Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


How iTunes Works

Whether or not you already use iTunes, whether or not you are conducting a torrid technological love affair with your iPod, you must must must read this article, courtesy of How Stuff Works. It explains in clear layperson's English how all things iTunes work, what the program does and doesn't do, and how to make the most of the technology. Essential for anyone in a public services position. Run, don't walk! Via Palinet's very fine Techsource.

Red Tape = Patron Kryptonite

I'm usually a silver lining kind of person, but I'm having a rare day of disgust. I've been thinking a bit about user-centered library experiences, and how the policies and guidelines libraries have in place do (or, sadly, don't -- at least not most of the time) make coming to the library easy and satisfying for our patrons. People, things are not looking good.

We make them jump through so many hoops just to access information about items they might want to check out (nevermind the items themselves) that it's a wonder people even come to public libraries anymore. Some disheartening examples:

I was helping a patron learn to use the OPAC yesterday and I had to apologize for being a little bit rusty with it, because I don't use that interface at all, ever. I use the employee interface, which is faster, cleaner, easier to use, and provides more information. This makes me a more effective (i.e. better, from the patron's standpoint) librarian when I'm looking up items for patrons, but also sloppy, stubmling (i.e. worse) librarian when I'm offering patron training. It also says some negative things about the OPAC we're using -- when an intelligent, web-literate person receives a result list from a keyword or author search and can't figure out how to proceed to access the information s/he wants, that's our failure to provide good service.

We make people provide multiple forms of ID and proof of residence before we'll give them a library card. Why do we do that? A library card isn't like a credit card -- you can't run up thousands of dollars of debt by irresponsibly using a library card. Okay, we might lose some materials, but most library users aren't going to check out stuff and then cut out on us. Couldn't we ask for just one form of ID, issue a temporary card, and then fully authorize the card after, say, successfully sending out a hold notice? There has to be a way to make the process easier on the user without sacrificing the collection.

My library put up little table tents asking people not to use their cellphones in public places here in the library. I'm all for doing what we can to stanch the hemorrhaging of social niceties, but I don't think banning cellphones in libraries is going to get it done. Saying a blanket "no" to cellphones is saying no to the way people (especially young people) communicate now. There's at least one other blogger thinking about cellphones in the library: behold, I Shush, by Woody Evans (most relevant posts are here and here. Jenny Levine writes about this issue pretty regularly. See here and here. There's plenty more if you just search her archives, too.

Worst of all, some libraries don't permit non-residents or non-cardholders to attend library programs. Paul Miller elaborates on his recent experience. Mind you, this anecdote applies to a library in England, but I've seen it in American libraries, too. If we are aiming to dissuade non-library users from ever becoming active library users, I cannot think of a single more effective off-putting tactic than this one.

So here's my question: what are libraries out there doing to cut through the red tape? What policies have you abolished? Where are you meeting your patrons halfway? Or more than halfway? We're interested in interviewing you for the blog, so please either post a comment below, or write to us!



Are you going to the New Jersey Library Association Conference?

Interested in a "Jersey Bloggers" get together?

If so, please email Pop (we're at popgoesthelibrary @ gmail.com)! Right now, it looks like Tuesday at lunch works for the most people.


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Video Games as a Service

Attention Michigan librarians: Always wanted to run a video game tournament, but don't know how to hook up a PS2 to a TV or computer monitor? The Woodlands Library Cooperative has the solution -- an all-day workshop on May 4th, called Video Games As A service: How To Host Successful Tournaments At Your Library, featuring Erin Helmrich and Eli Neiberger of Ann Arbor District Library.

If you attend, you'll learn why video games belong in the library, the state of the video game industry, how to play games like Dance Dance Revolution and Mario Kart, how to promote your events and build a community around them. Sounds like a winner to me! Erin & Eli, any chance you could come to New Jersey to present this workshop? Based on the excellent attendance (11 people!) I had at my DDR Party last Friday, I think you're onto a winner here.

