We’re Maggie and Laura: librarians, coworkers, friends. And maybe most importantly, docents.
Laura and Maggie, Docents Extraordinaires!
After a grueling six month training period in early 2018, we finally attained the Boston Public Library’s Scarf of Docentry. Should you choose (and you should!) to attend one of the BPL’s free daily tours, you could be lucky enough to have one of us as your guide. You’ll be treated to a gleefully detailed history of the building and its incredible art and architecture. By way of introduction, we’re going to share with you some of our favorite tidbits about our favorite library while taking you on a mini photo-tour of the library.
BUT! Before we introduce ourselves and our beloved library, a quick reminder from your Chief Dames.
SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY! Belle Livetweet at 7:30 EST!
Live footage of us welcoming you to the #BelleDames party
Don’t forget that, this Sunday, we are treating ourselves to a viewing of Amma Asante’s gorgeous romantic drama Belle! It’s not streaming for free on any platforms at the moment, but it can still be checked out from your local library or rented on a wide variety of platforms for about $4. We hope that you can join us for we are CERTAIN the movie is worth encountering. Here are the details:
When: Sunday, December 16th at 7:30 PM EST
How: By renting or borrowing a copy of the movie.
Where: And following the hashtag #BelleDames on Twitter
Something Ms. Levine could be heard to say about BOTH The Greatest Showman and Legally Blonde: The Musical, among many other worthy shows.
Hi! I’m Maggie. First, a little background - Laura and I became tour guides for work-related reasons, but, for me, it was also the culmination of many years of anticipation. At some point in my youth, my brain combined Donna Murphy’s character in Center Stage with my grandma’s most elegant friend and somehow that imaginary person was also a docent. Naturally, I wanted to become that person. In 2018, I became a docent, although I did not become Donna Murphy.
My second-most cherished dream, having grey hair, is still to be achieved, but that’s okay because it’s important to continue setting goals for yourself. As a person who is easily excited and loves to share her excitement, talking about the history of the library to the public is now one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. But first, some links!
I was lucky enough to see the Fabric of Survival exhibit in my hometown over Thanksgiving. It consists of 36 embroidered fabric collages, showing how Esther Nisenthal Krinitz survived the Holocaust. Not a trained artist, Krinitz made the pieces to share her story with her family, and the work absolutely floored me, along with everyone else at the gallery. The pictures can’t really do them justice, so if it visits your town, you won’t want to miss it.
You might not have to scroll far back in any group thread to find the term emotional labor; this What is Emotional Labor? interview with the sociologist who coined the term helped me think more precisely about the way I describe relationships to make communication inside them and about them more effective.
Alanna Bennett’s long read on the writing partnership behind many beloved movies from the early aughts was a delight to read and a great reminder that the Legally Blonde musical’s original Broadway cast recording is available on Spotify. Also a reminder that Susan May Pratt was a wonderful “Judy Greer but sadder” addition to all my favorite movies and that we should appreciate her much more than we probably do.
I rarely listen to podcasts, but Last Seen, about the famously unsolved 1990 heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was so relevant to our docent gig that it is worth mentioning. Tangentially connected, this write-up by Sara Egan, an educator at the Gardner, and how she and her team handled a school group visit the week after the 2016 election really spoke to me. “As museum educators, we have the ability to create this space for our visitors – we have the flexibility to respond to our visitors and we have the objects and environments that remind them of the beauty of our shared humanity.” In my day job and as a tour guide, I always keep this last point in mind.
Back to Library Art! A crown jewel in the Library’s art is John Singer Sargent’s Triumph of Religion mural. If you can’t visit the piece itself, Susan Promey’s terrific book Painting Religion in Public can tell you just about everything you need to know. You may have already known Sargent was an accomplished portraitist, but how familiar are you with the models he used? Not at all?? You’re in luck! I’m pleased to introduce you to Antonio Corsi, the Italian model who was the Zoolander of his day. His New York city apartment in the 1900’s was filled with costumes and congratulatory notes from fancy people, including Queen Victoria. Sargent used Corsi for at least eleven of the figures in his gallery but Corsi was such a widely sought-after model that Edwin Austin Abbey, whose name graces another room in the BPL, began using him for his own murals. All in all, there are at least sixty-nine figures modeled from his likeness throughout the library. Nice! For more information on Corsi, please enjoy this extended trailer for an unfinished documentary about the man, the myth, the legend - Corsi: Prince of Models.
Corsi modeling for the “Hosea” figure above the Two Bossy Docents in the Sargent Gallery.
Wave hello to a Dark and Terrifying Art that has much more to do with public libraries than you might have ever guessed!
I’m Laura, and when I give tours of the BPL, I love to tell visitors about the at-the-time revolutionary idea of public libraries that are Free To All, and about the French Ventriloquist who started it all. That’s right, public libraries as we know them may never have existed without Alexandre Vattemare, who made his name as an ACTUAL VENTRILOQUIST after he was fired from his job as a surgeon-in-training when he KEPT MAKING DEAD BODIES TALK DURING SURGERIES. After gaining fame writing and performing comedic plays where he played as many as twenty characters by throwing his voice, Vattemare took his new-found wealth and notoriety and traveled from place to place urging cities and cultural institutions to share books and information. His trips to Boston sparked the big idea that led to one of the nation’s first Free-to-All, publicly funded libraries, plus he was a real weirdo and I just love him so so much.
I also like other things, I guess? Here are a few links that are, strangely, not about libraries or Alexandre Vattemare.
It’s always a treat this time of year to dig through lists like the Longreads Best of 2018 list to see what I missed. One that jumped out for me is the always-worth-reading Rahawa Haile on her walk from Selma to Montgomery. Her journey as a black outdoorswoman digs into the politics of who has access to outdoor spaces, walking fifty miles on blacktop highway as both meditation and political action, and the places on her way where history intersects with lives along the highway today.
The only ship I’ve ever truly cared about is Remus/Sirius, and like many of you I lived through the destruction of that dream by a vengeful author-God. If you haven’t had a chance to read Frankie Thomas’ remarkable Paris Review article about text, subtext, and the re-invention of close reading by young readers who desperately need to see themselves in a favorite story, focused on young people who rooted for that very ship, go at once!
For some traditional Dames Whimsy I highly recommend the work of Roberto Benavidez, who takes strange creatures from the margins of Medieval manuscripts and turns them into weird and wonderful piñatas. For more of his work and some terrific process-nerdery, his Instagram is a delight.
I lied, there’s more library stuff, because I CAN’T GET ENOUGH ALEXANDRE VATTEMARE. The middle of this article digs deep into his system of exchanges, which might be best for the hard-core library nerds out there, but if you want a glimpse into a weird and wonderful life this starts strong with stories from both his hard-to-find memoir and from his ventriloquy days.
Has any pair ever worn a Docent Scarf better?
BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS!
Better than dancing about architecture!
You might know a child! You might not know much about that child, but need to give them a gift for holidays/birthdays/etc! Sometimes you don’t have a long list of interests for that kid, but hopefully you know (or can find out) at least one thing that gets them excited. We’re not just docents, we’re also children’s librarians, and today we’ll be suggesting some of our favorite books for children and teens based on some of the questions we hear from grown-ups who are searching for a few just-right books for the young people in their lives. Lots of these are from the past year in the hopes that they won’t already be sitting on that child’s shelf, but we’ve mixed in a few older favorites as well. Purchase links will take you to one of our favorite Boston-area independent bookstores, the delightful Porter Square Books.
They Like Stories That Feel Real:
Because they, like Jenny From The Block, keep it real
A sweet-with-substance read for middle graders, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk keeps its funny charm without ever minimizing the main character’s experiences as a young immigrant from China whose family is struggling to make a living.
Edited by Ellen Oh, the anthology Flying Lessons and Other Stories features works from some of the best authors around. Short stories are a great option for children who might not think they can get through a whole chapter book and a wonderful introduction to a deep bench of writers to read for years to come.
Everyone feels like an outsider looking in sometimes, and this deeply empathetic picture book from Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López shows kids who are living in a moment of isolation finding a unexpected connection. The Day You Begin is gorgeous and ultimately hopeful while still taking kids’ feelings absolutely seriously.
Although it’s science fiction, Unidentified Suburban Object feels extremely real. Chloe is totally over people making assumptions about her because she’s
Their Parents Want Something That Will STAY Readable Even On Their 500th Time Through The Same Book:
Because not all toddlers will be that obliging
Detailed, whimsical illustrations mean that Everything You Need for a Treehouse, written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Emily Hughes, gives plenty of opportunities to stop and explore the pictures on your eight-millionth time through this (sweet, magical!) book.
Between Marion Dane Bauer’s text that swirls together science and poetry and Ekua Holmes’ mesmerizing marbled illustrations, The Stuff of Stars has the depth to hold up to many hours of marveling over the universe together with a little one.
Juan Felipe Herrera’s Imagine lovingly recounts a young boy’s relationship with words and stories, as he finally becomes the Poet Laureate of the United States. You’re invited to imagine along with Herrera all the possibilities that come with exploring the world around you.
Wordless picture books, like Jihyeon Lee’s Pool mean that a story can be adjusted with every read. This story of two children exploring the depths of a busy community pool will leave you seeing something new with each read.
They Are Interested In Social Justice/Can’t Stop Talking About The Hate U Give
Because all young socialist agitators need to start somewhere!
Congressman John Lewis’s March trilogy, which began in 2013, is the first-hand account of Lewis’s struggle for civil rights, introducing the movement to readers who get to hear the story from one of its leaders.
If you know a kid who’s not quite ready to read THUG but is asking questions about police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, and how racism affects young people, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes covers those same themes affectingly in a story for middle grade readers.
For teens who might want to explore the life of a Native teen, Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Hearts Unbroken pulls from her own high school experience in the story of a teen who is pulled into activism as her relationships are affected by racism.
The nonfiction collection How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation, edited by Maureen Johnson is a great companion for a teenager who wants to see real life examples of people doing their best to make our current world a better one.
They Are A Baby
Because starting them young is ALWAYS the right answer when it comes to books
There are a lot of books about color for little ones, but only one uses the Whitney Museum’s approach to exploring art. In Find Colors, Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford manage to make this extremely high-concept board book genuinely fun, interactive in way that will surprise you, and approachable for even the littlest.
Jabari Asim’s Whose Toes Are Those? answers the question that arises for every baby at a certain point. Rhyming text is always a great way to introduce phonological awareness, or the awareness that words are made of different sounds, even before your baby is forming words.
Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett’s beautifully illustrated board book celebrates moments that bring happiness for the indigenous children and families shown on every page. My Heart Fills With Happiness is culturally specific in a way that invites conversation with littles ones about how every family has special things that make them happy.
Mary Murphy’s I Like It When is a gentle and bright look at a penguin family showing affection in all kinds of ways. What kinds of things does your baby like?
They Read/Watched And Loved To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Because hasn’t this darling move kept ALL our hearts a-twirl?
For a supernatural light spin, try Keezy Young’s Taproot. This atmospheric and romantic graphic novel is about a boy named Hamal, and his best friend Blue who just happens to be a ghost and in love with Hamal.
For a story with just as much romance as TATBILB but a darker edge, Anna-Marie McLemore’s Blanca y Roja uses stunning fairytale magical realism to tell a story that explores the relationship between sisters, loyalty, and complicated romances.
If you know a kid who’s too young for most YA and is looking for a book with some tingly romance, try Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. Henkes mixes all those scary, exciting feelings of a first real crush with many of the same themes of family and dealing with loss that made TATBILB such a fleshed-out story.
Even though Tavi Gevinson’s incredible website just closed, Rookie: Yearbook 1 is a fun nonfiction collection for a teen interested in pop culture, fashion, and the myriad other topics that Gevinson edited so deftly.
They Love Jack & Annie And Other Books For Emerging Readers
Have li’l red wagon, will travel (to the library)
Written and illustrated by Juana Medina, early chapter book Juana and Lucas is a great addition for beginning readers. Juana loves many things, but learning English is not one of them. When her grandpa gives her a tempting reason to learn it, she finds her focus sharpened.
If you know an emerging reader who needs a deeply silly story, try Julie Falatko’s Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go To School. It’s as zany as it sounds, with two dogs following their beloved owner to school every day to protect him from squirrels and other terrible dangers.
What to do when you’re not old enough to participate in family traditions but you’re insistent on being involved anyway? In Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, eight year old Jasmine decides that she ISN’T too young to help her family make the annual mochi for New Year’s Day.
For younger readers who love graphic novels, try the deeply charming Hildafolk series by Luke Pearson. Hilda is an inquisitive, artsy explorer who makes her way through a bright, dreamy Scandinavian landscape full of trolls, blue foxes, and other curiosities.
They Only Read About Elves, Goblins, and Dragons (Oh, My!)
Can you blame them, though?
A rip-roaring middle grade fantasy based on Bengali legends, Sayantani Dasgupta’s The Serpent’s Secret keeps both the action and the jokes flowing. This tale of an ordinary girl who unexpectedly has to turn herself into a demon-fighting princess on her 12th birthday has some bonus budding young romance.
Andrew Chilton’s The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of A Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called Alice was a favorite of Maggie’s from 2016. The story of three children who work together with a tricky goblin to prevent their kingdom from being taken over, this one is insightful and chewy.
What happens when you take a soviet spy novel, wrap it up in a Tolkien-esque fantasy world, and add an unreliable elfin narrator telling his story in the pictures? M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin do all that and more in The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, turning every trope on its head along the way. And did I mention it’s funny? It’s also funny.
If you’re looking for a Roald Dahl read-alike, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones may be right up your alley. When twelve year old Sophie moves to an inherited family farm, she discovers that she may be the only one able to protect a flock of chickens with a variety of magical powers from a stranger trying to steal them.
They Are Young Witches (Yes ok this one is less based on what kids tell us they want to read and more based on Maggie wanting a Witches Category)
Unapologetic glamour, unimpeachable skill
The first entry in a really-fun-so-far series by Molly Knox Ostertag, The Witch Boy tells the story of Aster, a boy who must hide his interest in witchcraft from his family where boys are shapeshifters and girls are witches.
A heady mix of alternate history set in a pre-prohibition Boston, con artists, and blood magic, Destiny Soria’s Iron Cast is a great choice for teen readers who like a whole lot of atmosphere and resourceful, magical heroines.
A youngest sister in a Texan family discovers that her mom and sisters have been hiding something very important from her: magic runs in her family! Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano introduces the irrepressible Leonara and her engaging family.
They Make Truck Noises All The Time
Vroom! Beep! Beep! Beeeeeep! Scoop! Can we build it? Yes! We! Can!
Emma Garcia’s counting board book Chugga Chugga Choo Choo is full of bold colors and an increasing number of birds that will have your little one eager for each next page.
Taro Gomi makes perfect little books for very young readers, and with Little Truck he’s brought his simple drawings, surprising color palettes, and charmingly funny storylines to the kid who can’t get enough truck books.
Steve Light’s Trains Go is full of all kinds of great train noises, so this one is for the kid who is ready to practice their ZOOSH-ing!
The aggressively colorful and inclusive Todd Parr brings his weird magic to things that go in The Cars and Trucks Book. It’s 2018, it’s time for our truck books to celebrate something kids love but also regularly remind littles that a bicycle is better for the world.
There are so many more things that might make the kids you know tick, and of course every child or teen is their own person with their own quirks and tastes, which makes choosing books more of an art than a science. But take heart! There are librarians and independent booksellers near you who will be more than happy to help you connect the right book to the right reader and make that reading magic happen. And if you’re not able to stop by your local library or bookstore in person, librarians are right here on the internet! Here at the Boston Public Library you can ask our Readers’ Services Department to build personalized recommendations tailored to you by a librarian, and while sadly you have to have a BPL card to use our suggestion service, many local libraries offer something similar. You can also try the #askalibrarian hashtag on Twitter, or find us at @goodmaggie and @2nickels. And don’t forget - BPL tours, offered daily, are free to all! We’d love to see you on one soon.
Let this motto be your guide!
Two Bossy Dames is brought to you by:
Antonio Corsi, Alexandre Vattemare, and all the many weirdos of the public library
Women of a certain age draping scarves elegantly across their shoulders
And the satisfaction of being able to keep plants alive (sometimes)
We appreciate you, readers of Dames Nation!
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