I HAVEN’T POSTED IN OVER A YEAR.
I will start again next week after my Mock Printz meeting.
So. Many. Updates.
I HAVEN’T POSTED IN OVER A YEAR.
I will start again next week after my Mock Printz meeting.
So. Many. Updates.
This month I re-read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (cataloged as juvenile historical fiction in the library) before starting his new book The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (cataloged as teen historical fiction in the library). For the sake of not making this post one mile long and getting to work on time in about two hours I am only going to be discussing these two titles – but there are definitely more books out there that make the same mistakes I believe Boyne makes when writing about the Holocaust. I picked up Boyne’s new book and took it on my weekend vacation hoping that he made different choices than he did when writing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
Heres’s the thing: Boyne is a talented writer: I like his book reviews and he’s written other books for children, teens, and adults that I’ve really enjoyed like The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these two Holocaust-centered books do more harm than good when it comes to educating young adults about Hitler, World War II/the treatment of Jews and other “undesirables” during that time, and concentration camps. Boyne has stated that he purposefully called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a “fable” (it says this after the title on some book covers) because he wanted to tell a specific story with specific circumstances and he had to change some realities of concentration camps in order to do so.
In both stories you’re supposed to believe that two children/young adults (they both take place over many years) are completely oblivious to the realities of Hitler and concentration/extermination camps. I understand it’s fiction, but there’s a moral responsibility to truly educate and not create “fables” about true, dark, terrifying real history.
I’ll start with the first book: a boy Bruno is the son of a man who gets promoted at the last minute to run Auschwitz so they quickly pack up from Berlin and move. He’s really bummed he’s leaving his friends, and gets to this place and even a year later this german-speaking boy can’t pronounce it correctly and spends the entire book calling it Out-With. I get it, Boyne – like “out with you!”. But it doesn’t work. This boy is created to be the most naive character in literature’s history (until Boyne’s next book?), and even though he lives directly next door to Auschwitz and walks to the fence every day to talk to another boy named Schmuel he has no idea what’s going on. No idea at all. None. Hitler comes to dinner one night and he still doesn’t get it. The boy in the camp doesn’t explain it to him. His parents and sister don’t explain it.
The one thing I really can’t let go about this book is that the entire time Bruno talks about the people in the camp wearing striped pajamas, and it’s repeated over and over. At no point does Boyne eventually point out to the character or the reader that no, these people aren’t wearing pajamas – they’re wearing ratty prisoner clothes. For the most part, no one had identical clothing at all. Pajamas are a luxury these people never had. This huge mistake in writing has had lasting effects – we had student field trips come through the Auschwitz exhibit and see the clothes on display and every single group I took through had one or more students call them pajamas and talked about the book/movie saying, “these pajamas look just like the ones in the movie!”
The new book The Boy at the Top of the Mountain features a boy with a German father and French mother who grew up in Paris with a deaf Jewish boy as his best friend, but when his parents die he’s sent to live with his aunt – who happens to be the head housekeeper in Hitler’s home Berghof, one of the centers of government during the Third Reich. So yet again we have a story spanning years where he’s around 9(?) in the beginning and 15-16 near the end. He’s quickly taken under Hitler’s wing and yet his aunt and other servants are warning him about Hitler and his Jewish best friend is writing letters telling him how awful Jews are being treated, and he casts it all aside because it makes him sad to think about and it’s not his current reality. He takes notes at Hitler’s meetings and literally writes about the building of concentration camps, yet claims to have no idea what they were used for even when he’s nearly 16. It goes on like this for a while but I’m going to stop here.
If you write about the Holocaust you should be responsible for explaining your choices and then educating your readers on the realities. I get it – Boyne has two boy characters that are completely naive to the realities around them, just like how a lot of people chose to be naive about everything, but his characters don’t grow, don’t question anything, don’t fight back on anything. They don’t really support the bad things they sometimes hear about (for the most part, not so much in the second book), but they don’t try to find out the truth, either.
I get that educators want to use books like these that are a step up reading-level wise from books like Number the Stars to teach their students, but if they’re not having real dialogue about it (and from what I hear from the teens that come in, they’re only tested on answering questions about the book to prove they’ve read it), it would be smart for Boyne and his publishers to put a Q&A section in the back of these books where he can explain further, and even include a short history on the realities of the Holocaust and how citizens reacted to it as the years went on and how people were treated in the camps. Instead, they slap the word “fable” under the title and move on with their stories, only “explaining themselves” at book tour interviews. This is recent history, folks. It didn’t happen that long ago in Europe. Genocide continues to happen all around the world. There’s some responsibility that needs to be accepted – for every survivor that dies there’s a new responsibility to continue telling their stories forever. The true stories mustn’t be forgotten. Why try to make a fable out of the realities of those that survived, and those that didn’t?
…because I want today to be the last time I have to say that I haven’t updated this site in 7 months. So far this year:
It’s been seven months since I last updated this blog that, at the time I made it, I had planned on updating weekly on my job hunting progress, movies I had seen and loved, and art that I admired. Ha! When I created this about two years ago I had recently moved back from Pittsburgh and in with my parents after getting my Master’s degree, was working at a retail store an hour away from where I lived, and prayed every night that the next day I would hear back from one of the dozens of library job applications I had sent out that week. I was one of the lucky ones in the statistics that got a (part-time) librarian assistant job (an hour away from where I lived) exactly six months after graduating with my degree. To put this in perspective, roughly three months before graduating I applied to about 30 jobs around Pittsburgh. When that didn’t work out, I moved back home and over a period of six months I applied to nearly 150 jobs across the entire United States of America. The first thing my professors told us in our classes was, “if you want a job, you must be willing to move anywhere.” Do you know how long it takes to fill out an online application nowadays, not including your resume and specializing your cover letter to that specific position?? I only heard back from three. Two of them were from the same library system, and all three of them were in a 60-mile radius from my parents’ home. By nothing less than the Grace of God I was somehow promoted to a full-time librarian within 11 months of being hired – something that does not typically happen here.For the record, I would like to add that I believe the “moving” thing is B.S. because now that I’m in a large public library system I can’t imagine them considering anyone across the country that isn’t already planning on moving here, and doing a Skype interview instead of in-person. What they should say instead is: “if you want a job, you must be willing to move out of a city with a university that offers a Master of Library and Information Sciences program because that high level of competition for small numbers of open positions is nearly impossible to beat.”
Why did I start that rant? My last post was about resolutions and I’m failing at nearly all of them. Including updating this site.
I’ve learned over the years that I set a lot of goals for myself and I’m barely making a 50-50 completion rate with them. Completing school is something I couldn’t fail at. Job searching is something I wouldn’t let myself fail at, because there was absolutely no chance that I would settle on staying in retail “waiting to find the right library position for me” when each month that goes by not in a library means my skills I just spent all that time earning were at risk of being lost. In order to keep skills you have to use the skills. What good is a degree if you haven’t used it in a year, and now what you’ve learned is already beginning to become outdated?
That’s about the extent of my personal goals that weren’t even an option to not accomplish. Now I set goals like this year’s “read 60 books this year (or five per month)”. When I made that goal for myself on Goodreads I thought, that’s so many! That’s more than one book a week! Then I became Goodreads friends with other people that work in my library system and saw their goals of 160 books a year, and my number 60 seemed like a cartoon balloon flying around a room deflating itself until falling into a pitiful tiny lump on the floor.
Other goals fall aside when “life” gets in the way. For a couple months I get great at studying german for an hour a day a few times a week, and then when work starts to get crazy I shift focus away for too long and lose a lot of what I learned. I start building up my cardio to get to 3 miles without stopping and then health issues arise for weeks at a time and I end up way back at the starting line again.
No matter what, I won’t stop trying to grow and learn and become a better version of myself. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read 160 books a year unless I’m unemployed or retired – that doesn’t mean reading 60 isn’t an accomplishment. I may never actually learn more than the bare bones of german, but I can keep reading about its art and culture and history that I love so much. Not reading enough, not being bilingual, not being able to eventually run a marathon someday doesn’t make me any “less”. Comparison is the thief of joy. Though I may feel like a failure a lot times, I know that you only really become a failure when you stop trying – I just need to become a lot better at remembering that in the moment.
My reading resolutions for the coming year:
Other resolutions for 2016:
Some Jane Austen inspiration to get the year started off right:
“No – I must kept my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”
“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always arises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
“Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” <– Okay, that’s not really inspirational, but totally necessary.
Why do I do this to myself? There are a few nights I’ll have every month where all I do is go online and check airline prices to Berlin, and tonight was one of those nights. I got home from work, ate some dinner, got on my laptop and the next thing I know I’ve spent 90 minutes looking at prices for a trip I can’t take any time soon. I get into way too much detail with it, thinking things like “leave Berlin to come back home at 7am? No way!” “Three stops on the way over, with one in Istanbul? No way!” “22 hour layover in Newark? NO WAY.”
On the bright side, it makes me want to really crack down on my studying again. My goal for October will be doing 30 minutes for 6 days a week, and hopefully gradually increasing the time through November and December. It has to be easier to implement New Year’s Resolutions if I’ve already spent a couple of months trying to make implement new habits, right? ….Right?
I miss this and need to return ASAP.
It’s been a few days since I had to cover our branch’s big Wednesday morning story time. It was absolutely terrifying but it was like most experiences people dread: as soon as it starts you can only move forward. The whole thing lasted an hour and it definitely felt like an hour. One part I was the most nervous for was the 15 minutes before it actually started, since that meant I had to already be sitting down and greeting everyone that came in – making small talk with parents I’ve never officially met and toddlers who definitely don’t know me. But luckily that time went by quickly when I complimented one little girl’s polka dot shoes and that made every single kid start to hold their feet in the air with their hands going, “look at my shoes! My shoes have The Avengers! My shoes are orange and blue!” All in all there were 83 at story time and I felt like I needed to take a nap afterward. It really made me admire everything children’s librarians do, because let me tell you: entertaining 80 people for an hour is not easy.
Our children’s librarian is on vacation and God bless the woman – she waited an entire year to take a week’s vacation because she knew how much I didn’t want to cover her children’s programming. (Also she couldn’t use any until 6 months after hiring so…) (Also, I’ve been there a year and haven’t taken vacation yet. Just FYI.) But hey, kids are terrifying! They’re so blunt in their honesty and their love-hate attitudes turn on the flip of a switch. Covering 4 or more programs in one week is not my idea of a good time, because if I bomb on the first one then chances are I’ll bomb on every other one that’s still coming up.
Today I had my first program and it was preschool story time. It was a good one to start out on because it’s always small (5-8) compared to Wednesday’s typical 60-80 participants. (60-80!!!!!) I got 3 books in before I lost control of the little guys and we went on to craft time. The point was to trace their hands on a paper, and there was one 3 year old boy in the group who was super cute but totally not into the craft. He was more interested in picking out every purple crayon in the bin, which is interesting enough but the mom was not about to let it fly. Finally I picked up a green crayon and said, “You know, Tommy, if you outline your hands in this green it would look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle hand!”. His eyes LIT UP and I got a resounding, “YESSSS!!”
Then we became best friends.
Until craft time was over and he left.
The Summer Learning Program (SLP) at the library has come and gone and one month later I finally remember to write about it. I’m great at this blogging thing!
In three months I had 11 programs and was exhausted from day one. Teenagers can wear you out! I had a circus tricks program that included juggling, spinning plates, and mastering walking on stilts. One pair of stilts were 6″ and the other pair was 12″. Most teens wouldn’t try the tall ones so I learned to master those while everyone else took turns on the shorter ones.
Some other programs were Fandom Friday, Paint & Plant, Hour of Code, Mystery Night, and the 2015 Ice Cream Olympics. I had a lot of fun planning the olympics but it’s not easy for two people to corral 15 teens together and make them all do the same thing at the same time, so it was basically 2 hours of me yelling nonstop to talk over 7 separate yet simultaneous conversations. It had to be outside and of course it was 90 degrees, so we had to move fast to get through everything before the ice cream melted. I had a cherry on a stick relay race (had to hold the stick in their mouths), “spooning”, bob for gummies, ice cream sandwich toss, ice cream topping scavenger hunt, and then finally an ice cream eating contest. They were happy but I think both my helper Rob and I deserved a vacation after that one.
The best part of the SLP was that on the final program of the summer one of my new regulars gave me a thank-you card when she arrived. Her mom told me that her Aspergers made it difficult for her get comfortable with new situations but that she had looked forward to coming to my programs all summer. That was a pretty great feeling.
Now that my first SLP as an official librarian is over I definitely know what I need to work on for next year, but all in all I had a pretty good (and busy) summer spent at work.
What my desk looked like pretty much the whole summer (with some ARCs of juvenile/YA books not yet published! (at the time I took the photo) (can you do parentheses within parentheses? I just did.)(Wolf Wilder was rull rull good.)(I have a rull big crush on Theo James/Four.))