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Interview with Christopher Krovatin

Let me open with an apology to my interviewee: Chris, I am so, so sorry! This interview has been a long time coming. Christopher Krovatin, Wesleyan University student and author of Heavy Metal and You, very graciously agreed to sit down for an interview with Pop back in August, 2005. I thought it would be a great idea to conduct the interview via AIM, and Chris agreed – so spontaneous! so freewheeling! so everything Pop stands for! – and therein lay the problem. When the interview came to a close and I copied and pasted our wonderful, hilarious, and yes, spontaneous, nearly two-hour conversation into Word to start editing it for posting here at Pop, it came in at a whopping 27 pages. 27! I thought I’d have time to massage it into something more concise, but every time I tried, the flavor of the interview was lost, and then I gave birth, and all thoughts of posting regularly at the blog went straight out the window. Nearly seven months later, here we are. I think I’ll skip IM for interviews from now on. This time, though, Christopher Krovatin: An Interview in Five Parts.

Part The First, in Which The Interview Subject Reveals his Influences, Literary and Otherwise

sophiebiblio: Hi!

RemoveTheSutures: What's up?

sophiebiblio: I have some prepared questions, but I think this will be pretty free-wheeling. You ready to go?

RemoveTheSutures: Yessum.

sophiebiblio: Excellent!
sophiebiblio: Okay, so my first question is about your writing influences: What stuff did you like to read when you growing up? Do you have any significant literary influences or writing mentors? HM&Y is peppered with references to The Catcher in The Rye, and Sammy even self-consciously pulls a Holden on his bedroom window, but I found Sammy to be a far more sympathetic character than Holden Caulfield. (Embarrassing admission: I have never been able to finish reading Catcher. I love Salinger’s short fiction, but Holden Caulfield drives me nuts.)
sophiebiblio: Oh, and who are your influences now (I realize they may be the same as when you were younger, because you're not exactly ancient).

RemoveTheSutures: Hrm. Well, when I was a young kid, my main literary base was in comic books, honestly. I loved superheroes, and slowly began reading comics for adults like Sandman and Sin City at a pretty early age. When it comes to literature, I lived for gothic and romantic writings, basically anything that tries to really get into the human mind and heart. I loooooved Dracula as a kid.
RemoveTheSutures: Catcher has always had a hold on me in the same way that, say, Freak The Mighty and Bridge To Terebithia did, in that it was utterly honest. Holden Caulfield taught a whole lot of young people that it was not only okay to be really really really unhappy, but that there was some good in it.
RemoveTheSutures: That's the problem with Holden, though--he's a great character as a voice for a group of people, but he's not someone you want to have lunch with. He's utterly miserable.

sophiebiblio: That's so interesting to me that you were into comic books (and heartwarming to me, as a librarian focused much of the time on male literacy, that your parents were evidently supportive of you reading comics -- I sometimes see parents trying to discourage their kids from reading comics because they don't view it as "real" reading. To a lot of people, reading = books without pictures. Did you have a particular comics shop that you frequented?
sophiebiblio: Or maybe a friendly librarian who helped guide you towards the more sophisticated & darker stuff you mentioned?

RemoveTheSutures: Right now, my favorite authors are H.P. Lovecraft and Chuck Klosterman, the former because of how strange and terrifying he is, and the latter because of how honest and witty he is...My love for comic books came mainly from my Uncle Dan, who's an illustrator. He got me into weird art and strange comics right away.
RemoveTheSutures: The librarian question is a great one.

sophiebiblio: Well, you know I have to get a plug in for my profession somewhere, right?
sophiebiblio: I love Klosterman, too. His column is the first thing my husband & I read in every new issue of SPIN.

RemoveTheSutures: My grade school librarian, Ms. Eissman, would always push books my way which she loved and thought I'd love, too. She took care of me, moved me from Bruce Coville to Poliodori in no time.

sophiebiblio: So when did your Uncle Dan introduce you to R. Crumb? Embarrassing confession #2: no idea who Poliodori is.
sophiebiblio: Yay for Ms. Eissman!

RemoveTheSutures: Yeah, his new book's incredible. And he's a metalhead, which makes me happy to be alive.

sophiebiblio: I'm looking up Poliodori right now.

RemoveTheSutures: 'S cool, he wrote the first real vampire story called The Vampyre, actually, I think, before Stoker wrote The Big One.
RemoveTheSutures: Uncle Dan introduced me to R. Crumb and Ed Roth and all that mainly through weird, off-the-handle comic. Nothing says love like an issue of Milk & Cheese or Tank Girl.

sophiebiblio: Ahhh. Hey, have you read Vampire High, by Douglas Rees? It posits a town in New England that is basically run by Vampires, who are sort of pasty, supergenius aristocrats who haaaate Stoker, because, they say, he betrayed their trust and made them look like fools. It's a fast, funny read.

