Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Counting in the garden by Emily and Patrick Hruby

[This review has been edited and republished]

I saw the cover of this board book at ALA and it really grabbed my eye, but the book itself was disappointing. The idea of bright colors and geometric shapes was good, but the execution of the design is too complicated for a board book for small children. It gets very crowded and some of the more abstract shapes are hard to identify as the various plants and other garden things.

The book is a thick square, 9x9 inches, and has a lot of thick pages - it weighs almost a pound! I am a little doubtful about the binding of such a thick book holding up as well. It's from a small publisher and is more spendy than the average board book - about $10.

Verdict: I would have been more likely to purchase this as a concept book for preschool age kids, and when I did a little searching it looks like it is actually available as a hardcover, but as a board book it misses the mark. Toddlers and babies might enjoy the bright colors and geometrical shapes, but they are likely to have trouble identifying the objects and the weight of the board book is an issue, while the cost is more than most libraries will spend on a board book.

ISBN: 9781623260057; Published 2013 by Ammo; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Look! by Jeff Mack

I had reservations about this book when I read the description; I always think books that encourage reading vs. screens are sort of...well....silly. I mean, if you're not reading, you're not going to get the message and if you're reading it you're already reading so...but Jeff Mack is so funny and my library has loved everything he's done, so I gave it a chance and he came through for me!

With only two words, "look" and "out" you wouldn't expect much of a story but drama, friendship, action, hilarity and silliness ensue when a friendly gorilla tries to get a little boy to LOOK when the little boy just wants the gorilla OUT.

The gorilla isn't sure what these strange square things are, but they seem perfect for getting the little boy's attention. But the boy is glued to his screen. The gorilla's antics escalate until tragedy strikes and the boy sends the gorilla OUT! and looks sadly at his broken tv...but there is a book right there and it's open and...a friendship develops and together they LOOK.

The two characters are delightfully expressive throughout their interactions, but there's so much more to the art than just the characters. Each page has a different "bookish" background, from the classic library date stamp in the front of the book to faux leather bindings, crumpled pages, and those classic library bindings. The text changes fonts on every page, from collage letters to scribbled crayon, matching the mood of the scenes.

Verdict: This is a perfect book for storytime, but also for beginning readers to practice their visual as well as textual literacy. This is definitely going on the list I'm making of picture books for beginning readers. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780399162053; Published 2015 by Philomel/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: I, Fly: The Buzz about flies and how awesome they are by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

I'm a big fan of nonfiction picture books that can be easily adapted to read aloud and that tackle unique animals or subjects, especially if they're gross. Kids love this stuff, even if it makes teachers and parents groan! This one hits all my requirements and although at first glance it might seem a little bit of a knock-off of Diary of a Fly, it's really its own unique book.

The titular fly zips into a classroom and is discouraged to find that all the kids are studying, yet again, butterflies. But flies are pretty cool too and he is going to tell his audience exactly why. Like butterflies, flies metamorphose. They have cool body parts that butterflies don't have, like halteres and a unique flight pattern and setae. Ok, yes, it is true that they throw up on their food, but only some of it! And yes, they do carry diseases, but they're not mosquitoes! In a humorous about face, Fly convinces the kids to study him instead of a butterfly...only to find out that this "being studied" thing isn't quite what he expected! Fly finishes up with talking about how flies fit into life all over the world and are used in scientific study.

Back matter includes a child-friendly glossary, bibliography that includes multiple websites, and acknowledgement of three experts. The illustrations are cheerful cartoons, mainly focusing on the fly and children in different settings, but they also do a good job of clearly setting out the fly's habitat and habits. The text is a little long to work as a straight read-aloud, but it would be fine if you pick and choose sections as you go through the book.

Verdict: This was a very funny and informative look at a fly, a creature that usually doesn't get much attention. It will get plenty of laughs and "that's so gross!" exclamations from your audience, while informing them about flies. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780805094695; Published 2015 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Leveling Easy Readers; or, How I make everybody happy

This question pops up on a lot of listservs and online groups, so I decided to write down what we do so I can just link back to a post.

Originally, we had all the easy readers arranged alphabetically by author. That was it. Parents were continually asking what level their child should be reading and this increased as the local school district added four year old kindergarten and extended Scholastic Reading Counts and Lexiles to all grades. Personally, I'm against leveling, in general. However, our collection is there for the patrons, not for me! So, I came up with a compromise. All the books with a "level 1" got a red sticker, "level 2" got a green sticker, and "level 3" got a blue sticker. If the publisher hadn't put a level on the book, I just guesstimated.

This satisfies parents who want to just point and say "you're only allowed to read the red sticker books" but it also satisfies my own resistance to leveling books and realistically gives kids quite a range of reading possibilities, since every publisher's leveling system varies so widely.

Last year I also added a nonfiction section to the easy readers and circulation continues to expand rapidly. My next easy reader project is a plan to make a resource list of titles (easy readers and picture books) with just a few simple words in bold type on each page. We get asked for that constantly, especially with the push for kids to read younger and younger.
The sign

Paperbacks on display

Stickered easy readers

Easy reader nonfiction

Saturday, May 16, 2015

This week at the library

What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • Phew. Programs are over. Now it's time for outreach, planning, and vast amounts of organization.
  • We have chicks!
  • Well, that was premature. Was just congratulating myself on the week nearly being done and nothing much more happening in the last few hours of Friday when I:
    • Remembered that there was a program in the storyroom on Saturday and EVERYTHING would have to be cleaned out.
    • Found out I would have no shelvers until Tuesday.
    • Found a new book on the shelf with ICKY MOLD.
    • Teacher emailed me to bring lots of kids (which is good, but crazy!)
    • Volunteer I was depending on to help me in the last-minute panic haul to the basement didn't show.
Some Projects Completed/In Progress This Week
  • Last donation requests followed up (unsuccessfully)
  • Cleaned off desk
  • Organized school visits and Pinterest board of school booktalks
  • All the prize books organized in the basement
  • Recyclables and stuff organization in basement pretty much finished!
  • Putting together teen prizes
Ongoing and New Stealth Programs and Displays
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • The preschooler who wanted books about farting is back - this time he's interested in weather, especially clouds and tornadoes and they also needed books on bullying.
  • Some movie reader's advisory - the child was with the grandparents, but I know him and his parents and I helped him find something that wouldn't be too scary.

Prize books on one side

Craft supplies on the other. The BWI boxes hold our cardboard

Recyclables at the back. I'm doing a toddler drive-in and
mad scientists club featuring building this summer. There's bags
of paper towel tubes and decorative paper stars under the table.
The white table is a door (donated by me) sitting on top of
extra shelves.

Egg supplies under the table - styrofoam eggs and drying boxes
Crates donated by me for the furthering of organization
The big box is our supply of butterfly wings. The white table is falling
apart and is my prep table from upstairs. At least here it can't fall
on a kid. And my stash of water bottles. I drink a lot of water.

The long view. The boxes/paper mess in the foreground went out
to recycling and the long shelves leaning up are going
to be put together and put there at the end as soon as
I find the rest of the pieces (another donation from home)

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan

I'm not personally a fan of historical fiction, or spunky girl characters, so I would have been very skeptical of this if I hadn't enjoyed Hannigan's previous title, Cupcake Cousins so much.

Nell Warne shows up at her aunt's boarding house in Chicago with plenty of misery and worries. She's an orphan with no other relatives but her Aunt Kate and her aunt seems none too interested in admitting any responsibility for her. Nell's best friend Jemma is far away in Canada and it looks like Nell is going to end up in an orphanage whether she likes it or not.

But Aunt Kate, while she may be a Pickled Onion, has an exciting secret; she's the first female detective for Mr. Pinkerton's detective agency. Nell is determined to stick to her newfound family and be part of Kate's life, including her cases. But there are frightening events on the move, more than just a few cases of stolen money or murder, and both Nell and Kate will have to adjust and grow to be able to face the coming challenges.

This maintains a light-hearted feel, even though it deals with serious events like the looming Civil War, slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the challenges faced by a single woman on her own. Nell's story is interspersed with letters to and from her best friend Jemma, which add to the plot until all the pieces come together at the end, revealing not only Nell's family secrets but Jemma's as well. I really enjoyed the small details that Hannigan included about everyday life for women; the financial struggles, clothing, sights (and smells) of Chicago. An author's note includes more information about the real-life Kate Warne and there are also more resources for readers who want to explore the history further.

Verdict: This historical fiction will appeal to readers who like history as well as those who enjoy exciting adventures. There are also several mysteries interwoven into the story from the individual cases to the mystery of Nell's family and I can booktalk mysteries to about 80% of my readers. A great blend of different genres that will introduce kids to several important historical events in a fun and interesting way. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780316403511; Published April 2015 by Little Brown; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Small Readers: Clara and Clem Under the Sea by Ethan Long

Clara and Clem have starred in several easy readers from Penguin. This Cybils finalist is fun, easy, and attractive to emergent readers.

Clara and Clem, two bulbous-headed pink siblings (who look rather like pink goldfish) are setting up blocks when their play morphs into a real ocean! They dive in and experience the wonders of the ocean, from dolphins to rays, in simple one or two-word rhymes. The words are presented in speech bubbles, green for Clara and red for Clem. "Gold! Bubble. I see trouble." Eventually they return to the real world, but they won't stay there for long as Clem demands "Again!"

Long's illustrations, outlined with white borders, are drawn in cheerful pastels, with Clara and Clem and their speech bubbles standing out strongly from the soft backgrounds. Little details, Clem's hat, Clara's clothes, are collaged photos. There are a few two-syllable words, but most are simple and there are only a couple three or four word sentences. The font is large and readable and the simple, cheerful illustrations add a light touch of humor but keep the focus on the words.

Verdict: It's not surprising this was a Cybils finalist. It's simple but funny and perfectly captures the right level of imagination, humor, and interest for a beginning reader. Highly recommended for your easy reader section.

ISBN: 9780448478128; Published 2014 by Penguin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Jana Christy

The cover picture here does not do justice to Christy's glowing, soft colors, so you'll just have to trust me - they're gorgeous.

Rhyming couplets in a small, white type are set unobtrusively at the corners of the page. The language is pleasant, but not memorable. Every few pages the refrain of the title is repeated, followed by several pages of couplets. "When the wind blows...Trees dance./Spiders curl./Mice shiver./Leaves swirl."

The real draw of this book, and what made me fall in love with what wouldn't normally be my cup of tea, is Jana Christy's art. It not only glows, it perfectly captures the swirl and dash of the wind. The art was created with pencil sketches and mixed media, then assembled and painted digitally. It gives the illusion of watercolors, but with richer colors and intriguing lines and textures in the background. The pictures follow a family; grandmother clad in bright pink, little boy in a green jacket, mom and the baby in a stroller, as they excitedly venture forth on a windy day. First they fly a kite in a windy field, with the grass swirling with colors. Then it's down to the seaside, where the boats are bobbing along. They walk along the beach and up into town. It's begun to rain and there are puddles to splash in. They visit the park, hats and leaves flying through the air around them. The storm is building and they hurry home, wet and tired but happy, to watch the rain through the window. A warm bath and it's time for one last cuddle before bed.

Verdict: Perfect for toddlers at a rain-themed storytime, or looking at with older kids and talking about what's happening in the weather in each picture. Or just cuddle up and read before bed on a windy, rainy day. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399160158; Published February 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Songs/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Dogs and Cats by Nolon Stacey

I'm still working on updating my activities/crafts nonfiction section and we always need new drawing books, so I decided to check out this title, which is a little different than the usual drawing books I purchase.

The book starts with a discussion of drawing tools. Although it says you can just use a pencil and paper, it goes into a lot of detail about special pencils, erasers, blending tools, paper, and other items as well as a drawing space. The next sections focus on basic drawing skills, shading, features like eyes, noses, etc. and drawing different types of fur. The actual drawing instructions all start with a lightly penciled outline and then demonstrate how to add details and shading to create the finished art. The pictures start out simple, with just animal faces, and get more complicated with different poses.

I was doubtful about this one at first, as it's much more advanced than any of the other drawing books I have for kids, and I can't exactly test whether it works or not because I have absolutely no artistic ability (as witness my aide's hysterical laughter when I sketched out a bulletin board design for her to create). However, I do have older kids that I think would enjoy trying out more complicated techniques and, more likely, I often get adults looking in the children's section for easy drawing books. This is available in paperback, so I think I'll take a chance on it.

Verdict: If you're looking to add drawing books for an older audience, I think this is a good selection, but I'm not an expert in this field.

ISBN: 9781939581402; Reprint edition published 2014 by Walter Foster/Lerner; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, May 10, 2015

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
  • Sprout Street Neighbors by Anna Alter
  • Let it begin here! by Don Brown
  • The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham
  • Toto Trouble: Back to Crass by Thierry Coppee
  • Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan
  • Cat Napped! by Leeza Hernandez
  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
  • Midnight library by Kazuno Kohara
  • Lulu and the duck in the park by Hilary McKay
  • Horse Club by Patricia Murphy
  • Eat like a bear by April Pulley Sayre
  • Best friends forever by Amy Shields
  • Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
  • Hamster Princess by Ursula Vernon
  • Rise of the Earth Dragon by Tracey West