Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Alberti and Tony Cliff

This dramatic story, based on true characters and events, grabs the reader immediately and promises great things for a new series.

This is the story of Mary Bowser, ostensibly an illiterate servant in the house of Jefferson Davis, in reality a clever and determined spy. She braved incredible danger, living every moment in suspense, to pass information to the Union forces. This book takes the few facts known about her life and expands them into a fast-paced spy story with graphics, historical context, and a pulse-pounding conclusion.

The book includes biographical information about the characters of the story, an historical note, and a bibliography. There is also an answer key to the multiple mysteries included throughout the text.

I reviewed this as an ARC; it's apparently going to include multiple code-breaking pieces, similar to Candlewick's -ology books, as well as graphics in color.

This book contains some things I have been looking for and some I have not. I'm thrilled to see more historical fiction and narrative nonfiction (this book is a crossover of both) that features diverse characters, the people often passed over in major historical narratives. As a librarian, I'm a little nervous about books that include Things though. How long will they last? Will we have to count them every time they come back?

I postponed this review until I could borrow a copy of the finished book from another library. The finished copy has more art, both in color and black and white. The only loose pieces are in an envelope at the beginning of the book. They involve a couple code-breaking items and a little pamphlet. The story is still good without them and I wouldn't worry too much about them disappearing.

Verdict: Despite my reservations, I foresee this series being very popular and it definitely fills a niche. Hand it to fans of I Survived, Magic Tree House, and the -ology books and watch kids become immersed in history.

ISBN: 9780761187394; Published February 2017 by Workman; ARC provided by publisher at BEA; Final copy borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: All Aboard! National Parks by Kevin and Haily Meyers

This is part of a new series I haven't previously looked at - All Aboard! Each previous title takes the reader to a different state or large city. This one is a bit of a departure as it takes readers through various national parks.

Each spread is labeled with a different activity in a different park. One spread shows the train passing by a geyser, with a row of observers and a few bison in the background. This is labeled as Yellowstone. Against a vivid pink and yellow sky, a mountain goat stands on a ridge and an orca leaps in the ocean of Olympic. Each spread has one animal identified with a label, the name of the park, and the train somewhere in the illustration.

There is enough detail in the illustrations to catch the interest of older children and larger items for younger listeners to focus on. There are people pictured in a few spreads and a few have darker skin but most are white. The illustrations are a little rough around the edges; they sometimes look as though they are collages that weren't put together exactly right.

Verdict: Although this isn't perfect, it's a delightfully unique title and manages to incorporate older concepts (wildlife, national parks, geography) in a manner that is suitable for its audience of young listeners.

ISBN: 9781423642367; Published 2016 by Gibbs Smith; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen and Mike Lowery

A little boy watches his sister read and write and then imitates her by making squiggles and doodles. She gently encourages him to turn these into a story - an I begins it, then a circle becomes a soccer ball, dots become sand on the beach, and v's are the waves. The story continues until he gets stuck and takes it to school, where he lots of ideas for continuing his story!

This was shortlisted for the CLEL awards and it absolutely drips with early literacy ideas! I loved the emphasis on early writing skills, how the little boy wasn't pushed to do "real letters" but gently encouraged to use his imagination with his (developmentally appropriate!) current skills. In fact, if you wanted a manual for including the writing aspect of early literacy in storytimes and art programs, this is it! Lowery's cheerful images show a biracial family and a supportive, diverse classroom as well as supporting the text that brings the little boy's doodles to life.

Verdict: A great choice to support writing and imagination in preschool storytimes and in classrooms. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781771380164 ; Published 2016 by Kids Can Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Monday, March 20, 2017

Nonfiction Monday: How is it made? Syrup by R. J. Bailey; Disaster Zone: Heat Waves by Vanessa Black

 Pogo is Jump!'s imprint for older readers. As I'm looking for more weather books, I welcome additions to the Disaster Zone series. These serviceable titles cover both being prepared for disasters as well as the science and causes of disasters. Heat Waves talks about what causes a heat wave and possible consequences, including fire and dehydration. It also covers ways to protect yourself and family during a heat wave. For some reason it's really hard to find current books on droughts, so I'll definitely need this one for some current units in our school district.

How is is Made? is a new series, similar to Lerner's Start to Finish series. This one includes chocolate, crayons, ice cream, paper, peanut butter, and syrup. Syrup starts with the maple trees and describes the tapping, processing and preparation of syrup. It includes a diagram of the process, activity, index and brief bibliography. I have a lot of young kids (think kindergarten) who are suddenly obsessed with processes and I think this series might appeal to them.

Verdict: These are serviceable series, the acquisition of which will depend on your library's needs. If you are looking for additional titles on weather and "how things work" both are good choices to add, as long as you already have more core titles like Lerner's Start to Finish or Gail Gibbons and Seymour Simon weather titles.

Heat Wave
ISBN: 9781620315644; Published 2016 by Jump!; Review copy provided by publisher

ISBN: 9781620315712; Published 2016 by Jump!; Review copy provided by publisher

Saturday, March 18, 2017

This week at the library; or, Still planning all the things

Playing "snake ball" at the Pig Party
What's happening
  • Planning summer reading
  • YA graphic novels - risking insanity by trying to organize and fill in Marvel and DC
Kids talking about books: Book club edition
  • One girl mentioned she was reading Princess in Black and everyone chimed in with enthusiasm on their love for the series.
  • Red's Planet had several fans. One thought the little blue aliens were funny. I pointed out that they're trying to eat Red, but they still thought it was funny!
  • Guys Read True Stories - favorite story was the Sahara survival one
  • A couple readers are still working on Palace Beautiful.
  • I finally got a reader for Melonhead! She thought it was funny, which of course it is!

Friday, March 17, 2017

BMX Bully and Speedway Switch by Jake Maddox, illustrated by Sean Tiffany

The Jake Maddox imprint (no, he's not a real person) is not exactly well-written, but I have gotten the most reluctant of readers to read them, so they're awesome in my book!

In BMX Bully, Matt is struggling with his feelings about his father being overseas and a new guy running the BMX course. This gets even worse when a cheating bully shows up - and turns out to be the son of the new owner! Matt works hard to keep his cool and play fair, even when the other kid breaks the rules and he and his dad try to rile him up. Eventually, he wins despite the obstacles and finds another track where the owner remembers his father and doesn't allow cheating.

Speedway Switch features twins, Michael and Mark. One drives on the midget-car circuit and one is the mechanic. An unsafe driver causes an accident, making Michael have to sit out a whole season and Mark takes his place, although he's not a good driver. When Michael gets a chance to go up against his nemesis, what will he do? Will his dad let him race? Will he get hurt again?

The Jake Maddox series covers not just mainstream sports and both male and female players, it also covers more obscure sports. I had no idea kids raced cars. I guess you have to be more of a sports and/or Nascar fan to know this! The writing is fast and choppy, although it has a mid-range lexile (blech) any kid who's ready to tackle a beginning chapter can usually make it through these. The endings are simplistic and the characters one-dimensional. But, they offer what many reluctant readers want. Exciting, blow-by-blow descriptions of sports, dramatic clashes of personality (bullies, cheating) and a happy ending.

Verdict: You can pretty much buy these without ending. There are multiple different series, some at a higher level, featuring both boys and girls, and many also feature diverse characters. They come in inexpensive paperbacks or more expensive library binding. Your library should have at least a small selection of these titles for reluctant readers, sports fans, and kids who want a quick, fun read. I chose these two titles for my recent book club and all the copies were pounced on with glee. I've also gotten several extremely reluctant readers, those who resolutely refused to pick up any book, willing to read these.

BMX Bully
ISBN: 9781598892369; PB edition published 2006 by Stone Arch/Capstone; Purchased for the library

Speedway Switch
ISBN: 9781598894165; PB edition published 2007 by Stone Arch/Capstone; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

Nate has tried to run away from his abusive uncle and cousin before, but this time he's going to make it. He has a plan and even though his supplies got left behind he has high hopes. Until he gets lost in the woods, in the snow, and the coyotes start howling...

When he arrives at the doorstep of Evil Wizard Books and meets the proprietor, the brusque Zachariah Smallbone, he thinks it's a place to stay for one night before he moves on. Then he discovers he can't move on. He's trapped in the creepy shop as Smallbone's apprentice. Magic is real - and Smallbone is not going to share any of it with him. Nobody in the mysterious Smallbone Cove will help him and Fidelou and his coyotes are closing in...

This slow-paced fantasy builds slowly to a not-too-surprising conclusion that still has some fun twists in it. Readers will relish Nate's slow acceptance of his new life and discovery of his own inner strengths, not only magical but of character. The setting is richly descriptive, bringing to life the solitary life of the cove and its inhabitants and the magic that always dwells just around the corner.

Verdict: A powerful story about magic and inner strength. Readers looking for fast-paced action won't get into this, but a more mature and reflective audience will revel in Sherman's skill with words and the slow revelation of character that the story holds.

ISBN: 9780763688059; Published 2016 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Follow the yarn: A book of colors by Emily Sper

This deceptively simple title has a lot to offer for babies and toddlers.

The book opens with a simple white background, the black silhouette of a cat, and a scribble of RED. One by one, colors are added and the yarn begins to twist across the page. On the final page, the background changes to black, the cat is highlighted with a softly glowing light, and the colors are joined by white and fairly flash on the page.

The only text is the single word denoting the added color. The font is bold and the text is in the appropriate color.

Sometimes as adults, we can look at board books and think they are too simple, not enough text, not enough detail in the art, not enough stimulation for the child. But there's a real need for board books that are actually appropriate for babies and toddlers, not preschoolers or kindergarteners (or their caregivers). This fits that need perfectly. The simple, bold colors, added interactive element of colored lines to follow, both are just right for a baby or toddler to enjoy. Those who need a little more plot can easily inject some imaginative play into the cat's behavior and the appearance of the yarn.

Verdict: This is a new author and publisher to me and I will look forward to seeing more books from them in future. Strongly recommended.

ISBN: 9780975490280; Published 2016 by Jump Press; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils; Donated to the library

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I love my grandma by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Emma Dodd

This is part of a series of family stories by Andreae and Dodd, previously published in the UK and now being published in the US in picture book and board book format.

A gender neutral child with spiky blonde hair accompanies a brisk, grey-haired grandmother on adventures to the museum and on the train, baking cookies and cuddling up to watch a movie, and other fun activities. The story ends when the grandmother happily hands the child back to its mother; having enjoyed their time together, they're now ready for a break! The text is written in brisk couplets with no missteps in the cheerful rhyme.

Dodd's cozy illustrations show a warm, happy relationship. The grandmother has some darker-skinned friends in one picture but otherwise there is no diversity pictured.

Verdict: There are plenty of "I love my family" picture books on the market. This is sweet and cute, but does not particularly stand out among the vast number available. However, if you are looking to refresh your section and replace old titles, this would make a good addition.

ISBN: 9781484734070; Published 2016 by Disney Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, March 13, 2017

Nonfiction Monday: Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of by Martin Brown

Martin Brown, the author of this delightful and hilarious collection of animals, is apparently the illustrator of the "Horrible Histories" series. I think these is more popular in the UK though - nobody around here reads them. Anyways, I didn't need to know his previous work to love this book.

As the introduction explains, this book is all about the less popular, or less well-known mammals of the world. They might be endangered, rare, or just not a popular creature but each one gets a full spread with funny pictures, basic facts and status, and interesting tidbits of knowledge.

Once you've browsed through this book, you'll know about the Lesser Fairy Armadillo, Silvery Gibbon, Russian Desman, Banded Linsang (featured on the cover), Hirola, and many more.

The only back matter is a glossary and explanation of endangered status terms (least concern, extinct, etc.) so I certainly wouldn't recommend using this for research. However, it's just right for browsing. The reading level is middle grade but the text is not so dense that interested younger children won't be able to sit still for some listening.

Verdict: A fun and unique addition to your animal book section. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781338089349; US edition published 2017 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library