Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banning not just books, but their authors too.

According to the School Library Journal, two well-known YA authors have come under fire recently for the controversial topics of their novels -- right on the brink of Banned Books Week.

A few months ago, Laurie Halse Anderson won the ALA's Margaret Edwards Award, which "honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature." (The three specific books honored were Catalyst, Fever 1793, and Speak.) When included in school curricula, though, some of these same books and Anderson's other YA works -- Twisted, Chains, Prom, and Wintergirls -- have upset parents with their content, which includes date rape, child abuse, suicidal ideation, and eating disorders.

Ellen Hopkins, author of Burned, Crank, Impulse, Identical, Glass, and Tricks, has herself been challenged; one of her upcoming middle school visits was cancelled when a parent objected to the drug addiction narratives Crank and Glass. (Technically, the books were still being reviewed by a school committee when Hopkins was asked not to come.)

If you haven't already read Jo Knowles's blog entries in response to a challenge to her novel Lessons From a Dead Girl, now would be a good time to do so... and it's also a great time to read Ellen Hopkins's poem "Manifesto."

In addition to reading some banned books this week (or when you can fit them in!), you might want to check out some books about burning or banning books and reading:
- Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (non-fiction)
- Libyrinth by Pearl North
- The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 23

New stuff for fall just keeps coming in, and this week is no exception! Here are the things I want to buy this time around:

Purple Night Owl Sillo Purse by Douglas
Located around the Hut

I love the fact that owls are in right now--owl stuff is inevitably cute or cool or both--and this plush purse from Douglas is just along the right line! It's uniquely shaped, being long and thin rather than wide, and it's fantastically colorful. The sweet heart-shaped eyes and multitude of polka dots pretty much guarantee my approval! It's got a soft strap and zip closure, and whoooo could resist those floppy wings? We've also got tabby cat-shaped purses in the same line, for all the feline fans.

Acorn Fairy Hat by Cranium Costumes
Located around the Hut

It wouldn't be fall without acorns, and this is the perfect headgear for acorn hunting! With sturdy felt outsides, a cute little stem and a handy clear elastic strap, the Acorn Fairy Hat could be a Halloween costume, Thanksgiving dinner couture, or a really fanciful fall-themed yarmulke for Sukkot. The possibilities are endless. FYI, the girl in the photo isn't me, but I think I'd have a similar expression if I were wearing an acorn on my head--but maybe with a little more delight. :)

That's it for this week. Tune in next week for more cool stuff I want to buy!

On libraries, banned books, and a few other favorite topics.

With Banned Book Week starting next Monday, September 26th, I'm getting very excited about celebrating controversial books! I have a long-term goal of reading all 100 of the most challenged books; it's actually an elusive goal, as the list changes yearly. (I've only read 17 of this year's -- pathetic!) Take a look at the list and see how many you've read!

The practices of banning and challenging books are fascinating. While I don't believe in censorship, and usually think a child can instinctively select a book appropriate for them, it's a tricky thing that needs to be addressed on a community-by community basis.

In the area of the Pacific Northwest where I attended college, the population was split between the university students -- many of whom were from out the area and drawn by the school's very progressive politics -- and locals whose families had often depended on the logging industry for generations. The Lorax was viewed as too controversial for many classrooms in the area because its ethics questioned the livelihood of many children's parents. However, should The Lorax be pulled from the school libraries or from libraries in the community? And this is a book which is usually considered inoffensive and even positive in other communities -- what about books that really upset people, like the perennially challenged And Tango Makes Three and The Perks of Being a Wallflower? (I love both of these books.) Could the problem be solved by reshelving them in a different part of the library, or labeling the spine with some sort of age recommendation? How do children's librarians deal with these challenges? How does it feel to have a book you've written challenged by a parent and subsequently banned from a library? Our recent guest Jo Knowles shares her thoughts on being a challenged author at her blog.

Speaking of libraries and librarians, I just finished a YA fantasy novel called Libyrinth, in which a cavernous library holds the secrets of a long-dead civilization (and where the books speak to the protagonist, Haly). It's made me think about magical libraries, both real and imaginary. There's the gigantic library of the Clayr in Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy, which contains secret rooms imprisoning horrific monsters and winding passages down which librarians vanish. In Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners," a TV show within the short story stars the Free People's World-Tree Library; the stacks are maintained by pirate, fairy, and vampire librarians. In Neil Gaiman's movie masterpiece Mirrormask (say that five times fast), books flutter their pages like wings and glide around the room -- allowing main character Helena to hitch a ride across town. Speaking of Mr. G, his real-life library could give these fantasy world libraries a run for their money!

