Friday, May 25, 2018

How to be a supervillain by Michael Fry

A lot of kids got into The Odd Squad a few years ago, so I picked up Michael Fry's latest series, part of the Jimmy Patterson imprint. I was not impressed. First, it's one of those "nobody is writing books that kids/boys actually like so we had to do it!". Um, that is incorrect. Also, your premise that kids should write books for kids is flawed, since Michael Fry is an adult. Second, it went on and on and on for way too long.

So, the premise is that, after too much property damage and injured civilians, the superheroes and supervillains have made a Truce. Basically, all the fights are scripted (like wrestling matches) and anyone who deviates gets catapulted into outer space. Into this sad state of affairs enters Victor Spoil. He's the twelve-year-old son of two washed up super-villains and a constant disappointment to his parents because he's, well, just really not good at being evil. In fact, he's too good altogether. In one last desperate attempt to "fix" Victor, his parents send him off as a summer intern with the Smear, a once-retired and extremely lame supervillain. Or is he?

From here on out the book is an endless circle of Victor questioning himself. Is he really good? Is he really evil? What is good and evil? Does the Smear care for him? Is he just using him? Do his parents care? Are they disappointed? Why does he care if they're disappointed? It's a relief when the book finally ends, even though there's no real conclusion and the plot has twisted around so many times that the final-ish twist is just annoying.

Verdict: If you have kids who like this kind of Wimpy Kid/superhero mash-up, this will probably circulate. I don't have many kids who care for this and the book was so tedious I'll probably skip it and stick with Michael Fry's older titles or Michael Buckley's NERDS.

ISBN: 9780316318693; Published 2017 by Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown, and Company; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tiger Days and the secret cat by Sarah Lean, illustrated by Anna Currey

I've been looking for this beginning chapter book, by an author whom several of my library patrons enjoy, for quite a while. Sarah Lean writes stories with animals that have a gently magical tinge and I was wondering how she would handle a beginning chapter series.

The story begins with Tiger Days, a little girl who loves tigers. She thinks often about her Grandma Days, who runs an animal sanctuary in Africa. When Grandma Days returns to England and purchases a big, run-down house, Tiger is both excited and scared to stay with her for several weeks. After she sees the house, she's more scared than excited. The plumbing doesn't work, there are scary noises, and her grandmother has brought in a baby animal to take care of. But it's not a cute baby animal - it's a warthog!

With the help of her grandmother and the boy next door, Tiger finds her courage and not only helps out at the house and with the baby warthog, she makes friends with a stray cat as well. Her newfound bravery is tested when she and Tom investigate a scary legend, the Staring Oat.

Black and white line illustrations, included a map at the beginning, add flavor to this sweet beginning chapter book. It's quintessentially British, with a lot of vocabulary that is likely to confuse young American readers. I was also very puzzled by Tiger's name. Is it a nickname? It doesn't sound like it. I've never heard of someone naming their child "Tiger" it just sounds so weird!

Verdict: If you have a lot of British fans, say of Holly Webb or Sarah Lean, it might be worth the extra trouble to pick up this series. Otherwise, it's just another sweet animal series.

ISBN: 9780008245023; This edition published 2016 by HarperCollins; Borrowed via inter-library loan

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: This way - That way How does a giraffe sleep? by Anne Louchard

This weird little board book won me over, despite my earlier reservations.

When you open the top flap on the cover, you will see the rest of the opening sentence "His neck is so amazingly long." and the giraffe, eyes closed, is completely revealed. Each spread shows a different arrangement of the giraffe's neck, along with some philosophical musing. When he curls into a spiral, readers know that can't be right because "He'd get dizzy!" How about coiled around a branch "like a snake?" Naturally, that would make his neck hurt. The poses get sillier and sillier, with other animals propping up the giraffe's head and increasingly ridiculous set-ups. In the end, there's no real answer - just a fold-out flap with the giraffe resting his head on a cloud and a final thought about the fun of imagination and guessing.

The book's two flaps are quite sturdy and easily reinforced. The book is a rectangle, about 4x8 inches. The giraffe, gentle painted in orange and gold, twists and curls through the pages occasionally set against trees, helped by other animals, and encountering other giraffes, but always staying the focus of the story.

This is one of those quirky board books that wouldn't interest most babies and toddlers, but would make a great intro for a storytime on guessing, inspiration for art projects, or fun for a family with children of different ages to sit down together and discuss. Some toddlers, who are developed enough to get the idea of imagination, will appreciate the silly poses and their caregivers enjoy suggesting even more ways the giraffe can sleep.

Verdict: While not a necessary purchase, this would make a fun addition to your board book collection to attract the interest of children who think on a little different level and those older children who are struggling with motor control and may tear the more delicate pages of picture books but still want challenging board books to enjoy.

ISBN: 9789888341412; This edition published 2017 by minedition; Borrowed from another library in the consortium

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The tiptoeing tiger by Philippa Leathers

I loved Leathers’ delightfully sly and humorous How to catch a mouse so I was excited to see another story from her. Little Tiger isn’t like the other tigers; nobody gets scared when he’s around! He’s just too small (and rather clumsy too). Little Tiger decides to prove everyone (and his big brother) wrong - he CAN scare someone! So he starts tiptoeing through the jungle, sure that if he just sneaks up quietly, he’ll be scary! He tries and tries, but nothing works until he sneaks up on a frog in a pond… and scares himself!

Leathers’ soft pencil and watercolor illustrations show a peaceful jungle with minimal vegetation and a friendly group of animals. The amused older tiger, elephant, warthog, monkeys, and other animals are neatly drawn in, showing their gentle laughter at the little tiger who wants to be scary. Although this doesn’t have the sly humor of How to catch a mouse, it’s still a delightful storytime pick. Kids will empathize with the little tiger who wants to be big and enjoy practicing their own tiptoeing and roars.

Verdict: A fun addition to your storytime repertoire and a sweet choice for kids who love stories with lots of roaring and a surprise twist at the end.
ISBN: 9780763688431; Published 2018 by Candlewick; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, May 21, 2018

Trash vortex: How plastic pollution is choking the world’s oceans by Danielle Smith-Llera

Capstone has made a very interesting new series that focuses on pivotal moments in history as captured by photography. They’ve expanded this from history to scientific events as well. The latest set includes catastrophes like oil spills and nuclear explosions and this particular title addresses the rapid spread of micro plastics.

The story begins with Captain Charles Moore’s discovery of a huge soup of micro plastics in a gyre in the Pacific Ocean. Publicized by Moore and other researchers, it became known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and most people think of it as a giant, floating raft of garbage. The reality is more more complicated however.

Following the history and creation of plastics, from celluloid and bakelite to modern plastics, the author blends in the science of pollution and study of how plastic is filling the oceans and its affect on ocean and land life, including humans. Readers will learn about sea currents, how plastic is broken down into micro plastics, and how these are eaten by animals and then by humans. The science of recycling is addressed, the historical change from reuse to disposal, and the problem of pollution in Third-World countries is also touched on.

Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, and resources.

This is an interesting take on a complex issue. The author does not simplify the issues or imply that there is an easy fix. She addresses the numerous issues in ocean pollution, the many ways it affects our lives, and the ongoing research to discover the full affect and find solutions to the problem.

Verdict: An excellent choice to introduce readers to this complex scientific problem that affects everyone, whether or not they live near the ocean. It also models some excellent research skills and presentation for readers learning to research their own topics. A must-have title to keep your recycling and ecology sections up to date.

ISBN: 9780756557454; Published 2018 by Capstone; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Summer Reading Reflections

 - I freely admit that I did not put a ton of work into this year's summer reading program. As I focus on expanding outreach and other services, and as I deal with changes in our community, I've been moving away from the traditional model for summer reading which involves a lot of time, money, and staff. My goal for summer reading is a simple, accessible program that encourages frequent library visits. This year, I am making the weekly activity bags an honor system - there's a sign on the top that reminds them to sign up, but they can just take one.
 - As far as reading, well, to be honest I don't personally think summer reading programs make any difference in whether or not kids read during the summer. The kids who would normally read will read anyways and the ones who don't probably aren't coming to the library in the first place. I have separate programs set up to reach non-reading kids and encourage them to maintain and develop reading skills over the summer.
 - This year I made several changes in view of various shifts in the school schedule and from feedback last year. I found participation in my 0-3 age program dropped significantly, while participation in our year-round reading program, Read and Grow (1,000 books before kindergarten) grew. Last year a significant number of kids were enrolled in summer school, which was run in two 3-4 week sessions in June and July and also included afternoon classes and free lunch. This year, due to construction, there will only be two 2-week sessions and all classes except pre-kindergarten will be located at the high school, not the middle school, which is farther from the library. The pre-kindergarteners will be at the closest elementary school. I also had a lot of growth in middle school participation, but it does not look like I'll be visiting that school this year, so I don't know if that will continue.
 - I also had major staff turnover last summer. This year I have one part-time associate (21 hours) who has not gone through a summer at the library yet and a second part-time associate (8 hours) who is primarily handling teen programs and a little desk time at the youth services desk (They've been here in the summer but only as a teen volunteer years ago!). Of my two teen aides, only one has gone through summer and they worked limited hours. The other aide will be leaving at the end of summer, so this will be their first and last summer! I will also be bringing back a very experienced aide for the summer only.

Check out this blog post for details on our summer reading programs, with links to materials

Summer reading proper will be running June 9 to August 11, although we will have programs before and after that date. You can see our current master calendar here.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

This week at the library; or, now it's hot and humid. Ugh Summer.

Happening this week at the library
  • Monday
    • Worked 12-8
  • Tuesday
    • Trikathon
    • Worked 9-6
  • Wednesday
    • Worked 10-5
  • Thursday
    • Books 'n' Babies
    • 1st grade field trip
    • 2nd grade field trip
    • Book Explosion
    • Worked 10-6:20
  • Friday
    • Middle School Madness
    • Worked 2-6
  • Saturday
    • Worked 10-2
Last programs and small field trips are this week - next week the big field trips begin. This is a new thing I'm trying this year, getting the kids to visit the library instead of doing short booktalks at school. We'll see if it makes a difference. Last year we had an author visit and I didn't really visit the schools at all. Our numbers did drop a little, but there were other factors in play.

I've finished all the summer reading materials, sent out numerous emails to teachers, worked on setting up the field trips, am almost done putting together all the prizes and activity kits, and am sorting through a huge bounty of donations. Also dealing with the regular detritus - lost and damaged items, maker kits that need refilling, paperwork, budgeting, etc.

I still have to actually plan this summer's programs, like the I Survived party, make sure I have all the supplies for the maker workshops and art storytimes, and I should probably finish my picture book weeding before it gets delayed another year!

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander

Rosa Diaz is angry, grieving, and confused. She comes from a long line of expert ghost-appeasers, i.e. librarians, and can't understand why her mother, one of the best in the business, has moved them to Ingot the only unhaunted town in the world. When Rosa meets Jasper Chevalier, whose only wish is to disappear in the shadow of his renaissance-fair obsessed father, she at first takes out her anger on him. Gradually, however, the two become friends. It's a good thing they do since Ingot isn't going to be unhaunted for long - and something very dangerous is coming.

Alexander builds a familiar but strange world skillfully, dropping hints and clues along the way without over-explaining, letting readers use their imagination to fill out the story. There are moments of frightening terror, moments of gentle warmth, excitement, magic, and the telling of family secrets.

One thing I did have a hard time believing was that Rosa, who is from cosmopolitan New York, would be surprised that Jasper is biracial, having a white mother and black father. That seemed really odd. However, kids are nothing if not unobservant of life around them I've found so it's possible that she never thought about her biracial friends or classmates. It's gradually revealed that Rosa's father is dead, having been killed in a mistaken attempt to banish rather than appease a ghost, and some readers might be frustrated that Rosa's mom is so withdrawn in her grief, refusing to communicate or explain to her daughter what's happening.

I did appreciate that Alexander packed the whole story into one slim volume, under 200 pages, but it's a complete story with some thoughtful reflection on history, family, and the choices that people make and the way they remember the dead.

Verdict: This was a Cybils finalist in 2017 and it's well-deserved; it's not often I have a book that combines diversity, humor, horror, and fantasy in such well-blended amounts. Hand to readers who like stories with a little shiver but not too much and those who are comfortable reading about ghosts.

ISBN: 9781481469159; Published 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry; Purchased for the library

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Life in the library

Looking out the window at our insect water dish, a shallow bowl with glass marbles...

Kid: "Is that weird dish for the bees?"
Me: "Yep, it's like a birdbath but for bees and other insects. The pebbles are in there so they can get a drink without drowning."
Kid's parent, with interest: "I didn't know that. I told Kid they were a liar."

Well, we all learned something today?

Peter and Ernesto: A tale of two sloths by Graham Annable

I still don't really understand the fascination with sloths; they're interesting creatures, but why not hyenas? Or bongos? Anyways, sloths are IN right now and this simple graphic novel will be enjoyed by sloth fans and others.

Peter, a stay-at-home gray sloth and Ernesto, an adventurous beige sloth, are best friends. But when Ernesto decides to take a trip and see the rest of the sky, Peter is worried and upset. Ernesto doesn't stop to think about his friend at first; he is busy exploring the wonderful world outside his tree. He sees many amazing new pieces of sky, makes new friends, and even travels across the ocean. Meanwhile, Peter slowly overcomes his fears to set off in search of his friend. He runs into the same obstacles as Ernesto, and at first feels he simply can't face them. However, his friendship makes him brave and, in his own fashion, he faces all obstacles to find his friend.

In the end, both Peter and Ernesto have learned something about themselves and about the world around them. Although they covered much of the same ground, their very different perspectives gave them an opportunity to see things in a different way. Annable's art is a good match for the simple but thoughtful text. The colors are mostly greens and earth tones, with simple lines and mild humor in the sketched large eyes. The text is minimal, but a great deal of story is told in the sloths' mobile faces.

While not factually accurate (sloths are actually excellent swimmers) this is nevertheless an amusing tale of exploring the world and following your dreams. The text is simple enough to hold beginning chapter readers but there is enough depth to the story and art to capture the interest of older children as well.

Verdict: This quiet story is amusing and makes an excellent addition to the beginning chapter graphic novel genre. While I'm not as wildly enthusiastic about it as some reviewers, it will certainly find an audience and planned sequels are sure to be popular.

ISBN: 9781626725614; Published 2018 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium