Book Review – The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain  by Lloyd Alexander are five different books that follow the life of Taran, a young Assistant Pig-Keeper. In the first book, The Book of Three, Taran is just a small boy who helps keep watch over a magician’s magical pig. But when the magical pig runs away to avoid the evil Queen Achren, Taran finds himself in an adventure. From the dungeons of Spiral Castle to the underground land of the Fair Folk (enchanted beings like elves and fairies), Taran must use his wits and be brave to survive. Along the way, Taran makes new friends like the young and fearless, Princess Eilonwy; the heroic knight, Gwydion; and the strange but adorable creature, Gurgi.    Continue reading “Book Review – The Chronicles of Prydain”

A List with Legs

Last week at the library, we asked the kids to help plan for the year ahead.  They brainstormed and recorded the list you see above.  We’re going to start with some cooking.  Maybe making pizza again from scratch — making the dough, grating the cheese, the whole shebang.  It has been a year and a half since we last did that and we have almost an entirely new group of kids now.





This post comes from Adrian’s blog — Slow Dance Journal — about the beginning of The Front Porch Library.

I’ll start this blog about LIFE with something that happens every Sunday around here: cupcakes. Sunday cupcakes are part of my justification for owning two houses, ours and what used to be my Dad’s. These modest homes would be Baltic and Mediterranean Ave. on the Monopoly board—the two cheapest properties. Still, two houses? But when my dad died I didn’t have the heart to sell his place. I needed to be able to walk into his old house and say “Good morning, Dad!”

I thought that if I used the house for the Greater Good I could keep it. So my neighbors and I created The Front Porch Library. I thought it was about putting books into kids’ hands. It turned out to be about all the things that happen when kids, who normally appear as quick flashes as they ride bicycles around the block, walk through your door and you get to know them.

Today the library will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. Although the cupcakes will be the most popular part of library time, I bet I’ll read aloud, and kids will draw on the long roll of fax paper we keep for that purpose, and the girls will get huffy with each other and need to be reminded to “be nice,” and I will closely watch the brother and sister whose father recently died and try to guess how they are doing.

While she is at the library, one of my girl’s homes will be visited by her brother’s parole officer.

A group of three cousins, all neatly dressed, will arrive together. These three come from families that are distressingly poor in both money and education. All three are struggling readers, but good kids.

Sometimes I feel like a starry-eyed do-gooder standing in the wind tunnel of my kids’ difficult lives, holding out a tray of cupcakes. But cupcakes, books, and adult attention are what I have to offer.

And the cupcakes are always good. Going out the door at the end of library hours, A’Miracle will say, “Can I take one of those cupcakes home for my mom? She likes cupcakes.”

In the Works

As the front porch becomes more and more crowded and the stacks of The Autobiography of Meatball Finklestein grow ever loftier, we’re looking for ways to transplant our success to other spaces.

Currently under consideration is a lending/donation hybrid program with the Big Bend Homeless Coalition’s Hope Community. It seems like a good fit: books we can’t use get passed on to another charitable group and are ultimately read by children encountering homelessness. Kary envisions sending small collections home with families when they transition to permanent housing, the books acting as a parting gift to the children of these families, and giving them a foundation upon which to build literacy with their own small home library.

A Role Model: Access Books

Children need access to high interest, enjoyable books.

Children who read for pleasure, read more.

Pleasure reading provides the foundation for all reading – including academic.

Access Books, a nonprofit supplementing low-income school libraries to increase literacy among student library users

Nothing But the Truth (Avi)

Last night I read Nothing But the Truth by Avi (#527 in the FPL collection). Somehow, I’d made it years without reading Avi, a YA staple, and I whizzed right through this one in a couple hours.

I was surprised by the subject matter, wondering if some of the adult concerns (budget woes, tenure, etc.) might go over the head of the book’s intended readers. Still, I enjoyed the somewhat gimmicky epistolary/dialogue format, and respected Avi for writing a protagonist at times both pitiable and frustrating (A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murray comes to mind).

In short, I don’t know if the 1991 cover (and complete absence of a back-cover blurb!) would make this book a natural choice for the older readers of our library, but its complex dealings with moral issues make it one I might recommend.

looking back on opening day

It was probably a terrible idea to set our opening date before we’d finished all our processing, arranging and cleaning.

It was probably a terrible idea, but through mild panic, a mighty force of volunteers, and yards of book tape, it worked.

Though in the days preceding our June 13 opening, we felt trepidation indeed, all worked to the good and the opening day was a smashing success. Most of our nightmares blessedly failed to materialize. We weren’t left alone with dozen of hot dogs and hundreds of books, nor was a run made on our little Marcia Street enclave, reducing us to an overwhelmed heap. Sure, calamities we couldn’t have expected befell the opening event (most memorably, a little boy peeing onto our fresh-scrubbed but thankfully cement porch floor!), but on the whole, opening day left us energized for the summer ahead. Important conversations were had, hot dogs got gobbled energetically, and books set off on adventures across the neighborhood. It’s only now we recognize how lucky we were.

Pictured, above right: A section of the chapter books and our politically nostalgic, obsolete old globe.

Pictures, above left: Adrian explains the library to a mother.

musing on series

  • Is it worthwhile to have series with holes in them?
  • Should priority be placed on filling them, or should monitoring of the popularity of existing books occur first? (So you don’t struggle to get the last Hardy Boys when no one’s actually reading them?)
  • Do long children’s series (Babysitters Club, Boxcar Children) enjoy the same popularity now?
  • How does one determine a series that requires special shelving? What qualifies? Numbered stories? Series of seven or more books? What about trilogies?
  • What difference does it make for a book to be classified as a series in an otherwise un-alphabetized collection?

Lois Lowry, Gathering Blue

When I read The Giver as a kid, I thought it was just the worst. I had (and still have) a pretty low tolerance for unhappy endings unless they’re really well done (Heart of Darkness, King Lear, My Best Friend’s Wedding [!]), and in my twelve-year-old reasoning, the horrors of Jonas’s world weren’t properly cured by him simply leaving at the end of the novel.

When I re-read (as I so often do) The Giver in college after hearing such enthusiastic reviews from friends, I revised my opinions (as I so often do). And when I found a copy of Gathering Blue, “a companion to the Newbery Award Winner The Giver” at the Front Porch Library, I was psyched.

GB didn’t compel me the way Giver does, though. The ending was ambiguous and challenging, just as The Giver was, but here the similarities end. Kira’s world is only a “companion” to Jonas’s because they are both set in the future, but here Lowry creates a world rebuilt from destruction and forced back into village life.

One striking aspect was the dialect Lowry creates for Kira’s people, especially those in the Fen. It’s often distracting, but here are some of my favorites, spoken by Matt, the most entertaining character: ”fire twiggies” for firewood; “buggie” for bug; “crustie” for bread, etc. But it could also be highly annoying: “tyke” for child, “hubby” for husband (a pet peeve of mine), and so forth. Maybe it’s fun if you’re twelve, but the vocabulary mostly pulled me back out of the story, especially when the pacing bogged down.

“Name That Children’s Book” No. 1

“A couple of people truly remember, and here’s what they saw: a scraggly little kid jogging towards them, soles of both sneakers hanging by their hinges and flopping open like dog tongues each time they came up from the pavement.”

I’m working through some of the books I missed out on in childhood from the Front Porch Library Collection.

What’s the book?

Developing a Collection: Some Problems

collection duplicates

(as of 05/03/09)

  • The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scott O’Dell
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
  • Circle of Love (The Orphan Train Adventures), Joan Lowery Nixon
  • How to Eat Fried Worms, Thomas Rockwell
  • Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Louis Sachar
  • Far North, Will Hobbs
  • The Autobiography of Meatball Finklestein, Ross Venokur
  • Mama Panya’s Pancake—A Village Tale from Kenya, Mary & Rich Chamberlin
  • Harry Houdini: Young Magician, Kathryn Borland

On the titles of which I’ve found more than two copies, I’ve recorded but not numbered the third copy, figuring there’s no reason to mark up a book we’ll send on its way. It’s interesting to see the repeats I expected (Charlotte’s Web), and the mysteriously common titles (Meatball Finklestein?).

We’ve mostly been removing the duplicates in the hopes of seeding a new collection, perhaps a more fluid collection at the local homeless shelter. But at the same time, many of our books are cheap Scholastic editions, so we wonder if we should be hanging on to extras of books we expect to be popular. Thoughts, anyone?