Librarians in pop culture

Working in a library has me thinking about my favorite librarians in pop culture. Interestingly, they’re mostly women, which is true of the profession at large, though that’s changing slowly.

Here’s a sampling of my best loved librarians, and library-centered stories, music, and films:

1. Parker Posey as Mary in Party Girl

Continue reading “Librarians in pop culture”


On Being a Wild Thing

“I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more.” ― Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak is dead at 83. Rachel Maddow reminds us that the important thing is that Maurice Sendak lived; and for four decades I lived with him.

When I was four I read Where The Wild Things Are – a gift from my uncle, I believe – and wanted to be Max. There was a Wild Rumpus in my family’s trailer house every night before bedtime.

In third grade, in Catholic school, in Wyoming, classmates and I read In The Night Kitchen (somehow fear of an illustrated penis didn’t get the book banned from the shelves) and chanted “I’m in the milk, and the milk’s in me!” until Sister Kathleen threw us out of the library and sent us out to the winter playground to freeze the wild things out of us before math lessons began.

In seventh grade, a boy with wild black hair and green eyes stole my heart and never knew it. His name was Max, which is only a coincidence if you believe in such things, which I don’t.

I read Where the Wild Things Are to my baby brothers. I’ve read it to the children of friends. I read it to myself, at least twice a year. I want to go out into the library today and read it to the undergrads who are preparing for finals.

I’m sad today because a good man is gone, a man with whom I had some things in common, and who gave me things he never knew about: a love of rhyme, a feel for the darkness that adumbrates the forced brightness of modern childhood. I’m sad today because I feel I’ve lost a life-long friend who I never met, but who I knew, and who knew me, just the same.

I’m also full of joy today because of those things he gave me, and because this great artist’s work taught me that the Wild Thing your child-self claims is yours forever.

Let the Wild Rumpus start!


A Reading Life

This has been a good week for books. Patti Smith, in accepting her National Book Award for Just Kids, made an impassioned plea for the future of the book, rejoicing in the materiality of the book form. On the NYRB blog, Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields related her literary biography. This exercise is important, I think, to know where we’re coming from as readers and thinkers. Continue reading “A Reading Life”

Twilight the Graphic Novel Redux

This week saw the release of both the New Moon DVD and the Twilight graphic novel. Whoo hoo. I somewhat shamefacedly purchased the DVD (at the same time, I bought Where the Wild Things Are to maintain balance in the universe, and Becky bought one too, so I wasn’t alone in my shame), but am waffling about whether or not to buy the graphic novel. I am a casual manga fan, love love love the Holly Black g.n., and kind of feel obligated to own a thing if I’m going to bitch about it loudly after a couple of glasses of Malbec, so I decided to check out some of the reviews. Continue reading “Twilight the Graphic Novel Redux”

Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month. Writing for young people was one of the primary outlets for women writers as the industrialized print industry boomed in the mid-nineteenth century. Here are some highlights from the pantheon of English and American women writers from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, some famous canonical figures, some perhaps lesser known:

Kate Douglas Wiggin


  • British novelist Sarah Fielding adapted myths and fairy tales for young readers in her popular book The Governess (1749).
  • JaneTaylor, an English author who co-wrote many children’s books with her sister, Ann, wrote “The Star,” one of the best-known nursery rhymes ever, in 1806. It begins: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star…”
  • Elizabeth Newberry was an English printer, who published Sarah Catherine Martin‘s rhyme The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog.
  • Anna Laetitia Barbauld wrote books for early readers that remained popular for nearly 100 years. She encouraged little readers to follow along with a pin, and the tiny pin-holes left behind by those readers are still visible in archival copies of those much-used books.
  • Abolitionist and educationalist Eliza Lee Cabot Follen wrote wonderful poems and stories for young people, teaching them abolitionist sentiment in dramatic verse that recalls in metre and tone the radical poetry of William Blake.
  • Lydia Maria Child, another abolitionist educator, penned the Thanksgiving classic Over the River and Through the Wood.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote many books for children, including Queer Little Folks, a collection of talking animal stories, and adapted Uncle Tom’s Cabin for children as well.
  • Anna Sewell‘s Black Beauty remains a staple of young people’s libraries.
  • Louisa May Alcott wrote adventure stories for magazines along with her masterpiece Little Women.
  • Christina Rosetti wrote nursery rhymes as well as more sophisticated verse that still appealed to young people like “The Goblin Market” (1862).
  • Kate Greenaway composed and illustrated A Apple Pie, one of the best-known alphabet books in Victorian England. 
  • Kate Douglas Wiggin‘s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was based in her recollections of her girlhood in New England after the Civil War.
  • Beatrix Potter‘s Peter Rabbit and his animal friends, who first appeared in 1902, are still among the best loved characters in all of children’s literature.
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s Little Lord Fauntleroy dictated fashions for a generation of American and English boys, and A Secret Garden showed how an angry little girl found peace in growing things.

This is a seriously abbreviated list of the many, many women writers who helped shape three centuries of children’s literature. Many of these books are still available in print, or can be found online or in your public or school libraries.

For scholars, Jack Zipes’ excellent Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature: The Traditions in English is an invaluable resource (this one’s strictly for grown-ups though; the bible-thin pages are probably no good for little hands), and there are many other anthologies available.

I hope you’ll celebrate Women’s History Month by hunting up one of these marvelous old books and sharing it with a young reader in your life.

Some Books Are to Be Tasted

In Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, the plaque on the door to Mo’s bookbinding workshop bears the legend:

Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly. 

Now just about anyone who has completed a Brit Lit I course (or had to teach one), will recognize this as a paraphrase from Francis Bacon (philosopher, not painter). Continue reading “Some Books Are to Be Tasted”


I snagged Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan the minute it dropped. (Simon Pulse, ISBN: 9781416971733) I was out in Massachusetts on a research fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society and didn’t have time to read it all the way through right away, so picked up the audio book version as well (ISBN: 9780743583886). Continue reading “Leviathan!”

Banned Books Week

September 26 – October 2 is Banned Books Week. Many of the books I’ve discussed in this blog – Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen, to name but a couple – have received challenges from parents and been pulled from library shelves. Children’s and YA lit are particularly vulnerable to these sort of challenges. Continue reading “Banned Books Week”