The BiblioFiles Presents: Philip Pullman

philip pullmanJust posted! An interview with esteemed author, Philip Pullman.

Pullman’s writing career began with the publication of the hilarious Count Karlstein in 1982. That was followed by The Ruby in the Smoke, the first in a quartet of mystery and intrigue novels that feature Victorian adventurer, Sally Lockhart. His best-known work, however, is the epic and genre-transcending book, The Golden Compass (called Northern Lights in the UK) and its sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

Pullman has won numerous awards, including the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children’s Book Award, the Whitbread Book of the Year Award (now known as the Costa Award), and the Astrid Lindgren Award. He also won the “Carnegie of Carnegies,” for The Golden Compass, which was chosen as the winning book of all the Carnegie winners from the past 70 years.

Pullman creates and animates his characters and their worlds with exceptional imagination, humanity, depth, and confidence. You are not reading his books. You are living his books, experiencing the fear, joy, pain, and revelation as the characters do. It’s absolutely extraordinary.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview


Author photo by K.T. Bruce

Kamishibai

kamishibiLooking to shake up your story time with something different? Please consider kamishibai!

Kamishibai (pronounced kah-me-she-bye) is a form of Japanese storytelling that involves illustrated story cards and a small, portable stage (you can also perform without the stage). It’s colorful, dynamic, simple, and absolutely intended to be enjoyed by an audience.

Kamishibai dates back to 1930, when men (and some women) would ride around Tokyo on bicycles with wooden boxes mounted on the back. Inside the box was a kamishibai stage, story cards, and drawers full of candy. The kamishibai storytellers would travel to neighborhoods, announce their arrival, sell candy, and perform several kamishibai stories. Writers and artists produced the story cards, which were released serially with plenty of cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more stories and candy. Action adventures, melodramas, comedies, and ghost stories were among some of the most popular subjects.

kamishibai performance

The Days When We Played Downtown : Reconsideration on Culture for Children (Shitamachi de asonda koro : kodomo no bunka saiko). Tokyo: Kyoiku Kenkyusha, 1979.

Things changed in the 1950s, when television arrived in Japan. As more and more children stayed inside to watch television, the popularity of kamishibai decreased. Allen Say wrote and illustrated a beautiful picture book that captures this history. It’s titled Kamishibai Man (HMH Books, 2005). You can still find kamishibai being performed today, but its primarily in preschools, libraries, cultural events, and classrooms. There are also recreations of street kamishibai (with the bike, stage, and candy selling) being performed in parks and museums throughout Japan.

bike with stage

The Sun (Taiyō), no. 191 (March 1979). Tokyo: Heibonsha.

A few years ago, with the help of Dr. Tara McGowan (who also wrote the afterword for Kamishibai Man), I developed a kamishibai program for 1st-grade classrooms. In addition to teaching about its history and introducing some Japanese vocabulary, I perform two kamishibai stories. The last part of the program involves the students designing their own kamishibai title cards and do a quick performance in front of the class.

As a storytelling tool, kamishibai is awesome. The cards (which are about  10.5″ x 15“) are colorful, bold, and designed to be viewed by an audience. With the exception of the title card, there is no text accompanying the images on the front of the cards – the text is actually printed on the back of the cards.

back of card

The Mouse’s Wedding : a kamishibai play from Japan. Retold by Seishi Horio; illustrated by Masao Kubo; translated by Donna Tamaki. New York: Kamishibai For Kids, 1992.

Ingeniously, the text that accompanies the image the audience is viewing is printed on the back of the card before that image. When you finish reading a card, you move it from the front of the stack to the back. The audience sees a new image, and you have the text that accompanies the new image in front of your eyes, ready to be read. If this sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. Trust me when I say that the cards are incredibly easy to use. Much easier, in fact, than craning your neck to read from a picture book during story time!

Because the text is printed on the backs of the cards, kamishibai stages are, in essence, backless. Here’s a shot of the back of my stage. It’s also open on one side so I can reach in and pull out the cards. So clever.

back of stageI purchased this wooden stage and a set of story cards from Kamishibai for Kids, a web company based in NYC. On their site you will find a fantastic selection of story cards, including several classic Japanese folktales. A single story (which typically consists of 12-16 cards) costs around $30. The wooden stage costs $175. But you can forgo the stage and perform with just the cards. It will still be fantastic.

just the cardsYou can also make your own cards with poster board or card stock. Part of my 1st-grade program involves the students designing their own title cards. Title cards are the very first card of the story – they feature the title and a picture that sets the stage for the rest of the story. I show examples of title cards from our special collections. Here’s one of my favorites. The kids always yell that I’m holding it upside down, but then they realize the story is about bats!

bats

Adventure of Saburo, the Bat (Komori Saburo no boken). Tokyo: Kokumin Gageki, 1950.

I tell the 1st-graders that street kamishibai stories were meant to be bold, exciting, and sensational, so they should think of a topic that really excites them. And they definitely deliver. Here are a few I snapped last year:

the best food fightthe attack of ragethe tornadothe bird with three teeththe princess bookthe haunted houseThe 1st-grade cards displayed above are on 5″ x 8″ card stock. They’re custom-sized to fit a reproduction toy kamishibai stage from our collections. At the end of the program, each kids gets to take a stage home! Alas, we only have time to make a title card during my program, but I always leave the teacher a card template in case he/she wants to continue work on the stories (and many do!).

As you can imagine, kamishibai is a fantastic way to expose students to another culture while teaching art, writing, performance, and literacy skills. I only scratch the surface with my program, but Dr. McGowan has been doing intensive kamishibai workshops with children for years. It was the subject of her dissertation as well as a book for educators (see below). It’s definitely worth checking out!

kamishibai classroom

Used with permission of the author (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).

350 for 50

pen frameEvery year, our library has a writing content called 350 for 50. We challenge kids ages 6-16 to write a short, 350-word story that includes a sentence of our choosing. This year, the sentence was  “The image blurred, then darkened.” Our judges select winners from three age categories and not only do the young authors get published on our website, blog, and print publication, they enjoy a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore!

It is our great delight to present this year’s winners. The artwork for each piece was created by Princeton University student, Aliisa Lee.


Every Day is a Bad Hair Day

Lucy McCulloch, age 9
Bordentown, NJ

Bad Hair DayI am Meddie. I am in 5th grade at Blockwood Elementary School and I am considered a complete freak by most of the girls in my class. The same girls, who for the past six years have tormented me because I wear an enormous hat to school. If they only knew the truth hiding under my hat.

It all happened one day during a chaotic indoor recess. As usual, the room was divided into four corners containing the “bookworms”, “the artists”, “the fashionistas” and “the gamers”. I took my usual seat with the artists and began to draw cartoons.

From across the room I heard a loud commotion. I looked and saw a boy named Quincy stick out his tongue and make the “gag me with a spoon” action. I didn’t know what was going on, but I saw all eyes in the room turn and look at me. Quincy had a note in his hand. Before I could even ask what was going on, our teacher Ms. Birdfitch, swooped in a grabbed the note from his hand and read it out loud. “Dear Quincy, I love you.  Love, Meddie.” The whole class broke out into laughter. Ms. Birdfitch told everyone to get quite and take a seat.

The note was the last straw. I rushed out the door, and ran down the hallway. I slipped into the bathroom and stumbled to the cold tile floor. Those girls had done it again. But this time it wasn’t a silly name, it was a lie!

I got up to wash my face and looked in the mirror and that is when it happened. I looked at my reflection, but it didn’t look like me. The image blurred, then darkened. I felt my insides getting colder. I couldn’t hide my anger or true self any longer. I took off my hat and let my snakes coil around my head. Finally free from the hat, I walked unafraid back to class. I opened the door to horrified faces.  “Call me by my real name from now on.  I am MEDUSA!”


Memories

Neha Aluwalia, age 13
Plainsboro, NJ

MemoriesThey had been one of the last to escape. A few more weeks, and the ship would have been stopped-and the Jews would never have made it to America.  However, with luck on their side, the newly-wed couple Deborah and Joseph Rubenstein took a crowded, smelly ship to America, and wrapped their faith and hope around them like a warm blanket.

Upon arrival of New York City, things were not at all what they expected.  For one, they were detained at Ellis Island for many days, and the mixture of languages, smells, and sickness were very overwhelming to the lonely couple who understood little English.

When all the papers were finally set straight, Deborah and Joseph used what scant money they had, all their families’ life savings, to rent a room in a crowded apartment complex.

While Joseph went to work at the docks, Deborah stayed at home and began to befriend the neighbors. She became good friends with a man named Leroy Caldwell, a handsome and curious journalist. He was interested in what happened to the Rubensteins, of the events that brought them to America.

The two became so close that Leroy asked Deborah if he could interview Joseph and her about being Jews who escaped from Nazi Germany. After a plethora of conversations about a myriad of war-related topics, the article was almost ready to go.

The one thing that was missing however, was a photograph. Leroy arranged Deborah and Joseph together, pillars of hope in the darkness, and hit the button.  Flash! The camera spit out a photo.  The image blurred, then darkened.
———————————————————————————————————————
“Grandma? Grandpa?” asked the small child perched on her grandparents, squinting at an old photograph, “Is that you?”

Pointing to the young couple, indifferent to their poverty and content, the elderly woman replied, “Yes child. That was me and your grandfather, living out our families’ dreams. We only had each other, but we made the most of what we could.”

The child agreed to this statement by snuggling next to her grandmother and falling asleep, leaving Deborah, Joseph, and the memories together.


Therapy

Roshni Mantena, age 15
Princeton NJ

TherapyShe’d learned later, that its name was Ischemia. She was suffering from ischemic loss of vision, caused by a blockage of the artery supplying blood to the eye. It was the most common reason for sudden visual loss, and left untreated even for a few hours, it could leave permanent damage. The last fact, she knew too well. At first, she’d blamed her parents. If they’d returned home, even an hour earlier. Then, it’d been her grandfather. Genetically inherited, artery blocking cholesterol. Finally, it’d been God. You sent this my way. Her bitterness had consumed her, pushing away her friends,  family, boyfriend. She walked in the school hallway alone, whispers of that blind girl trailing behind her, but she wore them proudly like armor, deflecting whoever attempted to get close. It’d gotten old fast, the loneliness tearing holes deep in her heart, leading her here.

It’d been half past eight and her parents still hadn’t returned home from their dinner party. The summer sky had long since faded into hot, sticky, darkness, and her clothes clung uncomfortably to her skin. She was too lazy to change into pajamas, the horror movie flickering on the TV screen in front of her just interesting enough to keep her from leaving her comfortable place on the couch. The air shimmered, the image from television slightly distorted, from the heat, she told herself. Another minute passed, the beginnings of a headache pounding at her temples. She rubbed her head; dark spots appeared in front of her eyes, the characters onscreen swimming in her vision. The image blurred, then darkened. She could still feel her heart drumming loudly in her ribcage as she screwed her eyes together, squeezing them shut tightly before opening them again. Panic in the form of bile was rising in her throat as she rubbed at them frantically, trying to coax them back from the nothing-ness to no avail. She scrambled blindly for the phone, hands shaking.

She inhaled sharply, running fingers over the raised bumps, feeling out the words. Palm flat, pride swallowed, she pushed the door open into therapy.