Monday, October 31, 2011

Signing for Babies!

Signing as a first language reduces frustration, deepens bonds and accelerates speech development.  Learn how to enhance early literacy skills by practicing a variety of signs.  Learn how to teach ASL to your baby.  This series of classes is for caregiver and infant (ages 2 months to pre-verbal).  Registration for the 4 week session is required.  Sign up online ( beginning October 17th; classes begin on Monday, October 31st.
This program is generously sponsored by the friends of the Wellesley Free Libraries.

For more information on baby signing, go to

Highlights from our Howl-O-Ween Party on 10-30-11

Six dogs in full costume attended our Howl-O-Ween party yesterday, some participating in one-on-one reading sessions with kids and others mingling with party guests.  Participants made spooky crafts, listened to Halloween stories, and nibbled on seasonal snacks.
Our next Read to a Dog event will be on Saturday, November 19th from 10-12;
Kids in grades K-4 can sign up for a 15 minute session with one of our fabulous reading buddies!  Sessions are 15 minutes long.  Bring your own book or read one of ours.
Pre-registration is required.  To sign up, stop by the Children’s Room at the Main Library or call 781-235-1610 ext 1108. Sign-ups start one week in advance, November 12.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why Books? — The Zena Sutherland Lecture by Mo Willems in The Horn Book

It is an honor to have been asked to talk about books while they still exist. (Spoiler alert: next year’s Sutherland lecturer will be a downloadable app.)

