Saturday, September 24, 2016

Am I Weird?

"So, tell us about your favorite book or author...."

I cannot tell you how much I HATE this question (especially in an interview)! I was reminded of this recently when we were asked this question as an ice-breaker at my MLIS orientation. This question doesn't bother me so much in casual conversation, but in a job interview or any other professional interaction, it really puts me on the spot and causes instant anxiety. Apparently I'm a real oddball, particularly in the library field, because I don't have a favorite book or author.

Everyone else seems to have one particular life-changing book that they loved, and/or an author that they love, but not me. I do love to read, and there have been many books that I have liked, even loved, at various times in my life, but not one stands out as being a singular favorite. Definitely nothing life-altering. There are several authors whose books I have liked, but many have not written a large enough body of work to say they are my favorite, or if they have written a number of works, I have only read or only liked a few.

I don't even really have a favorite genre; it's all relative and situational. I love to read, and I will pretty much read almost anything that's in front of me given the time. I work in youth services, so I read mostly middle-grade and young adult novels for professional reasons, though I do try to read some adult books every now and then. I do find the teen fiction that *I* like tends not to be what is most popular with teens. I gravitate towards realistic and historical fiction, and I'm so over the whole vampire thing, and I don't really care for magical realism in general.

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy or sci-fi, but, if the story and writing are good enough, I can enjoy them. I loved Harry Potter (if I were really pressed to pick a favorite series, that might be it, but I don't like Rowling's adult novels at all) and Ender's Game, and liked Hunger Games quite a bit (once I got past the children killing children aspect). I really don't care for novels in verse or graphic novels; I have nothing against them and do recognize their value, it's just not my thing. But again, if they are well-written with a good story, I enjoy them. For example, Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and Booked, and the graphic novels El Deafo and Roller Girl. 

One book I really liked this year was Echo, with four stories for the price of one, mostly historical fiction, with just a little magic thrown in, but not enough to be annoying. Also, I just read both The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate and felt they were written for my 10-year old self. I loved them, but they still don't outshine everything else, and it's so hard to compare different genres and ages.

As far as adult literature, I don't get to read that much, but some that I've enjoyed in the last 3-4 years were Unbroken, A Higher Call, and The Book Thief (that they all have to do with WWII is entirely coincidental). Some others were the popular Gone Girl as well as Flynn's earlier Dark Places, The Dovekeepers, and being a child of the '80's, I LOVED Ready Player One (can't wait for the movie!).

Some of my childhood favorites were Heidi, Little Women, Pippi Longstocking, The Mouse and the Motorcyle, Socks, and the Little House series. My guilty pleasure as a teen through adulthood is historical romance, mostly by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Johanna Lindsey as they are steamy enough, without being too slutty and sordid, and I just love the historical aspect and being immersed in different time periods. I save these to read on vacation, since they are purely for escape and entertainment.

But out of all of these, I cannot pick any one book as my favorite, and in a few years most will probably be replaced by newer titles in my mind. 

So, am I weird for not having a favorite book? Does everyone else have a favorite? What's yours?

Friday, September 23, 2016

An Update & Excuses

So my regular readers have probably noticed I have not been posting as much, and I have let a fair amount of time pass since my last post. If you do follow me, then you've probably guessed it has to do with my starting an MLIS program this fall.

While I'm only taking one class, and it does not really take up all of my time, I'm finding it's taking up most of my creative energy, and the amount of screen time I can tolerate. Since it is an online program, starting school has meant a huge increase in the amount of time I have to spend on the computer, participating in discussions, doing research, writing assignments, etc. And on top of that, I've got two presentations coming up at work that I've been spending time making Power Points for, so that's even more screen time than normal at work. This huge increase in computer time has taken a tole, causing significant eye strain and frequent headaches (and I did have my eyes checked recently).

So, what this boils down to is that I have less time to read books to review, and have many days I just can't spend another minute on the computer, and if I could, I can't seem to some up with anything to write about! It's a little easier maintaining at least weekly posting on my storytime blog, since storytime is the main part of my job, so I always have that to write about, and it's more straightforward.

I'm going to try to keep this blog going, but will only be able to post 2-3 times a month at most. I'll see how it goes for a while, but if I find I can't post that often I may have to reconsider, and possible switch to putting my book reviews on Goodreads and working some of the other content into my storytime blog, since I have many more readers for that one, and I only do programming for older groups sporadically.

At any rate, I will see how it goes!

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. 2009. Henry Holt and Co. 352 pages. Ages 9-12. Newbery Honor Book.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. 2015. Henry Holt and Co. 320 pages. Ages 9-12.


Eleven-year old Calpurnia Tate is a budding scientist. She first observes a kind of grasshopper she's never noticed before, that is larger and more yellow than the smaller emerald green grasshoppers she's familiar with. She asks her grandfather, who has become a naturalist after retiring from the family cotton business, about it, but he tells her to figure it out for herself. She does, and that spawns not only her interest in nature and science, but also a special relationship between her and her grandfather, who gives her copies of Darwin's Origin of Species and later, The Voyage of the Beagle. 

Her interest in science and nature continues to grow under her grandfather's tutelage and she even discovers what might be a new plant species. She dreams of going to college and getting a degree, thinking she might even like to be a veterinarian after gradually worming her way into becoming the new town animal doctor's assistant. She has a knack for it, and is not squeamish about blood and guts, unlike her younger brother Travis, the animal lover known for taking in all kinds of orphaned and stray animals, but who can't stand the sight of blood.  

Unfortunately for Calpurnia, it is 1900, and girls are expected to learn to cook, sew, clean, and run a household in preparation for being wives and mothers, not become scientists. The older she gets, the less time she has to spend with her grandfather and the more time her mother makes her spend on the "womanly arts". She becomes increasingly aware of how her parents treat her and her six brothers differently, and begins to realize that females are not full citizens and do not have the freedom or choices that men do.

My Thoughts 
I'm going to have to be up front about my possible bias here, as historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and my first career was as a scientist. As a kid I was much like Calpurnia, always exploring the outdoors and doing "experiments", and I can relate to her struggle against her parents' limited expectations of her based on gender. I also read several of Darwin's works in high school and college, and I own a copy of Origin of Species.

So in light of that, it's no surprise that I loved these books; I felt like they were written for my 10-year old self. I thought they were well-written and that the main characters were well-developed, particularly Calpurnia, her grandfather, and younger brother Travis. I loved seeing the relationship develop between Calpurnia and her grandfather as they shared their love of nature and how he nurtured her inquisitiveness and intelligence. Along the way there are plenty of dramatic, humorous, and touching moments for Calpurnia and her family. I also really like how each chapter begins with a quote, from Darwin's Origin of Species in the first book, and Voyage of the Beagle in the second.

I think this story could appeal to a number of readers: those who enjoy or are at least open to historical fiction, those who are interested in nature and science, those who also struggle against their parents' and/or society's expectations of them, and other girls surrounded by brothers. Readers who enjoyed Jennifer Holm's Our Only May Amelia, which is set in the same time period and has a protagonist that shares Calpurnia's struggle with gender roles and having many brothers, or Amy Timberlake's One Came Home (set slightly earlier and is a mystery/adventure, but also has a female main character that doesn't fit into the typical gender roles of the time and incorporates a little science) would likely enjoy Calpurnia's story. Some parents might object to the emphasis on Darwin and his theories of evolution.

My only complaint is that even at the end of the second book, we still don't know what became of Calpurnia. Was she ever able to follow her dreams of a higher education and scientific pursuits, or did she give in to the weight of her parents' and society's expectations and allow herself to be married off, as her parents seem to have in mind? I sincerely hope there will be another book or books to answer that question, but I was not able to determine if that was in the works or not.

Review By My Nine-Year Old Niece 
"This is a story about an 11 year-old girl who doesn't like piano or knitting, but likes science and nature. I like that Callie Vee doesn't want to be a debutante. I also think it's funny how Mr. Grassel, the postman, acts when Callie Vee [says], "I need a stamp." Another thing I like about her is that she loves nature.

What I didn't like about this was that there was hardly any action. That's all.

I would recommend The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate to girls from 9-15."

Other Books By This Author 
Jacqueline Kelly also wrote a sequel to Kenneth Grahame's beloved classic Wind In The Willows, entitled Return To The Willows and beautifully illustrated by Clint Young. She is also incorporating the characters of Calpurnia and Travis into a new series of beginning chapter books for younger readers (ages 7-10) called Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet, with more of their adventures caring for injured or orphaned animals. The first book, Skunked!, is due to be released on October 4, 2016, with Counting Sheep to follow on April 4, 2017.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Slow Day At The Desk...

Yesterday was a really slow day at the desk since summer reading is over and school has started, but there isn't a lot of homework, projects, and assigned reading yet. While it's nice to have some slow periods every once in a while when you have programs to plan and prep for, I hate having a whole shift that is slow. While I don't like to be so busy that I'm overwhelmed and people have to wait very long, I do prefer a nice, steady pace, and find it to be energizing to stay busy and engaging with people. Those slow days just wear me out and make me so tired!

I thought I would have a lot of straightening up to do since we'd had a fairly large school group in that morning, but surprisingly there really wasn't that much of a mess, just books to reshelve. I did have a storytime to plan, so I was initially glad for some down time so I could review the books I had pulled and make a final decision on what to use, but after that I needed something to do! 

I had already straightened up and filled the displays, so I started shelving, since we had all the books the school group had pulled but not checked out, and we are once again down a page. I don't know why we are having such a hard time with that position; I would think there would be people who need the work or library students who want to get their foot in the door. But after the long-time page had to quit for medical reasons, we had one that stayed only 4 months, and this last one was only there about 2 months and quit with no notice. Each time the position has had to be posted more than once to even get enough applicants to interview. I don't get it; this is a great department to work in with great people!

After shelving one cart, I pulled the materials for holds and transfers, which didn't take terribly long. People started slowly trickling in, but nobody really seemed to need much help, just a few checkouts and computer passes. I can't stand just sitting there, so I started working on shelving again. I would normally do shelf-reading when it's that slow, but I try to avoid it if I am the only person in the department as I'm afraid a patron might need help but not see me back in the stacks, and I might not see or hear them come in. Shelving doesn't require quite as much extended, focused attention, and you move along quickly, so easier for patrons to spot you, and vice versa.

Next week, I'll have to remember to bring a flannel board set to cut pieces out for or something similar to do, just in case!  Now, where's my coffee.....