Monday, November 12, 2018

Absolute Expert: Dolphins by Jennifer Swanson with Justine Jackson-Ricketts

This is a new series from National Geographic, featuring the latest research, photographs, and facts about a popular science subject, in this case dolphins. The "National Geographic Explorer" is a real-life scientist who gives expert knowledge and talks about their own experience in the field. Bonus points for both (of the two titles currently out as I write this) being women.

The featured scientist for this title is Justine Jackson-Ricketts, marine biologist. She specifically studies dolphins in the gulf of Thailand. The first chapters introduces dolphins as a family and the different species included. After this overview, the book delves more deeply into the subject, covering dolphins' bodies, adaptations, and habitats. Dolphins' social habits are covered in the next chapter, including a discussion of dolphins in the wild and in captivity. The final chapter discusses current issues facing dolphins and human involvement, both good and bad.

Back matter includes a suggestion for getting involved, further reading, index and credits. Like most National Geographic titles, this is a nice mix of expository and narrative nonfiction, mixing information about dolphins with narratives of scientists' experiences, mythology, and how dolphins have affected, and been affected by, humans.

Verdict: This is an excellent new series that is sure to intrigue middle grade readers. It's best for those who are strong readers, as it's fairly text-heavy with a smaller font. There are still plenty of factoids and photographs for fun browsing though.

ISBN: 9781426330100; Published May 2018 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, November 10, 2018

This week at the library; or, November

What's happening at the library
November I was going to plan fewer programs so I could write grants, work on projects, and plan for life-size candyland. HA HA HA HA HA HA. Maybe next week. Tuesday I covered storytime for my school colleague who, as I explained to people, told me where she was but I forgot. In the afternoon I put together my new dollhouse! Which turned out to have several broken pieces. This does not auger well. I set them with heavy-duty glue and got a 15% refund (couldn't get replacements - they didn't have it). Started a little on the grants, planning for next year, and a weeding project.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Timo goes camping by Victoria Allenby, illustrated by Dean Griffiths

I admit that when I saw this I was... skeptical. It's an odd little book, with illustrations that remind me of Michael Hague's oil paintings for Wind in the Willows, fairly dense text, albeit in a large font, and a slim, hardcover layout that just felt... odd. However, I ended up being charmed by Timo and his friends - which is a great bonus of Cybils, because you try different things!

Suki, a bouncy grey squirrel, has a great idea - the friends will go on a camping trip! Bogs the toad will sing, Rae the badger will do their engineering, and Hedgewick will cook. Timo, a gentle brown bunny, isn't so sure. He doesn't know how to camp - and neither do any of the others! So he takes himself to the library and finds just the right books. He takes lots of notes. Now Timo is ready, even though he's still nervous. When the camping trip starts, so do the disasters. Suki isn't quite as knowledgeable as she thought and when Timo tries to help she makes fun of him, as well as the others.

Finally, Timo has had enough. He tells Suki how upset and hurt he is and gets a surprising response. Suki apologizes and the others talk about how they feel; some of them were hurt by the teasing too and some don't care. In the end, Suki admits they all have a role to play, and Timo's notes and knowledge from the library turn out to be useful.

Paintings of the friends and their mishaps are scattered about the pages of this slim volume. While there's a definite moral pointed, there's just as much story as well and the lesson is given in a gentle, natural way. I also appreciated that while it's shown that Timo needed to speak up, Suki is just as at fault for not asking if her teasing hurt before assuming that it was ok.

Verdict: While I don't see this appealing to a broad range of my readers, it's too low-key and gentle a story for most of them, plus the text is fairly challenging, I definitely have an audience who will love these. I have a section of young readers who are very fluent and whose parents want them to read quiet stories along these lines and the kids enjoy them as well. Definitely putting on my list.

ISBN: 9781772780406; Published March 2018 by Pajama Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Animal Shapes by Christopher Silas Neal

This clever board book will appeal to both adults and children with its mingling of shapes, colors, and animals.

On the left side of the spread is the text of the page and a small image of an animal. On the right is a large shape. The text combines the two, "When a lazy turtle meets an oval, they become a..." and the following spread shows a cute combination of the two, "Slow-val".

Each shape cleverly combines the animal, shape, and description; the turtle is a large green oval, legs and tail tucked around itself, compared to a school of darting green fish. A woodpecker flattens itself against a trapezoid to become a "tap-tap-ezoid" as it taps on the bark. An orange-brown dog squats into a hexagon to become a "scent-agon" as it sniffs for a cat.

Some of the shapes are advanced for the audience - trapezoid, hexagon - but little ones can still enjoy the funny sounds - and the funny combinations of animals that result! The brightly-colored illustrations are very attractive and the text simple and brisk.

Verdict: A delightful addition to any board book collection; Recommended.

ISBN: 9781499805345; Published March 2018 by little bee; Purchased for the library 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Pterodactyl show and tell by Thad Krasnewsky, illustrated by Tanya Leonello

Kids really like books where things, people, kids, or animals get eaten. They just do. Get used to it. This book not only fulfills that basic urge, it also includes dinosaurs, so pretty the two best things ever!

The story opens with a orange-haired kid with a mischievous grin bringing his giant, green pterodactyl to school for show and tell (with a falconer's glove and red leash, naturally). The other kids, a blend of races and skin colors, are horrified by this monstrous creature and with good reason - one by one the students start disappearing!

From quiet reading time to recess, math to lunch, and all periods in between, the hungry pterodactyl chows down and the class gets smaller and smaller until only our red-headed mischief-maker and his pet are left.... but what will happen when he gets moved up to fourth grade?

Leonello's cartoons are full of many hilarious tidbits; during quiet reading time the kids read books with titles like "It's coming to get you" or "Scary stories" with a picture of a toothy pterodactyl on the cover. Small dinosaur models and other jokes are hidden throughout the book and the narrator's naughty grin will keep readers giggling through the tale of saurian greed. It would have been nice to see one of the diverse kids as the main character; kids of color never seem to get an opportunity to be funny. However, I did appreciate the more realistic class size (at least until they start getting eaten...).

Verdict: If, like me, you like to have "things being eaten" themed storytimes, this is a definite addition to that delightful genre.

ISBN: 9781936261345; Published October 3, 2018 by Flashlight Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, November 5, 2018

Absolute Expert: Volcanoes by Lela Nargi, with Arianna Soldati

This is a new series from National Geographic. It has the latest research and information, as well as interviews and input from a current scientist in the field.

The book is laid out in typical National Geographic style, with lots of inset panels with additional information, photographs, varying fonts, etc. The book is divided into four chapters. It covers the basic formation and existence of volcanoes, both on earth and in space, different types of volcanoes, how volcanoes affect - and are affected and studied by - humans, and finally a collection of current information on climate change, scientists, and what we can look forward to in the future regarding volcanoes.

The featured scientist is Arianna Soldati and throughout the book she interjects her scientific expertise and personal experiences working with volcanoes. Back matter includes some additional experiments and reading, index, and credits. The book is a trim size, big enough to look and feel like a chapter book, not a picture book, but sizable enough to contain all the various information packed in it.

Verdict: This new series from National Geographic is a nice addition to their repertoire and sure to be popular with middle grade readers who have strong reading skills and enjoy science and nonfiction.

ISBN: 9781426331428; Published August 2018 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, November 3, 2018

This week at the library; or, Goodbye October

What's happening
  • Monday
    • Paws to Read
    • Worked 12-8
  • Tuesday
  • Wednesday
    • Worked 9:15-5:30
  • Thursday
  • Friday

Friday, November 2, 2018

King of the bench: Kicking and screaming by Steve Moore

This is a notebook novel, one of the countless spawned by the mighty machine of Wimpy Kid. This one has a sports focus - the main character is also purportedly the author. Steve is your average kid - he likes sports and has pretty good hand to eye coordination, but his feet - not so coordinated. Which is bad when soccer is the THE most popular sport in the world and he hates it. A fact which he inadvertently mentions to his friends, short and psychic Joey, enigmatic and weird Carlos, and Becky with the perfect smile.

Becky who also loves soccer.

Becky who now isn't speaking to him.

So, Steve braves bullies, humiliation, and signs up for the JV soccer team, just to prove to Becky that he's willing to learn about her beloved game. Then he finds himself on a bus to a soccer tournament, sprayed by a skunk, meeting the craziest best soccer player in the world, and, just maybe, learning to actually... like soccer?

The book is illustrated throughout with scratchy black and white cartoons which reminded me a little of Gary Larson or Stephen Pastis' style (Pastis blurbed the book). It has the requisite bodily humor jokes, weird best friends, and (sort of) triumph of the underdog. At least Becky is talking to him again (or will be, after he stops smelling of skunk).

There's a fair amount of soccer talk in here - sports aren't a huge deal around here, not as much as, say, football in Texas, but I do get a lot of requests for soccer players, mostly from the Hispanic kids who are more familiar with the Brazilian and other teams. There's also the deprecatory tone of many of these notebook novels, where the kid kind of realizes he's on the outside and/or sometimes being a jerk, but just keeps going anyways. There is some diversity, but all secondary characters (Becky is a great soccer player, the celebrity player is from South America). While I personally didn't find it particularly funny, as I often tell kids humor is subjective!

Verdict: While I have a lot of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and Dork Diaries fans, my library kids won't necessarily pick up any book that's a notebook novel. They've largely turned up their noses at Timmy Failure, Classroom, Charlie Joe Jackson, and only some kids are Patterson fans. If you have diehard notebook novel fans or sports fiction enthusiasts, this would be a fun addition to the collection.

ISBN: 9780062203342; Published March 2018 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bella Broomstick: Magic Mistakes by Lou Kuenzler

I can't really explain what unmistakably marks some books as of British origin - there's a certain whacky, Dahlesque flavor of fantasy that just is British and this definitely falls into that category.

Bella Broomstick lives with her nasty Aunt Hemlock and is the worst witch ever, not even counting her own parents (a spell to turn themselves into mice to make baby Bella laugh went sadly awry). She's failed the witch's exam two times and her third, dramatic failure, condemns her to a horrible fate - being sent to the human world! Except Bella is actually not so sure this is a horrible fate after all. She's sneaked a lot of peeks at a department store catalog and the thought of hot baths instead of a dip in the sludgy pond, a bathroom instead of an outhouse, and no more eating spiders and toads sounds good to her! Her new foster parents are lovely and she's fitting right in, mostly, until she loses the magical moth Aunt Hemlock enchanted to make the Ables want her. They couldn't possibly want to keep her without magic, could they?

Bella and her aunt are shown with the same dark skin and curly hair and Mr. Able is lightly tanned (although with black and white illustrations it's hard to tell if he's white or not). The rest of the human and witch world is shown as white (or, occasionally, green). There are lots of cute pictures of cats, sparkling potions, and Bella's new life as well as little decorations of her mean aunt turning her into things and her gruesome life before the Ables.

This is a very typical "rags to riches" story with a Dahlesque flavor of wicked villains and Bella's dark skin adding just a little diversity (one review says that all the "bad" people are dark-skinned but that's... not true? The nasty Seymour family is white and the pictures of the girls who bullied Bella in the witch world show them as white also while Mr. Able is possibly a little darker in skin tone.) The over-the-top abuse of Bella was just icky to me - her aunt threatens, beats, and uses magic on her, eats spiders and other nasty tidbits, and is just generally nasty. But for kids who like this dramatic genre, it's sure to be a hit.

Verdict: If you have a lot of fans of Dahl and this particular brand of British humor this could be popular; it isn't one that's gotten a lot of interest in my library though, so I'll pass.

ISBN: 9781524767815; This edition published August 2018 by Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: 1 Grumpy Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

Bruce fans will instantly recognize the curmudgeonly bear from his previous adventures in this new board book title. The counting book begins with "1 grumpy bear" showing Bruce glaring out from a bold yellow background. He's joined by "2 uninvited skunks" and then the partying mice, "helping" geese, and so on until the story arrives at a spread of light blue and a welter of animals "having fun" but, as the last page shows and says, there's still "1 grumpy bear" as Bruce glares out from his yellow background, now sprinkled with confetti.

This is funny, especially to fans, but as an actual board book for toddlers isn't quite so successful. The Bruce stories have a fair amount of irony and sarcasm, something that young children generally don't grasp. However, they will have fun counting the various animals and adults can enjoy the silly expressions and Bruce's obvious discomfort in his unplanned party.

Verdict: Purchase where Bruce is a fan favorite among parents and children.

ISBN: 9781368023634; Published October 9, 2018; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library