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2013 November



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Book Review: Mr. & Mrs. Bunny — Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

On 27, Nov 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten


Mr and Mrs Bunny

From GoodRead: In this hilarious chapter book mystery, meet a girl whose parents have been kidnapped by disreputable foxes, and a pair of detectives that also happen to be bunnies! When Madeline gets home from school one afternoon to discover that her parents have gone missing, she sets off to find them. So begins a once-in-a-lifetime adventure involving a cast of unforgettable characters. There’s Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, who drive a smart car, wear fedoras, and hate marmots; the Marmot, who loves garlic bread and is a brilliant translator; and many others.

This is the funniest book I have read in ages. Maybe ever. The characters are ridiculous. The plot is ridiculous. The whole premise is just plain silly. I tend to have a dry, dark sense of humor and there are definitely dry and darkly humorous moments, but the sheer silliness of the book (and a few wink, wink kind of moments) totally bowled me over.

While this is clearly fantasy and you have to believe that animals can talk and interact with humans, there are all these little moments when you realize Horvath has been almost literal about applying the fantasy story to the real world. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny buy a house that comes with a SmartCar. I assumed it was a rabbit-sized car, but it turns out it’s an honest-to-goodness, human-sized SmartCar. They have to have Madeleine drive it because, as rabbits, they are too small. And for some reason these moments are some of the funniest moments of the book.

I did find myself wondering if the intended age range for this book would get the jokes and I’m still not exactly sure. I think there is plenty of humor and adventure in this book for younger readers that, even if they don’t get all the jokes, they will still love the book. Plus with multiple readings they will pick up more and more and this is most certainly the type of book you read over and over. I also think it’s really for the quirkier reader. I actually think this would make the perfect read aloud because, like the movie Shrek, there are several layers of humor and story going on which make it interesting and funny for adults and kids alike.


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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Makerspaces and the Library

On 20, Nov 2013 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

On this blog I try to keep a separation between my professional development and my personal life, but back in October I attended two conferences (CUE and Internet Librarian) that brought some of my personal research into play. Over the past 6 or more months I’ve been really researching alternative educational philosophies and options for my daughter’s education. I know it’s a little early, but our public school system is abysmal and our private schools are less than impressive. The more I read about these philosophies (primarily Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf) the more I agree with their underlying principles of student-led learning, teacher as mentor or co-learner, the incorporation of art and creativity, an emphasis on imaginative play (which is almost totally gone even from our local private schools), and a mixture of “subjects” that include more practical activities like cooking, cleaning, and developing hobbies.

I know libraries continue to see budget and staff cuts and keep having to do more with less. The new popularity of makerspaces and the insistence of some that they be part of libraries doesn’t help that situation. Neither does the fact that they feel a bit like some hipster fad. I can totally see how they aren’t right for many libraries and would be downright impossible for others to pull off. But I also think they’re a really important opportunity, especially for school libraries, to help curiosity, creativity, and outside-the-box thinking. Three of the sessions I attended at my conferences focused on makerspaces and I found myself very inspired by them, largely because the idea dovetails so nicely with the educational philosophy I have found myself drawn to in researching for my daughter.

So what exactly is a makerspace and what happens there? A makerspace is just any space that has been designated for free creating that is open to either the public, or, in the case of stand-alone makerspaces, people who pay a membership fee. Oftentimes it will be a place that has equipment that you would not have at home because it is large, expensive, or specialized, like CNC machines or letter presses (although I have to admit we own one of those) or 3D printers.  They tend to be spaces that encourage people to collaborate, bounce ideas off one another, and teach each other. Some makerspaces aren’t permanent, they “pop up” when a cart of materials is wheeled out into an open room. They can be large, they can be small, they can be medium. Some makerspaces have a specific focus for the types of projects created there, like printing (again with the letter presses!), others simply provide an open flexible space and a variety of classes (like the University of Nevada, Reno’s Science and Technology library that has whiteboard walls and offers classes from lock picking to Nerf nights themed around zombies and science). Making doesn’t have to be complex or expensive and any age can do it. Think toddlers with blocks, school kids with a bunch of cardboard boxes and some tape, and high schoolers with some wood scraps and a few basic tools. All making is, is creative thinking and imaginative play. It also frequently taps into STEM (another buzzword) and STEAM. Kids building with blocks to explore architecture. Kids using Minecraft to build in a virtual world. Kids creating art to express what they are learning about biology or math. Kids learning how a camera works by taking one apart and experimenting with one. Kids writing a play and making costumes to share what they have learned about a historical figure or event. Making can be cooking, baking, or brewing.

To me, the most important piece of making and makerspaces is that it emphasizes process over product. I think far too often in school, and even the work place, the product is more important than how a student got there. Even though that process can be incredibly enlightening. I would rather a student made a mistake and turned out a less-than-perfect product, but learned from the mistakes and made adjustments later than produced something perfectly the first time and was able to simply move on without much reflection. Product is obviously important, but it isn’t the end all and be all that our educational system makes it out to be. Makerspaces provide a great opportunity for students (and people) by giving them a space where it’s okay to fail and try again.

Makerspaces also provide a place where students can direct their own learning and follow their own interests. So much of our schooling focuses around a pre-set curriculum that requires learning facts that someone else has deemed important. Sure there’s value in what we learn in school, but, at least for my daughter, I would be happier if she learns how to learn (metalearning), learns where and how to research when she has a question and learns to love learning than learns a list of historical dates. That doesn’t usually happen when someone else is telling you what to learn, what questions to ask and to answer. A makerspace allows students to explore what it is they want to explore. They learn to ask questions and then set about answering them without someone telling them how. And, again, they learn how to fail and what to do when that happens. They learn to play and have fun learning. They learn to be creative and flexible thinkers.

All of this isn’t to say that because makerspaces are great I think libraries need to become makerspaces, nor do I think all libraries should create a makerspace. You need to know your institutional culture, your time constraints, your space limitations, and your budget. It’s important to note, though, makerspaces don’t have to be large or expensive (bring in some rolls of masking tape and a stack of newspapers or save large cardboard boxes and see what a group of kids can do). They don’t have to require loads of extra staffing (roll out the materials during a lull). Certainly a lot of what makerspaces stand for and encourage are tenets of libraries. I know where ever I end up when I am back in the workforce I will certainly consider creating a makerspace.

To go along with this post I would like to create post with a list of makerspace resources for anyone interested in learning more. My hope it to compile that over the next week, but I can’t be sure it will happen especially with the holiday coming up. At any rate, when it is up I will put a link in this post to it.

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