27 April 2014

Costco, Polar Bears and Meetings

Isaac periodically has the dubious pleasure of attending meetings with me.  It's just too much trouble to leave school, go the meeting, go back to school to pick him up, then get to wherever we have to be next.  So he gets out of school early about once a month.  He starts off excited, then after two hours of sitting and being quiet he is bored to tears.  Surprisingly, though, he is always very good -- snacks and his Kindle help.

There was a meeting a few weeks ago that caught his interest more than the previous ones.  Encouraging boys to read more, specifically African American boys, is an important initiative in our school system right now.  So, as librarians, my colleagues and I have been an important voice in the discussions and have sat through numerous trainings on the subject.   At this particular meeting, a consultant was sharing some of the best books for boys published last year.

The day before the meeting, Isaac and I had been to Costco to stock up and he had browsed through the books while I meandered through the clothes.  He brought back a copy of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis and asked if I would buy it for him.  While I encourage his reading and have been thrilled that he has been so eager to spend time with a book, we are also trying to teach him that money doesn't grow on trees, so I told him he was welcome to buy the book with his own money.  He agreed!  Then he asked if I would buy the second book so he could have both.  Um, no, but I said if he read the book and liked the series I would think about buying him the next one.  And we left Costco with a new book, among other things.

Timmy Failure was in Isaac's bookbag at my meeting the next day and he was excited to hear the presenter mention this book on her recommended list for boys.  He even held the book up to show the group and read the first sentence aloud for them to hear at the presenter's request.  It starts off like this, "It is harder to drive a polar bear into someone's living room than you think."

Timmy is the founder and CEO of his own detective agency and his partner is his pet polar bear, Total.  Hence, trying to drive a polar bear into a living room.  The book is written by the creator of Pearls Before Swine.  On the front cover is a blurb from Jeff Kinney, which caught Isaac's attention, and I explained that often other authors will read and recommend books that they like.  Knowing that the Diary of a Wimpy Kid author thinks Timmy Failure is cool made Isaac smile.

Timmy Failure was read and enjoyed.  Isaac considered donating it to the school library when he finished it, but then realized he couldn't take it back later, so he decided to hold on to it -- in case he wants to read it again.

We made another trip to Costco the other night and I offered to buy the second book, but they did not have it.  There was much disappointment, but we will find it soon.  In the meantime, Isaac has a bookbag full of other books to read, which still amazes me.

13 April 2014


Matt and I love Carl Hiassen's books. A friend introduced Matt to them years ago, and I started reading them soon after.  Now we wait for the next one to be published.  He is a native Floridian who writes about the eccentricities of his state.  His oddball characters make you cringe and laugh, but if you have lived in Florida long enough they also remind you of someone you know.  His satires often target the many threats to Florida's natural environment and are witty and irreverent.

About a decade ago Hiassen started writing children's fiction.  As a huge fan of his adult work, and as a children's librarian, I have to admit that I was not happy when his first children's book, Hoot, was published, and even less happy when it won a prestigious Newbery Honor.  It was around the time when the Harry Potter craze was at a peak and many adult and celebrity authors were cashing in on the suddenly lucrative children's book market.  I read his first effort and was less than impressed.  It felt watered down -- like he had taken a plot for an adult novel and forced it into a framework for a children's book, removing the foul language, sex and violence that are found in his other books.

Okay, I was wrong.  I was just a cynical fan and a suspicious children's librarian who questioned why he was all of a sudden writing for children.  Hiassen's kid's books are really pretty good.  They still have the quirky, Florida characters, the environmental threats, and the craziness that is Florida.  And they are not dumbed down for kids -- they are just cleaned up a little.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that it was time to introduce Isaac to Carl Hiassen, so we began reading Hoot at bedtime.  It was a family effort.  Matt read a couple of chapters a night while Isaac and I listened.  In the book, a shoeless, but fleet of foot, runaway boy is sabotaging a restaurant chain's efforts to build on a vacant lot which also happens to be home to nesting pairs of protected burrowing owls.  He is joined by his step-sister and a new-to-the-neighborhood-via-Montana boy who realizes in the book that, though there are no mountains, the Florida environment is awash with variety and beauty.

There are the typical Hiassen characters -- the bumbling cop, the corrupt businessman, the brawny hired thug, the less-than-smart bully, the vacuous blond actress, the wily activist, and the accidental hero.  And Florida itself -- with its gators, poisonous snakes, swamps and thunderstorms.  And unlike many books written for children, there is not a nicely wrapped happy ending.  The owls are saved but the runaway boy does not return to the family fold which is made happy and whole again.  Life is not perfect.

Isaac loved Hoot.  He made sure we read it each night, and the night before he and Matt left to go on a camping trip, he asked if we could stay up late to finish it.  So we did.  Then he checked Scat out of the school library to try and read on his own and Matt bought a recorded copy of Chomp for them to listen to on their trip.  Isaac is North Carolina born, but he knows his Florida roots.  And now he has joined the Carl Hiassen fan club.  Indoctrination at its best.