Monday, September 29, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: You can't ride a bicycle to the moon! by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Amanda Haley

I really liked the swirly blue endpapers. Ok, now that is out of the way...

The book opens with an introduction, featuring "Hey Diddle Diddle" and a discussion of how people have seen the moon through history. It talks a little about different facts - "What's the moon made of?" and "How old is the moon?" and ends with a funny poem, "Biking to the Moon". Chapter one talks about the space race and various firsts, including the first women (both Russian and American) to go to space. It ends with a poem by J. Patrick Lewis, "First Men on the Moon" and a brief section on the Apollo 13 mission. Chapter 2 talks about how spaceships are built. Chapter 3 discusses how astronauts live in space, with lots of quotes from and references to Sally Ride. The last chapter discusses the future of space tourism and then has a list of questions for kids to think about space and inventions.

The illustrations are quirky cartoons, a little in the style of Roz Chast, although kids are more likely to associate them with the art of the Magic School Bus. It's a picture book in format and length, but the pages are packed with text, illustrations, poems, and cartoons.

Verdict: This would be a fun introduction to space for younger kids, kindergarten through third grade. It does not address any of the darker aspects of space travel (the death of the animals sent to space, or the deaths of any astronauts) although it does talk about the issues of space trash several times. It could work in story time as a selective read-aloud, picking sections to talk about as well.

ISBN: 9781609054199; Published 2014 by Blue Apple; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library wishlist

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This Week at the library; or, You blinked and missed it!

Making a dollhouse at Mad Scientists Club: Cardboard Engineering
What's going on, in my head and at the library
  • After I came back from the ALSC Institute last week, I took three days off. I cannot actually claim brilliant forethought for this, since I was originally going to continue on to visit family at home in Austin, and only ended up canceling the trip because of a mess up with the plane tickets and my family all having major life changes that meant they wouldn't actually be there. Anyways, I spent three days with a beautifully blank mind, cataloging and blogging my personal book collection and cleaning out my apartment. I finished! All 1,911 books! Woo!
  • I went back to work on Thursday and it was....busy. I planned the afternoon program and Friday morning program, removed the obscene drawing from the teen area (how did nobody notice...it was big and....whatever), checked to see if the surviving hamster was still alive (he was) tackled the stacks of new stuff on my desk, chatted with staff to find out how things went while I was gone, then Mad Scientists Club, then the grocery store to get snacks for Friday morning. Phew!
  • I was a little tense about MSC because I found out only 16 people came to Lego Club while I was gone - I have NEVER had that small a group. However, there was a scheduling snafu and the staff had to cram Lego Club into our small storytime room - I get a lot of my club attendance from people walking by and being invited in, so now I know how important that is - I had a good turnout for MSC, so it wasn't a OMG MY AFTER SCHOOL CLUBS ARE DYING WHYYYY situation.
  • I did my first We Explore Nature program Friday morning. I didn't expect a huge turnout - I'm really using this as a test ground for these programs and planning to move them to the afternoon and use them for outreach next year. 13 people came for the bulk of the program but I refuse to feel bad about it - they were an amazing audience. The three year old who knew a ridiculous amount of birds (there is nothing cuter than a three year old shouting "kamingos!") the 2 year old who had to come up and look carefully at every picture - it was awesome. Another group of about 7 people came in at the end to do the final part of the craft.
  • I made myself leave at 1, despite the mounting pile of stuff, because I am working really hard on not working extra hours. and because I worked Saturday!
  • My Saturday goal was to return all the phone calls accumulated in my absence, deal with urgent scheduling/staff issues, and get out the new books that were hoarded on my desk. HA!
  • I'm taking vacation next week, which feels weird - I almost never take more than a day here or there, but I'm going to actually take real vacation! Which I will use to clean my apartment, work on Cybils, review books....but I'm not going to check work email!
Programs

What the kids are reading
  • Nobody ever remembers who wrote the Boxcar Children
  • 2nd grader who likes princess stories but isn't quite ready for harder chapters - gave her Princess Posey

Friday, September 26, 2014

Frank! by Connah Brecon

Frank is always late and school is no exception. It's not that he doesn't want to go to school, he just can't resist helping the creatures he meets along the way. What's a guy to do when faced with a bullying ogre, charity dance-off, or runaway tree? When his class needs help though, will Frank be able to save the day?

This story is definitely quirky. Frank rescues a cat from a tree, then "the tree had become angry with Frank for climbing all over it and ran off." The final emergency involves a "giant zombie lizard king" and Frank's expert dancing skills. It's a funny, imaginative, light-hearted romp.

Brecon's art is unique and colorful. It reminds me a little of Leonie Lord's illustrations for Martin Waddell's The Great Hungry Dinosaur perhaps crossed with Sophie Blackall. It's as quirky as the story, with bright splotches of color, scribbly accents, and little touches of cartoon humor, such as the popping eyes on the pigeons. There's a slightly cock-eyed perspective to the leaning buildings, bulging hills, and bursts of clouds. The best part of the art is the many little details in the pictures including the opposing newsboys "Cranky King" vs "Reptile Rampage" and the humorous antics of the pigeons.

I think some people would like the quirky plot and wild events that Frank runs into, but most of the more subtle details of the art will be lost on a younger audience which is what I primarily have. Also, a couple things give me pause - the typeface, which has an old-time typewritten look to it, may not be the easiest thing to read aloud in storytime. The speech bubbles that include extra dialogue are brightly colored and difficult to decipher as well. The endpapers have a naturally water-damaged look to them (I'm envisioning having to write a note in the back of the book that it's NOT water-damaged, it's supposed to look like that). Finally, one of signs an onlooker at the dance-off is holding says "two left feet suck!" As someone who once got in trouble at the middle school for saying suck (It was a book title!) that gives me pause. Most of my parents probably won't even notice, but it's something a few might definitely complain about.

Verdict: I can see an audience for this and it does have a fun, quirky feeling to it, but I think it might be a better choice for a larger library than my own; my patrons aren't much interested in fresh or new art styles or picture books for older readers. I'd say it's probably an additional purchase for most collections.

ISBN: 9780762454235; Published September 30, 2014 by Running Press; Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

I've been building up a huge backlog of middle grade fiction and fantasy while I worked on other projects, but now I'm finally tackling the stack, beginning with this debut title, the first in a series, released last May.

Rye O'Chanter is an oddity in her quasi-medieval town of Village Drowning. She knows how to read, sort of, in direct opposition to Earl Longchance's orders. Her mother runs a small shop, selling magic trinkets and her father has been gone for a long time. She's not even sure where her baby sister came from. Her best friends Folly and Quinn don't fit in either, but they have their families and their friendship.

But now more exciting things than her own mysterious past are happening - the monstrous Bog Noblins are returning, the village is frightened and on the alert, and the mysterious Luck Uglies may be returning as well. Rye doesn't have time to think about her past - unless her past is part of her future as well.

Events move fast in this fantasy and monstrous creatures, terrifying people out of legends, a cruel overlord, and his complex and sometimes frightening children, pour through the story as Rye discovers the secrets her mother has been finding and that stories are more complicated than just right or wrong, black or white.

At nearly 400 pages, this is a lengthy tome and it's packed with weird words (a glossary is provided), maps, strange creatures, and a wild assortment of ideas. It's difficult to summarize because there's so much going on. It definitely draws the reader in and makes you want to know what happens next, but it's also somewhat confused and, in my opinion, could have been edited down quite a bit. I felt that Rye and especially her friends, Folly and Quinn, were set up to be important elements of the story development but there was so much going on that I never really got to know them. Some plot points wandered in and out again, like the Earl's children, and will presumably be followed up in another volume, but I would have preferred a more tightly-plotted story as a series starter.

There are some truly terrifying moments, although several instances of violence are only threatened, they're described in enough detail to move this to the upper end of middle grade in my opinion. However, some of the moralistic bits, especially the rather sententious bestowing of symbolic gifts at the end, reads much younger. The story is definitely a little different, giving a quirky, unique feel to the classic medieval adventure fantasy.

Verdict: If you have a really strong audience for fantasies, especially kids who will devour thick books and lengthy series, this would make a good addition to your fantasy selections. If, however, you just want (or can only afford) the basics, this is an additional purchase and I'd stick with the tried and true fantasy favorites.

ISBN: 9780062271501; Published April 2014 by HarperCollins; ARC provided by publisher for review

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Hush little horsie by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

This review was previously published. I have rewritten and edited it.

This is a board book edition of a picture book published in 2010. The text is a repetitive lullaby:

"Hush little horsie,
Asleep on the farm.
Your mama is near
And will keep you from harm."

Each stanza changes to a different place and rhyme, and is followed by a refrain:
"She'll watch when you play
and she'll watch when you sleep
and when you are tired
she'll watch as you sleep."

Which is, from an adult perspective, a little freaky, but of course kids won't notice that. You can easily sing the text to the tune of "Hush little baby".

Ruth Sanderson's lush paintings show gorgeous horses of different breeds in different places outdoors and in their cozy stable. The story ends showing a child clutching a stuffed horse and dreaming of horses.

Verdict: I'm not sure how successfully this would work as a board book - it would depend on the child, I think, and whether they will sit still and listen to the story, but there are lots of realistic looking horses to point out. I think it probably works better as a picture book overall.

ISBN: 9780375851391; Published 2013 by Random House; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, September 22, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: What's new? The Zoo! A Zippy History of Zoos by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Marcellus Hall

Every year, I get requests from teachers for books about zoos (and circuses, but that's a different discussion). It's really hard to find factual books about zoos for younger children and I was really excited when I started seeing reviews of this title.

It starts with a brief introduction to the concept of zoos and then jumps right into a trek through history, looking at zoos across the world from ancient times to the present. Readers will learn about an Aztec zoo in the 1500s which included "poisonous snakes with bells attached to their tails" and "a staff of nurses." Then there's the revolutionary zoo design introduced by Carl Hagenbeck in 1907, the classification system of Carl Linnaeus, the journey of a giraffe across 1827 Paris, the Alipore Zoological Garden in Kolkata, India, that was one of the first to breed rare animals in 1875, and many more interesting facts. The book ends with a cheerful list of the many reasons people have created zoos throughout history and finishes "Whatever your reason, visit a zoo today. Listen to the lions roar!" There is a list of sources appended.

There isn't a real narrative thread to this - it's interesting little historical blips about zoos. Although in some the author touches on more sensitive issues, like mistreatment of animals or changing attitudes about zoos, it's very age-appropriate and focuses on interesting animal anecdotes.

Sometimes I enjoy Hall's illustrations, sometimes I just can't take them. I have no idea what tips me either way or why, but I these tipped me towards the "enjoy" side. The bold colors and curvy lines give a humorous touch to the anecdotes and the animals have a friendly, human look while the humans are more background, their historical clothing outshining the bland expressions on their faces. There isn't a lot of detail in the pictures, but enough to interest a child while listening to the stories. I am disappointed that the belled snakes weren't pictured though...

Verdict: If you need more zoo books for younger kids, this is a good choice and it's definitely a unique look at zoos. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780545135719; Published 2014 by Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order wishlist

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 ALSC Institute

I have been wanting to go to the ALSC Institute, ever since I first discovered there was such a thing, two years ago. Two years of saving, the surprise agreement of my library to pay for the conference itself, and copious amounts of angst (which are involved in any traveling I do) and I was on my way! (No, I am not scared of flying. I have punctuality anxiety instilled in me by the horrible Austin public transportation system and my family's inability to get anywhere on time so I am always in "OMG I'm Going To Be Late" mode.) I also tend to have Conference Anxiety because I am Not Good at the social aspect and...I have issues.

However, I hoped the positives of the conference would outweigh the ANGST, I told myself I could play in my newly-arranged apartment when I came back, I spent several hours on Monday printing out maps and detailed schedules, and I set out. This is the story of what I did. If you are looking for detailed thoughts on sessions, they're here! Also my musings on author talks, emotional manipulation, the difference between "breakfast" and "continental breakfast" and the lust for artichokes.

Wednesday - Traveling! This involved driving, a bus, a plane, running across the Phoenix airport (I hate Phoenix. Phoenix hates me.) another plane, and a train. I arrived! I met people on the train that I knew and followed them! I determinedly took myself down to Happy Hour, despite the fact that A. I do not drink and B. I dislike noisy crowds, and was rewarded by meeting some new friends. After we determined that neither food nor drink would be forthcoming any time soon (and at this point I had definitely run through the banana and trail mix which were my sustenance that day) we adjourned to a pub down the street which had awesome food and was quiet enough to talk without yelling.

Thursday - My roommate arrived late Wednesday night (and she had a much more stressful traveling story - luckily we're at least remotely similar in size and I could lend her clothes) and we moseyed downstairs. I was all set to go seek out breakfast and then realized there was a Guerrilla Storytime going on! Storytime trumped breakfast, which was totally worth it, especially when someone demonstrated the Popcorn Train song for us, which I had never heard before and it was awesome. My kids are generally pretty shy but I think I can adapt it for the kindergarteners at least.

Session 1: Thinking outside the Storytime box: Building your preschool programming repertoire

  • This was the BEST session of the entire Institute and really started things on a high note. Marge Loch-Wouters, Amy Koester, Mel Depper, and Amy Commers did this and they were amazing. Since I canceled my preschool storytime this fall and am regrouping and preparing to completely revamp preschool services next year, this was absolutely perfect. Tons of great ideas for unique programs and their organization was spot-on and hilarious, as they popped up and down to describe programs and give the early literacy research and even helpful tips on presenting programs to your administration for approval.
Session 2: Easy programming for Discerning Tweens
  • Realistically, not every session is going to be amazing. This was probably the most disappointing session I attended, mostly because I had high expectations and it didn't meet them. I did pick up a few ideas, but mostly spent the session annoyed that the presenters seemed so...out of touch. Probably the best moment was when one said not to feel discouraged if you "only have 20 or 30 tweens at your book club" and the entire room broke out into spontaneous laughter. Although I'm not usually one who cares about such things, it did bother me that they talked about giving tweens ownership over their own content and the audience raised questions about copyright, but nobody questioned the videos of interviews with kids being shown. It did remind me to keep working on replacing the pictures of kids on my programming blog though, which is an ongoing project.
I then found my new friends from the night before and we went and found lunch! I have never actually been to a Quiznos btw. We had so much fun talking we were almost late back to the next sessions!

Session 3: Be a winner: Inspired Youth Grant Writing
  • There were some good tips in this, but it was mostly far, far beyond the scale of my own grant writing. As the presenters mentioned, it's a ton of time and work. Honestly, for me, I am more in need of staff and time than money. We're not super well off in regards to $$, but we're not too bad. Most of the grants they talked about mounted well into the thousands - I usually write requests or mini grants for well under 1,000. Anyways, I did get a few good tips that I'll be using when I write a little garden grant for our children's garden this fall.
Session 4: STEAM power your library
  • I've been to previous sessions with Amy Koester before, so most of her introductory "why STEAM at your library" remarks are familiar to me, but I always like to attend her sessions because she's very practical and I always get some new ideas to add to my steam programs, plus encouragement for what I'm already doing. I got several new ideas for Mad Scientists Club and also for a new program I'm thinking about called, tentatively, Mini Makers.
We had a fairly large break here - there was a book signing for some of the authors, but I've never seen the point in standing in book signing lines, or really getting book signed (I missed out on the fan gene completely) so I took myself off to have a look at the Oakland library. It was about a 30 minute walk and it was hot. The area felt a little iffy to me - tons of graffiti and I've lived away from the city so long that my urban instincts are pretty meh. I arrived and my first thought was that it was a clunky old building, obviously suffering budget issues as they had severely curtailed hours, there was no a/c...but as I wandered about I became more and more impressed. The library was PACKED. Every chair had someone reading, studying, or just sitting quietly. The teen area amazing, a very friendly staff person obviously knew the kids' names and they were behaving beautifully, all using the space to read or hang out. The kids area had a similarly welcoming, busy hum. I chatted with some of the librarians and they were extremely nice - told me a little about their Thatcher Hurd murals and made a few deprecatory remarks about the after school crowd, but I told them their teen space especially was far superior in behavior to my own! If my library had a mezzanine they would be throwing stuff off it constantly....anyways, it was a really nice library - I hope they get the funding to stay open or expand their hours, as they're obviously well-used.

Next, we had dinner. Someone speculated it would be chicken, rice and green beans and they were WRONG. It was chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans with carrots. I had fun chatting with some of my new friends, although the din was truly awful. Then the opening general session with Steve Sheinkin. I'm not generally much for author talks, but I really enjoyed this. He has a rather dry sense of humor which appeals to me and he was very funny and informative in talking about his path to writing, his books, the research that goes into them, and the importance of telling the stories that have been overlooked or censored. He talked primarily about Port Chicago 50, (which I did stand in line to get an ARC of last year) but it was really interesting to hear more about it.

There was a children's trivia thing at a pub, but that was it for me and I went to bed.


Friday
There was a breakfast buffet and then after you'd picked a table an author magically appeared. Mike Twohy was at our table - he's done some very cute picture books about animals but it was too noisy for anyone but the people sitting directly next to him to actually talk. Which was ok, b/c see previous remarks on my disinterest in authors in general. I listened to some interesting discussions with a couple librarians from Missouri, who live/work near Ferguson.

After breakfast, there was an author panel about diversity. It was moderated by Jamie Campbell Naidoo, whom I'd never heard of (academic apparently?) and consisted of Tim Federle, Pam Munoz Ryan, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gene Luen Yang. They all told stories about their middle school and tween years. Rita Williams-Garcia talked about how she had nothing going for her in school but a "strong left hook" (she told hilarious stories about her mother dressing her in cast-off clothes that she picked up after funerals of old ladies!). Pam Munoz Ryan talked about the power of imagination to allow children to relate to stories whether or not they were about their own culture. Gene Luen Yang had some very funny things to say about his childhood and experiences with comics.

The two things that I enjoyed most about the breakfast, to be totally honest, was I was very excited when the authors were asked what they had coming out next, that Yang is doing a middle grade series!! I feel so much better about him being in the Comics Squad anthology now. Also, when they had all the authors stand up, I eye-marked Susan Blackaby and pounced on her before she could escape to tell her how much my library loves the Brownie Groundhog books. Ok, maybe I can be a little fan-ish. I do like telling authors that kids like their books or they work well in storytime.

Session 5: Inspired Collaboration: Early Childhood Partnerships

  • This was three speakers explaining three massive, like full-city partnerships, they worked on. It wasn't super useful, but I did get a couple ideas I can scale down to my small town. I think a couple other people were a little disgruntled as well, as they pointed out that it's really difficult to go out and do outreach when you're the only person at the children's desk and none of the other staff want to cover the children's desk (I got over this difficult by just not staffing the children's desk, but other than providing a moment of humor, I don't think it's necessarily an option for a lot of libraries)
We had a lunch break and I went to the Oakland Farmer's Market. So, most of the time I like living in my small town in Wisconsin. But every once in a while I miss living in the city and I miss living in a more temperate climate. Omigosh the fruit and the vegetables and it was all SO AMAZING. City blocks and they do it ALL YEAR ROUND. I bought a whole tub of raspberries for myself and a nectarine to eat later, and a walnut-pear tart and dried apricots and nectarines (and they're good dried fruit, not those horrible washed out apricots, but the really delicious ones that are dark orange and tangy) and then I was overcome by the number of pomegranates. So firm and red and plump and then omigosh ARTICHOKES. They had BUCKETS OF THEM. Big and green and obviously completely ripe and super delicious.

I had to make myself leave and go back to my hotel room for a cold shower (sheesh, not like that, dirty minds you librarians have. I was dripping with sweat - Oakland is hot) and then lie down for a while to recover before I tried to take a bag of artichokes and pomegranates back on the plane which I didn't think would end well for anyone. Can artichokes be classified as offensive weapons?

Session 6: Making Advocacy Awesome: A workshop for the everyday advocate
  • I was actually on my way to Tech Access On A Budget, but I was comparing notes with some of my new friends and they said that was more geared to writing grants and I'd already done one grant session. So, I picked this instead. I have kind of...mixed feelings about advocacy. On the one hand, yes, it's something that's vitally important. On the other hand, several years ago I decided that I couldn't be "on" all the time and maintain my sanity. Somewhere between the middle schoolers showing up at my front door to see where I lived and spending 20 minutes in Walmart answering questions about checking out ebooks from the library, I decided that when I was not at work...I was not at work. I know some people are constantly "on" especially those who work in embattled systems, and I respect and honor them, but I can't do that. I consider that it's my director's job to be the public face of the library and do those kinds of things. I do spend a lot of time working when I'm not at the library - collection development, networking online with other librarians, etc. and I have no problems telling people I'm a librarian, but other than that, no. I have been told that, because I choose not to promote the library at every possible moment, I am "not a real librarian" (person's name not given because I've forgotten). ANYWAYS. The point is, I have Anxiety about advocacy. I mean, I know Jenna Nemec-Loise and I didn't really think she was going to be like that, but still Anxiety. It turned out to be pretty awesome! Jenna gave some really good tips on language and reframing how you say things which I am going to use when asking for budget/programming things from my administration. Katie, who was from the Multnomah system, had some really practical advice about organizing and planning advocacy and even a FORM which is awesome and I'm going to use all their tips in presenting my new preschool out of the box programming for next year! Yay Katie and Jenna!!
The next thing was Fairyland. Throughout this whole trip, I was kind of amazed at all the children's literature-related things there were in Oakland. I vaguely associated it with crime (no, I don't know why) and I knew my Dad grew up around there (Walnut Creek) but that was all. But I kept running into these "oh yeah, that happened here, they're from around here" and it was kind of surrealistic. Anyways. I missed the first bus, into which librarians crammed to the detriment of life and limb and the obvious bewilderment and shock of the poor driver. So, by the time I caught the second bus and got to Fairyland I had missed the very beginning of the author panel but I don't think I missed much. Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, Jennifer Holm, and Mac Barnett were completely hilarious. I don't know that it was really an educational presentation, but it was side-splittingly funny. I also have to say I am sorry I didn't get to meet Mac Barnett in person because I am burning to tell him my Count the Monkeys story (long story short, I was reading it to three year olds and asked them for their plan to get rid of the lumberjacks and one angelic little boy pipes up "shoot them all!")

After the presentation, we all went to different break-out sessions (assigned previously and announced at Fairyland). I was given Hands-On Science with Deborah Lee Rose. I had never really thought of her as a science author, although I've enjoyed her picture books, but apparently she writes for a number of science presentations. I will admit that at this point I was feeling rather hot and headachy and felt a little tired of the whole "don't be scared to try science" thing, but of course she couldn't know how much STEM programming I've been doing for the past couple years! She did show a lot of interesting things from the How to Smile database, which I've never really used before, so that was really interesting. She was also very easy to listen to, which was nice given aforementioned headache. She wins for "Most soothing author voice" and I'd like to record her reading aloud bedtime stories for my next storytime (-:)

We had some time to wander about Fairyland, took pictures, and saw a little puppet show of Peter Pan with marionettes (and a rather grisly end for Captain Hook). I'm going to make our giant collaborative program in 2016 a fairy tale theme I think...and some snacks and I found my group of new friends again and we all trekked back to town. We went down to the Eat Real Festival, but most of us wanted to sit down to eat by that time and so we ended up going to a diner, Buttercup something, which was really good and we had an awesome time swapping stories and ideas and our cards.

Then I went back to the hotel and collapsed into bed, from which I was woken at about 11:30pm by my next door neighbors whooping it up - literally. My first, sleep-befuddled thought was "wha...librarians party in bars not hotel rooms. That's comic conventions." My next, clearer thought was "that's not librarians". My third, very clear, thought "I'm not dealing with this." So I stuck in my earplugs and went back to bed. Thus when my roommate came in several hours later, apparently her first thought was "how the heck is she asleep through that!?" and she complained and then everything was blissfully quiet.


Saturday
Apparently, the difference between "breakfast" and "continental breakfast" is eggs or the lack thereof. Huh. Being the dedicated individual I am, I went to an 8am session even though I didn't think I was really interested in (or had already attended) all the sessions offered.

Session 7: Dewey-Lite: A solution to the non-fiction problem

  • I really didn't think I was going to get much out of this, since I have already put my picture book neighborhoods into place (although I am nowhere near done. Don't tell my director...) but I thought it would be fun to see what the Darien librarians had to say. I was really glad I went! First, it fired me up for eventually changing over the juvenile non-fiction (not yet! don't panic any staff reading this!) and secondly it gave me some good ideas for improving the picture book neighborhood process. Finally, it was fun!
Session 8: Science of Poetry
  • I was kind of done at this point and I am really leary of poetry. I know a lot of people love it, but it just leaves me cold, in general. Yes, I wrote a lot of (bad) poetry (it's all online!) and I have lots of poetry in my head, but I was just pretty doubtful about it. It wasn't a bad session - more geared towards teachers, as they emphasized their "take 5" program which is aimed at schools. It did give me some things to think about using poetry more in storytimes and working science and poetry into some of my activity table plans though, so not bad in the end.
The closing session was with Andrea Davis Pinkney. She's an amazing speaker (and has a stunning singing voice) but I have to admit it kind of left me cold. Because of some things in my own background and my own personality, anything that even vaguely smacks of emotional manipulation puts my back up and "inspiration" is included in that. I know I'm really alone in that and it doesn't affect most people this way, but I get really uncomfortable when people talk about libraries "saving lives" or we're all singing inspirational spirituals or talking about how amazing we are. I mean, I think libraries are important. I love my job. I absolutely enjoy that moment when I hand the perfect book to a kid and their face lights up, or when I spend the time to talk to a parent about finding books for their child and they're grateful for my help. I do get a little teary-eyed when teens come back and tell me they're readers now, even though they never read a book before. But the rhetoric makes me really uncomfortable. It was interesting to hear about her writing process and how she works with Brian Pinkney, as well as the research and inspiration for her books, but I have to admit that I don't purchase her picture book biographies because they don't circulate so I was a little blase. Anyways. I do think it would be amusing to put her and Rita Williams-Garcia together - they're such opposite characters in their approach to civil rights in their historical fiction and in their personalities (as seen on the stage) and you could tell that idea was going through everyone's heads when Ms. Pinkney demonstrated some boxing moves from the classes she'd taken for one of her books....

And the conference was over. But the fun did not end! One of my new friends, fellow blogger and Cybilite Maureen, set out with me to see how much of Oakland we could walk over. She visits yarn shops wherever she goes and I think this is an awesome idea, especially if we throw bead shops in there, which we did. We grabbed some pizza at a corner shop which was deliciously greasy, and then we wandered all over the Eat Real Festival. I feasted on a chocolate hazelnut tartine, which was a sort of pastry thing, and a blueberry meyer lemon frozen yoghurt popsicle from the Fat Pig which was delicious and then bought jam and honey and we had dinner and traded many, many, many library stories.

I finally tore myself away and drifted back to my hotel room in a happy haze of jam, honey and yarn. Which I then had to pack in my bags.


Sunday I went back and forth on paying for another night and just sleeping in the airport, but I finally decided that I didn't want to finish off my conference sleeping in yet another airport (bus stations are one thing - you kind of expect to be uncomfortable, you know? Although I can recommend the Indianapolis Greyhound station). However, I met a completely random couple of people in the elevator at the hotel on Saturday night who were also leaving at 4am in the morning and so the taxi I had to take at that ungodly hour was waaaay cheaper! Then I did plane, (Phoenix again, where they were about to take off and then taxied back to the airport to let someone off. See above remarks about my relationship with Phoenix) then another plane, which was consequently just a tad late so I had to wait for the next bus, but I got in fast enough that I snagged a seat on the crammed bus, back to Beloit, picked up my car, and finally home! (with a stop at Walmart for something to eat)

Conclusion: This was the BEST conference I have ever been to. I have a ton of ideas, perfectly in time for the overhaul of my programming I am contemplating next spring and the projects I am working on now. It was super easy for me to meet and hang out with people and get places and I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. I also have a serious longing for artichokes now...and realized I have no way of telling which honey sticks are which, so I guess I'll just have to taste them all!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

This Week at the library; or, Conference Time!

What's happening in my head and at the library
  • I left on Wednesday for the ALSC Institute, so I only had a few days at work! I left various people in charge of programs - the Ice Age Trail visit and Lego Club. I will post a run-down of my conference adventures tomorrow!
Programs
  • Moms with Multiples
  • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions)
  • September Outreach: Meet the Librarian (3 classes)
  • Ice Age Trail Alliance: Mammoth Hunt
  • Books 'n' Babies
  • Lego Club
  • We Explore Science: Seeds
What Kids are Reading:
  • Coming down from summer's high of Reader's Advisory is a little sad. I wish I could get more classes to visit, to booktalk, but realistically I have no time (or place) for them.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pigsticks and Harold and the incredible journey by Alex Milway

Pigsticks comes from a long line of noble and illustrious pigs. But what has he done to earn his place in the family history? Nothing....YET. After some deliberation, he decides to follow the example of his ancestor, Colonel Pigslet, and explore the world! But, unlike the Colonel, he's going to make it back alive. But exploring the world is a messy and difficult business and Pigsticks knows just what he needs - an assistant! After many trials, he decides upon Harold the hamster. Harold isn't quite sure how he became Pigsticks' assistant, but he's willing to go along with the journey as long as there's plenty of cake at the end! They travel through deep jungles, hot deserts, and climb a mountain, finally reaching the Ends of the Earth. Unfortunately, someone else got here first....quite a lot of someones...and they don't appear to be friendly...

The illustrations are gently humorous with colorful, rounded animals and broad swathes of color in the various backgrounds of their explorations - a steamy green jungle, sandy desert, etc. The illustrations range from spots between the text to full page spreads.

The book falls into that little area between easy readers and beginning chapter books. It has the larger, rectangular shape of an easy reader, but includes chapters, a smaller font, and more complex vocabulary. It's more a blended graphic novel or illustrated chapter book with some panel-like illustrations (progressive action in the illustrations) and a few speech bubbles. Think of Kate DiCamillo's Bink and Gollie series, but funnier!

Verdict: I was at first a little doubtful about this, as it seemed a little overly British for my audience, but the tongue-in-cheek humor, the cute illustrations, and friendly text - simple for beginning readers, but not too simple for those capable of picking up subtle humor - won me over. If you're looking for more beginning chapter books and/or graphic novels for younger readers, this is a must-have title!

ISBN: 9780763666156; Published 2014 by Candlewick; Borrowed via inter-library loan; Added to my library's wishlist

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Runaway Dinner by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingman

This is one of those odd stories that, for reasons it's difficult to explain, strikes a chord with the reader. On the surface, it's not something that would work in storytime, or that I would personally even like. It's fairly text-heavy, the story is nonsensical in an almost adult way, the text has an odd cadence, but...somehow it really works for me.

Banjo is sitting down to eat his regular dinner in his regular chair at the regular time, when suddenly, something new happens! His dinner jumps right off his plate and runs out the door. As he chases down his food and furniture, we each different item has their own adventures and we learn their names. Eventually, Banjo catches up with Melvin the sausage - is it the end of Melvin? A funny surprise ending will make you giggle and promises that dinner will live to run away another day.

The text has an unique lilt to it. Once you get into the pattern, it's fun to read aloud. For example, "So that's it, the absolute truth, the complete picture--see? Here they are, the whole lot of them, not forgetting Mildred the cat and Mr. and Mrs., and Bruce, the next-door neighbor's dog--nearly did forget him, though he was chasing Mildred, actually--all racing down the road."

When I read this aloud in storytime, sometimes I do shorten it a little, especially with younger kids who get restless easily. However, I find that if I read it very fast in a rollicking voice, emphasizing the asides, the kids will stay spellbound throughout the whole story, giggling over the silly food, even if they don't completely grasp the more subtle adult humor in parts.

The mixed media illustrations feel as though they were sort of dabbed in. This is one of those books where the pictures are very much secondary to the text of the story itself. Banjo and the various dinner characters don't really stand out, but the random scattering of items across the open backgrounds of the park and streets fits the oddball nature of the story.

Verdict: I probably wouldn't have purchased this on my own, but it was a serendipitous discovery in my collection, especially when I found that it worked so well in storytime and how much I personally liked it. It appears to be out of stock, but there is still a paperback version available. Try it and see if it grabs you and your audience!

ISBN: 0763631426; Published 2006 by Candlewick; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Going to the zoo with Lily and Milo by Pauline Oud

This review was previously published. I have rewritten and edited it.

The text of this book is a simple narration of Lily and Milo's trip to the zoo, with questions to spark discussion. The page will have a description of the animal and a sound, then an opportunity to guess what they will see next.

I liked the art style; very cute and child-friendly, with bulgy animals and light colors with a kind of white wash. I like the interactive aspect of the "story" as well. The book is 8x8 and, while not exactly a board book, has thick, slick pages and is closer in length to a board book than a picture book.

However, the text and art are badly designed. The first picture asks who is hiding behind the gate. You see two giraffes peeking over it, but the answer is actually a parrot - all of which you can see is the tips of three feathers. It asks who lives in the sand and the answer is elephants (do elephants live in sand? I don't think so?). Polar bears on the icebergs, yes, but I've never seen an actual iceberg in the zoo. The giraffes live "between the tall trees" which is also kind of confusing.

Verdict: For the potential audience, it's too complicated and confusing. This might be due at least partially to poor translation, but overall the book doesn't combine art and text well.

ISBN: 9781605370934; Published 2010 by Clavis; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, September 15, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Whiskers, Tails and Wings: Animal folktales from Mexico by Judy Goldman, illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck

I should really stop checking out folktales, especially collections, since I have completed my reorganization of the Tales neighborhood and vowed to purchase no more fairy tales or folktales for, well, probably a couple years at least. But I just can't resist them.

This is a collection of five animal folktales from Mexico, but it's much, much more than just a folktale collection. It opens with a brief introduction to Mexico, mainly an explanation of its indigenous peoples and its history of folklore. There is also a map, showing where the five stories come from. The first story, "When Senor Grillo met Senor Puma" pits a clever grillo (cricket) against a hot-tempered Puma. The story has a full-page illustration of a puma and a cricket and the story itself is three pages long. It's followed by several pages explaining the culture of the Tarahumara, the indigenous group the folktale comes from, as well as the geography of where they live and how the folktale fits into their lives. The final pages include a glossary for the story and the nonfiction portion.

Each of the folktales follows this pattern. The stories include a Seri tale, "Mosni's Search" a creation myth about a determined turtle, and the following information includes how sea turtles are a part of Seri culture. A Huichol Tale, "Tlacuache's Tail" about the coming of fire, while the cultural information focuses on the significance of opossums and some of the rituals of the Huichol people. The Triqui Tale, "Ouch!" is probably the funniest - it's about how fleas were invented to keep people from being lazy. The following information has a lot of fascinating discussions of the importance of weaving and cloth to the Triqui culture. The last story, "Pokok up high" is a Tseltal tale, and has a familiar ring - it's about a frog who wants to fly, convinces a bird to give him a ride, but it doesn't end so well. The information about the Tseltals covers many different aspects of their culture, from their fiestas to their connection with the land.

There is a brief conclusion celebrating the importance of folktales. Further information for the book includes a detailed bibliography, web resources, multiple sources for each of the tales, and an index.

Verdict: This is an amazing resource. It has to be the best-researched folktale collection I've seen in years, not to mention the stories are retold beautifully, the art is brilliant, and it offers unique stories that are accessible (yes, weird fairy tales are fun, but they're not very easy to circulate). It would be an amazing resource for any kind of cultural of folktale study and a great selection for older kids who like folktales. Unfortunately, I just don't have an audience for it in my library - longer collections like this are almost impossible to circulate and I don't get asked for Mexican folktales at all. I'm happy that it's available in my consortium though!

ISBN: 9781580893725; Published 2013 by Charlesbridge; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, September 14, 2014

RA RA READ: Girls with Powers


I started this list because the Twilight read-alikes list was getting too long. Plus, these are girls with REAL powers, not just the power to turn ancient vampires into whiny teenage boys and cause every living thing within twenty feet to experience psychic tinglies. It is, sadly, a short list and most of them are psychic.

  • Darkest Powers (series) by Kelley Armstrong
  • Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray
  • Mortal Instruments (series) by Cassandra Clare
  • Daughters of the Moon (series) by Lynne Ewing
  • Wake (trilogy) by Lisa McMann
  • Touch (series) by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Saturday, September 13, 2014

This week at the library; or, Programs begin in earnest

Finally finished making this and deliver it!
What's happening in my head and at the library:
  • After our little fall festival last Saturday, this is our first week back to programs. We had a slow but steady attendance and I ran a lot of errands.
  • I restarted Middle School Madness as just a drop-in in the Storyroom. A small group of middle schoolers (6) dropped in, had a snack and left. Then, later, I had a group of high schoolers (5). I'm kind of frustrated with them as they grabbed most of the candy off my desk when I was distracted (after I'd told them they could only have one piece - I purchase the candy myself), then went into the room for middle school madness even though the sign clearly said middle schoolers only, ate everything left and complained there wasn't more food, then one of them WENT INTO MY DESK DRAWERS to get more candy. I was busy and didn't have time to deal with them, but the more I think about it, the more annoyed I am - the next time they do this, they're out, whether I'm busy or not. This is the younger of our two problems groups - the older one seems to have wandered away, but these guys are ready and willing to fill their spot. It's easy to fall into a "I don't want them to feel unwelcome in the library/they should be able to use the library" mindset, but forget that, because these yahoos are here, other teens aren't.
  • The struggle to redefine the teen/children's/adult spaces continues. We are really pushing the teens to not go upstairs, unless they're going to study alone, since that's now officially a quiet area. So we tell them to go downstairs to the teen area, they arrive there, and all the computers are in use by adults, and adults are sitting all over the teen seating. The teens don't really like the new area anyways, because it's too open, so they are now congregating in the actual children's area on the tables where the elementary kids usually do their homework. I put up a sign saying "welcome to the teen/children's area. Adults, please note there are more computers and quiet study areas upstairs" but it has had absolutely no effect that I can see. Most adults just walk past it without looking at it - the few who stop and read it just ignore it. I have had better success loudly welcoming adults to the children's area and asking how I can help them in the children's area. I am going to work on getting more stuff in the teen area for them to do - put up something on the wall, add a pet to the table, and possibly word the sign more strongly. I'm also hoping that eventually people will start realizing that the upstairs computers are closer to the printer. At this point, I'd consider getting rid of the computer lab (since all the kids have chromebooks through school) and having tables and seating, but I don't know where we'd put the public computers and I know that idea won't get approved.
Programs
What the kids are reading:
  • Know-it-all series - didn't own, a patron offered to donate it
  • Boxcar children
  • Eyewitness/Eyewonder books
  • Request for more book+cd bags
  • Loved Ellie McDoodle that I recommended at their last visit - took the rest of the series
  • Magic trick books
  • S.W.I.T.C.H. series (which for some reason I totally blanked out on until she showed me the one she just read!)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Huff and Puff by Tish Rabe, illustrated by Gill Guile

I never seem to be able to get enough easy readers to satisfy my patrons, especially in the summer. The books just fly off the shelves, leaving behind only the worn and ancient titles that should really be weeded and/or replaced. Most popular are the very beginning, just a few words per page, titles - which, of course, are the most difficult to find. Anyhow, I am on several publisher newsletters and will pretty much try anything new that comes out. This is a new series from the ever-growing I Can Read line.

Huff is an engine, Puff is the caboose. They work together well until one day they each decide the other train has it easier and they want to try switching. Of course, they both discover that they're better suited to their own jobs and the other train really does work hard. If you want to get really picky, you could dissect the socioeconomic implications of the cliched plot, which basically says that everyone has one specific thing they're good at and you can't deviate from that role. It's a pretty common plot in children's books and I think it stems from folktales - there are quite a few about sticking to your own role in life, not surprising since most of them sprang from feudal societies. It would have been more interesting, to me at least, if Huff and Puff had discovered that, with a little hard work, they could both enjoy doing a different job now and then and been able to switch off in the future. I mean, come on, has the train never heard of cross-training?

However, for a beginning reader the plot isn't really the point - the combination of text and art and how well it does its job of giving kids a simple plot that they can follow while still decoding the words is paramount. How well does it do this? Not very well, to be honest. The pages are full-color, with cute, rounded illustrations of the anthropomorphic trains and their cargo, a collection of brightly-colored animals. The illustrations are certainly cute, but they overshadow the words and make it difficult to pick them out from the pages. On one page the sentence is placed against a railroad tie, on another it's buried in the grass, etc. When the trains switch places, it gets even more confusing as they fill the page, bulging around the words, and making it difficult to keep track of which is Huff, which is Puff, and where they are on the train. The refrain "Click-ity clack, click-ity clack" or "Click-ity, click-ity clack" is repeated multiple times, and I can't help but wonder if there weren't better words to reinforce through repetition.

Verdict: If you are in urgent need of easy readers it's a decent filler series, especially for a library like mine where I'm having to look for easy readers to appeal to younger and younger kids, but if you're watching your budget or looking for high-quality easy readers this isn't a necessary purchase.

ISBN: 9780062305022; Published 2012 by HarperCollins; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Magic Shop: The Vanishing Coin by Kate Egan with Magician Mike Lane, illustrated by Eric Wight

I will admit that I rather had to push myself through this book, but I think it's one of those that will definitely appeal to children, and not so much to an adult reader, which is no bad thing for a children's book.

Mike has just started fourth grade and he's already in trouble. It's not that he's a bad kid, he just can't focus or sit still in school. His parents won't let him join the soccer team because they want him to concentrate on his homework, and he has to spend half his afternoons at Nora's house. She's not bad, for a girl, but what if someone finds out? Like Jackson, who has bullied him all through school? Plus, she's gifted and he feels stupid around her.

Then they discover a magic shop. Will Mike be able to impress some kids with his magic tricks? Best of all, is there more to magic than just the tricks the owner is teaching him?

Wight's digital black and white illustrations are crisp and attractive and are really clear in illustrating the instructions for various magic tricks that are included in the book. Reading the story, it felt a little didactic and slow-paced, and I was thinking - "it's at a beginning chapter book but it's about a fourth grader so..." until I realized that it's going to appeal exactly to kids like Mike, who won't want to read a massive book, want something they can relate to, and need a fun hook.

So, it's got all of those things. It's only 142 pages long, with nice bold text in a large font and illustrations. Not daunting at all for a reluctant reader. It's going to appeal to kids who want to read stories about kids they can relate to, since it doesn't feature kids improbably taking off on their own or a stereotyped bully. Finally, it's got hooks - the magic tricks and the hints about magic being real.

Verdict: If your library is like mine, you have a lot of kids interested in magic tricks. This will meet the desires of both the kids and their parents, who want them to read chapter books. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781250029140; Published 2014 by Feiwel & Friends; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order list

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Stanley's Garage by William Bee

This is the second book in a new series by William Bee, featuring Stanley the hamster.

In this title, Stanley has a garage. A succession of animal friends, in differently-colored cars, arrive for help from getting gas to an overheating radiator, to a flat tire. The color of each car is emphasized in the text. Stanley's friend Myrtle, from the first book Stanley the Builder is his last client, calling for a tow. Oily and tired, Stanley goes home for a bath and bed.

This is not, strictly speaking, a board book. It has a thick, padded cover and is a large square, a little under 9x9 inches. The pages are a little thicker than the typical picture book, but definitely not board book thickness - they're not even as thick as cardstock. However, my usual gripe with padded covers - the kids poke holes in them (and I just find them squicky) doesn't apply here as the book's cover is made in such a way that even if you try you can't poke holes in the spine (I tried) and the padding on the cover is very thin - it's really just reinforced and gives slightly under pressure, not a true padded board book at all. I would have no problem putting it either in regular picture books or board books.

William Bee's illustrations for this series have thick, bold lines and bright colors. Each book (so far) has a different general color theme. This one is green, with vivid swathes of color in appropriate places. There is a spread of tools before the title page, which are related to the book's theme. This one shows various tools useful for the featured career.

Verdict: The attractive illustrations, combined with the simple, rhythmic text, make this series the perfect choice for toddlers and also for young beginning readers. This series should have a long and popular life ahead of it and I'm looking forward to more entries - Stanley the Farmer and Stanley's Diner are coming next! Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781561458042; Published 2014 by Peachtree; ARC and review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Visit the other stops on the Stanley blog tour!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Grizzly Bears of Alaska: Explore the world of wild bears by Debbie S. Miller, photographs by Patrick J. Endres

I really, really like bears. So I knew I was probably going to like this book, irregardless of any flaws. Because, really, BEARS. Awesome.

The book explains the habits, habitats, and general life cycles of grizzlies in Alaska, including some of the coastal bears. Each page features full-color, gorgeous photographs, matching the text. The text is in fairly large chunks with different words highlighted. Sections include "Leaving the Den," accompanied by photographs of bear cubs, cubs nursing, and cubs following their mother across the fields below a mountain. "Got One!" talks about brown bears' swimming abilities and shows several bears enjoying the water and the fishing. At the back of the book, there's a map showing the ranges of grizzly and brown bears and a brief mention of polar bears and black bears (with photographs). the last page and endpaper of the book lists the credits and a page of discussion questions, as well as a link to a teacher's guide.

I had expected the highlighted words to show up in a glossary, but I assume they're in the teacher's guide. There is quite a lot of text, but that's offset by the amazing photographs. The text is also set in a large, bold font and the layout is really well done. It's not often you see photographs and text so nicely combined.

The hardcover edition of the book is currently out of stock - probably due to increased demand because of the DisneyNature movie - but the paperback is currently available. This is a small press and while it can't compete with, say, Scientists in the Field, it's a really nice introduction to bears with amazing photographs and accessible text.

Verdict: Bears. I mean, BEARS. I have to have it. You need it too - think of all the kids who want to see awesome pictures of bears. How can you deny them this pleasure?

ISBN: 9781570619328; Published 2014 by Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order list

Saturday, September 6, 2014

This Week at the Library; or, Here Comes Fall

What's Happening - In My Head and At the Library
  • We were closed Monday for the holiday and programs started on Saturday, so it's a bit of an odd week all around. We also continued to have major issues with the printer/copier, had our rug cleaned (I moved a LOT of stuff) and got the chalkboard wall repainted with magnetic paint. The fumes were horrendous.
  • Wrote my monthly report - now that I'm doing a narrative as well as statistics it takes a bit longer. Overall, summer reading participation was up by about 50 from last year, program attendance over the entire summer increased from last year by over 1,000!!, and we did very well in circulation, although we didn't see any of the massive jumps we did last year. That's ok, we couldn't have shelved that many items anyways.
  • Planned the fall festival and other programs.
  • Finished the A's in the picture books for changing over to the Neighborhoods!
  • Still working on shelf labels, which has turned out to be quite time-consuming
  • Sorting all the donation/summer reading prize books for storage.
  • Our school district has issued computers to all the kids 3rd grade through high school. Once we figured out how to get them logged into wi-fi, it's been a remarkably quiet first week of school! No more kids futzing around because they have blocked cards and can't use a computer, or there aren't enough computers to go around. A few kids have complained that they're heavy, in addition to their heavy backpacks (which I have to agree with) and some teachers, parents (and kids) have doubts about their educational use, but I'm happy!
  • It was a long week - I thought I'd just be at the library for a couple hours on Saturday for the fall festival and ended up staying over 4 hours. Oh well.
Programs
What the kids are reading
  • 5th grade books for a girl who doesn't like to read (she did like Wimpy Kid and Ramona). I gave her Ellie McDoodle, Calli Be Gold, and Fashion Kitty (she didn't like Fashion Kitty).
  • Mo Willems
  • Books on death (two requests for death of a parent )-:) I could add to this collection
  • Potty training
  • books for a 1st grader (easy readers)
  • fantasy books for an adult who likes juvenile/ya as well as adult. Lackey's Joust was just what she wanted.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Comics Squad: Recess! by Jennifer L. Holm, Matthew Holm, Raina Telgemeier, Dave Roman, Dan Santat, Dav Pilkey, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, Gene Luen Yang

Why did I not know Ursula Vernon had a short in this book? I need this book now, very much. I wasn't quite sure about it when I bought it - primarily because I saw "Raina Telgemeier" and my immediate reaction to her name after this summer has been "click buy button as many times as possible."

So, if you were wondering, like me, exactly what this was....it's a collection of short comics (a couple pages each), in the style of the popular two-tone comics series like Lunch Lady, Babymouse, etc. (all of whom are included). The color of this book is orange and all the artists/authors write very much in their most familiar styles.

"The Super-Secret Ninja Club by Gene Luen Yang" is the one story I would have left out. It's not that it's a bad story - it accurately captures elementary cliques and fads and it's quite funny. But every single other author in this collection is a popular elementary comic artist. Kids who like their stories can go find more. A 9 year old who enjoys this story is not going to move on to American Born Chinese and Yang doesn't really have any stories suitable for younger kids (or not that I'm aware of anyways).

Dav Pilkey offers a short, hand-drawn comic and a hilarious letter of complaint from a teacher about his hero George Beard drawing in class, "Book 'Em, Dog Man". It's even got a little flip-o-rama! Not everyone is into the scribbly comic style, but even the most strait-laced librarian can't disapprove of Dog Man's quest to restore books to the world.

Jarrett Krosoczka puts Lunch Lady on the sick list, letting her assistant Betty be the star for the day, fighting a pizza monster in "Betty and the Perilous Pizza Day."

Ursula Vernon introduces two new characters in "The Magic Acorn" but they've got her deadpan style down pat as the sensible squirrel Scratch gets dragged into yet another crazy (albeit short) adventure with Squeak.

Babymouse sets out on "The Quest for Recess" in a typical Babymouse adventure and reaches her goal...but is it even worth it? Yes, of course, especially when Lunch Lady makes a special guest appearance!

Eric Wight, popular creator of Frankie Pickle (why don't they come out more regularly? WHY?), introduces a whole cast of edible characters along with Jiminy Sprinkles in "Freeze Tag". Vegetables vs. sweets, who will triumph? Especially when peppermint powers come into play!

Dan Santat isn't as immediately familiar to most kids - he doesn't yet have a really popular comics series - but with his new illustrations for Dav Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta he's gaining fans and after reading the gross but heartfelt "300 Words" quite a few kids will go searching for his other works.

Finally, the story my hordes will be devouring, Raina Telgemeier's "The Rainy Day Monitor" introduces kids to the magic of RPGs and transforms Boring Becca into the coolest rainy day monitor ever! (I guess Dave Roman was co-author too, but while I have some Astronaut Academy fans, he's not as HUGE in my library as Telgemeier). Bonus points for a really diverse class of kids.

The stories are interspersed with little games, drawing instructions, mash-ups, etc.

Verdict: The only question about this is, not will you buy it, but how many copies do you need, where will you put it once you've bought it, and do you have complete runs of all the included authors' works, because kids will be clamoring for more! I decided to put this under Holm, since they're the main editors and I think Babymouse is the best-known of the series (Raina Telgemeier has passed her in popularity, but nobody can spell or remember her name, they just ask for her titles). Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780385370042; Published 2014 by Random House; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Maddi's Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel

Sofia and Maddi are best friends. When Sofia discovers that Maddi has an empty fridge, she tries to honor her promise not to tell and help her friend out at the same time with hilarious - and stinky - results. While Sofia tries to help Maddi, Maddi is helping her finally make it to the top of the climbing wall in the park and Sofia realizes that friends help friends, but sometimes it takes more than one friend. So she tells her mom. Maddi's family receives help and Maddi and Sofia are still friends, always ready to help each other out, because that's what friends do.

The last page of the book includes statistics about hunger in the United States and simple ways that kids can help. The link supplied for more information on hunger organizations right now takes you to the author's website, specifically the page for this book. There is a link to "Fight Hunger" which repeats the same six suggestions from the book and has links to Feeding America and No Kid Hungry.

The art is cartoon style, with neatly drawn containers of food and other items and a collection of characters with comically exaggerated eyes and expressions. Much of the action happens along city streets, where Maddi and Sofia stand out brightly against the lighter, faded backgrounds. The art has a brisk graphic style with smaller spot illustrations, thought balloons, and a casual, sketchy font.

Hunger and poverty is rarely, if ever, addressed in children's books. This book has a nice storyline, paralleling Maddi helping Sofia to climb the wall with Sofia bringing Maddi food. It was nice to see that Sofia, whose family appears to be Hispanic, wasn't automatically made the ones in poverty. Both families appear to be parented by single moms, another thing you don't see often in children's books (at least not explicitly) but the similarities, rather than the differences, between the two girls are what is emphasized; they both have little brothers, they both like playing in the park, they both like treats. Part of the story includes discussion of healthy food as well as the issues of poverty (Sofia asks at dinner each night if the food they're eating is healthy before trying to take it to Maddi and there are several discussions of which food is healthy and which is a sometimes treat).

It is a little more text-heavy than the typical picture book, but the illustrations are attractive enough that most older children will enjoy listening to it.  The most unrealistic part was that the two girls were running around and playing on the climbing wall alone. Really? They look to be about 7. Every climbing wall I've ever seen was heavily supervised with safety gear and I can't imagine any  kids being allowed to run around the city streets, especially in the evening. That's more of an adult perspective though; most kids will likely not notice.

Verdict: This has a decent plot aside from the lesson and the illustrations are fun. Recommended for purchase if you need more titles on this topic (and I'm betting you don't have any). I would probably put it in a special collection as it's a little too didactic for a general picture book section, in my opinion.

ISBN: 9781936261291; Published September 2014 by Flash Light Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Stanley the Builder by William Bee

This is a new series of board books from Peachtree. William Bee is the author of such delightfully unique books as Beware the Frog, so this is a bit of a departure for him, but I fell in love as soon as I saw the cover!

I reviewed this from an ARC and have not yet seen the finished product. The publicist said they would have padded covers (which I have an irrational hatred of) but that they are very sturdily made and promised I would not hate them. [See next week's review for analysis of format]. From the publisher descriptions, it sounds like a large size for a board book - roughly 8x8 inches - with reinforced pages similar to a board book.

The end paper repeat the color scheme of the front cover with a bold swathe of orange and the author's name. There is a full spread showing a colorful variety of tools before the title page.

The story features Stanley (a hamster with a little bit of a tail) who is asked by Myrtle the mouse to build her a house. Stanley, with the help of Charlie the mouse and a variety of colorful machines, goes through the basic steps of construction, starting with clearing the land and continuing on to make a foundation, lay bricks, put on the roof, and the finishing touches of painting and landscaping. Stanley finishes the day at his own house with dinner, bath, and bed.

Not all of the tools from the initial spread are used in the illustrations, but enough of them to make a good seek and find activity. They are also all related to building things and could make a good discussion of what each thing is and how it's used (note -  I have no idea what the serrated round green thing is). The pictures are extremely attractive and perfect for the young age of the intended audience. The bold lines and bright colors instantly attract attention and the simple style, set against white backgrounds, will be perfect to hold the attention of wiggly toddlers.

The text is minimal and irresistibly reminds me of another series of process picture books from my childhood - the Teddy Bear series by Joan and Selby Worthington. You probably never came across these, they're very British and difficult to find, but basically they feature a teddy bear going through a daily routine in a number of different jobs. The style of the writing is much simpler, but it has the same basic feel to it and I'm thrilled to find a similar story with the same delightful sequencing. Kids love the "first, and then, and then" of basic storytelling when they're young and this catches it just right.

My only quibble with these is that Myrtle "helps" with her new house by bringing the male characters drinks. Couldn't she have helped instead of Charlie?

Verdict: While I'm still waiting to report on the physical format, I think I can definitely say we have a winning formula for a new series that is going to be extremely popular among children and parents alike and a great choice for storytime. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781561458011; Published 2014 by Peachtree; ARC provided by publisher

This is the second stop on the Stanley the Builder blog tour. Check out more reviews at:
Monday 9/1- Green Bean Teen Queen
Tuesday 9/2Geo Librarian and Kid Lit Reviews
Wednesday 9/3Chat with Vera
Thursday 9/4Blue Owl and Kiss the Book
Friday 9/5The Fourth Musketeer

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

I strongly resisted even looking at this book for a long time. Picture book biographies (or autobiographies) do not circulate well (or at all) at my library. Neither does anything on art unless it's a craft or how to make things type of book. I was wrong. I can admit it. I should have known that Lois Ehlert was not going to lose sight of the interests of her primary audience; young children.

The endpapers are a colorful collage of photographs, found objects, and colors. The collage continues onto the title page and incorporates the title and author. The first page says, in large, bold, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom letters, "Don't read this book" and then in smaller print "unless you love books and art" and lovers of art and books have a feast waiting for them in the following pages.

In simple, honest language, Lois Ehlert talks about her ideas for books, where they came from, and how she created the art. There are sketches and drafts and finished artwork, craft ideas and guidelines on creating your own art, stories from her childhood, and so much more. Although the book is twice the length of the average picture book, it's not hard to see even a very young child being engrossed in the colorful pages and bits and pieces of Lois Ehlert's art and life.

Verdict: This isn't a book you want to plow straight through; rather, it's ideal for dipping into and choosing a few pages to sample. Give it to kids to pore over, read snippets in storytime (I'm planning to feature it at my We Explore Favorite Artists series in the fall) and make sure you shelve it in the picture books where Lois Ehlert fans will discover another book to treasure.

ISBN: 9781442435711; Published 2013 by Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order list