Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: Welcome To Night Vale: A Novel

Welcome to Night ValeWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is the story of Jackie Fierro, the perpetually nineteen-year-old owner of Lucinda’s Pawn Shop, and the Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton. Their lives are disrupted by a mysterious paper appearing in the hands of random citizens with the message ‘King City.’ Unable to put the paper down, Jackie is driven to unravel the mystery and return to her normal life. When Diane’s shapeshifting son Josh goes missing the two women set out to find King City and return Night Vale to its normal, everyday weirdness. The novel will delight fans of the serial podcast of the same name. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King, and other supernatural mysteries who haven’t tried the podcast may also enjoy the novel for its examination of identity, the tension in the rich, descriptive language, and dark humor.

My experience of this novel was like marathoning a 12-hours of Welcome to Night Vale in two days, which is to say: amazing. Although it took some getting used to hearing Cecil mention Steve Carlsberg without adopting a tone of disgust... (Spoilers: There is a road trip involving pink lawn flamingoes.)

It’s hard for me to talk about Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel with anything other than unabashed heart-eyes. Fink, Cranor, & co. are just so good at securing the buy-in of fans, as exhibited by the fact that they’ve been able to sustain the podcast without sponsors on only the donations from fans who are hungry for more of this strange world and are so eager to be a part of it. While I do think you could read the book first, I think this read would be quite difficult to get into if you weren’t already interested in Night Vale or the idea of Night Vale. I also find it hard to imagine walking away from the novel without being hungry to hear more from the characters so thank goodness we have a twice-monthly podcast!

The buildup is slow, particularly if you don’t enjoy the sort of leisurely, drawn out prose which build so much of the suspense and mystery of Night Vale (re: horror-speak), but the payoff is worth the wait. The overall impression of the novel is all at once absurd, terrifying, and wonderfully comforting. In a small town where every government conspiracy theory is true, dog parks are inhabited by only hooded figures, and librarians have tentacles and fans the real meat of the story is a thoughtful examination of identity and personal relationships.

Who are we when we cannot do the things we once did? Who are we when we no longer have our family and friends to use as a touchstone? Who are we when we try to be everything to everyone and end up being nothing to the people who matter most? Oh the existential horror!

It was enlightening to hear Joseph Fink talk about how he created Night Vale while dealing with the loss of his father and it makes more sense how a story about terrible things happening can actually be really comforting, because bad things happen to all of us everyday, but it’s okay not to let that consume all of your mind because whatever happens life goes on. The way you are may not be the way you were, or even the person you’d thought you’d be, but it’s still you, and that’s okay.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: Reality Is Broken

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the WorldReality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first heard about Jane McGonigal in graduate school, during my Digital Humanities class when we were all instructed to follow her, Ian Bogost, and other--shall we say--digital humanitarians. I enjoyed her TED Talk and the 140 character bursts of relentless optimism, but it wasn’t until a few years later that Reality is Broken crossed my path at the library. I figured it would be worth a look.

Overall, I found it a very engaging read. I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘gamer’ though I do have a modest boardgame collection. But her discussion of what makes games so addictive offers a lot of insight into many of the questions I’ve asked myself lately. How can I be a better version of myself? Get that promotion? Feel happier? Behave more kindly?

But I think the most important question I had was, what would it mean if we could approach every day with a sense of play? Could it help mitigate the fear of failure, free us to take risks, make hard work less arduous. Working in Early Literacy I very often heard the phrase “Play is a child’s work.” I’d push back and say “No.” Learning through play doesn’t stop at age five. We can all benefit enjoying our work and seeing the impact we have on the world, like a toddler pushing over a stack of blocks, because being able to say ‘I did it’ activates the reward circuitry of their brain. Games just happen to be better at giving that same kind of real-time feedback than most of the real-world.

Unfortunately, being published in 2011, it seems that many of what I thought were the coolest games that McGonigal mentioned have fallen by the wayside. (My metric for determining this is, as always, if I can’t find it with a quick Google search it must not be relevant.) The Groundcrew website listed in the back of the book seems to be broken, and the one for Cruel 2 B Kind is just not a pleasure to visit. However, I have been playing Superbetter and though it certainly has its kinks I do feel like I’m taking small steps to be that better version of me. Though I don’t log in everyday, I remember the little tidbits of information when I need a little ‘power up’ from day to day. As she points out, taking small steps toward an achievable goal helps you feel more fulfilled, hopeful, even ‘super-empowered.’

I think the things I enjoyed most were her discussion of transitory public sociality--which was something I had noticed but never been able to put a name to before--and the notion of putting the processing power of a million moms playing Candy Crush to work on real world problems. The World Without Oil game was particularly interesting to me. Personally, I’d like to believe that if the world were in crisis humanity would be able to come together toward a common solution. I don’t know that gamification is the answer to the world’s problems, but it seems we learn better and do more productive work when we’re having fun. So if looking at problems to be solved, or tasks to be completed, and even teamwork and collaboration as a kind of play makes them more fun, it certainly couldn’t hurt!

This GIF is really becoming more and more relevant to my life every day....

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Every Hero Has a Story Summer Reading Kick-Off

Summer Reading Club is in full swing; a few weeks ago we had our Kick-Off programs with many different games and crafts for our young and very adorable superheroes.  Three cheers for the League of Iron Librarians!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Early Literacy Messages in Action

Welcome to the Early Literacy Messages in Action Blog Tour! The round up will be hosted on Jbrary this Friday, June 19th; for more Early Literacy fun-times follow the hashtag #EarlyLitInAction on Twitter!

I was hired as an Early Literacy Specialist when the Anne Arundel County Public Library in Maryland first expanded its Early Literacy Programming, so ‘Early Literacy enhanced’ is the only way I’ve done storytime.  Primarily I present our storytime for babies, with toddlers and preschool once or twice a month.  I’ve been presenting weekly storytimes for about a year and a half now and I’ve still got a lot to learn!  I’m no expert, but spending nearly everyday in a library and having access to the resources that I do allows me to speak with authority when it comes to helping kids develop a life-long love of learning.  

The question of the day is “How?”  How do we include Early Literacy messages in storytime?

Obviously, the answer is going to be different for everyone.  The conclusion I’ve come to is “Keep it simple.”

My first storytime plans were absolutely peppered with Early Literacy nuggets.  As though I were trying to justify every single rhyme and song I had chosen.  It was extreme.  It was bad.  I never actually presented any of these to the public (thank God.)

An accurate depiction of my first foray into Early Literacy.

Later, my library brought Saroj Ghoting to present a training and for a while I used her format for storytimes, an introductory message--she calls them asides--an example of how a storytime activity builds one of the skills kids need before entering kindergarten and learning how to read, and an “empower aside” or an idea for an activity parents can take home with them.  

Did you know, the more you talk to your children the larger their vocabularies will be?

To an extent, I still use that basic method, trying to mention Early Literacy three times in the program.  Thought the example asides given on her website,, suggest huge chunks of information to give to parents.  With the right training, in the right environment, I’m sure that’s an invaluable resource for parents.  And obviously it’s important for me to understand why I’m up there doing what I do, but if I tried to talk that long in a room full of babies chaos would surely follow.   

Where I am now I realize it’s easiest for me to deliver messages as transitions.  As I hand out sheets with the rhymes and songs I plan to use I usually say something to the effect of:

All our storytimes are Early Literacy enhanced, which basically means we try to include extra information for parents about how the songs and activities we share with kids help them prepare to learn to read.

Since I say it just about every week, it’s something that I’ve got my tongue around.  It’s basically just my alert for the parents “Early Literacy message ahead!  Prepare yourselves!”

I try to serve the meat and potatoes message while I’m handing out or collecting shakers, scarves, or putting away my flannel board pieces.  Here’s the message I gave while using the “Little worm, where are you?” flannel board guessing game I stole, er...sorry, borrowed from Mel’s Desk!

