My best reference questions

I was thinking about some of my favourite reference questions that I was asked this past year working in an elementary school, and how I answered them.

  • “Do you have any books on soccadores?”

I had never heard of soccadores, so I had to ask the student to explain what they were to me. He said that he had just made it up. And yes, he really did think I might have a real book in the library about something he had just invented that moment.

I had to say no, of course, so then he asked me about pompadours. I was able to tell him that they were real, but I didn’t have any hairstyle books in an elementary school library. I then offered to look for books on Madame de Pompadour, the French historical figure, since we did have history books. (Thank you Doctor Who. Who says it’s not educational?)

  • “Do you have the toilet books?”

Apparently she actually said Twilight, but I think I was right the first time. But no, the library didn’t own them, so I showed her the YA fiction section.

  • “BUZZZ! I’m a bee, can I sting you?”

No, you may not. You may also not arrest me when you’re a police officer, slide around when you’re a penguin, stand in the corner between two bookcases yelling loudly that it’s an elevator taking you up and down, or fly like a bird by jumping off the tables. (He was adorable and imaginative but exhausting.)

  • “Is that your real hair colour?”

This grade 5 girl had read something that said that all blondes were secretly aliens. She wanted to make sure that my hair wasn’t really blonde under the red. I told her no, but my mother is blonde, so maybe I’m a half-alien. No, I have no idea what she was reading that told her blondes are aliens, but she seemed quite concerned, and she wasn’t totally convinced that I was kidding about being half-alien.

  • “Do you have any books on King Richard?”

Some of the boys had heard somewhere about the discovery of King Richard III’s body being found, but they thought it was a fictional story. They were amazed when I told them that he was a real person and that his body really had been found under a parking lot in England. A group of them gathered around the only book I had that mentioned him the way they usually gathered around car and Guinness record books to share. I tried offering the Shakespeare play as the only other thing I had, but alas poor Yorrick, it wasn’t as well received. Still, it was pretty cool seeing how excited they got over Middle Ages history.

  • The classic “Why are boys so annoying?”

A grade 4 girl asked me this one as she was returning her books. Since I hadn’t seen who annoyed her or why, I had to tell her that it was one of the mysteries of the universe. If anyone has a better answer, could you please let me know? I’ve never figured it out, myself.

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OLA Super Conference 2015 review

OLASC15

(Sorry this is really late, I did start it right after the conference, but unfortunately paid work has to come before unpaid blogging and I haven’t had time until now.)

I ended my review of last year’s OLA Super Conference by saying I hoped I would be attending this year as an employed librarian, and I did! May this trend continue! And my trend of having a great time at the Super Conference!

This was the first year I didn’t volunteer, since I was going for my library. But kudos to all of the volunteers and the committee staff who put on such a great event!

Wednesday

I started Wednesday morning at Raquel Solon’s session on Challenging, Refusing, & Venting, Oh My! How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace. While it was really intended for working with adult patrons and co-workers, I think some of her advice can be modified for the children I work with. Her 5 Steps for Setting Effective Limits in particular are something that I think I was doing without articulating it the same way. This one was definitely a good choice, and potentially very useful for me. Plus I ran into a friend from library school that I haven’t seen since last year’s conference, so that was nice. We grabbed lunch with another friend from school and one of the first friend’s coworkers, and we caught up on everything from the last year.

After lunch was the talk by the cartoonist Seth in the theatre, which oddly enough I’ve never been in before despite attending around 4 events a year at the MTCC. It was a quiet, calm talk, and interesting.

In the afternoon I went to Rachel Seigal’s presentation on Spine-Tingling, Bone Chilling, Hair Raising Horror for Kids. I have several kids in my library who like scary stories, but I don’t have a lot to offer them other than Goosebumps, and not a lot of those. She had some good title suggestions that I can look for. Though I have had a little success suggesting The Picture of Dorian Grey from our Great Illustrated Classics series–hey, not all classics are boring.

For the last session of the day, I went to Where Marvel Meets Mididle Earth: Fanfiction in the Library, presented by Nancy-Anne Davies and Erin Tutte, mostly because fanfiction! It was a great presentation, but they spent a lot of time talking about fandom and fan culture and what fan fiction is, and I think they could have shortened it a bit more. Fandom is pretty mainstream now, and a lot of people at the panel were fans who sounded like they were already pretty familiar with what fanfiction is, so they probably could have spent more time talking about running their writing clubs. But I always love hearing about fandom and how popular it’s becoming, and meeting new fans. And writing fanfic is a terrific way to practice learning how to write, by just playing in an existing universe’s sandbox and filling in the gaps or correcting The Powers That Be’s mistakes (Richie Ryan from Highlander: the Series ducked. He never died. La, la, la, I can’t hear you, he’s alive and still racing motorcycles and dating girls who get him in trouble and cadging meals off Duncan MacLeod whenever he’s in town. So there.).

Next I joined some friends and we attended a performance of “The Librarians” episode of Welcome to Nightvale, a podcast written like an old-style radio program. I’ve heard of it before, but I’d never listened to an episode. And HOLY HILARIOUS BATMAN that was funny! As Indira Gandhi said, you can’t shake a mangled hand that has been chewed up by a librarian. Although I maintain that librarians do not have exoskeletons, we’re shapeshifters. (Go listen to Welcome to Nightvale to get the joke. Bring alcohol with you. All of the alcohol.)

NightVale

The end of the night was at the networking event, with food and games. The giant crosswords were fun!

Thursday

I started Thursday with Using Picture Books in Content Areas, presented by Harriet Zaidman. Sorry for coming in a few minutes late–my train was delayed. I’ve read some terrific picture books working in an elementary school library, but unfortunately not all of them are suited to the storytime I do for kindergarten-grade 3. As much as I love Melanie Watt’s work (and I really love it), she can be hard to read aloud with all of the tangents and asides that she goes into. Though my kindies did love the Chester books. There are some fantastic picture books for older kids that can really drive home a lesson better than pure text like a novel can.

After that I attended Good Question! Let’s Find Out!: Inquiry Partnerships, presented by Kristina Burbidge and Debbie Vert. I thought it was interesting, though somewhat less applicable to me as a librarian and not a teacher-librarian–ideally, I would love to treat each question from a student as an inquiry/teaching moment, but when I have six 8-year-olds asking me for things at the same time and 10 minutes left in the period to help them and get the class of 25 checked out and lined up, sometimes I have to resort to “It’s over there on the third shelf from the top” as opposed to “let’s look on the computer together and find out where the books on dolphins belong”. What I wouldn’t give for a smartboard so I could do a demonstration for everyone in the class at once on how to search through the catalogue and where the databases are…

I went to the Children’s Storytime Workshop: Tips and Tricks, presented by Emily Farrell and Toni Murray, and I loved it. They were so enthusiastic, and they had some great advice that matched up with my own experiences doing storytime. Always go for the funny! And do the voices whenever possible, even if you aren’t very good at them. And this is where I first encountered B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures, which I ended up buying at the OLA Store later and read to all of my classes. It was a huge hit, and I should have bought 3 copies because I had a huge waiting list of kids who wanted to borrow it. From January to the end of the year, it didn’t stay in the library because there was always someone who wanted it.

Thursday afternoon I spent wandering the Expo floor collecting new books (see list below). I do love seeing what’s coming out soon, and meeting friends wandering around too. I went to the Western FIMS reception in the evening–not to many people from my cohort went, but it was still nice to meet fellow Western alumni.

Friday

Friday morning was the Forest of Reading breakfast, and it was lovely to meet some of the voices from our conference calls! And always snag a table close to the tea, especially at 8 in the morning. Immediately following the breakfast was the Forest showcase, where all of the 2014 winners spoke about their books and their experiences with being a part of the Forest of Reading.

Forest Breakfast

I spent more time on the Expo floor, and then in the afternoon I went to Inquiring Minds and Blue Spruce, presented by Ruth Gretsinger. She had some great tips about how to use picture books and inquiry questions to teach younger kids about how to do research and to think about the books they are reading, for example by using “I wonder” statements instead of direct questions.

And of course, I got books. Lovely, lovely books that came home with me, some to stay and some just resting on their way to my library. If only they didn’t weigh so much when I’m trying to carry two heavy bags plus my purse home on the train while bundled up for winter. I came home with:

Books

  • The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs that I REALLY REALLY WANTED and I’m so happy I got a copy, and signed! I’m happy to report that it was as good as I was hoping it would be. It’s a great intro to the world of fandom and specifically how to guide yourself as a lady geek around the world of cons, cosplay, fanfic, and the wilds of the internet. It’s an ARC to be published by Quirk Books, so it’s missing a few page references, but the art is really cute.
  • Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi. This is an uncorrected proof I picked up that will be published by Tundra Books, about a boy whose father is accused of being a Communist in 1950s New York, and he has to figure out if there really is a Communist in his family and what that means for them.
  • Dance of the Banished by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, published by Pajama Press, about a pair of star-crossed Anatolian teenagers in 1914, who are separated by war and horrified by what happens to their Christian Armenian friends. I got this one signed, and as always it was lovely to see Marsha.
  • An ARC of The Journal by Lois Donovan, that will be published by Ronsdale Press, about an Asian teenager in Vancouver whose mother receives a mysterious letter and uproots the family to Edmonton. Then she reads a family journal of old newspaper clippings that sends her back in time to 1929, here she encounters racial prejudice and meets the Famous Five who fought to have women recognized as legal persons.
  • Best Friends Through Eternity by Sylvia McNicoll. This is a signed proof that will be published by Tundra Books about an adopted Chinese girl who has an accident and a near-death experience. The blurb on the back is mysterious in an It’s a Wonderful Life sort of way.
  • An ARC of Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, that will be published by Puffin, about a girl who gets evacuated to Mars during a war with aliens, and has adventures. It looks like the start of a new series.
  • An ARC of Random Acts Valerie Sherrard that will be published by Puffin, about a group of friends who decide to start committing random acts of kindness, except they all go wrong.
  • The Fight for Pow3r by Eric Walters, the sequel to The Rule of 3, and published by Razorbill. I was happy to get this one, and signed, because I’ve already had a kid request that I buy it. I read the first book in the trilogy, and it was scary how plausible it was, and I may have to, uh, preread this one before I give it to the kids. For…reasons. Mainly so I get a chance to read it. (Later note: good thing I did, because this one was pretty popular and I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to read it once it was out in the library. Waiting on book 3 now!)
  • Dirk Daring, Secret Agent by Helaine Becker, published by Orca Books, signed, about a boy whose evil stepbrother steals his secret spy journal and uses it to blackmail Dirk into doing his biding and spying on the kids at school. This type of illustrated diary is pretty popular with my kids right now, and I can always use a new readalike for Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Popularity Papers, since the kids have read them all already.
  • An ARC of Andreo’s Rage by Pam Withers, that will be published by Tundra Books, about a pair of friends racing in Bolivia and searching for their parents.
  • Stealing Time by Anne Dublin, a Jonah Wiley Adventure published by Dundurn. I got this one signed too. It’s a time travel story about two brothers who have to learn to work together to get back home.
  • The Magician of Auschwitz written by Kathy Kacer and illustrated by Gillian Newland, and published by Second Story Press. This is a picture book and a fictionalized true story about a boy in Auschwitz and a magician who performed magic tricks to keep the guards amused and save his own life. I got this one signed by Kathy Kacer, who is well-known for her stories about the Holocaust. This is a dark, sad story, about the things that people had to do to survive in a terrible place, but also with a happy-ish ending because some people did survive and built themselves lives and families.
  • Real Justice: Jailed for Life for Being Black: The Story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter by Bill Swan and published by Lorimer. This one I got for going to the Lorimer booth and bringing a copy of their email about the giveaway–it’s worth it to opt in for emails from publishers! At least if you want to know about upcoming titles. I’ve read the one from this series about David Milgaard by Cynthia J. Faryon, and it was a good, fast, easy-read version of his story, so I wouldn’t mind reading another in the series.
  • Our Heroes: How Kids Are Making a Difference written and illustrated by Janet Wilson. This book is signed, and published by Second Story Press. I got her book Our Rights: How Kids Are Changing the World last year for myself, and I managed to snag the last copy of the one she was signing this year. Saying please nicely does work! This is a nonfiction picture book about child activists from around the world, and their chosen causes and what they are doing to make the world a better place.
  • Rachel’s Hope by Shelly Sanders, signed and published by Second Story Press. This is the last book in a trilogy, about a Jewish girl and her family who flee Russia and end up in San Francisco right before the earthquake of 1906.
  • The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak, published by Dial Books for Young Readers. This book I purchased through the OLA Store. It was recommended in a couple of the panels I attended, and it’s very funny. I can’t wait to read it during storytime at the library. I know the kids will get a big kick out of it. (Later note: they loved it! I should have bought 2 copies!)
  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier, published by Scholastic, which I purchased because the kids keep asking for it. She’s one of the most-requested authors in my library. (Later note: this was so popular it unfortunately got wrecked quickly after I bought it when pages kept falling out, and I had o order a copy from Permabound. Here’s hoping that one lasts a little longer!)
  • Q Tasks, Second Edition, by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan, published by Pembroke Publishers, about encouraging students to ask questions and be curious. I bought this one is for the teachers more than the kids, and it was highly recommended by a teacher-librarian friend.
  • The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich, an advance proof that will be published by Tor Books. This is described on the back as “a fantastical nineteenth century alternate historical steampunk romp”, and that caught my fancy. I picked this one up for myself, for my laughable “free time”.
  • The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency No. 1: The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford and illustrated by Kelly Murphy. This is an ARC that will be published by Alfred A. Knopf. This is a middle-grade historical mystery about Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley meeting as girls and forming a detective agency. I like the look of this one, and mysteries aren’t too popular with my kids, so I may keep this one too.
  • Valiant by Sarah McGuire, an uncorrected proof to be published by Egmont. This is a retelling of the Brave Little Tailor with a girl in the main role. I love feminist retellings of fairy tales, and the back blurb compares it to Gail Carson Levine, whose work I love, so I’m excited to read this one.
  • On a Scale from Idiot to Complete Jerk: A Highly Scientific Study of Annoying Behavior, Science Project by J.J. Murphy with Alison Hughes, published by Orca Books. I picked this up for the title, and I thought it was so funny I bought two copies, one for me and one for the library. In fact, I even convinced a friend to buy the last copy! This book is set up as an actual report using the scientific method, complete with a history, definitions, case studies, hypothesis, experiment, observations, conclusions, and even charts.
  • Fun-brarian: Games, Activities & Ideas to Liven Up Your Library! by Kathleen Fox and published by Upstart Books. I bought this for my personal collection, since I’m trying to build my own professional reference library. This is filled with great games and activities to get kids familiar with the rules of the library and things like DDC and how to find books, book care, library terminology, and more. I wish I’d had it before I started at my current library. Oh well, maybe for the next job–they’re really more things that you would do at the start of the school year than in the middle. Still I think it will be really useful for me in the future.

Oh, and I won one of the passport prizes! Thank you to Library Services Centre for providing my awesome prize! I got a Blu-Ray of Octopussy, a hardcover of The Superior Spider-Man vol. 2, a nice French copy of  Le Monde de Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (unfortunately I don’t speak French), and my favourite of the lot, Doctor Who: The Secret Lives of Monsters by Justin Richards. The volunteers in the room were all laughing at my big silly grin when I saw that one in the bag. And thank you Beckie for telling me that I’d won a prize and to go get it!

Prize

All in all, I had a great time again at the Super Conference, and I’m very grateful that my principal allowed me to attend all three days. I learned a lot, and came home with books and notes and flyers and all sorts of fascinating new best practices whirling around in my head. I hope I can go again next year!

Today I Read…Ensign Sue

Ensign Sue Must DieToday I read the Ensign Sue trilogy, Ensign Sue Must Die, Ensign Two: The Wrath of Sue, and Ensign Cubed: Crisis of Infinite Sue, written by Clare Moseley and illustrated by Kevin Bolk.

The multiverse is about to face the greatest danger it has ever seen–Ensign Mary Amethyst Star Enoby Aiko Archer Picard Janeway Sue! Torn between Kirk’s love and Spock’s (say what?), the seventeen-year-old medical officer, half-Russian, half-Vulcan, half-Japanese, half-Klingon, proud owner of Le Cutest of Beagle anda spunicorn (it’s like a unicorn, but it’s in space!), she is the most annoying creature the Enterprise has ever encountered. Unfortunately, in their desperation to get rid of this galactic pest, they accidentally ripped a hole in the space-time continuum and spread the Sues across the multiverse! It’s up to the crew of the Enterprise, the Doctor, and Wolverine (if there’s a team, he has to be on it), to travel the multiverse and trap the Sues in Pokeballs, and they gotta catch ’em all! But they have to be careful, because Sues lurk where you least expect…

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Wrath of SueI found this comic at the Interrobang Studios booth at Fan Expo last August, and the premise was hilarious so I bought the trilogy and read it on the train home that night. And I was right–it’s terrific! Both wonderfully funny and an excellent examination of the dreaded Mary Sue trope, the third book takes a turn for the serious by making Mary Sue into a character with a deeper motivation than her pretty hair. All she really wanted was for the people she loves so much to love her back–something many fans would like. She just has to learn that she can’t force people to love her–again, a lesson a lot of people in real life could stand to learn.

Crisis of Infinite SuesThe illustrations are adorable, and I really love the Sues’ cheek cutie marks, that help differentiate their different universes. And Sulu’s frustration at Anna Mae Sue’s terrible pidgin-Japanese, and how Mirror-Sue is evil because of her outfit, and how Khan-Prime defeats Reboot-Khan, and Kirk’s despair over his own sue-ish tendencies, and how Bella Swan is too useless and boring to even be a Sue. Basically, I love everything about this series.

It will probably appeal most to fangirls, and ones who can see the funny side of fandom and fangirls. And remember–may the Sue be with you (’cause she’s driven everybody else crazy).

Today I Read…The Shakespeare Notebooks

Today I read Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by James Goss, Jonathan Morris, Julian Richards, Justin Richards, William Shakespeare, and Matthew Sweet.The Shakespeare Notebooks

William Shakespeare–without question one of Earth’s greatest writers of all time. His works and life have been scrutinized over and over again, by historians, literary analysts, students of all ages, and fans of the Bard. And yet so many questions remain.

At last, Shakespeare’s personal notebooks have been discovered and made available to the public. Anecdotes from his personal life, early drafts of many of his greatest works, and insight into the thought processes of this remarkable man can at last be shared with the world, including his strange relationship with a man known only as the Physician. Was Shakespeare ill throughout his life? Were they friends? How much influence did this mysterious Doctor have on Shakespeare’s work? Would a Doctor by any other name still save the world?

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I love the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code”, so I was interested when I heard about this book. On reading it, it is both brilliant and hilarious, but will probably appeal most to those who are both Doctor Who fans and Shakespeare fans.

The book is a collection of sonnets and scenes from plays, rewritten to include the different incarnations of the Doctor and his Companions. It really is amazing just how attracted aliens are to England–it’s a bigger tourist destination than Disney World!

It’s actually quite interesting seeing Shakespeare’s purported thought processes on some of the works–going through what he might have thought about as he was writing, the revisions to the works, and the ‘final’ drafts that were lost or changed for various reasons. Presumably he didn’t actually include all of the references to the Doctor–but then again, who knows? Many of the passages end with an unrelated quote that has been changed to include the Doctor, such as “Friends, Daleks, Cybermen…”, “To reverse or not to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow?”, or “That which we call a Rose by any other name would still be Tyler.”

This is a great book if you have a liberal attitude towards historical correctness and a lively respect for Shakespeare as a popular storyteller instead of an old man in a ruff reciting dead words.

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Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a Type Fifty?
Thou art more lovely and more temporal:
Rough time winds shake the positronic flow,
And Fast Return hath all too short a spring:
Sometime too hot the Eye of Harmony
Is by a Temporal Orbit stopped at last
And every wheezing groan sometime declines,
By chance, or Vortex changing course untrimmed:
But thy materialisation shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of thy Time Rotor,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st Gallifrey,
Wherein eternal Rassilon dost thrive,
So long as Time Lords plot, or Daleks kill,
So long my TARDIS will you serve me still.

 

 

Today I Read…Summer Falls

Summer FallsToday I Read Summer Falls by Amelia Williams.

It’s the last week of summer holidays, and Kate Webster is terribly frustrated with her mother. Their house is a mess, and her mother tells her to go outside and have fun, instead of staying in and cleaning. What a waste of time.

On her trip out, Kate meets the curious Curator and his grey cat, who live in a mysterious shed. And Armand, the boy next door, who is shunned in the village because everybody believe that his father the pharmacist accidentally killed people. And she buys a painting of the harbour, and the lighthouse, and two people holding a key and a ring. An oddly damp painting, called The Lord of Winter.

One day Kate wakes up to find snow covering the village, and no one to be seen, including her mother. Searching, she finds the Curator’s grey cat, who tells her that the Lord of Winter is coming. Kate reasonably concludes that this must be a dream, since cats can’t talk. It’s not a dream.

Then Kate finds Armand, and a boy named Milo, and together with the cat and the Curator they must find the ring and the key and stop the fall of summer, or the Lord of Winter will rule the frozen land forever…

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Much like the Richard Castle books, this e-novella began as a fictional book in a television show, the Doctor Who episode “The Bells of St. John.” Summer Falls is a book being read by Artie, the charge of Clara, the new companion to the Doctor in her (third) introductory episode (it’s complicated). It was supposedly written by Amelia Williams, the former Amy Pond and the Doctor’s previous companion. The book is not an important plot point, mainly there for the connection to the recently-departed Amy and the joke about how [chapter] “eleven will make you cry.” However, like the preceding book The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery appearing in the episode “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Summer Falls was later published for real as an ebook. It has recently also been published in a print omnibus as Summer Falls and Other Stories, which also contains The Angel’s Kiss and Devil in the Smoke: An Adventure for the Great Detective, featuring Madame Vastra and Jenny. These tie-in stories are clever–while Doctor Who has published a few hundred novelizations and original stories, which have been hugely popular and especially during the years when it was off the air, this is the first time that they have directly appeared on the show. They’re an excellent introduction to the novels for the new New Who fans.

Like the Richard Castle books, it claims a fictional author, and the title page claims that the first printing was in 1954. However, the copyright page does list James Goss as the actual writer, along with the correct publication date of 2013, so it doesn’t go as far as the Richard Castle books in keeping the idea going.

The book can easily be read on its own, without being familiar at all with Doctor Who. However, there are quite a few subtle references for the fan to pick out and chortle over, such as the mysterious Curator with his odd shed and his talking cat. There are lines about how there are no phones in cars, not even in London, and a reminder for the Curator to turn his parking brake off, and how the Curator loves a little shoppe, that will amuse the fan as in-jokes. It’s an entertaining story that includes the usual children’s adventure story tropes: children having to save the village and the adults, dealing with betrayal by a friend, courage in the face of danger, solving a long-lost mystery, the power of friendship, the pain of loss, the quest for the missing objects, the moral weakness that causes people to become villains, etc. It doesn’t add significantly to the Doctor Who fandom, but it’s a fun, quick read.

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‘Hello,’ he said. ‘What brings you to my lawn?’

‘Well,’ Kate’s mother had taught her to be unapologetic, ‘your cat was trespassing in my garden. I am returning the favour.’

‘That’s a fair point,’ admitted the man, helping her up. ‘Although it’s not really my cat. Cats don’t belong to anybody.’

Kate studied the man. He was tall, thin and friendly. She caught herself hoping he taught at her new school. If he did, she decided, she’d like school a bit more. ‘I’m Kate Webster,’ she said. ‘How do you do?’

The man laughed and bowed. ‘Then you are welcome to my grass, Kate Webster.’ The cat weaved around their legs. The man bent down to scratch its ears. ‘I say, Kate Webster,’ he offered. ‘Do your ears want scratching, too?’

Kate shook her head. ‘Who are you?’ she giggled.

To her surprise the man shrugged. ‘Not anyone, really. I’m just looking after the museum for a friend. I guess you could call me the Curator. How does that sound?’ He looked at her eagerly.

‘Not very good,’ admitted Kate. ‘Don’t you have a name?’

‘I’m between names at the moment.’ The man looked sheepish. ‘I am having a holiday from them.’

‘Can you do that?’ asked Kate.

‘I’m seeing how it works out,’ admitted the Curator. ‘Do you really think I need one? What do I look like? A Montmorency or a Keith?’

‘How about Barnabas?’ suggested Kate. It was the name of her teddy bear, and she thought more things should be called Barnabas.

‘Barnabas!’ The Curator seemed delighted. ‘Never tried that one. Let’s give it a whirl. Tea?’

He led her down the side of the house (which seemed very nice, if a little boarded up) to the back, where some garden furniture was arranged around a large, striped canvas tent. The man vanished inside it, coming out with a tray heaped with cups, plates, scones and ginger pop. He rested it gently on the paving by the cat, which was cleaning itself.

‘Why do you keep your kettle in your tent?’ she asked.

‘Oh, that’s not a tent.’ Barnabas had adopted the air of a man with a great secret. ‘Inside there is my shed. It’s undergoing repairs.’

That seemed an odd thing to say, but Kate’s grandfather was very protective of his shed. Perhaps Barnabas was the same.

‘I would give you the guided tour, but it’s not finished,’ he said, confirming her suspicions as he handed her a plate. ‘Cheese scone. With sultanas in. I changed my mind halfway through.’

The cat looked at Barnabas wearily, and then sniffed the milk jug.

Tea went rather well. Barnabas listened to Kate’s plan to Do Things before the end of the holiday and sagely suggested she draw up a timetable. He said that, if nothing else, it would take a while to do. ‘Failing that,’ he said, ‘you could pop into my museum.’ He caught the look on her face. ‘It’s really very nice. Though not on Wednesdays. I close it and spend the day going up and down on the steam train. I like trains.’

Kate wasn’t entirely convinced.

‘Don’t you like it here?’ The Curator sniffed. ‘How odd. The 1950s aren’t that bad, and this is a charming town. The kind of place you want to settle down and open a little shop with an e. I love a little shoppe. Have another scone.’

Today I Read…Hollow Earth

Hollow EarthToday I read Hollow Earth by John and Carole E. Barrowman.

Twelve-year-old twins Matt and Em Calder love to draw, and they have a special gift–when they draw together, their drawings come to life. Their mother Sandie has told them never to reveal what they can do, and they understand that it’s dangerous to be different. But one hot and boring day they draw themselves into a picture of a river at The National Gallery, and Sandie panics and tells them to grab their emergency bags–they’re leaving London. They leave out the skylight as three mysterious people try to break down their front door.

Sandie takes the twins to the island of Auchinmurn in Scotland, where they finally meet their grandfather and learn the secret of their gift. The twins are Animares, people born with the ability to bring their artwork to life using their imaginations. But they are also the offspring of an Animare and her Guardian, her telepathically bonded protector–something that has never happened before, and that some people believe should never have been allowed to happen. The twins are learning more about their abilities every day, but they may not be learning fast enough. There are dangerous people who want to use the twins to open the way to Hollow Earth, the legendary place that holds all of the monsters and beasties and things that go bump in the night that have ever been created by Animares, and they’ll stop at nothing to do so. And one of them may be the twins’ long-lost father…

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I’ll admit it, I’m a fangirl. I discovered John Barrowman through his acting work, as Captain Jack Harkness on Doctor Who and Torchwood, and I’ve been following his career ever since. I’ve read and highly enjoyed his two autobiographies, Anything Goes and I Am What I Am, both co-written with his sister Carole. They tell lively and entertaining anecdotes from Barrowman’s life, though not always ones that show him in the most dignified light, but they feel honest. I was excited to read their first fiction work together. Since the publication of Hollow Earth they’ve also written a Torchwood novel, Exodus Code, and a sequel to Hollow Earth named Bone Quill, both of which are on my to-read list.

That aside, this is a lively adventure story, with enough mystery to keep it interesting and set up the next book nicely. Every time the twins learn something about their powers and their family, there is something more to discover. Their gifts, the others like them, the council that oversees the Animares, their missing father who abandoned them as infants, their grandfather, the history of Auchinmurn island, the Hollow Earth Society, the existence of Hollow Earth…

The book has loyal friends, dastardly villains willing to use children to accomplish their probably dastardly plans (they’re mysterious plans, we’re not quite sure, but what other plans would dastardly villains have?), mythical beasts, long-forgotten history, and art and imagination that can change reality. You can see the authors’ interest in the imaginations of creative people and what they create using those imaginations. This book will appeal to anyone who still wishes that they will one day stumble across a silk-bound book named The Neverending Story.

The chapters are fairly short, and the language isn’t too complicated. Matt and Em are twelve, turning thirteen at the end of the book, and the violence isn’t terribly graphic- they find people injured but rarely see actual violence. I’d probably recommend this for about a grade 6-8 reading level.

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Twelve-year-old twins Matt and Em Calder were sitting on a hard, wooden bench. The gallery was quiet and not yet open to the public, but they were not happy. Their mum had made promises that morning about their plans for this sweltering day, and they didn’t remember having to stop to look at paintings being one of them.

Setting their backpacks on the floor in front of them, the twins glared at their mother.

‘Behave yourselves,’ Sandie warned. ‘Do not leave this bench. Do not even think about it. I mean it. I’ll only be gone ten minutes at the most. I’ll be right over there.’

She pointed to the tall, yellow-haired man in a dark suit, holding a stack of books in his arms. The man dipped his head towards them in his usual acknowledgment. Em smiled politely, but Matt turned away, more interested in a woman wheeling a trolley with a wooden crate, the size and shape of a painting, strapped to it through the next gallery. A museum guard followed close behind her. At the lift, the guard swiped a key-card across the security pad. The doors opened. Dismissing the guard’s help with a wave of her hand, the woman eased the trolley into the lift. The guard backed away, but as the doors were closing, he changed his mind, shoved his foot between them, and ducked into the lift with the woman and the painting.

‘Matt! Are you even listening to me?’

Matt slumped on the bench, shoving his sister to the edge as he did so.

‘This is a lovely painting to look at while you wait,’ Sandie went on. ‘It’s by Georges Seurat. He often painted using tiny dots instead of brush strokes.’

The twins frowned at her. In unison.

‘We know,’ said Em.

Sandie soldiered on. ‘I appreciate this isn’t what we’d got planned, but I need to take care of some business with—’ She cut herself off mid-sentence and changed tack. ‘How about when I’m finished with this meeting, we go swimming just like the boy in the painting?’ She put her leather messenger bag over her shoulder. ‘What do you say? Deal?’

‘Deal,’ said Em, who, in these situations at least, was always the first to agree.

Matt shrugged. ‘Whatever.’

They watched their mum walk over to the yellow-haired man and settle on a similar bench in the next gallery. The man leaned close to their mother as if about to share a secret with her; in response, Sandie flipped open the sketchbook she always carried, handing the man a sheet of paper she had tucked into one of the pages.

Boring.

Turning her attention back to the painting, Em leaned forward and squinted hard, trying to see all the dots without her bottom leaving the bench, while Matt emptied his backpack into the space between them – the pens, chalk and charcoal he always carried in a bashed biscuit tin, his iPod, headphones, two Captain America comics, assorted sweet wrappers, a pack of bubble gum, an empty Coke can and a sketchpad. Tearing a sheet of paper from the pad, he handed Em a pen.

She shook her head.

‘Swimming would be a lot of fun,’ he said. ‘No one’s paying any attention to us.’

Em accepted the pen, and they began to draw.

The next thing the twins knew, they were in the painting, splashing in the cool, blue water of the River Seine with a boy in a red hat. He said his name was Pierre and spoke to them in French. The twins understood. He said he had only a few minutes to bathe before he had to get back to his work.

‘Is that your dog?’ Matt asked Pierre, worried that the dog would have nowhere to go when Pierre returned to his job. But Pierre didn’t answer the question, so Matt gave up and began splashing water on to the other men lounging on the bank. They ignored him.

Matt floated on his back for a while. He could feel Em splashing next to him. He looked up at the sky, but it wasn’t there, and he thought he knew why – and then they were suddenly both sopping wet and lying in a big puddle on the floor in front of the painting in the National Gallery. Two very angry guards were rushing towards them with Sandie close on their heels. The yellow-haired man was gone.

Sorry I’ve been busy, I’ve been playing with Daleks

Sorry for the delay in posting, I’ve been super busy with Reversed Polarity happening this past weekend, as the Head of the Games and Events department and a member of the Programming team. It was a great convention, and I was very pleased with how popular my craft panels were since it was a bit of a new idea for us to do. I had several parents come up to me and say how happy they were that we had some children-specific programming for the weekend. This video was one of the funniest things I saw all weekend, and I was so proud it happened during my panel Game Station Satellite Five (you can hear my voice laughing in the background as his mom films it).

We also played Dalek Simon Says, led by Dalek Simon of the Doctor Who Society of Canada who are a terrific bunch of people and we couldn’t have run such a successful and fun convention without them.

And yes, Dalek Simon is wearing a bow-tie, courtesy of his tag partner. He says he felt very ashamed to wear it. And where did the bow-tie come from? It came from what happens when you try to get a three-year-old to play Pin the Bowtie on the Doctor.

Oh well, he had fun and that was the most important part. (And also thanks to Tina Olah for the wonderful picture of the Doctor she drew for my game).

Crafts including making Paper Bag puppets of the Doctor and his companions, making a perception filter key, a felt bowtie, a sonic screwdriver from beads, psychic paper, cubecraft TARDISes, and colouring pages.

Games included Come As You Aren’t, where you had to stay in character for the hour (River Song really enjoys being a psychopath, I’m a little afraid of her now). (Even though I might have been shooting people in the persona of the Anne-Droid.)

(Aka what happens when you forget you’re leading a cosplay panel and need a costume the day before  the event.)

For the eighth year running, the TCON Promotional Society was pleased to host the Geek-Offs, a sci-fi trivia championship game that I have been honoured and aggravated to be a part of since the beginning. This year the Daleks asked very nicely if they could be the hosts (well, actually they threatened to exterminate everyone if they couldn’t do it, but for Daleks that is nicely) of the Geek-Off: The Extra Special Extermination Edition.

That’s Dalek Simon again in front of me- the picture is too tight to see Dalek Dreadnaught and Dalek Auric on either side of him. And yes, they did exterminate all of the contestants, the audience, and me at the end of it.

I also ran WhoClue, where people have to find pictures of characters and weapons hidden around the convention in order to discover the murder victim and the murder weapon which are not hidden, and Spot the Silence, where players locate pictures of the Silence hidden around the convention and decipher the secret message.

So, a year’s work for 80+ people is finally over. Time to take a break before planning for Polar Chill 2 next July! See you round the cons, fellow nerdlings!

Word on the Street Toronto 2013 review

Last weekend I volunteered at the Word on the Street Festival in Toronto. I’ve heard about the festival before, but I was never able to attend, so I was glad to have the chance to go this year. Word on the Street is an annual free community celebration of the written word, with exhibitors including authors, publishers, libraries, and literacy groups. It was held at Queen’s Park Crescent on Sunday.

Saturday was the set-up day, and of course the day that it rained. Heavily. One of the organizers even ran out at lunch to the dollar store to buy us all ponchos, but it was raining so much that they didn’t really help. Oh well, after this summer we should all be used to the rain. And kudos to Boston Pizza for donating lunch to the volunteers!

We spent the day setting up the tables and chairs for the exhibitor booths and the various stages, organizing the supplies for the information booths and stages, and trying to make sure that things were ready for the morning. You know, you go to events like this and you never think about the amount of work it takes, not just arranging for permits and exhibitors and media relations, but tent and table and chair rentals and setting up signs and making sure everything is ready for the event to actually start.

Sunday began dark and cold and way too early, but clear. I was there before 7 am to finish setting up the tables and chairs that we hadn’t gotten to the night before and as an exhibitor liaison when they started rolling in around 9. My partner and I introduced ourselves to the exhibitors in our zone, made sure that they had all of the tables and chairs that they had requested, made sure that the signs for each booth that the festival had provided were correct, and in general handled any problems and passed on complaints. There really weren’t many- the most common request was for coffee. And why doesn’t Tim Horton’s have a delivery service? Really, you’d think it would be a goldmine. And there were comments about how cold it was, but unfortunately the warm weather has been on backorder all summer. I was on shift until 1:30, and then I went off to explore my first WotS festival.

The crowds rushed in as soon as the festival officially opened, and it stayed busy all day long. I didn’t really have a chance to see any of the authors’ presentations, since I only had a few hours and the festival was pretty big- I wanted to see everything, and of course book lovers like to browse.

The Toronto Public Library Workers’s booth was fun- they had a red carpet and took pictures of people with fake librarian glasses. Here I am with my friend Hailey.

WotS TPLW

There was also a booth doing pictures promoting the next Hobbit movie, Fangirls will watch anything with Benedict Cumberbatch… I mean The Desolation of Smaug. (See my comments about the first movie.) These ones didn’t turn out as well-too much light in the booth. And I found the Polkaroo at the TVOKids booth!

Polkaroo headI also grabbed a few good finds. The Doctor Who graphic novels Through Time and Space and The Only Good Dalek by Justin Richards and Mike Collins; The Dead Kid Detective Agency by Evan Munday, who I met at the OLA Festival of Trees, though I didn’t manage to get him to sign it even though he was at WotS; and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Short Stories 01 by Naoko Takeuchi (only copy left! Score!). I even found a couple of Christmas presents for the little niece (though I may have to keep her from trying to eat them for a while since they’re not board books): Girls A to Z, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Suzanne Bloom, which shows different girls with a different hobby for each letter of the alphabet; and Nightgown Countdown written by Frank B. Edwards and illustrated by John Bianchi, who also signed it, where farm animals go to bed one by one.

It was a long and cold day (sorry to keep mentioning it, but I was up to 5 shirts and it was still freezing!), but I had a really good time. Next year’s festival is definitely going on the calendar!

Today I Read…The Brilliant Book 2012

Brilliant Book 2012Today I read Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2012, edited by Clayton Hickman.

Anything you want to know about Doctor Who series six? Anything at all? You, in the back–no, not you, you in the cool bow-tie–the time? Why it’s 5:02 of course. It’s always 5:02. And Richard Nixon would very much like it if you dropped by and did something about that impossible astronaut who’s been calling him. And would someone please take Hitler out of that cupboard, or at least get him to stop banging on the walls?

This official guide to the 2012 season of the hit show Doctor Who contains descriptions and fun facts for all 13 episodes and the Christmas special A Christmas Carol, in addition to interviews with actors and behind-the-scenes people, articles on making monsters and the Doctor’s various hats, Mels’ school reports and the Doctor waving at the Ponds through time, as well as Cleopatra’s Facebook page, fun facts about the Corsair, and the Doctor’s story of the Moon. A must-have for any devoted fan of the madman with the blue box.

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I like to collect guides to my favourite shows–sometimes they’ve got some fascinating extras and details about episodes, as well as interviews with the people behind the magic. The Brilliant Book 2012 is a good example of a guide, containing both the factual behind-the-scenes information and the whimsical extras such as the rewritten version of Humpty Dumpty where the Doctor reveals that Humpty is actually Strax the Sontaran, or the Teselecta User Guide. This book won’t appeal much to the casual fan, but to the one who likes to know absolutely everything about their beloved show, this book is a valuable and entertaining resource. The layout and pictures are lovely, and the extras are well thought-out and designed. They enhance the DW universe nicely and fill it with in-jokes and minor details that the truly obsessed fan will devour.

 

Polar Chill this weekend!

Polar ChillFor anyone who is in the Toronto area, this weekend is the Polar Chill relaxacon, presented by the TCON Promotional Society, the group behind Toronto Trek, Polaris, and the upcoming Reversed Polarity. Come out, chill, and actually spend some time in the pool. There will be a pool party Friday night, a trip for Dim Sum Saturday, and a trip to Canada’s Wonderland Sunday, as well as traditional panel programming (because nerds love to talk about nerdy things!).

On Saturday I’ll be leading the discussion “Was the Book Better?”. Talk about your favourite books-turned-into-movies, or your least favourite. Which one was better and why? Or were they both good for different reasons? And to anyone who says the book is ALWAYS better, I have two words for you: Princess Bride. Both the book and the movie were awesome, and I defy anyone to  disagree.

On Sunday, I’ll be leading the discussions “Anatomy of a Villain”, where we talk about our favourite villains and just what makes them the evil overlords of our hearts; “Elementary Dear Sherlock”, talking about the many new versions of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and why is he undergoing such a renewed surge of interest; and “Closing the Gates of Hell: Supernatural Season 8″, where we can dissect the latest season (Castiel! Bobby! Garth! Benny! Charlie! Kevin! Sam! Dean!).

Some of the other panel topics will include a debate between vampires and zombies, and who is the top monster nowadays; Marvel Phase 2, which has now begun with the release of Iron Man 3; a Doctor Who primer, for anyone interested in learning more about the madman with the blue box; a sci-fi themed game of Cards Against Humanity; Doctor Who and Star Trek Scene-It games;  a retrospective on our old home, the Regal Constellation hotel; discussions on Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness; and a round of ConClue: who’s been murdered this time?

Come say hi!