Sunday, March 27, 2011

reading reluctance

liquid gold,
our own maple syrup

In my work at the library, I often have the great pleasure of helping people, kids and adults, find things to read. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I have one particular customer who is my personal challenge reader because she is difficult to please; I love this and will never give up on finding her a book that she will relish. This is one of the best parts of what I do and I take it very seriously because I know the panic of booklessness, or even potential booklessness. Like the idea of a particular handknit sweater is what makes it itchy, according to my sons. It's a terrible thing to face an empty bedside table and the thought even makes me itchy.

Being a good listener helps. Knowing how to ask the right questions helps. Having a good knowledge of what's in our collection helps. We have tools that help (NoveList, Amazon, etc.). (Readers, check out NoveList through your library---lots of great ways to use this tool, like readalikes, books in a series in order, there is even a K-8 version.)
2nd Sunday: sewing liberation project
Sometimes I also get a trickier question: parents who are looking for books for their kids. It's harder to do my job when the reader is not in front of me, but it's still possible. There's a sense of remove though and no instant feedback.

Then there are parents of reluctant readers. These are worried parents, usually. Sometimes annoyed parents. And what they want is a magic pile of books that will make their kid a reader. (And since I'm no expert on learning disabilities, I'm talking about kids that can actually read without challenges.) Reluctant readers can be boys or girls, but it seems there are more boy reluctants than girls, according to Michael Sullivan. And he has lots of lists of books for boys; interestingly, girl reluctants will likely find books that appeal on these lists, too.

What I have learned the hard way, through lots of questions, is that often these young people actually ARE reading. Just not the way they "should" be, according to their moms (it's usually the moms that I see). "He only reads comics." "She only reads nonfiction." "He never finishes a book." "All he reads is Captain Underpants." "He only likes magazines."
So mostly I reassure them that all of this is actually reading and building important skills like vocabulary, comprehension, retention, etc. A veteran librarian just told me that it's quantity, not quality that makes a reader. I know plenty of adults who only read the newspaper (online). Or adults who are intelligent people who don't read at all (my brother is one). I send the moms home with an armload of books that might appeal to their reluctants and I try to encourage them that keeping a steady supply of books coming is a good thing, or that it's OK that their kids only read comics, or that it's lovely that their child still really prefers being read to.

As long as the reading is fun.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

inspiration returns

OK, enough whining. Let's get on with it, despite a new head cold, strep throat, and snow this week. There is so much talent around me, it's staggering.

The mom who, having finally discerned that the reason her daughter hated wearing hats was because of the preferred hairdo of said daughter (2 long ponytails, perched high, then braided), decided to knit a two-ponytail hat. (And it's not underpants, GooneyBird.) Adorable and innovative.
~another friend loves me by mail~

And frankly, there's some real fashion-forward/fashion-freedom happening in the 6th grade, my son's class at school. I love that it seems to stem not from boy-craziness or "I'm so cool," but in a true spirit of Makership and Art.

We have the delightful innovator who has been wearing her family's wool, appliqued Christmas Tree Skirt (you know that skirt that fits round the base of the tree?), every year since first grade as a festive winter assembly skirt. You can imagine that it was ballroom length when this started, and it has slowly gotten shorter as she has lengthened!

I spotted a very sweet Leprechaun hat perched atop her head, just recently in honor of St. Patrick's day. Fashioned out of felt and about the size of a cupcake, it appeared to be fastened to a headband.

In the same 6th grade, there is also E. You must remember her from previous posts. We like to swap things we Make. E. is a sewist, crafter, and Maker of things. She makes bags out of repurposed plastic shopping bags, fused together, then sewn. She might get a whim to make pants one day...and just make them, and wear them the next day to school. Or she creates shorts, using an old tee shirt. A Christmas skirt from some crazy South American woven fabric she found. She totally pulled it off: the sewing and the wearing.
The point is, E. has no fear. She has an idea. She cuts up the fabric and then sews it up. Simple. And OK, so the hems are not usually finished. And sure, the pants ended up with a split seam. Disasters are part of it, part of learning, part of creation. Is this a person who asks herself if she has a knitwear needle? Or who stops in her tracks because the thread isn't an exact match? No fear of failure.

People try their whole lives to unlearn the fear of failure in Making. They spend $100,000 at art school to learn to innovate. Or thousands of dollars in therapy to unlearn that "can't" is a total mind construct. I do hope this gal ends up at art school someday. And someday, she'll finish a hem, I just know it. She recently used a pattern!
remember this sweet new friend?
made for me by E., from a pattern!
You already know Denyse Schmidt, fabric designer, quilt designer, and inspired Maker. She gives workshops ("Improvisational Patchwork"), too---she was even at Alewives. Her quilts and designs have this quality of asymmetry and freedom. Some of the blocks I have seen, like this one, have been tickling the back of my mind. When I got her book though, it was all so measured out and instructions and.... It stopped me. It didn't match the idea I had of what the process and spirit of those quilt blocks were.

This weekend I had the itch of Making. I dumped out all of my scraps and started piles of scrap friends. Pretty soon, I was thinking of Denyse Schmidt and E. My inner rule-follower wanted to call those gals at Alewives right up and ask them for tips. Instead, I pretended I was E. I chose the Scrap Friends pile that excited me most in that moment, cut up a rectangle and found a strip to sew along side it.

The rule-follower said: "Wait! Don't you want to save your longest pieces for the outside of the square??? Be sensible!" No thanks, I want this fabric, and I want it right now.

I measured nothing. I set aside the cutters and the rulers and used scissors. I just had fun playing with fabric and sewing. Following the fabrics and who they wanted to rub shoulders with. At the end of it, I trimmed it down to about a 15" square. Next time, I'll try being even more radical with my cuts and slants.

"Is it a pillow? What's it going to be?" They asked me.
"Don't know. Don't really care. I think it looks pretty good tacked up on my inspiration board for the moment."

::Look at this:: More inspiration from someone who's under 18.
::Reading this:: Because my very liberal liberal arts education denied me the pleasure of reading classics.
::Watching this:: When I was so sick that I couldn't do anything, this was the perfect escape. The costumes! The BBC! Swoonful.
::Listening to:: Manu Chao station on Pandora.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March, I hate you

airing out the quilt after a month of sickness:
the first clothesline photo of the season!

March in Maine is not my favorite. In fact, I consider it the armpit of the year, with very little to recommend it. It can be cruel and demoralizing to live in Maine in March: the warmth and light return, and just when you begin to let yourself hope for spring, you are soundly walloped by a snap of cold or sleety rain. There's a sense of looking over my shoulder nervously, waiting for the smack.
"But what about November?" you ask. Well. November is elegant in its bleakness. The study in grays and blacks and browns feels like a painting. The clouds and sunsets are complex purpley gray worlds. There is the anticipation of snow. November is a class act.

What we have now, March, is pretty ugly. The snow has mostly melted, but there are a few patches left: dirty and mangy and ill-tempered like a dog you'd secretly like to kick, if you weren't an animal-lover. We have mud. Sometimes icy mud. Sticks and rocks all over the lawn. Thawing chicken poop in the yard. We have sodden snowpants and mittens heavy with their wetness and about ten pounds of dirt. Wet, odoriferous boots.
organic oranges. eating sunshine.
We also have illness. Illness which has morphed from and into new and amazing types of germs in our family. No one has vomited, but I think we have run the gamut of most other symptoms from mild to high fevers to pack-a-day coughing fits to strep throat. And lots of other things in between.

Do you have the picture yet?

Here is the one thing March has going for it: maple syrup making time. (Grudgingly offered.)

Thankfully, I do have friends.
The best kind of friends, who see a pair of bright red rubber gloves with little chicken embellishments and think of me. Let me tell you, the package doesn't lie: "Caution: Use of this product has been known to cause laughter. Guaranteed to class up your day." Wearing these gloves could also inspire an outfit-change. Heels might have to be dug out of the far reaches of my closet. And apron will most definitely be worn, and in fact, perhaps I need an apron designed specially to coordinate with these gloves.
And a friend who can't make just one pie. Or leave it undecorated. Beautiful apple pie with whole wheat pastry crust delivered to my door one morning. Really, the best.

We are also blessed by live music in the house. Even when it sometimes feels like just another chore to practice.