Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Whose Boat? By Toni Buzzeo and Tom Froese

The previous titles in this board book series, Whose tools? And Whose Truck? are very, very popular in my library. They each follow a similar format: A spread includes some rhyming couplets on the left, describing the activities of the truck, tools, or boat pictured on the right. Lift the full-page flap on the right and see a double spread of the vehicle or tools in action.

This particular title is a little more complex than the others. It includes a harbormaster’s boat, tugboat pilot, car ferry captain, lobsterperson’s boat, coxswain’s boat (part of the Coast Guard), and firefighter’s boat. The final spread shows all the boats previously pictured as toys in a pool. The pictures of the boats include labeled parts like radar transponder, VHF antenna, kort nozzle, and towing winch.

The art has a retro, blocky feel, but includes a wide diversity of skin colors and genders. The back page pictures all the boats again with their names, fishing boat, tugboat, lifeboat, etc. The double pages make the book a little extra bulky and I’ve had issues in the past with them breaking before their time but they are so popular it’s worth replacing them a little more often. I would add additional reinforcement along the hinges of the book’s spine and the folding pages.

I normally stay away from board books like this, especially the cutesy ones that claim to introduce science concepts, great literature, etc. to babies. However, despite the advanced vocabulary, this actually works really well with toddlers and preschoolers. Those obsessed with machinery will sit still for it, and even if they don’t comprehend the different words, enjoy hearing them.

Verdict: This works not only as a cute gift but also as a library title; be prepared to replace it frequently though.

ISBN: 9781419728358; Published 2018 by Abrams Appleseed; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An atlas of imaginary places by Mia Cassany and Ana de Lima

Although it's often a struggle to get kids in my library to pick up picture books after about age four or five (which is a whole different discussion) sometimes I'll pick up a special book for that rare older child who doesn't care whether or not they're reading a picture book.

This fanciful book takes readers on an amazing, imaginative journey through a series of islands. The text meanders through the book, including both descriptions and writing prompts in the discussions of the various islands. Readers will travel from the Sweet Sea Islands to the Desert of Lost and Found, from the Sea Forest to the Sleeping Whale. Finally, if you make it through the Labyrinth of Desires, you make it to the top of a mountain, "There they can wish for anything they want."

The real draw of this isn't the text though, it's the art. Delicate drawings create whole imaginary worlds to explore and spark new ideas. One spread, the Jungle of Changing Spots, features animals who change their coats at every sneeze. It shows a rainbow frog with white stars, a zebra-striped tiger, leopard-spotted bird, and fluid pink snake. The jungle around them is reminiscent of a William Morris pattern with curving leaves and vines, carefully structured plants, and flashes of color in the shape of animals and flowers. Another spread, the Upside-Down Mountains, shows a floating collection of mountains, many of them holding pools of swirling blue water. Two white legs flash into one mountain pond, while a girl with reddish-blonde hair swings below another upturned mountain.Blue birds drift across the peach-pink sky and ladders hint at more secrets within the mountains.

Although this is marketed as a children's picture book, I will probably put it in juvenile fiction and promote it to readers who like dreamy, imaginative graphic novels.

Verdict: This may find some classroom use as a collection of writing prompts; otherwise, while it may only appeal to a few children, it will be treasured by those few. Consider your collection and audience before purchasing.

ISBN: 9783791373478; Published 2018 by Prestel; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, August 13, 2018

Action Presidents: George Washington! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavry

I've read a lot of of fiction/nonfiction blends recently, but I always have an uneasy feeling that they mix up fiction and nonfiction too much to really be a good choice for middle grade readers. I feel much more confident in Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales; when he adds in fictional elements (like the armies of World War I being different types of animals) it's easy to tell the real story from the fictional add-on.

So I was thrilled to discover an equally excellent graphic history series that promises to be both fun and informative. The narrator of this story, seen only briefly at the beginning and ending, is Noah the Historkey, pardoned from Thanksgiving on the condition that he tells the true story of USA history. Through Noah, the author discusses how legends grew up around the founding of the United States, especially the early leaders, and promises to introduce readers to the real George Washington, ACTION PRESIDENT!

This biography of George Washington starts with his youth, involvement in the French-Indian wars (one might say he kind of started them), reluctant appointment to lead the Continental armies, and even more reluctant appointment to president. Along the way, the creators show us a real portrait of the president, warts and all. His involvement in slavery, the lack of rights for women, his military failures and personal foibles. They also introduce readers to the wider world of the colonies; the initial struggles of the young country, the prejudice and oppression faced by Native Americans and African-Americans, and the tragedies and complex history of both sides of the American Revolution. The good, bad, and the ugly are all shown, including plenty of jokes, caricatures, and snarky humor.

The art is black and white with sharp angles and bulging cartoon eyes. Lots of action and movement keeps it from becoming just more talking heads while the text is packed in densely around and in the panels. I've included a sample panel from the beginning, showing Noah the Historkey.

Verdict: This new series promises to fly off the shelves, both for kids who are interested in history and those who love comics. More presidents are coming soon and I can't wait to read them!

ISBN: 9780062394057; Published February 2018 by Harpercollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, August 12, 2018

RA RA Read: Middle Grade Narrative Nonfiction

I have a lot of go-to choices for middle grade nonfiction, but in some ways it's trickier to recommend than fiction - they can get outdated faster, especially science titles, and the layout can make parents and teachers reluctant to pick them up because they look like picture books. You can also check out the articles I've written for SLJ BeTween, focusing on nonfiction for tweens. Below are the titles that I regularly recommend and have had generally good responses from readers and adults.

By Publisher/Series
By Author
  • Sarah Albee
    • Albee writes narrative nonfiction that focuses on some of the smaller aspects of history - that have big effects. Her latest is Dog Days.
  • Carlyn Beccia
  • Georgia Bragg
  • Nancy Castaldo
    • These are geared towards the older end of the middle grade spectrum. She's explored dogs, seeds, and several aspects of animals.
  • Nathan Hale
    • Hale writes dense, informative, and very entertaining graphic history. He's written titles on World War I, the Alamo, the Donner Party, and many more.
  • Rebecca Johnson
    • Among others, she's done some great titles for Milbrook, the only drawback being how expensive this imprint is. Definitely worth a little extra $$ though. When Lunch Fights Back and Zombie Makers are my favorites so far.
  • Sandra Markle
    • Great science titles for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, especially those not yet ready to tackle Scientists in the Field. She has a whole series about the efforts to save different animals, many of them set up like mysteries. Penguins is one of the most recent I read.
  • Patricia Newman
  • Steve Sheinkin
    • His history books will take a strong reader, but they're worth a little extra effort. I actually put Port Chicago 50 into teen, as there is more mature content, but most strong middle grade readers could handle Bomb or Lincoln's Grave Robbers.
By Title

Saturday, August 11, 2018

This week at the library; or, Last week of summer reading

Staff and volunteers setting up in the gardens
What's Happening at the Library
Last week of summer reading, working on a major new marketing project for next fall, processing applications for open positions, planning fall outreach, and lots more. I need new tires. My feet hurt. It never ends. Note that when I say "last week of summer reading" as most children's librarians will understand, this means "last week of summer reading" for the rest of the staff, not my department. We still have a backlog of work, set aside during the summer, another huge chunk of work to plan fall, prizes to distribute for another 2-3 weeks, drop-in programs and outreach, clean-up and inventory from the summer programs and heavy traffic, not to mention regular work. Say something nice to your children's librarian. Better yet, write them a good review, specifically mentioning them by name, on their library's facebook page or send it to their supervisor!

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

I have been waiting for this book forever! I have always been interested in hyenas, partly because they are just cool and partly from reading Tamora Pierce's Emperor Mage. This book celebrates the weirdness and awesomeness that is hyenas in a way that only Scientists in the Field can.

The main scientist featured in the book is Kay Holekamp, a zoologist from the University of Michigan, who has been studying hyenas for over 30 years. Montgomery plunges right into the story, acknowledging and discrediting the many legends and negative press around hyenas and then using some of Kay's quotes and her own observation to introduce readers to this amazing animal.

Interspersed with an account of the fascinating biology, habits, and behavior of hyenas is the story of Kay Holekamp's studies and the people who are involved. Kay's story follows her from an internship at the Saint Louis zoo, travels around the world with her husband, divorce, a doctorate, and finally taking over the hyena study in Masai Mara. She acknowledges the work done by Laurence Frank, but also is open about the issues with the way field study was done in his time and how she changed the methods used. Kay reflects on the changes she's seen, both in the landscape, the hyenas, and in her own life. She married her assistant and partner, who works in neuroscience in the states, she teaches at the university in the school year and works in the hyena study in the summer; and her new assistant is her old supervisor from the zoo!

