Friday, July 20, 2018

The city on the other side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

The story begins with a tragic war between Seelie and Unseelie, battling over a dangerous necklace and the depredations of humans. But the war does not only affect the fairy affects the other side as well.

In the human world, Isabel lives like a shadow. She feels unnoticed by her mother, except to be scolded into proper ladylike behavior. When she is sent to spend the summer with her distracted, artist father, she at first hopes to have more of a life, but quickly finds things are just as awkward. Wandering into the forest at night, she comes across a strange creature, wounded and dying. The Seelie messenger gives Isabel a necklace and suddenly she is transported to a magical - and dangerous - world.

There she will make new friends and enemies, including another human, a Filipino boy named Benjie. Isabel will discover that she is capable of more as she finally has the chance to explore her inner strength and risk everything to keep her promise to the dying Seelie. Along the way, readers will pick up clues to the identify of Isabel’s city - San Francisco, after the great earthquake - as well as exploring the complex, beautiful, and deadly world of faerie.

The art is lovely, presenting a huge range of varied Seelie and Unseelie creatures, never making them attempt to appear like humans and yet keeping them from looking grotesque. Isabel is a sturdy girl with shoulder-length brown hair and brown skin, apparently of Hispanic heritage. Benjie refers to his Filipino roots, explaining that he was left behind in the earthquake after his parents died because he was Filipino.

Verdict: While most young readers probably won’t pick up on the historical references, at least until they read the extra end comic about the historical research behind the book, they are sure to devour the exciting and beautifully-drawn story. Hand this to fans of Amulet and Zita the Spacegirl.

ISBN: 9781250152558; Published 2018 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Texas trail to calamity: a Miss Mallard mystery by Robert Quackenbush

This is another title in Aladdin's new imprint, Quix, which features reprints and updated editions of early chapter books in a new layout for contemporary readers.

I remember the Miss Mallard mysteries, and several other Robert Quackenbush titles, from my own youth and was interested to see if they hold up to the test of time.

Miss Mallard is a duck detective, traveling the world to solve crimes. In this title, originally published in 1986, Miss Mallard is on vacation in Texas when she's thrown by her horse and ends up spending the night with the Butterballs. During her stay, she witnesses some mysterious behavior that culminates in the theft of an important document - "a list of the first three hundred duck families who settled in Texas". Luckily, with the skills of Miss Mallard, the thief is discovered and the document is safely taken to the museum.

Quackenbush's distinctive drawings, with heavy crosshatching and multiple shadows, have been somewhat lightened in some of the spot illustrations. Some full-page drawings are also included. As much as Quackenbush's art is part of my childhood, I have to say that it doesn't age well. The hats and almost Victorian style of the clothing, the dark, muddy drawings, and the cluttered backgrounds are not likely to appeal to most contemporary children. The Miss Mallard books in particular have not, I think, aged well and a mystery involving the (white duck?) settlers of Texas with no reference to the native or Mexican inhabitants who came first is rather tone-deaf.

Verdict: A nostalgic sigh for my youth, and I might be tempted to pick up some titles from other series, but these are unlikely to find an audience with children, unless their parents were fans in their own youth.

ISBN: 9781534413108; This edition published May 2018 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Small Readers: I wish I was an orca by Sandra Markle

I’m most familiar with Sandra Markle as the author of many excellent science books for middle grade readers, often for Lerner. So I was very interested when I saw she had written a series of easy readers under the label of Ranger Rick. Each of these books encourage readers to imagine they are an animal and then learn about how that animal lives.

This book focuses on orcas. Readers learn that orcas live in oceans, eat fish, seals, and whales, and their feeding habits differ from area to area. They live in pods and breathe air, and calves learn from their pod how to live as an orca. More facts about orcas are included on each page, along with photographs. On most spreads Ranger Rick, the raccoon, pops up to ask readers to imagine how they can relate to the orcas - what if their family had a special way of talking, what if they could see using echoes, etc. The final spread celebrates the reader and the orca’s special abilities.

Back matter includes additional facts about orcas, some activities for kids to try, a short glossary, and a link to a Ranger Rick website.

This is supposed to be a level 1 reader, “simple sentences for eager new readers,” but like most nonfiction titles actually is a much higher level, an M in the guided reading level system, due to the more specialized vocabulary. It’s also much more text-heavy than I usually see for beginning readers.

Verdict: If you are looking for more nonfiction easy readers for intermediate readers, this new series has proven to be a popular one in my library and will serve you well. The cartoon Ranger Rick was annoying to me, and I think few kids are famliiar with the logo anymore, but it’s not an integral part of the story.
ISBN: 9780062432087; Published 2017 by HarperCollins; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Honey by David Ezra Stein

The bear from David Ezra Stein’s Leaves returns in a new, tasty-sweet adventure.

Bear, after his first hibernation, awakes hungry. As he searches for food, he remembers the sweet taste of honey from his first year but it’s too soon for honey, even though he diligently follows the bees and regularly checks their tree. The bear enjoys the warmth and feel of spring, the rush of rain, the sweet taste of berries, but he still longs for honey. Finally, the time has come and there is honey, “Warm, golden, sweet, clear, slowly flowing, spicy, aromatic, sparkling with sunlight” just like his memories and his new experiences in the water, air, and meadows of the spring and summer. The summer ends with bear remembering the sweetness of summer - and the taste of honey.

Stein’s swashy, swirling colors show a plump bear amidst the color and verve of spring. Many of the illustrations are set in rough frames, like little glimpses into the bear’s summer adventures. The bees are quick little scribbles of yellow and white wings, the bear a big gray shape with a friendly, sweet look. The pictures slowly shift from the golden-brown vegetation, dusted with snow, left over from winter to the bright green of spring. The greens deepen and the sunlight grows into summer, until it is time for the gold of honey and the soft nights of autumn and blues and browns begin to creep over the landscape.

Verdict: A perfect storytime choice for reading about bears, seasons, or learning to wait patiently, this delightful sequel is a must-have for your library collection.
ISBN: 9781524737863; Published 2018 by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 16, 2018

Baby Penguin's First Waddles by Ben Richmond

This is part of a series of nonfiction picture books produced by the American Museum of Natural History.

This is the story of the first part of an Emperor penguin chick's life and does an adequate job of describing their behavior, habitat, how the parents raise them, and the wider world of Antarctica. The whole is illustrated with vibrant photographs.

There are no sources or further reading, but the last page discusses the dangers of global warning and there is a note from Paul Sweet, the museum's Collections Manager in the ornithology department.

The text is in rather large chunks and although it's a large font is not suited to be read aloud because it's so long. However, this is a great text for fluent readers in the early grades who are starting their first research projects. This is something my school district focuses on, so this would be a great text for them to use. Younger children will appreciate the plethora of photographs.

Verdict: Penguins are perennially popular and this is a strong addition to expand your collection in this area.

ISBN: 9781454927013; Published 2018 by Sterling; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, July 14, 2018

This week at the library; or, Back into the fray

Giant beetle!
What's happening at the library
As you may be able to guess from how early I've been showing up at work, my a/c is still out. We had 52 people at Storywagon, which is about average if a school doesn't come. Life continues to be exciting. Our desk chair broke - the back sort of fell off, which was interesting, and the city department showed up to mow right in the middle of the outdoor part of my associate's bug program...

My a/c was fixed on Friday afternoon! Woo! A good program on Saturday - not too busy, could probably have started later and gone until 2 with people getting really into it later on. Saturday program for July completed!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sparks! By Ian Boothby, illustrated by Nina Matsumoto, color by David Dedrick

The Graphix imprints presents another cinematic graphic novel; at first a light-hearted and humorous adventure, bringing to mind Tom Watson’s popular Stick Dog and Stick Cat adventures, there are several more serious themes for readers to pick apart from the narrative.


In a peaceful, everyday town, a baby falls down a well… and a gallant dog springs to the rescue. But this is no ordinary dog! This dog is really… a cat! In fact, it’s two cats. As we slowly learn throughout the story, August, the inventor of the dog suit, was a naive kitten who ventured outside and paid dearly for his curiosity, being catnapped and tortured by evil scientists. During his time in the lab, he meets Charlie, a daring cat who’s willing to try anything to gain his freedom. Together, the two manage to escape and together they save people as a gallant dog. But, the odd little blonde baby who is so often in trouble is more than just her parents’ little princess… she’s actually a supervillain with a shocking (literally) secret!

August and Charlie must navigate their own painful pasts and their current friendship in order to work together and save the world.

Lots of cute pictures of cats and their wacky adventures keep the humor high, while sprinkling the apparently light-hearted story with darker flashbacks to the cats’ past in darker blue hues. There are plenty of gadgets, blinking lights, robotic arms, and computer screens to make things look techy, and no lack of bathroom humor with the robotic litter box. Humans in this world show plenty of diversity, leaning towards darker skin. The evil baby and her “parents” are white and blonde, but clearly not wholly human.

Verdict: This will be a popular graphic novel for fans of Captain Underpants and Stick Dog who are ready for a little more serious in their funny.

ISBN: 9781338029475; Published 2018 by Scholastic Graphix; Purchased for the library

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Our principal is a frog by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Aaron Blecha

In the past few years, beginning chapter books have become more and more popular. Scholastic led the charge with their Branches series and more and more publishers are creating their own illustrated beginning chapters. Read and Bloom from Bloomsbury was a disappointment to me; I've only found one series (Wallace and Grace) that I liked.

So, I was interested to see that Aladdin has jumped on the bandwagon with an interesting twist; their new Quix (Fast-Fun-Reads) beginning chapter books are illustrated with black and white cartoons. They have bold text in a large font and.... they are adapted picture books!

The first title I looked at was adapted from the 2001 picture book, The Frog Principal, which was illustrated by Denise Brunkus. There are some slight changes in wording and updates - the computers are more updated, there are cell phones instead of landlines, etc. The basic plot and most of the text remains the same though.

Mr. Bundy, the principal at PS 88, is always trying to improve life for his students and teachers. He decides a magician will make a great assembly speaker, as long as they are suitably educational of course. Unfortunately, he gets Marty Q. Marvel, a very confused magician, who accidentally turns him into a frog! Mr. Bundy manages to get back into school and keep on working as principal, but being a frog causes more and more problems, until he finally solves his problem through a lucky circumstance.

Verdict: This is amusing and the black and white cartoons are funny. It doesn't stand out from the crowd though, especially in comparison to the more up to date and popular Branches titles from Scholastic. An additional purchase.

ISBN: 9781481466677; This edition published May 2018 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Small Readers: I can run by Murray Head

While I still have reservations about some of the artwork in Holiday House’s I Like to Read series, they’re really the only imprint that regularly turns out excellent books in the emergent, or A through E levels.

Despite my animosity towards squirrels (must they dig up everything in my garden?) this is a cute and attractive title. The endpapers consist of multiple panels of photographs of squirrels, peeking out of holes, eating nuts, or just generally looking cute. The left side of each spread features a single sentence, “I can…” and an action word. Some, like “run” and “hide” are repeated. On the right side a photograph of a squirrel completing the action is shown. Cute pictures of squirrels peeking out of holes, dodging hawks, and eating peanuts, will make this a popular choice for animal-lovers.

The book is in I Like to Read format, which means it’s not the typical rectangular shape. It’s a much wide, almost picture book size, about 9x9. The simple text puts this at a level A, just right for emergent readers.

Verdict: A fun addition to a popular series. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780823438310; Published August 2017 by Holiday House; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Natsumi! By Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

“For a small girl, Natsumi did everything in a big way.” This is the story of a little girl - with a BIG personality! She’s always being told to be quiet, to be calm, to be slower, gentler, to be different. As her town gets ready for a festival of traditional Japanese arts, Natsumi tries to join in, but she’s too rough for flower-arranging, too wild for the tea ceremony, too loud for traditional dancing. Only Grandfather sees how hard Natsumi tries and finds the perfect thing to fit Natsumi’s talents.

At the festival, each one of the family shines in their own way from the tea ceremony to dancing; and with grandfather’s help Natsumi shines as a taiko drummer, her exuberance and energy the perfect fit for a new town tradition.

I loved this story’s blend of traditional and new; instead of changing the dancing or flower-arranging to fit Natsumi, or forcing Natsumi to change to fit them, her grandfather found a way for her to participate and still be herself. Readers who are just a little too exuberant for the average classroom, or who struggle to fit into a family or culture’s mold of expectations will find hope in this book that they can create their own traditions.

The bright, colorful pictures show a family that honors the traditional ways while embracing a contemporary lifestyle. Natsumi shines in the line of children with her big, Godzilla-shaped umbrella. She bounces out of the picture, flails her arms, and joins in everything with all her energy.

Verdict: I would have liked a little more background on the taiko drumming; The only explanation of it is given in the author and illustrator bios on the back cover flap, neither of whom have any Japanese heritage. Both are experienced creators though, and I assume they researched their subject thoroughly. This would make a fun storytime read or discussion-starter with kids who have trouble fitting in and the bright colors and expressive faces of the characters are truly charming.

ISBN: 9780399170904; Published 2018 by G. P. Putnam/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library