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Friday, March 22, 2013

My Problem With The "F" Word

I'm going to bring up kind of a weird subject for this blog.

And I feel kind of weird for talking about it here,

Because it's a sensitive and personal issue 
and I don't want to step on any toes.  

But, well, I'm going to talk about it anyway, because
it's related to how I do my job.

First, here's something I know about myself:

Like a lot of people, I've have lifelong issues with weight
and body perception and all that fun stuff.

I'm not going to get into them because I'm not going to specifically discuss them
in this post, but it's important to know for context. My brain
sometimes does weird things when it comes to this topic.

So, I was recently reading the classic book The Very Hungry Caterpillar
to a group of kids during a class visit. I read this book to kids a lot
because they enjoy it and I have a cool felt board set to go with it
and everyone has a great time.

And I do legitimately like the story and the counting aspect and the ultimate progression for the little caterpillar. That is, I enjoy it all the way up until I get to the part after the caterpillar EATS THE WHOLE WORLD. You know the part.

"Now he wasn't hungry any more - and he wasn't a little caterpillar any more. He was a big, fat caterpillar."




This is my problem, and it's only just dawned on me this happens: I don;t say the word "fat" when I get to this part. I just...can't. Like, my mouth will literally not form the word. I invariably skip it and say "he was a biiiiiig caterpillar" or something like that. I'm sure I'm not fooling anyone. But there it is.

Because for me, "big" is the logical opposite of "little."
And "fat" carries with it a negative connotation.

Have you ever heard the words big and fat used together in a positive way?
Probably. But that's not where my brain goes.

This is what I think when I get to that part of the story: what if one of these sweet kids here in this room has been teased and called "fat" by his classmates? What if he or she has a parent who might be compulsive about healthy eating? What if he or she is one of the growing number of kids who has poor body image?

Yes, I have these thoughts AS I am reading the book.
I told you, my brain does weird things.

I'm not saying that Eric Carle meant any offense by
using the term "fat" for the caterpillar. It's a descriptive word. It's realistic. The book was written in a different time, before the childhood obesity epidemic and large soda bans and all that.

Besides, caterpillars don't typically have body shame issues, do they?

But kids today might.

I'm not saying "fat" is inherently a bad word (although it's certainly
been used that way since what seems like the dawn of time). Besides, we can't view the language of a classic picture book through a lens of societal context, can we?

Maybe we should.

Or maybe this is stupid. Maybe I am just thinking too much. I do that a lot. Maybe I am just projecting my own self-esteem issues onto that poor hungry insect. Maybe I've called myself "fat" too many times in my own life to hear something that's not negative.

So, lay it on me. Is my reaction hyper-sensitive? Is it overly-PC? Is it censorship? Would the word even register with kids in the way that I'm thinking? Am I doing any harm by NOT saying it? Is "big, fat caterpillar" just a silly phrase? I don't know.

Maybe I need body image therapy. Or maybe I just need to switch to a different book for class visits. 

I do love that little caterpillar, though.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Here We Go Again...

The advocacy season is upon us. NYC's preliminary budget has been discussed. And once again, things are looking pretty grim for NYC libraries. A cut of $106.7 million dollars has been proposed - you can read the testimony of the library heads here. I don't think I need to remind you of how devastating this kind of cut would be. 

Here's a highlight (although it's more like a lowlight, amiright?): 

"Despite our record of resourcefulness, this year’s City budget proposal, is the largest reduction NYC libraries have ever faced: A 35% reduction below current funding, or $106.7 million. This is a staggering 51% below 2008, when every city library was funded to be open at least 6 days a week. This comes at a critical time when library usage and demand is clearly on the rise. We cannot sustain another funding reduction. There is nowhere else to cut. In short, the effects on library hours and workforce will be drastic. Citywide:

•            1,445 staff members will be laid off and another 124 lost to attrition.
•            At least 66 libraries will be closed altogether and dozens of others will have their hours drastically slashed.
•            Today, the average library in New York City is open about 44 hours per week. This proposal would bring that average down to a dismal 22 hours per week. This is certainly not sufficient to serve working families and students."

This is ridiculous. This is wrong. This is something we cannot let happen. In terms of what YOU can do to help: there will be petitions to sign and events to attend and letters to write. I will keep you posted on what you can do as these things are confirmed. In the meantime, so I can feel like I am doing WHATEVER I can do, I am going to be compiling quotes on my blog from NYC residents about how they use their libraries - this will be sort of an "open letter" to Mayor Bloomberg that can be shared (and that I will actually mail if I get enough responses).

If you'd like to contribute a line or two, please comment on this post, tweet at me, or email me at ScrewyDecimalBlog@gmail.com. I want everyone to see that these libraries ARE being used and need to be fully funded and adequately staffed.

Also, if you want to email Mayor Bloomberg directly (which I fully encourage!) and tell him NOT to cut library funding, here's the link:


We are going to fight these cuts. We are going to show the mayor that NYC needs its libraries. We are going to do this until we're blue in the face. Because we're New Yorkers, dammit. We don't sit back and let things happen to us. We make them happen. 

Thank you. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Library Treasure

I found some more strange items in the library that I need help analyzing. So put on your analyzing hats, kids! (Or sweater vests, or beards, or whatever analysts wear these days.)

First up: here we have Strawberry Shortcake innocently shopping in her striped tights and red skirt and Mary Janes and although we can't see her face, we can infer from the coloring book caption that she's having an AWESOME TIME because she just loves to shop. Isn't that great? (We can talk about the sexist subtext later.) 

Then, out of nowhere, a statement about witches gets thrown down on the page. Huh? There are no witches in the Strawberry Shortcake universe! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?   

Now, I'm aware of the kid's book "The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches," and maybe the person coloring the page was writing the title down to remember for later, but that answer is just seems TOO EASY, my friends. I'd like to think there's a deeper meaning here - that Strawberry is not just a shopping bag-toting, fruit hat-wearing layabout, but a pensive, complicated figure who, deep down, is afraid of her darker side - a side that she hasn't been able to show her cupcake-eating, flower-sniffing friends for fear of judgment and ridicule. Just think about it. 


What does this mean? Did Christopher Columbus HIMSELF like dreams? Or was someone else having "Christopher Columbus-like" dreams? What would a Columbus-like dream consist of, anyway? Boats? Oceans? The wanton destruction of a race of people fueled by greed and misplaced imperialism? WE NEED MORE INFORMATION. 

The moral of the story is: keep your eyes open. Sometimes the library has little secrets for us to discover and share. (Sure, sometimes the secrets are horrifying and you wish to un-see them, but that doesn't change the fact that they are THERE.)