Montgomery profiles everyone involved in the camp, from the graduate students to the staff who keep the camp running. One of the most interesting profiles is of a local, Benson Ole Pion, who started working in the camp as an assistant cook but became interested in the hyenas, eventually became an assistant researcher, and is now preparing to move his family to the states to further his education and become more involved in the hyena studies.

The animals themselves are not neglected, with chapters on their complicated behavior, hierarchy, and how they differ from other mammalian species. There are exciting accounts of targeting and testing hyenas, the aftermath of a flood in the camp, and funny accounts of taking a shower in the camp.

The book ends with a series of quick facts about spotted hyenas, bibliography and online resources, and index.

Verdict: A strong addition to the Scientists in the Field series, this is a great book to give kids interested in animals and science. It will inspire them to think about their future careers as well as foster diversity. Strongly recommended.

ISBN: 9780544635111; Published May 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Purchased for the library

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Zach & Zoe Mysteries: The Missing Baseball; The Half-Court Hero by Mike Lupica, illustrated by Chris Danger

 Zach and Zoe are eight-year-old twins who love sports, especially basketball. This isn't surprising since their father and grandfather were both players in the NBA and their father is now a sports reporter.

In The Missing Baseball, Zach's new, signed baseball goes missing. Some suspect Mateo Salazar, who's new, and Zoe doesn't get what's the big deal. Zach has lots of baseballs after all. But this is signed by Will Hanley, Zach's favorite player! Luckily Zoe loves mysteries and is determined to find the solution; even if she doesn't care about the baseball herself, she wants to support her brother.

Their second mystery is formed around basketball, their favorite sport. The Half-Court Hero features a summer weekend competition, coached by their dad. The twins are excited since they don't usually get to play together. But the court at the rec center is in poor repair; missing nets, splintered benches, and faded paint. After the twins mention the problems, someone starts fixing it up and Zoe is determined to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, they still have a competition to play.

Black and white drawings mostly show Zack and Zoe, with occasional pictures of their father, grandfather, and friends. I am not really a sports fan, so I while I do purchase plenty of sports books I don't often read them myself. However, I was intrigued by the addition of a mystery and the younger audience. Frankly, I was very disappointed. The writing is trite and pedestrian, even if you are the type of reader who likes blow-by-blow descriptions of sports. The mysteries are trivial and seem like an afterthought. In The missing baseball there is at least a theft (or possible theft) but it seems to be there mainly to give Zoe an interest. The Half-Court Hero is even more pointless, since the whole mystery is to find out who is fixing up the ball court - even the characters in the book are confused as to why Zoe has to "solve" this mystery.

Both Zach and Zoe are white, as are most of their friends and teachers. Zoe's interest in sports is frequently brushed aside in favor of her interest in "mysteries" and to feature Zach. Their mother is a complete nonentity, there only to distribute platitudes and meals. There's no conflict in the sports themselves; the kids make every shot they take, even when it's been explicitly said that they're not very good at sports (both Zach and Zoe are, of course, excellent players at all the sports). The frequent exhortations to be a good sport, have fun, and not worry about winning come off as bland platitudes when the kids win constantly anyways. The two are relentlessly upbeat, cheerful, and extremely irritating. A final, minor annoyance is that there's no indication that this is a series to be read in order; however, if you read both books it's clear that the baseball title comes first since it's referred to in the basketball title.

Verdict: Lupica is a popular author for the middle grade crowd; I can only suppose that he was heavily edited or really didn't know how to write for this age group. The lack of diversity is another strike against this series. Purchase only if you have avid sports fans who need more to read, otherwise stick with David Kelly's excellent sports mysteries or the Jake Maddox titles.

