Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang

Mia is visiting China with her mother, older brother Jake, and Aunt Lin. Mia feels left out and awkward - she's shy and quiet, prefers to read and dream while her mother and brother are outgoing, ambitious, and successful. Both Mia and Jake are uncomfortable around their unfamiliar relatives and don't really understand their mother's urge to visit her childhood home. Mia feels like the only person who understands her is her historian Aunt Lin.

When Lin disappears, leaving only a cryptic note behind, the rest of the family says it's "just Aunt Lin." But Mia is sure that's not true. Aunt Lin promised her she'd never go away without telling Mia, not after their father left and never came back. Mia is sure there's something going on - and it's all connected to the emperor's treasure that she and her aunt have talked about so often. But they're not the only ones searching for it and danger is getting ever closer...

This is as much a nuanced portrait and a family and the way history and culture affects people as it is an exciting adventure and mystery. Mia is frustrated that Jake seems to fit in better in China - even though she's the one who speaks better Mandarin - because he can blend effortlessly in with the local boys and play sports. The after effects of the Cultural Revolution are referenced in a way that's both relevant and understandable. Mia vaguely knows that this is something that had a huge effect on her family, but she can't really grasp the full concept.

The mystery is equally intriguing, blending clues and history together as Mia and Jake travel to different spots to solve the riddles and clues, explore the map, and eventually discover the treasure - and Aunt Lin.

Verdict: This is an exciting adventure that is sure to grab the attention of mystery fans but it will also resonate with children whose parents immigrated from another country and those readers who want to look into a different experience or culture. Recommend to fans of Thanhha Lai, Blue Balliett, and Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

ISBN: 9781481478625; Published 2017 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Small Readers: Snow Hens by Janet Morgan Stoeke

I was baffled when a new kid joined my Bookaneers book club and declared, firmly, that they ONLY read books about tractors. Nothing else. So I went on a concerted hunt for farm-related books (side note - they changed their mind after I got them interested in some other titles).

I've always loved Janet Morgan Stoeke's simple but funny books and happily added her easy reader series, The Loopy-Coop Hens, back when they first came out. They've now been released in a more traditional easy reader format and I pulled a couple, including Snow Hens, to entice my reluctant farmophile.

In this intermediate easy reader, Midge, Pip, and Dot are making a snow hen. Or trying to anyways. When a disagreement arises over who is going to make the beak, Dot takes off to make her own creation while Midge and Pip fight over competing creations of a fox and a snow hen. Which one will Rooster Sam like the best? Meanwhile, Dot has come up with a snow sculpture that they can all appreciate!

The silly squabbles will make readers giggle while perhaps seeing their own sibling quarrels in the hens. Even grown-ups will have a chuckle over Pip's dramatic declarations about art. Stoeke's illustrations are simple but humorous; a quirk of an eyebrow or curve of a beak expresses a world of emotions. The font is bold but a little smaller than a pre-reader, suited to its intermediate level. Most of the text is placed on white backgrounds but a few are against barn walls or other colored backdrops. The one thing an early reader might find confusing is keeping the hens straight during their dialogue.

Verdict: Funny and relatable, this is a strong addition to any easy reader section.

ISBN: 9780448488448; This edition published 2016 by Penguin young readers; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Daddy Honk Honk! by Rosalinde Bonnet

This sweet story shows a community of animals coming together to take care of a gosling. Aput the fox notices that the geese have left behind an egg - and it hatches! He doesn't know anything about being a daddy, but with advice and help from the other animals they soon form a family. It's not long before all the animals are welcoming little Aurora to their midst.

The illustrations are sweet and tender, showing a cheerful variety of blocky animals introducing the little blue gosling to her new home. Some of my favorite illustrations are the scenes in the ocean, teaming with undersea life. This is clearly a fantasy tundra, where Aput's bunny slippers are a silly touch and Aput knows he needs to feed the baby "yummy" and "healthy" food (contents of the jars unspecified!)

The real star of the show is Aput. He's not sure how to care for a baby, but with the help of his friends, he learns all about what babies need and is soon the perfect daddy to his little honk-honk Aurora.

Verdict: A delightful addition to storytime or one-on-one reading, especially sweet for families who have experience with adoption or non-traditional family structures.

ISBN: 978039918679; Published 2017 by Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, August 14, 2017

Seashores by Cathryn and John Sill

It's the tenth anniversary of the About Habitats series by Cathryn and John Sill and they have a new book out to celebrate the occasion.

Most people probably think of sandy beaches when they think of seashores, but they are actually a diverse habitat and the Sills showcase that in their latest nature book.

A flattened globe introduces the concept of seashores "narrow strips of land that border the seas." The book includes one or two sentences for each colored plate. The seashores included show rocky cliffs, icy rocks, sandy beaches, mud flats, and rolling surf.

Each seashore is shown with the different wildlife that inhabits it from seals and seagulls to tide pools, crabs, and worms. The book also includes plants - flowers and trees - and some of the natural phenomena on seashores like tides.

The back matter includes thumbnails of each spread with more in-depth explanations of everything from tidepools to shorebirds to environmental issues with seashores.

Verdict: This series is a staple for my library; I recommend it to teachers and parents all the time and have used them in flannelboards and interactive reading with classes. That being said, this one felt a little, I don't know, forced. The animal series is, I think, better than the habitats although there's a need for these as well. I will absolutely buy and use it, but I think there are so many books on seashores that this one doesn't stand out quite as much as some of their previous titles.

ISBN: 9781561459681; Published 2017 by Peachtree; F&G provided by publisher for review

Sunday, August 13, 2017

RA RA READ: Read it and Weep: A Child Called It Read-Alikes

Misery memoirs. They're a thing. I personally am not a fan and have never read A Child Called It, but I do get a LOT of teens and young adults asking for them and it never goes away. I had someone ask for Living Dead Girl in June, which was how I discovered our copy was long missing and I just saw a link to Abby the Librarian's read-alikes list, which is still relevant! I went back and forth on whether or not to include blurbs and decided not. Because I didn't have time and this isn't really my genre. The common theme in all of these, fiction and nonfiction, is some kind of harrowing event or childhood, mental struggles, and eventual triumph and hope.

Young Adult Nonfiction (basically all memoirs)

  • Three little words; Three more words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
  • The dead inside by Cyndy Etler
  • The year we disappeared by Cylin Busby 
  • Deep water by Katherine Nichols (true crime)
  • One Cut by Eve Porinchak (true crime)
  • Elena Vanishing by Elena Dunkle 
  • Invisible Girl by Mariel Hemingway 
  • Smile for the camera by Kelle James 
  • All better now by Emily Smith 
Adult Nonfiction 
  • Sickened by Julie Gregory 
  • Glass castle by Jeannette Walls 
Young Adult Fiction
  • Ellen Hopkins (novels in verse)
  • Elizabeth Scott
    • Living dead girl
    • Love you, hate you, miss you
    • Grace 
  • Carol Lynch Williams
    • Glimpse (novel in verse)
    • Chosen one
  • Laurie Halse Anderson
    • Speak
    • Wintergirls 
  • By the time you read this, I’ll be dead by Julie Ann Peters
  • Boot camp by Todd Strasser
  • Split by Swati Avasthi
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick 
  • Because I am furniture by Thalia Chaltas (novel in verse)
  • Scars by C. A. Rainfield

Saturday, August 12, 2017

This week at the library; or, Projects continue

  • This week's projects
    • I think we finally worked out our hiring plans. Now I am working on writing/revising a lot of training materials. 
    • As part of this I'm also adding a lot of reader's advisory bookmarks.
    • Finished the teen fiction weeding, including storage.
    • Still cleaning out the basement. I think one more day next week will do it.
    • Started again on weeding the 900s - I stopped at the 960s a couple months ago.
    • Craft-o-Rama and Free Lego Build
  • Professional Development
    • SLJ Teen Live

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Great Art Caper by Victoria Jamieson

Class hamster GW and his friends Sunflower and Barry are back! In their latest adventure, they've settled down to become class pets and are peacefully enjoying their quiet nights with puzzles and poetry. GW even has a secret little crush on a girl in his classroom, not that he'd ever admit it though.

GW is thrilled when he hears there's going to be an art competition. Not only will things get a little more exciting, but Carina (the kid in his class) has a special exhibit! But Harriet the evil mouse queen and her minions, not to mention the snake Lucinda, are all waiting for them. Will they make it to the fabled art closet and save the day?

I thought the first title in the series, The Great Pet Escape, was a little stronger and funnier. The animals had more distinct personalities and there were lots of twists and turns. This book was more about GW learning to admit that he has feelings for Carina and giving his friends a chance to show their own strengths. It was still quite funny though, teachers and parents will especially get a kick out of the references to prior Art Incidents.

Jamieson's art continues the cute and colorful theme from her first book. All the rodents have distinct looks, from Harriet's cute pink ears to Sunflower's jaunty flower crown. The art room is a triumph of organization and art supplies and the inventions GW creates are both charming and hilarious.

Verdict: Readers will want to have read the first book before diving into this one; hand the series to kids who like cute and funny and anyone who is nostalgic about Jean Van Leeuwen's Great Cheese Conspiracy series.

ISBN: 9781627791182; Published 2017 by Henry Holt; Purchased for the library

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

I was skeptical going into this book; I've been struggling to get back into reading middle grade and the multiple perspectives and quirky characters didn't really grab me. But once I got into it, I couldn't put it down.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of four kids. Virgil Salinas is shy, bullied, and wishes he could get up the courage to talk to the girl he admires, tell the bully to leave him alone, or even just ask his family to stop calling him "Turtle." His only friend is quirky Kaori Tanaka and his grandmother who tells him stories of kids lost and eaten.

Valencia Somerset has no friends either, not after her "friends" decided it was too much trouble to deal with her deafness and dumped her. Now she just has her overbearing mother and her secret dog friend in the woods.

Chet Bullens doesn't think of himself as a bully, he's just living up to his dad's expectations and being the strong kid. Kaori knows what she knows, even if her parents and little sister Gen don't believe she has second sight or psychic abilities.


The four come together one afternoon in the woods when Chet throws Virgil's backpack into an old well. Unknown to Chet, Virgil's guinea pig Gulliver is in the backpack and he goes down after it and gets trapped. Valencia is the next participant in the drama, as she puts the cover back on the well so protect her animals in the woods, unable to hear Virgil's cries for help. The four are brought together by Kaori's efforts to help her friends; she's trying to find Virgil, who she was going to help get the confidence to speak to Valencia and Valencia is a new client trying to get rid of the nightmare that continually plagues her.

There are no final answers for the participants in this story. Chet doesn't have any kind of epiphany and although readers may sympathize with his behavior because of his home life, he ends up backing off from Virgil when Virgil is able to stand up to him. Valencia doesn't solve her problem of her overbearing mother, but she does find a more sympathetic and congenial friend in Kaori and, hopefully, a new friend in Virgil as well, who admires her smart, stubborn, and confident personality. Virgil is the one most changed by the story as his time trapped in the well gives him the courage to start standing up and having a voice. He's still shy and quiet, but he's able to speak up for himself in the way that he most desperately wants to, changing the way his parents and friends see him.

Ultimately, this is a story about inner change, about kids making a difference in their own lives and the lives around them by small, everyday choices. Kelly's lovely writing brings out the thoughts and inner reflections of this group of quirky, quiet kids who are pushed into the background of their family and schools but shine in their own ways.

Verdict: Recommend this to fans of Wonder (it's much, much better in my opinion), Michele Hurwitz, Laurel Snyder, and other quiet but powerful stories of finding yourself. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780062414151; Published 2017 by Greenwillow; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Jane Foster's Brown Bear Color Book

Misleadingly, this large-format board book is marked as a "hardcover" on Baker & Taylor, but it is, in fact, a board book.

Each spread features a color and text on one side and a selection of different objects on the other. Each selection of text ends with asking where Brown Bear is (spoiler alert - the bear is revealed by a die cut in the center of the page). Sample text reads "Golden lion, buzzing bee. What other yellow things do you see?" This spread shows a yellow rubber ducky on a polka-dot yellow background, orange pineapple with white stalk/leaves, stylized flower or sun (not quite sure), yellow boots, and a sunflower. The final page reveals brown bear and his favorite colors, shown in colorful round flowers, one of which shows a rim of each color from a previous page in the die cut circle.

The board book is large, about 10x10, with flexible cardboard pages and a paper over board binding.

Verdict: I like the unique art style, but I'm not sure it's clear enough for little ones to figure out what all the items are (I couldn't figure out some of them!). I will probably pass on this one.

ISBN: 9781499803303; Published 2016 by little bee; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Garcia & Colette go exploring by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Andrew Joyner

I'm really getting into the new picture books I've been seeing with Andrew Joyner's illustrations.

In this story, Garcia the rabbit and Colette the fox are having a disagreement. Garcia wants to explore the vastness of outer space, but Colette wants to dive deep into the ocean! The two friends solve their difficulty by building their own spaceship and submarine, respectively, and take off to explore their chosen destination.

Colette and Garcia love the sand and stars that they see and observe many wonderful things, but in the end they both realize space is missing something - a friend. Can the two find a perfect place to explore that has everything they both want?

In addition to the sweet friendship story, this book draws interesting parallels between different landscapes - space and deep ocean. The text lyrically describes the beauty, similarities and contrasts of the different landscapes. Joyner's illustrations are lovely, both sweet and funny. The rich, turquoise swathes of color show both the emptiness of space, and the quiet of the deep sea. Perky Garcia is a sweet little gray rabbit with a pink nose while Colette delves into her explorations with a cheerful yellow dress, and neatly tipped ears and swooping foxy nose. Strange creatures populate both the dark blue of space and the deep green of the sea.

Verdict: A little long for a toddler storytime, this is perfect for a preschool storytime or a program on exploration, scientific observation, or just learning how to compromise with a friend. Joyner's cheerful illustrations are sure to make this sweet story a hit with readers and listeners alike.

ISBN: 9780399176753; Published 2017 by G. P. Putnam's Sons; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library