RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

A great patriarch of my own biggest geekdom, Sir George Martin (not the author, no “R”s), died last night, March 8, 2016. This is no tragedy. He was 90 years old. He led a thoroughly fulfilling life.

The tragedy would be to ignore this, to not acknowledge or realize the monumental impact he had on popular music. George Martin helped turn rock music into a relatively respected art form. And “helped” is even too mild a word for it.

Continue reading RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

Letting the Oddity Live On: A Salute to Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve had those times when I’ve actively mourned “celebrities”artists, let’s call them because it isn’t the fame that made them important to me, and I think the “celebrity” label cheapens that importance.

But the experience I had five years ago at the end of this month was just a little different. Yes, I was mourning one of my favorite authors. But I also couldn’t shake the feeling that now I had to—was being called to—carry on her legacy.

And in at least one way—the forcing-other-people-to-listen-to-me-rave-about-her way—I’ve had help with that. During March 2012, a year after her death, her publishers held a blog tour/on-line celebration of the life and works of Diana Wynne Jones. So many bloggers wanted to participate that “#DWJMarch” managed to take over April and May as well. Each year since, Kristen M. at the book blog We Be Reading has continued to host #DWJMarch, and a smaller-but-dedicated group of fans continues to pitch in.

Since last March took Terry Pratchett away from us, too, she’s added him into the mix this year as well, renaming the celebration “March Magics.”

It’s a combination that makes a lot of sense. They’re both English fantasy writers who wrote books that not only skewered the conventions of fantasy, but also offered biting observations of any other topic (especially real life). They created characters both hilarious and heartbreaking. The Venn Diagram for Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones fans ought to be nearly a circle, but somehow she is less well-known in the mainstream. Continue reading Letting the Oddity Live On: A Salute to Diana Wynne Jones

The House of Chaos: Surviving Family ADHD

One of the first articles I pitched to GeekMom, in the application to be a writer here, was a piece on the incentive program we’d set up in our house, so our children would earn their screentime through chores and good behavior.

But by the time I actually started here, our program required a complete overhaul, on account of it no longer working.

Maybe I’d wait until the new plan took hold and write about the evolution of the process. But other topics distracted me before I got around to it, and now the new improved program has tapered off, too.

Well. I could hardly be the one to plug a successful incentive program now. Not that that’s the program’s fault. It’s all on me. You see, you need a grown-up to administer an incentive program.

And I need a grown-up. It’s possible this entire household needs a grown-up. Continue reading The House of Chaos: Surviving Family ADHD

Confessions of a Recovering Ravenclaw

I never got around to joining Pottermore the first time around, so the new Sorting Hat Test is the only official sorting test I’ve ever taken. I don’t know what the old test would have given me, but I was just as befuddled by my result as the people who were finding themselves suddenly re-sorted.

Gryffindor? Seriously? That was third most likely. The only less likely house would have been Slytherin—not so much because I have anything against potentially hanging out with Dark Wizards, but more because my utter lack of ambition is at marginally dangerous levels.

On the other hand, who knows? I don’t think this particular test is very accurate, but it’s not impossible for me to be Gryffindor. I do have a tendency to jump to other people’s defense whenever someone needs defending. Maybe I’m like Neville Longbottom, all my Gryffindor energy pent up inside until I grow up enough to embody it.

I wonder if the real Sorting Hat, in the universe where it really exists, does take the course of a person’s entire future into account. I wonder if it sees the ultimate end of one’s life philosophies, or if it takes the average of one’s philosophies over the course of one’s life. A friend of mine wondered what would happen if Hogwarts students got re-sorted each year. “Wouldn’t it be interesting? As people change, and grow, and develop, so might their Houses change. Because who we are when we are eleven is not (so I devoutly hope) who we will be the rest of our lives.”

I am positive I am not who I was when I was eleven. Continue reading Confessions of a Recovering Ravenclaw

Trying Not to Raise Kylo Ren

I can’t stop thinking about Kylo Ren.

There’s no way to explain this without the nitty-gritty details, so if you’re still avoiding The Force Awakens spoilers (I know, you’re a parent, getting out of the house is hard!), you might want to stop here. But even if you never intend to see it and you hate Star Wars and you just wish the hype would die already—you, on the other hand, can keep reading. You should keep reading. Because this post (like my last Star Wars post) isn’t actually about Star Wars. Not really. It’s about what it means to be bad, and what it’s like to wonder if your child could ever fall to the Dark Side. Star Wars, like all good stories, is a metaphor for real life.

Continue reading Trying Not to Raise Kylo Ren

The American Library Association Announces the 2016 Youth Media Awards Winners

It’s the most exciting awards show of the year! …if you’re a kidlit geek.

Every year at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference, committees of youth services librarians hold secret meetings, discussing and arguing and trying to determine the most Distinguished Books for young people published in the United States in the past year. Early Monday morning, they call the winners. Then, once the sun comes up, they tell the rest of the world, in a live-streamed announcement and press release!

The two oldest and most famous of these awards are the Newbery and the Caldecott. The Newbery is awarded to “the author [emphasis mine] of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The Caldecott is awarded to “the artist [still mine] of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” So, Newbery is for words, Caldecott is for pictures. Got that? Continue reading The American Library Association Announces the 2016 Youth Media Awards Winners

‘A Christmas Together’ With The Muppets and John Denver: My Annual GeekOut

Every year on my personal blog, I post the lyrics to a song from my favorite childhood Christmas album as my seasonal well-wishes to anyone reading. I’m a Christmas Geek, as I mentioned here a few weeks ago, so I want to make sure my well-wishes express my feelings without alienating anyone who doesn’t share those feelings, and this song manages that perfectly. It’s heartfelt and gentle, it’s inclusive and welcoming of all faiths without shying away from personal spirituality, it’s about love and peace and togetherness. And also, it’s sung by Kermit the Frog.

Continue reading ‘A Christmas Together’ With The Muppets and John Denver: My Annual GeekOut

Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi: Death, Survivor’s Guilt, and the Power of a Well-Timed Story

A long time ago in a neighborhood two counties away, I found two small action figures in our new house, left behind by the kids who’d lived there before.

I was five and a half—I’d been to preschool, I had older cousins, I’d seen enough to recognize the military type and the hairy brown creature as Star Wars characters. But ugh, that wasn’t my thing. I didn’t like robots and blasters, and I was frankly terrified of outer space. I much preferred my stories set in magical kingdoms with knights and princesses (nobody’d told me Star Wars actually was about knights and princesses).

I kept the two figures anyway, and incorporated them into my own playtime, and you’ll have to forgive me if I may have thought the brown hairy one was an evil monster. (The military one, it turned out, was an Imperial Officer, but I thought he was dumb-looking, and tended to make him the butt of jokes).

We’d moved here just before I had to start kindergarten, the best possible time to move since I wouldn’t have to switch schools. Ostensibly, though, we moved because my dad had gotten transferred to a new office. It just so happened to be right before I started school. It just so happened to be nearer my grandmother, who babysat more and more frequently. It just so happened to be nearer the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where my toddler sister, Annie, was spending more and more time. Continue reading Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi: Death, Survivor’s Guilt, and the Power of a Well-Timed Story

In Defense of Santa Claus

I’m a Christmas geek. I won’t listen to the music or put up decorations until the first day of Advent or the first of December (whichever comes first), but it haunts my subconscious all year long, popping up in dreams and doodles in the middle of May or the heat of August.

To me, it is more than a holiday. It’s even more than a holy day. It is mythic and universal and deeper than either the shopping malls or my Catholic religion can make it. I want to share it with everyone, whatever their own beliefs or traditions or financial status: Christmas is about hope! It’s about humanity gathering together to keep each other warm as they cheer on the arrival of the sun! It’s about light coming to burn away darkness, both literally and figuratively! It speaks to the deepest longings of our souls.

I say you can celebrate or not celebrate this time of year however much or little you want to, in whatever way you like, as long as you’re happy and you’re not purposely making anyone else unhappy (there are of course people who won’t be happy no matter what you do: they don’t count). And yet I still get up in arms about people who do it wrong.

Continue reading In Defense of Santa Claus

Why You and Your Children Should Read a Book With No Words

Since becoming a children’s librarian, I’ve found a new appreciation for picture books. The good ones (not the cheesy ones thrown together to cash in on a popular character or make grandparents go “awwww” that show up in the discount bin at the grocery store) are true works of art. Picture books are one kind of story you need to have in paper form, to open up and spread out in front of you, to experience as a whole. The words are chosen carefully, to say a lot with a little, like poetry (even when they don’t rhyme). The pictures don’t just illustrate the story, they enhance it, adding detail and humor that words can’t do alone. Even the page turns are considered to get the pacing right.

#picturebookmonth
http://picturebookmonth.com/

November is Picture Book Month, part of an international literacy initiative to raise awareness of and celebrate picture books as an art form that can and should be appreciated by people of all ages.

But in today’s score-driven educational environment, too many people see picture books as something to be outgrown. A year after learning to read, children are being pushed into chapter books, sometimes by teachers, but more often by parents. The more words, the better. Accelerated Reader, a program used by thousands of school districts in the U.S. to track student reading, awards students more points based not on the difficulty of the book, but on the length. Picture books, being almost all just 32 pages long, are worth exactly one-half of a point on Accelerated Reader. Kids trying to rack up points will almost always go for one longer book over several half-point books, even if the total number of words is the same.

And if there are no words at all, what’s the point? Continue reading Why You and Your Children Should Read a Book With No Words

Appreciating How to Fail: A Library Storytime

When brainstorming topics for my weekly Family Storytimes at the public library, I like to browse the Brownielocks site for unusual holidays. I’ve spun storytimes out of the likes of Squirrel Awareness Month, National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, World Vegetarian Day, and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.

October 13, as it turned out, was The International Day For Failure. There are a lot of commemorative days that do not make good family storytime topics, and at first glance “International Day For Failure” seemed like a pass. It sounded like a cynical joke, a day to fail. By the bemused looks on the faces of everyone who saw the week’s topic when I scheduled it, this is a common reaction.

But when I read what http://dayforfailure.com/ had to say about it, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. Continue reading Appreciating How to Fail: A Library Storytime