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George's Favorite Tooth Tidbits on books for young people.

5Feb/131

Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles and Other Non-Fiction Casualties O’ the Day

It's not every day that a King's bones are dug up.  So let's celebrate with some bones we dug out of our non-fiction collection today!

Preface: I've been in my department head position for almost a year and a half.  I made a conscious effort not to kick off any big weeding projects until I had been on the job for a full year so I could get a good sense of our patrons and what the community was digging.  Now that I have a sense of things, we're off to the races! While my colleagues do a brilliant job of all the nitty-gritty work, I take a quick pass through everything before it goes out the door.  I present to you the top casualties of the day.

Something about this super jacked half-man/half-rabbit makes me nervous.

Perhaps an ancestor of James Marshall's Portly McSwine?

Copyright 1973!! And note the author. Guess this is what Mr. Green was up to pre-Looking For Alaska. I'll be taking this next time I head into the deep bush for sure.

 

And, finally, the book that gave this post its name:

This hasn't circulated in 15 years. WHY THE HECK NOT!?!

I am in love with this book.  My favorite excerpt:

Don't hook this book

My young whippernap,

For nickels and dimes

It cost-ed my pap.

Don't know if that qualifies as a whimmy-diddle or not.

I think it's also worth noting that the author, a Mr. James Still, has a bio in the back of the book that says "Critics have hailed his verse and fiction for its beauty, humor, and integrity."

And keeping with our old bones theme, I give you my favorite Grade 7 slow dance jam.

16Jun/119

The Top 10 Most Uninspired Rainbow Magic Fairies

Warning: snark alert.

But seriously, doesn't this "Daisy Meadows" gal grind your gears some days?  Am I the only one who thinks "What the crap - they're really reachin' here!" when I see some of these gals?  Behold:

Flora the Fancy Dress Fairy: That ain't no fancy dress!  That's a mermaid costume, lady.

Carrie the Snowcap Fairy: A snowcap?  Is that even a thing?

Grace the Glitter Fairy: Okay, I know that the chidlers who read this series probably aren't concerned with mutual exclusivity, but don't all these fairies qualify as glitter fairies?  Aren't they all glittery?  Or is Grace merely the most glittery of them all?

Imogen the Ice Dance Fairy: I'm picking this purely because of the name "Imogen."  Far out, Daisy.  Interesting to note that the new version features the name Isabelle instead.  Also, ice dance is lame, with the exception of this.

Megan the Monday Fairy: No one likes the Monday fairy.  And that skirt looks much more appropriate for Saturday.

Abigail the Breeze Fairy/Evie the Mist Fairy: Like snowcap, I think that the breeze/mist are not consequential enough to require their own representatives in the fairy world.

Mia the Bridesmaid Fairy: This is the one that fans picked in some vote a while back, so I probably shouldn't make fun of it.  But really, I can't help but imagine the Bridesmaid fairy as one who carries around a lot of vodka and broken dreams and insists that she's not married yet because "She's putting herself first" (also, wasn't this book made into a terrible movie with Katherine Heigl?)

Paige the Pantomime Fairy: Because every child is concerned with pantomiming.  And why the dang is she classified as a "Christmas Fairy" on the website?

Kate the Royal Wedding Fairy: No fascinator?  Girl, please.

10May/113

When YA characters grow up and you gotta shelve ‘em somewhere

Super articulate post title, I know.

As you're probably aware, two very popular young adult series are getting a major epilogue treatment.  Both the Wakefield twins and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants gals have returned/are returning as adults in new books - and I've really been struggling with where to shelve these ladies.  With the adult fiction?  The YA fiction?  The Gimmick Aisle? (we don't have one of those at my library, but I wish we did).  After puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler was sore, I came up with two very different solutions.

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later

Shelved as Adult Fiction

Rationale

First let me tell you that this book is unforgivably bad.  I have seriously worked with eleven-year-old ESL children who have mastered grammar and syntax better than Ms. Pascal.  I generally don't use this blog as a forum to pan books, but I'm still angry that I read this thing.  Today I even apologized to our Adult Services Librarian for spending $10 of her budget on this sentinel of hell.  But I digress.  Here are my reasons for putting it with the adult books.

  • We don't have any Sweet Valley High books at my library.  This may change when the movie comes out, especially since Diablo Cody is keeping it in the eighties and teens may want to pick up the original books (though they would have to be the true originals without the new millennium updates that came out a few years ago).  But since we don't currently have any of the SVH books, I don't think it makes sense to stick Sweet Valley Confidential all alone in YA.  There's no context.
  • I might be wrong, but I think the vast majority of people who want to read this book are my age: 25-35 year olds who are picking it up for the nostalgia factor.  At least two dozen people on Goodreads have mentioned this, and they ain't spring chickens.  Disclaimer: I am at the BOTTOM of that 25-35 year old age range.  And I was born three weeks early, so that gives me an unfair disadvantage.
  • Perhaps the most obvious reason, this book was published by St. Martin's Press - not a YA/children's publisher.
  • I don't want it stinking up the YA section. HA!  But seriously...

You'd think I'd do the same thing with the new Traveling Pants book, hey?  Nope.

Sisterhood Everlasting

Will be Shelved as Young Adult Fiction (I think)

Rationale

First I have to say that this book doesn't come out until June and I purposely haven't read any reviews.  I want to experience the book completely blind; I listened to all four books on audiobook last year, am sort of a fan, and would like to be surprised at what happens.

  • Unlike Sweet Valley High, there are teens still actively checking out the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series from my library.  There is a perfect little spot next to those in the YA section for the new book.
  • I don't think there's really been time for much Pants nostalgia to set in yet. The first Pants book only came out eight years ago.  SVH was around thirty years ago.   Therefore I'm not sure any adult over 22 years old would really recognize the characters in the adult section.

Of course, I won't really know until I read the book.  I'll be more than happy to re-class it if the themes are really adult, and/or if I think it can stand on its own legs in the adult section without the context of the other four books.

If anyone has any opinions (without providing any spoilers or even basic plot information for Sisterhood Everlasting) I'm all ears.  I would also like to take this opportunity to say that if, in 2025, there is a new adult book entitled Geronimo Stilton: Whiskers of Truth detailing his sexual betrayals and new "adult" life in New York City, I will write another post about my shelving decision.


27Sep/102

I Haven’t Been This Mad in a Long Time

Oh man.  Shannon angry.

Yesterday the Summer Reading Club chidlers got to pick a free book as props for cracking the covers all summer long.  While herding the chidlers and handing out stamps and "Congratulations!" and "Awesome!" I noticed something truly horrifying in the selection of books:

OH, THE HUMANITY!

What the crap!?!

It seems that Brett Helquist is re-illustrating the three Scary Story collections compiled by Alvin Schwartz and originally (and brilliantly) illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

HarperCollins, I love you.  Brett Helquist, I love you too.  But there's no excuse for this.

Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell are like peanut butter and chocolate.  Or Jay-Z and Linkin Park.  Or James Marshall and Harry Allard.  Together, they are perfection.

I don't know how on earth I missed this.  It seems that More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was re-released at the end of August, right when I had a terrible case of food poisoning.  In hindsight, my body was likely reacting subconsciously to this loathsome event.  Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was re-released at the end of July.  I don't know what I was doing then, but it must have been important.  Scary Stories 3 will be re-released in January 2011.  I'll need to find a tree to chain myself to or something.

I've book talked the three Scary Story books more times than I can count - both to groups of kids and in the stacks. Gammell's illustrations always sell it. The thing is, when you tell kids you've got something scary for them, they just don't believe you.  I think it's because kids have come to learn that a trusted adult's version of scary usually equals lameness.

But Gammell's style perfectly straddles "safe scary" and "creepy scary."  Actually, cancel that.  They're just a bit too scary.  But just the right amount of a bit. You can't take your eyes off his work.  Each drawing is like a perfectly disastrous car crash - you are physically unable to look away.  And when you read one of Schwartz's tales out loud to a group, and then reveal Gammell's deliciously scary visual interpretation, the result is gold.  We're talking audible gasps, mouths agape, the whole nine.

From Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I'm not saying that Helquist isn't talented.  He's mad talented.  But in my opinion there was no reason to mess with perfection - even if Stephen Gammell said, "You can't use my pictures anymore.  They are too awesome for you to use."  If that happened (and maybe it did - what do I know?), there should have been a worldwide moment of silence for these books before they went out of print.

I know there are probably people out there who are in support of this and think it's good to give the ol' books a facelift.  I'm sorry, but I am too blinded by anger to hear you out right now.  Maybe after I've mellowed out with several glasses of wine and some George and Martha, we can talk.

21Aug/104

The Unfinishables (or, book trauma)

"If I open you, I will finish you."

This is the creed I stick to whilst reading.  I am incapable of not finishing a book.  I can take a book out of the library, mind you, and not read it, but once I start it, it's on.

Holy Toledo - there were four commas in that 22 word sentence.  That's way too many.  I'm just going to leave them there as a kind of cautionary comma tale.

I believe the worst experience was in Grade 11 when we were all forced to read Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O Mitchell.  The classroom jokes included calling the book Who Has Seen the Plot and "Woooaaaahhh, Mitchell - your book is bad."  I think I was the only one who finished the cursed thing.  I realize that hating this books makes me a bad Canadian, and an even worse Saskatchewanian, but I FINISHED IT.

Thinking back, there are only four books I haven't been able to finish.  I'll start with the least traumatizing and work my way up.  Give the pictures a clickaroo for more info on the books (especially Abadzis' awesome Laika "micro-site").

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading by Lizzie Skurnick.  Avon: 2009.

This books is full of plucky, spunky, funny, articulate essays on everything from Harriet the Spy to Forever (yes, Skurnick's definition of teen is kinda liberal).  My plan was to read one of the essays each night before bed.  That meant I would take at least a couple of months to finish the book, but it would be a fun lil' pre-sleep routine.  Well, not so much.  Why?  The dang thing was chalk-full of spoilers!  While I had read a good chunk of the titles featured in the book, there were many still in my "To Read" shelf on goodreads.  So, I had no choice.  I had to put it down a mere twenty-some pages in.  I know I just could have plowed through, as no plot synopsis or analysis is a substitute for the real thing, but I just couldn't do it.  This is not to say that Shelf Discovery is a bad book.  Quite the opposite.  But I just couldn't live with the spoilers.


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  HarperCollins: 2009.

There are two things in life that scare me: spiders and home invasion.  I have had an irrational fear of both since childhood.  This  means that I can't handle Coraline or The Graveyard Book. I've never even attempted Coraline because so many people have warned me against it (my spider fear is intense, folks).  But I was determined to read The Graveyard Book because what kind of self-respecting youth librarian isn't all over Gaiman?  Besides, everyone told me the scene at the beginning is quick, non-explicit, and that it can be easily digested by nine-year-olds.  I gave up by the second page, scared out of my bloomers.  I've tried several times, even skipping over the first few pages, but I just can't hack it.  (Note: I also tried The Graveyard Book audiobook.  That didn't work either.  Gaiman's voice box clearly comes from the same factory as Boris Karloff's.  Spooksville).

Before I Die by Jenny Downham.  David Fickling: 2007.

Man, I love well-written, angsty YA.  Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, Sara Zarr - I love it. I like some grit, some real trauma, some good ol' fashioned naughty bits.  When I read the (mostly starred) reviews of Before I Die, I knew it was for me.

The premise is simple (teen girl has just months to live and wants to go off her chain before the end) but all the reviewers said the execution was brilliant, raw, and beyond expectation.  Since it's in this blog post, you know I couldn't get through it.  I gave up around page 30.  Maybe things turned around in the end (I don't think they do), but I couldn't get over the "die" part.  This was three years ago and lately I've been thinking of trying this one again.  But for the time being, it remains an Unfinishable.

Laika by Nick Abadzis.  First Second: 2007.

I tried to read this at the lake this summer.  'Tis not beach reading, y'all.  Laika was the first animal sent into space.  It didn't go so well.

I was about 2/3 into this book before my other half had to come outside, extract my bawling self from a lawn chair, and say firmly "I don't think you should read this anymore."   He then had to hide it at the bottom of his suitcase and return it to the library for me because I couldn't even look at it.  The only thing more upsetting for me than this book was when I thought the baby alien was going to die in District 9. Seriously.

Laika is terrifically well done, but I think that was the problem for me.  I still can't shake it.  It's like Old Yeller but in Russia/space.  That makes it about 40 million times more intense.

In my experience, I find that recommending an Unfinishable to a child or teen is more effective than anything else.  If I can honestly say "I was too traumatized to even finish this book," it will fly off the shelf.  Of course, I'm not going around trying to traumatize chidlers.  But Unfinishables make great sells.  They issue a challenge:

I couldn't get through this book.  Can you?

23Jul/100

Jon Hamm for Mr. Popper

Dr. Dre once said that he is "still not loving police." Well, I'm still not loving the idea of a Mr. Popper's Penguins movie.  On a seemingly unrelated note, the fourth season of Mad Men starts this weekend.  I think there's something here...

Let me begin by admitting that my attitude towards children's books being turned into movies is best described as "hypocritical curmudgeon."  I'm one of those people who usually thinks kids books are best left as kids books: The live action How The Grinch Stole Christmas movie left me teary-eyed in anger and I can't even talk about the Where The Wild Things Are movie without going on an extended enraged tirade.  Yet, I think Hawley Pratt's 1971 animated The Cat in the Hat is brilliant while most find it creepy and weird (Daws Butler as Mr. Krinklebein is spot on and Geisel and Chuck Jones produced it!  How can you not be into that!?).  But, as usual, I digress.

Not surprisingly, I am wholeheartedly against the Mr. Popper's Penguins movie.  Or, to be more precise, the 2012 Mr. Popper's Penguins movie (who knew there was one in 1987?) While I realize that much cinematic hi-jinx can ensue when you put penguins in a basement, I just can't stand to see one of my all-time favourite books follow in the footsteps of the likes of Mike Myers and The Cat in the Hat.  Plus, The Horn Book said that the book "is more fun than twenty-five movies."  How can you beat that?

But I'm a realist.  I know that Hollywood will not heed my plaintive whimpers.  I realize that I need to change my approach.  Instead of whining about it, I need to take action.  This movie is going to get made, and if it's going to get made, there is only one man I trust with the sacred role:

Yes, I think Hammy would make the perfect Pops.  And like any good English 100 student, I have already anticipated your objections and am ready to convince you.

He's too put together.  Mr. Popper is sort of delightfully rumpled and painterly in the book.

But Hammy can look delightfully rumpled/scruffy too!  Look!

Okay, so he looks a BIT like a guy who would ask you for money outside a liquor store here, but you have to admit there's potential...

Jon Hamm isn't kid friendly.  Mom friendly, yes.  But not kid friendly.

Oh, really?  Just look at this face!

Doesn't that just scream kid-friendly? What's that?  You think he looks a bit creepy here?  Well, that's perfect!  Mr. Popper has just a touch of creepy/zany about him (he does have an obsession with reading about cold climates and keeps penguins in his basement).

Aren't you biased?  Isn't Jon Hamm second on the list of famous people you want to marry (after JFK Jr. and before Paul Newman in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof)?

You got me there.

Jon Hamm isn't funny.

But he is funny!  He really is!  Just listen to him tell the story of how Regis Philbin stalks him! (at the 1:00 mark)

There are currently three other actors in serious consideration for the role: Jim Carrey, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson (Ben Stiller used to be, but now he's apparently out).  Boo-urns to all these guys.

The Press Association made a very astute comment, saying that, depending on the actor/director combo, the movie could either be " a soul-searching metaphor movie or a kid-friendly comedy packed with animal jokes."  If Carrey or Black do the role, it will turn into one of those overly-raucous, way-too-loud blockbusters where humour is achieved via penguins peeing on the carpet.  If Owen Wilson does it, things could get a bit too introspective and weird.  And if Ben Stiller does it, it will just be Night at the Museum with some penguin trainers tacked onto the credits. Hamm could bring something inbetween, methinks, with a health dose of old-fashioned kitsch and plenty of pomade.

In my final plea, I have created this highly-detailed, realistic simulation for your consideration:

So, I hope you will consider supporting me in the cause: Jon Hamm for Mr. Popper - 2012.

2Jul/104

What do the Newbery and Stephenie Meyer Have In Common?

The Children's Bookshelf peeps at Publishers Weekly recently tweeted this Huffington post article on Grammar Pet Peeves.  The list contains the fairly standard horrors of affect/effect, its/it's, etc. and it got me thinking about the two children's lit misspellings that keep me awake at night.

The first, and most bone-chillingly infuriating, is the misspelling of Newbery.  If I had a dime for everytime I saw Mr. N spelt wrong, I'd likely have enough money to hire Neil Gaiman to come speak at a private event.

John most often has his surname butchered in two ways.

1.  "Newbury"

Even Neil Gaiman is not immune to the power of the Newbery typo!!!

"Hey kids, let's go to the libury for a Newbury award winning book!"

2.  "Newberry"

"Hey kids, let's go to the liberry for a Newberry award winning book!" My horror at the Mr. Popper's Penguin movie will be saved for a future post.

Caldecott is spared the terror.

"Stephanie Meyer"

Stephenie Meyer is what I call a "tooth brushing author," meaning I harbor neither overwhelmingly strong hatred nor overwhelmingly strong love for her or her work.  Reading Twilight was like brushing my teeth - it was a necessity that left me feeling rather neutral and blaze.  M'eh.

But what does leave me in a cold sweat of rage is the misspelling of her name.  I don't know why, but it's like fingernails on a chalkboard.  And it's one thing if you're a teenager on a Twlight message board, fervently arguing the merits of Team Jacob, but it is quite another if you are one of Canada's most popular and respected newspapers:

COME ON! The giant picture of the book cover is right there, exposing your nasty typo ways, National Post!

And People magazine did it too!

There are many more examples but my blood pressure can't take it.  I know that we are all human and that this blog is probably riddled with typos, but I thought it was my duty to show you this horrifying underbelly of the children's/YA literature world.  This will also be the only time Stephenie Meyer and Newbery are ever mentioned in the same sentence.

I would also like to point out that there are some instances where children's literature-related typos are positively inevitable.  For instance, when you are spelling John Scieszka.  Even if I am copying his name directly from a book cover, I will always spell it wrong.  The same goes for Canadian YA author Shelley Hrdlitschka.  It is common knowledge that the most fertile typo breeding ground is created when an s is paired side-by-side with a c.  Throw a z or a k/h in there and you're up the creek.