Friday, October 20, 2017

The Kid from Planet Z: Crash! by Nancy Krulik

The problem with buying almost any chapter book at this point in publishing history is that you're not just committing to ONE book. You're committing to a SERIES of unknown length and quality. Of course, there are a lot of benefits to series - they keep kids reading, meet that important need for repetition and familiar characters, and are just fun. How many tv series and book series do adults devour? Lots.

But there has to be a limit on how many beginning chapter series I can invest in, especially since I have a limited space that I only update once a year for paperback series. Will this one make the cut?

Zeke, his parents, and their commander Zeus have crashed - on Planet E! Earth is a long way from their home of Planet Z, but they're going to have to stay for a while because their ship is broken. That means Zeke is going to have to go to school and pretend to be human! Not only that, they're going to need to earn some money, somehow. Did I mention their commander, Zeus, is a cat?

Each page is bordered by a blue pattern and the illustrations are blue-hued sketches. Zeke is biracial (and alien) and Thomas actually manages to get a reasonable number of children crammed into the classroom, even if they're only background shapes.

The book is mildly amusing, with a lot of familiar tropes - the alien kid who doesn't fit in, trying to figure out how human things work, etc. The addition of the cat stands out - he's intelligent but still a cat and definitely does not appreciate the discovery that cats are pets on earth.

But does it stand out? It's funny and has a nice touch of diversity, but there are other alien chapter books out there like Space Taxi. It's not a genre I get a lot of requests for - the emphasis is more on "funny" than "science fiction" or "aliens" and I have a lot of funny beginning chapter books.

Verdict: This is a decent beginning chapter book series, but it doesn't stand out enough to be added to my collection. I've just added a new series that mixes diversity, fantasy, and science so this is extraneous. It's a perfectly fine addition if you need it though.

ISBN: 9780448490137; Published 2017 by Grosset & Dunlap; Review copy provided by the publisher

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

This is the first book I've read from Simon and Schuster's new imprint, Salaam Reads. It. Was. AWESOME.

Farah's twelfth birthday is not going well. Even though her best friends Essie and Alex are there, she's uncomfortable with all the strangers her parents have invited and feels almost a stranger with her friends, now that her family has moved to a new home. She's also exasperated with her little brother, Ahmad. Usually, Farah is patient with him, knowing that his ADHD makes it hard for him to control himself, but today she just wants something for herself.

Something like her strange aunt's present, a mysterious board game with unexpected powers. But Farah quickly discovers some things you can't handle on your own. Like it or not, Farah must lead her friends into the Gauntlet of Blood and Sand if she wants to save her brother - and all the other creatures and people trapped there.

Farah is an amazing character - tough, determined, knowledgeable, but willing to ask for help and dealing with everyday issues in the midst of her fantastical adventure. Her friends are fully realized, with their own quirks and personalities, but never overpower Farah's place as the central character. The game world is almost a character itself, with evocative descriptions of the souk, the palaces, and the sand that flows everywhere. Throughout the story, the thread of games is woven; Farah's family loves to play board games and this knowledge helps her meet the challenges and solve the clues that will hopefully allow them to survive the dangerous world of the Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

Verdict: A riveting adventure with plenty of peril, excitement, and a series of great clues and games paired with a stellar set of diverse characters, this book is a must-have for your libraries and a top choice for book clubs and recommendations. Strongly recommended.

ISBN: 9781481486965; Published 2017 by Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Small Readers: I like the farm by Shelley Rotner

In the past, I've sometimes disliked the I like to Read series because I felt the illustrations were lackluster, but I'm completely behind this delightful entry.

I've been really enjoying Rotner's books with photographs - I think she's a bit of a modern Tana Hoban (whose books I've been weeding because she's no longer popular). This easy reader was just perfect for our quasi-rural community.

Each page features a different farm animal and many also show kids. There are cats, cows, dogs, pigs, and chickens. There's also a picture of a tractor and farmyard at the end of the story. The text is simple variations on the title, "I like the piglet."

What I absolutely loved about this is that it showcases a wide range of diverse kids! Boys, girls, dark and light skin, Hispanic, African-American, and Indian. It's so rare to see kids of color shown in books about rural life.

Verdict: Farm animals, an emergent reading level, and a diverse cast of real kids. This is the perfect addition to your easy reader section and I'll be buying several copies!

ISBN: 9780823438334; Published 2017 by Holiday House; F&G provided at ALA 2017; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Green pants by Kenneth Kraegel

It took me a little while to recognize Kraegel as the author/illustrator of a favorite of mine, the oddly sweet Song of Delphine. This has a similar illustration style, but a very different story although Kraegel definitely adds his own twist to it.

Curly-headed Jameson wears green pants, always. With them on, he can do anything including dance like there's no tomorrow! He's quite skilled at getting rid of any non-green pants and can't imagine he will ever need to change his color scheme. But then his cousin Armando shows up with his fiancee, Jo. Jameson is smitten and thrilled to be asked to be in their wedding. But then his mom breaks the news to him - he will have to wear a tuxedo. Tuxedos are black. Including the PANTS. Jameson is torn between his favorite color and being part of Jo's wedding - until he finally decides what is most important to him.

SPOILER

He wears the black pants. Yep! But when it's time for dancing, he whips them off and underneath...are his green pants! (no, they're not underwear.) There are a number of things I like about this story. One is that Jameson (and his mom) chose not to stick to his own preferences and adapted to what Jo wanted for her wedding. He found a nice compromise even though it involved giving up something he really, really wanted - i.e. wearing his green pants all the time. I liked the message that it was more important for Jameson to do what Jo wanted in her wedding than "be himself" all the time. Like I tell the teens, you have to coexist!

Another thing I like is how the illustrations portray a predominantly brown background. Many "diverse" books have a token black family, surrounded by a sea of white faces. Kraegel's art shows a loving, supportive community and family. There are some white faces in the church crowd at the wedding, but they're a minority, not the focus.

Verdict: Not necessarily a storytime choice, although it might go well with a dancing theme, this is a great story to read with kids to help them think outside the box.

ISBN: 9780763688400; Published 2017 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, October 16, 2017

The search for olinguito: Discovering a new species by Sandra Markle

Another scientific mystery from Sandra Markle! Incidentally, this isn't the best cover - the actual cover, while still shrouded in darkness, is much brighter.

Anyways, I really like the way Markle frames her scientific nonfiction as mystery investigations. It definitely catches kids' attention and makes them easier to booktalk too!

The story focuses on the research led by Kristofer Helgen. Beginning with his studies of olingos in the Smithsonian National Museum of National History, Helgen noticed that not all the stuffed specimens matched. This led to many years of research, in museums around the world, in zoos, and in the wild in Central and South America. The initial paper of his team's discovery of a new species, the olinguito, was prepared in 2006 - and rejected for lack of evidence. But Helgen wasn't discouraged - he continued to research the olinguito along with his team of scientists. Finally, in 2013, the discovery of the olinguito was officially announced. A new species had been discovered!

Throughout the book Markle includes information about the raccoon family, to which the olinguito belongs, as well as information about the scientific process and how researchers work to identify new species. There's also the history of earlier expeditions to Central and South America and how researchers use that evidence and the knowledge of local inhabitants in their research. Back matter includes questions to inspire readers to be "science detectives", source notes, glossary, and further information.

Verdict: Another excellent science mystery from Sandra Markle. A great resource for classrooms and a fun read for kids interested in science and animals.

ISBN: 9781512410150; Published 2017 by Millbrook Press/Lerner; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cybils 2017 Nomination Suggestions

This is a very incomplete list of suggested nominations for Cybils. I've garnered them from books I've reviewed, purchased, or just seen mentioned. I don't guarantee they're eligible! Also, there is a LOT more out there. A LOT!

Elementary Nonfiction
  • Insects by Sneed B. Collard
  • Squirrels leap, squirrels sleep by April Pulley Sayre
  • The polar bear by Jenni Desmond
  • Fantastic Flowers by Susan Stockdale
  • Crazy about cats by Owen Davey
  • Moto and me by Suzi Eszterhas
  • Seashores by Cathryn and John Sill
  • My first book of soccer by Beth Bugler
  • Feathers and hair what animals wear
  • What will grow by Jennifer Ward
  • You should meet Jesse Owens by Laurie Calkhoven
  • Mapping my day by Julie Dillemuth
  • Curious about worms by Kate Waters
  • Hidden life of a toad by Doug Wechsler
  • Ben's revolution by Philbrick
  • Revolutionary rogues by Castrovilla
  • Where the buffaloes roam by Kate Waters
  • What eats that 9781591937494
  • Over and under the pond by Kate Messner
Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • Search for Olinguito by Sandra Markle
  • Kids guide to America's first ladies by Kathleen Krull
  • Good fight by Anne Quirk
  • Fair deal by Kari Jones
  • Chomp by Brady Barr
  • From here to there by Newquist
  • Mission to Pluto by Mary Ray Carson. ISBN 978-0544416710
Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels
  • Little mermaid by Metaphrog. ISBN 9781629917399
  • Korgi 4 the problem with potions. ISBN 9781603094030
  • Science comics Flying Machines. ISBN 9781626721401
  • Amazing crafty cat by Harper. ISBN 9781626724860
  • Arthur and the golden rope by Joe Todd-Stanton
  • Gum luck by Rhode Montijo
  • Older than dirt by Don Brown
Easy Readers
  • Pip sits by Mary Morgan
  • We need more nuts by Jonathan Fenske
  • snail and worm again by kugler
Early Chapters
  • Basketball Blowout (MVP) by David Kelly
  • Big Secret & Journey beyond the trees (Tales of Sasha) by Alexa Pearl
  • Cave of Aaaaah! Doom! & Attack of the stinky fish monster! (Ella and Owen) by Jaden Kent
  • Labra-cadabra-dor's revenge (Rider Woofson) by Walker Styles
  • Lola Levine meets Jelly and Bean by Monica Brown
  • Marion and the secret letter by Callie Barkley
  • Game over Super Rabbit Boy (Branches) by Thomas Flintham
  • Sneeze of the Octo-Schnozz
  • Willow the duckling & Nutmeg the guinea pig (Dr. Kitty Cat) by Jane Clarke
  • Curse of Einstein's pencil by Deborah Zemke
  • Hero dog by Hilde Lysiak
  • Daisy Dreamer by Holly Anna
  • Heartwood hotel by Kallie George (1 titles)
  • Storm dragon by Paula Harrison
  • Monsters and mold by Asia Citro
  • Bad guys in the furball strikes back by Blabey
  • Wallace and grace and the cupcake caper by Alexander
  • Ivy by Katherine Coville
Board Books
  • Flamingos fly by Douglas Florian
  • Allie's garden by Sabra Chebby
  • Where's the ladybug by Ingela P. Arrhenius
  • Pairs! in the garden
Middle Grade Fiction
  • Pants project by Cat Clarke
  • Kate the great winner takes all by Suzy Becker
  • Year of the garden by Anna Cheng
  • Kicks settle the score by Alex Morgan
  • Into the lion's den by Linda Fairstein
  • Great treehouse war by Lisa Graff
  • Matchstick castle by Keir Graff
  • Impossible clue by Sarah Rubin
  • Ethan Marcus stands up by Michele Horowitz
Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
  • Erth dragons the Wearle by Chris D'Lacey
  • Horizon by Scott Westerfeld
  • Frog princess returns by E. D. Baker
  • Hamstersaurus Rex vs. Squirrel Kong by O'Donnell
Fiction Picture Books
  • Raisin the littlest cow by Miriam Busch
  • Lola gets a cat by Anna McQuinn
  • It is not time for sleeping by Lisa Graff
  • Fox and the jumping contest by Corey Tabor
  • Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na
  • Great now we've got barbarians by Jason Carter Eaton
  • Lily's cat mask by Julie Fortenberry
  • Windows by Julia Denos
  • Splotch by Gianna Merino
  • Duck and Hippo lost and found by Jonathan London
  • Charlie's boat by Kit Chase
  • Duck and hippo in the rainstorm by Jonathan London
  • Secret of black rock by Joe Todd-Stanton
  • Green green by Lamba
  • Counting with Tiny Cat by Schwarz
  • I'm awake by Eaton

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This week at the library; or, As far as I'm concerned this is still not fall

What's happening
I took the rest of my vacation this week - Monday and Tuesday. I got some gardening done, some Cybils stuff (there's still time to nominate!!) but mostly, to be totally honest, I slept and read T. Kingfisher and Nalini Singh, ignoring the massive piles of books on my shelves. The sleep was needed I worked like crazy the rest of the week. I pretty much went non-stop Wednesday and Thursday. I went in about an hour early on Thursday for the three field trips, then had 13 kids at book club! It was crazy! Unfortunately, I'd kind of lost my voice by then... I worked a half-day (ok, a little more than that) on Friday and then on Saturday I was on the information desk and also had a meeting with someone from a local group (they're planning an inclusive/all-abilities park) to give us feedback on the accessibility of the garden. Phew!

Rock 'n' Read Choices

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wallace and Grace and the cupcake caper by Heather Alexander, illustrated by Laura Zarrin

I've looked at a number of Bloomsbury's new chapter book imprint, Read and Bloom, but this one is the first I can unreservedly recommend and that really caught my interest (and the fact that I kept it overdue, had to return it, and request it again is irrelevant. I've been busy.)

I accidentally picked up the second title, but it was easy to jump into the series. Wallace and Grace run a detective agency together. But right now they're placing I Spy. They're enjoying a last game before the sun rises and they have to go to bed when Monty the chipmunk calls for help - someone has stolen his cupcake! The Night Owl Detective Agency is on the case! Together they search for clues, look at the evidence, and find witnesses. But can they find the culprit - the real culprit? Even more important, can they find a solution so everyone, from Monty to the thief, can have a happy ending?

Zarrin's colorful illustrations add a sweet pop of color to every page, from spot art to full page illustrations. Grace has an extra sparkle in her purple feathers and Wallace is a little bigger, with solid brown and orange patterns. But they both work equally to solve the mystery, Grace finding the final clue by remembering her earlier game with Wallace.

Verdict: This is a just-right beginning chapter book for fans of Branches and early mysteries. I especially liked the vibrant art. I look forward to using these in my book clubs and strongly recommend this new series.

ISBN: 9781681190105; Published 2017 by Bloomsbury; Borrowed from another library in my consortium
Nominate me for Cybils!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Time Shifters by Chris Grine

I had sort of promised myself I would not read anything by Chris Grine again after the surrealistic experience of ChickenHare, but despite the varied reviews of his newest book I couldn't resist giving it a try. Ultimately, while I thought there were issues, I liked it more than I expected.

SPOILERS

Luke and his older brother Kyle are hanging out in the woods when they're attacked by a group of extremely nasty bullies. The bullies, who look positively prehistoric and possibly not even human, shove Luke into a dangerous pool and Kyle, diving in to save him, is killed. Months later, Luke is still caught up in his grief when his mom gently suggests he try visiting the woods for the first time since his brother's death. Luke reluctantly sets out but his attention is immediately caught by a strange explosion and he discovers a mysterious device.

It turns out Luke has accidentally gotten stuck with a powerful device that allows the owner to travel through space and time and he gets pulled into a time vortex with the old professor who created the device and his mismatched group of time travelers - Abraham Lincoln the robot, the ghost of a girl which accidentally got caught in the time vortex, and their dinosaur. This odd group is trying to save the device from falling into the hands of a powerful villain. Fortunately, the villain's henchpersons aren't very impressive - vampire Napoleon, a mummy, and a skeleton. But the crew of time shifters have more to worry about than just some bumbling bad guys. They're stuck on an insect planet that's similar to the old west (except with human-sized insects that want to eat everything) and their chances for getting Luke back home are slim.

After many daring deeds, narrow escapes, and a certain judicious use of ectoplasm (and a lot of insect guts) they manage to return to Luke's home planet. But the timeline is off - Luke has returned just before his brother's death. He insists on saving his brother's life, only to discover that he has been separated from his own timeline - and his family - forever.

Grine's art has the colorful, cinematic quality that will be familiar to most Graphix fans. Luke is a traditionally clean-cut, white male hero and the focus of the series is on action and adventure, not character development. We don't learn much about the former life of Artemis, the ghost side-kick, except that she helps grudgingly and is rather cynical overall. There's obviously a secret sorrow in the professor's past and the robot, Abraham Lincoln, has more in common with the robots of popular scifi movies like Star Wars than his historical equivalent.

There is a lot going on in this story. I think what's thrown a lot of readers is there's not really any hint about the tragedy that starts the book - the cover is very upbeat/space adventure and there's no mention of the tragedy in the description. The abrupt and somewhat dark ending may also be a surprise to readers. Grine seems to incline towards a mix of sudden tragedy, wild action, and slapstick humor which can be jolting to a reader unfamiliar with his work.

Verdict: I mostly enjoyed reading it, but there are plenty of other scifi/fantasy adventures (especially featuring white boys) available. Not to mention I won't have to worry about some of my patrons who have lost siblings in tragic circumstances picking them up and being blindsided by the opening. If it turns out to be a consistent series I might reconsider, since I do have a lot of requests for this type of graphic fantasy adventure, but right now it's not what my library needs.

ISBN: 9780545926591; Published 2017 by Scholastic Graphix; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Small Readers: We need more nuts by Jonathan Fenske

"Manic Dr. Seuss" is how I would describe this hilarious new easy reader.

A nut enthusiast invites her audience to count with her as she juggles, tosses, and exuberantly collects nuts - all stored in the mouth of her disgruntled counterpart. Finally, having had enough, the disgruntled friend ends the nut-fest.

Fenske's art just pops off the page - every line of the smaller squirrel's body vibrates and I was hysterical with laughter, especially at some of the sly scenes like the squirrel talking to herself with hand puppets. It's rare to find easy readers with genuine humor that kids can appreciate, especially when they're focused on the mechanics of reading, but this one fits the bill.

I've been reading it to staff ever since our copy arrived and I can't wait to add it to other Fenske titles I use in my book club.

"We're going nuts for nuts today!"

Verdict: A must-have for your easy reader section - buy two or three or four or more!

ISBN: 9780515159134; Published 2017 by Penguin Young Readers; 2 paperback copies received from publisher for review (added to Library on the Go), 1 hardcover purchased (so far) for the library

Nominate me for Cybils!