Monday, August 3, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: When the earth shakes: Earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis by Simon Winchester

Last week, I looked at The Dirtmeister's approach to geology. This week, I'm looking at a very different book but which deals with roughly the same subject.

Simon Winchester opens the book with a lengthy introduction about himself, starting with his education as a geologist, his decision to become a journalist and then a writer, and how much geology still matters to him and is integrated into his writing.

There are three main chapters, dealing with the subjects of the subtitle. Each one weaves personal experience, stories of true disasters, and the geological science behind the events as well as current science and research.

A brief afterword talks about the "natural" aspect of these events and having respect for the earth. Back matter includes further reading, websites, and films, acknowledgements, and index.

This was much slower-paced than Dirtmeister and it took me longer to get into the book, but once it really got going, in the volcanoes chapter, I found it impossible to put down and I finished the book with a much greater understanding of the science behind these natural disasters. I'm still not planning to live anywhere near them though and have given up my long-cherished dream of eventually moving out to the northwest coast.

Winchester is a good writer and puts together history, current events, and science in a way that's readable and interesting, if a little slow at times. Rather than compare this book to last week's review, I'd say they are for two completely different audiences. Dirtmeister would be a great resource for an earth science unit or for younger kids to browse and try out a few experiments. When the earth shakes is for a more serious reader who is interested in science and history and wants a comprehensive look at these events and the science behind them.

Verdict: If you can only get one of these titles, I'd go with Dirtmeister because it covers a wider range of science and will appeal to a wider audience, but ideally you'd purchase both and recommend When the earth shakes to strong middle grade readers who are interested in natural disasters and the science behind them. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780670785360; Published 2015 by Viking/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The benefits of freedom; or, Fine free programs at the library

I'll preface this by saying that I'm not a "one-size-fits-all" library policies person. I think fines are just fine, if not necessary for some libraries. However, for my library and community, if given the choice, I'd clear out all fines for juvenile and young adult materials in my library and just block cards until missing items are returned or paid for. (I wouldn't make juvenile cards fine-free, as I know some libraries do, since the attendant issues with adults using their children's cards would be exasperating, to put it mildly). I've suggested this and a few staff are, if not completely in favor, at least in the "it wouldn't hurt to try" camp, but unfortunately the way our consortium is set up and other concerns mean that it simply wouldn't work. So, over the past couple years I've been working around it as best I can to make sure kids continue to have access to library materials.

Our current policy is 25 cents per day, per item, capped at $10 per item. When total fines of $10 accrue on your card, it is blocked. If you have a lost item and pay the replacement fee, any overdue fees attached to that item are removed (you don't have to pay both). If you have lost items that mount up over $50 (not just overdue fines) the police will eventually get involved.

I've instituted the following fine-free programs over the space of more than five years. It took a lot of research, discussion, argument, and waiting for the right moment and the right staff to support the programs. It's not something that happened over night.

Year-round, I have a "read off your fines" program for juvenile card holders. This would be kids under 16, since in our consortium when they turn 16 they get an adult card. The idea is pretty simple - read a book, fill out a form, get $3 off your overdue fines. You can clear off up to $21 every year. If kids really struggle with reading they can give their little "report" orally. If they only write two sentences, I don't care. They read a book at some point, I take some fines off and relieve a little stress. Here's the form if you want to try something similar at your library.

Last year, I started a fine amnesty program. Every child I visit before summer reading begins (which means four year old kindergarten through sixth grade) gets a coupon that will clear off ALL their fines. It does have an expiration date (end of June) and they do have to not lose it. The thousands of dollars some people thought we would lose over this did not materialize - last year it was $900 (with one $300 fine) and this year it was about $400. You can see the coupon here.

I also put "$5 off your overdue fines" as a teen prize this summer, but only one has been picked so either the kids with fines aren't reading much or they prefer to deal with the fines in other ways and have candy instead! Get out of fines coupon here.

The main arguments I've heard about not forgiving fines for kids is that the library will lose money, that they won't learn responsibility, it's not fair to adults who don't get their fines forgiven, that kids won't return their books on time if there's no penalty, they'll just rack up more fines, and they're just going to use their cleared cards to go on the internet and check out movies/video games.

To the first argument, I tracked our first fine amnesty program last year and we forgave $900 in fines, $300 of which was one single fine. We got several hundred dollars worth of materials returned that we would otherwise have never seen again. Our yearly fine revenue is about $25,000 so that's really a drop in the bucket.

To the rest of the arguments my response is; I don't give a shit. What, you thought I was going to include some carefully reasoned points for debate? My job description is not "to teach kids to be responsible" or "to make everything fair for the grown-ups." My job is to get kids and families to visit and use the library. End of argument.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

This week at the library; or, The summer ends with a splash

What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • PANIC. My Storywagon performer had to cancel due to illness. Luckily, Science Alliance came through for me, but it was a very frantic afternoon of phone calls!
  • It was a good thing I got a backup - we had a huge group of people for Pattie's toddler times in the morning and then 117 for the Science Alliance show.
  • I ordered 70 pool noodles
  • Only about 30 people showed up at Lego Club, but they were about 70% new and extremely enthusiastic. They were all very excited about coming back in the fall and I consider this one of my more successful Lego Clubs with the connections that were made.
Some Projects Completed/In Progress This Week
  • Cleaned off the stack of repairs on my desk
  • Worked on movie collection development - replacing/weeding titles that have checked out over 200 times, clearing out duplicates, etc. in preparation for the massive reflux of returns.
  • Staff meeting, website meeting, and then working on scheduling and marketing programs
Ongoing and New Stealth Programs and Displays
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • Nancy Drew Clue Crew (this was actually last week but I didn't want to forget)
  • John Cena, Randy Orton, more easy reader wrestling books!
  • science books - Try This
  • Sharks (great white sharks)
  • Jurassic park - put TIM defender of earth and Raising Rufus on hold
  • Batman vs. Superman - I think they wanted comics with the new movie, but the only thing I found on Baker and Taylor isn't slated to come out until December
  • Requests for Flash comics
  • Book suggestions for a 5th grader - this was a difficult one since she wasn't there, but from what I elicited I suggested Ingo, Amelia Rules, and How to survive middle school.
  • Suggested audiobooks for a family going on a trip - you don't have to take just movies!
  • My faithful RA fan - I think he just likes to see how many books I can suggest. I managed to find another six titles for him to try (this is getting more difficult because he never finishes series!)
  • Bridges and castles, especially drawbridges, for a four year old.
  • Really scary stories for a camping trip - Schwartz, Half-Minute Horrors, and Stine's Beware
  • Anne Frank
  • something not as scary as scary tales to tell in the dark - suggested James Preller's Scary Stories

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

I'm in two minds about this book. It's got quite a lot of enthusiastic praise, and I did enjoy reading it, but I'm not sure about the audience for it.

Dory is the baby of her family and everyone calls her Rascal. Her older siblings are so annoyed by her imagination, invisible friend, weird habits, and monsters that they make up a monster to try and scare her back. Unfortunately, the creation of Mrs. Gobble Gracker doesn't go quite like they expect and soon Dory is in a complete fantasmagory, blending her imagination and real life, pretending to be a dog, and trying to escape the wicked Mrs. Gobble Gracker.

The book is decorated throughout with pen sketches. They're a great complement to the story, showing the tousled, enthusiastic Dory and her exasperated older siblings as well as Dory's fantasy world.

This is completely realistic; I remember playing make believe games like this myself, listening to my younger siblings play them, and I occasionally see kids playing them at the library as well (not too often though - I don't know if it's the death of imagination or that I just don't see the kids that often). But I'm not sure who the audience for this would be. The younger elementary kids making up imaginative kids? I and my siblings were very imaginative, but I can't remember any of them actually wanting to read a book about imagination. Older siblings? But this has a very young feel and is narrated by Dory herself.

Verdict: I think the best audience for this is probably younger kids who are strong readers. It might make a fun read aloud as well, but it could be scary for an imaginative child who doesn't understand that Mrs. Gobble Gracker isn't real. Although I can't quite see an audience for this myself though, I trust those who have given it strong reviews so it's one I'd take a chance on.

ISBN: 9780803740884; Published 2014 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Small Readers: Welcome, Bao Bao by Gina Shaw

Pandas are one of those topics that seems to die out for a while and then revives as strongly as ever and I have hordes of small children, mostly girls for some reason, begging for ALL the panda books.

This nonfiction easy reader tells the story of two pandas in the Smithsonian's National Zoo and their cub, Bao Bao. The story begins by introducing the readers to the adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, and their endangered status. There is a discussion of how the pandas are cared for and then the exciting birth of a new baby panda in 2013. The rest of the book talks about Bao Bao's birth, naming ceremony, and first year.

The book includes a beginning note to parents and educators on the reading level. Level 4 is for a fluent reader, basically a child ready for or already reading chapters. There are also activities and discussion questions. There is a one page glossary at the back.

The book is liberally sprinkled with photographs of pandas as well as a key to the pandas' exhibit, pictures of the naming ceremony, and more.

I removed all the level 4 easy readers from my easy reader section a few years ago. The bulk of my audience looking for easy readers want more beginning titles and I found it confused everyone to have a sprinkling of books that were equivalent to what they'd find in the chapter books or nonfiction section. Now I include level 4 books in the juvenile nonfiction. I've had one person ask for level 4 and it was easy to show them the nonfiction series that were equivalent to that reading level. So, this title won't actually be put into the easy readers (unless my cataloger makes a mistake) but it will make a nice addition to the juvenile nonfiction.

My only caveat with this title is that, while most of the text is laid out on a white or plain background, a few pages have the text pasted over a photograph, making it difficult to decipher.

Verdict: Elementary age panda fans will be thrilled with this title. It's not too challenging, but isn't really a picture book or easy reader and there are lots of fun panda pictures. The text flows smoothly and there's a good mixture of simple and advanced vocabulary. It's available in both paperback and hardcover.

ISBN: 9780448482255; Published 2015 by Penguin Young Readers; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library for use as a prize; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Knit Together by Angela Dominguez

I liked Dominguez' other picture books, but none have really caught my eye and heart like this new title.

A little girl loves to draw, but even more than drawing she wishes she could knit, like Mom. She tries to learn, but without success. Then Mom has the perfect idea to combine both their artistic talents into one beautiful creation that they can both enjoy together.

Dominguez' art is colorful and heartfelt, with swirling colors and lines. I enjoy the way she captures the yarn and process of knitting with simple squiggles that nonetheless capture texture and color. The art speaks through the story, making only a few lines of text necessary on each page. The little girl, as narrator, is full of life and determination and when she can't achieve her goal, her mother gently finds a perfect solution.

Verdict: This would make a great storytime to prepare for Mother's Day (if you celebrate that in storytimes), as a gift for knitters, or to prepare kids for a collaborative art project. Even kids without experience in knitting will sympathize with struggling to learn a new skill and finding a to use the talents they have.

ISBN: 97803740990; Published 2015 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Dirtmeister's Nitty Gritty Planet Earth by Steve Tomacek, illustrated by Fred Harper

The subtitle of this book is "All about rocks, minerals, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, & even dirt!" so you can tell right away there will be a lot of information packed into 128 pages.

After a quick introduction, the book plunges right into the information. The ten chapters each begin with a comic, featuring the Dirtmeister at a geology job, where he gets interrupted with a question about the earth from a kid. There are about five spreads per chapter, and each spread includes about one page of text, a handful of photographs and several other pieces of information ranging from experiments to "Dirtmeister Nuggets" which are factoids to short biographies of famous scientists and cartoons or maps.

Back matter includes a list of notes that relates the chapters to science curriculum, an index, and photo credits. I felt the cartoon illustrations were a bit over the top and tried too hard to be "kid-friendly" but they aren't so prolific that they take away from the information in the book and younger kids will probably enjoy them.

I felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information on such a wide variety of subjects crammed into this small book. Everything from plate tectonics to fossils, from earthquakes to diamonds. The experiments looked interesting, but tended to be a lot more simple than what I expected from the build up in the introduction. I certainly wouldn't recommend reading it straight through and I'm not even sure I'd recommend it to a kid who's interested in, say, rocks, since it's so wide-ranging and kids who are "interested" in something tend to have a rather narrow focus. However, it makes a great resource for earth science curriculum and I can see kids who enjoy compendiums of facts dipping in and enjoying it.

