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Book request haiku: what happens when librarians start to imagine patrons’ requests in a slightly poetic vein. I think the form also lends itself nicely to the tiny amount of information a librarian is sometimes presented with when a patron is looking for a particular book.

The Horn Book printed several of my haiku in their November/December 2012 issue (you can read the clever haiku of some readers in the comments), but here are a few more. The titles are at the end of the post.


Something terrible/ Happened to every letter/Of the alphabet

An elegant mouse/Who lived in a pagoda/And her humble swain

I would have tried the/Frobscottle. But snozcumbers?/That sounds disgusting.

She was strong enough/To lift a horse. I wanted/Her for a neighbor.

The kid starts this fire/With a hammer. Or a jackknife./No–what’s that thing called?

The mom keeps singing/Her grown son to sleep. Is it/Funny, or creepy?

Thanks to the Horn Book for publishing the best of them!

Answers: The Z Was Zapped; The Rescuers; The BFG; Pippi Longstocking; Hatchet; Love You Forever


My article “Hitting the Ground of Joy” (Horn Book May/June 2012) (1) takes a look at what Robert Louis Stevenson in his essay “The Lantern Bearers” (2)called “recondite joys,” which are singularly beloved by a few but obscure and even ridiculous to others. Because the Horn Bookeditors know their jobs, they trimmed a little bit off the end of the essay to give it a little more strength, but I thought it might be fun (instructive? not sure) to post the last two paragraphs here:

Not just a recondite joy

“The trouble with trying to find lanterns in these books is that writers have the bad habit of trying to make things fit together in a consistent and meaningful narrative. Blame Chekhov. Just because you have a gun hanging above the mantle, do you really have to use it? Things that we might at first be tempted to consider lanterns reveal themselves, by the end of the story, as symbolic of something, or foreshadowing something else. Even Harriet’s notebook is useful for something, which a smoldering and pungent fire hazard certainly is not. I wouldn’t argue for complete narrative chaos, but to say that one might do his homework by the glow of his bulls-eye lantern seems to be beside the point.

So perhaps we have to look for our lanterns in picture books, where joy is accepted at its face value and there just aren’t enough pages to tempt the writer to assign secret or transcendent meanings to things. Why does Jan Thomas’s Fat Cat absolutely have to sit on something (or someone)? Why does the narrator of I Must Have Bobo! want Bobo, anyway, and why is the cat so determined to have Bobo, too? Because sitting on your friends is fun, and Bobo equals joy, simple as that, as any self-respecting lantern bearer will tell you.” (3)

This essay is also where I reveal my very favorite book from childhood, although I don’t say it explicitly: Two P’s in a Pod, by Susan Terris (Greenwillow, 1977). Long and sadly out of print, even at the time I first read it, it’s one of the first books I remember that allowed me to get right inside the main character’s mind. It also introduced me to Anna Karenina (although I didn’t read that one at age ten). I’m working up a longer post on Two P’s because I think it deserves not to be forgotten.

1. See what’s in the May/June issue here. The full essay isn’t available to read online, but you can read Uma Krishnaswami’s essay on humor and multicultural literature. (My interview with Uma is here.)

2.  Stevenson’s essay “The Lantern Bearers.” I first read about it in William’s James’s essay “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” from his Talks to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals.

3. My own interview with Jan Thomas. Look for a post soon about her visit to my library for El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros, along with Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.