Ease of use

I worry sometimes that our expectations of life are leaning too much towards convenience. We like our grapes seedless and our chicken off the bone. We want every poem to be comprehensible on first reading; every new software application to be instantly useful; every human relationship to be effortless. We put up with a lot of mediocrity for the sake of ease, and we will walk away from the meaningful, the beautiful, the interesting, the important if it looks like it might be too much work.

Maybe we overvalue our own time and effort. Maybe we undervalue the things of this world. I don’t know. All I know is sometimes you have to gnaw the meat off the bone, or eat the fruit and spit out the seeds. Sometimes you might even find yourself picking crab.

The Storytime That Never Was

As a storytime person I am always looking at picture books and trying to pair them with other titles to make an interesting program.  It’s sort of like arranging several dinner parties every week.  What flavors will work well together?  What’s in season?  What juxtaposition will stimulate good conversation?

Now, I am well aware that some of my ideas will never fly.  They’re just a little too wacked.  And I can deal with this, but if I could…

I’ve got some great stories for a Political and Economic Issues storytime.  We’d start with one of my all-time favorites—

Farmer Duck, by Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury where the Workers of the World (well, ok, the Animals of the Farm) unite to overthrow the lazy old farmer and take over the means of production.


Farmer Duck

Then we’d move on to Doreen Cronin’s Click, Clack, Moo:  Cows that Type where the cows and chickens learn the power of collective bargaining and strike for better working conditions.

Click,Clack, Moo:  Cows that Type

After singing a stirring American Labor tune (Woody Guthrie?  no—it should be “Maggie’s Farm”), we’d finish up with the classic picture book  A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban,  in which a young badger learns “caveat emptor” and we explore issues of trust, betrayal, and friendship in business (Perhaps this would also be a good candidate for a Faculty Academy Keynote storytime?).

A Bargain For Frances

There’s a lot to talk about when you pick up a really good picture book.  Maybe if I change the title of this storytime, I can still pull it off.  Now, if I can just come up with an appropriate fingerplay….

“This little pig went to market…”

First Things

 Hardy County Public Library, 1966

This was my very first library.  When I was small, my mother would walk with me down tree-lined streets to this building (built on a 40′ x 60′ lot and designed to hold 6,000 volumes).  There I would sit on the floor in front of the picture books and be as happy as any child ever was.  I got my first library card here–a great milestone of maturity then because you had to be old enough to write your first AND last names.  (I practiced at home beforehand to be sure I would get it right.)

I still remember where things were shelved in my childhood library.  The picture books were under the big window to your left just inside the front door.  I knew exactly where to find my favorites, though it was a source of great frustration to me that Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree was placed in storage after the Christmas season was over.  (I would have to wait months before it reappeared–just like I waited for the Wizard of Oz to come on television every December.)

 Later I moved on to the chapter books–the first books I knew by author’s name not artist’s style–which were on the left wall of this tiny space.  There I could find books by Laura Lee Hope, and a collection of Disney stories with a green cover, and the D’Aulaire’s biography of Christopher Columbus with the picture of him holding an orange and pondering the shape of the world.  

We moved to suburbia after third grade, so I never got to explore beyond that front left quadrant of the Hardy County Public Library.  I’ve discovered some favorite spaces at other libraries since then, but none of them were as magical as the spot beneath the picture window with treasures before me and freedom to choose.


If you’ve looked at greeting cards or gone shopping anytime in the past five years, then surely you are familiar with the secularization of Christmas (Happy Holidays!) and Easter (Happy Spring!).  I figure this is one way for the greeting card industry to expand the number of people I can actually send cards to at various times of the year—especially now that e-cards have arrived and I’m buying fewer cards than I once did.  They have to work to maintain revenue.

But the other day I was looking for a “Religious Easter Greeting” and was surprised to find that they were now being written by the same group of generic well-wishers.   You don’t have to be particularly steeped in Christian tradition to know that a religious Easter card should say “He is Risen!” or at least contain the words “resurrection” or “empty tomb” somewhere in the body of the greeting.  Victory, joy and love are also appropriate, but it’s that Easter morning surprise that’s crucial to the celebration.   All I could find were sentiments like “God bless you with a happy spring!”  and “May you see God’s love in the beauty of the earth.”  Granted these do contain the word “God” and could be constued as religious; however, they are not “Religious Easter Greetings.”  In fact they’re not particularly creative greeting cards of any sort.  No matter how pretty the picture. 

World of Sound

As part of some recent library training I sat in on storytime at the downtown library.  It’s an older building where they still use a 16mm film projector to show Weston Woods movies. (Does anyone else remember these from Captain Kangaroo?  Stone Soup and Georgie?   These stories are some of my most vivid memories of the show–right up there with Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit.)

Anyway, we were near the end of storytime and were watching the movie, Changes Changes–six minutes or so of terrific wordless storytelling over music.  As the film began, all the children were instantly face forward, eyes glued to the screen-except for one tagalong sibling, about one and a half years old, I’d guess, who was fascinated by the movie projector.  At first I thought it was mildly interesting that she was looking at the projector and not the image, but I really took notice when it happened again in the next storytime with another child.

I grew up with the sound of 16 mm projectors in school classrooms and church fellowship halls.  The chunk of the gears when you started it up, the click of the shutter while the movie showed, the high-pitched scritching as the film rewound onto the metal reel, and the final flap, flap flap of the tail end hitting the projector until someone turned it off.

I took those sounds as a matter of course, but these very young ones have probably only known DVDs.  They have never heard a projector going at the same time as the movie; never seen the reels spin and watched the film pack get smaller and smaller on the front reel and larger and larger on the back.  They know “put the disc in the player and push a button,” and maybe the sound of the drawer closing, but not the tension of “Will the teacher figure out how to thread the movie?  Will it slip the sprockets?  Will this contraption actually work?”

I’ve been thinking about projectors and sounds because I recently read The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  It’s about a boy and a man, clocks and wind-up toys, an automaton and silent movies, magic and dreams and making.  It took me several chapters to get into the groove of this work–a blend of wordless storytelling through pictures and traditional narrative.  The problem for me was not the switching back and forth between media, but the disconcerting way everything went dead quiet when the storytelling switched to the pictures.

Text is a voice in my head, graphic novels are filled with sound, and when I watch a movie, even when no one is speaking, there’s almost always music playing, or some sort of ambient sound from the world of the film.  With Hugo Cabret the black and white pictures were muted, the sound in my head just stopped, and it took me a while to accept the silence.  As the story built, I began to hear the sound of the movie projectors and clocks ticking–even when looking at the pictures–and I felt more comfortable. 

Certain mechanical sounds ground me in a world of human making.  I want to hear the world turning-not sliding quietly on its tracks.  Otherwise I fear I’ll end up like the characters in Georgie:  if the board on the stairs doesn’t creak a little, and the parlor door doesn’t squeak a little, then how will I know when it is time to go to bed?