Friday, September 30, 2011

Iris and Walter by Elissa Haden Guest, illustrated by Christine Davenier

This series was suggested in a comment on my review of Jean Little's Emma series and was looking for more realistic stories about kids in easy reader format. This is a perfect addition to that small genre and Davenier's lovely washy illustrations are the perfect complement.

Iris' family is moving from the city to the country. She misses her apartment, her friends, and her neighborhood. Her parents try to cheer her up by acting silly, but only Grandpa really understands and they set off for a walk together through the vast, lonely country. As they walk Iris explains why she doesn't like the country; there are no other kids for her to play with! Grandpa encourages her to be an explorer, searching for children and together they discover a treehouse and a boy named Walter! Now Iris and Walter are friends. Iris still remembers her old life in the city, but she loves her new life and her new friend in the country too.

Christine Davenier's swirling illustrations in pen and ink, washed with color, fit with the text's exploration of moving and exploring the country, which is show in explosions of green and color with white spaces and soaring distances. Iris' loneliness in a new place is portrayed simply and her joy at finding a new friend will be something children can easily relate to.

Verdict: A lovely and well-written easy reader series. I would put it at about a level 2 or early 3, if you divide your easy readers (I just sticker mine). Some of the vocabulary is a little advanced for a really early easy reader, but intermediate kids could handle it with a little help. Some of the hardbacks appear to be out of print, but paperback and library bound editions are available. Recommended.

ISBN: 0162021221; Published September 2000 by Harcourt; Borrowed from the library

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Picture Book Mini Thoughts

I have a massive pile of picture books, greedily borrowed from neighboring libraries, which I've been looking through to decide what to use in coming storytimes. Sadly, I cannot keep them at my library, much though I would like to transfer the contents of other libraries' new shelves to my own...Also, I need to clean my library shelves off in anticipation of Cybils!

Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin, illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Why has no one thought to combine these two before? An excellent idea, I say! Would make a great flannel board, also a good toddler storytime choice. Must squeeze into order list somehow.

Otto the boy who loved cars by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon. This cautionary tale will appeal to parents who are going nuts with kids who are obsessed with Thomas, vehicles, or any other early childhood subject craze. I don't know how popular it will be with kids though. Will use in a storytime, but I'll just borrow it from somebody else.

Rock 'n' Roll Mole by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Perfect music-themed book! Not too many terms or weird behavior kids won't recognize, but enough jokes for adults. Will definitely use this in storytime.

Thelonious Mouse by Orel Protopopescu, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. This, on the other hand, is not a useful music-themed book. The basic plot is good and the pictures are fun, but I personally don't have the time to learn how to scat (or the wits to remember) prior to storytime. Of course, if you already know how, or are a jazz fan (I'm not and neither, at least based on our circulation, is anyone in our community) this might be a good choice.

How do you hug a porcupine by Laurie Isop, illustrated by Gwen Millward. Excellent, bouncy rhymes, lots of humor, fun illustrations, this is a winner! Some of the art might be a little small for a giant storytime, but it will work fine for us - toddlers and preschoolers.

Perfect Snow by Barbara Reid. Not sure how I feel about the illustrations, nice story and interesting art, but not too useful for a storytime because of the complexity - comic strips combined with illustrations. Might purchase it to add to my snow picture book collection though.

The Cazuela that the farm maiden stirred by Samantha Vamos, illustrated by Rafael Lopez. Really loved the art, but there's too many Spanish words the kids won't know to use in storytime. Would work with an older group - maybe 1st grade - who could figure out the story from context. Will look for other titles with this illustrator.

If waffles were like boys by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Scott Magoon. Like Harper's Cupcake, this is a quirky book that kids will love. I don't know that I'd read it in storytime, because it's a fairly small format and there would inevitably be some mom to complain that it stereotypes boys, but it's a fun story to add to the collection.

Hampire by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Howard Fine. I don't like the illustrations as well as the author's earlier Quackenstein, but this is a fun fake-scary book that will make a great Halloween read. Definitely try to get this one.

One moon, two cats by Laura Godwin, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. Didn't like the illustrations, but it might work in a toddler storytime.

Too many dinosaurs by Mercer Mayer. Must have! Hilarious, great story, Mayer always does very readable, child-friendly titles.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith. Unlike Smith, who really writes for adults, imo. This title is more child-friendly, but not enough to justify squeezing the money for it out of my tiny budget.

Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby. This one, I will squeeze money out for! Or at least try. A bit like Scaredy Squirrel, but sweeter.

Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman. There are plenty of white animals mixing colors books, but none with such gorgeous, clean art as this title. Must have! Need more budget! Love this story!

Uh-Oh by Mary DePalma. A cute concept, but the illustrations are too chaotic and the book format too small for storytime.

Batty by Sarah Dyer. Eh. A clever concept, but rather shopworn plot.

Haunted House, Haunted Mouse by Judy Cox, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Actually already bought this one, and I'm glad I did. Ebbeler's illustrations aren't exactly to my taste, but they work really well at a distance, making this a perfect storytime book. It's got a nice mix of scary and but not too scary as well.

Halloween Surprise by Corinne Demas, illustrated by R. W. Alley. Really loved this one - I like Alley's illustrations of course. Is it just me, or have kids completely stopped making their own Halloween costumes? I can't remember the last time I saw a homemade one. It's a great pity and I dislike Halloween not because of any religious reasons, but because it seems to have changed what used to be a fun experiment in imagination with lots of candy thrown in into a creepy verging on sick celebration of commercialism. Also, I'm annoyed that my apartment neighbors have hung beware tape with skeletons everywhere and I keep knocking my head on it. Grah. Anyways, this is a very cute book.

The Boy from the Dragon Palace by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa. Not sure how parents will react to the repeated description of the "snot-nosede boy" but I have had really good reactions to most of MacDonald's renditions, so will borrow this again for a storytime sometime.

The Lost and Found Pony by Tracy Dockray. A bit overly sentimental, but nice pictures and I need more horse books. And my patrons like the cute and sweet. A little melancholy for a storytime perhaps though.

Pirate Nap: A book of Colors by Danna Smith, illustrated by Valeria Petrone. Not actually about colors, bland illustrations, so-so rhymes. Meh. Will lend it to Miss P to try on the toddlers, but not worth the money to buy.

I'm Adopted by Shelley Rotner and Sheila Kelly. Simple text and lots of photographs. Will date quickly, as fashions change, but definitely worth buying now. We have several families with adopted children and this is a nice introduction without getting too sentimental and covering a range of reasons for adoption.

Pomelo Begins to Grow by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud. Oddly philosophical and lengthy but the lyrical text draws the reader in and it's a joyous celebration of growing bigger. Would really like to try this on a storytime and see how it works.

Ella May and the Wishing Stone by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Genevieve Cote. Pretty illustrations, a nice story with a moral, but too long!

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Great, imaginative story, wonderful read-aloud, Oxenbury's sweet and enthusiastic illustrations. Will definitely put it on the list, but using it in storytime...the question is, will parents complain if I read it in storytime because of the glimpses of underwear? Yes, people wear loose pants and sometimes undies show. Yes, it's quite possible parents will complain. Some of my parents are...a little uptight. Hmm....I love this story so much, I don't care. I'm going to use it!

10 Turkeys in the Road by Brenda Reeves Sturgis, illustrated by David Slonim. I was expecting a Thanksgiving story, but this would be a fun counting story to add to the concept books.

My Rhinoceros by Jon Agee. Not as hilarious as Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog, but this will be a great book for older kids who will appreciate the deadpan humor. Might try it if I get an older group for preschool.

Sigh. Now I need to redo my budget for the next couple months to fit in some of these picture books...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tiny Titans: Welcome to the treehouse by Art Balthazar and Franco

In the world of the Tiny Titans, all the superheroes are students at Sidekick City Elementary. Their principal is Slade, with occasional substituting by Trigon, and their parents are their superhero leaders.

Hilarious! In this collection, the titans await their new principal with terror, Beast Boy tries to get a new friend to play with him, various girls have crushes on Robin, Robin attempts to change his name, Wonder Girl tries to change her costume, and gags and hilarity abound on subjects such as why is Speedy not actually speedy? Does Robin really have a secret origin? And what happens when Blue Beetle's talking backpack forgets to pack lunch?

There are guides to the characters' names, but not their comic history or powers, so readers who are unfamiliar with the titans will have a lot of fun googling each character, if they're not patient enough to pick up the clues in the text. It's pretty easy to pick up on the humor, even if more subtle touches, like Robin's name and costume changes, will pass over the heads of those who aren't die hard fans, they'll still find the chicken wing references hilarious.

The art is perky and cartoonish without being overdrawn and the text is bold and easily readable. The stories are short, sometimes just a few pages, interspersed with games and activities.

Verdict: The humor and school setting will appeal to a wide audience, even those who aren't interested in superheroes, while fans of superheroes will enjoy picking up on the inside jokes. The vocabulary and large type size make this a good choice for younger readers as well. The only drawback is you may have to deal with some kids drawing in the activities. Keep an eraser on hand!

ISBN: 9781401220785; Published February 2009 by DC Comics; Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world by Allan Drummond

This week, I'm looking at a book about environmental responsibility with plenty of practical advice and fascinating facts. This is the story of the Danish island of Samso.

Samso used to be an ordinary island. They had farms and a fishing fleet, a ferry and lots and lots of wind! Then the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy chose Samso as the place to become independent of nonrenewable energy and a teacher named Soren Hermansen decided to help bring the project to life. Despite initial resistance, residents of the island gradually came to support the idea and offered their own suggestions and innovations. Wind turbines were built and after a storm knocked out most of the island's power, people came to see the advantages of independent power. Finally, the island became independent of nonrenewable energy sources - and even makes more energy than it can use!

Explanations of the various terms and concepts related to energy, including nonrenewable and renewable energy, climate change, etc. are included in sections set throughout the book. Drummond's illustrations swirl and explode throughout the book with life and energy and excitement. Ideas are spread throughout the story for ways to save and improve energy sources in big and small ways.

Verdict: This is an inspiring book for children and adults alike. An enjoyable read-aloud that easily incorporates an important message without being preachy or laden with doom. Recommended - would make a good nonfiction read-aloud for storytimes with older kids.

ISBN: 9780374321840; Published March 2011 by Farrar Straus Giroux; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This Week at the Library; or, Back to school!

Monday - School visits started this week with my 6th grade visits at the middle school on Monday. I promoted programs and booktalked to various groups of sixth graders all morning and we all had fun, I hope! I did add one book to the list, Stuff that will scare your pants off! which I'll be reviewing in October. The hot items were the My Boyfriend is a Monster series and I think the mix I brought this time was good and most books got at least one ask. I did work on making sure I said the titles clearly, which I tend to forget in the excitement of booktalking! If anyone is interested in hearing my booktalks for any titles on the list, let me know! Long day, b/c I started at 7:30am and dragged home at 8:30pm. Phew!

Tuesday - Started yet another try at teen programming again. This time I'm trying a Teen Cafe program, like Miss Ami's. I had caramel popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, rubber band bracelets from The Hipster Librarian's Guide to Teen Craft Projects, mini journals from Tiffany Threadgould's Remake It, and locker magnets. I had all the books I talked at the middle school, plus other new teen books. I put out flyers, sent flyers to school, posted reminders on facebook and the website, and promoted it during my talks at the middle school.

6th graders came!! Yay! The rubber bands and locker magnets were favorite crafts, I signed 5 more kids up for my new Automatically Yours program, we discussed whether or not they wanted their checkouts tracked, and several of them took advantage of my "you can check out without a library card after programs" special policy (which I haven't really told anybody about so....shhhh)

Wednesday - I had FORTY PEOPLE at Preschool Interactive! Woo! We did the third storytime here and it was chaotic and crazy and fun! Our Lego Building Club numbers are up again - just took people a little while to get back from school.

Thursday - I worked the desk in the morning and then I took off on a little trip...I'll be back on Saturday! At 5am! Happily, I am not scheduled to work that day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The smurfs and the magic flute by Peyo

Fans of the classic Asterix the Gaul comics will enjoy this classic Smurf stories. I don't remember much about the Smurfs television show (other than the bit of family lore which says it was the Smurfs who were the last straw and inspired my mom to turn off the tv for good when I was 4 or 5). A quick glance at forthcoming books shows the Smurfs are on their way back; easy readers, 8x8s, and more will be available in May. There's an upcoming movie, which accounts for the renewed interest. I picked up some of the cartoons at Walmart for the library and quite a few people have been happy to discover them (although not as many people as have been thrilled with the Care Bears movies I added. Okaaaay).

Papercutz is getting on the bandwagon with what I had understood to be reprints of the original French comics, although this isn't reflected in the copyrights of the title I looked at. However, the art has the classic, scratchy feel and definitely reminds me of Asterix. Oh, it says on the back. Must be from pre-1980s, since the television show was based on these.

In this particular story, a boy named Peewee is driving everyone insane with his music. When he accidentally gets his hands on a magic flute that makes people dance, things are worse than ever. Than a villain named Matthew Oilycreep steals the flute and uses it to ransack several towns; he takes this treasure to the wicked and greedy Lord Mumford and the two conspire to use the flute to become rich and powerful. Peewee and his friend Johan set out on a journey to recover the flute and with the help of a wizard travel to the land of the Smurfs, makers of the magic flutes, to recover the magic flute before disaster strikes.

This is the second volume in the Smurfs graphic novel series, so presumably we find out more about who the various characters are in the first story. The art is lively and detailed and the whole story is beautifully organized in panels that are clear and easy to follow. There's not too much of the annoying "smurf" language, and several funny moments.

The dialogue is in a fairly light and rather sketchy font, and there's quite a bit of text. Younger kids might be interested in the Smurf characters, but will need some help to get through the vocabulary and some encouragement to get past the smaller type.

Verdict: Not an absolutely necessary series, but a fun addition to your graphic novel collection. If you purchase these, I highly recommend the hardcovers. Papercutz has very affordable hardcovers but their paperbacks have truly awful bindings.

ISBN: 1597072095; Published August 2010 by Papercutz; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dorje's Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park

An almost stripeless tiger, named Dorje, lives in a monastery in Tibet. One day, he has a new stripe and Master Wu tells the story of Dorje's stripes. Dorje is a Bengal tiger and his breed is becoming extinct. He fled the hunters to find safety in the monastery, but every time a tiger is killed he loses a stripe. Now that he has a new stripe, there is a new tiger in the jungle and hope for the tigers to survive. A brief after note explains the plight of the Royal Bengal tigers.

The watercolors are attractive, but I found it difficult to picture an audience for this story. The message is heavy-handed and although the story ends with hope, it rings false, since there's no information given about how the tigers are supposed to survive. Is Tibet a suitable place for a tiger sanctuary? Are the tigers supposed to save themselves, as Dorje and assumedly the new female tiger, do?

Verdict: The watercolor illustrations are lovely, but the story is too meandering and mystical for my taste. I'd rather see either a straightforward fiction picture book about tigers or a factual presentation of their current status and ways kids can help, if the book is being targeted to kids.

ISBN: 9781935279983; Published March 2011 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by library

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Can we save the tiger? by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Vicky White

When I purchase books about endangered animals, environmental catastrophe, and other cheerful topics for children, I usually stick to a pretty firm rule: No "the world is coming to an end" nonfiction without a corresponding "how you can help" section. And I mean REAL suggestions, not just "write on both sides of paper." Sheesh.

However, this book is so gorgeous I will make an exception. This over-sized book is a tribute to the amazing animals that have become extinct - and the many endangered species on the verge of extinction.

Jenkins begins the book with a list of some of the animals that have become extinct, illustrated by Vicky White's pencil and oil drawings. Then we move on to the animals on the edge, starting with the beautiful tiger. Jenkins talks about the reasons the tiger is becoming extinct; loss of habitat, poaching, and hunting in a simple way that's easy to understand. He includes human - and local - perspectives as well. We see animals who are threatened for similar reasons and then a very different creature; the partula snail. This snail is threatened because of invasive species and the concept is explained clearly and graphically. We see more animals threatened by invasive species.

We also get to see success stories, starting with the American bison who was nearly extinct but saved just in time. Jenkins looks at other animals who have moved from near extinction to healthy numbers. But then we see an animal who's not so easy to save; the kakapo. We also have a look at the polar bear, who was thought to be safe but isn't anymore.

The end matter includes a list of websites devoted to conservation and containing more information on endangered and extinct animals and an index.

This book won't tell kids how they can help; but it's a beautiful and graphic depiction of the many animals that are endangered today and the variety of reasons they no longer thrive. It includes hope for the future with success stories like the American Bison, but is honest in showing the difficulties and problems of saving an animal.

Verdict: Pair this with a book on how kids can help (I have a title coming up next week with more on this). Kids and parents alike will be stunned by the beautiful illustrations; and inspired to do some research on conservation on their own. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763649098; Published February 2011 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Saturday, September 17, 2011

This week at the library; or, celebrating 110 years!

I've realized that moving Make it and Take it to Tuesdays was a really good idea, at least in theory - now I have Monday afternoons to prepare all my weekly programs, post updates and reminders on facebook and the website, and generally get the week going.

Tuesday - Happily, it mostly worked out in practice. I had about 12 kids come, 2 were regular attendees last year and about 5 were 6th & 7th graders who like to hang out at the library and happened to be around, and then some new kids came. I'm hoping as people get back into the school mode that more kids will come. I consider this after school program my "building relationships" time with the kids while the Wednesdays are more connecting with parents. We made one of our favorite craft projects, the Magic of Lamination, with locker magnets while we were waiting for paint to dry. I also got all the kids to tell me what they were reading, ranging from Natasha Friend's Perfect to "I'm reading so many I can't remember" to something about an earthquake, which I think for some reason was a Kathryn Lasky book. I booktalked Sidekicks by Dan Santat and Mysteries of the Komodo Dragon by Marty Crump (the dead rats were much appreciated) and both books got checked out as well as several easy readers, picture books, and I specifically asked one girl to read Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters by Claudia Mills and tell me if I should buy the sequel. So it all went great, ended promptly at 5. And took me 45 minutes to clean up, and my aide couldn't help as we'd planned because the shelving is so insane and then I had to print more calenders, and then my director came back and I wanted to hear about the libraries she visited, and then I had to pull today's new books to put on my desk so I can put new stickers on...and by the time I walked home it was about 6:30. Oh well, I did take almost 20 minutes for lunch, so it was only a little over an 8 hour day.

Wednesday - Double program days are a bit tiring, with Preschool Interactive in the morning and Messy Art Club in the afternoon, but we had a nice group in the morning - I wasn't sure how our lace and sew project would work, but it went well, yay MaryAnn Kohl! Only two people came to do sidewalk chalk for Messy Art, but we're having a slow start b/c of school getting back in session. I hope.

Thursday - However, doing two programs on Wednesdays clears Thursday for other projects - like my new display, Book Bundles! My director saw this at some other libraries in Wisconsin and we're going to try it out. I'm keeping a list of all the titles and themes I use. I also finally put together some signs for the teen display - I'm rather pleased with them, they're little half-sheets with teasers and book lists. I uploaded them as pdfs here, and also here, if anyone wants the document so they can play with them, let me know.

Friday - it was Friday. What can I say? Had a surprisingly large number of middle school boys show up demanding books - I think the middle school teachers just announced how many books, at their lexile level of course, they have to read.

Saturday - For the past two years we've done birthday parties - babies, 1 year olds, and 2 year olds in the fall, 3s, 4s, and 5s in the spring. We had crafts, cookies, and community information. The idea was to get new people into the library. The first year we did pretty good (I say we b/c these were joint between me and Miss P. from the school district). The second year we had ok numbers, but all the same people back again. Plus, I got tired of working 2-3 Saturdays every month, especially when not many people attend Saturday programs. So starting this fall I've strictly limited myself to one "special" program a month, in addition to my 2-3 weekly programs, so I'm only working 2 Saturdays each month, one on the desk, one at a program. This month's program was Sample the Library, combined with our 110th anniversary and a book donation drive.
Meh. First, I accidentally set my alarm clock to pm instead of am, so I didn't show up early enough to get everything set up. Fortunately, one of the middle school guys I was talking to yesterday said he'd come by and help, and sure enough he showed up on his bike promptly at 9:45. so we got everything done in time. Yay! We had a table of handouts and information about the library, a table for Miss P., butterfly masks and glitter, crowns (from Miss P left over from another program) Legos, paint, and a sample of all the different formats of materials you can check out at our library, and a scavenger hunt. We had one new family, a couple regular patrons, and some middle schoolers who were thrilled with the scavenger hunt.
While patrons frequently say they want weekend programs...I don't think they really mean it, as shown by attendance! What they really want, I think, is more along the lines of "hey, we're not doing anything let's go to the library....oh cool, something is going on!"
So I'm thinking of opening our storyroom and putting out craft materials once a month, on the Saturday when I work, advertising it as "open craft day". This would be less time-consuming, and people could wander in and out as they pleased. Maybe I'll try this next year.

I would have published this earlier but I fell asleep when I got home at 1:30pm...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gear School by Adam Gallardo, Nuria Peris, Sergio Sandoval and Estudio Fenix

After reading this, I wondered if there was a movie or video game it was based on, since I felt that I was missing something the whole time. I dug around a bit and apparently Gear School is some kind of movie in Spain?

Anyways. In this graphic novel, Teresa is in a military academy learning to fly giant war plane/ship thingies called Gears. She is really, really bad at this. However, she keeps trying, sticks to her friend Moira who comes from a poor background, and has a crush on a student named Ben. Then it's time for her first real flight...and suddenly she's in a war she isn't ready for.

There was lots of action, and the art is clear and has nice lines - very animated, although only slightly anime, if you know what I mean. Several things that bugged me about this - I whipped through and read it very fast, and then realized that although I'd enjoyed reading it, I really didn't have much of an idea what was going on, either with Teresa or the war. We find out she's from a high class family in one brief exchange with another student and she's apparently in some kind of military academy, but we don't know anything about the world she's in - or her crush, Ben, or even much about Moira who's supposed to be her best friend.

I learned more about the background from the back of the book than the story itself. Which is where I found out she's supposed to be thirteen. Uh, no way. She's...well-endowed, to put it mildly, which some thirteen year olds are, but her face and body structure say at least twenty to me - and ALL the girls are equally well-endowed as well as being anorexically thin. This annoyed me.

Verdict: I enjoyed it while I was zipping through, but then realized that there wasn't much to set the story apart from any other "well-endowed girls in tight clothes shooting big guns" comic. Pass.

ISBN: 9781593078546; Published October 2007 by Dark Horse; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Accidental Genius of Weasel High by Rick Detorie

There are quite a few Wimpy Kid imitations out there. Personally, I didn't like Wimpy Kid at all - the main character is insufferably annoying and the kind of kid I would kick out of the library after about five minutes. However, some of the author/illustrators jumping on the bandwagon have produced some fun stories with much more likable characters, in my opinion.

Although there were a few confusing points in the story, for the most part I really liked Detorie's story of a hapless fourteen year old filmophile. Larkin desperately wants a new camcorder so he can get started on his way to becoming a world famous filmmaker. But his dad won't lend him the money to get one, citing the two bikes he carelessly left out to get stolen. Then he gets a part-time job working for an old lady, he loses the girlfriend he never had, he's got problems with a bully, and...could life get any worse?

Larkin is a completely believable 14 year old. His daydreams, fantasies, frustrations, and his whole voice are vibrant and sympathetic. He's not always a perfect guy, but he's pretty nice most of the time. He works hard to get what he wants, but sometimes he loses focus. I didn't care as much for Larkin's best friend, Freddie. He was too quirky to be believable and I didn't get why Larkin and Freddie were still friends, other than Larkin's reluctance to deal with people changing. Larkin's sister was extremely annoying, albeit a realistic character. I've mentioned before I have no patience with the "let the older teenager be nasty because he/she is going through a phase". Even allowing for Larkin's one-sided point of view, she takes unfair advantage of everyone and doesn't contribute anything to the family. I'm strongly in favor of teens contributing, adolescent angst or not.

This book is aimed at an older audience than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, although Larkin has some of the same worries and problems - like his height, annoying siblings, and trying to talk to girls. I liked the more organized illustrations - many of them in comic strip format. There isn't "inappropriate" material for younger readers, just a generally older feel. This would be a perfect book for 6th grade and up.

Verdict: Strongly recommended. I suggest this title and Emond's Happyface for kids who started Wimpy Kid in middle school and now want something older.

ISBN: 9781606841495; Published April 2011 by Egmont; ARC received from publisher at ALA Midwinter 2011; Purchased for the library

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: From Jazz Babies to Generation Next: The history of the American teenager by Laura Edge

I found this overview of teenagers in history interesting, but ultimately uninspired. There is a chapter on each of the major time periods in American history beginning with the turn of the century and moving through the Jazz Age of the 1920s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the baby boomer generations, rock ‘n’ roll teens of the late 50s and early 60s, and through each of the following decades to the present day. The information is presented clearly and chronologically and the author does include some minorities, mainly African American teens.

However, there are hardly any pictures; most of the book consists of lengthy chunks of text, not even broken up by different styles or headings. A few photographs are sprinkled here and there with a few pages of additional photos at the back. I found it odd that the book used the term “teenagers” from the beginning, although the term was not widely in use until the 1940s.

The part of the book I had the most problems with were the final sections starting in the 90s and moving into the 21st century. Presumably the audience is teens; why is a detailed explanation of what texting is needed? A particularly dry one too, “Texting uses a component of cell phone service to allow users to send brief written messages.” Why are the bombings of the 90s listed as an important influence while 9/11 is mentioned only in the brief caption of a photo? In regard to the section on internet use, “Teenagers are learning to be more careful about their internet use” made me laugh. Seriously? That’s some major wishful thinking right there, especially since the sentence refers to teens learning to filter unreliable information. Of course, I don’t interact with as many teens as a teacher or school librarian, but I’ve yet to see a single teen working on homework or a report show the faintest interest in the reliability or accuracy of their information. I have a glum feeling that most teens aren’t protecting their privacy either – or recognizing the heavy role marketing and advertising plays in their online life.

Another issue I found problematic was the limited scope of the book. Granted, it is only a little over 100 pages and there’s a limit to what you can include, but... The book did mention in several places that the experiences and trends it was describing were limited mainly to white, middle-class teens or even white, middle-class, male teens. There were several sections on African American experience and civil rights. However, the later chapters did not address any other ethnicities other than a couple extremely brief references. I find it troubling that the growing Hispanic population, a large part of modern American demographics, was completely overlooked. I find this even more troubling when I note that the author graduated from the University of Texas, my own state, and one with a large Hispanic population – rapidly growing and according to some statistics outnumbering Anglos in school enrollment!

There were sections on female teens struggling for independence, Title IX etc., but not a single mention of GLBT teens and the various controversies involving them in schools. Why was it more important to include a large section on teens' struggle against dress codes and nothing on this? There was discussion of cyberbullying, but no mention of teen bullying of this demographic. It’s admittedly a small demographic but should still have at least been mentioned. (oh, my mistake, it’s mentioned twice – both in descriptions of the movie Clueless in a list of the diverse characters.)

The end matter includes a lengthy timeline, source notes, bibliography, further reading, and recommended websites, movies, and an index.

Verdict: This was a fairly interesting, quick read for me as an adult, but I can’t imagine any teen picking it up voluntarily. If your school has some kind of unit that would require a report on this topic, it would be a good report resource for a very general historical overview. Not recommended for public libraries.

ISBN: 9780761358688; Published March 2011 by Lerner; Egalley provided by publisher through NetGalley

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This week at the library; or, The beginning of the madness

We had Monday off - I spent most of the day reading, sleeping, and checking up on the various members of my family, down in the Texas wildfires. We're all ok, but many people have lost everything. Thankfully, the wind seems to be dying down so hopefully it will rain soon and they'll get the fires under control.

Tuesday - Toddler storytime started back up, kind of a small group but that will change soon I am sure! I spent most of the afternoon at a system committee meeting on our summer reading program. We're going to adopt a summer reading log adapted from Marge Loch-Wouters' program at La Crosse and I am very excited!

Wednesday - Preschool Interactive is now on Wednesday! Today I used the first plan here, except that Fuddles didn't arrive! so we read The New Bear At School by Carrie Weston. Note to self - request materials earlier. Happily, there were only a few families who came expecting baby storytime, and they both had older children as well, so it worked out. One mom had a good idea - we did fingerpaint and some of the parents aren't comfortable with their really little ones trying it (although in my experience kids under 3 almost never stick their whole hand in - just finger tips) I had left markers out to do nametags at the beginning of the program and she took her little girl over to that table and just did markers while the rest painted. A small thing, but I am making a note to have a "non-messy" table as often as possible so parents with multiple ages will feel comfortable. As far as attendance...I was really worried that we were going to drop back down, after my very successful summer, but we had several summer regulars return, several new families, and the promise of more (schools were closed on Monday, so all our local preschools did extra sessions today) so I had about 20, kids and parents. Yay!

But only 15 at Lego Building Club - I think it will pick up again when school's been running longer.

I am now working Thursday nights instead of Wednesday nights, which will be nice since the Daisy Scouts are going to be here Thursday nights. It's also nice that I wasn't here this Wednesday for the Urine Incident (I was here for the last one, it's someone else's turn! and this was an adult one anyways so...)

Thursday - Very short day as I had a meeting this morning and didn't get back until 3pm. My evening was blessedly urine-free. I never get to see how baby storytime goes since I don't work that morning though )-:

Friday - another half day, since I'm working tomorrow. A pretty good group for toddlers, I think it will just take people a little while to come back as always after a break. Very busy morning on the desk!

Saturday - busy. busy busy busy. Questions included...where are the books on writing a business plan? adult mysteries? automotive manuals? what is my library card number? what is my pin? why can't I get on the internet? how do i place a hold? *chat with teacher about the class she's bringing soon* can i have a guest pass *pause to listen to political diatribe from patron* I also do a lot of roving reference on saturdays, so plenty of pouncing on bemused patrons wandering around.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spring begins in March by Jean Little

It's been far too long since I posted a Jean Little review! One of the things I love about her characters and her realistic fiction is her ability to look at the same situation and characters from completely different viewpoints. In Mine for Keeps she shows Sally, a girl who has cerebral palsy and is coming home after living at a residential facility. Her struggles to be independent, to become part of her family again, to have friends and function at school are definied through her dog Susie who is also painfully shy and has a lot to learn. Sally has two sisters, bossy older Melinda and wild baby Meg.

Now it's Meg's turn. She's older now and Sally is the perfect older sister who always does everything right. Nothing goes right for Meg. She's failing in school, constantly daydreams, and when it looks like she's going to get the one thing she desperately wants, a room of her own, it turns out she's going to have to stay with Sally because Grandma Kent is coming to live with them. After many painful struggles, Meg and her new dog Robbie, who is also a "wild child" finally begin to see new hope with help from friends and family and their own courageous determination.

Although this story was originally written in the 1960s, it is still spot-on. Meg's struggles at school, her desperate feeling that everything she does goes wrong, her clashes with her grandmother and sisters, every one is something a modern girl can completely sympathize with. I've looked at several books showing extended families having to move in together because of economic circumstances, but this is the one I'd choose. Same thing for dealing with school difficulties. Maybe in a modern school Meg would get testing and extra help - maybe not. Either way, it's her own determination and the love of family and friends that finally starts her on the way to fixing all the things that are going wrong.

Verdict: Sadly, the most recent paperback version of this book has a seriously icky cover, looks like clothing from the 1920s. BUT, if you can do a little twiggling around with your orders, Penguin has a nice new edition out in Canada, paperback, but very worth getting, especially if you get Mine for Keeps at the same time. If you're not buying for a library, you can pick up a paperback on Amazon for about $5, more than worth it!

ISBN: 0140380841; This edition published 1996 by Little, Brown; Received copy on Bookmooch

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chicagoland Detective Agency: The Maltese Mummy by Trina Robbins, illustrated by Tyler Page

It's been a while since I read the first Chicagoland mystery and I jumped right into this graphic novel without reviewing the first volume, so I felt a little lost, trying to remember characters etc.

Megan wants a good story for the school paper - and a chance to see her crush, music star Sun d'Arc. Bradley, the talking dog, wants a good mystery. Raf is suspicious of Sun, but not really interested. Megan has hopes of finally making friends with the mysterious new girl at school, but it turns out she just wants a chance to see Sun d'Arc with Megan's free tickets. Megan finally manages to find someone to go with her, only to discover that Sun isn't at all what she had expected...and maybe something mysterious is really going on, little though she wants to admit it.

I felt that this story was rather chaotic. Unless you've read the first volume, the odd...well, it's not quite friendship, between Raf, Megan, and Bradley is bewildering. Events seem to happen randomly and without motivation. I would have liked to see a more cohesive mystery and some additional character development.

Verdict: Adult fans of Robbins' work may enjoy this, and it had several moments of humor and horror, but I don't think tweens will find it very interesting. I'm going to try it out on some kids and see if any of them like it. Right now, I feel rather meh about this series.

ISBN: 9780761346159; Published April 2011 by Lerner; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Meadowlands by Thomas Yezerski

Yezerski presents the history of the Meadowlands area of New Jersey from the time it was home to wildlife and the native Lenni Lenape, to its settlement, destruction, and pollution and finally to its resurrection as a place where a variety of wildlife lives side by side with people and their businesses, homes, and highways.

The story begins with a long-distance view of the Meadowlands from the Empire State Building. The illustrations and brief descriptions take us through the early days when the Lenni Lenape lived there to fur traders, settlers, loggers, and farmers. Then we jump ahead to the twentieth century when the area was completely industrialized and polluted by factories and mass transportation. There's a grim illustration of the Meadowlands as garbage dumps in the 1960s and we move on to the decision to turn the wasteland into a giant development. Chemical and garbage dumping was halted, but the land was built over. Only 7,000 acres remained of the 20,000 acre wetlands.

At this point, things get more cheerful! The author shows how, once pollution was halted, the land began to clean and restore itself. He shows the plants, birds, and other wildlife that returned to the wetlands and how people have helped and continue to help this natural resource coexist with humans through restoration, legislation, and education. The final spread shows the flight of a young osprey, the first time one had fledged in this area in fifty years. The book concludes with an author's note, bibliography, and suggested web sites.

Each illustration spread includes small inset pictures that show the many elements that coexist in the wetlands. Businesses, plants, animals, people, garbage, and more are shown in delicate drawings that will engross children who like details as well as a big picture.

Verdict: This is a fascinating story and would make a good read-aloud or independent reading for 1st grade and up. I liked the way Yezerski showed how humans and wildlife could coexist and how a combination of natural forces and human intervention restored the wetlands.

ISBN: 9780374349134; Published March 2011 by Farrar Straus Giroux; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This week at the library; or, interesting expeditions

My last week of freedom...I love programming, but having a few weeks off reminds me of just how many things are left undone while I'm going, going, going during the programming semesters. Alas, those stacks of paper will have to wait, hopefully I'll get to them before they engulf me completely.

Monday - the usual flurry of Monday morning on the desk, still working on missing lists from the inventory, I nearly screamed the roof down when I realized some bloated tick of a human had STOLEN the ENTIRE list of Cinda Williams Chima's works. No wonder they were always gone when I went to grab them off the shelf for booktalking. They've been missing since January! At least, that's when they last checked out. Not surprised to see that Sonya Sones has been stolen again though...spent most of the afternoon at a lengthy staff meeting. We still have a lot to discuss about the library redesign and budgeting, but we got through a lot of stuff as well. I was excited to be contacted by another teacher from Lakeland School, which is the special education school for the whole county. I now have two groups planning visits, which we've never done before! It will be something new for everybody and I'm very relieved that the teachers are going to help me out in working out the best way to do this, since the kids are all at very different developmental stages.

Tuesday - working a later shift today, so I drifted through the early morning, poked all my friends with some interesting personal news which involves a meticulously and delicately planned trip at the end of September, did a little grocery shopping, wrote some reviews, and floated into work around 11. The county fair is starting tomorrow, so we have an influx of people wanting guest passes - always interesting to see the different ids and passports. So far this year I've had Poland, Ukraine, Korea, and I think Germany? and New Jersey. Found a book in which a child had scribbled liberally with the parent (presumably) coated it with whiteout to hide the marks. Um...ok...lots more work on planning preschool storytimes, creating flannelboards (I'm going to post them on pintrest soon) and then covered the desk so our director could make an appearance at the volunteer ice cream social, first time we've tried it, and I hear it was a success.

Wednesday - I left at 7 to drive to Skokie to attend the Illinois Performers Showcase. Lots of interesting acts ranging from the "oh noes they didn't!" to the "wow, but we could never afford them". I was personally enamored of the Beatles impersonators...Got back around 6:30.

Thursday - drove down to Racine to use their large die cut collection in the morning. Hot. Very, very hot. My car has no a/c. Did I mention it was hot?

Friday - last day! Frantic finishing of programming, cleaning off desk, etc. etc. etc.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Batman the brave and the bold: Night of the Mummy by Tracey West, illustrated by Dan Panosian

Stone Arch's Batman chapter books have been very, very popular at my library. I was looking for something similar, and unwilling to buy their other series. I have yet to meet a 7 or 8 year old who even knows who Green Hornet or The Flash are, let alone cares. I was excited when I saw Penguin had a series of beginning chapter books based on the popular cartoon show Batman the Brave and the Bold. We love that show at my library. I love that show. It's funny! It's exciting! It's got Batman!

Unfortunately, this book has only the last item mentioned. Minimal black and white illustrations add nothing to a text-heavy and clunky story. It reads like a script, rather than a story. For example, "Batman and Green Arrow jumped down to the floor. 'Looks like the score is heroes, one, Fun Haus, zero,' Green Arrow joked. Batman heard a beeping sound inside his helmet. A message was coming through, and Batman listened."

Clunk, clunk, clunk. This is too long for fans of the show and kids wanting a chapter book about Batman and the writing is full of unnecessary descriptions. The few black and white illustrations add little to the story and don't keep the reader's attention.

Verdict: Disappointing. Not recommended. There are more Stone Arch Batman books I don't have and they're doing Superman now, so I'll add those instead.

ISBN: 9780448453392; Published January 2010 by Grosset and Dunlap; Borrowed from the library