Modelling conversations skills,  asking questions and leaving time for an answer, is one way in which you can help kids develop oral language & communications skills.  

Below are some other messages I’ve given in the past few weeks!

In my Chicka Chicka Boom Boom storytime I gave this reminder with the flannel activity I borrowed from Mel’s Desk.

Learning to tell one letter from another involves being able to see the differences in letter shapes.  Talking to babies about different shapes and how things are alike and different helps prepare them to learn the alphabet.

In my All About Songs program I gave this reminder with with Jim Gill’s ‘Toe, Leg, Knee’ and the rhyme ‘These Little Fingers.’

Singing the same songs over and over and encouraging babies to babble back repeated sounds and encourages the development of Oral Language.

With the rhyme ‘These Little Fingers’ I’ll often say, “Playing games that point out different parts of the body can be a fun way to introduce new vocabulary.”

I still use some of the more ‘jargony’ terms from the first version of Every Child Ready to Read: Narrative Skills and/or Oral Language, Letter Knowledge, Print Awareness, Phonological Awareness, Print Motivation, Vocabulary, and where the heck Background Knowledge fits in, don’t ask me.

At first it’s completely awkward trying to include that language in storytime, but I do think there is value in parents hearing those terms before their children get to school.  At the moment I am working on increasing my emphasis on the five practices, Singing, Talking, Reading, Writing, and Playing, which build those skills because I think it helps parents to understand that all the stuff they’re already doing at home and in storytime is going to make all the difference when it comes time for their children to learn to read.

My final message probably doesn’t even really count.  It’s usually “Check out these books, enjoy them at home!”  I also put a message on the handouts with the day’s rhymes and songs, though those rarely make it home, I figure it’s there if they want it.

An accurate depiction of my post-storytime state.  

So where do I go for ideas for messages most often?  Well...mostly I look to some of the library bloggers who are taking part in this roundup.  The ones I refer to most frequently are Mel’s Desk for her baby storytimes, as well as Storytime Katie, and let’s not forget Jbrary which always seems to offer something fresh (Hi, ladies, thanks for being an invaluable resource!)  I also refer back to the storytime resources at And of course feel free to check out my baby storytime and early literacy storytime posts; I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

And of course you’re going to feel awkward at first.  It takes time to figure out how to get things into your own words, sometimes you forget to deliver your message entirely.  That’s okay, stick with it, it’s worth it, and practice makes perfect.    

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Lion and the Unicorn and other Nonsense Rhymes

Call this the Flannel Friday redux.  I first uploaded this little guy to Pinterest last summer, but every so often I try to do a Nonsense-themed storytime, incorporating poems from Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, and other nonsense verse.  I love using them to talk about Phonological Awareness.  During one of my preschool outreach visits, I had a little girl ask for a rhyme about unicorns and I only know one...  So I made a little flannel set to go with The Lion and the Unicorn.

The Lion and the Unicorn
The lion and the unicorn
Were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn
All around the town.
Some gave them white bread,
And some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake
and drummed them out of town.

(Sort of a loose interpretation of a plum cake, don't you think? Though I am insanely proud of the lion. :D )

I used the set a few times in my weekly Babies Program--I can't say it was particularly well-received (not like the parachute)--but we uses the instruments to "drum" and it provided a good jumping off point for dialogic sharing  (What sound does a lion make?  A unicorn is like a horse, with one big horn at the top of its head...).  

A couple preschoolers immediately wanted to know what happened to the unicorn.  I (quite shamefully) had forgotten enough about the origins of the rhyme to come up with a clever response like, "He went back to Scotland!" 

Baby Storytime: In the Ocean

This week we had some ocean-themed rhymes and songs at baby storytime to gear up for summer.  I'm definitely feeling a little bit of the Early Literacy burnout.  I'm at the point where I just don't like half of the stuff I'm doing anymore, but haven't had the time to figure out how to get things to click again.  We do have a break for our Summer Reading Kick-off program so hopefully when we come back I'll be feeling refreshed and empowered.  Wish me luck!