Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Stanley the Builder by William Bee

This is a new series of board books from Peachtree. William Bee is the author of such delightfully unique books as Beware the Frog, so this is a bit of a departure for him, but I fell in love as soon as I saw the cover!

I reviewed this from an ARC and have not yet seen the finished product. The publicist said they would have padded covers (which I have an irrational hatred of) but that they are very sturdily made and promised I would not hate them. I'll update this portion of the review when the final copies arrive. From the publisher descriptions, it sounds like a large size for a board book - roughly 8x8 inches - with reinforced pages similar to a board book.

The end paper repeat the color scheme of the front cover with a bold swathe of orange and the author's name. There is a full spread showing a colorful variety of tools before the title page.

The story features Stanley (a hamster with a little bit of a tail) who is asked by Myrtle the mouse to build her a house. Stanley, with the help of Charlie the mouse and a variety of colorful machines, goes through the basic steps of construction, starting with clearing the land and continuing on to make a foundation, lay bricks, put on the roof, and the finishing touches of painting and landscaping. Stanley finishes the day at his own house with dinner, bath, and bed.

Not all of the tools from the initial spread are used in the illustrations, but enough of them to make a good seek and find activity. They are also all related to building things and could make a good discussion of what each thing is and how it's used (note -  I have no idea what the serrated round green thing is). The pictures are extremely attractive and perfect for the young age of the intended audience. The bold lines and bright colors instantly attract attention and the simple style, set against white backgrounds, will be perfect to hold the attention of wiggly toddlers.

The text is minimal and irresistibly reminds me of another series of process picture books from my childhood - the Teddy Bear series by Joan and Selby Worthington. You probably never came across these, they're very British and difficult to find, but basically they feature a teddy bear going through a daily routine in a number of different jobs. The style of the writing is much simpler, but it has the same basic feel to it and I'm thrilled to find a similar story with the same delightful sequencing. Kids love the "first, and then, and then" of basic storytelling when they're young and this catches it just right.

My only quibble with these is that Myrtle "helps" with her new house by bringing the male characters drinks. Couldn't she have helped instead of Charlie?

Verdict: While I'm still waiting to report on the physical format, I think I can definitely say we have a winning formula for a new series that is going to be extremely popular among children and parents alike and a great choice for storytime. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781561458011; Published 2014 by Peachtree; ARC provided by publisher

This is the second stop on the Stanley the Builder blog tour. Check out more reviews at:
Monday 9/1- Green Bean Teen Queen
Tuesday 9/2Geo Librarian and Kid Lit Reviews
Wednesday 9/3Chat with Vera
Thursday 9/4Blue Owl and Kiss the Book
Friday 9/5The Fourth Musketeer

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

I strongly resisted even looking at this book for a long time. Picture book biographies (or autobiographies) do not circulate well (or at all) at my library. Neither does anything on art unless it's a craft or how to make things type of book. I was wrong. I can admit it. I should have known that Lois Ehlert was not going to lose sight of the interests of her primary audience; young children.

The endpapers are a colorful collage of photographs, found objects, and colors. The collage continues onto the title page and incorporates the title and author. The first page says, in large, bold, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom letters, "Don't read this book" and then in smaller print "unless you love books and art" and lovers of art and books have a feast waiting for them in the following pages.

In simple, honest language, Lois Ehlert talks about her ideas for books, where they came from, and how she created the art. There are sketches and drafts and finished artwork, craft ideas and guidelines on creating your own art, stories from her childhood, and so much more. Although the book is twice the length of the average picture book, it's not hard to see even a very young child being engrossed in the colorful pages and bits and pieces of Lois Ehlert's art and life.

Verdict: This isn't a book you want to plow straight through; rather, it's ideal for dipping into and choosing a few pages to sample. Give it to kids to pore over, read snippets in storytime (I'm planning to feature it at my We Explore Favorite Artists series in the fall) and make sure you shelve it in the picture books where Lois Ehlert fans will discover another book to treasure.

ISBN: 9781442435711; Published 2013 by Beach Lane Books/Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order list

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why you should apply for Cybils (preferably in my category, but I can be broad-minded)

Cybils is a wonderful thing and right now you, fellow bloggers, have the opportunity to apply to be involved as a judge. Reasons why this is an awesome thing you should do:

  1. Cybils is the best of both worlds - child appeal and literary merit. You will have the opportunity to read, discuss, review, and choose great books that kids will love to read. You will be involved in promoting those books to parents, teachers, and librarians as well as to kids themselves.
  2. As category chairs, we try to pick the most balanced, diverse panels possible so as to have a wide range of viewpoints, experiences and professions to draw from in the judging process. The more people apply, the wider field we have to pick from and the better panels we can construct!
  3. Think you've got the past year in publishing covered? You don't know what you're missing until you read 100+ books in your given category. You'll discover new books you never heard of, gems you'd completely missed, and a whole slew of titles to pass on to eager kids who can't wait to read something new. Those books you may have dismissed - you'll get another look at them from the perspectives of your fellow panelists and maybe see new aspects you missed before.
  4. Great professional experience; working with a panel of wildly different people, with all their varying tastes, biases, and quirks to choose a slate of 5-7 finalists from as many as 200 nominations is a very useful professional experience. Collaboration, there's nothing like it.
Why you desperately want to apply to be on my panel, Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction
  1. This is a category that's growing by leaps and bounds. The awesome nonfiction published for young children has exploded in the last few years and you will be amazed and delighted by the range of subjects, formats, and writing styles being used.
  2. Because our panel covers such a wide range, you'll have the opportunity to read everything from picture books about science aimed at kindergarteners to history books for 10 year olds.
  3. We are a super fun group. Seriously. Ask my employees, I bring the FUN. Er...well, I bring the chocolate anyways.
What do you  need  to apply?
  1. A Blog
  2. Posts on nonfiction (or your other hoped for category) that show off your awesome reviewing skills.
  3. If you want to be part of Round 1, you'll need a pretty significant chunk of time available, October - December. You'll be gulping down books as fast as you can read them and joining in preliminary discussions before the final, in-depth discussions happen. Right at Christmas (who says I don't celebrate holidays?)
  4. If you're thinking of Round 2, you'll need to swallow down the books much faster (6 weeks as opposed to three months) but you will only be reading the finalists - this round involves much deeper reflection and discussion all the way through.
  5. The deadline is September 5

Saturday, August 30, 2014

This week at the library; or, The fleeting days of summer

I'm innocent! Totally! Heh heh heh.
What's happening - in my head and at the library
  • Just like vacation, off-program time always seems to fly by. I go from thinking "I have a whole month!" to "augh programs start tomorrow!" This week's projects:
    • Staff meeting, variety of small tasks, including changing all the publicity because one of the hamsters *cough* went back home after a lengthy visit (his remaining brother is looking waaay too smug and happy to be the only one left. I suspect foul play, but, as I said the last time this happened, I am not conducting hamster autopsies). Also shelving movies, 80% of our collection seems to have been on the shelving carts. This took several hours. Also toilet-plunging. Yech. Not a lot got done that day....
    • Finished outreach/marketing packets for schools!!! This was a lengthy undertaking that I've been working on in bits and pieces over the summer. I put in flyers, a special half-page sheet with programs after school and on no-school days (adapted to individual schools) and my new outreach schedule/flyer, listing all the outreach programs, add-ons (like getting library cards) and available days in the fall that teachers can sign up for.
    • I wrote a small grant to expand our collection of circulating toys to include baby/young toddler toy bags, inspired by this post on ALSC
    • I cleared out most of my office (a gargantuan task after I threw a bunch of donated craft supplies back there and have essentially just been piling everything on the desk). 
    • Also got a sweet donation from some girls who ran a lemonade stand to benefit the library!
    • Signage - for the teen area, still waiting for a replacement laminator to make it final and I'm not sure I'm completely happy with it, but it's not like it's permanent - just taped to the shelves basically. Also adding magnetic signs for the favorite sections and series and shelf-edge signs for the neighborhoods. This turned out to be a LOT more time-consuming than I'd expected - I'm nowhere near done.
    • Getting started on planning programs. The schedule and calendar was all done - I just have to actually plan what's going to happen beyond the exciting titles!
    • We also got a new copier, so I changed around my schedule (I work Sat. so normally take a half day on Friday) to be there when they showed us how to use it, completely forgetting the ballet studio was coming to give us a donation and take pics! I feel awful that I forgot, but at least our cataloger was willing to have a picture taken (then again, she didn't know until afterwards what they were going to do with it - I think they're putting it in the paper). Oh well.
    • Put together a post for our 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program - will make it easier to give out to other librarians who ask.
    • Saturday was insane. That is all.
What the kids are reading
  • Not so much this week, as I spent a lot of time in my office and it's been a pretty quiet week.
  • Raina Telgemeier. I ordered more! They're not here yet!
  • Dear Dav Pilkey: PLEASE DO NOT PROMISE BOOKS THAT DON'T EXIST. Sorry small and very disappointed child, even though it has a PICTURE in the back of the book, there is no Ook and Gluk 2
  • Vampire kisses - a couple girls have discovered this series and are obsessed with it
  • Adult looking for read-alikes for Eragon - of course the opening trilogy for Anne McCaffrey was out, but I gave him Tui Sutherland's Wings of Fire, some later titles in Dragons of Pern, and recommended Eon. He'd already read most of Cinda Williams Chima (or what I have that hasn't been stolen anyways). We probably do need more teen fantasy.
  • Underground railroad - for once I actually had a decent selection!
  • All 3 of my copies of Sisters finally came in and of course had holds! I put the free stickers that came with them into one of the books and left the patron a note to share with her sister - I love working in a small library (-:)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Flare by Kallie George, illustrated by Genevieve Cote

I was in a busy hurry when I read the first book in the Tiny Tails series, Spark, so I only had time to write a brief "this is adorable" note. Now I have more time, the next book in the series, and all the words in the world, so settle in and enjoy.

Flare is a magical bird, a phoenix. Wind, Sun, and Cloud watch over him. But Flare has a problem - he is strong and tough, but he does not cry. Wind and Cloud both try to show him that it's important to cry sometimes, but it's not until Sun shows him something very sad that Flare cries - and discovers his tears are magic.

One of the things I love about this new series, Tiny Tails, is that you think the author is going for an "issue" - everyone has to cry, it's ok to be sad, etc. and then she flips it around and AH HA his tears are magic! He has to cry to fix the baby bird! So, it incorporates a gentle lesson, that it's ok to cry, without being didactic and still having a fun story that doesn't need the lesson to work on its own.

The font isn't extremely large, but it's still bold enough to be very readable. The text is about midway for an easy reader; more than a beginning reader can handle, but just right for kids who aren't ready for paragraphs and chapters yet. The text has the simple repetition and short sentences of an easy reader without being bland or boring.

Genevieve Cote's illustrations complete the delightful books. They're brilliantly colored, but still adorable, cute, and other small and cuddly words. Bright swirls of color are outlined with bold charcoal lines and light, sketched in outlines. When Flare listens to the wind, the sky is full of blue swirls, a ladybug flies by upside-down, and he's just a bundle of feathers crouched in the grass. When Flare finally cries, his blazing color and flaming tears pop right off the page.

Verdict: If, like me, you're ready for something new in easy readers, these are a perfect choice. Accessible text and lovely illustrations will make these a favorite with both parents and children. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781927918597; Published August 2014 by Simply Read Books; Review copy provided by the author; Donated to the library

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh

This was one of those books that I breezed through quickly, thought about the appeal to readers (which is definitely there), but several things left a sour taste in my mouth. Also, you may mark this in your journals as one of the rare times I agree with a Kirkus review.

Abigail is excited to start sixth grade. She's got two best friends and they're absolutely sure they're going to be Pom Pom girls. If they don't, their lives will be over. But right away, things start going wrong. Abigail isn't in the same homeroom as her friends, who get a dreamy male teacher. She's stuck with Mrs. Hawke, who taught her mom and gives lectures on "kids these days" and is tough and is making them write letters to each other. Guess who Abigail got? Flabby Gabby, the biggest loser in school. When she doesn't get onto the Pom Pom squad, her life is officially over. Even getting to read to the kindergarteners for extra credit and the discovery that Gabby is actually kind of fun, can't make up for her disappointment, not to mention she doesn't want her erstwhile friends to see her around a loser - it will finish off any possibility of that friendship. When her dream comes true and she gets on the squad, is it really what she wants?

This is written in lists "five reasons my life will be over if I don't get on the squad", "three reasons Gabby is a loser" kind of thing. It appears to be heavily illustrated, but as I read it in ebook format on my kindle, I didn't see anything but the basic text. It's not exactly a graphic novel, but in the style of Jennifer Holm's Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf.

Girls will eat this up. The drama of friendship, the angst and embarrassment of middle school, the quick read aspect, the lists, all of it. I swallowed it down in half an hour and it was a quick, light read. Ms. Yingling says it's "pitch perfect middle school voice." But, and it's hard to tell how much of this is reading it as an adult, several things really bugged me. Abigail's family feels remarkably absent. They do little things for her, ask her how her day was, but there's no point where they really talk about what's going on. Some families are like that, of course, and presumably her parents think she should be handling herself in middle school, but it didn't seem to fit in well with the family lives of middle class suburbanites that I know.

The format of the book doesn't allow for a lot of character development, and Abigail is supposed to be a shallow, self-centered girl "a follower" as Gabby says, but to me she and the other characters were just too black and white. Sure, middle schoolers are self-centered, but even Abigail's epiphany at the end is about what she wants and likes to do and how guilty she feels about how mean she's been. Maybe this is me as an adult, wanting to say "you know, it's NOT all about you" to the kids but still...it bugged me. Gabby is so good she's unbelievable. She's a type of character that particularly bugs me; the ethnic character there to show how tolerant and broad-minded the main character is, the impoverished girl with the awful life to teach gratitude to the middle class, suburban girl. I cannot believe Gabby's goodness. Even when she finally loses her temper, it's only to deliver a very adult lecture to Abigail and walk away. All the Pom Pom squad girls, including Abigail's friends, are super nasty and irredeemable; the only thing she can ultimately do is walk away. The adults are totally oblivious to the nastiness and I can believe that about the subtle things, but not about everything they do. I also don't believe social services would allow Gabby to be in the custody of her brother, who can't be more than 18 at the most and a high school dropout, no matter what his motives are.

I'm also skeptical about the school. Now, I have, admittedly, limited experience with schools. But I can't see a teacher who's been in the game for over twenty years ignoring Abigail tackling and knocking over Gabby, accepting their lame excuses, or, and most importantly, being so blind to the girls' friendship drama. Choosing to ignore it and let them work it out on their own, sure, oblivious to it, no. I also don't see her being allowed to still be teaching after twenty years with such an eccentric curriculum. Do they have no tests, no state standards to meet? It sounds like no sixth grade language arts class I've heard about from teachers or students.

Abigail's innocence and naivety (in addition to her complete self-centeredness) was possibly the most realistic thing about her; she has no idea what her more sophisticated friends are getting at with their nasty comments about her friendship with Gabby, and she's thrilled that the eighth grade boy would invite her to a party and appear to be interested in her to the point of maybe even kissing her (omg please, please, please let there be chaperones at that party). As an adult, that whole thread of the plot just made me want to scream at the parents to at least try to teach their daughter some basic safety rules and how to deal with attention from an older boy.

Verdict: This is supposed to be a light, fun read and I can't grudge the kids that - I read plenty of fluff myself. But there are so many other books that will meet kids' desire for friendship angst and middle school drama, I find it hard to choose to spend my budget on this one with such stereotyped characters. So, it would definitely be popular. Girls will gobble it down. I do have lots of similar fluff series like Cupcake Diaries. But I'd rather spend my budget on books with similar appeal but a little more substance. I'd recommend Michele Hurwitz' The Summer I Saved the World, Calli be Gold, Tara Altebrando's The Battle of Darcy Lane, Wendy Mass, Lauren Myracle, Raina Telgemeier, Leslie Margolis, and for books that feature diverse characters (yes, I know Gabby isn't necessarily a minority character, but I'm thinking of her circumstances) as protagonists of their own stories, Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez and The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods.

ISBN: 9781402293030; Published August by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; E-ARC provided by publisher via NetGalley.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Run home, little mouse by Britta Teckentrup

This review was previously published. It has been rewritten and edited.

The title pretty much covers the story. Little Mouse is lost and scared and no wonder - one each page he encounters another scary animal and is told to hurry, hurry and run home!

The art is typical of Teckentrup's carefully designed shapes, although it's much darker than her usual bright color scheme. After the first few pages, which show the brightly colored trees, the backgrounds are all black with the various animals showing up in shades of grey and brown with glowing eyes. One page will show little mouse looking up to see eyes through a pair of die cut holes, turn the page and you will see the animal chasing the mouse.

The book is oversized for a board book - about 10 inches tall and the pages are thinner than the average board book, about the consistency of shirt cardboard.

Verdict: I thought this was a cute idea, but it felt very dark and scary. Too scary for the audience? My colleague tested it out in storytime and the kids didn't seem to have a problem with it, but with the potential scariness combined with the oversized shape and thinner pages, I don't feel that we really need it.

ISBN: 9781771380331; Published 2013 by Kids Can Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi

Bertozzi, author of several other historical/nonfiction graphic novels tackles the epic journeys of Shackleton, specifically the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914.

The book begins with the failed British expeditions, ending in the disastrous Scott expedition that was beaten by Amundsen and died on the return journey. However, despite setbacks and discouragement, Shackleton was obsessed with the south pole and refused to give up. The expedition intended to be the first group to cross the Antarctic. They had careful plans, a relief ship waiting on the other side, and everything seemed like clear sailing. Unfortunately, they met disaster almost immediately, when their ship was trapped in the ice and crushed. Despite hunger, cold, illness, potential mutiny and hallucinations, the expedition team survived and completed their expedition.

The book opens with an author's note mentioning that some parts of the story were "compressed for dramatic reasons." It ends with an epilogue giving a general idea of what happened to the members later and a list of sources.

The black and white art, neatly divided into small panels, accurately conveys the boredom and endless white wilderness of the Antarctic and the men's grim struggle to survive. Most of the characters are featureless, populating each small panel like posed figures in a silent film, moving a little farther on for each successive step in the story. It's effective and artistic and fits the story well, showing the isolation and privation of the journey.

So, this sounds great, right? Actually, I really disliked this book. The more I read it, the more irritated I got. The book itself is fine, if you're into Antarctic exploration. I'm not. I can discount my boredom on the premise that I'm not interested in the subject matter. What I find really annoying is the fact that we have here yet another book about a dead white male explorer. Again, not my field of interest, but looking at it from my perspective, the guy got funding for an expensive and basically pointless expedition just because he liked wandering around in the Antarctic and wanted to prove a point about the British Empire. What, exactly, was the point of the expedition and why are people still writing books about it? A quick search in our library consortium turns up 136 items on Shackleton, including 5 for children and teens just on the first couple pages. Why do we need another book on the same old, tired canon of male explorers? I'd like to see more biographies of overlooked historical figures - there are plenty of female explorers to choose from.

Verdict: It's not just that I don't like Shackleton (I don't) it's that I'm completely fed up with the continued churning out of biographies of the same group of people. I wouldn't buy any more biographies of Amelia Earhart either. The book would be of interest to someone who has an interest in the topic, but the art style isn't going to attract any of my teen patrons and I'm looking for more diversity in my collection development.

ISBN: 9781596434516; Published 2014 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, August 24, 2014

RA RA READ: Quick Reads for Teens (novels in verse)

Teens have a much more enthusiastic reception for novels in verse than middle grade kids. The general audience is girls who are fans of Ellen Hopkins and other heart-wringing books. A lot of reluctant readers will pick these up because they go by fast and they're very dramatic and draw you into the story instantly. So I try to stay away from the more literary novels in verse because they really don't circulate much (if at all). These are some that we do have that are very popular:
  • Ellen Hopkins
  • Sonya Sones
  • Shark girl by Kelly Bingham
  • Because I am furniture by Thalia Chaltas
    • This is the perfect read-alike for Ellen Hopkins and I'm surprised more people don't know about it
  • T4 by Ann LeZotte
  • After the kiss by Terra McVoy
  • Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams
    • This is a good read-alike for Ellen Hopkins as well
  • Safekeeping by Karen Hesse (this isn't a novel in verse, it's more a novel in photographs, but the same fan base really, really likes it)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

This week at the library; or, Vacation!

What's Happening - in my head and at the library
  • This week's projects
    • Put together my bulletin board display of alternative movies
    • Put together my activity table for Kandinsky circles - got this idea from a librarian on Facebook  from Hillside Library in NJ and it was awesome (I found it again on their website, and now I can't find it to link). Unless it turns out to be a huge mess, I hope to leave it up through September.
    • Filled in book bundles and other neglected displays
    • Started cleaning out my office - couldn't tell the difference. Oh well. Next week.
    • Finished general library publicity, started outreach packets for schools. Will finish that next week, also finding out about posting something at the laundromat.
    • Randomly collected some books to be changed in the Neighborhoods. Meant to finish the As in picture books, didn't get to it.
  • I had vacation on Thursday and Friday - fun things included the zoo, and associated journeyings and a trip to the salon.

What the kids are reading
  • Potty Training books. This is apparently what everyone thinks of in August before school
  • Trains - specifically Thomas
  • Katie Woo
and then I got distracted....um...Apply to be a Cybils judge! That's all folks...