Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mouse by Zebo Ludvicek

An adorable little gray mouse, with big ears and a shy, charming smile, generously shares her cherry with a mischievous letter M. Who promptly eats the whole thing! What can M share with mouse? Only himself....which transforms him into an N with a Nod, and a Nibble. As mouse and M play together, M changes to a Z, L, C and more.

The art is simple, just the black letter with white eyes and mouth, and gray mouse with her pink ears and checked bowtie. M is often part of the words of his half of the story, and sometimes those words are shown in a light gray font. The mouse has cheerful red dialogue and gradually the two share their words until they end with the sweet sentiment that there can't be a mouse with an M.

The art is clever and the story ingenious. It doesn't quite have the appeal of the other alphabet books I've used in storytime or recently reviewed - Trasler's Caveman, McDonnell's Little Red Cat who ran away, or silly favorites like Kelly Bingham's Z is for Moose - but it's quite a good debut effort. It's not quite an alphabet book, with the consonants moving in random order as the M transforms and there are some mildly creepy moments, when the mouse first starts eating the M for example.

Verdict: If you need more quirky alphabet books, consider this a good addition to your collection. Otherwise, stick with the staples.

ISBN: 9781101996362; Published 2017 by G. P. Putnam's Sons; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, January 15, 2018

Finding the Titanic: How images from the ocean depths fueled interest in the doomed ship by Michael Burgan

Interest in the Titanic is never-ending, but it wasn't always that way. Interest in the major disaster was quickly eclipsed at the time by the events of World War I and only briefly revived by the 1958 movie, A Night to Remember. Not until Robert Ballard's discovery of the wreckage in 1985 did it become a subject of fascination to the general public. This fascination was largely fueled by the images brought up by Ballard and later excavators and creates the focus of this book.

The story begins with the story of the Titanic and then moves into Ballard's expedition and later discoveries. However, while there is a thorough exposition of Ballard's methods, feelings, and work, there is an extra focus on the technology used to capture images and the subsequent improvements made in the undersea robots used to film the wreckage.

Burgan covers the controversy over how the wreck should be handled and the discussion around the collection and use of artifacts. There's also new evidence about the causes of the sinking and additional discoveries made about the wreckage. Burgan goes into additional discoveries and scientific advances made by Ballard, including the real reason he was able to discover the Titanic - he was searching for Navy submarines that had wrecked in the area.

Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, and resources as well as sources, bibliography, and index.

Verdict: A worthy addition to your Titanic resources for young fanatics, add this to get the latest information and a unique perspective. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780756556402; Published 2017 by Capstone; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, January 14, 2018

RA RA Read: Cozy Mouse Stories

This is adapted from a list I made for several specific families at our library. They like cozy, old-fashioned stories, the readers are young but very fluent and eager readers, and the parents are looking for stories with limited or no fantasy elements, no frightening adventures, and an emphasis on family.


  • Heartwood Hotel by Kallie George
    • This new series is already a firm favorite. It's the story of Mona the mouse, who, having been orphaned and lost in the woods, finds a new home and family at the Heartwood Hotel. I love that she works as a maid and her life doesn't magically become easy and comfortable. The descriptions of tiny details and food are lovely too.
  • Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
    • This British series features a mouse couple and their adventures in the woods and in various houses. The one drawback is that the individual titles aren't available in the US, you have to purchase big collections of 3 stories at a time. However, for eager readers this is not a hardship!
  • Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
    • Most people are at least vaguely familiar with this classic, but fewer realize there's actually seven books in the series! Availability can be an issue here and my library only owns the first title, but we have a lot of small libraries in our consortium and I've been able to find all of them.
  • Poppy and Friends by Avi
    • There's a little more peril in this series, with a tyrannical owl who is eventually killed, but kids who are ready for some more adventure will enjoy it.
  • Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp
    • If you're only familiar with the Disney movies, these are very different! Miss Bianca is an elegant mouse who belongs to a diplomat's son and writes 18th century verse. She, Bernard, and a third mouse venture to the Black Castle in their first adventure to rescue a Norwegian poet. Her adventures are sometimes macabre and one, involving evil dolls, is rather frightening. The villains are also quite Dickensian. However, they are beautifully written and exquisite gems. The first title, The Rescuers, has been reprinted but you'll have to hunt for the others.


  • Henry Cole
    • Although better known as an illustrator, he has written several chapter books featuring small animals. These tend to be cozy stories with a philosophical bent. They don't fly off the shelves, due to a combination of the quieter plots and length, but they're perfect for this specific reader's advisory request.
  • Robert Lawson
    • This is an older author and many of his books are out of print. There are also several instances of troubling racist depictions in some of his more famous titles. However, I prefer to mention these and let parents discuss them with their children. He had a series of historical fiction featuring animals around the time of the American Revolution and some of them are still in print. He has many other titles that are out of print.
      • Rabbit Hill; Tough Winter
      • Ben and Me; Mr. Revere and I


  • Song of the Christmas Mouse by Shirley Murphy
    • Out of print. A library in our consortium still owns it though.
  • Christopher mouse by William Wise
  • Mousewife by Rumer Godden
  • Abel's Island by William Steig
  • Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Evergreen Wood by Alan Perry
    • This is a retelling of Pilgrim's Progress with mice. It's out of print and not very easy to find, although it is inexpensive online.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

This week at the library; or, Jumping in(to the melted ice)

What's happening
This is my desk area.
As you can see, I have started outreach again. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday selecting materials, placing holds, and packing boxes for several large remote collections. Almost 300 books checked out and 200 holds still to come in! The hamster died. I spent over three hours at Walmart, I'm repackaging and organizing our teen pop-up maker space and adding a second, school-age, set of materials as well. Ms. Pattie did Winter Wigglers this week. I gave her my dance sets and some dance party books and she made streamers with the kids and employed hula hoops in some way. I was mostly gone so I didn't get to see! Thursday I was up to 400 books and counting on this one remote collection request. Despite a very noisy book club, we still had something of a discussion about Girls Who Code and Women Who Broke the Rules. I got several kids to check out Stranger at Green Knowe by comparing it to One and Only Ivan. By Friday I had hit 500 books checked out to one school! More outreach. My intern did her first teen program.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Isadora Moon goes to school by Harriet Muncaster

Isadora's mother is a fairy and her father is a vampire. She has a great life - she loves her fluttering wings and being awake during the day, she does NOT like red drinks (especially tomatoes) and taking baths in the pond. Then her parents tell her she must go to school. Vampire or fairy school? They decide she must try both. At fairy school Isadora tries to wish for carrot cake - her favorite - but gets a giant carrot. She's not allowed to wear her sparkly black tutu in dance and as a result fails miserably. Finally, she picks unlucky (and poisonous) toadstools for her flower crown! Maybe she really is a vampire and not a fairy at all. At vampire school, she finds out that she can't fly in fast formation like the vampires, she hates the tomatoes and other red food they all eat, and her beloved pink rabbit toy lets everyone's bats escape. Isadora is miserable - where does she belong?

After she talks to some of the human children outside their gate, whom she's never dared approach before, Isadora wonders if she's something unique and special - herself. Perhaps there's a school that will be just right for her?

Isadora and the other fantasy creatures are all white, the human children a diverse group. The illustrations are all in black, white, and gray with pink wash over the fairy scenes and pink accents when Isadora is with the vampire side of her life. The message about diversity and what it's like to come from two different cultures is emphasized, but I have mixed feelings about it. Her parents are, to put it mildly, clueless about Isadora's miserable experiences and both stick strongly to wanting her to go with their side of the family, although in the end they approve of her choice. It's nice to see the humans shown as accepting of differences and a good place for Isabella to celebrate her differences, but the message seems to be that if you're biracial there's no place for you in either heritage and you have to find a new place for yourself.

Verdict: I might be (probably am) overthinking this. It's a cute and funny story with adorable illustrations and a friendly, cheerful message. The vocabulary is a little advanced for a beginning chapter book, but I can definitely see kids enjoying this. So, a nice addition to your library if you want more beginning chapter books but not necessarily a good choice for diversity.

ISBN: 9780399558214; Published 2016 by Stepping Stone/Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

When I was picking fantasy books for my 5th grade and up book club, I wanted to make sure I had a variety - both in diversity and in type. So, I picked out some scary books as well. As it turns out, I had all 5th graders, none of whom enjoy scary stories. But that didn't stop me from reading them for myself!

I saw a panel with Ellen Oh at ALA and she sounded very funny - so I was curious how she worked out as a writer of scary stories. I don't read a lot of scary stories. This one was definitely chilling; although it didn't bother me as an adult I can see kids being freaked out by it. Which, if you're a kid who likes to be freaked out by scary stories, is perfect!

Harper is miserable. She isn't happy about moving to their new house, she has a vague feeling (egged on by her older sister) that it's all her fault, but she can't remember anything after her stay in a psychiatric hospital where she was severely injured. Now there's something odd about their new house. As Harper slowly regains her memories and watches with increasing worry her younger brother's strange behavior, more and more frightening phenomena begin to happen. Harper must find her inner courage, be honest with old and new friends, and embrace both her heritage and her power if she's going to save her brother - and herself - from a deadly danger.


Harper's hidden memories and dark past are due to being possessed and injured by powerful ghosts - ghosts she was unable to fight back against without the care of her grandmother, who has embraced her Korean heritage of shaman, unlike Harper's mother who refuses to recognize the spirit world. The growing possession of her younger brother by an evil ghost and the support of a new friend enable Harper to overcome her fears, embrace her power as a spirit hunter, reconnect with her grandmother, and help her family.

There are casual references to Harper's Korean-American heritage and the conflict in her mother who has rejected anything she can't personally touch or see. Harper encounters casual rudeness and racism and also encounters similar instances even among ghosts, who fear and dislike her grandmother's ghostly companion because she is African-American.

Verdict: This spinetingler grows its story slowly, piling on the supernatural danger and fear until it all comes to a dramatic climax. Recommend to readers who enjoy stories like The Books of Elsewhere and other creepy stories.

ISBN: 9780062430083; Published 2017 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Small Readers: King & Kayla and the case of the missing dog treats by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

When I picked up the first title in this series, I was immediately won over by sweet and funny King and Kayla. My library kids were equally entranced and it's been quite a while until I was able to get my hands on the latest title - in fact, I had to borrow another library's copy because mine is checked out again!

King is very excited when he smells Kayla making peanut butter treats. He LOVES peanut butter treats! Unfortunately, they aren't for him - they're for Jillian's new puppy, Thor. And Kayla won't even let him lick the bowl! She says the dough is bad for dogs. Even worse, while they're all playing outside someone steals three of the treats. At first, Kayla blames King, but when she smells his breath she knows he's innocent. While Kayla and Jillian are working hard on figuring out the mystery, King has found some of his own clues, like a funny smell. Can they discover the thief by working together?

Meyers' cheerful and simple pictures are a good match for the brisk text. Easy readers don't want busy or extensive pictures, since the kids are still focusing on comprehending and learning the text. The mystery is simple but fun and lays out the steps of investigating from figuring out the problem to listing the clues. The added humor of King's knowledge and Kayla's obliviousness will tickle kids' funny bones.

Verdict: I'm planning to buy more of these so I can get enough together for a book club. Highly recommended, sure to fly off your shelves.

ISBN: 9781561458776; Published 2017 by Peachtree; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sarabella's thinking cap by Judy Schachner

Sarabella is quiet in class and often loses track of her work - she's simply too busy with the dreams and thoughts that flood into her mind. Her parents and older sister tell her not to worry, as they pursue their own creative endeavors, but Sarabella's teacher keeps sending notes home reminding her to focus. Finally, Sarabella figures out a way to express what she's thinking to everyone with a marvelous thinking cap showing the flood of ideas and pictures that occupy her mind.

