More Superheroes, and a Quest for Library Opinions

More Superheroes, and a Quest for Library Opinions

At the end of my somewhat grouchy post about superhero books from a couple of weeks ago. I asked commenters to add their own suggestions for superhero books that I might have missed, and got some heroic recommendations:

Which brings me to my second topic of the day: libraries, and what people want from them.

I’ve been doing time behind the reference desk at several different libraries in the last month or two, and have been thinking a lot about what makes libraries places where people want to go—whether it’s the physical comforts (spaces to read or work or let the kids crawl around) or the friendly service, or the helpful recommendations via booklists (like the Wilmette Library's) or in-person suggestions, or the rows and rows of computers with free Internet access. 

Conversely, I know several people, some of them big readers, who don’t use libraries at all; it’s not that they’re necessarily anti-library; it’s just that the library isn’t in their orbit. Sometimes they don’t like trying to find their way around what feels like an arcane organizational system, or they find the fines off-putting, or there just isn’t a nearby branch that’s convenient to them. If they want a book, they’ll buy it at a bookstore or online.

So…if you are a library enthusiast, what makes it a place you want to be? And if you aren’t, is there any particular reason? 

If you want to play another way, here’s a question from a survey I recently gave to teens at local high schools: what’s one thing you like, or don’t like, about the library? (and please let me know which it is! I got several replies from my teen participants that read simply “Quiet” or “Books”, leaving me to puzzle over whether these were likes or dislikes.)

I’d be grateful for all replies, and promise to post another follow-up.

April 30, 2008


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Old Favorites

Old Favorites

The sight of my daughter in a new pink sweater the other morning nagged at me. It wasn't that she didn't look fine, but something about her reminded me of something. What was it? I searched my mind, and finally hit upon the answer: in her long braids and vaguely 1950's-style cardigan, my child captured the essence of a character in something I'd read at about age six, a long out-of-print picture book called The Shy Little Girl, by Phyllis Krasilovsky, and the character was not the shy little girl herself, but her eventual best friend, Claudia, as depicted by the illustrator, the late, great Trina Schart Hyman. That book stayed with me so powerfully that the image of the sweatered, braided child, lo these 35 years later, still resonates.

My stepsister rhapsodized for years about a book that she remembered as "Jacqueline, Jacqueline, and Jacqueline." All she recalled about the plot was that all the characters were named Jacqueline, and that it was sort of strange and surreal.  In those days before the Internet and online used booksellers, it was hard to find out more, but when one day at an antiquarian book fair I happened across a book called Story Number One, by the absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco, I had a feeling I'd found it. I gave it to her for her next birthday, and from the look on her face, it might have been a treasure trove of gold and jewels. And, in a way, it was: it was the key to a formerly lost part of her childhood.

My stepsister and I aren't alone: the books we encounter in childhood have that kind of power for lots of people. They can become part of the sensory, primitive memory that we carry through the rest of our lives, often retaining only a hazy but strong sense of the book or maybe just a single image. Many people have this feeling about popular children's classics like Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are,  but when the book is obscure and not likely to be found again, it can take on an almost mythical quality in the rememberer's mind.

library children's departments are popular haunts for adults tracking down the half-remembered books of their childhoods, and requests for help with old book"stumpers" appear regularly on librarians' listservs. If you're looking for a long-lost childhood favorite, one resource is the Internet Public Library's Half-Remembered Children's Books Search Strategies, which outlines some search methods and linkes to three different websites devoted to helping people track down those books they loved but can't quite remember.

Do you have any long-loved, long-lost childhood favorites? Did you ever manage to find them again in adulthood?

April 25, 2008

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The Case of the Missing Superhero Books

The Case of the Missing Superhero Books

There are books aplenty to satisfy those ravening hordes of princess-crazed little girls, but as Your Neighborhood Librarian implied in her comment on my last post, boys are much more likely to be into superheroes.

