Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Who Knew?

Today started out just like every other ordinary day until I looked at my Prep email. What I call ordinary quickly changed. Our job as librarians can be extraordinary; we can be called friend.
Our very own alumni author and columnist, Emily Ansara Baines '03 (The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook) sent the following along this morning. With her permission, it is reposted here:
-Mrs. Ursettie

Libraries Are My Safe Place (Or, How I Learned to Wave My Freak Flag)

Libraries Are My Safe Place

Librarians were my first editors. Their constructive criticism always came with a healthy dose of encouragement. And, of course, we would recommend books to each other.

I was a weird kid.
Granted, most of us after the age of 25 look back on our high school years and label ourselves “weird.” With vocalized self-reflection comes the mass realization that no one during those painful adolescent years considered themselves “normal.” Perhaps that’s why teens are so mean to one another—they’re all trying to fit in and hide their oddities. Only with age do we realize that all of us are freaks.
I waved my Freak Flag too proudly for an eighth-grader hoping to survive unscathed. Long black velvet skirts, hair shorter than a boys, dark eyeliner, large big-rimmed hats a la Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady — I wasn’t “goth,” but I definitely wasn’t like the rest of the girls shopping at Delia’s and Limited Too.
I also had a hard time making friends. My desperation for companionship permeated out of me like condensation on a coke can during a warm summer’s day. I was desperate for friendship. And that anxiety made me a far from attractive friend.
A specific example comes to mind. At lunch one day, I sat near – but not at – the “cool kids” table. Over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they discussed the movie Titanic with a weightiness that even Roger and Ebert didn’t dare. It was no longer seventh grade — Titanic had stopped being cool. Leo was “out.” A film nerd along with a book nerd, I thought I might have an opinion worth hearing.
“I liked the editing,” I spoke up, frowning as my voice cracked. My cheeks burned with embarrassment—and also hope. Maybe they would listen. Maybe this was my way to prove I had opinions worth sharing.
The kids looked at me, then turned back to one another. They didn’t even bother to snicker. Instead, they continued their discussion as if I hadn’t spoken at all.
I turned to the library.
I was never very confident when it came to talking to my peers, but I loved talking to adults. With adults, there was less subterfuge: communication was less of a game where I didn’t know the rules. I said what I meant and they weren’t offended. We could have a conversation about a book without some other kid in my class falsely hearing I bad-talked her behind her back.
And so, that’s what I did. Every day during nutrition break and lunch I would visit school librarians Mrs. Hodge and Mrs. Ursettie. After they kindly reminded me I wasn’t allowed to bring Diet Coke into the library, we would discuss our weekends. I’d tell them my most private hopes and fears. Unlike my fellow students, they listened to my review of Titanic with nods of the head, adding their own opinions, and even recommended some books on filmmaking.
The librarians were my first editors. Their constructive criticism always came with a healthy dose of encouragement. And, of course, we would recommend books to each other. Other than Mrs. Leidenthal, whom I’ve written about before on Read It Forward, the librarians were my first real friends at Flintridge Prep. In a setting fraught with emotional peril, they made me feel safe.
Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to substitute teach at my old high school. This has given me a perspective on my educational experience that I don’t think I would have otherwise attained. Once viewing the school through the eyes of a student, I now look at it as a teacher.
While Flintridge Preparatory has changed a great deal since I last attended – including an impressive library renovation – what made that library great has remained: Mrs. Ursettie and Mrs. Hodge (a new employee, Mrs. Eldridge, is also fantastic and kind). If anything, the librarians are even more involved in the day-to-day activities of the school. Classes take place in the computer lab on the second floor of the library, and research projects require students to discuss different research methods with the librarians.
And, of course, there’s always the student or two who reminds me of myself at a young age. She (or he) comes in more than the other students. She doesn’t always want help with homework. Sometimes she just wants to talk. Sometimes she just wants company; or for someone older and possibly wiser to listen to and validate her opinions.
Going to the school library at Flintridge Prep is like going to therapy, but without the supposed stigma of being sent to the doctor’s office. At the library, students—readers and non-readers alike—can be heard.
[Photo Credit: 501Room / Shutterstock.com]
Do you love your local library? Tell us why in the comments!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Road Trip

Not a bad place to break down:
 a nursery in Somis, California
 and a sweet sunset..
I wasn't sure what to grab. Everything was moving out of phase, in a crazy syncopated rhythm, bouncing and hitching beyond control.
 I stole a glance at my husband. He looked serene. Perhaps even a hint of joy on his face.
“You don’t seem fazed by this,” I ventured.
“It was the book you gave me, From Peking to Paris….you know, about the car rally? It shifted my perspective. It’s all about the process - and the satisfaction of being on the road.”

60 miles later, the tow truck deposited us at home, along with our RV. Despite being jostled and delayed, the adventure of road travel was still upon us. Later, looking through our library’s collection for more books about road travel, I realized something about the lure of the road trip: it’s a modern day quest.Characters move through a variety of settings and discover things about themselves. Time changes: stretching a little to allow full absorption of the setting. Just when things are getting mellow, fate jumps in to twist the plot. Where you go and how you get there becomes less important than the essence of the road trip: enjoying the process.

Road Trip themed book titles
(available in the Chandramohan Library):

Travels with Charley: In Search of America
"...a one-man, one-dog account of the expedition in which he recaptures his familiarity with America. He set out with some misgiving, not sure his health would stand up to the 10,000-mile journey he envisioned; as he traveled, the years sloughed off him, and the eager, sensuous pages in which he writes about what he found and whom he encountered frame a picture of our human nature in the twentieth century which will not soon be surpassed."*
            Steinbeck, John
Call #: 917.9
Rules of the Road
[A trip to save a shoe store helps Jenna Find her fit.]
            Bauer, Joan.
An Abundance of Katherines
[what’s the formula for not getting dumped?]
Green, John
On the Road
[Sal and Dean’s classic road trip across America]
            Kerouac, Jack
13 Little Blue Envelopes
[Ginny’s Aunt sends her on a scavenger hunt across Europe.]
Johnson, Maureen.

Excellent article on how 3 road trips transformed American culture: the Highwaymen-a group of artists who took their art on the road and circumvented the racially exclusionary nature of the gallery world; the story of Alice Huyler Ramsey who took a drive across the country in 1909, contrary to the popular belief that women shouldn’t drive; and John Muir’s 1,000 mile trek and communion with nature. Available in the library [“How the Road Trip Shaped America.” Mental Floss: July/August 2013].

Other titles not in the Prep library:
Peking to Paris: Life and Love on a Short Drive Around Half the World.
            Bennett, Dina.
I See by My Outfit:Cross-country by Scooter, An Adventure.
            Beagle, Peter.

*from a 1962 review in The Atlantic.

Mrs. Eldridge

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Life-changing list

This is a follow-up to my last post about what I was reading over the summer.  I read some wonderful books!  Not all of them were on my original list; my book group added a couple titles I wouldn’t normally think of reading, and I found one or two on my stack at home and another on my Kindle that I picked up.  *Best Read of the Summer*, The Book Thief, which is on my top-ten-of-all-time list. 
Amazon image
The writing is exquisite, the characters are unforgettable, and the concept of having Death as the narrator is genius.  If you’ve not read this book, do yourself a favor and come check it out (or check it out at your local library.)  I was late getting on board with this title, and now I’m anxious to pick up I Am the Messenger, which I have heard from students, is also a great read.

As summer came to an end, my September issue of Real Simple magazine came in the mail.  The article that most intrigued me was called “The Life-Changing List.”  Authors from various disciplines and genres were asked which book was the one “that moved them most.” 
The 50 titles range from Alice in Wonderland to The Education of the Gardener to Without Feathers by Woody Allen.  It piqued my interest to see this mix of titles, some recommended by authors I know and love.  Now, I plan to add two more titles to my list of books to read during the year:  Dandelion Wine and The Benchley Roundup.  I really enjoyed Fahrenheit 451 in high school, and I actually met Ray Bradbury at a production of the play at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena.  It never occurred to me that I might enjoy Dandelion Wine and no one had ever suggested I read it.  Author Susan Wiggs says about it, “The whole world is in this novel: fear and acceptance, joy and sorrow, the circle of life and the passing of the seasons, and the magic of everyday things.”  I picked up our library copy and determined it has seen better days.  A new copy has been ordered and I plan to be first at Prep to check it out!  Humorist Robert Benchley wrote one of my favorite quotes: “It took fifteen years for me to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by then I was too famous.”  His essays were published in many publications, including The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Life, and he inspired many writers and comedians.  I enjoy reading humorous observations about life and the human condition.  We have two Robert Benchley titles in our collection, and I plan to start with one of those

What books have moved you?  We'd love to hear from you, either in the comments section, below, or in person.  If you're too shy, you can write us a note or send an email.  We are always open to suggestions from students, parents, teachers and alumni of great books we should add to our Prep library!

Mrs. Hodge