The mixed media illustrations glow with the flood of images from Sarabella's mind; some softly colored, others sparkling with light, and more that are what I think of as "Victorian clip art". In the end, her thoughts explode out of her mind and onto paper, impressing her teacher and classmates and earning her the shy friendship of another thoughtful child.

Reviews on this title are mixed, some thinking the story is a good celebration of creativity and differences in learning style and others calling it flawed. I have a different perspective - is this book really needed? There are plenty of books featuring white kids and their quest for creativity and self-expression. The mild reproaches of Sarabella's teacher for not focusing in class and her small, private worries are easily resolved by the end of the story. Her parents have occupations that allow them plenty of leisure time for painting and playing music and Sarabella has her own (spacious) room with plenty of art materials at hand. Her classroom is carefully diverse and has a more normal classroom size - about 20 kids - than most picture books depict. There's a variety of skin colors and races, a girl in a hijab, a boy in a wheelchair, and the child who attracts Sarabella's attention at the end is black. So, what I want to know is, why are we not hearing the story of another child in her class? Why is the little black boy, who appears to have the same fertile imagination, not the featured protagonist instead of the little white girl? It's not necessary to make every picture book an "issue" book, but why not feature a family where the parents are busy at work and the child uses their imagination to amuse themselves? Or a family with more limited resources where the child uses their imagination to create without all the art supplies easy to hand? Basically, why retell the same story over and over when there are other stories waiting to be told?

Verdict: It's a perfectly acceptable story of creativity and imagination with pleasant and sometimes unique illustrations, but it's a story that's been told to exhaustion. I'd pass on this and look for something new to add to my picture book collection.

ISBN: 9780525429180; Published 2017 by Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, January 8, 2018

What makes a monster? by Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand

Keating returns with another humorous and thought-provoking picture book in her new series, "The World of Weird Animals." In the first book, Pink is for blobfish, she explored unusual pink animals of the world. Now she looks at animals considered monsters either because of superstition, fear, or their unusual appearance. Each spread includes a photograph of the animal in action, a funny cartoon, a description of the animal, and an additional section on the animal's unusual ability or appearance. A sidebar includes stats about the animal - name, species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators and threats.

Animals listed include the honey badger, Portuguese man-of-war, horror frog, cordyceps fungus, prairie dog, assassin bug, goblin shark, and finally, humans. The final pages include funny but thoughtful sections on deciding what makes a monster - are the creatures listed in the book acting according to their natures? Are they truly monsters or are they just surviving the best they can? There is also a glossary.

While this book certainly will catch the attention of kids who enjoy "weird animal" factoids and creepy photographs, underneath the humorous exterior it encourages kids to think about why they're scared of, or dislike certain animals. Do we focus on saving cute animals more than those that are weird-looking?

Verdict: A fun and interesting look at weird creatures around the world as well as a good start for critical thinking about why we behave the way we do. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780553512304; Published 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf; Purchased for the library

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017 Library Data and Reflections: Programming and Outreach

The statistics octopus. She grasps all numbers in her tentacles.
So, this year. Sigh. It was a very busy summer, but the numbers didn't necessarily reflect that. It was just weird overall. It felt like we had lower attendance at a lot of things, but overall our attendance was about equal to 2016. I did start a lot of new stuff, but I'm planning on getting it all under control and changing some things next year, now that my staffing situation is, I hope, more or less sorted out.

  • 348 children’s programs; 11,531 participants
  • 19 teen programs; 508 participants
Storytimes and Early Literacy Programs for ages 0-5
  • 165 programs; average 30 attendees; 4,942 total participants
  • 7 special events for ages 0-5; 836 attendees
Family and School-Age Programs
  • 22 bookclub meetings, average 9 members, 207 total
  • 19 Lego Club meetings, average 26 attendees, 485 total
  • 10 Mad Scientists Club meetings; average 33 attendees; 327 total
  • 12 Messy Art Club meetings; average 32 attendees; 387 total
  • 8 Maker Workshops; average 11 attendees; 91 total
  • 6 special events for families; 650 attendees
Outreach (an estimate, not including numerous school visits, author visit, and participation in school outreach events, which is included in total programming)
  • 76 programs; 1963 total participants
Stealth and Drop-In Programming
  • A total of 671 children and teens participated in SRP
  • We offered 92 stealth activities and drop-in programs, with a total participation of approximately 1865
Pop-Up Maker Space
  • 52 teens participated in our pop-up maker space activities
While our overall programs and attendance were about equal to last year, and the attendance mostly averaged out, there were some changes. After school clubs overall dropped a little; the attendance was very uneven but mostly lower. Fewer outreach visits, kids involved in more activities after school, and inconsistent marketing hit us pretty hard there.

I increased several smaller programs, working with our English-language learning families through the school and starting several initiatives; the Library on the Go in the summer and extending our pop-up teen maker space. I also started the basics of a school-age pop-up maker space at the very end of the year.

I took off from outreach for the fall, in order to have the time to deal with major staff changes and planning life-size Candyland; this affected both our circulation and our overall program attendance, in my opinion.

Our summer reading registration decreased, but it's not as straight-forward as just counting the numbers, since I've changed how we count registration and participation.

Plans for next year
  • I'm booking outreach visits January - March and already have a slew of visits planned. In April and May I'll change over to field trips only, although I'll probably make exceptions for the school and daycare that are located outside of town. I have about 5-10 visits a week booked right now.
  • I'm also getting more involved in outreach events at the schools; I'm participating in their first Maker Faire and a 4K family night in January and also have some additional collaborations with the EL staff planned.
  • I'm also continuing to spend more time on remote collections, supporting the school curriculum and increasing our circulation
  • I plan to make some tweaks to the summer reading program; a lot of families prefer to just do 1,000 books before kindergarten instead of signing up for an additional program for the younger kids. I also hope to expand Library on the Go in the summer, then offer both field trips and outreach visits September - November.
As I expand outreach and related tasks, I'm going to need to cut back and change the way I offer programming. I'm increasing "event" programming, specially on Saturdays, and focusing more on smaller events during the week. Meanwhile, I'm handing more of the everyday programs over to my staff and colleagues.
  • My school colleague will be continuing to offer toddler storytime, an evening storytime, baby storytime, playgroup, and collaborate on special programs.
  • I've handed most of the Winter Wigglers events over to her and my associate. My associate will also be focusing on garden/outdoor programming in the summer.
  • I will be continuing our after school club programs through April then going on hiatus until next September. I'll probably have a few more drop-in craft and lego programs, but in the summer I'll be focusing on maker workshops, Library on the Go, introducing more Friday/Saturday programs. I'll also have my book clubs during the school year.
  • I'm offering a few more maker workshops during the year and trying to do roughly one Saturday event per month. This means I often work two Saturdays a month, although my director does try not to schedule me on Saturday rotation if she can, but with our staffing it just works out that way.
I've handed most of the marketing over to my associate; I send out newsletters and flyers to the schools and create handouts on outreach visits. My associate is also taking over a lot of the stealth programming and activities in-house, as well as displays.

With a new teen intern, we're jumping into teen programs full-tilt, building on the good start my temporary associate made last semester. The plan is to offer 3 programs a month, Middle School Madness, Anime Club, and Teens Game On! They're all going to be casual and, hopefully, require minimal planning and work. They'll have to since my intern only has 8 hours a week and I don't have time!

To pack all of this in, I have to make sure I'm taking reasonable breaks. I will only be doing minimal outreach visits in April and May; most classes will be visiting me. The only programs I will be doing myself in May will be my three book clubs. I won't be doing any programs in August; my associate will probably do some gardening/outdoor things and I'll have drop-in Craft-o-rama and Free Lego Build, which anyone can set up. In December I don't do any outreach and just have the three book clubs and Life-Size Candyland. We did very well with our big holiday programs in November so I'll probably continue that. Overall, I'm moving towards more drop-in, casual programming.