Thursday, February 22, 2018

Writing Through the Years

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the February 22, 2018 edition of the Norwood 
Transcript and Bulletin.
This past weekend I spent the entire time under my covers with the virus that masqueraded darn close to that of the flu. Waking from fitful sleeps, I’d ease out of bed, drop my aching legs on the floor, and plod down the hallway for cough medicine and pain reliever. I’d occasionally think about the laundry or chores I’d abandoned before I was struck by this nasty bug. Instead, weak and fog-brained, I’d find myself crawling back to bed.
The early deadline for our weekly newspaper column, From the Library, passed on Friday night, as did the hard-and-fast Sunday evening deadline. I woke Monday morning and realized that I was soon going to miss writing my week’s assignment for the very first time in nine years. And it just so happened to be my 250thcolumn.
This week February 11 marked the beginning of our 10th year of writing for the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin (it was the Daily News Transcript when we first started writing the From the Library column in 2009. After writing a half dozen weekly columns myself in 2009 (including the dreaded deadlines), I enlisted the help of other professional librarians at the Morrill Memorial Library. Library interns and other department staff have taken turns writing with their own voices and styles and since 2009 many of them have written regularly.  (In fact, one of the requirements for joining our staff has been an ability and enthusiasm to contribute to the weekly newspaper column).
In total, thirty-one library staff and interns have written 463 columns since February 2009. That’s about 450,000 words. (Or as many words as Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.) On average, a novel is somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 words. Doing the math, you’ll find we are a prolific bunch of writers.
Over nearly a decade, I’ve written about birds and bees (separately), dogs I’ve loved – a dog I’ve lost. I’ve written about disasters (earthquakes, tsunamis, firestorms, and sinking ships) and triumphs (Oscars, homeschooling, the Red Sox, and Big Papi’s visit to our library). Over the past nine years, my not-so-private life has seen the weddings of all four of our children and the subsequent amazing births of six grandbabies in three years. It saw the graduation from high school of our eldest grandson. My columns have described camping escapades to Vermont and travels within the country (Chicago, Florida, Indianapolis, Washington, DC, and New York) and abroad (Ireland, Mexico, Italy and Hawaii.)  I’ve written about the personal sadness of divorce, of losing a child, and the national unimaginable tragedies like Sandy Hook. Column topics have been about the joys of friendship, food, reading and movies. Or about the Morrill Memorial Library, its architecture and history and of literacy and librarianship.
I submitted my first column for the February 11, 2009 edition of the newspaper. I highlighted the Musical Sundays program and the February 14 concert featuring Love Songs. I’d just become the library director four months earlier, starting my job on September 22. I’d spent the previous week in New York City and watched Lehman Brothers employees exit their offices on Seventh Avenue on September 15. The financial firm, with over 25,000 employees world-wide, declared bankruptcy that day. Started in 1844, Lehman Brothers had survived financial upheaval – the Great Depression, the World Wars, the Russian default – but it could not survive the subprime mortgage disaster that barreled its way through 2007 and 2008, leaving financial ruin in its wake.
In December of 2008 Bernie Madoff confessed to his great Ponzi scheme, topping off that disturbing year of economic upheaval. The reality of this financial pain was seen around the country, including in the towns and cities of Massachusetts. Norwood saw its own economic squeeze and as director, I navigated the cuts to the library’s budget and State Aid to Public Libraries grant. The worst of the years came later when budget cuts forced the library to close Sundays in the fall 2011 and winter of 2012, eliminating our Musical Sundays program. Yet, from 2009 through 2017, we increased programming by 300%. When once we offered 40 adult programs per year, that number has risen to over 225. Children’s programs have nearly doubled in the same time period. As a library we continue to thrive, weathering the storms much like we in Massachusetts always manage to do. And we’ve written about those successes in our From the Library column.
We are proud to have won two awards for our newspaper columns from the Massachusetts Library Association. The biannual MLA PR (public relations) Awards recognize libraries for their submissions for marketing, public relations, media and graphics work during the previous two years. Our library submitted a representative 25 columns written in 2013 and 2014 and again for those written in 2015 and 2016. We won first place in the News category at the awards ceremonies in 2015 and 2017. Choosing only 12-13 of the 52 columns written during a year was difficult as we were forced to leave the majority of columns on the “cutting room floor.”
All nine years of our columns (2009-2017) are printed and bound in annual editions of the 50+ columns. These spiral-bound editions are available at the Reference Desk. Columns can be found online at (those published after the merger of the Daily Transcript and the Bulletin in 2009) and are also posted to the Library’s website each week. A complete archive of all 465 columns can be found on a searchable blog at
It’s a pleasure writing for our local newspaper – a collaboration that spotlights our library, its resources, and our librarians. “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays” the library’s writers from writing each week. Or weariness from the flu.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Battle for the Newbery Award

Kate Tigue is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library.  Read her column in the Thursday, February 15, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin. 

“If something bad is happening to a child in a book, that book will win the Newbery”, a veteran children’s librarian complained to me once. And I can’t deny it. Next week, the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) will announce the winner of the John Newbery Medal, a highly coveted award for best contribution to American children’s literature in the past year on Monday, February 12, 2018. The winner is selected by a committee of children’s librarians from across the country and broadcast at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference.
The original idea behind the Newbery medal was cited by Fred. G. Melcher as a way to boost publishers’ interest in producing children’s literature in the 1920s. At the time, there was a growing interest in stories for children that didn’t necessarily have a moral or didactic purpose. British authors like E. Nesbit (The Railway Children) and A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Canadian author L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) had begun to whet the public’s appetite for more humorous, child-focused stories. The award was named for John Newbery, a prominent 18th century British publisher and called the “father of children’s literature” for publishing the first book directed at a juvenile audience, A Pretty Little Pocket-book.
Melcher himself was the editor of Publisher’s Weekly, an industry trade magazine, and was well-versed on how to utilize publicity to boost the sales and peak interest. Today, we’d say that he created “buzz” around children’s literature by creating an award for it and asking its largest buyers, children’s librarians, to form a committee of judges to grant the honor. Since 1922, members of ALSC, then called the Children’s Librarians’ Section of ALA, have met on a yearly basis to decide which meet the award criteria.
At first glance, the three criteria seem deceptively simple: the Newbery Award can be granted to an American author who has written the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature. The author must reside in the US and the book must be published in English by an American publisher. Seems pretty easy, right? Just pick the best book, right? Well, as the years have gone on and the committee structure has evolved, the three original criteria remain but definitions have been added in an attempt to tease out exactly what we mean by “distinguished”. What does it mean for a book to be the best? ALSC defines distinguished children’s literature as books that are marked by “eminence and distinction, noted for significant achievement, excellence in quality and are individually distinct”. I’m not sure if that makes things any clearer!
What has become clear in the past 20 years is a growing dissent among librarians about what kind of books SHOULD win the Newbery Medal. Many of us have observed that the Newbery Medal winners aren’t terribly popular with their intended audience: children! For those of us who work with kids on a regular basis, selling the most recent Newbery winners to kids as an enticing read is a real challenge. The settings and characters appear to be getting more and more obscure and the point of views are more seemingly adult rather than from a child’s perspective. This was not always the case. Many of us remember the golden era of the 1990s that produced classics like Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (1997), Number the Stars and The Giverboth by Lois Lowry (1990 & 1994), and Holes by Louis Sachar (1999). All of these are staples in any children’s literature collection and are frequently requested by actual children!
The 2008 Newbery Committee selected Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, a book that became a lightning rod for the controversy over “good books” winning instead of popular books. Schlitz’s book comprises of a series of individual narratives of fictional medieval village inhabitants, similar to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Certainly, this winner would qualify as “individually distinct” but left many librarians wondering if kids would be attracted to the subject matter.
Noted children’s literature scholar Anita Silvey wrote a controversial piece for School Library Journal, a popular review journal for school and public librarians, where she wondered whether the Newbery Award had lost touch with real kids. Silvey noted that many librarians, teachers, and book critics felt the same way, feelings that might possibly prevent them from purchasing the next Newbery winner. This seems to be antithetical to the original purpose of the award, to bolster public and professional interest in and sales of children’s literature. Finally, Silvey concluded that while the award’s selection criteria don’t include consideration of how children themselves would receive the winner, the concepts of popular books and quality literature should not be mutually exclusive.
I completely agree with Silvey’s point. I recently read last year’s winner, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult reader, I was left scratching my head over what type of child I could actually convince to check it out of the library. The story focuses on a magical village at the age of the forest that requires one child to be set out in the woods as a sacrifice for the local witch. Barnhill’s clever narrative alternates between the witch and one of the children left out in the woods. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it…to other adults. I don’t think many children would stick with the first half of the book which follows the witch and her philosophical musings on her life’s purpose, her role as a parent, and her own impending death. While many children certainly have some understanding of these topics, I don’t think they could relate to it from an adult perspective.
The Newbery Award is an amazing opportunity to drum up excitement over reading for children. The current digital era provides ton of distractions for kids and furthers the the desire for instant gratifications. This makes the challenge of finding good books akin to finding good-tasting healthy food kids will eat instead of junk. If children’s librarians, educators, and parents truly want reading to be a preferred activity for kids, we have to feed them a diet of great but palatable literature to make them want more. Given that over 20,000 children’s books are published in America annually, we should be able to expect that the highest literary achievement in that field can reward an author that combines both well-written, insightful thoughts wrapped in a story to which kids can connect. By the time you read this, the 2018 Newbery Award winner will have been announced. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Update: The 2018 Youth Media Awards were announced on Monday, February 12, 2018 at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Denver, Co. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly is the recipient of this year’s John Newbery Medal.  More on the rest of the award winners here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Books that Inspired the Films: 2017

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the February 8, 2018 edition of the Norwood 
Transcript and Bulletin.

This year the 90th Academy Award nominations were announced a few weeks ago and, as usual, there are dozens of nominations. The final voting won’t begin for a few weeks on February 20.  The Oscars will be awarded when they are televised on March 8th in Los Angeles and Jimmy Kimmel will host for the second time.
At least thirteen of the nominated films in all 24 of the categories, including Best Picture, Actor and Actress, are based upon books, or have spawned books. Most of the DVDs for these films have not yet been released, yet all of the books are in the library. They can be found on the library’s fiction or non-fiction shelves, on the Speed Read shelf, and on a special display devoted to all nominated films. Six of these nine films were nominated for Best Picture along with eleven nominated for best actors and actresses. Others were nominated in the Best Song, Best Director, Best Cinematography or other categories.
One of the most-talked about films of 2017 is the Post (starring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee), based on the Pentagon Papers. The 1971 drama of the papers leaked by Daniel Elsberg has been recently referred to as the WikiLeaks of its day. While the New York Times was the newspaper that defied President Nixon in 1971, and exposed the secrets of the Johnson administration and the secret government study of the Vietnam War, it was the local paper, The Post, headed by Katharine Graham that got its hands on the Papers and printed the stories about them. Both newspapers had to risk the ensuing battle in Supreme Court and their reputations. The most recent (2017) publication of The Pentagon Papers is an informative account writted by five authors – historians, political scientists and journalists. It includes chapters on the history and build-up of the Vietnam War during the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Two of the authors, Neil Sheehan and James Greenfield, worked secretly with Daniel Ellsberg to release the Papers. Director Steven Spielberg (not up for an Oscar this time) will probably be thrilled with a Best Picture win.
A handful of other films based on other historical moments were nominated for awards this year. The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo and The Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink were published in 2017 and are the history behind the films.  Another, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams was first published in 1998 and inspired the 2017 film, Marshall. It is a biography of Justice Marshall, his victory in the Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and his subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court. The film stars Charles Boseman and Kate Hudson and is nominated for Best Song, “Stand Up for Something.”
Another biographical film, The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, is nominated for best song, “This is Me.” The film follows the life of P.T. Barnum. Obviously, the book that inspired the film is Barnum’s autobiography Barnum’s Own Story, actually published in 1927.
Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu was published in 2011. Abdul, and Indian Muslim, arrived in England as a waiter at Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. What followed is a story of tender love between them.
John Pearson wrote a biography of the Getty family, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortune and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty in 1995. The book included the anguished tale of the kidnapping of grandson Paul Getty and the refusal by his grandfather to pay the ransom. The film, All the Money in the World, is based on Pearson’s book, republished as a movie tie-in of the same name.  Molly’s Game was also published in 2017 as the movie tie-in. It stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner and is the memoir of Molly Bloom who “gambled everything, won big, then lost it all.”
The Disaster Artist is a most ironic choice for a nomination. The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Interestingly, it is a film about a disaster of a 2003 film that cost over $6 million to make: The Room earned $1800 at the box office. The book, The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero is subtitled My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made. And IT’S up for an Oscar! (James Franco was snubbed for a Best Actor nomination due to allegations of sexual misconduct.)  
Best Picture nomination, The Shape of Water, was followed by a 2018 novelization by producer and director, Guillermo del Toro and his co-author Daniel Kraus. The publication of the screenplay of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Martin McDonagh followed the release of the film starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. That film is up for seven Oscars, including ones for both McDormand and Harrelson. It is the story of a mother’s frustration that there has been no resolution about the death of her daughter and her struggle with the local police force.

Two novels inspired 2017 films: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, an international bestseller in 2008 and Call Me by Your Name by AndrĂ© Aciman (2007). Mudbound was the debut work that earned Jordan the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Aciman is a professor of comparative literature at CUNY New York. Mudbound is a drama of hatred in the South. Call Me By Your Name is a “powerful romance.”

Those of us who stayed up late last February 26 - until the last minute of the Academy Awards ceremony - are hoping that won’t be THAT drama this year. As I prepared to turn off my TV, I watched dozens of people on the Dolby Theater stage in a state of confusion. LaLa Land had been announced as Best Picture when it was suddenly divulged that Moonlight had actually won the award. Warren Beatty tried to make sense out the error, and LaLa Land producer Fred Berger exclaimed on the microphone “We lost by the way.” 
I chuckled as I made my way up to bed. My husband Gerry had given up at least an hour earlier. He’s just not THAT into films. Or Academy Awards. I shook my head as I climbed into my side of the bed mumbling something about having witnessed an unbelievable mind-boggling mix-up of the Hollywood kind. Gerry didn’t even wake up.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

What Comes Next?

Bonnie Wyler is a Literacy/Outreach Librarian at the library. Read Bonnie's column in the February 1, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

When people think about retiring, their first thought is often, “Well, what will I do?”
Some people are eager to retire because the demands of their jobs become exhausting as they get older.  The elementary classroom teacher and the hospital nurse come to mind.  Even those who are looking forward to leaving their work are wondering what they will do.  This seems to be a universal question, whether one thinks about it long before retiring or after the actual transition from work to retirement.  In talking to a number of friends who have been retired for varying periods of time, I found a wealth of creative ideas for finding rewarding pursuits in this new phase of life.  Here are some of them: