Friday, October 31, 2014

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

When I saw the reviews mentioning things like "heartfelt" and "sings with heart and emotion" my first thought was "I bet her mom dies." However, I decided to read it anyways, because I loved the cover art.

SPOILER: Yep.

Naomi "Chirp" loves her family and their life on Cape Cod. She doesn't always get along with her older sister Rachel and her psychiatrist father doesn't understand her need for quiet and privacy with his insistence on everyone talking things out and sharing, but she is close to her mother, who loves to dance and she has her birds and the natural world that she loves to observe.

Then her mother gets sick. Everything changes and gets worse and worse. The small things that didn't matter before; being the only Jewish family in her school, her mom's more avant garde life compared to the more conservative, suburban moms, the boys next door she's supposed to stay away from, all become magnified. Her parents struggle to handle her mother's degenerative disease but her mother spirals into depression and is hospitalized. When she comes back, she doesn't seem like Mom anymore and everyone walks on eggshells, trying to preserve their fragile family. It's not enough and tragedy ultimately strikes. Chirp feels abandoned and separated from her remaining family and the friendship she thought she had with Joey next door. It takes some painful experiences before she is able to reconnect and begin the grieving process.

The historical setting of the book is referenced in mentions of the Vietnam war, occasional protests, and some pop culture, but I don't think most kids will really grasp any of those references except possibly the war. For me, the father's treatment of his wife, as he "analyzes" her issues in an extremely paternalistic fashion and eventually commits her to a mental hospital, where she undergoes electroshock therapy that radically changes her personality, was the most glaring historical note. How many kids will know about mental treatments of the 60s and 70s? Not many.

There's a secondary story line with Joey, the boy next door, who forms a friendship with Chirp and then attacks her when he feels betrayed. This story line wasn't really followed up; at the end, there's some indications that his brothers will protect him from his father's physical abuse, but nothing definite. This is not a book for kids who want a strong plot with all the ends neatly tied up; Chirp's story ends as she comes to a point where she's ready to begin grieving for her mother and coming to terms with her death and there are no easy answers to the family issues of anyone in the story.

Generally, I'm not much a fan of this type of historical fiction (or any historical fiction really) but I do try to buy a couple of these books a year for the girls who love, love, love this kind of book. This is definitely a two-kleenex box story and I have to admit that by the halfway mark I was wanting her mother to just DIE ALREADY so we could have one burst of cathartic grief. But that's just me - I feel uncomfortable with books (or any media) that I feel is trying to emotionally manipulate me.

This is a real tearjerker but also has some sharp insights into life and dealing with grief as Chirp struggles to come to terms with her mother's illness and sudden, shocking death. Her feeling of separation will definitely strike a chord with kids who are just starting to find their own identities and feel different (and what kid at that age doesn't?) from those around them.

Verdict: If, like me, you only buy a couple of this type of book every year (beautifully written historical fiction featuring girls whose mothers die and who are obsessed with the natural beauty of the world around them) this should definitely be one of them. I wouldn't be surprised to see it showing up on some award lists. 

ISBN: 9780383386074; Published 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Small Readers: Meet Monster by Ellen Blance and Ann Cook, illustrated by Quentin Blake




As you can see, I am beginning a new feature! Small Readers will be reviews of easy readers and they will alternate with Read, Read, Read, said the Baby (board books) on Wednesday. So, I will be back to three reviews a week. As I get started, I'm going to bring back some of my older easy reader reviews for another look. Enjoy!

[Originally published in 2011. No edits have been made.]

Sometimes when we meet an old book friend, we're disappointed. The book we remembered was so much more magical, so much better-written. We look back at it with an adult's eyes and...it just doesn't measure up.

Happily, that is not the case with the reprinting of Ellen Blance and Ann Cook's beloved Monster stories. Monster is every bit as purple and his adventures are every bit as delightfully logical, with the logic of a child's mind, just as I remember.

All six easy readers are collecting in one tidy volume with each book as a chapter. In the first book, we meet Monster. He's tall and purple and has a skinny head and he looks at everything in the city. Finally, he packs his things and comes to stay. So, naturally, in the second story he must find a house that is just right for him - not too small, not too messy, not too big. Now that he has moved in, it's time for him him to clean house! Everything looks fine and he's ready for book five; finding a friend. After lots of looking, he finds a small boy who is happy to be his friend and comes to live with him. In the final chapter, he and his new friend find a lady monster and a magic umbrella.

Quentin Blake's classic illustrations are the perfect background to the stories of Monster. They have a child's logic; if you find a friend, of course he comes to live with you. If you are a monster, you need a big tall house. You don't just clean things, you clean them for a reason - so the bedroom gets cleaned so you don't have to clean it while people are sleeping. The bathtub gets cleaned so when you pour the water in it's not dirty.

The abrupt changes in plot - one minute Monster is delightedly meeting a lady monster, the next minute they are playing soccer, and then suddenly it's raining and they have a giant magic umbrella - are all a perfect blend of a child's narrational train and the gentle hand of the authors creating a readable and simply expressed story.

Verdict: I am so happy they brought these stories back into print - they are classic easy readers and would make a great choice for a beginning reader book club or springboards for writing your own Monster stories!

ISBN: 978-07614-5648-3; Published April 2011 by Marshall Cavendish; Purchased for the library

Monday, October 27, 2014

Read Scary: Nonfiction Monday: When Lunch fights back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses by Rebecca L. Johnson

This is awesome. It's definitely going to be on my list of "freaky weird animal books" that I take to schools in the spring.

The introduction talks briefly about the life-or-death struggle to survive and references the basic common defenses, but there's so much more out there...

Each chapter begins with a tense narrative of attack and defense, with basic information on the animal and cool photographs. The next section explains the science behind the defense with plenty of quotes from scientists and even some discussion of how the creature's defenses may be used in science.

The animals discussed include a hagfish, African hairy frog, Spanish ribbed newt, termites, hoopoe chicks, fulmar chicks, mantis shrimp, horned lizard, two-spot fish and even black mustard plants. Defenses range from slime and spurting blood to spraying poop and clever chemical ruses.

Back matter includes an author's note, bibliography, print and web sources (including videos of animal defenses in action) an index and source notes.

What sets this book apart from the usual "gross and weird animals!" books that are so popular is the emphasis on the science behind the defenses and the larger context of how the animals and their defenses fit into their habitats and affect the creatures around them. Of course, there's plenty of creepy and gross pictures, which doesn't hurt either!

Verdict: This will certainly appeal to the kids who like the "weird animals" genre, but it's got even more information that will grab science-minded kids and even adults! Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781467721097; Published 2014 by Milbrook/Lerner; Purchased for the library

Saturday, October 25, 2014

This week at the library; or, Outreach it's ON

What's going on at the library and in my head
  • Sometimes all you can do on Monday is resign yourself to your fate and hope you don't throw up on any small children. I passed the BLAs in the picture books to neighborhood projects. Now I'm on to the BUTs. I'm beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that this project will not be done by the end of the year...
  • This week was crazy with outreach, staffing issues, and trying to think about big picture goals when all I really want to do is survive until November.
  • Bright spots - someone found me a toilet seat so I didn't have to make one for the Wimpy Kid party and a parent told me how much they loved the Neighborhoods. Also, one of the parent chaperones on the second grade tour came back to donate stuff!
  • Several new families came to the Welty center program and everyone had a great time, although it was a smaller group (although a good size for a no school day - 35)
Programs
What the kids are reading:
  • Kid wanting nonfiction that he could read and chapter books. He was carrying some magic tree house and I threw out some subjects - history? adventure? sports? SPORTS. I have him Jake Maddox and showed him the Bearport sports bios that I have - very excited with Jake Maddox.
  • Adult looking for books for an 8 year old who's gone through all the Wimpy Kid and is finishing Big Nate and wants him to "move on". She seemed receptive so I cautiously gave my tactful speech about how books are more than levels and he wouldn't want to miss out on the books kids his age are reading just because they're a little easier. She agreed and took Shredderman,
  • Books about moving to a "big boy bed" - I have Eve Bunting's Your own big bed and also Ed Braun's Back to bed, Ed!
  • Holiday books - Halloween and Thanksgiving.
  • Kids on tour were VERY excited about the minecraft books I showed them. I told our cataloger to make sure the records were in so they could place holds.
  • Wimpy Kid
  • Cupcake Crusader - this turned out to be Horace Splattley, which I don't own
  • I Spy books
  • More suggestions for 900+ lexile reader I talked to a few weeks ago - he loved Nurk and the Komodo Dragons book and didn't really get into Ranger's Apprentice, so I gave him the Face to Face series for nonfiction, Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom, and How to train your dragon

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stranded by Jeff Probst and Chris Tebbetts

I had no idea who Jeff Probst was, I just saw this and thought "survival adventure!" and "it's short!" and grabbed it at an ALA conference. Um....several years ago. Yes, I am just now digging into my backlog of middle grade fiction.

Four kids are sailing in the middle of nowhere with their uncle and his friend. Vanessa is the oldest, her younger brother Buzz would rather be anywhere else (preferably somewhere with a tv and no seasickness) and they can't imagine ever being a family with their new siblings, arrogant, athletic Carter and his super-smart little sister Jane.

Then their boat wrecks, the adults are swept away on their only lifeboat, and the four kids are stranded on a tiny island. Will they learn to work together to survive, or will risky decisions, arguments, and the natural dangers that surround them take them down one by one?

This isn't great literature. The characters are one-dimensional, identified mostly by a single characteristic (Vanessa - bossy; Buzz - tv/games obsessed; Carter - athletic; Jane - child prodigy) and there are several info dumps and passages about mechanics of things (fixing a solar panel) that I found boring. The writing is rather bland.

It will check out like crazy. Is the writing as good as, say, Gordon Korman's adventure stories? No. But it's exciting, kids like the informational spots, and it's got enough family drama to keep those not interested in survival stories reading.

Verdict: Great literature? Nope. A fun, fast-paced story that will appeal to a wide range of readers? Yes. Bonus, it's less than 200 pages (you can purchase the first three volumes in one book, but I think that kind of defeats the purpose). If you have all Gordon Korman's adventure series and need more - and who doesn't? I recommend this series.

ISBN: 9780142424247; Published 2013 by Penguin; ARC provided by publisher at ALA; Added to the library's order list

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

The accompanying publicist's letter says "and you thought you hated clowns" so just to test it I showed this to our staff member with a morbid fear of clowns. She did consent to flip through it and said it was cute...but she still hates clowns.

So, it's a wordless book with Frazee's trademark cheerfully round faces. A grim farmer in the blank gray prairie (I'm guessing this is Kansas) is completely taken aback when a small clown tumbles off a circus train. When the little clown loses his painted smile, the farmer tries to cheer him up and eventually both of them relax together in friendly smiles - just in time for the circus train to return and the little clown to give one last hug and leave behind something special.

This is a story with lots of hints of underlying thoughts about family, friendship, and laughter. It's also just plain fun! Frazee's art captures how out of place the little clown is in the gray, serious prairie and how things gradually brighten up with his presence.

It will work best for one-on-one sharing, as some of the panels are small and it will take close attention to pick up all the details of the book.

Verdict: There aren't a lot of circus books out there, and this one is both sweet and funny. However, I limit the number of wordless picture books I buy since they tend to have a more limited audience. I wouldn't say this is a must-have purchase, but if you have the budget and space it's certainly a recommended addition.

ISBN: 9781442497443; Published 2014 by Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Read Scary: Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills

This review was previously published. I have edited it.

This title was originally released as a small format board book in July 2009, but to my delight Random House has re-released it in a large, picture-book size board book, perfect for storytime! It's about 10 by 10 inches.

It's hard to believe there is anyone out there who hasn't met Duck and Goose yet, but if you haven't...

Duck and Goose are best friends, sometimes joined by another duckling, Thistle. While they most often explore concepts in their board books, in this particular title they're on a hunt - a hunt for a pumpkin! Duck and Goose are so enamoured of Thistle's pumpkin that they go searching for one of their own, but in all the wrong places. With a little help from Thistle, they finally find their own pumpkin.

The text is short, sweet and simple, perfect for toddlers. It's framed as a series of questions, "Is our pumpkin in the log, Goose? No." and makes not only a good straight read-aloud, but a nice structure for creating your own questions and story, especially if you're reading this with older kids.

Hills' oil paint illustrations are so rich I just want to keep stroking this book. Duck and Goose's brilliant white and yellow plumage stands out sharply against a glowing orange and green background of leaves, grass, and pumpkins. The illustrations are simple and easy for little ones to follow, without overdoing the detail, but they're not abstract and don't make you guess what the painting is supposed to be.

Verdict: I'm delighted that Random has published this board book in a large enough format that I can use this title in storytime. Great for toddlers and young preschoolers and perfect for fall storytimes. Even if you have the original, I strongly recommend purchasing this new edition as well!

ISBN: 9780307981554; This edition published July 2012 by Random House/Schwartz & Wade; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Tracks Count: A guide to Counting Animal Prints by Steve Engel, illustrated by Alexander Petersen

Small press Craigmore Creations focuses on geology and other nature-themed titles. This is part of their "Little Naturalists" series.

An introduction "for the grown-ups" by David R. Shapiro opens the book with an explanation of how to read tracks and how they are arranged for the book.

Each spread introduces a number and corresponding tracks with a little interactive counting. For example, on the page for three, there is a large numeral 3, then "Rhinoceros" then a rhinoceros footprint. Under that, the text reads "On the hot savannah, three rhinoceros rest under a tree. Count the toes on the track - one, two, three! The page of text and the illustration of the track is paired with a picture on the right in brown hues featuring the animals in their habitat.

A final spread shows the numbers from 1-10 with tracks for each (three rhino tracks under the three, etc.). Another spread lists the animals' scientific names and a short paragraph of information about each.

The art is not the usual colorful, bright pictures of a children's book, but there is something attractive about the simple, natural sketches and soft charcoal shading. The tracks are clearly drawn and make it easy to count the toes, which make up the counting exercises.

The big problem I usually have with this type of unique concept book is that it's developmentally way above the age of children who need concept books. This one works pretty well though. Very young children can count the toes on the tracks and identify the animals, and older kids who are beyond the counting part can enjoy identifying the tracks.

Verdict: There are a lot of animal track books out there, but this is a fun combination of animals tracks and counting. If you have fans of either, this would make a good addition to your library.

ISBN: 9781940052076; Published 2014 by Craigmore Creations; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, October 18, 2014

This week at the library; or, clinging to calm with the tips of my fingers

What's Happening: At the library and in my head
  • Crazy week! Luckily a bunch of outreach got pushed forward to next week, so I had a week to try and catch up on things. I am trying to maintain my zen and not get stressed out. Sort of working.
  • Outside projects - my class with Marge, Cybils, getting the garden ready for the fall, catching up on reviewing
  • Library projects - Neighborhoods, putting together a tentative departmental mission/goals/objectives. I figure it doesn't have to be perfect, just enough to get us started and I'll refine it as we test it out. Also found out that RFID is definitely happening - I had mixed feelings about this until I realized it would mean security gates (coming in December) which would mean....I can have an anime collection in the teen area!!!
  • Monday - Meetings! First with some other consortium youth librarians, then an insurance meeting with the city, then a staff meeting, then it was time to go on the information desk for the evening.
  • Tuesday - dealing with incidents from last Friday evening, tackling program planning and catching up to everything that didn't get done, like filling displays and putting out a new Take Home Storytime: We are the dinosaurs!
  • And then I was just busy.
Programs
What the kids are reading
  • Yes, the Minecraft books are coming.
  • More Lexiles woe - we made up the points needed at a very high lexile for a 4th grader with Nurk, Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon, and also took Ruins of Gorlan for later.
  • Read-alikes for Cupcake Diaries for a ten year old. What she really, really wants is more surfing books but neither her mom nor I can find anything. I suggested Sew Zoey, My life in pink and green, and Cupcake Cousins (should have suggested Cupcake Club, but I don't have it here and didn't think of it until after they had gone)
  • Fred 3. This is why we have a consortium, so we can get movies from other libraries.
  • Family who absolutely loves Lindgren's Skinnyjack - I am the only library who has it! I helped her find a used version online.
  • Easy readers for the very beginner - Biscuit and Elephant and Piggie
  • Goosebumps - should put some on display with the Halloween books
  • Bubble Guppies - couldn't find anywhere
  • Press Here - one copy should have been in but couldn't find it. I put Press Here and Mix it up on hold for them and then remembered I had just gotten Tap to Play so gave her that and she was very excited to be the first to check it out. Press Here seems to be one of those picture books that grabs a wide range of ages - this girl was probably 7.
  • Small child very sad that the tub of Lego books was empty. I pulled some easy readers for him.
  • Lengthy discussion starting with read-alikes for My Louisiana Sky and Penny from Heaven and ending with Adventure Time and Doodlebug.
  • Teacher wanting books on "kindness" for kindergarten to 1st grade - gave her Trudy Ludwig's oevre.
  • Parent wanting books to read with a reluctant 10 year old reader (this is the "reluctant reader b/c he only reads Big Nate" variety). I tactfully suggested that Where the Red Fern Grows was maybe not going to really interest him and gave her Hatchet, Gregor the Overlander, and Nerds instead.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Read Scary: My Boyfriend is a Monster: I love him to pieces by Evonne Tsang, illustrated by Janina Gorrissen

This is the book that started it all...back when it came out, Twilight was in full swing and it was a hilarious anti-romantic paranormal romance (at least, I thought it was). Graphic Universe went on to produce a whole series of these books, of varying quality both in art and plot, but this remains both my personal favorite and what most people seem to agree is the best story.

Dicey Bell is a stereotypical jock - if jocks were star baseball players, blond and bouncy and enthusiastic. Jack Chen is the stereotypical science nerd with a side of RPG, his parents are scientists and he pretty much has free run of the school labs. Nobody would have expected them to get together, but when they're assigned as lab partners they find they actually get along pretty well and are just started a little romance when ZOMBIE ATTACK. From there on out it's beating off zombies with baseball bats (Dicey) analyzing what the heck is going on (Jack) and trying their best to find a happy ending together.

Gorrissen's black and white art is serviceable, if not particularly unique. The characters are easily distinguishable (yes, this is a think I look for in art) the story is easy to follow, and there's lots of humorous details and gross zombies.

The real draw for this is the story. It's both a really funny, romantic, sweet story but also flips stereotypes. Dicey is a jock - she lives for baseball and is an enthusiastic extrovert. Jack is a nerd - he doesn't do anything but science and he's a complete introvert. They're both wary of each other at first, and Jack is especially prejudiced against what he thinks of as stupid jocks, but then Jack realizes that not only is Dicey really fun to be around - she's also in the honor society and super smart. Dicey, at first thinks Jack is a prejudiced geek, but is surprised when he apologizes after their initial tiff and realizes that he's, well, pretty cute! Once she breaks him out of his shell (heh, pun if you read the story) she finds out he's really fun to talk to and he takes the time to share her interests and respects her skills both on and off the baseball field. Also, although it's never pointed out, Jack is one of the very few (I think possibly the only, but I haven't read enough YA to be sure) male love interests who's actually Asian. Girls yes, boys not so much.

Verdict: Even if you don't buy the whole series, you should definitely own at least the first few titles. They're funny, sweet, and gently flip stereotypes without being didactic or overshadowing the actual story. They're also mostly appropriate for middle school as well as high school. Hand these to kids who like paranormal romance, and this one in particular to girls who are desperate for books about girls playing sports.

ISBN: 9780761370796; Published 2011 by Lerner/Graphic Universe; Purchased for the library and my personal library

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Read Scary: Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season by Jessie Haas, illustrated by Alison Friend

I looked at the first Bramble and Maggie waaaaay back in 2012. Many changes have happened - I moved Bramble and Maggie to the chapter books, as I felt they fit better as a beginning chapter book than an easy reader. Several more books have been published.

But their essentially fun, practical friendship remains. This latest book is just perfect for the crisp fall weather (well, if you live in the Midwest). Bramble and Maggie, like an easy reader, is divided into three simple chapters, each a separate story. However, the chapters are all connected, similar to a chapter book. In this spooky fall installment, Bramble is feeling her oats and enjoying the fall weather, so she gets jumpy and pretending to be spooked. But then she sees something really scary - a scarecrow! In the second chapter, the following day, Bramble is still enjoying her pretend-spooks, which makes Maggie nervous. When Bramble gets a real scare, something bad happens - Maggie falls off! Fortunately, Bramble helps her best friend get back in the saddle, even though now Maggie is the one who's spooked. Finally, the two try out trick-or-treating, first choosing a costume and then enjoying the spooky delights of the neighborhood at night. Bramble is scared, but determined to take care of Maggie, who's still feeling a little shaky. There are plenty of treats for everyone and no tricks!