And that, my friends, is the key to my current two-word existential dilemma: “Why books?”
In the past it was enough to say that if you get a book into a kid’s hands, you’re creating a “lifelong reader.” But why does that matter? Do we really want “lifelong readers”? Shouldn’t they at least get to take occasional bathroom breaks? Why is this extraneous question here in the middle of these other ones? And, what does reading do that makes it so special?
To be honest, books as we know them are looking pretty vulnerable right now. They can’t talk back to you. If you shake them, they don’t do things. You can’t turn them on. They don’t make sounds. They don’t have word jumbles or other not-terribly-fun games. What do they do? With all the new technological possibilities, why not file Books between Betamax and Eight-Track Tapes?
I’ve thought about this very seriously of late and I’m not out of the rabbit hole yet, so first let me just go through my own personal journey with the nitty-gritty of making books to see if there is value to be found there.
In the past eight years or so, I’ve written and illustrated numerous books, yet I really never know what I’m doing when I create a book. That is why I love it. It’s an adventure with no guarantee that it will work out in the end. I am alone in a sea of ideas, hoping to catch a current that will lead to an undiscovered land. Well, I’m not completely alone. I have the structure of my past work, and I am guided through the storms by this simple mantra: always think of your audience; never think for your audience.
This is done by putting as little as possible into the final work so as to leave room for my audience to enhance the story. As a simple test, if I re-read one of my manuscripts and I understand exactly what is happening, then the manuscript has too many words. And if I look at the images without the words and I can fully understand the story, there are too many drawings. It is only right when both words and image need each other to make any sense. They need to be as close to incomprehensible, separately, as possible.
Yes, I make incomprehensible books for illiterates.
Incomprehensible also because I never know what the book I’ve made “means.” That’s my audience’s job. You, the reader, create meaning out of the story; I just set the table. The fundamental truth of this was driven home when I read two early reviews for my first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The first one said, “I love this book because it teaches perseverance. It teaches kids never to give up. To fight on.” The second review said, “I love this book because it teaches kids to value the word ‘no,’ to know when to stop.”
Here’s the thing: both reviews were right. Their authors each brought their own selves to the story and in their minds created meanings that had never occurred to me. They became the co-authors of the book, implanting the meaning that was purposefully omitted, or perhaps obscured. Because, truth be told, I don’t have any answers. I’m not interested in them.
Why would I want to write about things I know? I already know them. I prefer to write about things I don’t know, about things that perplex me, create a sense of wonder in me, or are simply weird. So I write about things like: What is a friend? How do you keep a friend? How does what you do by accident change your environment and how do you come to grips with that? Wouldn’t it be cool to drive a bus? You know, the sort of fundamental, deep emotional questions that we all have. (All rules have exceptions and my second book, Time to Pee! is one. Personally, I’ve been urinating with great success for years, so I did know what I was writing about that time. But I wasn’t sure why my kid was reluctant to do it in a particular room.)
Writing is, like any athletics, a learned skill refined only by consistent and strenuous workouts over time. I learned how to write from years and years of writing and performing sketch comedy, making short animated films, and writing cartoon strips, all of which stemmed from a deep abiding love of sketch comedy. Bill Cosby’s albums, the Monty Python television series, Peanuts comic strips—they are all perfect sketches. Clean, pure, but structured with a deep understanding of the world and how it works.
I learned how to write for children, however, with great reluctance. As fate would have it, in my strivings to be a sketch comedy writer I found myself being hired to write sketch comedy for a show that targeted children, called Sesame Street. At first I didn’t care that I was working on a kiddie show; I was writing sketch! Just like my pals on MTV or in the hipster clubs. If I squinted just right, the “kids” part of my work disappeared.
Then, over a season or two, something unexpected happened. I realized that writing for Sesame Street wasn’t easier, or even equally as difficult, as the sketch material I’d been doing previously. It was harder. I couldn’t use cultural modifiers: the entire world of pop culture references, that lazy backbone of sketch, was lost to me. Arc de Triomphe, Super Bowl, Cadillac. Those are just silly sounds to kids; they have no emotional meaning. Not because kids are stupid, but because they’re new. They just got here. All they have is jealousy, anger, love, joy, fear. Writing for a kid means you can’t exploit genres and fads and fashions. The only weapon left in your arsenal is truth.
It was revelatory and life changing (and frankly liberating: I didn’t have to keep up on pop culture, freeing up lots of time for adventures). My path was set; now I wanted—no, I was compelled—to write for people who were just starting out in life.
This began a period of great introspection. I thought long and hard about my childhood and slowly realized a fundamental truth that is the complete opposite of what everyone tells you about childhood: namely, it sucks to be a kid.
Certainly, in contrast to the life of a grownup, kids have it hard. Every piece of furniture is built to the wrong scale for you. You have to ask permission to urinate. And some adult might say no. Try this as a test: next time you’re at a dinner party, say, “May I go to the bathroom?” Then imagine your hostess saying, “No, I don’t think so. You’re staying right there. And finish those smelly vegetables. I know you want to retch. I don’t care. Eat them.”
And kids don’t have years of experience to fall back on. Every disappointment, every failure, is a world-stopping first. How do they survive? How did we all survive that? I’m not sure. But recently I’ve realized they have one shield in their lives that most of us adults have lost: they haven’t yet learned to be embarrassed.
And that’s what embarrassment is: a learned behavior.
So TV got me to want to write for unembarrassed kids. But television wasn’t done teaching me an essential key to writing.
At some point in my career I found myself being asked to create a TV show. Foolishly, I was told I could do anything I wanted; more foolishly, I did. I created a show called Sheep in the Big City. Has anybody heard of the show? Raise your hands. Okay. You six guys. Great. You made up sixty percent of my audience.
For the rest of you, the show was about a sheep. And a big city. The sheep, named Sheep, is being chased by General Specific and his henchman Private Public, members of a top-secret military organization named The Top-Secret Military Organization trying to capture this urban sheep to put it in a sheep-powered ray gun. Now why not use another sheep, you ask? Well, because they had already built the ray gun to his specifications. Mixed in with the episodes are lots of spoof commercials for products—the Oxymoron Brand of useless products.
And every episode ended with thirty seconds of a ranting Swede.
Almost as quickly as it hit the air this show was canceled. Can you believe it?
I couldn’t.
I’d worked so long and so hard, ensuring that every joke was as funny, or as weird, as possible. Still, very, very few people enjoyed it. I was flummoxed.
The real reason why the show was canceled came not from the network but from a ten-year-old on some message board who wrote, “I don’t like this show because the writer is trying too hard.” Trying too hard? That shocked me to my core.
I could not think of another industry where this would be a problem. “Oh, man. Y’know that plumber, Joe? What is up with that guy? He shows up early. He comes in, he plumbs the hell out of the house, doesn’t take a single cigarette break, I don’t see butt once. He’s working soooo hard…I don’t trust him.”
But in writing it’s different. The people watching Sheep in the Big City or reading my stories are not interested in me or the work I do. It shouldn’t look like work to them. It’s just a story. A magical thing that suddenly, effortlessly, appears and entertains and provokes. Certainly such a thing can’t be made. The lesson is, if you’re not invisible, you’re not doing your job. So, work harder until no one sees you.
I should have known that. I should have known better.
You know, I started out doing stand-up comedy when I was in high school. And the reason I did was because the comedy club was the only place I could go and be guaranteed that no one would laugh at me. But over time you develop those muscles. You write joke after joke after joke after joke, and, ever so slowly, you learn what doesn’t work. What you learn is not “what is funny” but “what is not funny.” So when you’re writing, you write to get rid of all the not-funny stuff until what’s left, hopefully, works. I want to have as few words as possible. I want the whole story to just be hanging by a thread. So my audience will become invested in it and save it.
It’s the same with my images. Everything I do is reductive. I make my drawings as simple as possible to the point of abstraction. Put as little in as possible. Because kids can “make” books, I consciously design my characters so that they can be easily copied by a five-year-old.
Every month, I get a box of fan mail—it’s just awesome. Kids send me their books. Their actual books. Don’t Let the Pigeon Operate the Catapult. Don’t Let the Pigeon Audit Your Neighbor. The Pigeon Gets a Cell Phone. All kinds of just amazing stuff, and that’s the highest possible compliment; that’s the ultimate goal.
It’s how I got started. I started out drawing Charlie Brown pictures. I loved it so much I wrote to Charles Schulz once when I was five and said, “Dear Mr. Schulz, may I have your job when you die?” Man, I loved Charlie Brown. I grew up in the early seventies, and every other pop cultural character was blissfully happy. Remember? The landscape was filled with gleeful rodents on lithium running across the screen. I felt bad that I wasn’t as happy as those mice. But there was always “Chuck.” A kid whose life was worse than mine. Awesome.
That comic strip was printed on cheap newsprint. It was meant to be thrown away, unlike a piece of art. But it was useful. It was useful to me. That corner of the newspaper that showed up every day gave me more consolation in my lonely childhood world than anyone or anything.
That’s what I want my books to be: utilitarian. You don’t drink coffee out of a mug because it’s a work of art. You drink out of a mug because it works, then you worry if it is pretty or not. In the same way, whatever ideas you’re going to pour into my book, I need to make sure it can hold them first. Because that’s all a book can do. It can hold just two ideas: the author’s and the audience’s.
But the book doesn’t work, it can’t work, unread.
So back to my question of “Why books?” What if books are better because they don’t do things, because they can’t do things? What if the thing that makes books great, that makes them essential, is that books need us? They’re simple. You invest in them and become part of them. You contribute. They can be read, but they can also be played. I’m not really interested in you guys reading my books a hundred times; read it twenty times and then make your own story. Go from consuming a story to creating your own. This is a magical thing to me.
I have a running machine in my house, and if I set that machine for twenty minutes of fast running and leave the room to get some tea and fried eggs, it doesn’t know the difference! Nor, I might add, does it care.
And I think that’s what most enhanced digital books are at this point. With all their bells and whistles and word jumbles and assorted narrative killers, after we turn them on, they don’t need us. Turn it on and leave the room, and the book will read itself.
But a real book is helpless. It needs us desperately. We have to pull it off the shelf. We have to open it up. We have to turn the pages, one by one. We even have to use our imagination to make it work. What does Elephant Gerald sound like? Is the Pigeon a boy or a girl? Does Leonardo the Terrible Monster live in the city or in the country?
We have to do all of that, we have to do the work with our little minds and our flapping flights of fancy. So, suddenly, that book is not just a book; it’s our book. We’re the ones making it work. We’re the ones making it sing. Right there in our chairs as we gently flip the pages, we are, at our own pace, creating a living story just by reading.
And you don’t have to turn off a book during takeoff and landing.
So, maybe books work because they make us work. Maybe we need them for needing us, just like we need real friends, not the digital imitations on Facebook.
Thank you for bearing with me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Highly recommended...

'Wonderstruck': A Novel Approach To Picture Books

September 13, 2011

A Wordless World: The story of Rose, a deaf little girl in Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck, is told primarily in pictures. "We experience [Rose's] story in a way that perhaps might echo the way she experiences her own life," Selznick explains.
Brian Selznick A Wordless World: The story of Rose, a deaf little girl in Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck, is told primarily in pictures. "We experience [Rose's] story in a way that perhaps might echo the way she experiences her own life," Selznick explains.
September 13, 2011
It's not often that a writer can illustrate his own books, but Brian Selznick is that rare find. He began his career as an artist collaborating with authors on children's books. But he gradually realized that he wanted to tell his own stories in both words and pictures — and to do that, Selznick invented a unique narrative device.
Wonderstruck is both a novel and a picture book, a form Selznick first experimented with in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, when he had the idea of telling a story in much the same way that film does.
"I thought: Is there a way of combining what the cinema can do with panning, and zooming in and out, and edits, and what a picture book can do with page turns, and what a novel does?" Selznick says.
Selznick's illustrations work like a camera, zooming in on details and following his characters around as they move through the world. In the beginning of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the reader follows a boy through a grate in the wall, down a hallway, to an old man in a toy booth who sees a clock, and behind the number 5 in the clock, there's the boy ... (Click here to see that opening sequence of drawings.)
In Wonderstruck, Selznick wanted to take this narrative experiment a step further. "I had this idea to try to tell two different stories," he says. "What if I told one story just with pictures, and then told a completely different story that was set 50 years later with words? And then had these two separate stories weave back and forth until they came together at the end?"
Wonderstruck is the story of Rose and Ben, a young boy and girl who live years and worlds apart. By the end of the book, the reader learns they have a special connection. But from early on, they have one thing in common: She is deaf, and he loses his hearing when he is struck by lightning.
Selznick says the idea for the book began forming when he saw a documentary about deafness and deaf culture. One of the deaf educators emphasized how hyper-attuned deaf people are to the visual world. So Selznick set out to tell the story of a deaf character in pictures. "We experience [Rose's] story in a way that perhaps might echo the way she experiences her own life," he explains.
Hugo and Isabelle look out over Paris from behind a clock face in Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Hugo and Isabelle look out over Paris from behind a clock face in Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Rose's story, told almost entirely through Selznick's compelling black-and-white illustrations, alternates with Ben's story, which unfolds in written form. At first, the reader is not sure how the two stories relate, but here and there, the characters' worlds collide. Both get caught in a storm, both go in search of their parents, both find refuge in New York's Museum of Natural History (one of Selznick's favorite destinations when he was a kid growing up in New Jersey). When Ben and Rose finally do meet, Selznick says, the book becomes all about how we communicate with each other.
"At the end of the story, we have scenes where there's a deaf character who signs, a hearing character who signs, and a deaf character who doesn't sign — and they all have to have a conversation," Selznick says. "And so who speaks, who writes, who can sign ... it all becomes mixed up until they can figure out a way to communicate."

More On Brian Selznick's Work

Creating these books is a complicated process, Selznick says, and he is always a little surprised in the end when everything comes together. When he's in the middle of it, it's a little like looking for buried treasure.
"It's sort of like going through a treasure map backwards in a certain way, where I know what I want it to be, but I don't know how to get there," he says. "It does end up feeling like I have been on this really exciting journey that I ultimately hope that the reader will be excited to be on, too."
A writer and artist who is fascinated with film, Selznick is about to see a fantasy come true: In November, the film version of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, directed by Martin Scorcese, will be released on the big screen.

Terrariums @ the library!

Kids had a great time creating terrariums on Saturday as part of our Wellesley Reads Together programming!

And so did our librarians, Geralyn and Michele!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What we're reading right now...

While Small Steps is the sequel to Holes, it is not necessary to have read Holes to lose yourself completely in Small Steps.  This 2006 follow-up addresses class, race, gender and physical disabilities in a refreshing and thoughtful manner not often encountered in children's literature.  Armpit, our protagonist, is an African-American teenager who spent time in a juvenile dentention center for commiting a violent crime that landed two victims in the hospital.  Back at home after incarceration, Armpit has plans, his "small steps" toward  a successful and honest life. We see Armpit continually striving to do the right thing, even when others around him try to block his path.  Overcoming stereotypes and respecting others are major themes in this work and Armpit's belief in himself and his kindness towards others make this an important (but not didactic) book for middle school and older readers.

School Library Journal Review
Gr 5-8-This sequel to Holes (Farrar, 1998) focuses on Armpit, an African-American former resident of Tent D at Camp Green Lake. It's two years after his release, and the 16-year-old is still digging holes, although now getting paid for it, working for a landscaper in his hometown of Austin, TX. He's trying to turn his life around, knowing that everyone expects the worst of him and that he must take small steps to keep moving forward. When X-Ray, his friend and fellow former detainee at the juvenile detention center, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme involving scalping tickets to a concert by teenage pop star Kaira DeLeon, Armpit fronts X-Ray the money. He takes his best friend and neighbor, Ginny, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy, to the concert and ends up meeting Kaira, getting romantically involved, and finally becoming a hero by saving her life when her stepfather tries to kill her and frame him. Small Steps has a completely different tone than Holes. It lacks the bizarre landscape, the magical realism, the tall-tale quality, and the heavy irony. Yet, there is still much humor, social commentary, and a great deal of poignancy. Armpit's relationship with Ginny, the first person to care for him, look up to him, and give his life meaning, is a compassionate one. Like Holes, Small Steps is a story of redemption, of the triumph of the human spirit, of self-sacrifice, and of doing the right thing. Sachar is a master storyteller who creates memorable characters.
-Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Roger Hargreaves books now available in vast quantities!


Are you a fan of the Little Miss and Little Mr. books by Roger Hargreaves?  Stop by the children's room and check out our new bin of books!  These popular titles have come into fashion once again and the children's room has been met with many requests for these books; in response, we have purchased multiple copies of the books in this series and we are pleased to say that they are absolutely flying off the shelves!
"Roger Hargreaves was born in 1935 in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England. He is the British cartoonist who created the likes of Mr. Nosey and Mr. Grumpy, the simple little cartoon Mr. Men and Little Miss characters and books.
He was the creative director for an advertising agency in London when he got the idea for his books. He first began to market the idea in the early '70's, starting with Mr. Men, which appeared in books, BBC cartoons and as a comic strip in the Daily Mirror. The characters spawned over 700 related products and brought along the introduction of the Little Miss books introduced in the early '80s.
The two series reached worldwide sales of 85 million volumes and were printed in over 20 different languages. Hargreaves died on September 12, 1988 in Kent, England."
- Bowker Author Biography

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arthur's Nose, from Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac

Grandparent Kits are here!

We have Grandparent Kits! The Wellesley Free Library now has a limited number of Grandparent Kits available; these kits contain books and activity ideas and can be borrowed for one week. The kits can be customized according to age and special interests. To request a kit, call the children's department at 781-235-1610 x 1108.

Monday, October 3, 2011

We now have Playaway Views!

What is a Playaway View?

  • Portable
    Includes a head-phone jack and speakers
  • Convenient
    Pre-loaded content; no internet or downloads needed
  • Durable and Scratch-Resistant
    Made with kids in mind
  • Multiple Videos
    Each View holds hours of great content,
    bundling curated content just for you
  • Chargeable
    Simply use the included standard AC Adaptor
Come in and check one out!

Drawing From Memory by Allen Say

My new favorite book!  A must-read for Allen Say fans and aspiring artists.

School Library Journal Review
Gr 4 Up-Say tells the story of how he became an artist through a vibrant blend of words and images. Beginning with his boyhood in World War II-era Japan, he traces his life-changing relationship with Noro Shinpei, an illustrious cartoonist who became his surrogate father figure and art mentor. Illustrations are richly detailed and infused with warmth. Exquisite use of light makes night scenes glow, and the mid-20th-century Tokyo setting is captured with vivid authenticity. A variety of media and artistic styles, including full-color paintings, black-and-white sketches, photographs, and comic-book panels, adds texture and depth to the narrative. Fans of the artist's work will take particular delight in seeing sketches from his student days. Simple, straightforward sentences and a conversational narration in combination with a wealth of images will appeal to aspiring artists and reluctant readers alike. This book covers much of the same material as Say's autobiographical novel, The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice (Harper & Row, 1979), but the lively mix of art and text will draw in a new generation and a slightly younger audience. The somewhat abrupt ending, with Say moving to the United States, may leave readers wishing for a more extended epilogue or sequel, but that is simply because his story is so engaging. Readers of all ages will be inspired by the young Say's drive and determination that set him on a successful career path.-Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA (c) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary