Reading in the Dark

The region-wide blackout last night brought back so many childhood memories!  I was one of those kids who complied easily at bedtime because I always had my pink Ever-Ready flashlight stashed under my pillow.   

So I didn’t let the power outage interfere with my daughter’s storytime and it was actually so fun that I think we’ll have do this again every once in a while!

I have to admit, I’ve never read by candlelight.  A few years ago my mom gave me these clever, rechargeable tealights that are constantly repositioned around my house.  I just love them.  They give off a flickery, orange glow that’s quite similar to real fire—a nice alternative when you want to go all Smokey the Bear /Don’t Play with Matches on your kid.  (Of course my daughter has seen me dangle satin ribbons in candle flames when I’m crafting, so I’m probably confusing her with my mixed messages).

The tealights do not offer good reading light, but Halloween is coming and they create a perfectly creepy effect, don’t you think?

And I do have a booklight which my husband gave me in hopes I’d use it instead of my bedside lamp when I’m reading at night.  But I don’t really like it.

Now, does reading in dim light really hurt your eyes? According to this article, not necessarily, though eye strain–as most avid readers already know–is hardly desirable.

Wherever and whenever you’re reading, be kind to your eyes!


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Filed under Family, Reading Activities

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Written and Illustrated by Simms Taback.

Viking Juvenile, 1999.  32 pages.  Tr. $16.99.  ISBN 978-0-670-87855-0.

Using the die cut technique he popularized in his book There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, Simms Taback presents another award winning story, this one about a Jewish farmer named Joseph whose resourcefulness allows him to continually remake his overcoat into something new.  Taback’s inspiration for the story comes from a Yiddish folksong which is included at the end of the book.  Young readers will enjoy the predictable pattern of the text, and older readers will find numerous interesting bits of Jewish culture sprinkled throughout the richly textured illustrations.  A joyful story with a moral readers of all cultures can take to heart.

Cited in Essentials of Children’s Literature 6th Edition pages 94, 97, 113, 224, 311 and the 2000 Caldecott Medal winner:

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Gagne, P.R. & Reilly, M. (Producers) & Ivanick, D. (Director).  (2001).  Joseph had a

little overcoat .  Norwalk, CT:  Weston Woods.

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biographies

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Jewish culture
  • Reusing Resources
  • Folk songs

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

Additional Resources

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Filed under Picture Books

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Written and Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

Roaring Book Press, 2003.  40 pages.  Tr. $17.95.  ISBN 978-0-7613-1791-3.

Philippe Petit is a street performer who loves to entertain crowds with his juggling tricks and his unicycle.  His favorite trick is walking on a tightrope high above the ground.  Once, in his hometown of Paris, France, Philippe walked (and even danced!) on a wire between the steeples of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Now living in New York, Philippe spots twin towers, each 1,340 feet tall.  And he has an idea…

Mordicai Gerstein recounts the remarkable story of Philippe Petit who, on August 7, 1974, walked on a wire strung between the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Gerstein’s ink and oil illustrations capture Petit’s charisma and daring, as well as the astonishing height of the towers.  The post-9/11 perspective of this story preserves the memory of Petit’s amazing feat and the magnificence of the World Trade Center.  This book may serve as an introduction to 9/11 history for children born after 2001.

Other Information:

Other in-print formats available for this title:

  • Gerstein, M.  The man who walked between the towers [compact disc]. (2005).  Pine Plains, NY:  Live Oak Media.
  • Sporn, M. (Director). (2005). The man who walked between the towers [DVD]. Norwalk, CT:  Weston Woods Studios, Incorporated.

Awards won by this item

Author/Illustrator website

Author/Illustrator biographies

Subjects/themes that could be used in programming

  • Tight rope walker
  • Street Performer
  • 9/11

Programming Ideas and/or lesson plans

Additional Resources

Gallery of Mordicai Gerstein’s art:

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Filed under Picture Books

Back to School Picnic

The purpose of this get-together was for the children in my daughter’s first grade class to have some fun and get reacquainted prior to the first day of school.  As a former teacher I know how crazy things can be on the first day in the classroom.  As a parent I wanted to do something to help the back-to-school experience go well.  Several of the children, my daughter included, were quite anxious about the new school year so this event helped ease some of their nerves.  It was also an opportunity for families new to the school to meet returning families and the new students were able to make some friends.

My husband and I sponsored the event at a nearby military recreation spot.  Since we paid the reservation fee, I wanted to keep all of our other costs at a minimum, which allowed me to be creative with the decorations.

With a school year theme in mind and the school colors as my starting point, I rooted around in our garage, gathering up anything blue or yellow and school related.  I also collected things that could work as picnic/playground games.

Things I repurposed:  plastic water bottles, toilet paper tubes, stop signs, scrap wood, tin cans, alphabet magnets, alphabet flash cards, blue valences from our first apartment

Things I had on hand:  several white tablecloths and sheets, plastic cones, white & colored paper, river pebbles, paper napkins, small clear cellophane bags with twist ties, tissue paper, ribbon, mini clothespins and regular clothespins, paper bags, chenille stems, felt, wooden dowels, paint, paint chips (well, okay, I got to make a trip to Lowe’s and Home Depot for those, but they were free)

Things I bought:  bag of Navy beans, black chalkboard spray paint, white plastic IKEA picture frames, white IKEA vases, 3 white sheets from the IKEA As-Is bin (yes, I’m kinda obsessed with IKEA)

Things I made:  2 welcome banners that hung from trees around our picnic site, 3 chalkboard signs to direct people where to park, 12 centerpieces including pennant flags featuring the school uniform plaid and 5 dozen paper bag flowers, 48 tablecloth weights that turned out to be the most important items I brought, a whiffle ball toss game, 8 paint chip garlands and two “Happy School Year” paint chip banners.  (I shared a few pictures of the process in this post.)

Some confessions:  It was windy at the picnic site, so basically all of the decorations ended up being pointless.  I didn’t get to hang any banners or garlands except for the welcome ones.  The parking lot was extremely crowded because so many events were going on all around the park that day.  At one point, the lot was closed and people were turned away at the gate, so the chalkboard signs were essentially useless.  Despite my best intentions, I took only about six pictures at the event.  This must be why event organizers and event photographers are not one in the same person.  Most of the pictures featured here were taken at my home, after the fact.

On the up side, more than 60 people attended the event and everyone had a blast!

I don’t think I’ll be taking on another project like this anytime soon.  For the Fall, I’ll stick with decorating my own house where I have greater control over the elements.  Here’s a preview of what I’m working on:

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Filed under Family

My First Time…

…and I’m nervous!  Tomorrow my husband and I are “sponsoring” a back-to-school picnic for our daughter’s class.  I’m not sure if “hosting” is quite the right word for our role.  I’m the event organizer/coordinator but it’s a BYO event at the park.   More than 60 adults and kids are attending, which is why I’m a bit anxious—it seems like a huge group!  A far cry from the small birthday or dinner parties I’ve had in my home for family and close friends.

Yes, this is a huge departure from my usual subject matter here, though it does reflect my recent reading habits.  Pretty much all summer, I’ve been wandering the web in search of ideas and inspiration for party ideas and decorations.  There are so many amazing ideas out there and I’m excited to share what I pulled together for this event.

Here are some “before” pictures.  Please bear with me when it comes to the quality of the pictures—a better camera and better photography skills are on my wish list.  This is also my first time blogging something like this…

The picnic area, a playground is adjacent

Some decorations in progress

All the stuff we have to haul to the site, including welcome banners, garland, games, table décor, etc., etc.

I plan to take plenty of pictures tomorrow so you can see how it all turns out.

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Filed under Family

Ontology in Library Science

Today I’m letting my inner nerd out to play…

Wordle: ontology in library science As part of my library science education, I spend a lot of time thinking about words, words, words.  Words as labels, key words, language, natural language, artificial language, ambiguity, conciseness.  In Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability which is all about information, information seeking and information access, I was delighted to run into Ludwig von Wittgenstein, the crazy philosopher genius who suggested language is insufficient to convey meaning (love him!):

Wittgenstein argued, “the root cause of…ontological challenges lies not only in semantics but also in the underlying logic of classification:  Consider for example, the proceedings we call games.  I mean, board games, card games, ball games, Olympic games, and so on.  What is common to them all?” (Morville 2005, 133)

It’s part of an information specialist’s job to identify the commonality in documents or artifacts, and duly classify and catalog them so that others may access the information.

I don’t aspire to be a cataloger but it is an aspect of any librarian’s work to understand these things.  And I couldn’t resist indulging in a bit of philosophical musing since the topic of ontology itself (the study of the nature of being, existence or realityreminded me of reading Descartes in Philosophy 101.  It became an exercise in precise langauge:

I pulled Joel Feinberg’s Reason and Responsibility off my bookshelf, thinking I would revisit Descartes’ musings on the melted candle and quickly discovered that “melted candle” was my own interpretation of Descartes’ discussion in “Meditation II” from “Meditations on First Philosophy”—Descartes does not use the word candle.  Rather he uses the word “wax.”  Now, with my curiosity piqued, I decided to google “Descartes melted candle” to see if the results would pull up “Meditation II” or if I would need to change my query.

Search terms play a huge role in accessing information.  The first result in my google search took me to “Meditation VI,” not “II.”  More interestingly, the third result was a paper discussing the very fact that Descartes uses the word “wax” rather than “candle!” Then I opened a new tab so I could change my query to “Descartes wax,” and the first result this time was the Wikipedia article on Descartes which mentions his “Wax Argument.”

Because I’m a word geek, I consulted my handy paperback copy of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary New Edition and looked up “wax” (a yellowish plastic substance secreted by bees for constructing the honeycomb) and “candle” (a usu. slender mass of tallow or wax molded around a wick that is burned to give light).  The definition of “candle” led me to consider the following:

On my mantle, there is a mass of wax molded around a wick—is it a candle if the wick has never been burned?  Does a candle’s existence depend upon the wick being burned and the wax being melted?  Or is the potential for the burning and melting sufficient to bring the candle into existence?  The definition of “wick” reads, “a loosely bound bundle of soft fibers that draws up oil, tallow or wax to be burned in a candle, oil lamp or stove.”

So I suppose it is a candle, then, that reposes between the Tibetan song bowl and the Our Lady of Fatima figurine, but my understanding of a candle and a wick are that each relies upon the other for its own existence, or sense of being.

My contemplation of candles and wax led me to wonder, are information and accessibility also inextricably linked?  In order to be information, must a given document be accessible?  Or is the does the document’s existence render it “information” regardless of whether a person can access it?


Filed under Library and Information Science, Reflections

Teaching Research Methods through Science Projects

I recently read Everybody Bugs Out by Leslie Margolis.  The middle grade novel is a new (May 2011) publication from Bloomsbury and a continuation of a series that began with Boys are Dogs.  The main character, Annabelle Stevens, is a 6th grader who teams up with two classmates to work on a science fair project.  While the plot and characters are charming and the book will undoubtedly appeal to tween girls, what I really noticed was the way the author incorporated an age-appropriate lesson about research and plagiarism.

When Annabelle and her classmates receive the guidelines and rules for the science fair, it is clearly stated that all work must be original and done by the students.  Parents and siblings can help with carpooling and shopping for supplies only.  The teacher also warns against purchasing a project on the Internet or using other people’s data.

The story includes Annabelle’s brainstorming sessions with her partners as they try to come up with a topic.  Most of the team’s decisions and procedures are described, along with conversations among the entire 6th grade about everyone’s various experiments and data collection.  When a student attempts to cheat, Annabelle faces an ethical dilemma because she is unsure if she should rat out a friend.

Overall, I was pleased to see a great lesson in research and academic integrity within a fun, believable story about a typical, likable middle school girl.  I do not think this book is appropriate “required” reading as it does not have much “literary value” but it is a good title for librarians and teachers (especially science teachers) to be aware of.  A scene from a movie or an episode of a popular television show that deals with research and plagiarism would be another useful tool in teaching younger students about these topics—does anyone know of an example or two?

I am curious to know how science fair projects are approached in middle school these days.  I recall my own projects in 6th and 8th grade—I was lost and overwhelmed from the time I had to choose a topic all the way through the judging.  This seems to me to be the perfect time for teachers to explain the steps involved in research, skills that may be applied across the disciplines and into higher education.  It’s kinda embarrassing to discover in graduate school that your approach to research, however common and seemingly effective, is completely nonsensical.

In my city this past spring there was a week-long, city-wide science festival to raise awareness about careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).  At a free public event called “Science Expo Day,” many organizations representing all branches of science offered opportunities for families to learn more about the STEM related work being done all over the county.  As far as I could tell, there were not any official representatives from the field of information science, yet it was an event that I believe youth services librarians and teacher librarians could both contribute to and benefit from.

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Filed under Middle Grade Books

Pretty Beaded Bookmarks

Do you have these situations on your bookshelves?

My husband habitually uses blank index cards as book marks (a remnant of his student days) while I tend to grab whatever scrap paper is in reach.  This results in many lost grocery lists, receipts or hastily jotted addresses turning up when I’m rifling through pages to find a quote or reference.

This scrap was particularly bugging me since this is our artful “display” bookcase in the living room.

When I was scouring a local bead shop for an unrelated project, I spotted this funny thing that looked like a miniature shepherd’s staff or an earring for a half-giant.  I was baffled as to what it could be and then felt silly when I finally realized what it was.  (My confusion was warranted, right?  I mean, what do they look like to you?)

Anyway, though I would have happily selected enough pretty beads and findings to make a few dozen of these I forced myself to exercise some restraint and started off making just two.  More will follow, especially since these would make a great gift for any reader.  Or at least any reader who hasn’t abandoned books for nooks.

I’m not going to post a tutorial because…well, I don’t want to.  But I will post some pictures when I make more and perhaps I’ll even give away a few.

Thanks for stopping by!


Filed under YA Literature

Cake Pops

Though my daughter and I love to watch Cupcake Wars, I have to admit I’m not a big fan of the paper wrapped treats.  And having a six-year-old means many encounters with cupcakes.  So when I happened across this book while browsing at the bookstore I was completely taken in.  I am probably one of the few people who discovered the book before the blog (which is perfectly wonderful—check it out here), but that hardly matters to a bunch of kids ingesting sugary treats.  Here’s a photo of my first attempt at cake pops, for my daughter’s birthday.

She wanted cheerful yellow pops so we modeled them after her smiley bouncy ball.  Some of them look pretty wonky but it was fun to make them and to eat them.  I’m looking forward to making another batch—maybe skulls for Dia de Los Muertos…


Filed under Non-fiction

Good-bye, Borders. *sniff*

I’m saddened to hear that Borders is shutting down for good.  (Read more about it here or here.)

So many fond memories:  in high school my friends and I spent many weekend hours at our local Borders discovering gems on the shelves and geeking out together in the café .  It was our favorite hangout.  My husband and I, when we were dating in college, sometimes changed up our study routine by staking out a table in the café rather than heading off to the library.  When my daughter was a toddler and preschooler, she and I may have spent more time reading on the floor of the kids’ section than we did in the library.

I suppose the closure is a good thing for indie bookshops who deserve all the love we can give them.  Over the weekend I looked into the Goodwill Bookloft in downtown San Diego and was pleasantly surprised at how well-organized it was and at the great selection.  Any place I can score three terrific books for $3 is a place I’ll return to.

When it comes to books, do you have a favorite store where you love to browse?  Or are you a dedicated online shopper?

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Filed under YA Literature