Friday, February 27, 2009

Kidz Bop: Ain't nothing like the real thing

Earlier this week I noticed that my good friend Liz B was ranting on her Twitter about the greatest abomination ever visited on pop culture: Kidz Bop. Because this was not the first time I've talked to librarians about the trials and tribulations of collecting popular music, I promised I would blog about it, so here I am.

Here's a How to Make Your Own Kidz Bop tutorial: Download whatever song is playing on the Top 40 station right now. Replace the choruses with children singing. Now replace most, if not all, of the solo lines with a child singing. Child singing on key is optional. Now, take out any lyrics that might be deemed offensive. What "offensive" means is up to you. Replace them with either silly, "kid-friendly" words or delete them entirely, depending on how you can get it to fit into the music. Put the song back together! Voila!

Let's get the positive out of the way first: If there's one good thing about Kidz Bop, it's that they're beneficial to children's music development. Just as it's important for babies to see pictures of other babies in board books, it's important for children to hear the sound of other children singing. From the perspective of a former music educator, I can see some of the reasoning behind the series. From the perspective of a librarian and someone who enjoys popular music, I think they're a waste of money.

First, the lyrics. Generally, the songs picked for Kidz Bop aren't that dirty to begin with. It's not like they're re-recording Eminem. About the most-inappropriate-for-six-year-olds song they re-record is along the lines of Maroon 5's "Makes me Wonder" or Pussycat Dolls' "When I Grow Up." The songs are, however, often high-concept. The latest volume of Kidz Bop, for example, includes their version of Coldplay's "Viva La Vida". By changing or omitting the lyrics, you don't change its "appropriateness," you change the meaning of the song. You change everything the artist wanted to say through his or her lyrics.

Second, the musicality. Kids voices, yes, I get it. But you know, there's plenty of good children's music out there, sung by both adults and children. Maybe it's not on Top 40 stations, but what percentage of music is? Also, most children sing off-key. That's just the way it is. So why glorify it? Speaking as one who has good pitch, the off-key singing drives me insane. A song is also more than just its lyrics. While Kidz Bop keeps the same basic melodies, it sometimes changes the orchestration, blend, and balance. All of these things are important to building a song and dismissing them means dismissing a big part of the reason why the song exists in the first place.

I know the arguments for having Kidz Bop. "Kids want to listen to the popular music that their big brothers and sisters listen to!" "They want popular music!" "They want to be cool!" I understand all of this, I really do. Music is important to all of us, even if we lack the ability to produce it ourselves. But Kidz Bop, for me, isn't much different than what might happened if we decided fourth-graders needed to read John Green. We'd have to make the book shorter, perkier, take out the dirty words, etc., and it would all be completely pointless because in doing so, we'd change the meaning of Green's work and basically say that the work he put into creating the novel is worthless. Teens deserve to have their own books, good books, and teens and adults deserve to have their own music. No matter how much some people (not myself) may wish it so, not everything is for children, or can be for children. Public libraries buying the sanitized versions of albums is not "serving the public," or making the library "safe for children," it's ignoring artistic intent and it's lazy music selection. The books have rude words, so why can't the music? My colleagues, please, save money on Kidz Bop and spend it on Shari Lewis or Sharon, Lois & Bram.

What would Emma read?

I'm always looking for YA titles set in the Midwest, and What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook fits the bill and then some. Read Melissa's review at Librarian By Day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ten non-library blogs librarians should read

TMI. We usually use this term to tell our friends when they're sharing too much about their personal lives, but I think the trap of "too much information" is one that librarians fall into on a daily basis. We can't help it. Librarians want lots of information, all the time. The problem is that there are so many great library and reading/book blogs that we can, and often do, spend all our time just reading blogs from and about our colleagues. These are valuable blogs, no doubt, but we can always benefit from diversifying our knowledge. Librarians know their book and library services blogs inside and out and often in their sleep, but I want to offer up some non-library, non-book blogs that I find interesting, fun, and strangely beneficial to my day-to-day work.

apophenia. This is the one blog I always recommend to anyone who wants to know more about teens and social networking. danah boyd is one of the country's leading authorities on the subject, and her writing is both in-depth and easy for those of us who aren't fluent in Academicese to understand.

Cake Wrecks. Everyone loves cake, right? (Please say yes.) And everyone loves a beautifully decorated cake, right? You know what everyone loves more? Badly professionally decorated cakes. We're talking spelling errors, frosting disasters, and the Just Plain Heinous. You will laugh. And then you'll cry. I don't even go in my kitchen unless I have to wash the dishes and I love this blog, so don't worry if you're not a foodie.

