Mo Who?

Mo Willems has a new book out called City Dog, Country Frog.  He’s the author, but not the illustrator.  That honor went to Jon Muth, of Zen Shorts fame.  The collaboration works well.  It’s much less laugh out loud funny than other Mo Willems books, but I liked the message about friendship and the general sweetness that Jon Muth brought to this book.  Muth’s works often tell children’s stories that make kids and adults think deeply.  In this book, he seems to have accomplished that using Mo Willems’s simple, less wordy style.  One of the big topics in this book, along with friendship, is death, though it’s dealt with very subtly.  The frog seems to be at the end of his life then isn’t around when the dog returns the following spring.  However, the dog is able to make a new friend and share the same sort of friendship again.  I think from a kid’s perspective, it’s as much about transitions and change as anything else.  It struck me as a good book to read when a child has a friend who is moving away.

I read the book in a bookstore, but I had initially thought to see if they had it at the library.  A couple of library trips ago, as I talked to a children’s librarian at our central library about their reorganization and summer reading, I remembered to ask if they had in this new Mo Willems’s book.  She immediately turned to the computer and asked me to spell his name.  What?  Excuse me, but WHAT?  Okay, I didn’t gape at her like I wanted, though I probably furrowed my brow a little.  She obviously had no idea who he was.  I’m left with a funny feeling from this, even now, weeks later.  Is someone working in a field really qualified if she doesn’t know who one of the biggest names in that field is?  Later, in a conversation about this on a certain social networking site, I compared it to being a pop music DJ and not knowing who Lady Gaga is.

I’m sure she knew how to use the catalog and all kinds of things about information technologies that I don’t know a thing about.  Maybe she files books like a wiz.  Plus, she certainly was a friendly presence at the desk.  But I’m still left wondering at that interaction.  I also don’t expect librarians to know about every author.  That’s too much to ask, even if they work in a specialized department.  I do feel that there’s a need for librarians to stay current and open to new works and new authors.  I’ve gotten some great book advice from librarians, but I’ve also had the experience on several occasions of librarians who seemed confused that I might ask for their opinion about a good book on a certain topic.  Or even more depressing, librarians who don’t seem to know if there are books on a topic I’m asking about, even topics where I know there are many books, I’m just asking for a good recommendation.  It’s nice that there’s so much information available now so we can all pick our own books and do research online.  However, there’s still no substitute for someone telling you in person that a book is good or exactly what you need.  I hope I’m not crazy to expect that from librarians.  If that’s still a service librarians perform, then I would hope children’s librarians know who’s putting out books these days and that would include Mo Willems, the biggest rock star there is in picture books and early readers.

One thought on “Mo Who?

  1. I feel like my newly minted library-school degree requires me to chime in here (not that I have answers, exactly!)

    I can think of a lot of reasons for her asking you to spell the name — it might just be standard practice to make sure you’re interacting clearly with the patron; she might be used to talking to people with thick accents whom she has trouble understanding the first time; she might not be a children’s librarian at all and was filling in temporarily at that desk for the person who normally works there; etc. etc.

    If she IS a children’s librarian, though, and that is her normal post, and you were pretty sure she really had no idea what you were talking about… I can’t think of a lot of reasons for her not actually knowing Mo Willems. But I do know that reader’s advisory is less and less a part of library schools’ curricula unless you actively seek it out (which I did, and I took a class with Nancy Pearl last summer that was probably the best library-related week of my entire life). I think conventional wisdom holds that people are increasingly less interested in asking for librarians’ advice about what they might like to read — and librarianship is less and less about reading. It’s much more “information management” and “information literacy” and “research techniques.”

    Also, the main branch of that public library can be a really stressful place and I’m sure isn’t a fun place to work right now. Budget cuts, layoffs, etc. etc… there might just not be a lot of time or energy for some of the things that librarians value most about their jobs. I know you’re a library person too and I’m sure the work environment there is total crap.

    All that said, most librarians still love reading, and especially children’s librarians should be able to do a little bit of readers’ advisory with you. It might help to say specifically “I’m looking for a recommendation, and these are the kinds of books my kids usually like” just so the librarian gets it — it might happen so infrequently that she doesn’t even really know what you’re after.

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