And this is a problem. Not so much for the boys themselves, who are quite happy to re-enact Spiderman scenarios on the playground ad nauseum until dragged inside by spoilsport teachers, and who have a wealth of superhero videos, lunchboxes, and assorted other merchandise with which to enrich their imaginative lives.

No, it's a problem for us children's librarians who are doing our best to lure them in to the world of reading using the bait of their pre-existing obsessions. Books about pirates? We got 'em. Books about mummies and skeletons? Sure! Books about dinosaurs, trucks, sharks, snips, snails, puppy dogs' tails? Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup.

Books about superheroes? Um…let me get back to you on that.

The truth is, aside from repackaged picture books based on the standard Marvel characters, there is a real dearth of superhero books out there, especially for younger kids. I'm not sure why this should be; it's a great topic, and what books there are have instant appeal and a pretty much built-in audience. But I've had to disappoint more kids looking for superhero books than I like to think about.

Normally when listing books in this space, I'll introduce them with something like "here are a few of my favorite books about…" or "This is a small sampling of…" But not this time. Here, for your perusal and edification, are all the decent original superhero books for kids that I know of:

Picture books:

Chapter books:

That's it! If you think of any I missed, I'd be grateful if you'd list it/them in comments.

And if you're a children's book writer, or an aspiring one, looking for a subject—especially one for a picture book—might I suggest superheroes? Little boys everywhere, and their librarians, would thank you for it.

April 15, 2008


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Princess Tales

Princess Tales:
In Which Alkelda the Gleeful and My Kid Basically Write My Blog Post For Me

Although I've waxed lyrical in the past about the joys of connecting with other bloggers, the truth is that in recent months I've been a pretty pathetically inactive member of the children's literature blogging community. However, now that these Scholastic blogs have blogrolls (look over to the right!) I've been inspired anew to keep up with of my favorite kidlit bloggers. And lo! I have been rewarded with blogging inspiration.

Over at Saints and Spinners, Alkelda the Gleeful recently interviewed her young daughter about princesses and invited her readers to do the same. Since my 7-year-old daughter is a longtime princess fan, and since princesses and princess books tend to be topics of consuming interest to girls around the ages of 4 to 7, I was especially happy to take Alkelda up on it. And since answering these questions offered my kid the chance to delay bedtime, she was in turn happy to participate. Here are the results:

What do you like about princesses?

They're pretty, they're kind, warm-hearted when others are not, and their outfits are pretty, and they're special.

What do princesses do?

Be royal, have fun, go out in the gardens, go to balls. They live happily ever after!

When you pretend to be a princess, what do you like to do?

Pretend I have servants, pretend that I go to big fancy ballrooms, and play music or dance to a lively tune, which is usually one of my kids' fun CDs: mostly Rick Around the Rock, Scat Like That, or Car Tunes. 

What do princesses do that is good?

They help others! They take risks just for love. They don't care that much about money.

What are some princess stories that you like?

[Ed. note: she started paging through a fairy tale collection for reference partway through answering this question; several of the stories she lists are retold there, but most of the versions I've linked to all are stand-alone picture books.]

I like Cinderella—a certain one, where she's black and she wears a pink dress and the fairy godmother comes with her and wears a red dress [She meant Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella, by Robert D. San Souci]. Sleeping Beautynot the Disney one—The Princesses Have a Ball, The Courageous Princess, Princess Baby, The Paper Princess, The Paper Bag Princess. The Princess and the Pea, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Rapunzel, and Snow White. And The Goose Girl. Rumplestiltskin. Oh yeah, I like The Frog Prince!

Which one is your favorite out of those? (You can pick two if you like.)

The Goose Girl (from Five-Minute Fairy Tales) and The Princesses Have a Ball [Ed. note: I like this one too! It's a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" with a fun and playful athletic slant—I think that's all I can say without spoiling the ending too badly.]

Anything else you want to say about princesses?

They don't always have to look nice to be happy. They can look however and still be happy.


If you conduct any princess-related interviews of your own, be sure to let Alkelda know! I'd love to hear about it, too.

April 6, 2008

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