The text and illustrations are smoothly integrated, with Alison Friend's cheerful colors and round-faced people fleshing out the simple story. The pictures not only assist in decoding the text, but add a humorous element to the plot, especially in the last story, where Bramble, pop-eyed with fear but determined to protect Maggie faces off against a "ghost".

The book has a slightly larger format, closer to an easy reader, than a chapter book. Although it has the shorter sentences and simpler language of an easy reader, there are some more advanced vocabulary words and paragraph structure. A great choice for intermediate readers and a step up for fans of Kate and Cocoa, another horse and girl series.

Verdict: This is a fun addition to a great series. If you don't already have the whole series, consider adding it to your beginning chapter books for kids just starting to pick up longer books. If you already have the series, don't miss out on this latest title!

ISBN: 9780763664503; Published 2014 by Candlewick; ARC provided by publicist; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: My Book of Counting by Britta Teckentrup

I previously reviewed My Book of Opposites and now I have the companion, which features counting.

Each spread is divided into two halves. The first page shows an animal with a label in large, bold letters "Four tall giraffes" then the sentence is finished in smaller type "are racing through the town." Still in the smaller type, there is a question "How many yaks are hanging around?" which refers to the facing page. The first page shows the animals in a vehicle with the numeral on the side. The facing page is sprinkled with the number (four in this case) and sets of four animals, each prefaced with the number 4.

The final page of ten shows one of each previously featured animal riding the bus. The back of the book lists uses for the book "Develops numeracy/Aids language development/Encourages active recall" and the book itself is a sturdy cardboard construction, and a nice rectangle shape. It's big enough for an average storytime, but not oversized.

I love Britta Teckentrup's colorful and easily recognizable illustrations. They're a great match for this book which manages to pack a lot of information in without being cluttered. I especially like the way the text (no author for which is given) is organized so you can use it in different ways with different ages. You can use the simple counting and animal identification, read the whole sentence for more story, and interact with the question and various counting opportunities.

Verdict: I highly recommend both this and My book of Opposites and I look forward to more books in this style being published.

ISBN: 9781589255852; Published 2014 by Little Tiger Press/Tiger Tales; Purchased for the library

Monday, October 13, 2014

Read Scary: Nonfiction Monday: Secrets of the Ancient Gods: Hades Speaks! by Vicky Alvear Shecter, illustrated by J. E. Larson

I was a huge fan of Anubis Speaks! and so was very excited when Ms. Shecter sent me a review copy of the next addition to the series.

The story of Greek beliefs about religion, the afterlife, and selected myths and bits of culture, is narrated in a darkly cynical fashion by Hades, who feels a bit neglected amongst his fellow gods.

Hades introduces himself and conducts the reader into his world: the underworld. There we meet monsters and ghosts, hear myths, and learn about strange rituals. You'll learn the story of Persephone and the creation of the gods, the functions of Cerberus the guard dog, and the different rules for the land of the dead and for Elysium. The reader will learn about how Greek culture evolved through their religious rites and beliefs and the reasons for some of those beliefs, all narrated by the grim humor of Hades.

This felt more mythic and less historical than Anubis Speaks! for some reason. Maybe because I was more familiar with the Greek myths and culture than Egyptian, maybe because it felt like it focused more on myths and less on the history and culture that the myths came from. That's not a criticism, by the way, just an observation. There were more reference to pop culture (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, etc.) but most of them are things that should stay fairly current and not date the story.

The book is a manageable 104 pages, including the illustrations. Larson's stark black and white pictures are the perfect accompaniment to this grim but fascinating book. The book also includes a guide to Greek gods and heroes, glossary, a bibliography with both primary sources, secondary sources, articles and websites, and an index. At the back is a teaser for Anubis Speaks! which should draw in even the most hard-core Greek myth fan.

Verdict: Greek mythology is hugely popular right now, due to the Percy Jackson series, and this should check out briskly. Middle grade readers will be delighted by the familiar myths, new twists and monsters, and the bits of Greek culture and history may inspire them to go looking for the real history behind the myths. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781620915981; Published 2014 by Boyds Mills Press; Review copy provided by the author; Purchased for the library; Review copy saved as a prize

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Only a few days left to nominate for Cybils!

Cybils nominations close on October 15! and in case you need a little jogging of your memory, here are the titles I've been collecting all year.

Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • Handle with care by Loree Griffin Burns
  • Grizzly bears of Alaska by Debbie Miller (9781570619328)
  • Plastic ahoy! by Patricia Newman
  • A baby elephant in the wild by Caitlin O'Connell
  • About Habitats: Forests by Cathryn Sill
  • About Parrots by Cathryn Sill
  • Beneath the sun by Melissa Stewart
*Picture Books
  • Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi
  • Go! Go! Go! Stop! by Charise Mericle Harper
  • Nest by Jorey Hurley
  • Caterina and the lemonade stand by Erin Eitter Kono
  • Sophie Scott goes south by Alison Lester
  • Following papa's song by Gianna Marino
  • Crocodile who didn't like water by Gemma Merino
  • Lost for words by Natalie Russell
  • Hannah's night by Komako Sakai
Middle Grade Fiction
  • The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando (9780762449484)
  • Gold medal winter by Donna Freitas (9780545643771)
  • A hundred horses by Sarah Lean (9780062122292)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

This week at the library; or, Good-bye vacation, I barely knew ye

At the zoo with my new hood and mitts. And bear.
What's happening; in my head and at the library
  • I was on vacation Monday - Wednesday, although I did go in to work on Wednesday for a farewell party for (yet another) staff member who is leaving us. 
  • I also started an online class on youth services management with Marge Loch-Wouters. I have already got a whole page of ideas of how I need to fix my planning and goal-setting process for the department. I mean, not that I have one to fix, but to start one!
  • Thursday - I came back to 68 (make that 77) holds on my desk, approximately 100 new books, and a grim determination to Make it Through. I wore my turtle earrings. I made calls. I arranged community tours, rescheduled a daycare, called all the schools to see if they'd help me promote the programs I'm doing on an upcoming no school day, called more schools to discuss/schedule outreach, updated my main calendar with all the changes and the staff calendar, since I'll be needed to fill in at the front desk due to the staff member leaving, and planning enough of Friday's program to be able to wing it. Then Messy Art Club.
  • THERE WERE BIRDS AT THE BIRDWATCHING STATION!!! and half the seed was gone - I am so thrilled! After a whole summer of nothing (since I *cough* neglected to realize there were little doors that needed to be opened), and then weeks after I opened them still nothing, this was absolutely wonderful!
  • Friday - program, then I was on the main information desk for most of the afternoon and continued to deal with the holds, new books, and started up work on the Neighborhoods project again.
  • Saturday I went back to the zoo for an early childhood education class on big cats. It's funny because someone (I don't remember who) at ALSC Institute jokingly said something about their zoo advertising early literacy classes, but our zoo does these classes and they're actually really good! Primarily for daycare staff, they were really surprised when a couple librarians showed up, but I got a lot out of the last one and who doesn't like big cats?
  • Our town's battle of the books doesn't start until December, but quite a few other towns are showing up. Parents would really like if we had ALL the lists, but I don't see a way to make that happen!
Programs
What kids are reading and talking about
  • Yes, I have ordered all the Minecraft books. Well, all the handbooks anyways. 
  • Parent asked for easy readers with just text on one side of the page and illustrations on the other. My hands were covered in grease and I was starting a program in five minutes so I really blanked. Maybe some of Holiday House's I Like To Read series?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Read Scary: Zombies Calling by Faith Erin Hicks

I can't believe I've never reviewed this. It's the first Faith Erin Hicks book I encountered; in fact, I believe it's her first full-length graphic novel. I still love it.

So the story is pretty simple. Joss is worried about her exams, student loan debt and where her life is going. Really, she'd prefer just to watch her favorite zombie films and indulge her obsession for all things British. But when zombies really DO attack, it takes all Joss's knowledge to keep herself and her roommates, Sonnet and Robyn, alive.

When I booktalk this at schools (which I haven't done in a while) I always give it the tagline "armed only with a spork, Joss must defeat the forces of the undead!" heh. It actually has quite a few serious moments; when Joss talks with her friends about where her life is going (or isn't), when they survive the zombie attacks but realize how many people didn't, etc. There are also lots of hilarious, if inappropriate, moments; when Joss and Robyn discuss whether or not, as virgins, they'll survive the zombie apocalypse, and plenty of gore-spattered inappropriate laughs.

Fans of Hicks will easily see how far her art has come in the past years, but in the simple black and white sketches that make up the art of this book you can still see her distinctive style - wide eyes, expressive faces, realistic body shapes, and lots of wavy lines and gross zombies.

I probably shouldn't have, but I've booktalked this to sixth grade *guilty look*. Nobody has ever complained - either the kids never actually read it, or, far more likely, anything inappropriate just completely passed over their heads. Nevertheless, I don't advise you to tempt fate like I did and I suggest keeping your recommendations for this one at a high school level.

Verdict: I'm not entirely sure this is actually available. Baker and Taylor lists it as available for backorder, but that usually means "you order it and we will laugh and laugh and laugh and then six months later send you a cancellation notice". It is available on Amazon though. There are a lot of zombie books out there and Faith Erin Hicks has come a long way and her later books are more likely to be popular library choices. However, if you want a funny, quick read, I suggest this for your personal collection or as a gift for the zombie-lover in your life (and if you don't have one, congratulations! You have just raised your chances of surviving the upcoming zombie apocalypse)

ISBN: 9781593620790; Published 2009 by Slave Labor Graphics; Purchased for the library and my personal collection

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Read Scary: The Cryptids: The Loch Ness Monster by Jean Flitcroft

I'm going to be honest; these books looked like they might be popular from the description, but they're not something I would have taken a chance on purchasing. However, I won a set from the publisher and they are checking out quite briskly. I decided I'd try reading one.

SPOILERS

Vanessa is angry and hurt that her father wants to bring his girlfriend, Lee, along on their trip to Scotland. She feels like he and her brothers are just forgetting their mom and she can't stand Lee. But then she remembers the cryptid research her mom used to do and gets excited about investigating the Loch Ness monster. She's pleased when her dad says no more about bringing Lee, even when they arrive in Scotland. Then she finds out that they're staying at Lee's house, with her relatives. It's an armed truce until Vanessa rebelliously takes a boat out on the dangerous loch and capsizes. When she awakes, she finds that Nessie has saved her and they can communicate telepathically. They have much in common, Nessie having lost her own mother many years ago when she first became trapped in Loch Ness and she tells Vanessa a little about another girl who was lost in her caves and had also lost her mother. Vanessa is found and of course realizes that Lee was the other lost girl and the two start to bond as Vanessa begins to heal from her grief.

If that sounds rather confusing, it's a pretty accurate description of how I felt about the book. Most of it is talking about Vanessa's feelings and reactions, interspersed with trivia about the Loch Ness monster, and then suddenly she falls into the lake and you're not quite sure if she's hallucinating from eating the moss or if she really is having a telepathic conversation with the Loch Ness Monster and working through her grief over her mother. The writing is often stilted and even when it tries to be suspenseful or scientific I was never satisfied with it. I was also very confused by exactly how old the kids are supposed to be. Vanessa seems to be the oldest and a teenager, but then it sounds like her brothers are five years apart, and then it talks about her being sad that her mom won't be there for important parts of her life, like when she gets her period. There's driblets of suspense, but basically the book promises a lot more than it delivers.

This is Lerner's Darby Creek imprint, which is for struggling readers, i.e. a hi-lo book so some of the plot and writing can be attributed to that. However, your only binding choices are paperback or expensive library bound and for $22 a book I expect a lot more. I am very grateful to the publisher for giving me the free library bound copies and they are circulating quite well, numbers bolstered, I suspect, by the quite attractive covers, and it's good to have something to hand to the struggling readers, but I think they're not really going to satisfy the average reader looking for actual scary/suspenseful cryptid adventures.

Verdict: These would be great for kids wanting more "teen" books that are appropriate for younger readers and for struggling readers. Generally speaking, I would recommend these as additional purchases if you have the budget or are looking to expand a hi-lo collection.

ISBN: 9781467726023; Published2014 by Darby Creek/Lerner; I won copies of the trilogy in a publisher's contest; Donated to the library

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Read Scary: Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Where's Boo? by Salina Yoon

(This is an edited and republished version of an older review)

A Halloween read for the very littlest ones!

The green half circle with the tip of Boo's tail is a cut out - the green is on the very last page. Each page asks where Boo is hiding and shows the end of his tail behind a different Halloween item - a Jack-o'-lantern, cookie jar with a ghost on it, etc. Each time it turns out to be a different creature - a spider, the handle of a Halloween candle, etc. until we finally find Boo dressed up for Trick-or-treat at the end.

The pictures are cute enough, and have that bold, simple outline I look for in board books, but I didn't think the tail theme fit very well into some of them. The cat's face on the cover and the tail end are both fuzzy.

Verdict: This is the kind of cute novelty book that parents will check out eagerly, but it will be forgotten soon and dirty in a few months. If you really have a lot of requests for Halloween board books you might consider it, but otherwise it would make a better gift than a circulating library title. I donated it to one of our circulation clerks whose daughter was obsessed with Halloween and had seen this book at another library and declared it her favorite and they loved it.

ISBN: 9780307978080; Published 2013 by Random House; Review copy provided by publisher; Given away as a gift

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Swamp Chomp by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Paul Meisel

Simple, bold text describes the life in a pond until the last few pages, when an orgy of eating breaks out and the food chain progresses from mosquito up to alligator. I really would have liked more text - it's so extremely minimal that you don't really realize you're looking at a food chain unless you start with the endpapers or until you get to the end. Example, "Mosquitoes flit. Sit./Dragonflies swoop. Dip." It goes like this throughout the book - one page is just sounds, "Simmer Bellow Drone" etc. Some of the text doesn't clearly match the pictures. When it says "Crayfish crawl. Carry." there is nothing shown in the crawfish's claws. "Bullfrogs wait. Lay." doesn't explain if the bullfrog is laying eggs? Or just....laying?

However, the pictures do a good job of showing swamp life. There are lots of animals, many small and hidden, and activities and details in the art to discuss. I have to say, honestly, that Meisel isn't one of my favorite artists; I'm not really a fan of watercolors in general (I don't like Brian Floca much either) but it really does work for this book. Especially in the end, when all the animals jump into chomping action, the pictures are lively (but not scary) and I can see kids getting really interactive with this part.

Verdict: Maybe not a definite first purchase, but if you do any kind of nonfiction for storytimes you'll want to add this. I'm already thinking of ways I can use it as a flannelboard, interactive game, etc.

ISBN: 9780823424078; Published 2014 by Holiday House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's wishlist

Saturday, October 4, 2014

This Week at the Library; or, Blink! You missed it again!

Nobody is more surprised than me that our new children's
garden actually has produced a couple pumpkins!
What's happening - in my head and at the library
  • I went on vacation again, so this week was only Monday and Tuesday for me. It's a weird, weird sensation to actually take more than one or two days off.

Program
  • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions)
  • Books 'n' Babies
  • Lego Club
What the kids are reading
  • Red dot easy readers - little do the parents and kids know, I have stickered my easy readers with no discernible system. So they are not actually getting leveled books. Mwa ha ha.
  • I had a whole list of dragon books ready to recommend to a kid whose mom was bringing him in for this express purpose...and he's into ninjas now. Sigh. He will get into stuff if he's made to start it, so I gave him Fire Within, Nathaniel Fludd, and Island of Thieves.
  • One of my voracious readers a couple minutes before closing needed ANYTHING to read - gave her Sam Angus' latest, the one with the horse, and Lisa Graff's Absolutely Anything, then she saw there was a new Land of Stories and grabbed that.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cleopatra in space: Target practice by Mike Maihack

When I first heard about this title, I was skeptical. Scholastic Graphix usually turns out really popular titles, but every once in a while they go off into "crazy plots" country and this sounded like it fit into that category (think ChickenHare).

I went ahead and bought it anyways, as I was looking for more adventure graphic novels. I handed it to a girl and she brought it back positively gushing about how much she had loved it. "Very well," I thought, "I shall give it a chance."

It was AWESOME. If you're expecting a novel about ancient Egypt, forget it. This is pure action with a great heroine who's full of confidence and enthusiasm.

The story opens with a mysterious chapter featuring a nameless girl fighting off a strange race of furious blue-green aliens for possession of a box. Who is this girl and why is she rescued by a cat on a floating sphinx? Well...that story begins many years ago and her name is Cleopatra...and she's seriously bored. So being mysteriously abducted by space aliens doesn't throw her much - at first. However,e finding out that she's supposed to save the universe is a bit of a downer, since she wasn't very enthusiastic about ruling Egypt either. She's especially annoyed when she discovers she's still going to have to go to *gag* classes! Luckily, there's more hand-to-hand combat involved in this school and it's not long before she's ready for her first mission. But will she survive to pass the course?

The art has a lot of purples, greens, and reds. It's exciting, easy to follow, colorful, and attractive. It does have a certain cinematic sameness about it in comparison with most other graphic novels for this age group, but there's nothing wrong with that - the story is the thing and the art supports it very well, with enough of a recognizable style for kids to ask for more.

Verdict: Fans of Zita the Spacegirl will be thrilled with this new heroine. With plenty of action, adventure, mystery, and a side dish of friendship and school woes, expect this new series to fly off the shelf!

ISBN: 9780545528429; Published 2014 by Scholastic Graphix; Purchased for the library

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thrive Thursday

Still time to leave links! I'll continue adding to the round-up through the end of the week

Awesome School-Age Programs for All Libraries!

SPOOKY FUN FOR HALLOWEEN

And, from myself, we've had quite a few family and school-age programs at my library this month, including...Fall Festival - this introduced my after school clubs as well as some fun games and prizes

Our gracious founder, Lisa at Thrive after Three, offers a fun Halloween scavenger hunt and the fun continues with Room on the Broom Bingo!

If you're looking for some dress-up ideas, why not try Meg's Pirate Party at Miss Meg's Storytime? Ahoy me hearties, here be books!

ART
Carol Simon Levin has a great program on early Egyptian art and civilization. Mummies anyone?

We Explore programs - I'm doing these currently with preschool and toddlers, but little do they know they are merely the testing ground - these are going to become my outreach offerings and I already have a whole school of first graders signed up to come for We Explore Favorite Artists in October!
We Explore Favorite Artist Lois Ehlert

SCIENCE

Mad Scientists Club at my library started back up again with Mad Scientists Club: Cardboard Engineering

I've also started a new We Explore series - Nature! (my colleague does science for the toddlers) We Explore Nature: Birds

Angie at Fat Girl Reading has not one science program, not two, but an ENTIRE WEEK of ScienceFest programming!

OTHER COOL STUFF, INCLUDING BOOK CLUBS
Dana at Jbrary has a plethora of games for International Game Day. It's a bonanza!

Ms. Kelly has their latest American Girl Club meeting - Kaya!

Tweenbrarian has a lunch book club with, appropriately, Lunch Lady! Pizza and justice is served!

Tweenbrarian also has some great ideas for Star Wars Read Day

What do you do when things don't turn out as you expect? Check out The Neighborhood Librarian's Family Day trials and how she coped.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle month at erinisinire....ok, I am not a big fan of TMNT but I want this!

For serious fans, Librarian Out Loud has an entire club based around Dr. Who. The Whovians. Wow. I...watched a couple episodes once? It was ok?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greetings from somewhere: The mystery of the gold coin by Harper Paris, illustrated by Marcos Calo

This is a new beginning chapter series from Little Simon. They've done some really popular series, especially Critter Club. I wasn't as impressed with this series.

Twins Ethan and Ella are shocked and dismayed when their parents tell them they're moving away from their hometown next week to travel the world with their mother's new job. Their archaeologist grandfather gives Ethan a gold coin and Ella a journal as goodbye presents. But right before they're about to leave, the gold coin disappears! The twins work together to solve the mystery and decide they really are excited about traveling after all.

This is the opening of the series, so it's mainly set-up of the characters and their identifying quirks. I'm guessing that future titles will feature different cities with interesting travel information, as well as the mysteries. However, I really wasn't into this as an opening. The mystery and the methods the kids use to solve it isn't bad, but the traveling plot was so completely unbelievable and unrealistic. Telling the kids a week in advance that they will be traveling the globe, being homeschooled, and who knows if they're ever coming back? In fact, I can't believe they'd be going on this trip at all. It's hard to really develop characters in a beginning chapter book, but this felt like a very random premise, trying to set apart yet another simple beginning chapter mystery series.

The black and white pen illustrations on most pages are attractive and the text is simple and in a large font, so the layout of the book is very attractive. I'm just not convinced that the plot is any good.

Verdict: If you need more beginning chapter book series and don't have to be too picky, it's fine to add this one - some kids might like the mystery/travel aspect. But if you only have the budget for a few series, I'd pass on this one.

ISBN: 9781442497184; Published 2014 by Little Simon/Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium