Meeting Authors and NOT Saying Something Dumb

Once I met an author by running into him on the exhibit hall floor at ALA. (Literally, body against body. Followed by stuttering an apology and the realization that it was Jay. Asher. standing in front of me.) Four times authors have visited my library as part of a speaking tour, organized by the Programming Division manager. By tweeting reviews from this here blog, I have had brief exchanges with many authors – each time as thrilling as the last, but not as surprising. Authors are real people, and some enjoy communicating with their readers, even if just to say “thanks for the kind review”.

Suffice it to say that I am getting better at interacting with the same folks I once considered as untouchable as Johnny Depp or Gavin Rossdale (who are, unfortunately, still untouchable).

I had a little more practice this past weekend when I visited One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia. As part of George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival, a panel of YA authors was speaking about their books. Elisa Nader, Elizabeth Scott, and Valerie O. Patterson all spoke about their characters, about writing such difficult scenarios, and about writing for YA readers.

The panel started with a bang when the authors were asked about writing such difficult topics – death, the Afghanistan war, PTSD, extreme religion – for a teen audience. Patterson said something I wasn’t expecting; “Writing to the teen audience is writing to the teen I once was.” To think that an author writes for its cathartic capabilities struck me as both surprising and obvious…it’s what I do, but I guess I never saw it that way. Then Scott chimed in, revealing that while writing her most recent book Miracle – about a girl suffering from undiagnosed PSTD – she herself was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD. Her therapist actually made her read her own book (which she said she never, ever does) because it could help her overcome her stress.

I appreciated the authors’ congruous message of “teens are already dealing with difficult topics so let’s talk about them”. I find it insulting to the entire age group when adults try to keep them safe from reading about such themes, when really we should be preparing them for how best to deal with the difficulties that they will likely face at some point in their lives.

I recently had a cousin go away to college. In the first card I sent to her I wrote two things I regretted about my freshman year, and one thing I am still thankful for. Not because I wanted to scare her, but because I wanted her to know that if she experiences something challenging or difficult, she has someone to talk to. Teens, young adults, they want to badly to be adults, but they can’t be until they’ve lived just a few more years. Some of those years will be incredibly trying, but if we can provide literature for them to read, and God forbid have a candid conversation with them about the issue, perhaps we can help make that transition a bit easier.

 

 

 

Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor

I just meant that… I want to be the last person who ever kisses you too….That sounds bad, like a death threat or something. What I’m trying to say is, you’re it. This is it for me.

The story of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has all the elements of a typical YA realistic novel. An awkward teen, an alcoholic stepparent, bullying, and more. Nothing new, right?

Wrong. So wrong. So incredibly wrong that Eleanor would just roll her eyes and huff “God” right in your face.

Eleanor is an over-sized girl with extra-frizzy red hair and an eccentric wardrobe, all commingled to create a bully’s dream victim. Eleanor is harassed by the popular kids, by her step-father, and – worst of all – by herself. She questions how Park could like her, even stand her. She is continually shocked that, once again, a day passes without him being disgusted by her presence in his life. Eleanor is a sad, comfortless teen who holds the world at arms length, and my heart broke for her so often throughout the novel.

Thank God she couldn’t make her mouth work right now, because if she could, there’d be no end to the melodramatic garbage she’d say to him. She was pretty sure she’d thank him for saving her life….Which made her feel like the dumbest, weakest girl. If you couldn’t save your own life, was it even worth saving?

Park’s mother is Korean, and moved to America after his Soldier father swept her off her feet. Park is the only Asian kid in Omaha, not unpopular, well-liked, but a bit of a recluse choosing music and comic books over parties. His openness with Eleanor perfectly matched her restraint, making for many awkward moments.

Dumb. He should have gotten the pen. Jewelry was so public…and personal, which was why he’d bought it. He couldn’t buy Eleanor a pen. Or a bookmark. He didn’t have bookmarklike feelings for her.

Rainbow did such a thorough job of describing Eleanor, but I still don’t have a complete picture in my head of her face. I cannot decide if that is Rainbow’s fault or my own. I say my own because, well, the self-hatred that Eleanor has about her body sounds a lot like the self-hate I had for my own for the longest time. Still do occasionally. So maybe instead of seeing Eleanor’s face, I saw my own. Maybe that’s why I had the reaction I did upon finishing the novel.*

Luckily there are artists out there who cannot let another day go by without drawing their interpretation of their beloved characters. Here is one that Rainbow tweeted, from an artist named Simini Blocker:

simini

Eleanor & Park is a heartbreaking yet laugh-out-loud hilarious novel. Seriously…I haven’t had that many post-its in a book since college. The book is worth reading for many reasons, and Rainbow’s impeccable capturing of the sensitive, poetic, and exhilarating moments of love.

Recommended for:
Everyone. Everyone should read this book. Adults should read it to remember the inner struggle of being a teenager. Teens should read it to develop compassion for others – because a person’s exterior gives no clues as to what their personal life holds.

And you. You should read this book. It is real life. It is what love should look like, not the dramatic parts, but the giving, hopeful, and supportive parts.

Read-alikes:
This reminds me of The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman for its realistic look at young love, and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (ill. by Maira Kalman).

 

*I cried those silent, knowing tears of someone who remembers. Someone who is thankful it’s not her, but who empathizes with the person and people that it is a reality for.

Music in the Library

Our friends across the pond have the right idea about music and libraries: put live music and solid music collections in the library, and you will attract a whole new crowd of users. Get It Loud in Libraries has hosted over 70 shows already (including performances by Adele and Juliette Lewis) and hosts 8-12 each year. Tickets are not free (approx. 8 euro), but the nominal price isn’t even close to being a hindrance. In a recent interview, founder of GILIL said in response to How have you had to adapt to cuts to arts funding?, “The ethos for GILIL has been to simply keep doing what we are doing and make times better for everyone through great live music and to show the community that libraries are very relevant and necessary in 2011.”

I absolutely love the idea of collaboration between musicians, librarians, and library collections. Instead of just hosting a gig and saying, “See you later” the libraries are building their music collections. This is not just a one-and-done program, it is an on-going effort to appeal to a whole different kind of library user. (GILIL even uses teens as volunteers “creating art for posters, front of house duties, shadowing sound engineers etc.”!!)

Check out the juxtaposition of the amps next to the books. I love this picture!!!


One the heels of that interview, I read about Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center’s new 5,500 sqft space called “YOUmedia — a Digital Library Space for Teens.” Teens, mentors, and librarians meet here to use modern digital equipment to play and learn. One librarian said, “It’s really a shift from thinking of a library as a repository to a community center, a place where things actually happen.” Which is exactly what we want our libraries to be!

Naturally the comments under the article were full of negativity. Wasted money and space, books no longer relevant, today’s teens not being challenged…blahblahblah. Nothing new. Same old sob story. Well you know what, whiners? Go tell all of that to the teens who use the space. Tell them they aren’t worth the time, money, or space. And you know what they’ll do? Shrug their shoulder because that is exactly what so many adults have been telling them for years. Luckily CPL and their funding agencies disagree with you crotchety old fools.

Working For Teens

The 81st Avenue East Oakland Community Library in Oakland, CA has confronted a very serious problem head-on. Upon learning that “most student-related homicides and shootings [in the Oakland community] occurred late on Friday and Saturday nights”, the library decided to open its doors.

Yes, you read that right. Instead of closing at 5, thereby successfully putting kids on the street at the time of high crime, they took them off. The doors of the library stay open for teens until 10:00pm every Friday and Saturday night. (At least for the rest of this month, according to the article).

I tip my hat to you, Oakland Public Library! When other libraries are closing their doors and their backs on young people, you are ushering them in.

most student-related homicides and shootings occurred late on Friday and Saturday nights

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/12WoT)most

most student-related homicides and shootings occurred late on Friday and Saturday nights

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/12WoT)

Feeding the Hungry

You might wonder why such a title is appearing on a librarian’s blog. What does feeding the hungry have to do with libraries?

Quite a bit, my friends. Quite a bit.

Libraries are a public institution, which means our doors are open to anyone and everyone. The only people not permitted through the doors are unaccompanied children (in which case we will try to locate their guardian) and escaped criminals (and even then a good reference librarian might try to connect them to a reference title on criminal law or a guidebook on free travel). Even immigrants with a Visa and no English language skills can use the library (in fact, we encourage them to do so! “Check out Mango Languages, it will help you learn English”)

We warmly accept noisy families and their inquisitive children, the elderly with their endless requests for computer help, and the general public’s need for new titles, ILL, DVDs, and vending machines.

Why then don’t we accept the homeless? Those who perhaps don’t have good hygiene (due to a lack of access to services), who nod off while reading the newspaper, who spend every hour that we are open on a computer, sitting in a comfy chair, or walking around the building. These people exist, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you want to help them or not.

I have chosen to help.

Almost immediately after I started my position as Teen Librarian at the Rust Library I noticed the hungry teens. Not the growing boys who are constantly in need of sustenance, but the kids who spend 11 hours a day at the library and subsist off the peanut butter crackers/pretzels/granola bars that we pass out as snacks (thanks to a very healthy budget for programming given to us by our library board). When I first mentioned to my hoard of teens in the beginning of summer, “Perhaps you should consider bringing food from home if you know you’re going to spend all day here,” a few took heed and do just that. A handful of others, though, cannot afford to do so. One young girl responded, “We don’t have money for that,” as though it were the most natural thing to say.

That comment, in addition to the observations I have made regarding these few young people, led me to take action. Having spent over six years working with my mom at her food pantry in Southern Maryland, I was aware of what resources could be available in the area. I set out to fit what was available, and even asked friends for advice. Maybe they had an idea?

Quite a few of them came through with great suggestions, some of which I had thought of (but of course, hearing it from someone else validates the idea as good one) but others that were surprises. Some ideas were: set up a community garden, put the teens in charge of a fundraiser for getting food to food banks (which raises their own awareness to the issue of hunger and helps the community/their peers at the same time!), get local restaurants to donate food in conjunction with a program (something cultural, perhaps? or a cooking demo?). I am so thankful to my friends for their advice and will be working on putting some of those ideas into action in the near future.

My next step was to contact the Mobile Hope Van (actually a giant bus) based out of INOVA Hospital that parks in community parking lots and invites young people to come on and get food, clothing, and resources…no questions asked. The women at the office were just as saddened at my observations as I was and they leapt into action. Within a couple hours I had a basket of fresh fruit and trail mix to give to these teens in need. The next day they delivered 8 lunch boxes, each containing a large sandwich, chips, cookie, and a drink, on top of another bag of popcorn and hygiene products. At that time we established a date in August when they will park their bus in my library’s parking lot in hopes of getting resources to teens before school starts.

…And that is where I am at today. Everything moved very quickly and I can’t believe I have had so much happen in less than a week! I am so thankful for how much support I have received, but I know that it is only one very small step. There is so much more I can do, librarians across the country can do, to feed those who can’t feed themselves.

**To all of you who don’t think it is the job of the librarian to find food for hungry people. You are right. It is not my job as a librarian to do so. But it is my duty as a human being with compassion for others to find food for hungry people. Someday you or someone you love might be hungry; and someone like me and the INOVA Mobile Health will be there for you.

If you want to help but don’t know where to start, send me an email at april.pavis [at] loudoun.gov I would love to help!