KidLitVulture’s Must-Read Saturday: The KickAss Librarian

I’m liking— a lot—the new blogger I’ve discovered, a librarian by the nom de Web of Miss Julie. If you know me, you know libraries are one of the few institutions that warm the cockles of my heart and librarians are some of my favorite people. But, as in any other profession, librarians represent a cross-section of humanity. Miss Julie is the Lewis- Black-meets-Vivian-Gussin-Paley of librariandom.  I’ll have more to say about Miss Julie’s Blouevre* another time. For now I’ll give you a taste:

It’s easy to love babies and toddlers. They’re designed that way–big eyes, easy smiles, chubby limbs. It’s hard to love your average teenager. They slouch, they sneer, they argue–but they’re designed that way. They’re trying on personalities along with their clothes and hairstyles, and they’re trying to find out who they want to be in the world. Once they know who they are, they’ll find out what they want to do, and begin to take a wider interest in the world. Teens are designed to have an intense preoccupation with the self, because they are trying to figure out who that “self” is. And is there a better place to pursue this self-discovery than the library?

The best libraries and best librarians know these things about teens, mostly through observation. Just as it would serve children’s librarians better to take child development courses, it would serve teen librarians better to do the same. 2  Adolescence is a turbulent, fascinating time in human development, and if you don’t know what it entails and why it happens the way it does, you’re going to be confused, and that confusion will lead to anger, irrational behavior, and bad choices.

Erikson has a concept called “psychosocial moratorium”, which is a concept that adolescents need a time-out from “the sort of excessive responsibilities and obligations that might restrict the young person’s pursuit of self-discovery” What does that mean? Teens need time to hang out, without being told what to do, as a developmental NEED. They are not lazy; they are not stupid; they are not purposefully trying to ignore you; when they sit there, with their friends, being obnoxious, they are actually HARD AT WORK, BECOMING PEOPLE.

Steve Teeri 3 understands this, and is doing good work in Detroit supporting teens’ need to discover, push boundaries, and explore. He also makes a good point about remembering your own time as a teenager, and the stupid crap you probably did/said/wore:

Young adults are at a pivotal time in their lives. As they near adulthood, teens try on different personas and identities, in an attempt to figure out just who the heck they are. When I was a teen it was the exact same process. For me it was being preppy with my letter jacket and khakis one day. Doc Mart[e]n steel-toe boots with a black shirt and jeans another. Maybe a Hypercolor color-changing shirt and cut-off pair of jean shorts that we won’t talk about any further. Matched together with this quest for identity, is a rush of hormones and limitless teen energy. It’s enough to make any settled adult run for cover.

He also issues a challenge to those who are not passionate about the work, a gauntlet which I’ve tossed down so many times on this blog that my hand is starting to hurt:When speaking about our teens, I try never to say “the teens,” it is always “my teens” or “our teens.” I take full responsibility and ownership of their experience and growth as people when in my department. It sounds basic, but I have heard stories about YA staff who do not want to interact with their teens. If that is the case, hit the eject button and get out of YA immediately.

via #makeitbetter | Hi Miss Julie!.

*You heard it here first on KidLitVulture, in the first week of January 2012. Apologies to the French, who will put me in butter sauce for that.


Exhuming the Good Humor Man

The Good Humor Man has accumulated a heap of social capital. After all, he gives children, mommies and daddies something that dare not speak its name, because it’s a ridiculous name—“ice cream novelties.”

Ting a Ling a Ling
Ting a Ling a Ling

What’s more, there are no purses, wallets, bills, coins, or credit cards visibly evident in The Good Humor Man’s transactions.

It would be ridiculous to assert the 2001 reissue of the 1964 “classic” Little Golden Book, The Good Humor Man, more than coincided with the uptick in  liar loans and the metastasizing of the shadow banking system.  Did getting something for nothing ever go out of fashion? Similarly, it would be unscientific to make anything of the fact that the wife of Michael Meehan—the first broker banned by the SEC for stock manipulation ,in 1937—owned the Good Humor company. So I won’t.

Besides, if I really wanted to make an analogy between predation in the U.S. economy and the messages relayed by LGBs, I would have to incorporate the other five “classics” Random House reissued in  2001, including The Little Red Hen. So let’s move on.

The Good Humor Man has several other interesting messages to its (dis)credit.

There’s the “different” kid. His nom de goldenbook is Little Johnny Slowpoke. If the name doesn’t knock you over the head with his particular kind of difference, his jowls and chubby elbows and knees will. Even his puppy is fat! This hapless, pal-less fellow is befriended by a peer only in the story’s denouement, and then only through an almost magical adult intercession. That intercessor is—yup, you guessed it—the Good Humor Man.

Little Johnny Slowpoke sharing his pineapple pinnacle with his puppy

Who is the kid who befriends Little Johnny Slowpoke? Why, it’s Dick, the only other named kid in the story. He’s also “different”—he’s the only one who isn’t depicted gravitating to the Good Humor truck amongst a gaggle of mommies and daddies. He’s been farmed out to granny for the summer. Dick’s grandmother isn’t the boomer kind with running shoes who staffs Little Golden Books’ Pat the Puppy, a descendent of Pat the Bunny. Instead, Dick’s granny comes complete with rocking chair, bun and knitting. They live high up on a hill away from the others. “I want an extra-special treat for Dick,” says granny. “I don’t know any children, and I’m afraid he finds it a bit lonely up here.”

So not only does a high-fat, sugary ice cream bar compensate for a difficult social situation, but it’s delivered door to door.

As the insidious plot develops, the neighborhood kids and parents gather when they hear that siren song—“ting a ling a ling.” Again, Johnny Slowpoke comes only at the last minute. But this time he is crying. He has lost his puppy!

The Good Humor man shook his head sadly and handed Johnny a comforting coconut cone.

Well, The GHM is on task if nothing else. When he continues his route to Old Lady Griggs’ house , he spots the puppy, who’s wandered up there. He tells Dick and his granny whose it is. They descend their lonely hilltop, return Puppy to Little Johnny Slowpoke, and the two boys become (apparently) friends.

So, the takeaway? Feeling good—feeling better, that is— is indistinguishable from consuming something soft and sweet (and branded), even when your BMI is pushing the limit.  David Kessler’s The End of Overeating would be a great pairing with this book.  Kessler demonstrates the multiple and multifarious ways that the food industry has ramped up the comfort quotient in comfort food to ensnare us, like something out of the Little Shop of Horrors (or, in this case, Little Golden Books).
Little Johnny Slowpoke Has Lost His Puppy

And now, to flash forward a bit. From the publisher:

Little Golden Books have mirrored children’s popular culture over the years, having featured Lassie, Raggedy Ann, Uncle Wiggily, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Howdy Doody, Annie Oakley, Captain Kangaroo, Bozo the Clown, Gene Autrey, The Lone Ranger, Smokey Bear, Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, Sesame Street, Pokemon, and Between the Lions characters, Mister Rogers, Barney, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Underdog, Peter Cottontail, Barbie, and others. Dr. Ruth Westheimer has just penned a story about grandparents starring herself.

via Little Golden Books.

Wait a minute—Dr. Ruth? Yes, she’s Dr. Ruth Wordheimer on the PBS series Between the Lions, but if Dr. Ruth as a children’s author exemplifies the imprint’s accomplishment of “mirroring children’s popular culture,” then we’ll have to redefine “children’s popular culture.”  I’ll propose “media industry constructs of what will sell to children via their parents.” After all, you can’t get something for nothing.

Boredom, Part I

Ruth Donnelly (Readatouille) is right that middle-grade readers, just like the rest of us, deserve  and demand the show-don’t-tell approach to writing.

Donnelly cites this example:. Rather than saying Skye was bored, The Penderwicks author Jeanne Birdsall writes, “Skye was blowing out her cheeks and imitating a fish, which meant she was even more bored than Rosalind had feared.”

I must say I do find myself blowing out my cheeks and imitating a fish more often than I like.

Killer App Slays Dead-Tree Books, Reports Big Bad Wolf

I ran across the phrase “dead-tree” books for the first time today (Nov. 24, 2011), in a Parents Magazine blog post. The magazine replayed a Nov. 20 New York TImes business story about parents—even those whose reading habits have migrated to the screen—avoiding e-books for kids under eight.

I submitted a comment to Parents Magazine about the e-book piece. I asked if “wired parents” could maintain “non-wired values” in the household. I haven’t seen it appear yet. (By the way, the month-old NYT article about Silicon Valley types putting their kids in decidedly non-wired Waldorf Schools was in the back of my mind.)

My attempt to create a conversation on the Parents Magazine site wasn’t my first. On Nov. 23, I commented on its “GoodyBlog” (blotto: “Must See. Must Do. Must Have Right Now”). That puffpost advertises a new “enhanced e-book” product created by Kideo with the collaboration of the PBS kids show “Between the Lions.” The post, “He Huffed, and He Puffed, and…He Learned How to Read!” reports that the product “allows young readers to follow along with the story using a “Read” mode that highlights each word as it is being narrated.”

Let’s pause to note the four different verbal phrases that the puffpost uses for the concept “reading:”

1) following along with the story;

2) using “Read” mode;

3) highlighting each word as it is being narrated;

and last, but not least,

4) Learning how to read (from the post title).

Parents has not yet printed my comment, in which I put the value of the product in the context of what a child would otherwise be doing. Is it a substitute for TV? For reading a p-book with an adult? I thought I was doing the conversation-creating thang pretty well by ending with “What are your pro’s and con’s?”

I’ll be waiting to see if whomever vets comments on the Parents site wants readers to “follow along with the story” of how parents make decisions to transfer stock from dead-tree reading to e-reading. Isn’t debate, or at least a judicious hand on the “approve” button for moderated blog comments,  the basis of a healthy readership?

And I’m not even saying no e-book shalt ever sully my child’s eye-scan.


Playing bananagrams with a five-year-old means allowing “juice” to be spelled “jos” just for today. It means not having a cow when the kid takes four instead of three new tiles with a dump. It allows for the epiphany you would not otherwise have—that this kid who was just four last week and doesn’t even wipe her own bottom can think of, and correctly spell, “invest.”

Georgia O’Keeffe—Rx for Puberty

There is something girls’ books about puberty don’t get across. The one that’s in a sock drawer in our house is thin. It’s not a bad book, but its thinness is highly suspect—an apology before offense has been taken. It might as well be a book of Sudoku, a shallow, known quantity of puzzles.  The fits-easily-in-the-hand quality is surely a direct hit on parental discomfort. The parent thanks the publisher for providing something less than comprehensive, an antidote to one’s own howling memories of puberty.

Puberty manuals comprise a kind of junior self-help market, if we’re talking from within the publishing industry. They’re navigational aids to the physical changes girls undergo, with a nod to emotional turbulence. Bodily transformations, at once intrusive and elusive, are matter-of-factly laid out—if I may—like a patient etherized upon a table.  One such book even has a section promoting “stamina, strength, and suppleness” through good exercise and nutrition.  Not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong. The genre is all about anticipating and then managing the biological bells-and-whistles during their initial intrusion onto the scene.

What the genre doesn’t tell you about growing up could flood an expanse of windblown plateau.

I feel guilty about buying the last copy of Susan Goldman Rubin’s Wideness & Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O’Keeffe from my local independent bookstore.  A reasonably priced book, but still $1.00 for every six pages or, based on my intended reader,  $1.40 for every five minutes of reading.

I also feel guilty because no other mother or grandmother  or aunt is going to run across it, once it’s mine, at least not until it’s been reordered. I should tell the bookseller, Put it in the puberty section. You have no idea how uncomfortable it is in the art section of the children’s area; its cover will be itchy and it will have to spend its nights and days shoulder to shoulder with Monet and Picasso (though Cassatt and Ringgold do share the juvenile art shelf, praise be to the this indie joint).

I didn’t know everything there was to know about Georgia O’Keeffe when I opened Rubin’s book—and I still don’t. My mind’s eye beheld the Steiglitz nudes, the flowers, the animal skulls, and a vague whiff of bohemian morals. I own a coffee table book of O’Keeffe’s paintings, and a volume of her letters, but that didn’t stop me from reducing her to a palette of flotsam.

Georgia O'Keeffe on Her Roof

Here’s what O’Keeffe offers as inspiration at that fulcrum of childhood and adulthood. She embraced her artist-self early. She let it lead her. She cast aside conventions of physical beauty and the quest for a good marriage. She flouted many of the constraints of her time. Rubin doesn’t avoid, in this juvenile biography, the artist’s breaking of school rules and her series of boyfriends (Rubin doesn’t use that term, and we’re not given all the details). O’Keeffe, for all of her artistic iconoclasm, stopped painting for three years because of a family member’s illness. At times, she followed her inner compass; at other times, she chose to rework her life for her family or for Alfred Steiglitz.

This biography treats O’Keeffe’s legendary relationship with Steiglitz with honesty but not voyeurism. Rubin doesn’t cast their partnership as a cautionary tale or an ideal. She gives what I want my girls to get about the journey. That there is no manual worth its salt. That love and art and livelihood matter all at once.  That the bells and whistles of our sex are just that and no more.

One other thing—no, it won’t all be over soon.  Puberty may have a beginning and end, like a book, but your path into adulthood can be all your own, serpentine and indeterminate. I issue a call to my fellow parents (and booksellers-in-arms).

Let’s seed the sock drawers of Girldom with women like O’Keeffe.