Why Be a 21st Century Librarian?

July 30, 2007 at 2:23 am | Posted in awards, librarian, websites | Leave a comment

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animation1.jpgFind out why being a librarian is one of the top 10 career choices today. Librarians are not only smart and tech savvy. They know all about social networking and can be very  funny ..really.

Please visit my interactive website at http://www.eden.rutgers.edu/~hauckmah/MMProd/exercise2/home.html

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Sidekicks in Boneville Comics

April 24, 2007 at 5:35 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, sidekicks | 1 Comment

out-from-boneville.jpgSmith, Jeff (1991,2005). Bone: Out from Boneville.New York: Scholastic.

“Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures! “n. Exclamation of disapproval, Bone Comics –CYBERSPEAK, Random House Dictionary of online phrases (1997)

How did I know Bone was an excellent choice for comic book analysis?  Because I was introduced to the smiley.jpgseries by an impeccable source: word of mouth from tween boys. I was struggling to find graphic novels in my library system’s catalog. Morris County public libraries do collect some soft and hardcover comics. Yet, subject and keyword searches for “manga”, comic books”, “anime” and “graphic novels”were fruitless. Then, a fifth grade boy requested a Bone book while I was on the reference desk. When I figured out he wanted a comic, not a science book , I tracked down the author on the internet. Voila– eight Bone volumes surfaced in the catalog with holdings at multiple locations. This search experience demonstrated the need to display comics prominently in the juvenile/YA section. The kids are not going to find them through our catalog.

dragon-fone-bone.jpgBy coincidence, my 10 year old son brought home Out from Boneville a few days later. His school library did have a Bone display, and the boys were jostling to see who’d get to check them out first, like they had with Captain Underpants in third grade. When I asked my son why he liked Bone, his first response was “they’re cool and funny”. His favorite parts were the characters of Smiley and Phoney Bone as well as the fantastic rat and red dragon creatures which he described as”weird but not too scary”. He liked the adventure storyline and that scheming Phoney Bone gets tricked back by his fed-up cousin.

 In Out from Boneville, the three Bone cousins,  Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone, are run out of town when Phoney’s scheme to become mayor backfires. They are separated and lost in a vast, uncharted desert. They each find their way into a foreboding valley filled with bizarre beings, some friendly (red dragon and possum) and some evil but  stupid (rat creatures). The cousins are reunited at a farm run by tough Gran’Ma Ben who races cows with her feisty granddaughter, Thorn. At the book’s end, Phoney is secretly conniving to fix the cow race and stalling the Grim Reaper.

Bone comics were written, drawn and self-published by Jeff Smith from 1991 to 2004. Bone is notable as one of the first comics published on the internet. It was also one of the longest-running self-published comic book series created by a single author. Smith hyped the series through unique publicity stunts such as drawing jams at comic conventions. His comics were originally black and white drawings, serialized in Disney magazine in the mid-1990s. 

 Bone’s popularity surged after 2004 when Scholastic released color versions of the 9 volume, 1300 page series. Like Trekkie fans, fans collect a wide array of Bone merchandise by visiting the official site, http://www.boneville.com/ . There are two popular video games, but Smith vetoed plans for a movie with kid actors doing voiceovers.  

pogo.jpgfone-bone.jpgBone has won numerous honors, including ten Eisner Awards and eleven Harvey Awards. The series is appealing because of its unforgettable characters, its fresh, witty writing that resonates on many levels, and its epic fantasy storyline inspired by Lord of the Rings. Smith’s characters have been compared to those of Walt Kelly’s comic strip for social commentary. The hero, Fone Bone, is a little guy with a big head and feet who bears a striking resemblance to Kelly’s Pogo.

One of the hallmarks of Smith’s illustration style is his versatility. In Volume One, his drawings convey the shift in mood from the flat, comic appearance of the Bone cousins to a dark, detailed illustration style for battle scenes between Thorn, Fone and the rat creatures.thorn-and-creatures.jpg

There are several sidekicks who serve as foils to the level-headed, honest hero, Fone Bone. There is irresponsible, affable Smiley Bone, the perennial follower. In contrast, there is his scheming Phoney Bone, who must be rescued in each episode by Fone Bone.  Our  hero’s vulnerability is revealed by his comical crush on Thorn, the beautiful “princess in disguise”.  The sidekicks are foils who mock Fone’s intellectual fervor and earnestness. Even sweet Thorn goes unconscious when Fone drones on about his favorite book, Moby Dick. The first episode hints at dark secrets about the charactersand their journey. Like all good comics ,  it introduces the cast of players in the first volume: villains, allies, sidekicks and heroes.  Nevertheless, it  leaves the reader in suspense about what will happen next.     

American Born Chinese

April 21, 2007 at 4:53 am | Posted in awards, comic books, fantasy, genre fiction, monsters | 5 Comments

american-born-chinese.jpgYang, Gene Luen. Color by Lark Pien (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second Press. 

 I discovered American Born Chinese in a display of manga, comic books and graphic novels near the YA section at my local public library. Based on the book’s cover, I picked it up with mixed feelings. The title ABC is derogatory slang familiar to 2nd generation+ Chinese-American families such as mine. (Fresh Off the Boat–FOB— is retaliatory slang for recent Taiwanese and mainland immigrants). I couldn’t dismiss the novel as inflammatory junk though, because the graphics were artfully rendered and the cover featured 2 book award medallions. Once I opened the cover and saw the words “Monkey King”, I had to read it. The Monkey King is one of the most famous characters in Chinese folklore, but I haven’t been able to get my kids to slog through a full translated text.   abc_monkey1.jpg

American Born Chinese has three storylines. The first is a comical retelling of the Monkey King legend, with kung fu and Chinese fable elements for authenticity.  The second story features Jin Wang, a Chinese-American teenager in a white neighborhood. Jan perms his hair and rejects his Asian school friends to win a date with a redheaded honor student. The final storyline is an over-the-top paper sitcom featuring Chin-Kee, the ultimate Oriental student stereotype. Chin-Kee has a pigtail, wears a kimono, eats strange animal parts for lunch, is the class know-it-all and oblivious to his social gaffes. Yang deftly interweaves the three separate stories to a surprising, but satisfying end involving the mischievous Monkey King.

 082806_americanbornchinese03.jpgI was blown away by this book! I can understand why American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award and was Amazon’s “#1 graphic novel pick of 2006”. Writer-illustrator Yang also won the ALA Printz award. His novel is both hysterically funny and brutally honest in its exploration of image, identity and self-acceptance. Although the characters represent different Asian stereotypes, the story will resonate with readers from age 10-adult who are struggling to define themselves and to belong. There are story elements of teenage romance, Chinese folklore fantasy, supernatural monsters, spirituality, and hidden clues for a mystery relevaled in the climax. The only genre missing is the western, though there are elements of adventure, a long journey and the hero’s lone battle to conquer a harsh environment.    

 There are books by Laurence Yep, Amy Tan, Allen Say and other Asian-American novelists who’ve written serious novels about their experiences. What makes Yang’s book different is its iconoclastic, hip approach to the issue of cultural identity. In a December 2006 interview with The Trades, Yang speculates on why he’s seen as blazing a new path in fiction. Growing up in San Francisco, Yang was told to “Keep your head down, study hard, and make a good life for yourself. Don’t make any waves.”  The idea of writing caustic social commentary is new and frankly scary for many Chinese who lived through the upheaval of the Communist regime.

Yang’s content takes risks in confronting prejudices and misconceptions about American Born Chinese. In contrast, his illustration style is skillful but abcmeeting325.jpgconventional, even conservative. Each page contains 4-5 panels which read left to right. The book is read as an English-language text, from front to back (the opposite of the manga page pattern). The text is conveyed through standard thought bubbles. Characters are 2-D rendered in flat colors, with the visual style of an Archie Comics. His Asian characters, aside from Chin-Kee, are visual amalgams of Western and Eastern features, reinforcing his message of assimilation. This message is hammered home on page 194, as Yang shows a freeze-frame transformation from black haired Oriental Jan to blond, blue eyed Danny as the teenager’s wish to be like his classmates comes true–briefly.  

American Born Chinese was originally presented in serial form as a web comic self-published by Yang. This is his fourth published graphic novel, and his first published with a promising new graphic novel press which debuted in 2006, First Second.  For more information about Yang’s works, visit his website, Humble Comics or check out Comic Book Resources.

Oke: Christian Fiction

March 12, 2007 at 2:25 pm | Posted in awards, christian fiction | 7 Comments

oke-janette.jpgOke, J. (2000). Like Gold Refined. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House.

Canadian author Janette Oke is one of the most popular and internationally acclaimed writers in Christian fiction. In 1979, her first Christian novel, Loves Come Softly, was published by Bethany House. This title has sold over 1 million copies and Oke’s work is credited with pioneering the inspirational fiction market. She received the 1992 President’s Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, the 1999 CBA Life Impact Award and the Gold Medallion Award for fiction. Several of Oke’s novels have been translated into made-for-TV movies by Hallmark. For details about her books and movies, visit http://www.janetteoke.com

In the last 15 years, Oke has created more than 75 novels which feature pioneer or farming life on the prairie, cohesive families and stronglike-gold-refined.gif female protagonists. Her bibliography spans 6 series:

  • Song of Acadia with co-author T. Davis Bunn (5 titles, 1999-2002)
  • Prairie Legacy (4 titles, 1997-2000)
  • Women of the West (12 titles, 1990-1996)
  • Canadian West (6 titles, 1983-2001)
  • Seasons of the Heart (4 titles 1981-1989)
  • Love Comes Softly (8 titles, 1979-1989) 

The book Like Gold Refined, represents the fourth and final volume in Oke’s Prairie Legacy series.  It explores how Virginia and Jonathan Lewis, their four children and extended family struggle to cope with significant changes and to reconcile life’s challenges with their steadfast Christian faith. The book cover shows Virginia embracing “daughter” Mindy with their farm and the girl’s beloved colt Buttercup in the background. (The time frame is mid-20th century).  After 10 years, the Lewis’s parental rights are legally challenged when the absentee birth mother returns and asserts her rights.The family agonizes over other life decisions, such as moving frail grandparents from their homestead, and supporting nephew Slate who longs to leave to build a life of his own.  

The common theme in Jeanette Oke’s books is that love and devotion to God and family will provide the strength to overcome hardship. Through her stories, Oke demonstrates that God has a plan for everyone’s lives, although it’s often not the plan the individual has envisioned. As Jeanette Oke explains in her website   Faithful Reader , she views writing as “..an opportunity to share my faith.. . If my books touch lives, answer individual’s questions, or lifts readers to a higher plane, then I will feel that they have accomplished what God has asked me to do.” 

As a Christian but not a reader of Christian fiction, I found this work by Oke to be preachy, stylistically flat and unrealistic. The birth mother Jenny is the only non-believer in the book, and she is a painfully unsympathetic character. Jenny’s a sullen, swearing chain smoker who has a sleazy lawyer uproot Mindy to tend to her last months as she dies from lung cancer. The children are perfect little angels–they never complain, talk back or fight except over who gets to help do chores. The happy ending is that Jenny asks the forgiveness of God, friends and family on the eve of her death. Not my idea of fiction entertainment reading! 

While Oke’s reviewers laud her strong female characters, I regarded Virginia as a submissive even clueless protagonist.  When Jenny demands her child back, it is husband Jonathan who calmly takes control, without discussing his plan with Virginia. Similarly, it is the strong male figure, nephew Slate, who saves the Lewis family farm by contributing part of his inheritance. This is the first genre work I’ve read for this course which lacks an obvious sidekick. aside from trusty Slate. The world of the Lewises and grandparents Davises is a world of family, and neighbors, teachers and other community ties were not explicitly drawn into this world.

The strength of Oke’s work was in its depiction of how evangelicals practice and articulate their faith. It was enlightening to read descriptions about morning devotions, weekly scripture competition and evening prayers.

ECPA lists annual winners of the Gold Medallion (now Christian Book Award) from 1978  to 2006  at http://www.ecpa.org/goldmedallion/gm2005.php

McMurtry Western

March 9, 2007 at 7:46 am | Posted in awards, postmodern, western | Leave a comment

McMurtry, L. (1990).Buffalo Girls.New York: Simon and Schuster.  

buffalo-girls-book.jpgAward Winning  Author  If you want to read a recent (1990+) western, Larry McMurtry’s Buffalo Girls (Winner of the Western Heritage Award)  is a natural choice.  McMurtry is an iconic contemporary writer in the Western genre, author to more than 20 books, 2 essay collections and over 30 screenplays,  Clad in jeans and cowboy hat, Texan McMurtry accepted the 2006 Golden Globe and Academy Awards as co-author of the screenplay  Brokeback Mountain, a breakout Western about Montana sheepwranglers who are secret gay lovers.  McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove won Western’s Spur Award (1985) and the 1986 Pulitzer Prize.  

BygoneWest   McMurtry is a masterful storyteller, weaving memorable characters into a narrative rich in authentic details about a bygone West. He is an unusual author of this genre because he uses satire and black humor to debunk myths of the romantic West. That said, my reading experience of McMurtry’s Buffalo Girls, was like showing up at a rowdy wedding reception when all that’s left are cake crumbs, strewn confetti and maudlin drunks. I did not enjoy reading the book, and would not recommend it because of its relentlessly depressing plot. However, for students of popular culture,  I feel it accurately captured the frontiersmen’s delight conquering the wild unknown and despair fighting loneliness, poverty and hostile elements.

In Buffalo Girls, McMurtry tells the story of the last days of the rough-n-ready West, combining characters who are real aging Western legends –Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill Cody– with a fictional ensemble of Western stock types including mountain men and Indians.  It is a sad, meandering tale about the characters’ roles as actors touring in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show sprinkled with reminiscences about “the good old days” of the open frontier.  

Post-Modern Western I’ve dubbed Buffalo Girls  a “post-modern” Western, for several reasons. The protagonist, Calamity Jane is an androgynous anti-hero. She’s an incorrigible drunk with a propensity for starting fights and exaggerating about past feats. Unlike the classic Western hero, Jane is a poor shot, inept camper, failed wife and mother whose glory days as a scout and solder’s nurse are long gone. Secondly, it’s hard to map this work into Western plot variations as defined by Berger (Popular Culture Genres, 1992). Since it falls beyond the “professional–hired gunfighter” stage, I’d propose to add a “professional celebrity or icon” stage. The characters are now Western stars re-enacting roles as sureshots or Indian fighters for an urban paying audience.  

Another post-modern motif is the sense of loss or passage. The frontiersmen ruefully regret their decimation of wildlife, so now a trapper has to visit a London zoo to see live beaver.  A final post-modern element is McMurtry’s unvarnished descriptions of the grit,  privations and stresses of mundane Western life. No romantic night under the stars for his cowboys. Instead, they wake up with spittle-frozen beards to roast a prairie dog with meat so tough it takes an hour per piece to chew. 

Cyberpunk Sci Fi

February 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in awards, cyberpunk, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Gibson, W. (1984.) Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.  

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Neuromancer achieved both instant critical acclaim and cult status, earning Book of the Year, the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984 and the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1985.  It is credited with launching a new SF subgenre, termed “cyberpunk” and remains a SF classic today.  In 1982, Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his story. “Burning Chrome”.  In Neuromancer he delineates his concept for “The Matrix”, a global information network which is today’s internet. 

  “Cyberpunk” merges the amoral, urban anarchy of  1980’s punk music and drug  culture with “cybernetics” exploration of the human-machine interface. Cyberpunk’s bleak, dystopian vision of the corrupted near future is typified by the disturbing film Blade Runner.  For more info, see   Cyberpunk as a SciFi genre 

Synopsis:  The protagonist, Case, is a drugged-out “cyberspace cowboy” (hacker), who is banished from the Matrix and close to death after stealing from a client. Desperate, Case agrees to hack the network for a shadowy militaristic figure, Armitage, in exchange for renewed health and wealth. Case works with and fights against a parade of unsavory characters from Tokyo to Paris, aided by Armitage’s razor girl assassin Molly, and an  Artficial Intelligence (AI) cybercowboy named Dixie, plus other shifty sidekicks.  

Throughout the novel, humans are portrayed as weak, flawed beings incapable of intimacy or honest personal relationships. At the start, Case’s prostitute girlfriend Linda Lee betrays him to get drug money; shortly thereafter, Case fails to intervene when Linda is murdered (though he agonizes and has a few nightmares about his indifference throughout the book).

 As Case penetrates the  Matrix “ice” (security layers), he discovers his real client is an AI called Wintermute, whose goal is to merge with another AI, Neuromancer, to exponentially grow in power and psychosocial awareness (cyberspeak for “take over the world”) The only hope for human intervention is from threeJane, the brilliant but emotionally bereft teenage heiress in a  dysfunctional family of capitalists. Her father is a pedophile and necrophiliac. 

The novel fizzles out after the AI components unite, with Case back to his old cowboy and body-abusing habits, and his sidekicks scattered around the world. The lack of full resolution is understandable, not just because it’s cyberpunk. Author Gibson wrote Neuromancer as the first of a cyberpunk trilogy, followed by Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).  

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