The Mystery of Ellen Raskin (part 1)

It is the book that is the important thing, not who I am or how I did it, but the book. Not me, the book. . . It is the book that lives, not the author.

Ellen Raskin has gotten her wish.  During her life, she considered herself a “bookmaker” or an “artist” before writer; she illustrated over 100o book covers (including A Wrinkle Through Time).

 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

The fact that her name today is synonymous with “children’s mysteries” is  based almost solely on one book. The Westing Game not only managed to win the Newbury in 1979, but remains both in print and popular 3o years later. Today when kids have read 39 Clues or Chasing Vermeer and want more, librarians, teachers, and parents around the country can smile mysteriously and hand over The Westing Game. The novel was so popular that there was even (unfortunately) a movie:The Westing Game (aka Get a Clue)

The late 1970s turns out to be an excellent run for the Newbery’s: Bridge to Terebithia and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry won the preceding years. Both Katherine Patterson and Mildred D. Taylor went on to have long and distinguished careers (Patterson would win again in 1981). Raskin’s masterpiece, The Westing Game, by contrast came at the end of a career where, despite a previous Newbery Honor, she was at least as well-known as a book illustrator as opposed to an author. That she died rather young robbed us too of the possibility of other books; The Westing Game would be her last novel.  In this way Raskin is a bit of an anomaly, remembered for one book that is still a popular choice by children and adults, yet most fans of the Westing Game would be hard pressed to name another of her books, and know little of her. It is the book that lives, not the author.

So let’s get to know the author a little better through her work.  Many of her earlier picture books can be found or ordered from libraries, still as fresh and enchanting to young readers as the day they were published. The love of puzzles and word play that exist in her novels are equally evident here; Moose, Goose, and

Little Nobody relies on a clever ambigram, Moose, Goose and Little Nobody

Who Said Sue, Said Whoo? a palindrome. Who, Said Sue, Said Whoo?  But it is her novels that Raskin’s reputation will probably rest upon; Biographer Marilynn Strasser Olson thought the shift in format was related to stiffness on Raskins’s hands, complications from the illness that would eventually take her life. Whatever the reason, the four novels that followed have been fondly remembered (check reviews on Amazon) despite three of them being long out of reprint.  Last year Puffin reprinted the novels, introducing The Most Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel), The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues, and Figgs & Phantoms to a new generation of readers.

And of course The Westing Game (1978). If you are not familiar with it, go RIGHT NOW and find a copy. In fact find all of Raskins novels. Perhaps that is the best answer to confron the mystery of who Ellen Raskin is; her work. When someone asks you who they can read that’s just like The Westing Game, simply give them the rest of Raskin’s novel’s. Because no one tells a mystery like Ellen Raskin.

I try to say one thing with my work: A book is a wonderful place to be. A book is a package, a gift package, a surprise package – and within the wrapping is a whole new world and beyond.

For futhur information:

Kruse, Ginny Moore. Ellen Raskin, Notable Wisconsin Author (

Olson, Marilynn Strasser. Ellen Raskin (1991). Twayne Publishers: Boston

Next Week: a review of Raskin’s newly republished novels!


Congratulations to…

Dead End in Norvelt A Ball for Daisy

Congratulations are in order to several people this week. First off congratulations to Jack Gantos and Chris Raschka, winners of this years Newbery and Caldecott Award respectively.  There were many, many other awards announced; for a complete run down look here:

Personally I am just as excited for another award announced yesterday, the School Library Journal Traillee Award. What is this you ask? Well, School Library Journal has a yearly contest for book trailers geared toward children and teens. This year, Minnesota’s own Amy Duncan Oelkers WON in the category for: “Adult Created for PreK-12” with her trailer for Incarceron. I am extremely happy for Amy, not only because it’s a good trailer, but because she’s an awesome person.

Amy and her friend Jen run a fantastic blog called Ficticious Delicious ( which is an incredible resource for new teen fiction, particularly if you like angsty supernatural suff.

You can watch all the trailer’s here:

Tomorrow we’ll be back with this weeks author!

Movie Night

It’s Movie Night here at the Looking Glass. Next week we will be back with four new books, but this week we’ll make ourselves a bowl of popcorn, lower the lights, and get comfortable while we screen Yuriy Norshteyn’s:

If you’ve grown up watching Disney, Pixar, or Myiazaki, then this small story may take some getting used to. It’s beautifully shot, and I can attest from personal experience, two restless young children will sit and watch as long as someone reads the subtitles.

Next week, as promised, we’ll be back with an introduction and review of four books by Wisconsin’s own…. no, sorry, you’ll have to wait until next week!

Who the (Bleep) is Kalle Blomkvist? Part 2.

The Grocer’s Son, the Baker’s Daughter, and the Shoemaker’s Son.

Who is Kalle? He’s a detective. In the tradition of the Hardy Boys or Encyclopedia Brown, he spends much of his time trying to solve mysteries. Lindgren was briefly  a secretary during WW II for Harry Soderman, head of Sweden’s National Library of Forensic Science, and used this experience as the basis for Kalle’s criminal investigations. Kalle would appear in three books Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist (1946), Mästerdetektiven Blomkvist lever farligt (1951), Kalle Blomkvist och Rasmus (1953). They came to America as Bill Bergson, Master Detective, Bill Bergson Lives Dangerously, & Bill Bergson and the White Rose Rescue.  Despite being out of print, they are all available through libraries or Interlibrary Loan. It is too bad that despite Lindgren’s enduring popularity, it is so difficult to obtain them, but trust me, they’re worth it.

So who is Bill Bergson? He is a 13-year-old who lives in a small town in Sweden (it’s actually called “Littletown”).  He desperately longs to be a detective, and spends much of his day investigating events and suspects. Sadly, there are few Master Criminals who seem to live in the town. Much of his time is spent with his best friends Anders and Eva-Lotta (the “White Roses”), whom both boys vow to someday marry. The trio does what any other thirteen year olds do in small towns, they try to keep from being bored. They put on a circus show for the town, they explore the abandoned castle, and they stage epic “mock” warfare with their rivals, the Red Roses.All this probably sounds old-fashioned, and it is old-fashioned in the same way Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys are. Unlike those mysteries, Lindgren is a much better writer. She’s not writing to formula here, and there are enough suspenseful elements to keep readers excited. Master Detective begins when Eva-Lotta’s mysterious uncle drops in unexpectedly, rousing Bill’s suspicions. Why does he have a lock pick? Why is he sneaking out at night? Why is he so interested in the local crime news? Although the ending is easy to guess, there are car chases, stolen jewels, shoot-outs, daring midnight raids, and crumbling ruins to be explored all before we get there. Lives Dangerouslyy continues the trio’s adventures. Bill is now older and a success after his last adventure. During one of their friendly battles with the Red Roses, Eva-Lotta finds a mysterious I.O.U., which leads the trio on another adventure. The White Rose Rescue beggins with the dramatic kidnapping of an important scientist and his son. Eva-Lota takes center stage as she bravely (and voluntarily) is kidnapped to, in a desperate attempt to save the boy.  Larson may have been  playing homage to Eva-Lotta Lissander’s courage when he named his protagonist “Salander;” the two characters are both brave, smart and tough.

I mentioned the old-fashioned quality of the books, and it’s worth mentioning that Bill walks around with a pipe (though he never smokes). they play games like “Injuns and Palefaces,” there is a “loveable town drunk,” all which seem strange to our modern ears. It’s interesting to think if those parts would/should be edited out if they were re-printed.

Despite their “Datedness,” they have lost none of their appeal to charm and thrill. Unlike Harry Potter, Bill and his friends are rather ordinary children without special powers. Unlike the Hardy’s, his dad is a Grocer, not a detective; Ander’s and Eva-Lotta’s parents are baker’s and shoemaker’s respectively. Bill’s situation is one that every teenager can still relate to. He has everyday frustrations, feels misunderstood both by his friends and adults.  As Bill says, “No one wanted to believe that you could do anything when you were only thirteen years old” (Master Detective).

So who is Kalle Blomkvist? Who is Bill Bergson? He is that curious boy who Steig Larssen fondly remembers both reading and being. Mikael Blomkvist may appear insulted whenever he’s called “Kalle,” but I think both he and Steig think of it affectionately. Kalle/Bill was a young boy who had thrilling adventures in his small town because he wanted to find the truth. And finding the truth, learning about friendship, figuring out how you fit into the world, those are mysteries that should never go out of fashion.

Want to know more?

In two weeks the Looking Glass will be back, this time with an author who is a little easier to find. In fact you may have even read one of them….she’s from Wisconsin… and she tells Mysteries…

Pausing for a Moment to Reflect

The other day at work I helped a woman bring some books in to sell. She had old Readers Digest editions of several classics, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anne of Green Gables, Sherlock Holmes, etc. They were all rather plain editions, but in excellent shape. She said, rather sadly as I rang her up, “I bought them for the nephews and nieces, but they all got Kindles for Christmas, and there’s no going back.”

Is she right? Well there has been a lot in the news these last few years about how we’re witnessing the “end of the book,” (  That someday soon we will do all are reading on phones, computers, tablets, or devices not yet invented. There are even some schools that have gutted their libraries, in favor of computers and flat screen tv’s. (

I will leave alone (for now) whether this actually going to happen, when, and wha the consequences might be.  I am neither a technophobe, longing for the (probably misremembered) “good old days” when we all sat around telling stories and reading books, nor a technophile, rushing headlong into the future without question. Too often the question is phrased as “either/or:” we can either read on our tablet or a book, not both. Why is that? Why can’t we do both? I use my phone to communicate, I write a blog, I browse news sites; than I curl up with a good book.  It’s true that printed books will lose ground to digital ones; a browse of Amazon reveals some authors works are only available on Kindle.

“There’s no going back.” Perhaps not. But we are not there yet. Despite all the hype of digital books, there are still relatively few titles available for children ( No doubt this will probably change, but before it does I think it’s time to pause. To take a break. And to acknowledge that as we transition into something new, some things will be lost. Not just the experience of reading print, but titles and authors. How many books, for adults, teens, children, that were one popular are now completely forgotten? How many more so will be lost as we move into the digital era?

That is why the Looking Glass is here. To reflect light back on the past, to illuminate great books at least one last time, before they’re lost forever. And we will continue to say “Not Yet”and shed our light for as long as we can.

Who the [Bleep] is Kalle Blomkvist?

Kalle Blomquist

Part 1

By now you may have read Steig Larsen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

                        The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)

 or seen the trilogy of Swedish films. You may have seen the recent American remake starring Daniel Craig and Mara Rooney

or heard about the legal struggle between Larsen’s widow and family. So the name “Kalle Blomkvist” may sound familiar. It is the derogatory nickname given to Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist/Daniel Craig ‘s character). Blomkvist is an investigative journalist, one who frequently butts heads with the police and authorities. “Kalle Blomkvist” is the name of a popular boy detective in Sweden; this is the equivalent of American cops calling a journalist “Hardy Boy” or “Nancy Drew” (although Richard Castle considers this a compliment:

American’s have no point of reference for the name, which is not surprising. Much of the novel’s appeal here is the eye-opening introduction into Swedish society. We do however have a point of reference for the novel’s other protagonist; Lisabeth Salander. It’s not obvious, as Salander is described and portrayed as a tattooed, pierced, punk computer hacker with jet black dyed hair.  But Larsen leaves clues to his heroine’s origins: her original hair color was red, she seems to have super human strength,and her apartment is “V. Kulla,” which is shorthand for “Villa Villekulla,” the name of Pipi Lockstocking’s house. Yes, Lisabeth Salander is a re-imagining of Pipi Longstocking, all grown up, a fact confirmed by Larsen

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

(the New York Times dubbed Lisbeth “Pipi Lonstocking, with Dragon Tatoo”

So we know, or are at least familiar with the image of the fearless Pipi, and to see Larsen play with her image this way adds depth to the characterization of Salander. Which still leaves us with the question Who the [Bleep] is  Kalle Blomkvist?

He is another of Astrid Lindgren’s child characters, published in America as “Bill Bergson-Master Detective”.

Unlike Pipi though, which has undergone multiple printings, the Bill Bergson novels have long ago gone out of print. Seemingly it was Lindgren’s first trilogy, the first of which was published in 1946, before Pipi. They have been republished but the last printing seems to be in the 1960’s. A quick look at Amazon shows that Astrid Lindgren’s other books all seem to be in print, thank you very much. Although not as well-known as Pippi, Ronia, Emil, and Lotta all continue to be in available in English. So why not Kalle?

Perhaps it is that awful name, “Bill Bergson”. No doubt changed by publishers, trying to cash in on the always popular trend, “Characters with Alliterative Names. Some examples include “Jupiter Jones” from The Three Investigators series or “Christopher Cool” and “Bert Bobbsey” from the Stratemeyer Publishing Syndicate; today J.K. Rowling has continued this trend. So Bill Bergson may have simply gotten lost in the mix. At this late date, it’s perhaps impossible to know why these books have fallen out of print and fashion. Which leaves us back where we began. . .

Who is Kalle Blomkvist?

>Part 2 coming soon!

Curiouser and curiouser

!emocleW  Welcome! 
 We have stepped away from the Mirror for a few minutes but we’ll be back soon, ready to take a running leap into the Rabbit Hole! What do Astrid Lindgren and Daniel Craig have in common? What Newbery Award winning author designed the cover art for “A Wrinkle in Time”? You’re about to find out…. check back soon!


Standing in front of Alice’s mirror, looking at the reflections of the past

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.

 “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Beginning at the beginning. It is clear that there were certain reoccurring motifs in my writing. One comes courtesy of Clay Shirky, how technology is creating the mass a amateurization of professions. “Less a profession than an activity”Shirky claims,  and I think you could make a case this is already happening to librarianship.  I would argue this isn’t good or bad; we’re seeing this in other fields too as tools of collaboration and production that once were in the hands of the few enter the hands of the many. I chased this theme from the streets of San Francisco (where it was a Taco Truck) to the streets of New York (where it was a sophisticated People’s Library). If this is not just an isolated blip, than the implications will be tremendous. The question as I posed some weeks ago, is what role will librarians play in this change?

The topic of Crowdsourcing (which Becky covered brilliantly) was one way I started to explore, and I returned many times to the idea of “Library as space”. I wish I would have had more time to explore “Gamification” because I think it overlaps in interesting ways to much of what we’ve covered this semester. I also wish I could have figured out how to write about libraries as co-creators, whether it be as publishers or organizers of our users creative works. So there was a lot I didn’t accomplish, but hope to return to in the future.

This blog became my playground. It forced me to put down in words the vague ideas that were bubbling in my brain. I too clearly became enchanted with the “everything is beta” idea and readers were subjected to a barrage of experiments in layout and design. I sincerely apologize for the eye strain and can only offer the excuse, “I had no idea what I was doing”.  I tried to do more than just fulfill the assignment requirements, I tried to talk about the things I was interested in, to wander off topic at times for the challenge of pursuing ideas wherever they might lead. Looking back, I think there was a fair amount of repetition in the posts, at least of topic material. I think it was my way of trying to come at ideas from different angles, twisting and turning them in an attempt to reach an understanding.  I did fall down the Rabbit Hole several times, but that was always the intention. I said in class once that sometimes failure was more interesting than success, so consider this blog an attempt to prove my point.

I think the overarching theme of this blog has been Community. I tried to look at creation, development, and collaboration of communities from the lens of “Library”. Perhaps as a result of looking at what community means to others, I decided I wanted to join in the creation of community myself. So Looking Glass Librarian will continue, although it’s mission will change. At least in the near future, its goal will be to rescue forgotten and overlooked children’s literature. (Advertising: Essays on Kalle Blomkvist and Ellen Raskin’s lesser know books will appear soon!)Perhaps that is ultimately what I learned doing this blog, the skills necessary to continue. It’s not so much what I accomplished this semester, it’s what I’m going to accomplish in the future. However that is the future; at least for the time being the Looking Glass has come to the End. And since we have began at the beginning and have come to the end, it is now time to Stop.. . .

Learning Blog 12b:Teach your Children Well

Imagine the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song playing while you read this post.

I am a parent of two children who are just entering the education system. So the challenge this week has been not to jump up and down repeatedly on my soapbox after watching the  Frontline special Digital Nation. My issue is of course being a parent and thinking deeply about the future my kids education. One of my concerns is the continuing emphasis on “educating them to be good workers”. I like to feel I’m not too revolutionary about this, and I do understand the importance of education (obviously since I’m at St. Kate’s). But I look at this more from a “the importance of lifelong learning” way of thinking. So yes, it’s important to engage in learning on a deep level. But whatever happened to pursuing an idea, simply for the thrill of intellectuall pursuit? Where do the arts fit into all of this? What if they don’t want to be “a future worker,” but a “future leader”?

So among the other issues I have with creating “a digital nation,”(see post 12a), I think this is one that I will be thinking about beyond this class. I feel like librarians are at their core also teachers, and if I really value a commitment to life long learning, than trying to figure out the best way to educate others is part of the territory. And if I put my money where my mouth is, that means finding ways ways of blending the advantages of technology with the advantages of other educational tools. So I guess that means I’ve got my work cut out for me. . .

Learning Blog 12a: A dream within a dream

Have you seen the movie Inception? There’s a chilling scene early in the film where The Chemist takes the main characters through a tour of his hospital.  In it we we see a group of patients who are lost in a dream. . .that is they spent more and more time escaping reality by dreaming, until they prefered to be lost in a dream. They spend entire days dreaming, waking only brief period of times to eat and such. Then back to the dream. Merrily merrily merily merrily, life is but a dream.

That’s what I was thinking about during the Frontline special. Especially the Korean all night gaming places. It was creepy to seen whole rows of people “plugged” into their dream. That plus the Army Recruiting Center which, to my mind, was luring kids into the service by exploiting their love of video games. I understand educators wanting to incorporate tehcnology into the classroom (I will not get on my soapbox about what is wrong with the millitary’s recruiting system-yet), but their almost blinding devotion to the technology is a little disconcerting. To me, technology is not some magic wand you can wave at the situation to make all problems go away. It is a powerful tool, but like with all tools, there are trade-offs.

I think that’s where I stand this week. Disturbed as I watch people willingly drift off to sleep, plug into the matrix, enter the dream, pick your metaphor. But as in Inception, I am left with the question what do you do when the dream becomes more meaningful than reality?