Verdict: This isn't my top pick for National Geographic's earth science offerings - kids are more likely to pick up the Everything series - but if you can't afford that entire series, this gives a little on a variety of subjects and would be a great resource for school and for kids to browse.

ISBN: 9781426319037; Published 2015 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 Edition of Putting my money where my mouth is

This is a running list of titles I have reviewed and also purchased for the library this year. I'm updating it roughly once a month, or when I think of it. This does not include titles that were review copies and were donated to the library, which is indicated in the review. For a complete list of new library materials, you can check out the library pinterest page!
Reviews coming soon (or sometime anyways) ((yes, I have a BIG backlist of reviews))
  • Jake Maddox: Gymnastics Jitters
  • Let it begin here! by Don Brown
  • The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham
  • Toto Trouble: Back to Crass by Thierry Coppee
  • On the wing by David Elliott
  • Cat Napped! by Leeza Hernandez
  • Midnight library by Kazuno Kohara
  • The Boulder Brothers: Meet Mo and Jo by Sarah Lynn
  • Lulu and the duck in the park by Hilary McKay
  • Horse Club by Patricia Murphy
  • Eat like a bear by April Pulley Sayre
  • Welcome Bao Bao by Gina Shaw

Saturday, July 25, 2015

This Week at the Library; or, Down the home stretch

I have a crock. My happiness is complete.
What's going on in my head and at the library
  • This is the point in summer where I'm like "yay reading have a sticker or two or three ha ha ha"
  • I had a sudden influx of boys Wednesday morning, so I put them to work moving shelves and taking down old posters (they sort of went with the "taking down" theme and now all the summer reading decorations are down, but...oh well). We have our literacy center now! Of course, then I had to shift all the easy readers....I need to keep a clean shirt at work!
  • I was still very stressed and so we moved more shelves. Well, my aides moved them but I derived therapeutic value....of course, now I have to update the Illustrated Shelving Guide. Oh well.
Ongoing and New Stealth Programs and Displays
  • A personal victory - one of my most reluctant and struggling readers took TWO books - I survived and Bloodlines.
  • Bloodlines for another reluctant/struggling reader!
  • Wordless picture books - Shadows by Lee wasn't quite what was wanted, but Umbrella by Schubert and Tree House by Tolman were "perfect"
  • Another request for Descendants (Isle of the Lost) - I really need to get this in soon!
  • Very enthusiastic Pokemon fan, parent requested Dragonball Z for a change of pace
  • My favorite request of the week was a small child who informed me "I am addicted to Chi's Sweet home do you have that series?" of course. AND the anime, which was very exciting.
  • One word title and Newbery - Boom and Graveyard Book
  • Popular Clone
  • Paw Patrol. I should break down and buy more copies of the movies. Ugh.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary GrandPre

Sometimes a book has everything that you normally like, from an author you've enjoyed in the past to a fun plot and yet it just doesn' with you. That's what happened to me with this book.

Miss Drake is downcast about the death of her human pet, Amelia, even if she won't admit it to anyone. So she's not at all thrilled when Amelia's quirky great-niece (I think) Winnie shows up. Winnie gradually wins her way into Miss Drake's heart and both are able to not only become friends but handle some magical difficulties and grieve together for their respective losses.

Black and white illustrations spot the story, illuminating the magical creatures and feelings of the various characters. I am not a particular fan of Mary GrandPre, but many people enjoy her illustrations and they do fit well with this magical story.

So, why didn't I get into this? I can't really say. It's a short fantasy, which can be hard to find in this age of 400 page tomes. It's sweet without being saccharine, has lots of magical details and creatures, and Yep's world-building is impeccable. I was skeptical about how much time Winnie spends alone, without her mom knowing (or seeming to care) where she is. At one point, I was sure the story was going to twist and Winnie was going to turn out to be an orphan and Miss Drake would adopt her.

Verdict: I can't really say why I didn't get into this. It was just not what I was in the mood for reading I guess. Fans of Chris D'Lacey's dragon stories will absolutely love it though. If you have beginning chapter readers who like fantasy or families who like to read aloud together, this would be good for those as well.

ISBN: 9780385392280; Published 2015 by Crown Books/Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium