To be continued in another post on another day

Notes from the morning of Day One

Full of energy at the beginning of the children’s literature summer institute at Simmons, I spent my lunchtime on Friday writing notes on my thoughts about the conference so far.  My plan was to continue to write my notes to myself throughout the conference…guess what?  Didn’t happen.  But at least I can post here the notes that I did write, and if I’m still awake after all that typing, perhaps I’ll try to write about the rest of the weekend.

Notes from the morning of Day One

So here I am at “The Body Electric,” the summer institute for the children’s literature department at Simmons: just finished my budget lunch of yogurt, a corn muffin, and water I brought from home, and I’m sitting here in the student union (or whatever it’s called, this lounge area wasn’t here when I attended Simmons), freezing with cold because I forgot to bring a sweater.  It’s only 12:15, and I’ve only been to three hours of the institute so far, four if you count morning coffee time.  Grace Lin was the first speaker of the day, and I really enjoyed hearing her speak to an adult audience (when she came to my library last year she did a presentation for young kids and a second presentation for older kids).  She talked about her artistic development and how she moved into her Chinese folk art style.  I loved hearing her speak about her college year in Rome and how she had a realization that Italian art was not her art.

After Grace Lin came Gene Luen Yang, who spoke with all the character of a practiced, excellent highschool teacher (which he is) and who treated us to lots of humor and high spirits.  I can’t wait to read American Born Chinese, one of those books I meant to read years ago but never got around to.  He talked us through the three separate storylines of American Born Chinese, and his discussion of the Monkey King character brought back vivid memories of reading and re-reading a book my aunt and uncle brought me years ago – I was probably ten or eleven – from a visit they made to China:  Monkey Subdues the White-Bone Demon.  I loved, loved, loved that book (and yes, it’s in English), most especially the character of Monkey.  I also appreciated that a member of the audience asked at the end of Yang’s talk about the difference between “cartoon,” “comic book,” and “graphic novel.”  I’d always suspected that the name differences between comic book and graphic novel were primarily due to marketing, and Yang confirmed that.  He also said that he calls himself a cartoonist.

On a personal level, I’m feeling old and inexpert.  Old because a large number of my fellow attendees are current grad students and young and fresh-faced.  At one point I thought I saw one of my former classmates from twelve years ago, then came to the sad realization that this young woman was twelve years too young to be my old friend.  And I’m feeling inexpert because there are so many books I haven’t read and there’s so much I don’t know.  If only there were twenty four extra hours in the day – if only.

And then there’s the side note of money.  I bought waaaay too many books.  Aagh. I’m rather ashamed, but also thrilled.  I do love my books, and I’m looking forward to getting them signed by the authors and illustrators and then putting those signed books on display in the library.

That’s all from the first part of day one…to be continued with my memories from the rest of the institute…