A while back we linked to an article in The Guardian (via Shelf Awareness) which asked,
"Which are the best books that never existed?" Some children's lit-related suggestions that came up in Shelf Awareness were The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern, Inkspell by Fenoglio, and Tom Riddle's diary from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. What other books/texts do you wish were real? Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You? The Never-Ending Story? The Gossip Girl website? The Marauders' Map?
So here's a variation on that theme: what are the best libraries that never existed? (I vote for Sarah Stewart and David Small's The Library.) TV, movies, and books are all up for grabs. Alternatively, are there real-life libraries that you covet?

We could all take a page (har har) from "the brightest witch of her age," Hermione Granger: "When in doubt, go to the library." And while you're there, why not check out a banned book or two?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Calling all George ventriloquists!

I have some quick - but exciting - news tonight:

Russ, our supreme supplier of plushy Georges, has revealed the return of an old favorite: the 16 inch plush puppet Curious George!

Another recent addition is the 12 inch George in a yellow hat....someone finally must have listened to the choruses of people asking for hat of the man in the yellow hat!

You can find these guys, along with other George plush, tin banks, wooden puzzles, party supplies, learning CDs, T-shirts and infant raincoats, and many, many more Georgian goodies on our store's website.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Authors, forgive me, for I have slacked -- or -- the blogger's burden

Maybe it's because I grew up Catholic (we're notorious for intense, deeply ingrained feelings of shame), but I've always been really good at guilt... especially when I have a really good reason to feel guilty!

I realized I never linked to the websites/blogs of our talented, gracious, and good-looking guests of honor at the Bookish Ball several weeks ago. Had I been on top of things, I would have linked to them beforehand so that you would have been even more excited for the event. Um, now you can get pumped to come in and snatch up the few remaining signed copies of their books?

Here is Jo Knowles's official bio: "Jo Knowles is the author of Lessons from a Dead Girl and Jumping Off Swings (Candlewick Press). She teaches writing for children in the MFA program at Simmons College. She was the 2002 winner of the SCBWI Contemporary Novel Grant and the 2005 winner of the PEN New England Children’s Book Discovery Award. Jo lives in Vermont with her husband and son." Jo is also an encouraging and gentle critic, a witty and prolific blogger who facilitates JoNoWriMo (an online writing challenge/support group based on NaNoWriMo), and an all-around lovely lady. I read both her novels in great big suspense-filled swallows. Stop by her FAQ, which addresses such all-important queries as "Why do I have to go to school?" and "Why can't Batman fly?"

Steve Kluger, "author, Red Sox fan, uncle," is the author of Last Days of Summer, Almost Like Being in Love, Changing Pitches, Yank: The Army Weekly, and Curious George favorite My Most Excellent Year. Many of these novels feature baseball, Boston, GLBT teens, World War II, and/or musicals. My roomie and CG alum Nicole nominated him our "author in residence," and Steve said he's okay with that. His Facebook page includes adorable pictures of Steve with various nieces and nephews, often at Red Sox events, and links to the various charitable organizations he supports, from Save Fenway Park to GLSEN.

Matt Tavares is the author and illustrator of the baseball-centric picture books Zachary's Ball, Oliver's Game, and Mudball, as well as the illustrator of Lady Liberty: A Biography, Iron Hans, Jack and the Beanstalk, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and the just-published Gingerbread Pirates. You can get a sneak peek at some of his work in progress (and personal paintings, like this luminous view of Monhegan Island) at his blog. Matt's illustrations should look familiar to Bostonians: being Boston born and raised (well, Winchester raised, technically), Matt bases much of his art on the locales and architectural styles of the area, and Fenway Park provides the setting of Zachary's Ball. Cambridge publisher Candlewick Press publishes his books. Rumor has it Cambridgian and fellow Candlewick author M.T. Anderson modeled for a character in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

I hope that you're inspired to go leave our guests a little love on their websites or blogs, and that they'll forgive me for being so late in posting them! (Why are all their pictures in black and white -- or black and sepia, as the case may be? No idea, unless that's the way all the talented, gracious, and good-looking authors are doing it these days.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 22

There are so many new things in the store lately, and so many older things that I haven't had a chance to post about! How will I ever choose? Still, as I think about it, some things jump out at me. Here's a few of them!

Pairs in Pears and Appletters by Bananagrams
$17.95 each
Located downstairs in the Chapter Book Room

If you like Bananagrams, you'll love these new games from the same company. Pairs in Pears uses four different alphabets of letters, challenging the players to not only make words with their tiles, but also match the letter styles within each word. Appletters uses the first and last letters of words as connecting points for new words, making long chains of gameplay. Each game comes packed in a bag shaped like its respective fruit--a veritable cornucopia of wordy fun! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Color On! Under the Sea Coloring Roll by Great Explorations
Located downstairs in the Art Room

When I was a kid I had a little wooden frame that fit long rolls of seemingly endless paper. The endlessness of it, the way you could make a huge panoramic picture, had huge appeal. This coloring roll is based on the same principle--unroll a ten-foot undersea scene, and you've got a coloring challenge to occupy any number of crayon-wielders for a while!

Deluxe Kitchen Set by Melissa and Doug
See a model in our window display!

I spent quite a lot of time earlier this week helping to assemble our model of this set, and it's pretty astonishing. Approximately 3.5' tall by 3.5' wide, this wooden kitchen has working cabinet doors, knobs and faucet that turn, a spinning turntable in the microwave, and adorable graphics. I'm quite in awe of it, and I wish I had space for it in my real kitchen--how meta would that be? Just stock it full of cute toy food and cookbooks, and you've got a kitchen-happy kid's dream fulfilled.

That's all for now--see you next time for more fun stuff!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Spooky story fun in October!

We're gearing up to start two book clubs in October!

For kids ages 9-12, with their grown-up of choice, we'll meet on Wednesday, October 7th, from 6:00 to 6:45 in the chapter book room downstairs. The book this month is The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh.

For teens ages 13 and up, we'll meet on Tuesday, October 6th -- same bat time, same bat channel: 6:00 to 6:45 in the chapter book room. The book this month is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. (You'll be oh-so prepared to create a great costume for our Halloween party on October 30th!)

Both groups should come ready to discuss their book, share spooky stories, and grub on the provided pizza! And from now until the club meetings, you'll get 20% off your club's book of the month. Sign up to participate this month at the downstairs register.

We're hard at work on a kids' review program, which should be launching soon -- so after your club meets, you can leave us a review of your club selection or any other favorite (or even not-so-favorite) read.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bookish Banana Bonanza!

This past Saturday was the second annual Harvard Square Bookish Ball - and we certainly brought all kinds of monkey business to the day! We had folk musician Charlie Hope enrapturing kids, and authors Steve Kluger and Matt Tavares signing and chatting away, and author Jo Knowles (alas, not pictured), led a great creative writing workshop for teens and adults. Our own staffers held activities, too: kids could decorate cookies and make and color their own books.

You can see more photos over on our Facebook page, but here's a few snaps of the fun!

Charlie Hope

Steve Kluger

Matt Tavares


Thanks to everyone who came - authors, musicians, budding artists and writers and chefs - we had a great time, and we can't wait 'til next time!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Rachel Wants to Buy This Week - Episode 21

Today was a crazy day here at Curious George, what with the Bookish Ball and all--but even when it's crazy, there's always time for me to window shop around the store!

"Home Cooked Cafe" Kiddie Apron by Sugar Booger
Located around the Hut

When I was little, I loved helping my mom cook. My favorite job was to rip up the sweet Italian sausage into little pieces for baked ziti--messy, easy, and me helping made my favorite dinner happen faster. I was a pretty conscientious child, but I'm sure I got sausage on my shirt more than once during this process, and this adorable apron would have certainly helped with that problem! It's sturdy washable material with a waterproof coating, has an easy magnetic closure for the neck strap, four little pockets, and comes in a handy zipper storage pouch. What appeals to me, though, is the design--the big bright sun and retro diner motif is fantastic, and makes me want to go out for burgers and pie and milkshakes right this very minute. There's no way this apron would ever fit me, but luckily my cousin has three awesome kids for me to spend money on. :)

Scrabble Carabiner by Basic Fun
Located around the Hut and downstairs

Basic Fun is taking travel games to the next level with these board game keychains and carabiners--games I never thought could be so conveniently sized are now ready for play anywhere! This teeny version of Scrabble has a built-in drawer to hold the magnetic letter squares when you're not playing, and a groove where each player can put their squares during game play. This version has less letter pieces than a regular Scrabble set, but that just makes it easier to play a quick-finish game whenever the opportunity arises. I can't wait to challenge my roommate to a mini Scrabble match the next time we're waiting around for the T!

That's all for this week. See you soon, and don't let the rain get you down!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On books, balls, and baked goods. And more books.

Don't forget: this Saturday, September 12, is our Bookish Ball celebration! The event will begin at 2pm and go all afternoon, with a projected ending time of 6pm. However, we may be too busy monkeying around to stop on time! We have barrels of fun planned, including (drum roll, please)...

-- a signing by Matt Tavares, author/illustrator of the picture books Zachary's Ball, Oliver's Game, and Mudball. He's also the illustrator of Iron Hans, Lady Liberty: A Biography, and the brand-new The Gingerbread Pirates. He'll be here at 2.

-- a signing and reading by Steve Kluger, author of novels My Most Excellent Year, Last Days of Summer, and Almost Like Falling in Love. He's a self-proclaimed Boston-phile and Red Sox fan! He'll be here at 3.

-- a creative writing workshop and signing by Jo Knowles, author of YA novels Lessons from a Dead Girl and the new Jumping Off Swings. (She's my latest book crush!) She'll be here at 4.

-- acoustic performances by singer/songwriter Charlie Hope throughout the afternoon. Her albums include I'm Me! A Collection of Songs for Children and World of Dreams: Soothing Songs and Lullabies.

-- a book-making workshop

-- cookie decorating

-- and of course, all our great books and toys, recommended to you by our knowledgable staff! We may be a little squeezed on Saturday with all the festivities going on, but we'll have a fun, busy day with something for everyone!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School: four quick (and fun!) steps

We've just passed that landmark of autumn - oh, Labor Day, day of barbecues, last minute summer reading, and saying goodbye to those white sandals. Whether your kid (or teen, or grad student) is dragging her (dark clad) feet or already listing off the activities he's going to join, here are some books and goodies to ease the end of summer transition. As one of our preteen customers recently said, "But I need new fine tip colored pencils."

First, of course, there is the all-important backpack or messenger bag to lug new colored pencils, tasty lunches, and maybe a textbook or twenty - will it be Crocodile Creek's cheerful packs with sunflowers or fire trucks, or will it be a Hello Kitty satchel or backpack (complete with thermos!)? If your student prefers to make her own artistic mark, try Alex's Color and Carry Messenger Bags, which she can recolor over and over.

Once you have the biggest item, what about the second most important item - recess fashion? Does your lunch bag need to match - in which case, Crocodile Creek makes neat, simple lunch packs and thermos, or if your student has more eclectic taste, try Room It Up's trendy and variously sized lunch pouches. And of course, there is always more Hello Kitty (never enough, they say!) lunch and bento boxes.

Once your bag has its little lunch bag friend, there's the question of accessorizing. Does your student prefer puppies, tigers, or horses? Try some Ty Beanie Clips, or a classic character like Corduroy. Fill up that bag with desktop accessories like Decor Craft's Pencil Squares, thin block-ish pencils decorated with mod squares, Alex's Cool Cuts Safety Scissors with funky patterns, or the many, many sizes and shapes of Alex and Hello Kitty colored pencils, markers, chunky crayons, and so on.

Lastly, once you have the necessaries taken care of, why not a few goodies just for fun? Chronicle Books (who have recently acquired on their staff a dear friend of Curious George, the lucky folk) make adorable Thumb Print Note Cards, miniature cards you decorate with your own digits, Ed Emberly style. Precious marbles, notes (perhaps thumb print ones), and other small collectibles can find a home in Kimono Fish Coin Purses or a Recycled Juice Box Bag, both from Two's Company. Another goodie from Two's Company (I am in a phase, can you tell?) that can heal all kinds of playground (or workplace!) booboos are Animal Cool Packs - little ice packs with tiger or teddy faces you can pop out of the fridge to stop any tears. As I recall, a water coloring book used to do the same for me...if only they still made those! (Do they?). Homework will be (almost) fun to do on a Lap Desk from Room It Up: these portable desks have a cozy cushion and even a cup holder for those all-nighters - I mean, those nights your student may be hard at work past 5 pm.

Of course, there are plenty of incredible picture books dealing with the anxieties and tribulations of school, by turns sweetly poignant (Dandylion by Lizzie Finlay, about a lion preschooler who's a bit too out-going for his human classmates), simply hilarious (the eponymous lovable troublemaker David Goes to School by David Shannon), or explosively popular (the Clementine chapter books by Sarah Pennypacker). But we don't want to spoil the rush of packing up the book bag for the first time - we'll save the books for another time! Good luck!