Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This can't be happening at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman

This was Gordon Korman's first book, written in seventh grade. For a book written in the 70s by a twelve-year-old, it's stood up amazingly well. It's still funny and shows the knack Korman has for really getting how kids think and act - or even how they want to think and act, which isn't always the same thing! It was recently released in paperback with a new cover, which I promptly snatched up for my library, but I own an older (and very tattered) ex-library copy from my childhood library.

Bruno has the ideas and Boots carries them out. Together, they take the punishments doled out by their strict but fair boarding school headmaster, Mr. Sturgeon (aka The Fish). Then there's the excitement to be had from the neighboring Miss Scrimmages's Finishing School (although even Bruno has to admit that the young ladies play a little rough). But this time it's different. The Fish is putting his foot down and they are being....SEPARATED. Hapless Bruno is sent off to room with the king of the nerds, Elmer Drimsdale, and horrified Boots is exiled to share space with hypochondriac rich kid George Wexford-Smyth III. This means war! Who will win, Bruno and Boots or Mr. Fish?

Verdict: No matter how many times I read this, the wacky antics and the innocent mischief of the kids never fails to make me laugh. I also simply adore the tough female characters who take no argument when doing their own thing. There's no delving into the inner life of a child, reflections on the meaning of growing up, or serious discussion of friendships and school life. It's just fun, plain and simple. Hand this to reluctant readers and anyone who wants a good laugh.

ISBN: 9780545289245; This reprint published 2011 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Read, Read, Read, Said the Baby: Good Night, Little Bunny by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Sam Williams

[This review was previously published. It has been rewritten and edited]

Now, I admit I don't usually do sweet. But...he's got stripey pajamas! I have a thing for stripes. Each page has a touch and feel section, including a puffy bit of blanket, velcro on a toothbrush, and soft bunny. The touch and feel sections all appear to be washable. The story is a simple but classic rhyming text of familiar bedtime rituals, illustrated with Sam Williams gentle colors and shapes.

This was popular not only with my colleague's kids but also with the toddlers at storytime. Hunting for touch and feel parts is a favorite activity and this book's classic text and friendly art appeals to a wide variety of toddlers and parents.

However, it is made on thinner cardboard than is usual for board books, especially for a touch and feel book. We greatly enjoyed this title at my library for a few years, but then it went the way of all touch and feel, thin cardboard titles and was no more.

Verdict: Fun and super popular while it lasted, but it's now out of print and it didn't last more than a few years so I can't recommend it wholeheartedly.

ISBN: 978-1416983019; Published January 2010 by Simon; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates; Donated to the library

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

Another superlative history graphic novel from Nathan Hale is always a cause for celebration. In this volume, he tackles a hugely complicated subject: World War I.

After some preliminary badinage amongst Nathan Hale, the Hangman, and the Provost, Hale reluctantly agrees to explain the war using "cute little animals" (requested by the Hangman) and the story begins. The author explains the causes of the war and graphically shows how country after country was drawn into the conflict. As the years go by and the war spreads, its increasing toll is shown in increasingly horrific images of Ares, God of War, devouring all he sees. Finally, the conflict ends as country after country surrenders and the warring countries pack away the monstrous creature of war. "War is built and controlled by human hands -- humans start it, humans stop it." The narrator finishes by saying the war is best summed up by those who experienced it and the book ends with quotes from World War veterans, including Ernest Hemingway, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Winston Churchill. After this sobering conclusion, a spread of simple panels shows the changes World War I brought from technological advances in weaponry to the deaths of millions. The final page shows the three narrators having a little relaxing break and a nice story to relax before they tackle the next tale.

The appendix lists a bibliography and a revolt by the research babies, who inform the author that he is not allowed to do a whole war all at once again! They do, reluctantly, supply a photograph of Cher Ami, the heroic carrier pigeon.

My only...not exactly a critique, more of a hopeful pining, is that so far Nathan Hale has concentrated pretty heavily on mainstream, white male history. Fascinating, awesome retellings, but still... Of course, trying to pack an entire war into one book is not easy, but it would be great to see some future tales featuring more women and minorities. I was disappointed that none of the women who played important roles in World War I were mentioned, including Edith Cavell, or any of the Russian women who actually fought in combat, not to mention the women's involvement in civilian life. There were quite a few quotations and individuals spotlighted to explain how they felt about war, but only one (Juan Pima) was not a white male. In the final list of how the war changed history, no mention is made of how the death of almost an entire generation of men had an impact on women's roles in society. However, I'm eagerly hoping that Hale is just hitting his stride and we'll be seeing more minorities, women, and untold stories featured in future books.

Verdict: It's hard to imagine fitting an entire war into 124 pages of comic art, but Hale manages to do it and not only that, he explains it in a way that's clear, simple, and striking for a middle grade audience. Kids who read this will not only have a few giggles over the quarreling narrator and the animal representation, they'll also be sobered by the realities of war and maybe spend some time thinking about the people behind the history they learn in school. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781419708084; Published 2014 by Amulet/Abrams; Purchased for the library

Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's Cybils time again!

No sooner has summer reading ended (for me at least) then something exciting comes to take its place - Cybils! The call for judges goes out tomorrow and I am looking forward to seeing some really stellar applicants for my elementary/middle grade nonfiction category. Make sure you fill in the application completely and give good samples of your work in relevant categories!

We have an amazing new website - check it out and apply to join us!

This is a good time to start thinking about nominations too - October will be here before you know it! I will continue to post RA RA READ lists on Sundays, but they will be interspersed with various Cybils announcements and other interesting Cybils information. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This week at the library; or, Summer is over, let the projects begin!

What's Happening - in my head and at the library
  • Summer reading and programs are over, but lest you think I am resting on my laurels, it's time for projects! I've been working on these things on and off all summer, but I had time to really buckle down and spend some serious time on them this week.
    • Weeding the YA fiction
    • Publicity (flyers, update the calendar, etc.) have barely skimmed the surface on this!
    • Signage (took most of everything down when I moved stuff, now updating and replacing)
  • Inspired by our adult services librarian, we added covers to the floor to lead the kids to the juvenile series, since nobody can find them now that we moved them.
  • The biggest project was my replacement project. This is one of those things that people who don't work in the library have no idea how time-consuming it is. I've always done it piecemeal here and there but this year decided to do it once a year in August, send all the replacement orders then, and that's it for the year. These are the steps:
    • Inventory - this involves scanning every single book (I had some staff to help with this and a volunteer, but not everyone could work at the same pace and each location must be completely scanned in one day or the reports won't run correctly. This took us from May through July and we still completely missed out on the biographies. But it's better than when we used to do it by hand with pencil and paper. To put this in perspective, our teen collection, one of the smaller areas, has 2,000 books. Our picture books, one of the bigger areas, has 4,000)
    • Reports - thankfully, our head of circulation runs these for me. I get reports of everything that was not scanned, and therefore is theoretically missing. They can include 100s of items.
    • Theoretically. Then I search for each title (quickly) and then run those I don't find through the computer. Many of them will show up as lost-claimed return or paid-discard, even though that last is not supposed to. Everything I haven't found or that isn't in one of the aforementioned categories I mark in the catalog as missing.
    • The paid-discard category I look through to see what I've already reordered and what still needs to be ordered. Then we send a help desk ticket to find out why the 50+ items that were all supposed to have deleted last month did not delete. Fairly simple.
    • Lost-claimed return - For some reason, many of these weren't deleted when they were supposed to be and I had a list of 150. Our head of circulation is going to deal with it. Meanwhile, after much discussion, I decided to just go through and make a list of everything I needed to reorder, which totaled about $150, and if they do miraculously reappear or are paid for, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
    • Missing - after running this list through and marking which titles we had duplicates etc. of, and then going through the whole list again because the first report came out not quite right!! I and my associate did one final search for missing titles. I started with 700 but got it down to 400 before we started looking. This took us the better part of two days, especially since we had to do major shelf-reading before we could find anything. Everything missing that we found had to be discharged and reshelved.
    • Then I had to decide how long something had to be missing before I replaced it, if we should wait in hope that we'd missed something and it would show up again, if we needed a replacement, was it out of print, etc.
    • Then I took the carts of books, realized I didn't have that much budget, and spent hours trying to figure out where to cut back.
    • Then I had to go through the list of all the replacement items - discarded for damage, weeded for ickiness (yes, this is an official category in my world), needs a new cover if we ever hope to circulate it again, a small number of updated titles for nonfiction, etc. Then I had to go back to the shelves and pull the items I was replacing that weren't already weeded.
    • Finally, orders were sent! Our cataloger got a large list to delete, but I kept all my lists in case the books mysteriously reappeared in the catalog (this has been known to happen and she and I call these Zombie Books, because they rise from the dead)
    • Of course, everything has to be cataloged etc. once it arrives but that wasn't my job, thankfully! Finally finished late on Friday and LEFT only an hour after I was supposed to go home!
    • Final stats
      • 15 items left on the missing list in hopes they will return
      • 182 missing items given to our cataloger to delete
        • cost - $380 for media, $380 for books, $50 for tub books
      • 80 items on the replacement list
        • cost - $920 (the small number of nonfiction replacements were expensive!)
      • 150 items marked claims returned
        • cost - $150 for replacement items (many already reordered)

  • I also had a miserable sore throat for most of the week - probably a combination of stress, exhaustion, and allergies, but at least I didn't get the stomach bug! (knock on wood)
What the kids are reading
  • Wow Wow Wubbzy - I took actually have a couple dvds of this show, but omigosh it's awful!
  • A read-aloud for ages 4-7 while on vacation - I ended up just recommending some classics, Encyclopedia Brown, Charlotte's Web, Three Tales of My Father's Dragon, etc.
  • Monster High books - I still don't have any. So they asked for Ever After High, which I do have and I also gave them Poison Apple and Candy Apple series, which was a suggestion from a neighboring librarian and they definitely liked Poison Apple. Then they asked for American Girl, which I also had.
  • Dog Diaries - need to see if there's more past the fourth one
  • Wings of Fire
  • School visited - more requests for drama, celebrity bios (I will add these at some future point when I finally weed the biographies)
  • 6th grade teacher - books on bullying at different levels. Gave her Squish, Bystander, Warp Speed, Misfits and Blubber.
  • House of Hades - all but one copy is missing!
  • Panda books - I think I need more. Have gotten a lot of requests for panda books this summer
  • Ellen Hopkins - for a wonder, only about 2 books are stolen. I also gave her Glimpse and Because I am Furniture, which she was excited about.
  • Allegiant - boy wasn't very thrilled with any of my alternative suggestions, but agreed to try The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Tao The Little Samurai: Ninjas and Knock Outs! by Laurent Richard, art by Nicolas Ryser

This is a new comic strip collection imported from France. I ended up looking at the second volume, but it doesn't seem to make any difference as it's basically a collection of individual stories, one per page. Typically, each story is labelled with a wise saying, for example, "The wise man reflects, the madman climbs" accompanies a story showing Tao complaining as he races up five flights of stairs in order not to be late for class....only to discover that his class was on the first floor. More stories include Tao's mishaps in class, battles against rival schools and villains, and his misadventures in love.

The art is colorful with lots of excited speech bubbles, movement, and gags. The pervading color scheme is mostly yellows and browns, with some blue-themed stories that happen around the water. As you can see on the cover, the class of samurai students is quite diverse. It's obviously a fantasy Japan as Tao has a shaved head and wrapped tail of hair, his best friend is blonde, his love interest appears to be Indian with darker skin and a caste mark, and there also are characters who appear to be stereotypical Chinese.

I'm a bit conflicted about this title. On the one hand, it's quite funny, kids love the comic strip books, and with Lego Ninjago there's a lot of interest in fantasy-ninjas. On the other hand, I wonder how stereotyped/potentially offensive it is (not a culture I know a great deal about, so I can't really tell) and it's from Lerner so the choice is either paperbacks or library bound at over $20 apiece.

Verdict: If you are looking for more light comic reading, it might be worth trying these out in paperback, which I think is what I might do. Otherwise, I'd probably pass on these.

ISBN: 9781467732727; Published 2014 by Lerner; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tooth Fairy Wars by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Jake Parker

My audience for picture books has gotten younger and younger; very few kids over five check out picture books (or, more to the point, their parents don't allow them to do so. I have become inured to hearing "those are the baby books"). However, a truly funny picture book will really go the mileage - I can talk them up on school visits and will get six year olds and older kids slipping up to my desk and asking (often with some embarrassment) "Do you have that book you showed us at school?" Some of the titles that have really worked for this are Perry's The Book That Eats People, Reynolds' Carnivores, Morris' This is a Moose and Heos' Mustache Baby. So I am very pleased to find another book I can add to my super funny category that will grab older kids.

When Nathan loses his first tooth, his mom tells him to put it under his pillow and the tooth fairy will leave him a dollar. Nathan, however, prefers to keep his teeth. The tooth fairy has other ideas. She finds the tooth in the drawer, in the fort, in the garage....acting on his mother's advice, Nathan tries corresponding with the tooth fairy but ends up getting a series of increasingly unhelpful and annoyingly official letters - and she still finds all his teeth! So Nathan decides to set one final trap and wins....or does he?

The colored pencil and digital illustrations have a soft, warm glow of color. They show an adorably gap-toothed and determined small boy, his best friend with dark skin and curly hair, and an array of charming and menacing fairy tale creatures. The little details, like the tooth patches on the fairy tale creatures' uniforms and the tooth fairy's fancy devices really make the story come alive and increase the humor.

Verdict: For all the kids who love hilarious stories about kids beating a grown-up at their own game and who enjoy popular fractured fairy tales, this is the perfect book. It's not so steeped in fairy tale context that kids will miss out on the story, but includes enough little insider jokes that kids will feel in on the joke. It's also genuinely funny, nicely illustrated, and overall a delightful books. Highly recommended, especially for use with school visits.

ISBN: 9781416979159; Published 2014 by Atheneum; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Read, Read, Read, Said the Baby: Duck & Goose: How are you feeling? by Tad Hills

[This review was previously published. It has been edited and rewritten.]

The web-footed masters of early concept board books return in a book dealing with feelings. Having covered friendship, opposites and counting, they now take on feelings. From frustration to pride, sad to happy, their expressions are perfect and the pictures easily understood by small children. The sly humor and vibrant illustrations will make parents happy to read Tad Hills' board books over and over again.

This board book has a slightly smaller format - about 5 by 5 inches. It's just right for holding in small hands. Normally, I'm a little skeptical of board books with "different" concepts, like feelings etc., because they're so often too abstract for kids at the board book stage to really understand. Some of these fall into those categories; frustration, patience, etc. but they also have many more broader emotions that are conveyed not just by facial expressions but by their whole body language.

Verdict: Tad Hills' art is bright and attractive and there are a lot of fans of Duck & Goose who will be happy with whatever he does, so I would recommend adding this - and the other Duck & Goose board books - to your collection.

ISBN: 978-0375846298; Published January 2009 by Schwartz and Wade; Purchased for the library

Monday, August 11, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, illustrated by Brian Floca

I am going to say, right up front, that I am not a fan of Brian Floca. I did like Locomotive, but it was in spite of the art, not because of it. I realize I am in a tiny, tiny minority here, and I can objectively recognize his artistic merit, but I, personally, don't find his style of watercolors attractive and the books he works on tend to fall in that amorphous area of picture books for older elementary readers, which are almost impossible to circulate at my library.

All that being said, I actually rather liked this book. This is the true story of an elephant seal who decided that she preferred living in the freshwater Avon River in Christchurch, New Zealand, instead of the ocean. Attempts made to relocate her were repeatedly unsuccessfully as she returned even after being relocated hundreds of miles away and taking months to swim back. After the last time she returned, the city gave in and put up signs for an elephant seal crossing. A final note gives additional facts and information about elephant seals and includes a photo of the actual Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas. Cox's text is simple and informative, but also has a poetic warmth and a feeling of triumph as Elizabeth stubbornly refuses to leave the place she considers home.

I don't know exactly why I liked these pictures so much more than Floca's other illustrations. Something about the soft greens and blues and the feeling of peace and contentment that Elizabeth radiates just really grabbed me. The final full-page spread of Elizabeth, gliding up the river in the moonlight, the weeping willows gracefully draping over the banks of the river, is perfect.

Verdict: This is still pretty long for a picture book and probably won't circulate as much as the typical picture books I purchase, but if you have the budget and audience I definitely recommend it. I'm putting it on my wishlist in hopes that I'll have the budget for it later on, as I think the animal aspect will really draw in kids, even those who would normally be reluctant to pick up a picture book or too wiggly for a book of this length.

ISBN: 9780375858888; Published 2014 by Schwartz & Wade; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library's wishlist

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RA RA READ: Sarah Dessen Read-Alikes

Sarah Dessen is the go-to summer reading for at least 80% of the teen girls who come in to my library. I frequently get suggestions "more Sarah Dessen!" and so, in my own defense, have compiled a list of books to suggest when they've finished reading her complete works for the umpteenth time.
  • Deb Caletti
  • Susane Colasanti
  • E. Lockhart
  • Sara Zarr
  • Carolyn Mackler
  • Jenny Han
Individual Titles
  • Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell
  • Diva by Alex Flinn
  • For keeps by Natasha Friend
  • Into the wild nerd yonder by Julie Halpern
  • Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson
  • Something Maybe; Perfect You; Bloom; Unwritten Rule; Stealing Heaven by Elizabeth Scott (A word of warning: Do NOT recommend Elizabeth Scott as an author without caveats! Her work veers back and forth from Sarah Dessenish titles like those listed above to really wrenching, intense works like Living Dead Girl and Grace. All great books, but NOT all Sarah Dessen read-alikes!)