White Fur Flying

download“A sad and silent nine-year-old boy finds his voice when he moves next to a family that rescues dogs.”

Another inspirational, touching and well written Patricia MacLachlan novel. This one is rich in scene and some characters, thin in page numbers and side characters.

An outgoing family rescues Great Pyrenees dogs until they can be adopted. A much more subdued man, woman and their nephew rent the house up the hill. They are keeping the boy while his parents work through some unmentioned issue. His issue is that he’s selectively mute, I guess because of the trauma of whatever is going on with his folks.

Predictably enough he starts opening up to the dogs when no one is around and the thoughtful girls in the family of the dog rescuers give him the time and space to bond with one of the dogs.

It’s pleasant and I’m sure will be loved by dog lovers. It would make a good second grade read aloud for a class. Some will see the girls in the dog rescuing family as delightfully precocious. I found them almost annoyingly so and their dialogue unbelievable. Kids don’t talk like that, not even wanna be writers. I mean it’s an artistic choice. There are precocious, well-spoken kids in the world. Sometimes it works in a story and sometimes in doesn’t. Your mileage will vary.

But like I said. It’s another inspirational, touching, well-written Patricia MacLachlan novel. That’s something always worth checking out.

Read for my district’s Reader’s Rally team.




Using Instagram in the Library

I have an Instagram account for my elementary school library. It’s useful to promote things like the book fairs, author visits and other special occasions. It’s also great just to show off pictures of people using the library alone or in groups for reading or using the technology or whatever.

When I first got into this school librarian gig, if you wanted to promote your program online you had to use this antiquated format called a “blog.” Nowadays some people use Facebook and/or Twitter, Intagram, Snapchat, ClassDojo and probably things I haven’t even heard of.

Instagram is my pick because it’s easy and fun. I don’t have that many followers and this isn’t one of those annoying posts on “how to leverage Instagram in your library media program!” Ugh.

But I do find it interesting that when I started being a librarian there were all these ideas about using photos of students on your blog. Not necessarily rules, but strong recommendations on either using stock photos or blurring out faces or showing things and not people because you did not want to mess with student privacy.

There may still be people being careful about this kind of thing and I’m not recommending we don’t be careful. But I take photos of kids in my library often now and post them without too much thought. Sometimes I show the student the photo and mention I might post it. In the two years I’ve been doing this I can only think of one student who said not to post.

Privately I’ve thought, if any student or parent asks me to remove a post I will, no question. But it’s never happened. I don’t put student information in the captions. Not even first names. Almost all of our students and staff are covered by the “media release” form they fill out at the beginning of each year. You could count on one hand the students that haven’t had one signed.

So I just take a bunch of pictures once in a while and sometimes I post them on the library Instagram. Sometimes I tell the people I photograph and sometimes I don’t. I’ll be happy to remove anything that someone wants removed but it’s never been an issue.

And that one student who didn’t want me to post? He help up a book fair book that had a shark with his mouth wide open and he mimicked the wide open mouth of the shark. I laughed and snapped his picture. I said I just had to post it on Instagram. He said no. I handed the book to a different kid, had him open his mouth up WIDE and did the same thing; posted it and it was awesome. Later that afternoon the first kid’s mom came in and I showed her his photo. “I thought you’d want to see this since he didn’t want me to post it.”  She looked at him an was like, “Why not?!? That’s wonderful. Can you send me a copy?”

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914



In 1914 France, a British soldier writes to his mother about the strange events of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when German and Allied soldiers met on neutral ground to share songs, food, and fun. Includes historical notes and glossary.”

You know John Hendrix. He’s been one of the best illustrators of historical picture books for the last ten years or so. Authors such as Deborah Hopkinson, Marisa Moss and Marilyn Singer have all benefited from this amazing and (too) hard-working talent. But here he is tackling an almost mythic moment in history himself as author and illustrator and just nailing it.

When I first saw this come across my desk I thought, “Another one?” There are already many books about (and movies about and references to) this moment in World War I. But then I realized that there really can’t be enough books and movies and references to something this striking in history. Like the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Pompeii and Katrina’s aftermath’s destruction of parts of Louisiana, the so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 is a great story with many layers and angles to it that will always have something to teach us, good and bad, about ourselves. It’s also something that needs the many books meant for many different ages and it needs them to come out periodically to remind us of the event and our perspectives of it.

This one is told in epistolary form from an English soldier to his mother with maps, photos and drawings. It also includes a context setting introduction and a detailed author’s note at the end which are all important to the book.

But the illustrations, as you can well imagine, bring this story and it’s humanity to life. The mud, the drudgery and the hopelessness in the beginning. The surprise and hopefulness of the scrounged Christmas trees and the mixing of the armies. But the angry British CO just hits it home. He’s clean-shaven. His uniform is impeccable. He has a forgotten pipe falling from his yelling mouth. He is not connected to these men in any way other than he is their commanding officer and the representation of everything wrong with what happens after this spontaneous truce.

It will give anyone who reads it much to think about when considering WWI.

Read for my district’s Reader’s Rally competition thing.

Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes

download“In 1870, Reconstruction brings big changes to the Louisiana sugar plantation where spunky ten-year-old Sugar has always lived, including her friendship with Billy, the son of her former master, and the arrival of workmen from China.”

What a great book! This is one of the choices for our district’s Reader’s Rally quiz bowl competition thingy for this year.

It’s five years after emancipation but the now former slaves of this Louisiana sugar plantation, not far from the Mississippi River, are basically trapped working for slave wages.

It’s a depressing time and bad things happen but Sugar is such a wonderful character that you end up smiling more often than you’d imagine. She loves the Br’er Rabbit trickster tales her unofficial guardians tell and she makes great connections between them and the folktales told by the Chinese immigrant workers.

She’s a trickster character herself in many ways and ends up connecting all these groups – the former slaves, the new Chinese workers, the plantation owner’s family – even when they think they don’t want those connections.

It’s a unique and powerful narrative and will have the students I talk it up to learning in the best way possible, by reading an interesting book with new and unique connections.

It’s not the best book cover. The girl on the cover is wearing a much nicer dress than Sugar ever describes. The kite with the carefree-looking girl flying it don’t seem to match the tag line, “Life on a sugar plantation isn’t always sweet.” But it does get across her more hopeful nature in a mostly hard situation.

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the the author of many books for adults and Ninth Ward, Bayou Magic, and Towers Falling for younger readers.


Star Trek: Discovery Incomplete Review

downloadOf COURSE I’m going to write about the new Star Trek show. I’ve been watching some iteration of Star Trek most of my life. And re-watching. And nerding out over…

This is a super incomplete review because we are in a new world of television and I’m still figuring that out. So part of this review is the actual show. Well the first half of the first show that I was graciously allowed to see by CBS. The rest of the review is of CBS’s new programming model.

The first episode (well half–it was part one of a two parter but I haven’t seen the second half yet) was…okay enough that I’ll put the show on my list of shows to catch up on someday.

The good: you can see all the money and work put into this on every frame (I know, “frame” is old school, but you know what I mean). It’s been called “cinematic” and they’re not kidding. It has the look and feel of the re-booted movies.

Michelle Yeoh is an awesome captain! Doug Jones gets to play a cool alien! Our star is Sonequa Martin-Green is a determined and flawed main character! I mean just watching Yeoh and Martin-Green in the opening bit was enough to make me tear up about how far we’ve come with the diversity in television, and how Star Trek has always been an important part of that.

The space suit absolutely rocked!

The meh and the bad: Yeah it looked cool, but was it more style than substance? I could do with less lens flare, wacky color correction and weird 30 degree filming angles and less clunky exposition. When people who claim to have been working together for seven years explain that they are arguing about the same things they always do it’s just annoying. And what was going on in the opening? Was it me or were they violating the Prime Directive right off the bat for no apparent reason?

But mostly, it was a perfectly fine, if a bit action-y first half of a two part episode. I’m not going to complain about the Klingons who look like Orcs. They keep changing the way Klingon’s look, fans keep crying about it and if the show is any good they get over it (and it led to this great joke on DS9). It seems like an odd choice to me, putting this in between the the Enterprise series and before the original series. It looks SO different it just seems like they could have made it in the future (beyond Next Generation) and called their Orcs something new and not had to worry about the timeline confusion. I mean this lady is a kind of half-sister to Spock we’ve never heard of? C’mon. Don’t bother with that.

So yeah, I’ll watch the rest of it someday. But I’m not jumping on the CBS ALL ACCESS! bandwagon. I have an HD antenna so was able to watch that one on the air (almost a half hour late for some reason, probably football.) I pay $10 a month for Netflix and we use the heck out of that service.  I pay $99 a year (so $8.25 a month) for Amazon Prime. Included with that is Amazon Prime Video which also has many TV shows and movies available and I can pay a little more to buy episodes of shows (or whole seasons even) or rent or buy other movies. I don’t mind paying for the occasional show because they usually end up being less than $2 an episode and there are no commercials and I can watch whenever I want.

But now CBS (and Disney and DC and many more) want to get on that action and create their OWN streaming sites. The CBS ALL ACCESS! streaming thing is $6 a month but you still get commercials! You have to pay $10 a month for the ad free experience. That ends up being around $2.50 an episode. I’m not paying for that, especially since I’d be hard pressed to name more CBS shows and have a feeling that the ones I could name wouldn’t be available. Or something.

I’m not angry at CBS. They can try to get money how ever they want. So can all those other outlets. But I’m going to stick with what works for me. In this new cord-cutting landscape I’ve learned to be patient. I don’t mind waiting for a whole series to come out, then come to Netflix or rent it on DVD or pay for it on Amazon or something. But I want it to finish it’s run and know what I’m getting. I wouldn’t have been happy paying for the first two and a half seasons of Next Generation. I wouldn’t have been happy paying for Enterprise. But heck I’d pay out the nose for Deep Space Nine. That was a great show. But I only know that now.

I am a little peeved they only broadcast half of a show. I was expecting them to end on a bit of a cliffhanger to gin up more interest for their streaming thing but that was silly, cutting it off with the beginning of a generic Star Trek space battle. I hear that even if you watched both halves they still haven’t gotten the main character to the, you know, Discovery and her crew. So that doesn’t make me want to rush out and sign up for anything until I know what I’m getting.

That’s okay! I have plenty to watch! I just bought the second season of The Expanse on Amazon and so far it’s AMAZING. Oh, and it was $22.99 for 13 episodes which comes out to about $1.76 per episode which I am free to watch ad free at will. I’m also still way behind on Doctor Who. It left Netflix but is now on Amazon so I’m good there. If it went away from there I’m sure I could rent the discs and keep on going. I wouldn’t have to pay for a whole seperate service for that one show.

Just sayin!

Razor Girl

downloadThis month’s Guys Read book club pick was Carl Hiaasen’s newest. If you like Hiaasen , Dave Barry and other humor writers, you’ll like this one.

The title character smartly never reveals her real name, but connects all the disparate and loony characters inhabiting this tale due to her unique trade: she performs non-deadly car crashes for underworld types who need to stop a mark on the road so they can easily kidnap them in their confused state. There are many who do this particular task, but our titular Girl has raised it into a kind of performance art by including the jaw-dropping addition of being in the middle of shaving her, um, bikini area at the time of impact. This throws off the mark so much, that she often gets them to offer her a ride somewhere to make their kidnapping go even smoother. “Men,” she says, shaking her head.

So yeah, this is obviously one of Hiaasen’s books intended for grown ups rather than his wildly popular kids books like Hoot and Chomp.

The Guys Read book club met last night at The Marlay House. It was such a lovely evening. I mean really perfect weather. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed food, drinks and great book talk. And we had a few new Guys!

As a group I would have to say this was a sideways thumb, not really up or down. Two Guys said this wasn’t their kind of thing. The Guys that had read and enjoyed Hiaasen before like it but admitted it wasn’t his best. The Guys who had never read Hiaasen and enjoyed it loved it and are looking forward to reading more.

An older Guy introduced me to a new (to me) old drink. A Rickey. You’ve heard of a Gin Rickey? This is the original version with bourbon instead of Gin. Mmmmm…bourbon. Excellent summer evening refreshment right there. And yes, I realize technically autumn has begun but last night on that patio? It was summer.

It was good we had our drinks ready because we were ready to shout a hearty “Mazal Tov!” to a Guy who came out! He’s recently divorced with two teen-aged daughters but has decided to come on out and be his true, gay self at this mid point in life. So that was cool. (He said the divorce, while not fun, was relatively painless and amicable, so that’s good as well.)

Next month we will be discussing Erin Mortgenstern’s The Night Circus. Looks appropriately Halloween-ish in subject matter anyway. And Jim Dale (of Harry Potter audiobook fame) reads the audio version, so something else to look forward to!

New app test…

img_0629I just downloaded the WordPress app for my phone. I’m thinking I might actually update the blog more often if it’s easier and more accessible to do so.

I have a work laptop but no longer have a home one. I can take the work laptop home but don’t do that every day and when I do it’s usually because I have, you know, work.

I gave my Apple laptop to my daughter and bought a Chromebook for myself. It was great while it worked but that wasn’t for very long and I don’t feel like getting another one.

So what posting I do tends to be on my phone, mostly Instagram and Twitter. I’m pretty sure when I post here it automatically posts on Twitter as well. I’ll check on that after I post this.

I realized recently that I hadn’t been posting much and, like I do from time to time, wonder if I should keep it up. I don’t know why but there’s something satisfying about having my own spot where I can type more than 140 characters once in a while.

But I need to have deadlines for myself to keep it up. I’ll work on figuring that out this month. Probably something weekly. Daily is too much and monthly is too little.

The above photo is from Labor Day weekend when my daughter and I attended the always delightful Dragon Con. After the photo Mr. Gorn said pretty much every photo he was asked to pose for involved him pretending to do violence on the other person being photographed (for obvious reasons) but that I was the only one who had giggled happily the whole time.

Is it just me or are you busier this year too?

The schedule is just different enough that I’ve had very little downtime at work and now with the Book Fair it’s pretty constant. Actually, one good thing about doing the book fair at this time of the year is the schedule is more spread out so there are a few breaks between some of the classes, which is nice. But I’m not any less busy then. I have to catch up with all my emails and keep things running smoothly.

One thing I’ve been doing recently is trying to disengage with social media a bit. I’ve gone from following over 600 accounts on Twitter to around 160 (and most of those are library/education related). On Instagram it’s down to 55 (mostly people I actually know). It’s not just trying to get away from social media but also just trying to not check my phone constantly for no reason and be more engaged with the world around me.

So far it’s been nice. Sometimes it’s good to be bored. Smartphones are making people unhappy. And there are other ways to break a phone addiction if you think that’s a problem for you.

Although I’m not going quite this far (from The Week magazine):

Aziz Ansari has deleted all traces of the internet from his life, said Mark Anthony Green in GQ. A few months ago, the Master of None star quit social media, got rid of his email, deleted the web browsers from his phone and laptop—and says he doesn’t miss any of it. “Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content,” says Ansari. “It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation.” Ansari is loving his new unplugged existence. “Eventually you don’t care anymore. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the internet and not remembering anything.” Nor does he feel like he’s missing out on any important news. “I was reading all this Trump stuff, and it doesn’t feel like we’re reading news for the reason we used to, which was to enrich yourself by being aware. It all seems so sensationalized. Also, guess what? If something real is going down, I’ll find out about it.”

I completely agree that it’s better to be in your own head once in a while and that’s exactly what I want. So I’m doing what I can to cut back on mindless checking and surfing. I do, however, still read long things on my phone like blog posts and articles now and then. But I’ve deleted all the news sites I was following on Twitter and just make a point of checking actual news now and then. He’s right when he says that if something major is happening, I’ll find out.

Have you had to limit any aspect of your online life because it was either causing you stress or just needlessly filling up your time? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments. Then, like my dad used to say, go outside and blow the stink off ya!