The missing baseball
ISBN: 9780425289365

The half-court hero
ISBN: 9780425289396 

Published May 2018 by Philomel/Penguin; Review copies provided by the publisher

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Small Readers: Fish are not afraid of doctors by J. E. Morris

This is an interesting idea; easy readers that combine both story and a social-emotional lesson. In this story, Maud the koala is waiting to see Dr. Susan. She’s anxious and, looking at the fish in the aquarium, wishes she was a fish who didn’t have to visit the doctor. She tries to hide, but the moment arrives… Dr. Susan checks her out, and Maud is having fun, until it’s time for her vaccination. A shot! After some gentle discussion, Maud imagines herself as a fish, swimming in the ocean, blowing bubbles, and before she knows it the shot is over!

A final note to caregivers explains how to use visualization and blowing bubbles, real or imaginary, to help children deal with anxiety and pain when visiting the doctor.

The book is arranged in comic panels with a clear progression of events and the occasional speech bubbles. Most of the text is enclosed in small white boxes at the top of the panels. The illustrations are bright and cheerful and Maude’s face is expressive while the doctor is friendly and sympathetic. The text is a little advanced for a beginning reader, but would be readable with a fluent reader to help out.

Verdict: This is well-written enough to double as a story as well as a therapy tool. Recommended for general purchase and use as well as recommending to caregivers to handle fears at doctor visits.

ISBN: 9781524784430; Published April 2018 by Penguin Workshop; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My pillow keeps moving! By Laura Gehl, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Two fun creators - Laura Gehl, author of the Peep and Egg picture books and Weyant, illustrator of Anna Kang’s fun titles - team up to create something new and super silly.

A stray cat and dog are shivering sadly outside of The Pillow Place when a man walks in to get a pillow… and comes home with a very unusual pillow! It keeps wiggling around! But it IS soft and fluffy, so he can’t return it. The man tries to purchase a footstool and a warm jacket, but each time there’s something wrong. Finally, he realizes that this odd thing makes a better pet dog than a piece of furniture. And that gives the stray cat an idea… especially since the man needs a new hat!

Weyant’s cheerful colors and humorous faces evoke feelings of classic funny illustrators, especially Jack Kent and Syd Hoff, but his art has a charm all its own. The dog looks just enough like the pieces of furniture for kids to get the joke, but not so much that they can’t enjoy a laugh on a grown-up.

Verdict: A sweet, funny story with enough repetition to make it a favorite for toddler storytime and humor that’s just right for the preschool set. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780425288245; Published 2018 by Viking; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, August 6, 2018

Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette by Selene Castrovilla, illustrated by Drazen Kozjan

Selene Castrovilla has written several picture books and short chapter books on the American Revolution. I've used them in book clubs and recommended them to teachers and, after several years with no new titles, was pleased to see that she had come out with some new books. Somehow, I discovered at this time that I'd missed some of her earlier works, including this one which features the friendship between George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette.

The story begins with the arrival of Lafayette in American in 1777. He met Washington and was quickly impressed by him. Washington wasn't very interested in the little Frenchman - their previous experience with the French had not been good. But they needed allies and so he was polite. It was the beginning of a close friendship. Washington eventually came to be close friends, almost a father figure to the young Frenchman. Lafayette, given a chance, fought valiantly for the Americans, cementing both his worth to the cause and his close friendship with Washington.

An extensive back note gives the rest of the story; Lafayette's involvement in the rest of the war, the eventual separation of the two friends, divided by wars, imprisonment, and tensions between the two countries. Lafayette's last visit to American came too late for him to meet his hero, but he was given a great welcome by the American people.

Further resources include a timeline of both men, places of interest to visit in the US and France, a bibliography, and several other resources. There are also quotes from Lafayette included in each segment of the story.

This didn't quite click for me as much as Castrovilla's other works. It's laid out very definitely as a picture book, which is a very difficult sell in my library; both parents and kids consider anything in picture book format to be a "baby book" and some of our schools' reading programs count by page number. Gah. I preferred Castrovilla's books that are more chapter book style. Although this was lengthy and had some great dialogue and a look at what is now a little-known episode of the American Revolution, I felt that for the audience it lacked a lot of context. Most of the 3rd and 4th graders I work with don't know the basics of the American Revolution, let alone the more complex history behind the involvement with France and England. I felt like more context would have made this more accessible to the kids.

Verdict: While I don't feel this stands alone well, it is a good supplementary text for students learning about the American Revolution. I will be recommending it to teachers and especially to my homeschool students. I purchased it as part of my work on updating our 900s section with a wider selection of titles.

ISBN: 9781590788806; Published 2013 by Calkins Creek; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library