RemoveTheSutures: Also, on reading being words without pictures--I challenge anyone claiming as such to read Art Spieglman's Maus and keep that belief.

sophiebiblio: If you're into gothica & vampires, were you also a Buffy fan? Buffy is a big favorite among the Pop Goes the Library folks.

RemoveTheSutures: I've never heard of it [Vampire High, that is -- eds.]. I'll check it out, though--I have a huge soft spot for vampires.

sophiebiblio: That's a great point, re: Maus.

RemoveTheSutures: I, sadly, was a Buffy fan for about two seconds. I felt there was too much worry about witty one-liners relating to math class and not enough hands creeping out of coffins.
RemoveTheSutures: I'm a Lugosi man myself.

sophiebiblio: Ahh. Well, we can still be friends. I can see that if your big thing is getting to the GORE, already, the witty repartee is sort of filler. My favorite thing about Buffy was always the Hepburn/Tracy goes to a Hellmouth thing.

sophiebiblio: So, between the metal and the gory movies and the gothic fiction, would it be fair to say that there's quite a bit of you in Sammy?

RemoveTheSutures: I dunno. There were parts I loved, the really creepy parts--the episode where Xander stops the zombie badasses from blowing up the school while everyone else fights to big ol' demon in the library is classic.
RemoveTheSutures: A whole lot. Sammy is an incredibly autobiographical character.

sophiebiblio: I kind of figured -- it's hard to invent out of nowhere the sort of immediacy you achieve with his voice.
sophiebiblio: Which leads me to my next prepared question...

RemoveTheSutures: Word.

sophiebiblio: I am so slick with the transitions, no?
sophiebiblio: I love Sammy’s voice – it’s so fresh & realistic – and I love that the book turns the old YA problem novel trope of “girl falls in love with controlling boyfriend” on its head. Did you draw on real-life experience for that, or did that theme just evolve as you were writing?

RemoveTheSutures: Oh, most of the book, like, ninety percent, is drawn from real-life experience. Many of the characters exist in my everyday life, just with different names. I wrote about a lot of the issues I've had with relationships, romantic or otherwise, in my life because I guess...in the end, I kind of hoped there were others out there who really got it. The heavy metal love story theme came together because I'm both a hopeless romantic and a huge metalhead.
RemoveTheSutures: Sammy's voice comes straight from my mouth, really--I write how I talk. A lot of people think you need to take on a Writing Voice, a stiff and/or poetic tone which makes your point valid. My writing was just sort of my thoughts vomitted onto paper. I like to reference bands. I swear a lot.
RemoveTheSutures: And a lot of the time, I guess it's not what you say, but how you say it.

sophiebiblio: A fine combination. I really liked that Sammy was intellectual about his metalness. I think there's a strong feeling among teenaged guys, particularly when they're around girls, that it's unmanly to be enthusiastic about anything, and here's Sammy, who's flawed and grumpy and loving and unabashedly into the things he's into: Melissa, music, booze. I liked that he was unafraid to be an expert in something, and to display that expertise in a way that wasn't show-offy, but was just normal.
sophiebiblio: Oh, there's much to be said for writing how you talk -- that is exactly what I do, and it's always worked for me.

RemoveTheSutures: Yeah, exactly. I mean, metal is a bit geeky like that, because it's such an obsessive form of music. It's hard to be a metalhead and not be a little geeky or out of control. Geekiness is good, though...keeps you honest.

Stay tuned for more Christopher Krovatin. In the next thrilling installment of our interview: geekiness! fandom! irony and the death of enthusiasm! gutwrenching metal!

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Advocacy Institute

Pop is quite vocal about how libraries need to be vocal.

So, for those who will be attending the New Jersey Library Association Conference in April, here's a preconference you may be interested. ALA will be hosting an Advocacy Institute at Monday, April 24th. From the ALA Press Release:
The Advocacy Institute is a great opportunity for New Jersey advocates to enhance their advocacy skills," said Gail Dysleski, president, New Jersey Library Trustee Assn. and program coordinator. Attendees will learn strategies to successfully advocate for his or her library, including message development, lobbying basics and how to create coalitions with library professionals, trustees and Friends, and will leave with an action plan that they can implement in their libraries. The Advocacy Institute is intended for the novice advocate as well as those who need a refresher course in fostering grassroots advocacy.


Department of Blatant Self-Promotion

I'm a certified, bona fide Library Journal Mover & Shaker. As Steven M. Cohen would say, sweet! Many thanks to Christine Borne and Liz Burns for nominating me, and to my family for enduring my absurd worries over how un-photogenic I am. The pictures of me turned out to be quite flattering, so thanks, too, to the nice photographer, who endured my self-conscious grimaces during the shoot. (For those of you with the print edition, I know I should be holding a camera phone in the picture, but my old & busted cell phone doesn't have a camera, and besides, viewed in the correct light, isn't the lighter a metaphor for me bridging the gap between concert-going generations? No? Am I reaching with that one?) It's a real honor to be profiled. Thanks, LJ! Everyone, go read 'em all!

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March Madness: A Guest Entry

Alert readers may have noticed that we don't really cover sports here at PGTL. This is a major gap in our coverage of all things Pop, so to start filling in the gaps, we bring you this excellent guest entry by my lifelong friend and favorite sports fan, Eliav Decter. Let him take you to NCAA school.

Today marks the start of March Madness (officially the NCAA Tournament), the annual sporting ritual during which television ratings go up, office productivity goes down, and basketball fans everywhere go crazy. For the next couple of weeks, roundball addicts across the country will be checking and rechecking their brackets, as the field of 65 teams is gradually narrowed to the “Sweet 16” then the “Elite Eight” and, of course, the “Final Four.” On April 3, the men’s national collegiate basketball champion will be crowned in Indianapolis, while the women’s tournament will conclude the following day in Boston.

But it wasn’t always this way. The NCAA tournament was launched in 1939 with just an eight-team field, and only 5,500 fans watched Oregon defeat Ohio State in the final. The tournament gradually expanded, but until the 1950s was overshadowed by a more prestigious rival, the NIT (National Invitational Tournament), with some teams even competing in both events.

Most hoops historians trace the rise of March Madness as we know it to the 1979 tournament, when budding superstars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird led their teams to the championship game, capturing fans’ imaginations, as well as the highest TV ratings in NCAA history. Since that game, the tournament has become so popular that, by 1999, CBS was willing to pay $6 billion for the broadcast rights to all of the tournament games through 2014.

So why has a simple basketball tournament become such a national obsession? There are several explanations: First, the tournament has a wide geographic reach with schools representing almost every region of the country, including those without professional sports teams. Second, colleges have passionate, loyal fan bases which include students, parents, alumni, and nearby residents. Third, many fans prefer the relative purity of the college game and the team-first style of play to the NBA’s emphasis on individual achievement. Fourth, there’s just so much basketball to watch, with games starting around noon and running well into the night.

But for many fans, the real appeal of March Madness is the potential for upsets: Almost every year, at least one unheralded squad knocks off a basketball powerhouse and becomes the latest in a long line of “Cinderella teams” (a term which is likely used more in March than over the other 11 months combined). A cynic might also point to the ubiquitous gambling associated with March Madness, as fans across the country enter tournament pools, but I don’t have time to argue – there’s basketball to watch!

Additional Reading:

Last Dance by John Feinstein
The Last Amateurs by John Feinstein
March Madness by the NCAA
Encyclopedia of College Basketball by Mike Douchant

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Gaming Follow-Up

Following up from last week's post on some of the benefits of gaming, here's a tidbit from the LJ Tech Blog on a forthcoming Canadian study which indicates a few neurological benefits to gaming. I tried to access the full article from The Globe & Mail using a bugmenot account, but it's a pay-per-view even with a login, so I may have to content myself with getting the journal articles via ILL when they're published.



Lately I've been having fun going to carnivals. Blog carnivals.

As defined in Wikipedia, a blog carnival is
A blog article that contains links to other articles covering a specific topic. Most blog carnivals are hosted by a rotating list of frequent contributors to the carnival, and serve to both generate new posts by contributors and highlight new bloggers posting matter in that subject area.

Library folk have their own carnival, the Carnival of the Infosciences. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't find out about it until recently; the latest one is the March 5, 2006 Carnival of the Infosciences.

It's fun and enlightening to look at, and participate in, carnivals outside the obvious. For example, a recent Pop post on Investing in the Children's Section, was highlighted in the Second Carnival of Children's Literature.

What other areas involve libraries? What else could we be reading, outside our own circle of library blogs, to give us insight into what our patrons want and need? Where else can we sharing about what we do, so that we never again have to read an article like this one?

I've visited the Carnival of Education to find out what teachers are talking about, and discovered the Median Sib's A Day In the Life of a Reading Teacher.

I also like the Carnival of Homeschooling, which brought me to Making the Most of Your Library Day. Tips included using the online catalog ahead of time, finding out about the delivery van schedule, and, my favorite -- making friends with the librarian! It's an excellent list to use to ask yourself, do my patrons know about this? How best can I give them this information?

Find out about other carnivals at Blog Carnival.

Even with Bloglines, I cannot read all the blogs out there that are related to what we do in libraries; but thanks to carnivals, I can keep up to date.

So, what carnivals do you like?

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Everything Old Is New Again

The other day, I got to thinking about the uproar about movie remakes. How often have you heard someone complain that movies nowadays are all remakes or TV shows turned into movies? Now, I don't care for most of the TV show remakes, myself. But remakes of older movies are a different thing, in my humble opinion.

I came across this article, and it provides a good look at the different kinds of remakes--whether to pay tribute, to correct problems, or to raid and pillage the original. So, for example, imagine how the various versions of King Kong, from 1933, 1976, and 2005 reflect the time when they were made. I mean, wouldn't it be interesting to have a women's study class watch these three versions, and see if our perspectives on women have changed with time? And you could only come to the library to get all three versions of the films, more likely than not.

Libraries know that we can attract patrons, especially teens and other hard-to-reach groups, with movies. But at the same time, librarians face questions about whether we should have current AV materials at all, or if libraries should charge a fee for borrowing DVDs.

Like the Chinese curse says, may you live in interesting times. For librarians, we've been cursed with working in interesting times. And DVDs in the library are just one aspect of our interesting work lives.

Interview With Mary E. Pearson

Mary E. Pearson, author of the young adult book A Room On Lorelei Street, agreed to a Pop Goes the Library Interview.

A Room On Lorelei Street was my favorite book of 2005; more importantly, it was the winner of the 2005 Golden Kite Award for Fiction. and the winner of the 2005 JHunt Award for Young Adult Literature.

Pearson's other books include Scribbler of Dreams and David v. God.

Liz. B.: One of the things I love about A Room On Lorelei Street is the characters. They are so real -- flawed, strong, distinctive. Zoe breaks my heart; but also gives me hope. But the main character isn't the only one so fully realized -- its equally true of Zoe's mother, grandmother, and Opal. Do your characters come to you "fully formed", or do they become who they are during the revising process?

Mary: Oh no, nothing comes to me fully formed. I wish! But as I write I get to know the characters through “glimpses,” sort of like scenes in my head, or bits of dialogue I hear them saying. Some of this ends up in the book, but some doesn’t and is just my little insight into the character. Of course Mama, Grandma, and Opal are seen through Zoe’s eyes, but sometimes Zoe would show a side of them to me, that perhaps she didn’t even recognize herself. For me that is the fleshing out of those characters, the times I get to see another side to them. For instance, when Zoe walks in on Grandma who is sitting silently at the kitchen table, exhausted from a night of dealing with Mama, we see a woman who is spent and vulnerable. Once she sees Zoe the guard goes back up but for a few seconds we see that there may be more to Grandma than just the controlling woman Zoe sees. And for a moment, even Zoe wonders at the woman Grandma might have been once. For me, that is what makes characters real, seeing not just all the strengths or all the weaknesses, but the potential for both.

Liz B.: What are you working on now?

Mary: Currently I’m working on a near future book about a girl who has been in an accident and wakes up with no memory. This book has been a tremendous challenge since it requires fleshing out a character who, essentially, has no back story. In a typical story you know what the character wants, or what their past was that is propelling them forward. In this story, my character has none of that information, so for me as an author, it became an interesting challenge to develop this character who is trying to find the pieces of her old life while at the same time, build a new one. I am nearly done now, just trying to pull together all the threads that emerged in the course of writing it and I am hoping it will be done in time to be out in Spring 07.

Liz B.: How do you approach a new story?

Mary: Every story is different in how I approach it. Some of that probably has to do with the fact that every story requires a slightly different process because you do have a different characters, setting, and problems. But some of it, I’m sure has to do simply with how I have changed as a writer. Hopefully, we grow and try to stretch with each book. But one thing I have done with all my stories so far is make them simmer. I give them time to live in my head for a good amount of time before I even write the first word. The simmering story might just be a snippet of dialogue or an opening line or even a feeling I have–but if it can withstand the test of time, that is, keep nagging at me–then I figure this is a story that I can live with for the next one or two years. Living with a story and its characters for such a long time is a big commitment so I make sure the nagging is urgent and persistent enough for me to stick with it for the long haul.

Liz B.: What is your proudest "writer" moment?

Mary: Oh, that’s a hard one. There are lots of different kinds of proud writer moments–some that have to do with the writing, and some that come later and have to do with the reading. I think when I wrote the last line of A Room on Lorelei Street, it was a great moment for me. I had no idea if the manuscript would ever be published but at that precise moment that wasn’t the point–it was such a wonderful feeling to finally know the whole story and feel it was complete. I think typing those words “the end” is a proud moment for every writer because there are plenty of times in the course of writing a novel that you aren’t sure you will ever get there! Seriously!

Another kind of proud writer moment is one I have over and over again, when I get a letter from a reader who says, this is my story, or, how did you know what I was thinking?, or, my life is completely different and yet I feel the connections, thank you, and especially, you’ve given me something to think about. Those are the kind of thoughts I have when I finish a book that has really touched me or left an impression on me, so it makes me very proud to know that maybe something I have written has done the same for someone else. It is a very intimate, one-on-one kind of feeling, just between you and the reader.

And just winning the Golden Kite is way up there on the "proud moment" scale. I am still kind of stunned by that. But yes, very proud and very honored.

Liz B.: It's all about the Pop Culture here at Pop Goes the Library. What's your Pop Culture area of expertise?

Mary: Expertise? Ha! But a few pop culture areas where I indulge include, loving my ipod, feeling naked if I go out without my cell phone, and I know all the best phrases from Seinfeld: Close Talker, Newman!, I’m out, You’re really blowing my mind, No soup for you, You know how to make a reservation–you just don’t know how to keep a reservation (my favorite!), Stopping short (my husband’s favorite), Seinfeld, party of three? Spare a square, yada yada yada. Shall I go on? Hm, perhaps that’s my area of expertise after all? Maybe the dingo ate your baby . . .

Thank you very much!

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Good News on Gaming

Not only does it promote family togetherness, it's just plain good for you all the way around (second article via Information Literacy Land of Confusion).

From the first article:

At the Bonner home in Haddon Township, Mom, Dad and their five children, age 1, 7, 10, 11 and 13, crowd the backroom PlayStation 2 on a Friday night. It's Karaoke Revolution Party time! As each belts a tune ("Pieces of Me," for one) into a mike, an on-screen audience reacts to the performance. Louder cheers equal more points.
Kyle Bonner, 13, won until his voice began to change. Now Danielle Bonner, 33, his stepmother, rules. His father, Jerry Bonner, 34, usually crashes within minutes. Kaela, Alexa and Steve DeJesus, his step-siblings, vie for second. And toddler Bridget Bonner, his half-sister, drools on the mike and bounces to the music. "It's a big part of our lives," said Jerry Bonner, a sleep-clinic technologist. As a toddler, Kyle would sit in Bonner's lap, "holding a controller and pretending he was playing... . I think any quality time you spend with kids, they'll look back on fondly. It's like pulling out the glove and having a catch, like my dad did."

And from the second:

In-depth research has proven that gaming plays a role in increasing self esteem,
and is motivational in many ways. Children who play games perform better at
comprehension, spelling, and math.

Sadly, the research is not cited. I'd really like to read it.

Intergenerational gaming nights, anyone? How about family LAN parties? For more information, ideas, and reviews, check out Game On: Games in Libraries, a blog all about (unsurprisingly) games & libraries; GamerDad.com, a site devoted to parents & other role models gaming with the kids in their lives; and Steven Everything Bad Is Good For You Johnson's blog, where he talks quite a bit about the sunnier, brain-improving side of gaming.

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Interview with Frank Portman

Frank Portman, author of the forthcoming King Dork, is also a blogger as well as the man behind San Francisco Bay Area punk scene veterans Mr. T Experience. He very graciously sat down for a recent interview with Pop.

Q: How did you decide to write a YA novel in the first place?

A: I'm one of those accidental writers. I've written songs for my entire life, but the writing a whole book was something I never imagined I could manage. Most people who know my songwriting aren't too surprised to learn that my novel deals with a disaffected teen. The characters in my songs are mostly like that. And over the years many of my songs have referenced the iconography of children's and teen lit. (Believe it or not, one of my band's albums - Our Bodies, Our Selves - was originally planned as a concept album of songs related to "girl" books. Only "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret"
and "Bridge to Terabithia" made it past the dreaming stage there, unfortunately. And, also unfortunately, I wouldn't say they're the greatest songs, either. Well, I tried.) But as a songwriter, I was always very influenced by pop culture nostalgia, and the touchstones of teen lit often would pop up, as general themes if not always specifically.

Sooo... the way I decided to write a YA novel was, this literary agent who knew my songs contacted me and suggested that I might be able to write a YA novel. I didn't think I could do it, but he kept prodding me about it, and I finally gave it a shot. King Dork was the result. If I didn't have the background as the kind of songwriter I am, and as the kind of reader I have been, it never would have worked. Or it would have been totally different, anyway.

Finally, YA not only has a great history, but a great present and future. It is a very alive part of the publishing industry, and authors and publishers are continuing to stretch it. They're willing to take chances on quirky, oddball books like mine - ironically, adult publishing seems to be a lot more conservative in that sense. And there's always a nice energy from the feeling that you're riding some kind of revolutionary wave, which is how being involved in YA feels these days. Um, that sounds a little corny, I guess, but it's true. The enthusiasm for the genre from Delacorte and Random House kids is really affecting.

Q: If King Dork had a soundtrack, what would it be?

A: That's an easy one. The narrator of King Dork, Tom Henderson, is on a 70s kick and listens to a lot of music through the book. Ideally, the soundtrack would include some of the songs he writes (some of which I've recorded as acoustic songs and which will appear on the audio book of KD as well as, I believe, on iTunes eventually.) But leaving his songs aside, this list wouldn't make a bad soundtrack. There's also a reading list, here.

Q: You mentioned in your recent post about YA lit & rock & roll that you've been a fan of YA literature almost your entire life. What are some of your favorite YA books, and why?

A: I worked as a page at my local public library through high school, and I found myself with a lot of time on my hands at that job. So in addition to the YA novels I read when I was younger than that (you always read the sexy ones a few years before you're "supposed" to, which of course I did) I also spent a lot of time reading "on the job." I assigned myself a little project of reading every single book in the kids' fiction section one by one in alphabetical order. The result is that I have a comprehensive knowledge of pretty much every YA and middle grade book published till around '82 or so. Then it becomes more sketchy.

As for my favorites from those days, just off the top of my head (and I know it's kind of a "retro" list):

I Am the Cheese; The Teddy Bear Habit; Here Lies the Body; (George); The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) (actually all the Ellen Raskin books - all equally great as far as I'm concerned); The Siver Crown; The Pushcart War; Lizard Music; The Egypt Game; Harriet the Spy/the Long Secret; all the Great Brain books; A Wrinkle in Time.

Wow, I just realized my own book is pretty much nothing at all like any of those.

Recently, well, like everyone else, I loved Looking for Alaska.

Q: I love the listening & reading lists you've created to go along with King Dork -- I think they extend the book well beyond the page and help to make it a living thing. Have you considered creating an iMix for readers to download in iTunes, and listen to while they read?

A: Tom Henderson's music collection is a big part of his world (as it is for lots of people.) He likes knowing about stuff that he imagines the other people in his world won't know about, so he uses the music as a distancing device in a way. One of his "tics" is to allude to albums without mentioning the name of the band. In effect he's saying "if you're in my club, you'll know what I'm talking about, and if you don't know you're probably too normal to get along with me." (By the way, there's only one other person in his club, as he imagines it, and even that might be pushing it.) So readers of this book who are not in Tom's loop will have to do a little digging if they want to hear the actual music he's referencing. (It's not *necessary* to do the digging, but it could be kind of fun.) Hmm, he does the same thing with books, I just realized.

So yeah, the iMix is a great idea. I actually had a playlist of KD songs on my iPod and I used to blast it while I was writing and editing.

Q: I find it fascinating that your main character is obsessed with 70s rock, especially since so many of the teens I serve are obsessed with it, too. I see so many Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Who, and Ramones t-shirts on 13 year-old boys these days. It's funny to me, because they were some of my favorite bands in high school, too (and still are, though I'm more of a Kinks girl these days than back then).

A: It's true - '70s rock is almost as prominent in the youth culture of today as it was in the actual '70s. But it's funny: some people who have read the book have been confused by it. Is it "believable," they ask, that a contemporary teenager would be listening to the Who, AC/DC, and the Ramones? (I love/hate that "believability" test - if it works, it works, regardless of believability.) Anyone who says that hasn't spent much time in the presence of contemporary teenagers. (You have because you work in a library; I have because of my band. There's a weird library/punk rock nexus for you!)

As an aside, as you'll remember, in the actual seventies it was pretty rare for someone to be a fan of both AC/DC and the Ramones at the same time - though they would have had the Who in common, of course. And as another aside, I'm more or less Kinks guy myself.

Q: Many of the YA books you listed as lifelong favorites aren't really YA -- they're more middle grade fiction (meaning, they're for the middle grades from 5-8, not that they are middling in quality at all). Think about it this way: did you really read Harriet The Spy when you were a teenager? You probably read it when you were much younger. King Dork sounds like a book aimed squarely at the teen audience to me, though. Besides Looking For Alaska, are there any other truly YA books you've fallen in love with in the last 5 years?

A: Yeah, I was trying to get across the weirdness of my reading situation. Like I said, I read them because I worked in a library, and they were there. I did re-read Harriet the Spy when I was a teenager and I appreciated in its own right as well as an important, iconic, pop-culture touchstone. What can I say? I was a weird kid, maybe.

One problem with discussing this stuff, as I mentioned in that essay that introduced us way back, is that our society and culture (as well as our book marketers) have not quite arrived at a definitive answer of what adulthood is and what constitutes a "young adult." The specific "older teens" category (sometimes, in my experience, confusingly shelved under sign that says "young readers") is a newer marketing category, but of course we've always had "older teens." The term "YA" has been around for at least as long as I can remember, and I used to think it pretty hilarious to be called a "young adult" when I was twelve, like when the principal of the elementary school told you to behave like "ladies and gentlemen." That used to crack me up, too. Most YA novelists like me (at least, the ones I know) secretly think of their books as "aimed" at age 12 through 40, though they wouldn't want to exclude anybody. But perhaps that's mere wishful thinking....

Anyhow recent YA titles I have loved: the last few Robert Cormier novels were great, as great as any of the classic ones. (Tenderness and Fade are the ones I have in mind: they were in the last five years, right?); I liked Doing It nearly as much as Junk; Fat Kid Rules the World was great; and I loved How I Live Now. Heavy Metal And You was fun. How's that? I'm not nearly as well-read as I should be, I know...

Many thanks, Doctor Frank! Here's hoping King Dork sells out its entire print run!

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Team Series from Kane/Miller

The folks at Kane/Miller (publishers of the awesome Everyone Poops) emailed me about a new early readers series, The Team, and said that they have some give-away copies for librarians, to introduce them to this new series. Did I know a way of getting this information to librarians?

So here you go! This is the full Press Release from Kane/Miller, and please note that the contact information for the books is at the bottom and is a Kane/Miller contact. Emailing me or Melissa or Sophie will get you a nice return mail saying hey, how are you doing? But it won't get you a copy of this new series.

The Press Release:

The Team series heads to the U.S. just in time for the World Cup.

The World Cup begins in Frankfurt, Germany next June, but if you’re 7 or 8 years old, then the World Cup is every Saturday morning (and every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon).

Kicking off the launch of Kane/Miller’s First Fiction series for the youngest of independent readers is David Bedford’s The Team Series. The Soccer Machine (Book 1) and Top of the League (Book 2) perfectly encapsulate Kane/Miller’s abiding belief in the universality of soccer (and, in the universality of childhood).

Harvey, Darren, and the rest of the players on The Team compete in their local league, with the help of Professor Gertie, Harvey’s neighborhood absent-minded inventor, and Mark 1 the Soccer Machine – he has a metal body covered with Squidgy Skin, a top speed of 45 miles per hour – and he's programmed to win!

With short chapters, appropriate language and a robot (!!) it’s easy to see that author David Bedford is writing about what he knows well. In fact, David wasn’t always a writer, but the two soccer teams he played for, Appleton Football Club and Sankey Rangers, never won any games, so he thought a career change might be in order. Children who are reading independently will be glad he made the switch and will eagerly join The Team.

According to a 2001 FIFA survey, over 240 million people regularly play soccer in more than 200 countries in every part of the world. Kane/Miller and The Team are poised to make it to the top of the first fiction league!

Limited quantities available: For your sample copy of The Soccer Team (Book 1) please send your complete name, company address and email to: sondra@kanemiller.com