Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bear's Scare by Jacob Grant

Bear, a large purple-brown rectangle with staring eyes, is definitely a neatnik. He likes everything just so and he doesn't like sharing his space with anyone except his stuffed toy, Ursa. When Bear finds a spider web... and then another... and another, he freaks out! He goes on a cleaning tear, searching for the spider he is sure is causing rampant destruction in his house. Meanwhile, the spider is quietly pursuing her own business. When Bear's panic causes him to damage his beloved toy, can anyone help him fix Ursa?

Muted colors and bold, broadly drawn shapes remind me of Chris Haughton's artwork, but this has a distinctive, almost modernist flair. Lots of pink and orange hues, and a tidy little spider with a button beret and an affinity for knitting add charm to this story about making new friends - and being flexible.

While I dislike many of the books that suggest solitary and/or introverted characters should change to accommodate their livelier "friends", I didn't get that feel from this at all. While the spider did leave a few webs about, most of the mess comes from Bear's panicked brain and when he slows down a little, he realizes the spider is just like him, enjoying a quiet life, books, and music. The spider also contributes, mending Bear's friend Ursa, instead of their contribution being to "improve" Bear's life by making him change his personality.

Verdict: This quiet story will make children chuckle and adults take a moment to think about how they help children with different personalities interact - as well as remind people to appreciate spiders!

ISBN: 9781681197203; Published June 2018 by Bloomsbury; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Ultimate Book of Sharks by Brian Skerry with Elizabeth Carney and Sarah Wassner Flynn; Face to Face with Sharks by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes

Yes, I am aware it is no longer Shark Week or anywhere in the vicinity thereof. But really, shouldn't we celebrate sharks all the time? Yes, yes, we should (although I personally am more of a hyena fan).

What could be better for young shark fans than National Geographic shark books, full of exciting pictures, interesting facts, and real-life shark encounters? Not much! The Ultimate Book of Sharks was created primarily with the photographs of Brian Skerry and the text is scattered with his own experiences, encounters, and quotes regarding sharks. The bulk of the book is divided up into the facts that National Geographic does so well. There are chapters on the unique anatomy of sharks, well-known sharks like the great white and the hammerhead and lesser-known, smaller sharks, and more prolific sharks. A chapter on shark myths addresses the dreaded shark attack, another covers the fascinating world of prehistoric sharks and their fossils. The last two chapters address the superlatives - the biggest, fastest, smallest, deepest, and more and the plight of sharks in the world today and how kids can be involved in helping them. Back matter includes an index, credits, and acknowledgements.

I also received a paperback copy of Face to Face with sharks. The Face to Face with... series was originally published several years ago but is being republished in paperback. To the best of my knowledge, this is just a new printing; the books are not being updated. However, they are aimed at a slightly younger audience, with larger, simpler text and as such include few things like dates or specific current research that would become outdated.

This series covers the basic facts about sharks' anatomy and behavior and their conservation. There is no table of contents, but there is a glossary, questions, find out more and a few other back matter elements.

Verdict: For all your shark fans, The Ultimate Book of Sharks is a must-have. It's full of interesting facts and photos, personal encounters, and is sure to interest kids whether they read straight through or dip in and browse. I really like the Face to Face series, but I rarely purchase popular nonfiction, like animals, in paperback so this probably isn't one I'd use on the shelf. However, if you purchase paperback nonfiction it's a great opportunity to get new copies of this popular series.

The Ultimate Book of Sharks
ISBN: 9781426330711; Published May 2018
Face to face with sharks
ISBN: 9781426332593; This edition published April 2018

Titles published by National Geographic; Review copies provided by publisher; Donated to the library (previously purchased an additional copy of both titles)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

This week at the library; or, I am busy

This week at the library
I had a dentist appointment on Monday. That pretty much characterizes the week with an extra side of plugged toilets. Next week, vacation!

Professional Development
  • Programming for 'Tweens by Amanda Struckmeyer, online class at UW-Madison, week 1
  • ALSC Webinar: Managing Children's Services: Program Evaluation by Laura Koenig and Amanda Yother
  • ALSC Webinar: Managing Children's Services: Employee Engagement by Krissy Wick and Sarah Wethern

Friday, September 21, 2018

Gods and Heroes: Mythology around the world by Korwin Briggs

I was skeptical when I received this - so many "global" mythology or history books are anything but. However, this encyclopedia truly includes a wide range of mythology, as well as amusing pictures, and a voice that's both light-hearted and respectful of various traditions.

An introduction talks about the origin of myths and how they are researched - and how little we sometimes know. There's a legend of designs that show what tradition the characters come from, as well as markers for gods, heroes, and creatures. There's also a quick glossary.

Back matter includes an index by type (god, goddess, etc.) and by tradition (Slavic, Sumerian, etc.) and a map.

The entries' content varies. Some retell stories of the various characters, some include research into the myth, others include how it affected the tradition or religion. Some sample stories include Hera's revenge on Semele and Io, Kintu's trip to heaven for a wife, and Nu Gua rides a gourd.

Greek/Roman mythology has 10 entries, Indian/Hindu, Egyptian, and Norse each have 8, China has 6. Other traditions included are the Americas, including North American Great Plains, Inuit, Inca, and Mesoamerican, Japanese/Shinto, Sumerican/Mesopotamian, Australian, Maori, Persian, West African, and Slavic.

The art fits in well with the tone of the stories; respectful but humorous. The characters are shown with the appropriate color of skin, artifacts, and against their native background. While the author glosses over some of the more egregiously sexual and violent aspects of the myths and throws in humorous pop-culture references, he does so in a way that feels to me like he's taking the myths seriously as a part of the various cultures and not using them to titilate or shock. One reviewer mentioned the complete lack of Judeo-Christian characters and I.... actually prefer that. Whether you consider that tradition to be mythological or not, in my community an encyclopedia that treated them as mythological would be extremely controversial, especially if directed towards children. Not to mention, it would have made the book waaaay too long.

Verdict: A great choice to get kids into exploring different mythologies; recommend to mythology and comic fans.

ISBN: 9781523503780; Published August 2018 by Workman; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Humphrey's big birthday bash by Betty G. Birney, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Humphrey is back in a special birthday surprise. Along with his new friend, Og the Frog, Humphrey is excited about the upcoming birthday party for student Kirk. He's really excited when he gets to go along! As the kids discuss Kirk's birthday celebration in the classroom and his upcoming party at home on Saturday, some of them notice that some birthdays are missing - Humphrey's, Og's, and Mrs. Brisbane's. Humphrey thoroughly enjoys Kirk's backwards birthday bash and even puts on a show for the kids. When he gets back to class, he tells Og all about it (even though they can't understand each other) and the two of them cook up a surprise for Mrs. Brisbane. But who will get the surprise in the end?

This is the eighth book in the series "Humphrey's Tiny Tales" an easier version of the popular "The World According to Humphrey" series which is now being extended with a new chapter book series starring the Og the Frog. I have really, really tried with these books and I'm just going to say it - I find them unutterably boring. They're just so.... bland. There are no real conflicts, no real plot, and the students are all reduced to stereotypes like "Please-don't-complain-Mandy-Payne". The introduction of Og the Frog is just exasperating - if Humphrey and Og can both understand the students, why on earth can't they understand each other?

Verdict: The line drawings are cute and these do have a steady, if not wildly enthusiastic audience, but they're definitely filler books.

ISBN: 9781524737207; Published September 2018 by Putnam; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Small Readers: Fox the tiger; Fox is late by Corey R. Tabor

I really liked Tabor's Fox picture books, although some of the plot lines felt a little weak. Turns out, they translate really well into easy readers and I can't wait to add this set to my library!

Fox tries out what it's like to be somebody else in Fox the Tiger. A tiger book with a looooong fold-out page makes him think it must be cool to be a tiger and with a little black paint he gets to try out his wish! After all, tigers are the best - they are big, fast, and sneaky! When the other animals see Fox the Tiger out on the prowl, they get into the fun with Turtle becoming Race Car, Rabbit becoming Robot, and so on. But when the rain washes away their disguises, how will Fox feel about being Fox again? The cheerfully colored illustrations are set against generous white space with lots of textured greens, oranges, and soft blues. This title comes in at a reading level of E, which is a nice intermediate level and kids will appreciate the humor and relative comparisons in the book as Fox realizes that while he admires tigers, somebody else might think he is the coolest!

Fox is late shows Fox's more mischievous side. He's late for a mysterious event and as he races to his destination he acquires a team of enraged animals. He's flipped his skateboard over Rabbit, used Turtle as a ramp, done a nose slide on Elephant, and so on. The animals finally catch up to Fox at his house - where it turns out he was late for the lunch he was fixing for his friends! All ends happily around the table. There are concept words and multiple repeated sentence with one additional word, for example, "Fox gets food. Fox gets fast food." The simpler text brings this in at a level D and it's a good introduction to the character's sly humor and naughty personality.

Verdict: This is a fun new series to add to your easy readers. With a light amount of humor, attractive illustrations, and a memorable character, it's sure to attract young readers.

Fox the tiger
ISBN: 9780062398697

Fox is late
ISBN: 9780062398710

Published 2018 by Balzer + Bray; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Eraser by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Square, pink, pig-tailed Eraser is always cleaning things up. Her hard work isn't appreciated by Pencil, who takes credit for the things she fixes, or the other drawing and writing implements. She and her friends, Ruler and Pencil Sharpener, are left out of the games that Glue, Tape, and all the other "creative" implements play. When everyone leaves her out of a meeting, because it's for creators only, she determines to change the game and make her own creation. But things don't go so well and after Pencil's mean comments, she decides to leave.

Once off the desk, she discovers a whole other world - and realizes that she does create something - second chances! When she returns, she finds the other desk-dwellers, including Pencil, have realized how much they need her too. A wiser (and shorter) Pencil apologizes and working together they get an A+ on their project! There's no more division and Eraser forgives Pencil and invites him to join the whole group at lunch.

Weyant, who has partnered with Kang on a whole series of clever books that explore concepts like relative size as well as emotional intelligence, brings his humor and cartoon art to mix with Kang's silly puns and heartfelt story. Eraser is chunky and pink with big purple glasses, pigtails and a hint of bangs, skinny pink arms, and a wide smile that dims as she's continually left out. She's appropriately grubby from all her hard work. Pencil shows his supercilious character with haughty eyes and mean quirks of the eyebrows, but once he's been ground down a bit he's much more subdued.

Many tiny details add humor to the story; when she leaves the desk, Eraser packs her luggage (including extra paperclips for her hair) in a mint tin. Tape and Glue decorate all their friends with pipe cleaners and buttons, joining together for a rousing rendition of kumbaya and prompting Eraser to sigh that they can "get anyone to stick together."

With bright, clean colors, a humorous story, and a strong message of cooperation, appreciation for everyone's efforts, fixing mistakes, and trying again, this is sure to be a hit both in storytime and in the classroom. There's a great event kit available at the author's website and I'm thinking this would make a great lesson plan for our storytimes and charter school, paired with some other writing books, encouraging kids to create - and erase, draft, and sketch - their own stories. I'll post a lesson plan for that here when I get it put together!

Verdict: Sure to be as popular as Kang and Weyant's other titles, this upbeat story about working together and getting a second chance is a great addition to any school or library collection. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781503902589; Published September 2018 by Two Lions; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, September 17, 2018

Food fight! A mouthwatering history of who ate what and why through the ages by Tanya Steel

I'm going to be honest - I did not like this book. I expected to like it, I requested it to review, and I wanted to put it down within the first couple pages. Your mileage may vary.

After a quick list of safety tips, the book jumps into the history of food. The chapters cover the prehistoric era, ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, medieval times (England and a little Europe), Mongols and the Silk Road, Renaissance (Florence and a little Europe), American Revolution, French Revolution, Industrial Revolution (England), World War I (USA and a little England), Great Depression (USA), World War II (USA), the sixties (America), and a future imagined life on Mars.

Each chapter starts with a one and a half page "bite-size history" giving a general overview of the time period. The chapter also includes a number of features - A day in the life, featuring a common or lower-class person, Spicing things up, which has additional facts, Menus of the rich and famished, focusing on what the upper classes and wealthy people ate, Yucky habits of yore, and other statistics and factoids. Each chapter ends with two recipes adapted from the time period and a "Popcorny" quiz that reviews the chapter.

There are lots of photographs, cartoons, photoshopped animals waving spoons and wearing chef hats, quotes from kids who tried the recipes, and more. So what's not to like?

Well, did you notice the distribution of geographical areas covered? It's really a history of Western (primarily British) white people through the ages, not of the world. There are a lot of facts and information glossed over and left out, like the continents of Africa and South America for starters. There are only a few brief sentences mentioning the contributions of Native Americans and African slave labor to the food we eat today, not to mention Mexican influences. There's no mention at all of the Caribbean sugar trade and accompanying slave trade.

The chapter on the Great Depression doesn't mention African-Americans or Latinos at all and the opening cartoon shows a black man serving a white man and boy at a bread line. I'm.... really, really skeptical that would have happened? The review of Roosevelt's New Deal and how it revived the economy leaves out completely the fact that it mostly was open only to whites. The chapter on the sixties has space to mention the new trend of vegetarianism, but not a single mention of migrant crop workers and the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

Finally, the "Yucky Habits of Yore" fact blips were blatantly prejudiced. The first one, in the prehistoric age, says "Early humans ate what was available, including insects! Mmm...cicadas?" Completely ignoring the fact that many cultures today eat bugs and insects, it's purely a cultural thing whether or not you find it gross, and implying that said cultures are primitive early humans is just... I have no words. In the chapter on the Mongols, this same section lists the following as yucky facts "In the 1230s, the Mongols built a fountain that spouted fermented mare's milk.; Mongol soldiers might drink their horses' blood or milk if they were thirsty.; The Mongols believed animals had to be killed in the shadows so the sun wouldn't see it happen. They didn't want the earth to know about the sacrifice either, so they made sure not to spill blood on the ground." The other "yucky habits" are things like the Romans cleaning plates with urine, colonial people pooping at the dinner table, or kids in factories having to eat dirt that got on their food. Hmm, interesting that the only cultural practises described as "gross" were those of non-white, non-Western peoples and ones that are still in use today.

This could have been interesting. The author had a lot of fun facts and National Geographic does a great layout. But it didn't live up the hype and the overlooking of major historical events, the experiences and contributions of non-white, non-westerners, and poking fun at other cultures was extremely off-putting.

Verdict: I don't recommend this book.

ISBN: 9781426331626; Published September 2018 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by the publisher

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This week at the library; or, Everything old is new again

What's happening
I don't even want to think about Monday. It was both extremely busy and extremely...weird. I had a disappointingly small turnout for book club and we had to postpone anime club to next week. The parking lot is not yet done, I have several huge projects on hand, and I am just tired. I went home early on Friday to listen to webinars, organize grants, and lay out the long-term plan for the children's area.

Professional Development
  • Latest must-have graphic novels for fall; Diamond, Lion Forge; Papercutz; Scholastic; Viz
    • Updated Scholastic graphics guide
    • New manga from Viz
  • Managing Children's Services: Strategic Planning in the Youth Services Department (ALSC)
    • Megan Egbert; Kelsey Johnson
  • Let the wild rumpus start! Child-led play in public library programming
    • Carissa Christner "Anjiplay"
    • Take-away - more loose parts, less plastic and "pre-set" toys
  • Re-reading Power of Play: Designing early learning spaces by Dorothy Stoltz

Friday, September 14, 2018

Snowy owl invasion by Sandra Markle

Sandra Markle introduces her latest wildlife investigation with a startling discovery in 2013; snowy owls in... Maryland? Why were snowy owls, an Arctic bird that rarely migrate south, suddenly showing up in large numbers in Canada and all down the east coast of North America? To solve the mystery, Markle takes readers through the life cycle of the snowy owl, from breeding season to the importance of lemmings. The snowy owl irruption (an unusual migration pattern) had no definite cause, but various scientists advance different theories such as an unusually large amount of lemmings resulting in a larger number of snowy owl hatchlings surviving and causing increased competition. Heavy winds and storms were another possible cause.

Whatever the reason, the snowy owl irruption of 2013/2014 gave researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study these usually elusive predators, but the snowy owls' arrival in new hunting grounds also caused problems, both with local animals and humans. One snowy owl in particular, given a transmitter during the irruption, added a great deal of knowledge about snowies due to its extensive round-trip migrations, stretching all the way down to Maryland and back to the Arctic. A final chapter discusses the future of snowy owls, the possible impact of climate change, and more of the discoveries made due to the irruption.

Back matter includes an author's note, discussing how the Markle worked with scientists, notes, glossary, additional resources, and index.

Verdict: For readers not yet ready to tackle the more demanding Scientists in the Field titles, Sandra Markle's excellent nonfiction investigations, many framed as mysteries, offer a tantalizing look at real scientific research as well as interesting stories about animals. The large format of the books, which allows for the break-up of text with photographs and additional information, may discourage some close-minded teachers, librarians, and parents, who see them as "picture books" but they will be doing their students and readers a great disservice. Recommend this to kids interested in science, animals, and those who need samples of how research works.

ISBN: 9781512431063; Published 2018 by Millbrook; Purchased for the library