If you clicked on this post to get straight to those last-minute Christmas gift recommendations, better just scroll down . . . way down . . . now.
Need a gift idea for someone like me?
If, however, you actually enjoy become mired in my ramblings while I make my way (we hope) to a point, start right here!
What? There was a faster way to get there?
Lately, we've been spending a lot more time at our local library branch (I promise this does become relevant to Christmas gift ideas . . . eventually). As some of you know, Edmonton is a boom/bust town, and the last ten years, driven by high oil prices, have been boom years. We're now in our fifth year in this city, and I have to admit, the changes over five years have been pretty dramatic, and some have clearly been for the better.
EPL - Edmonton Public Library - is a prime example. When we first arrived in our new (rather crappy) neighbourhood and ventured out to our local library branch--one of the very few things within walking distance of our two-bedroom, poorly insulated, basement-flooding, formerly drug-dealer-harbouring (or so we were told) bungalow--I can't say I was very impressed. In fact, I'm pretty sure I used the library more than once as one of my examples of why cold, flora-murdering Edmonton was a generally undesirable place to live. Sorry Edmontonian friends . . . if you didn't already know I had trouble warming to this place, I guess the secret's out.
With the library, my angst started with the library card, which cost $18 and had to be renewed every year!!! What???? Even the children's card has a fee? Who ever heard of a city of a million people charging for library cards? Did they want inner city kids NOT to read? I was fairly appalled. Then there was the proof of address for obtaining the library card. Having just moved, I didn't have a qualifying proof of address yet. Ugh, this was becoming an unexpected pain in the ass.
Then there was the children's section. I was used to taking Owen to the library and having him play happily for an hour at a Thomas train table before pulling him onto my lap and reading some new books. This small (but admittedly newly and nicely renovated) branch had a lovely fish tank that captured Owen's attention for 2 to 3 minutes. But after that, he was looking for something to do. We turned to the shelves. Disappointing. I turned to the library catalogue. Also disappointing. I turned to the adult fiction shelves . . . perhaps this experience could be salvaged by finding something good for Mom to read. Hmmmm, no--no line of sight into the children's area, but I could hear the young one running amuck. No time to peruse shelves--just collect the poorly supervised child and leave.
We tried some of the children's programming as well, but after two attempts, didn't bother going back. I complained to Christopher that, if you have to shush children and ask them repeatedly to sit down to listen to the story, perhaps you've chosen a boring and age-inappropriate book and/or have unreasonable expectations for the behaviour and attention spans of the under-five age group. Likewise, if your craft involves scissors and results in the adults cutting and assembling everything while children crawl around poking each other in the eyes, perhaps it was a poor fit for the infant to 24-months program.
Yes -- EPL and I got off to a rough start, which (although I prefer not to admit it) I'm sure had at least as much to do with my expectations as their performance. But regardless, soon after our arrival in Edmonton, something interesting began to happen.
We wouldn't begin noticing it for some time, but the same month that we arrived in Edmonton, EPL launched a new and innovative marketing campaign called "Spread the Words." We took note when the clever marketing slogans took over the city buses. First things like, "We make geek chic," "Information Ninja," and "Chicks dig big brains." Then, as the library's 100-year anniversary approached in 2012, the campaign expanded. In honour of the centennial, EPL decided to offer free library cards for the year. The marketing slogans began to push the card: "This card makes you smart," and:
We began returning to the library (by this time, we had moved out of the health-hazard bungalow, so it was a different branch now) and found the changes were more than nice words. The new website was solid and very easy to use. The collection still frequently left me disappointed, and when books I wanted to read were in the collection, they were never at our branch. But the interlibrary loan system proved awesome. With just one click on the new, user-friendly website, a desired book was delivered in just days. And, perusing the catalog, it was clear a huge investment in e-books was unfolding. Personally, I still wanted to hold a board and paper book, but I couldn't deny this was a wise way to exponentially expand the collection, and make it widely available to the inhabitants of a high-sprawl city, on a limited budget.
And now I had not one little boy to educate and entertain, but three!!! We looked again into the children's programming and found options like "Lego at the Library," "iPad fun for Kids," and "Tween Lounge." The only downside to these programs? The demand was so high, many times you had to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get a spot. A bit of a pain for me, but undoubtedly a very positive sign for the library. And other changes that might seem small made a big difference, too. Movies, games, and music no longer required going up to a desk and waiting for the disk to be retrieved from its safe location. These multi-media offerings were now right out on the regular shelves and available for the fast, self-serve check out like the books. And they also no longer had the short borrowing periods that, at least for our family, always resulted in late returns and hefty fines. Due to these changes, we've learned that the boys of this family really like to fall asleep to Chopin, but no one in this house cares much for Vivaldi.
EPL had us back, and now the library is a regular part of our routine. Last week, I decided it was time for Peter and David to have their own library cards instead of using Owen's, and it turns out, even though the library's centennial is now long past, the cards are still free. You can also pick from the various snappy slogans, and the card comes with a bag for carrying your books. But far more important than all of that, was the experiential difference this time around. The last time I signed up for a library card with EPL, I felt like I was being regarded as some sort of criminal as I explained I had no proof of address yet and that, yes, my son is really my son, we just have different last names.
This time, the enthusiastic young man assisting us distracted my crying three year old by showing him he could choose whatever colour he wanted for his library card and allowing him to march his new card to the self check out and play around scanning it while we corrected the card information. "Oh, their last name is different than the one on your account? Woops! No problem. That will just take me a second to change. Sorry about that. How is the last name spelled please?"
A new EPL card then.
New EPL cards now.
Cards all set, the busting-at-the-seams four and three years olds scanned their books and DVDs excitedly . . . multiple times, which did not cause any hiccups in the new and apparently very advanced checkout systems. And as we headed home with our loot, I thought about how different our Edmonton Public Library experience was now and how, it seemed to me, that what started as a small "Spread the Words" campaign had not only inspired library users to think about the library as more than just "a library", but had actually inspired the library employees and administration themselves to look at their library and their jobs with fresh eyes. Ultimately, they did not just rebrand the EPL; they reinvented it. And this year, the transformation was recognized, not just by families like ours in Edmonton, but by Library Journal magazine when they named Edmonton Public Library the 2014 Library of the Year. Congrats EPL.
Now we have a regular routine that includes discovering new books at the library and, upon reading them, taking a boy vote on whether the book was "just okay" or "super duper great"! The super duper greats are chosen for bed time again and again and, occasionally, cause a few tears when it's time for them to go back to the library. And here, dear readers who did not scroll straight to the Christmas recommendations, we finally get to those last-minute gift ideas for little boys. Books make great gifts. Here are some of the "Super Duper Great!" discoveries we've made lately at our local library that we've liked so much, we want to share them with you. Maybe you'll decided to share them as well:
Boy Pick #1: Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure by Viviane Schwartz
I love kids books that the parents can also enjoy. This is now one of our all-time favourites, so much so that having it at the local library wasn't enough. We had to have a copy for always.
Boy Pick #2: Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly Pie by Judy Sierra
Another one that both the kids and the parents can love. We had to read this one again and again . . . and again.
Boy Pick #3: Ugly Pie by Lisa Wheeler
Now if you're slightly dirty minded like my husband and I (apparently) are, you'll probably do a little adult snickering to each other while reading this bed time story to the kids. Luckily, it's toddlers, not teenagers, enjoying this rollicking rhyme, so they won't catch on to why the parents seem to think this story is extra funny. One word of caution, however, if you're concerned for your child's language development. This story has incorrect grammar usage that drove Chris and I crazy and that we felt the need to correct while reading.
Boy Pick #4: My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck
Just plain fun and great.
Boy Pick #5: The Fort that Jack Built by Boni Ashburn
Now as far as parent ratings go, I rated this one as just okay. But, very surprisingly, parents apparently don't always know what kids like. Peter wanted to read this one over and over, and in the mornings, a lot of fort construction occurred in the living room before this book went back to the library shelves.
Boy Pick #6: Epossumondas Plays Possum by Coleen Salley
This one was another surprise to me. The illustrations were super cute, but the book looked so text heavy, I didn't think the boys would stay engaged. Wrong again! Silly Epossumondas turns out to be quite captivating. However, we did make some grammatical adjustments while reading this one to the boys as well.
Boy Pick #7: Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
Hahahahaha. Owen thought this one should be rated higher up the list.
Boy Pick #8: The Somethingosaur by Tony Mitton
Just a sweet story that everyone enjoyed.
Boy Pick #9: The Beasties by Jenny Nimmo
What? There's really something under the bed? The boys listened with rapt attention to the very end.
And if one of the books above doesn't strike you as quite enough for a Christmas gift, we'd recommend throwing in a library card.