The Consumerist. Subtitled "Shoppers Bite Back," it's not Economics for Dummies, it's Retail And You. The Consumerist is part of the Gawker media empire, so it's got a sarcastic tone that carries a lot of truth and a lot of information about retail, credit, taxes, debt, real estate, and all the other daily economic concerns that, well, are driving up library usage.

Freakonomics. The authors of the fascinating Freakonomics now blog for the New York Times about everything from thugs to the Kindle 2 to baseball. And that's just this week.

GeekSugar. GeekSugar is like your cool older sister, dispensing interesting information about technology, gadgets, and geek fashion in a relatable way. More than just gadget news, GeekSugar also explains complicated programs in plain English and offers helpful tech tips for the everyday user (like "How to make your own iPhone ringtones in GarageBand" and "How to attract more blog readers").

I Can Has Cheezburger? or, if you're a dog person, I Has a Hotdog!. The concept was simple: Post funny and/or adorable pictures of cats, and put in captions that express what the cat in the picture is probably thinking. Next thing you know, LOLCats and LOLDogs are a cultural phenomenon, imitated and duplicated at places like LOLBrarians.

Indie Rock Cafe. It's important that libraries have indie music in their collections. It's one of those "If you build it, they will come" things. But what's a librarian whose taste is more Led Zeppelin than Arcade Fire to do? Read Indie Rock Cafe. Even if you've never heard of any of the bands they cover, you'll quickly learn who's hot in the indie rock world, meaning who's going to be hot at your library. Maybe you'll even discover a new favorite band.

Plagiarism Today. Whenever I visit schools, I always end up talking to at least one person about plagiarism. How to avoid it, tips on getting students to recognize what it is and not do it, etc. PT is run by a non-lawyer who's interested in copyright issues. One favorite section of mine is "How to Find Plagiarism," and the Copyright Myths section alone is worth the time you take visiting the site.

The TV Addict. Even though their "Twelve Reasons to Stay Home on Friday Night" completely ignores my favorite show, Numb3rs, I love the TV Addict for their unashamed devotion to the art of TV storytelling, both good and bad. Plus, they're huge fans of Supernatural and you know how I feel about people like that. They post interviews, pictures, podcasts, news, rants, and quick rundowns of what they're watching. Or, as I like to say, they watch TV so you don't have to. (Don't get me wrong, I like TV, but with reading for the Printz TV has taken a back seat this year.)

Writer Beware. Okay, so I'm cheating. But it's my blog and I'll cheat if I want to. In all seriousness, this is a blog I wish every librarian would read for a few reasons. One: We get asked a lot of questions about publishing. Two: Lots of librarians would also like to be writers. Three: Writing and publishing (and librarianship) as an industry seems to have this reputation among the masses of being a haven of creativity and nice people. Truth is, there ARE lots of creative and nice people in publishing, but there are also a lot of dishonest people who prey on aspiring writers. A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, both accomplished science fiction writers, take no crap from any scammer, and they make it all public.

Honorable mentions for this list go to Apartment Therapy, Shiny Shiny, Metal Sucks!, and ShoppingBlog.

Feel free to comment with your favorite non-library, non-book blogs!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I meant to do some reading

Monday, February 16, 2009

Read me in Publishers Weekly

Nothing tickles a book blogger more than the opportunity to express our ideas in a professional journal. This week, I've done just that: What they don't know won't hurt them: Persuading adults to read YA literature is this week's PW Soapbox.

As regular readers know, I'm a big advocate of getting YA lit into the hands of adults, so having this chance to write for PW was a Very Good Thing. Now if only I could convince all the adults out there that there's more to YA lit than The Big Three Series That Must Not Be Named...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Scholastic: Not selling compulsion

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mike Mulligan, myself, and I

In the not too distant past, I was lurking on a listserv that was hosting a discussion of The Hunger Games. The most interesting part of the conversation, to me, were the complaints that centered around how little the reader really knows about Katniss's world. All the questions raised were perfectly legitimate: How did she know where the cameras were during the Games? What kind of technology is the Capitol really capable of? What's Haymitch's deal? Etc. What I didn't understand was how the discussion could continue when all the questions had the same answer:

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.

I know that doesn't sound like much of an answer on its own, but let me explain.

In my favorite Ramona book, Ramona the Pest, there's a scene where Ramona's kindergarten teacher reads Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel aloud to the class. After storytime, Ramona has a burning question for Miss Binney: How did Mike Mulligan go to the bathroom when he was digging the basement of the town hall?" Then, of course, everyone else in Ramona's kindergarten class wanted to know the same thing. Miss Binney's response, one all of us can afford to remember:

"The reason the book does not tell us how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom is that it is not an important part of the story. The story is about digging the basement of the town hall, and that is what the book tells us."

The reason The Hunger Games does not tell us how Katniss knows where the cameras are, or the deep and detailed history of Panem, or how Haymitch won the Hunger Games other than Peeta's observation that Haymitch must have outwitted all his opponents, is because they are not important parts of the story. The story is about Katniss participating in the Hunger Games, and that is what the book tells us. It's not that I discourage debate and exploration of books, but you know, my fellow readers, we can't always get what we want (and if we did, would we want it anyway?). Most importantly, we can't always get what we want from a first-person novel. This is something I wish more writers as well as readers would realize. Katniss is too busy trying to get through the next five minutes to take the time to explain to the reader how Panem came to be. Is it important to the reader? Yes, and believe me, I'm dying to know all the background, too. But this is a first-person novel, and it's Katniss's story. If I haven't been paying attention to the last 75 years of the Hunger Games, that is my problem and not hers. Sometimes, the things we want to know as readers simply don't matter to the story the character is telling. I think this is something that too often gets neglected in first-person books. The Hunger Games is a great first-person novel because Katniss doesn't break the fourth wall, just like Inexcusable is a great first-person novel because it knowingly and deliberately breaks the fourth wall. Many of the first-person books I read last year would have been much better done in third because the author could not put his Mike Mulligans aside. Instead, I got books where I thought the main character knew I was there but I couldn't be too sure, and just to be sure I understood him (or her), he would take lots of aside time to explain the workings of his world to me. Nothing kills a promising first-person book like a data dump. Or a dirt dump, since we're talking steam shovels here.

Mike Mulligan, by the way, is also my answer to the question of "Why didn't J.K. Rowling reveal that Dumbledore is gay during the course of the HP series?" It works. Try it!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Where the skateboarders are

Where the Wild Things Are skateboards.

Yeah, there doesn't need to be anything else in this entry. Except that, does anyone want to teach me to skateboard?

Lunchtime poll: How many YAs read YA?

I'm reading a book right now with a YA protagonist. Surprise, right? There's a passage in this book that makes me wonder something, and you can help.

I don't know why this is, but it seems to me that very few protagonists in YA novels read other YA novels when they choose to read. Offhand, I can think of only four titles where other popular YA novels besides The Outsiders are mentioned: Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones, Burned by Ellen Hopkins, Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, and The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. When I notice protagonists of YA novels reading, they're almost always reading classics or obscure novels.* Of course, this is the author's right. They're the ones who know their main characters best. But ten years after the awarding of the first Printz, wouldn't it make sense that YA novels mention other YA novels?

I wonder about the name-dropping of books specifically because this doesn't seem to be a problem where music, movies, and television are concerned. Lots of books mention characters watching American Idol or Bring it On or listening to Beyonce. The pop culture reference is a much beloved (by authors and myself) part of the YA genre. If there's all this love for TV and music and movies, though, where do the books come in?

Part of me thinks that, consciously or not, authors might not want their "smart" protagonists reading YA because, well, YA isn't supposed to be something that stretches your brain, or sets you apart from your peers, or makes you weird. Maybe they think a "weird" or "smart" protagonist wouldn't be caught dead reading YA. Still, I'm not buying that. Any weird, smart protagonist would love M.T. Anderson, I think. A protagonist who wanted to be "different" might not read The Clique, sure, but I don't think it'd be unrealistic for him or her to read, say, Black Juice (I know the publication date on that is probably too recent for it to be referenced in any other YA novels; I'm just using it as an example of a cool, weird YA book). If the protagonist is a science fiction or fantasy fan, he or she always seems to be reading the likes of Heinlein or Bradbury. Again, there's absolutely nothing wrong with those authors, but why don't we hear about Tamora Pierce or Nancy Farmer or even Lloyd Alexander?

Maybe there's something to be said for waiting for these YA books to become classics, but what's the point of that? Books are a smaller part of the pop culture picture, but if authors writing teen protagonists are going to reference books, wouldn't it behoove them and their genre to acknowledge cool YA titles?

Now, about all the YA protagonists who listen to Nirvana and Pearl Jam... that's another entry altogether.

*I know that there are a few Neil Gaiman references in The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, but those references are to the Sandman series, which was published for adults.

Jealous, much? Why yes!

It's not that I don't love getting envelopes and boxes of books in the mail. Seriously, who doesn't love that? But I have to admit that I am absolutely seething with jealousy for those who got Coraline boxes. I mean, look at this! And all of these! Okay, so I don't begrudge the box recipients much, as the boxes went to people who are much more active (and more talented) bloggers than I, but still, I WANT!

Going to see the movie with a friend on Sunday. I'll report back, if I remember.

Monday, February 2, 2009

How not to be a great readers' adviser

If I told you I liked Harry Potter, what would you recommend to me next?

If I told you I liked The Luxe, what would you recommend to me next?

If I told you I liked Uglies, what would you recommend to me next?

Stop. Put that RA list down, and listen.

One of the things I love doing most in person but hate doing most over email is readers' advisory. Finding the right book for the right person takes time, work, and interviews. This post is a plea to my colleagues: I beg of you, when you ask for RA assistance over email, please do an RA interview first, and tell us the things that we cannot see.

It's a common thing to see RA questions on YA lit listservs, and unfortunately it's also a common thing for posters to leave off information that we desperately need to do a good RA job. Here are some examples of RA questions I've seen on listservs:

"I have a group of girls who hate to read but love Twilight. What do you recommend to them?"

"I know a ten-year-old who read and loved all the Harry Potter books. What do you recommend to them?"

"What YA books would you recommend to eleventh-graders?"

What's wrong with all these questions? They tell us practically nothing about the reader's other interests, or what interests him or her in these particular titles. As librarians, we've been trained to give good, correct answers quickly, but great RA takes time, not reflexes. Consider the first question. First, how old are these girls? Second, why do they hate to read? Have they tried reading anything else recently? Their ages are easy to see in person but impossible to see over email unless we're told. It's our reflex to say "Here are some vampire books," but maybe the girls don't care about the vampire aspect. Maybe they just want a love story. Maybe they like over-the-top prose. Maybe they want a story about a "normal" girl in a supernatural world. We don't know without a good RA interview.

With the second one, the reflex is to recommend fantasy. The problem with this is that 1) Harry Potter is a hero's journey but, as J.K. Rowling said (paraphrased), the fantasy is a secondary, even tertiary element and 2) How much of HP sunk into the reader? It could be that this ten-year-old has read, digested, and analyzed every HP plot line. In that case, more power to him. Or her. Would you be so kind as to tell us which in the email to the listserv? A good RA interview should serve as a tool to gauge the reader's strength and interests. When I hear about younger readers who just looooooooved Harry Potter, I always like to ask them about their favorite character and/or event in the story. A short conversation about the book reveals a lot to me about how this particular child or teen reads. These are conversations we can't have over email, but they're questions that are imperative to getting this reader the right book.

The third one: They're in eleventh grade. Okay. What else can you tell us about them? Are they advanced readers? Remedial? Is the class mostly boys? Girls? Is the community more liberal or more conservative? If I start recommending adult titles, will you automatically tell me that those are "too young?"

Another recent question on one of the listservs came from someone who was looking for a movie to show, but it couldn't be a certain well-known high school movie from the '80s because it was "inappropriate." (No, the movie wasn't Heathers.) Okay. That's fine. But please tell us what is appropriate in your community so we can shape our answers in a way that will best help you find a film for your classes to watch.

RA is an art, not a science. It takes practice and patience and no matter how much you know, you'll still give out the wrong answer 25 percent of the time. I could deal with this 25% failure rate a lot better, though, if suggestions we librarians made based on very little information weren't shot down because, well, we gave suggestions based on very little information. Parents who come to the library to get books for you children: Please tell us what your child has already read. Tell us about his/her interests. Don't just say, "He needs a fantasy book for his seventh-grade book report." We want to give the best answers possible while doing RA, but this can only be done if we have the best answers to our RA interviews to start with.

Fun with type-ing

I have an album review coming soon. In the meantime, this is a fun site to play with: Typealyzer: What type is that blog?

I was surprised at its accuracy. It described the writer of Librarilly Blonde as an ESTP, and while I usually test as an ESTJ, I have a lot of P in my J. But then I have to wonder: Is the test more accurate for extraverts than introverts?

What's your type, and what type does Typealyzer think you are, according to your blog?