Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Research. Lots of it. Perhaps I've gone too far.

As I've mentioned, I've been working with the 9-12-year-old girls' book club in the library. One of the things I didn't expect to do for this gig was research, but for me, it's been the most fun part of preparing for the meetings.

I got the idea when we were reading Rodzina. I started looking for a big map of the US, so they could trace Rodzina's journey from Chicago to California and see all the towns she stopped in along the way. I wanted to show which parts of the country were states and which were still territories. The atlases in the juvenile reference area had few details, and were too small to hold up to the group. The adult atlases broke the country into so many sections I would have needed a lot of page-flipping to convey it all. So I went to the Internet. Within a short time, not only did I have the map, but it was a railroad map from 1881. Perfect! We hooked the laptop to the projector, and followed the Orphan Trains west.

That went so well I challenged myself for From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Could I find photos of 1960's New York, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Automat? Yup. "Show, don't tell," right?

Last night we discussed the Green Glass Sea. I got a bit carried away. I started by looking for pictures of the atomic test at Trinity and photos of trinitite, the "green glass" of the title. Then I found a surprising number of photos of buildings and housing at Los Alamos in the '40's. Considering the secrecy of the location at the time, it was well-documented. "Hey, kids, want to see Dewey's kitchen? This is what it looked like!" And somewhere in there I lost them. It was the equivalent of looking at the neighbor's vacation slides as a kid. Shadow puppets, the works.

What I learned from this is that while a book needs to be well-researched, a book discussion does not. One or two photos was probably enough, and the author's research and description should speak for itself.

I also re-emphasized for myself how fortunate we are to live in a time where research can be quick and painless. And just because you've done the research does not mean you have to show it all to your readers. Note to self: apply this to my writing.


Tess said...

I love all of those books..what a great book club this is, I am certian :D

And, I agree - hooray for internet research. Last night I needed to know what kind of rocks were in the Mississippi river. It took about 15 minutes of google links to find exactly what I needed for one of my characters. What did they do in the olden days???

Michelle said...

Back then you had to go to the library. Which wasn't a bad thing, but it took time. Reference librarians are the first to admit to how much has changed. Databases have replaced Reader's Guides. Remember microfilm?

Tess said...

Yes, unfortunately, I am old enough to remember microfilm. But maybe I'm even older because we called it microfiche (spelling?)

I even remember mimiograph machines and my teacher using carbons in that rolling copier thing-a-ma-jig. Maybe all of the good old days aren't so good ;)

Michelle said...

If it makes you feel any better, I think microfiche was newer than microfilm. If I'm remembering right, microfilm was on a reel and you had to run it in a machine that scrolled through the pictures. Microfiche was kind of like a big slide that went into a kind of overhead projector, but it came up on a screen instead of the wall.

I remember the mimeographs too. Forever immortalized in Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great.

I also remember loud machine-gun sounding typewriters. SOOO glad we can cut and paste and not have to re-type everything or use white-out!