Friday, April 18, 2014

The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club by Bertrand R. Brinley, illustrated by Charles Geer

Still going retro here! Now you know why I called my after school club the "Mad Scientists Club". Although it's really a pretty common name, it was actually this book that I had in the back of my mind.

I have a fairly large collection of what I call "small town adventures". Although they often seem to represent a stereotypical 1950s lifestyle, they're mostly written during the 1960s-70s. They show groups of kids (generally all white) roaming about a small town with almost complete freedom to solve mysteries, track down criminals, invent things (often involving explosions) and generally create havoc.

Now, I'm not in favor of going back to the "good old days" when kids "used their imagination and didn't play all these video games" (shakes cane and yells). For one thing, stories like these were as unrealistic when they were written as they are now. Most kids didn't build their own submarine, solve crimes, etc.

However, what I really love about these stories (and yes, I am going to actually talk about this one) is first of all that they're funny, but secondly that the kids are exploring, experimenting, and learning and they're having fun. That's what I think is missing in how kids are learning about science - they need to know it has practical applications and that it can be fun. This is the spirit I want to have in my after school clubs, that science is something everyone can do, that you don't need a teacher or a parent or a librarian, that you can try things out on our own. This is part of the reason I don't have a "lecture" portion to my club and why I constantly encourage the kids to "just try it!" and if they don't like the project "try something else!".

So, actual book time! This is the second collection of stories about the Mad Scientists Club. There are seven boys in the club (girls are totally peripheral characters in this series) and they work on various science projects together, led by their president Henry Mulligan. They're impeded in scientific progress by the occasional interference of adults, including the stereotypical Irish policemen, and their rival club, led by Harmon Muldoon, ex-scientist who was kicked out of the club. These are definitely of their time stories, with an all-white, all-male cast, and various references that will strike jarring notes for the modern reader, like the story "Big Chief Rainmaker".

Verdict: Would I recommend that you purchase these books for a modern library? Probably not. There are reprints available from Purple House Press, but they're pricey and, as I stated earlier, these are outdated in many ways. However, I've kept the copies our library previously owned on the shelf and they do circulate occasionally - parents with a lot of restrictions on what they want their kids to read will often prefer these older books, since they don't care about the stereotypes. I have my own copies and I enjoy the humor as well as the attitudes towards science. I recommend reading them to get some ideas for how to introduce your patrons to science and for a laugh, and if they're still circulating I'd keep them in your collection, but they're not a necessary addition that I would recommend purchasing if you don't already own them.

ISBN: 0590098535; Published 1968 by Scholastic (this edition is out of print); From my personal library

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Last of the dragons and some others by E. Nesbit, illustrated by Erik Blegvad

 I'm going a little retro today. I'm in the process of re-cataloging and arranging my entire library and am currently going through paperbacks. I have a lot of middle grade books I'm in the middle of, but nothing at review point yet, so...have something old!

Edith Nesbit's collection, A Book of Dragons, has been republished several times in different forms. This particular edition includes an extra dragon story - "The Last of the Dragons" and has an admittedly awful cover. These stories typify what I think of as "common magic" every day, ordinary children who suddenly encounter magic, usually with complete equanimity. I always think of E. Nesbit as the creator of this genre.

"The Last of the Dragons" is the story of....the last dragon. Of course, the princess must face him and be rescued by the prince. But the princess thinks this is a great shame and wouldn't it be better to give the dragon some kind words and maybe a few biscuits? The dragon has never faced such treatment before and it changes his whole attitude.

"The Book of Beasts" in which a little boy is made king and learns he oughtn't to open books that his nurse says should stay case horrid beasts come out! Fortunately, the little king remembers his duty, wipes away his tears, and finds the right creature to put right the wrongs he's done.

"Uncle James, or, The Purple Stranger" is a truly adorable story. A princess and a garden boy live on an island where everything is backwards - there's a chihuahua as big as an elephant and the elephant can fit in your pocket, for example. The princess has a horrid uncle who tries to take over the kingdom, but the clever gardener's boy saves her. I love that the princess tries her best to do her lessons, although she is not very good at them, and when Uncle James gets shrunk "the dragon took him because he wanted a birthday present."

"The deliverers of their country" is, perhaps my favorite story. There is a sudden plague of dragons on England. At first nobody believes the children who see them, then everyone thinks it's interesting, but as the dragons grow bigger and bigger and keep multiplying it becomes a major infestation and nobody knows how to deal with it. Fortunately for England, a naughty boy and his sister are prepared to be the Deliverers of Their Country, especially when St. George isn't able to help. A little plumbing, and the problem is solved!

"The ice dragon; or, do as you are told" in which two naughty children discover the truly awful things that can happen to children who sneak out of the house at night - like sliding all the way to the north pole and nearly getting eaten!

Hmm, no, I think "The Dragon Tamers" is my favorite. It tells the story of a blacksmith who accidentally discovers a dragon in his cellar. Catastrophe is averted by his clever children and there is bread and milk for everyone!

"The Fiery Dragon; or the Heart of Stone and the Heart of Gold" is the closest to a traditional fairy tale, complete with a captured princess and a rescuing prince. Except the prince turns out to be a really nasty piece of work an an usurper to boot and the real heroes are the princess herself and the brave pig-boy. He becomes a prince and marries the princess and "keeps no hippopotamuses and is consequently very popular."

"Kind little Edmund; or, the Caves and the Cockatrice" is probably the most outdated of these stories as it's a rather moralistic tale about not asking questions, respecting your betters, and the frontispiece for the story shows a boy being whipped by his schoolmaster.

Finally, we have another fairy tale, "The Island of the Nine Whirlpools". It takes a mathematically-inclined sailor boy and some help from the princess herself to get her rescued from all the fearsome guardians her nasty father has set about her.
Verdict: If I was replacing and adding classics, which I hope to do in a year or two, I'd definitely add this one to the list. The stories are fresh, funny, and clever. Although some of the language is outdated, the characters and plots are lively enough to overcome this. There's a nice, very affordable edition from the Looking Glass Library series by Random House that I have on a list to get sometime soon!

ISBN: 0140350691; Published 1972 by Puffin (this edition is out of print); From my personal library

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Read, Read, Read, Said the Baby: I know a lot! by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Sara Gillingham

This is the third in the "empowerment" series by Stephen Krensky, meant to encourage kids to celebrate their independence (at least until they realize that mommy won't let them out of her sight until they're 21. I'm feeling a bit grumpy at the moment, yes).

Each page features two opposing or related things the little girl on the cover knows, in rhyming couplets; "I know rocks are heavy/and flowers are light./I know bright means day/and dark means night." Some of the things are oddly phrased like "bright" for sunlight, contrasting wet water with glue that "will dry" (because doesn't water dry too?).

The colors have a blocky, modernistic feel, reminiscent of an older style of illustration. It's great to see a child of color featured in a board book, especially doing every day, ordinary things.

The book is a tall rectangle, 9x6, and has 7 pages, counting the covers. It's the type of sturdy board book binding that will get worn at the edges but will stand up to a lot of use.

Verdict: The text isn't exactly perfect, but the bright art is very attractive and it's great to see a child of color in a board book. It would be a good starting point for conversations with a toddler about what they can do. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781419709388; Published 2013 by Abrams Appleseed; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library order list

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Constance Bergum

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for Melissa Stewart's latest seasonal/habitat book in the series that includes When Rain Falls and Under the Snow. Somehow I've never gotten around to reviewing either of those titles, although I use them regularly in storytime and they are everything I want in a nonfiction picture book. Happily, Beneath the Sun is equally delightful.

The book opens with a look at what kids do on a hot day - but what do animals do? The rest of the book covers a wide range of habitats and creatures from earthworms and golden eagles to frogs and sea stars. The simple text not only describes what they do in the heat, "A golden eagle soars through the cool air high above the desert." but also adds facts about the animals "Its thick feathers shield its skin from the sun's hot rays.

Bergum's watercolors have muted colors and softened lines and backgrounds, but keep the focus firmly on the various animals featured in each illustrations. Many of the spreads are divided into a smaller side panel with a second animal or text or a continuation of the illustration in the larger panel. I'm often not a fan of watercolors for nonfiction books because they all tend to blur together, but as you can see even in the cover illustration, the animals are clearly identifiable.

When I'm looking for nonfiction for storytime (both in-house and outreach) I'm often looking less for nonfiction narratives and more for books that will spark off a dialogue. That's what makes Stewart's books so versatile. You can read them straight through as a story, or you can use them to engage the audience. I always ask the kids to try to identify the animals and offer guesses on their behavior and adaptations; how do they think they're keeping cool? for example. Then, after reading the text we'll repeat and explain the unfamiliar words.

Verdict: If you're trying to add more nonfiction to your storytimes, or planning your summer storytimes, this is the perfect addition. Kids love identifying the animals and learning about their different behaviors and the tie-in to their own behavior in the summer is a great early literacy connection. A must for your library connection and highly recommended for use in storytimes.

ISBN: 978156145335; Published April 2014 by Peachtree; Review copy provided by the publisher and donated to the library

For more information about Melissa Stewart, her books, and lots of helpful science information, check out Melissa Stewart's Science Clubhouse

Next stops on the blog tour
Monday - Blue Owl
Tuesday – Geo Librarian
Wednesday- Kid Lit Reviews
Thursday- Tolivers to Texas and Chat with Vera
Friday- Sally’s Bookshelf

And for more on Peachtree's great nonfiction offerings, check out The World of Peachtree Publishers

Sunday, April 13, 2014

RA RA READ: Zombies and other gross and scary stuff

There's a subset of scary stories that quite a few kids also like - if you think of traditional scary stories as "help a monster is chasing me!" these are more "help a slime monster is oozing on me!" So be warned, these are some icky reads! Most of them are zombies, but there are a few other monsters thrown in.

  • Weenies by David Lubar
    • This is a series of collections of "warped and creepy" tales. They range from the quick and silly to the "freak out your friends around the campfire".
  • Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger
    • Stanley Nudelman accidentally turns his stuffed toy into a zombie and releases it on the fourth grade. He's also the author of Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger, so that gives you an idea of the humor. There was supposed to be a sequel and kids asked for it hopefully for a long time, but it never materialized.
  • Zombie Chasers by John Kloepfer
    • Wimpy Kid meets zombies. There are five of these out now, but the fifth is not in the our library system. A sixth is coming out next fall.
  • My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara
    • The title pretty much says it all - golfish is zombiefied and sets out for REVENGE. The Seaquel is on order.
  • Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie by David Lubar
    • There are five books in this series about a kid and an experiment gone wrong. We have the first four and the fifth is available in the system.
  • Something Wickedly Weird by Chris Mould
    • These are sort of ghoulish mysteries. They're quite British and feature a boy who goes to live in a house with all sorts of supernatural, ghostly, and weird happenings. There are six books in the series and we have the first three.
  • Ghosthunters by Cornelia Funke
    • The first book features an "incredibly revolting ghost" and the rest follow suit. There are five, but we only have four.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This week at the library; or, It's a circus here!

Random Commentary
  • My new cushions came! These replace our old beanbags and I've been waiting since last year for them to arrive! Almost as exciting was the massive box they arrived in *gloat*
  • The circus party was huge and insane. It will take me some weeks to fully recover. All programs hereafter shall be measured against this bar - we had to call the police because our program was messing up traffic (well, parking, but still...) and they were like "hey you should tell us when you're planning something this big" and we were like "omg we didn't expect 300 people!" although...we had about 200 last year so....yeah, next year somebody's going to get stuck directing traffic and parking (it's not going to be me. there are probably people still trapped in the fields of Illinois from my short and ill-fated career as a parking attendant for football games)
  • I spent the rest of the week catching up on webinars and planning programs for the rest of the spring, and trying to catch up on stuff - working on Neighborhoods, cleaning out my desk, etc. I think I'm going to focus the rest of this year specifically on collection development for the Neighborhoods, which means picture books in the subject areas and nonfiction at all levels, since I'm doing major weeding/replacing as I grow. Next year (or when I finish) I'll work on completing all our juvenile series.
  • I remembered at the last minute that I scheduled a school visit from a parochial school at 9am on Thursday! They're the last parochial school left in town (the Catholic school closed) and they brought their 1st/2nd grade combined class, about 17 kids. I did a tour and read a couple books, then they were able to make masks and browse and check out books.
  • Smitty and Mary G. are a music program that we had last year - retired music teachers, very affordable, and so much fun! They're wonderful ladies and so nice to do this for us - it's a very low-stress, relaxing program. All the kindergarteners from one of our elementary schools came (which I was super thrilled about since I don't do much with that school and want to change that) plus a couple families so we had about 80 people.
  • Happy moment of the week. One of our regular patrons brought in a family from Thailand that they are hosting. The little girl is trying to learn English and I showed them several different easy readers they thought she might like, Disney Princesses, etc. Then, as she looked over at the new book stand, her face lit up and she started talking excitedly to her mom - she'd seen a cat book and she loves cats. Of course, that's the juvenile shelf and the chapter book was too hard. I raced around like crazy and found some of Schaefer's Mittens books for her. She gasped in surprised delight, and was even more excited when I opened it and showed her that it was super easy to read. Super librarian strikes again!
  • This was an exhausting, but fun and fulfilling week! My feet hurt though. So I'm just going to hang out at home, do some collection development with a friend, and then we're going down to IL on Sunday to buy baby toys with some grant money (and visit Ikea. I need to finish the new design of my bedroom)
  • Webinars
    • Graphic Novel and Comic Collections for Teens (Infopeople) 
      • I missed the first 10 minutes of this, but it felt much more directed towards schools. My teens just want manga and superhero comics, they don't care about understanding their inner struggles. Or anybody else's, as far as I can tell. I can see how it would be useful if we had someone focusing on building teen programs - there were some interesting apps profiled
    • Creating Eye-catching and readable flyers and brochures
      • I wish I'd had this webinar 6 years ago, when I started! I've learned most of this through trial and error, but it's good to be reminded. I'm gradually getting a more uniform design for my flyers and marketing and doing more intentional marketing and not just spraying pictures and paper everywhere.
Circus Party Set-up (I actually got very few pictures because I was running around frantically most of the time and large herds of people crammed into small spaces doesn't really make for good photo ops)
Food tables in the lobby
Storyroom set up for juggling practice
Children's area windows decorated
Some of the craft tables
Facepaint station under the Big Top
Welcome to the circus library!
Photo ops in the lobby
(painted the night before!)
Adding toys and a tent to the ops

A little clown (we did not have any
real clowns)

Picnic in the lobby (all the tables were full)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Willow and Twig by Jean Little

Willow has been getting by as best she can, caring for her difficult brother Twig and adapting to whatever circumstances throw at her as she moves between temporary homes and strangers who range from casually kind to dangerously volatile. But when events become too overwhelming even for her coping skills, she finds herself sent across the country, with Twig, to her unknown grandmother. All she knows is that she didn't want Willow - will she take them in now? Then Willow finally meets her and begins to recall her childhood memories. Events move with dizzying speed and Willow is suddenly discovering she has a family and a history she never knew. She has to use all her coping abilities to handle her new family and to help Twig transition as well.

Little doesn't sugarcoat Willow and Twig's life. Twig is deaf from childhood abuse and has other physical issues from his mother using drugs during her pregnancy. Willow is fiercely protective and reluctant to allow adults, who don't know or understand Twig, to take over his care. At the same time she desperately wants a life of her own and to try to be normal. They're also biracial and must face prejudice and curiosity from kids and adults. But Willow's new family isn't completely normal either - her uncle is blind and she finds out that her mother and other uncle were adopted. With love and understanding, Gram helps Willow settle in and being to flower in her new home.

Like all of Jean Little's work, it focuses on characters having hope and triumphing even in the darkest of circumstances and portrays characters with disabilities in everyday settings, with both faults and virtues, making them the protagonists of their own stories instead of foils to a "normal" main character as they so often are, or plot devices to showcase compassion in other characters (*cough* Wonder *cough*)

Verdict: This isn't a perfect story - there are some subplots that are left dangling and sometimes the story is a little overly dramatic in portraying the children's miserable lives and then fixing every difficulty as it arises. However, it's a tale of hope and courage and eminently readable. Sadly, it is out of print, but if it ever gets reprinted I will definitely buy a copy.

ISBN: 0141306696; Published 2001 by Puffin Canada; From my personal library

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase

At first glance, this is just a cute little book about animal friends playing in the forest. Adorable and will probably circulate quite well, but nothing particularly special. However, think about it a little from an adult perspective, and you'll see how lovely this little book is and how it gently teaches lessons without hammering kids over the head with them.

Oliver, Lulu, and Charlie love to play outside. Lulu and Charlie especially like to climb trees, specifically when they're playing hide and seek. But Oliver is a bit too big to climb. They try to find a tree they can share together, but after trying out many different trees Oliver gives up and leaves. But his friends don't give up! With a little hard work they find a way they can all enjoy the trees and play together.

Chase's art is sweet without being too saccharine. Her rosy-cheeked little animals frolic happily in a forest with mushrooms, a variety of trees, flowers, and swirling background patterns of ferns. Even the empty spaces of the backgrounds are a soft, beige hue. The illustrations are sometimes full-page spreads, sometimes little cameos of the friends trying out different trees or hiding places.

So, what did I love so much about this? It shows kids including a friend who's a little different. They have to change the way they play, but they all find something they can enjoy together. It also shows children enjoying natural, outside play as well. There are a lot of picture books out there that include lessons on diversity, tolerance, etc. but this is one of the best ones I've seen so far that portrays children naturally playing together and making accommodations for a friend.

Verdict: Buy it for the cute and it will change the way kids play without them even noticing. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399257001; Published 2014 by G. P. Putnam's Songs/Penguin Group; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: At the beach by Elizabeth Spurr, illustrated by Manelle Oliphant

If you thought all my reviews were going to be positive, THINK AGAIN. Oh Peachtree. I do love, love, love their nonfiction, but so often their fiction just seems to fall short. This is part of a trilogy showing a child in the natural world. Each page has a few individual words or a simple sentence that combines to create simple rhymes "Sun Sky/Shore Boy/Sand Pail/Spade Toy". Some of the word choices felt odd to me - I don't think I've heard kids use "spade" anymore, will they understand that the pail of sand is "baking" in the sun?

The main reason I didn't like this was the illustrations. Frankly, that kid is creepy. The images are static and he looks more like a posed doll than a live child. The sketchy backgrounds and crosshatching seem like they'd make it difficult for a very young child to focus and the story doesn't offer much scope for interaction with an older child. Overall, I felt the art looked amateurish and lifeless.

Verdict: There are fans of this series, but I wouldn't add it to my library. I prefer playBac's Eyelike Nature series (now sadly out of print) or something with more lively illustrations or photographs.

ISBN: 9781561455836; Published 2013 by Peachtree; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Bugged: How insects changed history by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton

I am just itching with excitement over Sarah Albee's latest social history book. Her first history, Poop Happened! was a big hit at our library, not only with the kids - quite a few teachers and librarians read it as well.

This book tackles the big effect that tiny creatures have had on world history. It starts out with a preface that gives some general information about the influence of insects and defines important terms. Then the bugfest begins...with hilariously titled chapters, sidebars and text boxes of information ranging from the humorous to the disgusting, cartoons and reproductions of art and photographs, this is a riveting introduction to the role of insects in world history.

Albee explains how insects transmit diseases, the many beneficial bugs that exist, why bugs are so hard to get rid of, and how insects are in every part of our life - from the good to the bad. Then we move on to the really gross bits....DEATH BY INSECT. Mwa ha ha ha. Albee walks the reader through the "big four" of insect-borne diseases and then starts out with the earliest known epidemics and up to the current date. Along the way we learn that insects helped the spread of Christianity, brought about the fall of the Roman Empire, stopped the advance of the Huns, helped Europeans conquer the Americas, and influenced the colonization and economy of Africa. A final chapter discusses how we combat bugs today, the pros and cons of pesticides, and how kids can deal with insects, good and bad. Back matter includes a glossary, further information in books and websites, and sources.

Albee has a conversational, enthusiastic style that will quickly draw in both history buffs and reluctant readers. While they're groaning and gasping over the gross bits, they'll find themselves learning a lot about history and how it's shaped not just by humans, wars, and politics but also by things like insects and climate.

Verdict: This is a great book to hand to kids looking for something engrossing to read, those interested in history, kids who want a fun book to dip into for facts to surprise and gross out their friends, and pretty much anyone who's interested in how the little things in life make a big difference in history. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780802734228; Published April 2014 by Walker/Bloomsbury; Uncorrected proof supplied by author for review purposes; Purchased for the library