Monday, April 30, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: How Cooking Works

I gushed a few weeks ago about DK's earlier cookbook, Cook it Together, and now I'm delighted to see another excellent kids' cookbook!

The book opens with an introduction that explains how to use the book and basic tools and safety. Then we're on to the goodies, divided up into four sections: "Start the day," which includes breakfasts, "Super Snacks," "Main Meals," and "Sweet Stuff."

The book's advertised "learn about the science of cooking" never really materializes. All the recipes include brief question and answer format factoids - why use oil for frying? why does granola brown when it's cooked? Why do we shake salad dressing? but there's not really much science.

But, with a book that teaches kids how to make vegetarian moussaka, marinated lime chicken, pea and mint soup, and cookie variations that include parmesan and pumpkin seed, apricots and cinnamon, and tomato paste and pine nuts, who cares?

I love the way the recipes include variations - which is rather scientific if you think about it - so the kids can experiment with the ingredients and the tastes. Like all DK books, it's heavily illustrated with excellent photographs and full of tidbits of information and yumminess!

Verdict: Purchase this one right away and watch the kids get cooking!


ISBN: 9780756690045; Published January 2012 by DK Publishing; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 28, 2012

This week at the library; or, Yes that was a break right there, if you blinked you missed it

Because now school visits start! My favorite little preschool (no favoritism, really! It's just that I know all the teachers and most of the kids and it's such a nice place...) visits every spring and this is their week. Each group gets a tour, a storytime, and a craft. If the weather is nice, we do chalk drawing in front of the library. If it's not, we make butterfly masks. Each group stays for 45 minutes to an hour and we have fun!

Monday (Not as much fun as I had anticipated, since I felt miserably sick all day. However, I did not throw up or faint in front of the kids so it's all good, right?)
  • 8:30am Four year old kindergarten group 1
  • 9:45 Four year old kindergarten group 2
  • 11-12 Desk time
  • 12:30 Four year old kindergarten group 3
  • Rest of the day - did a few minor things, wondered if I was feeling sick because I was sick or because I hadn't eaten anything because I felt sick...and updated the public google calendar through August, a project much more time-consuming than it sounds.
Tuesday
  • 9:15 Three year old preschool group (younger threes)
  • Rest of the day -  worked on newsletter and finished a list of health/development books (read: sex ed) for the school district.
  • 3:30ish met with the three elementary school librarians to plot out the district Battle of the Books which we host at the library (since last year).
Wednesday
  • 10am Preschool Interactive
  • 3:30 Messy Art Club - I was thinking about chalk drawing, but thought it might be too cold and it ended up raining so we went with 3-D paper sculptures instead from Make and Takes I brought out paper and scraps and lots of tape, glue, scissors, and markers.
Thursday
  • 9:15 Three year old preschool group (older threes)
  • I went back home for a while, ran some errands...
  • 3:30 Elephant and Piggie Kids' Club (last meeting until next fall, assuming I do it again in the fall)
  • Evening on the desk
Friday
  • Staff Development Day! Library closed. We had an all-staff meeting, went to Best Buy to look at gadgets (I hate that our patrons expect us to know EVERYTHING about every single gadget, no matter how weird, unknown, or expensive. How do they think we acquire this knowledge when we can't afford to purchase any of these items, either for the library or ourselves?) had lunch and then a presentation on customer service.
I did something a little different with each preschool class, depending on how wiggly they were, how well the books worked, and whatever came into my head at the moment (the whole feeling sick thing, plus my general impromptu-ness). These are the books we read:
  • What animals really like by Fiona Robinson (A hit with all the classes and teachers!)
  • Faster! Faster! by Leslie Patricelli
  • Oh no, George! by Chris Haughton (I really didn't care for the illustrations on this one, but the kids loved it and it grew on me)
  • Monkey's friends by Ruth Brown
  • Little Chicken's big day by Katie Davis (Some of the parents groaned when I told the kids they should use the refrain at home. Heh heh heh)
  • Silly Doggy by Adam Stower
  • Piggy Bunny by Rachel Vail (I only read this once. I thought this was weird - the kids listened, but I don't think they really understood it. They said they liked it but...I dunno, weird.)
  • Guardian Team by Cat Urbigkit (I love this book. Big fluffy dog! The older kids liked it and it was great for our discussion about fiction vs. nonfiction)
  • Traction Man is here! by Mini Grey (You have to have just the right group of kids for this. I had the right group. Fun!)
  • Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett (I only read this with the older kids. I thought they might not get it, and I don't think they did totally, but we talked a lot about what an author and an illustrator is and I cut a few parts short and they listened through the whole thing)
  • Secret Agent Splat by Rob Scotton (I don't like Splat the Cat, but the parents really do. The kids...eh, they can take it or leave it)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Home in the cave by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

Baby Bat doesn't want to leave his cave - ever. When his mother flies out to catch insects, he reluctantly tries a few wing flaps, only to fall - and meet another inhabitant of the cave, Pluribus Packrat, who shows him all the creatures that depend on the bats.

Their guano and the fungus that grows in it feeds cave-dwelling insects that feed other insects - even in the water! Pack rats like Pluribus have to travel outside the cave to find seeds and berries, adding to the cycle. Baby Bat, realizing how important bats are and how the milk he drinks from his mother comes from the insects she eats, decides he's ready to be independent - right after a nap.

Anthropomorphized nonfiction isn't really my cup of tea - I prefer either straight facts or a completely fictional story. The text shies away from some of the realities of the food cycle; although the other baby bats talk about their mothers' narrow escapes, the text never specifically points out that one of the ways bats contribute to the cycle is by being eaten.

I wasn't able to judge the art as well as I'd like; I reviewed this in ebook format and it wasn't very clear (plus, and I freely admit it, I am overdue for new glasses). The pictures are soft and fuzzy and the mammals faces' expressive. I would have liked more detail in the depictions of the cave insects (in an objective sense - personally, I could see them as well as I wanted to, which was not very well!).

Like all of Sylvan Dell's nonfiction/fiction blend titles, there are extensive educational activities and resources included in the book.

Verdict: This title will work best for kids who like stories with nonfiction components mixed in and in schools. It's too long for storytime but the fictional components are probably going to put it in a picture book section, where most parents are looking for shorter titles. An additional purchase, primarily for schools.

ISBN: 1607185229; Published February 2012 by Sylvan Dell; Ebook provided for review by author

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex

Yet another one-color-themed graphic novel about alternate world barbarians in special education, guarding demon toes.

Uh...what?

Yep. You know how there's lots of one-color graphic novels for beginning and intermediate readers? Babymouse, Lunch Lady, Squish, Flying Beaver Brothers, etc. Well, this is the latest and it's orange.

And it's about barbarians. "In a world of swords, magic, barbarians, and evil big toes..." (and 95% males apparently), there's one small barbarian, Fangbone. He's determined to one day raise an army and be a great warrior, but until then he's the smallest, puniest kid. So when the Army of Drool approaches, he's the only one who can be spared to take the Big Toe of Drool to another world for safety.

In an effort to blend in, Fangbone joins some kids going into school and finds himself in a class of misfits - it quickly becomes obvious that this is the special education class. Fangbone is befriended by Bill, who has some anger management and attention issues and together they figure out what it really means to be a friend - and to triumph at Beanball, slay evil monsters, and explore different cultures.

As I read this book, half of my mind kept muttering "it's like Captain Underpants and I never liked the whole 'gross humor' genre and it's orange." The rest of my mind couldn't stop laughing. In short, I liked this book in spite of myself.

Fangbone encountering indoor plumbing for the first time "By the gods of Skullbania! This is sorcery!" Bill replies, "Nope. It's plumbing." Bill's mom wants to know what they're doing:
Bill: "We're going to find an army."
Bill's mom: "Sounds like fun. I'll be in the garden."
Fangbone: "May your harvest be rich and generous."

Fighting the ultimate bat monster:
Bill: "Keep it distracted! Hit it! Yell at it! Spit at it!"
Other student: "I'm not allowed to spit"
Fangbone and Bill: "This is war!"

The art is appropriately gross, with rumpled edges and neatly arranged panels. Most of the characters have deadpan faces, which makes it all the funnier when they show sudden shock or surprise - or in Fangbone's case, a mixture of smugness and cunning. The text is all caps, large enough to be readable, but not too easy.

The main "message" is loyalty to friends and that everyone has something to offer. However, it's not emphasized too heavily and despite its fantasy elements the book is actually pretty realistic. Even though Fangbone helps Bill and his friends triumph over the bullies and "normal" kids at Beanball, they all know it's just a temporary victory. The kids mostly roll their eyes at their teacher's platitudes about being special and tolerant - they know perfectly well they're the bottom of the food chain on the playground and pretty much in life. Working together, despite initial reluctance to take risks on the part of the other kids in the class, they can defeat the giant bat monster - but there's still a quiz!

Verdict: The next Captain Underpants, but less likely to get complaints from parents. Buy multiple copies.

ISBN: 9780399255212; Published January 2012 by G. P. Putnam; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Cook it Together by Annabel Karmel

I've been looking for years for a really interesting, solid kids' cookbook. However, it seems that the vast majority are of the "how many ways can you combine peanut butter and various types of sugar" and never actually teach kids how to cook anything, just different ways to arrange snacks. Plus, they all have the same things because there's a limit to what you can make without an oven or sharp utensils!

Ok, rant over, because I have FOUND THE BOOK.

DK has done it again, with Annabel Karmel's Cook it together. Tons of photographs, simple recipes to follow, and really interesting, actual food!

The book begins with a section on spices and herbs, along with instructions on growing your own parsley. The main book is divided up into a main ingredient with several accompanying recipes. Each recipe has clearly marked steps, a list of ingredients, and tips from the author.

For example, the section on "Tomatoes" gives facts about the fruit and instructions on growing, then we get to the recipes - tomato bruschetta and tomato soup. Under "Corn" there's corn and chicken pasta salad and corn fritters. We learn how to make potato wedges and souffles, and in the section on rice there's a recipe for arancini (rice balls with cheese in the middle), and paella with seafood and chicken. There's fun food, snacks, and desserts as well - banana bites, banana butterfly cakes, strawberry layers, strawberry cheesecakes, baked apples and apple meringue tarts. And how many kids' cooking books teach you how to make apple and chicken curry, teriyaki-glazed salmon skewers, honey cakes, and your own chocolate truffles? The book finishes up with dark and white chocolate cakes, fruit brulee and chicken pitas with yogurt and mint dressing!

Everything is clearly illustrated with photographs, the instructions appear to be clear and simple, and my only regret is that when they printed the US version they gave it a pink spine - and the cupcakes on the front are kinda girly. This, however, has not deterred an excited stream of patrons from checking this book out. The only thing keeping it from constantly circulating is its repose on my shelf for a few months while I tried to find time to test out some of the recipes. Alas, that will have to wait, although I did purchase risotto rice for the arancini...

Verdict: You NEED this book in your library! The best kids' cooking book I've seen in a long time. Great variety of recipes, perfect for many different skills and ingredients, and food that both adults and kids will want to try!

ISBN: 9780756643027; Published May 2009 by DK; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This week at the library; or, I was so busy I forgot what I was doing

Monday - It was very busy.

Tuesday - It was also busy. I know I called the animal shelter, sent out more donation letters, packed book bundles, had a conference call with the ys librarians in our area, did reference, worked on the 2012/2013 program calendar...but I think there was some other stuff in there too.

Wednesday - Left around 7:00am for a workshop up in Fitchburg from 9:30 to 12:30 (yes, I know it doesn't take 2 and a half hours to get there, but by the time I drove to Elkhorn, got the city car, collected my colleagues who were carpooling, and made the trip with only getting lost a few times, we got there just in time). Workshop turned out to be about Montessori spaces, not really early literacy spaces but was really good anyways and I got tons of ideas. Had lunch with our consortium's ys coordinator and said colleagues and the director of another library. Got back 15 minutes before Lego Club started - my aide had collected about 15 middle school kids to help her set up. Ran Lego Club. Staggered home.

Thursday - Ah, morning off. And no programs! Planning storytimes for the rest of April and May with sundry other tasks. Got quite a bit done while I was on the desk in the evening as well.

Friday - I'm going to miss my program-less Fridays when I take over Friday morning storytime in the fall (still tentative, but probably going to happen - which will mean I'll be doing 3 programs every week, plus whatever additional programs are planned). Closing on Fridays was, as always, crazy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

In the Sea by David Elliott, illustrated by Holly Meade

Mark it on your calendars, I am actually reviewing a poetry book!!

Elliott and Meade have previously collaborated on two picture books of short poems, On the Farm and In the Wild, but I have to say this is my favorite of the three.

Each full-page spread depicts a different ocean creature and is accompanied by a simple poem, perfect for reading aloud. Some of the poems are lighter, like the sea horse sea horse, "See the sea horse in the sea./Where else would a sea horse be?" or the giant squid, "Few have seen him./Few wish to./Hide from this one!/(That's what fish do.)"

Then there are more intense poems with delicious language like the sea turtle, "Swims the seven seas/for thirty years,/then finds the beach where she was born-/by magic it appears./How can she know to come upon/that far and sandy place?/Rare instrument of nature,/fair compass in a carapace."

Meade's stunning woodcuts give the art a larger-than-life feeling with dazzling patterns and colors spinning across the pages. She conveys the light and movement of the water and the creatures within in the watercolors that splash across the artwork and the creatures swimming, diving, spinning and floating in the ocean.

Verdict: This is one of the few poetry books I've found that I predict will be a hit at storytime. My preschool group loves learning new words and this book will hit the spot, salted as it is with fascinating vocabulary. The patterns of the art grabs the attention and will hold the kids enthralled as they listen to the smooth cadence of the verses. Highly recommended.


ISBN: 9780763644987; Published February 2012 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scandalous: 50 shocking events you should know about (so you can impress your friends) by Hallie Fryd

I'm always interested in the teen nonfiction that Zest Books produces. It's usually interesting, different, a little quirky. This book has the potential to be a popular browsing read for teens, but some major issues as well.

Exactly as the title says, it's 50 scandals spread over the past hundred years. Each scandal has a headline, date, and brief summary "the scoop" and a list of the principal characters involved, "the players." A page or two of more details, "what went down" gives more information. Each section also has a captioned photo, a couple quotes, what happened to the people involved afterwards, how the scandal affected history and culture, and similar scandals.

The scandals are a diverse group beginning in 1906 with a murder and ending in 2000 with the Bush/Gore election. Scandals include:

  • Upton Sinclair's exposure of meat-packing plants
  • The murder accusation of silent film star "Fatty" Arbuckle
  • Lindbergh kidnapping
  • Rosenberg's trial and execution
  • Jerry Lee Lewis' underage marriage scandal
  • Kent State shooting
  • Tuskegee Syphilis Study
  • Jonestown Massacre
  • Madonna's Blond Ambition tour
  • Rodney King and the race riots
  • Bill Clinton sex scandal
As a matter of personal interest, I knew 30 of them! The writing style is racy, the information is divided into bite-size bits, and there's a good mixture of history, politics, celebrities, and mysteries all mixed in together. I received this title as part of my Junior Library Guild's standing order for my teen section in the popular picks for older teens.

So, what's not to like? Well...the complete lack of any kind of sources to start with. It was also a bit jarring to see scandals that I lived through, that people still argue about, presented in a couple of pages with a "this is how it was and this is how people see it now" attitude, which is a bit one-sided. Also, the typo on page 12. And the typo on page 23. And on page 44. And page 54. And page 68. Oh, and the grammatical error on page 81. The error on page 107 is a quote, so it could be the quote that's wrong, but it's a punctuation error so...at that point I stopped counting. I kept flipping to the back of the book to see if I had accidentally been shipped a galley. I checked a couple other reviews and apparently there are some factual errors as well, which I missed.

Verdict: It was a great idea and teens are probably unlikely to notice the errors, but I can't believe they didn't at least run a grammar check, which would have caught some of the obvious typos! If they amend it, it's a great book. Otherwise, I would only purchase it if you want an example of poor proofreading. I'd send it back, but it's already cataloged.


[Update: I received a note from the publisher that this book was published during an editorial transition period - and I'm happy to note that the errors will be corrected in the second printing! So hang on to your budgets until then because this is a fun title teens will enjoy.]

ISBN: 9780982732205; Published February 2012 by Zest Books; Borrowed from the library; Purchased through Junior Library Guild standing orders for the library

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Life in the ocean: The story of oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola

I thought Claire Nivola's Orani was a beautiful book, but with a limited potential audience. I was delighted to see that she's produced a book that's just as breathtaking artistically and textually but more accessible to children and adults looking for a read-aloud.

Nivola tells the story of Sylvia Earle, oceanographer from her childhood of observation in the New Jersey country and her first introduction to the ocean after their move to Florida to her ground-breaking explorations and discoveries of ocean life.

Sylvia Earle's adult life of exploration looks at her accomplishments - building and diving in submersibles, studying the ocean, and living underwater and also at the beauty of the ocean that she loves and tries to convey to the world.

Nivola's illustrations are amazing - she has managed to show the vastness of the ocean while still focusing on the stunning details of teeming life beneath the waves. Her watercolors are spare but detailed, colorful but simple. The picture of the whales swirling in elegant balletic moves beneath the waves is one of the few pieces of art I've seen that complete captures their weightlessness.

An author's note gives more details about Sylvia Earle and the plight of the ocean, while a bibliography lists a number of sources for the frequent quotes from Earle sprinkled throughout the text.

Verdict: The text is lengthy for a read-aloud to younger children like preschoolers, but would be great for an older read-aloud for grade school kids or reading aloud over a period of time. However, children and adults of all ages will appreciate the artwork. I rarely purchase picture books that aren't optimal read-alouds for at least one age group in storytime, but this is more than worth making an exception to that rule.

ISBN: 9780374380687; Published March 2012 by Farrar Straus Giroux; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 14, 2012

This week at the library; or, The eggs have arrived!

Monday - Not as crazy as I expected after four days off, although the phone was ringing off the hook. Staff meeting, and the eggs arrived. Of course I had trouble setting up the incubator and egg experts immediately started appearing out of the woodwork. Funny, all their advice entails a heck of a lot more work for me and directly contradicts someone else's advice! Hopefully the temperature and humidity will level out.

Tuesday - Day of busyness. Incubator was at OMG 75!! when I came in this morning. Hopefully the eggs survived and it seems to have leveled out and be working fine now.


Wednesday - Day of extreme busyness. Preschool Interactive in the morning and then our big program in the afternoon. Woody's Reading Round-Up was a collaborative program with our school district's Parent Connections. This is our second "big" collaboration program - last year we did a Royal Wedding Party. I'm still figuring out the best way to get everything streamlined and working, but it went really well. The library (with funds from United Way) purchased a petting zoo and supplied space and craft materials (crayons, markers, glitter, etc.) while Miss Pattie and her army of volunteers cut out craft projects, made party favors, amazing photo ops cardboard cutouts, etc. etc. The live music didn't show up (teens - they forgot it was today!) but we had about 200 people so I doubt anyone could have heard music over the din.


Thursday - busyness continues. Informal meeting with director about storytime. Program meeting. Suddenly remembering I had a program. Only one more Elephant and Piggie to go! I might try E&P on a smaller scale in the fall - maybe starting at 3:45. I'm just too busy to handle it right now though. We're just reading stories, mostly me trying out books I've borrowed from other libraries. Today's trials:
  • Duckling gets a cookie by Mo Willems
  • How many jelly beans by Andrea Menotti
  • Martina the beautiful cockroach by Carmen Agra Deedy
  • Wolf won't bite by Emily Gravett
  • And then it's spring by Julie Fogliano
  • Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack
We made three dimensional paper rainbows from TeachPreschool and played with puppets. Only 12 people came. Hit by sudden wave of exhaustion that evening, probably due to only having scored one meal so far this day.

Friday - Half day, because I'm working tomorrow. Trying to get a start on summer reading.

Saturday - Too busy to think, but I did get a few things done (in addition to answering a gazillion questions, talking to kids, talking to parents, troubleshooting computers and printers, and putting together projects for my aide.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A hen for Izzy Pippik by Aubrey Davis, illustrated by Marie Lafrance

I loved the cover of this book, but it took me a little while to fall in love with the text and illustrations inside.

When Shaina finds a "magnificent hen" with "emerald green feathers...golden speckles, and a ruby red comb" her hungry family - and village - immediately think of dinner.Times are hard and a chicken will be welcome. But Shaina has done a little investigating and she knows they can't eat the chicken - she belongs to Izzy Pippik.

Days pass and the chickens multiply, but Shaina firmly insists that they wait for Izzy Pippik to return. As the flock grows, they become more and more of a nuisance...until people start hearing about the amazing flock and visiting the town. The shops in town are revitalized and the chickens have brought prosperity. When Izzy Pippik finally returns, he sees the flock and the town's new prosperity and gives the original chicken, Yevka, and her flock to the town. After a little adjustment, Shaina is delighted and the town cheers the wonderful results of her honesty.

The jacket flap says this story is based on "an ancient tale from the Babylonian Talmud and the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed." I would have liked more information on the original story, but that's really an adult desire as most kids will just enjoy the story of the multiplying chickens and the little girl who stands out against all the adults to win her point and be rewarded for her honesty.

The pencil illustrations, colored in Photoshop, are quirky and pose the townspeople and chickens against a white backdrop. Sharp splashes of green and red dominate the illustrations; Shaina's dress and ribbon and Yevka's feathers and comb stand out against the varied hues of greens, blues and browns that make a bustling background.

Verdict: This story is lengthy for the average storytime, but would make a good read-aloud for older children, kindergarten up through second grade. If you're looking for more folktales, this would be a fun addition to the collection. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781554532438; Published March 2012 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Island Horse by Susan Hughes, illustrations by Alicia Quist

This story I am excited about - although I'm not personally a fan of historical fiction. It's exactly the kind of middle grade story I'm looking for - an attractive cover (yes, horses are still popular), a good story that doesn't depend on flashy action, gross-out gore, or whiny brat kids to move the plot, and above all it's a tidy 160 pages, not a 400 page tome that will discourage young readers from even trying.

Set in the early 1800s, it's the story of a girl named Ellie who lives on the coast of Nova Scotia. She's gradually recovering from the death of her beloved mother but then her father gets a job. It requires them to move from the home she's always known, from her close friend Lizzie, from school, and from her mother's grave. They will go to a lonely island, little more than a spit of sand, far away in the ocean where her father will join the men who patrol the shores for shipwrecks and try to save sailors. At first, Ellie is overwhelmed by loneliness and loss, but gradually she comes to see the beauty of the island as she forms a friendship with a wild stallion and a wild island girl. With her father and new friend's help, can she save the stallion from the roundup - and make Sable Island her home?

Two minor quibbles - there's a typo on page 9, not what I expect from Kids Can Press! For younger readers, I think the flashback section on pg 62 should have been set aside or italicized in some way to make it easier to follow the story. However, these are minor details. The story isn't as fast-paced as most fare for "reluctant readers" but that's not the target audience of this book, at least in my mind.

I would hand this beautiful, heartfelt story to kids who really want to read more serious fiction or historical fiction, but can't handle the massive tomes publishers are dumping on their age group. The language is spare but  perfectly conveys Ellie's emotions and the wonder and beauty of the island. It's hard to pick a particular spot, but page 68 has some lovely examples: "She stretched out her arms. Turned them this way and that, making dipping shadows, too. And then, without deciding to, she began walking. She walked so she wouldn't have to stay in any one place. So she would not have to be here." The author's note includes some background information on her own interest in horses and the historical context of the story. Alicia Quist's delicate black and white illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Hughes' starkly emotional text.

Verdict: This isn't going to be a bestseller, but will find a solid group of readership. Hand this one to kids who like historical fiction and beautiful language and a story that's a little different than the usual plots. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781554535927; Published March 2012 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates; Purchased for the library

Monday, April 9, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Tigers by Laura Marsh

I can't believe I have never reviewed one of National Geographic's utterly cool nonfiction easy readers before, but according to my post listing I have not. Oh the horror!

So, I discovered these last year and they have instantly, crazily successful at my library. Kids, and parents, have figured out to look for the yellow spine and I have made a list of all the titles we own, they get asked for that often.

There are so many reasons I love these, but the top three are: nonfiction for younger readers, amazing photographs, and text that is challenging but in a large font and enticing to read.

National Geographic Kids publishes easy readers at four levels, pre-reader, level 1, level 2, and level 3. This particular title by Laura Marsh, who has written the bulk of the Nat'l Geographic easy readers, is a level 2, aimed at children learning to read independently. It is 32 pages long, begins with a table of contents, and finishes with fun quiz questions and a simple picture glossary. The text is divided into "chapters" of a few pages each. Each spread has abundant photographs with captions, jokes (I thought these were kind of corny, but the kids LOVE them) and when needed simple maps and "tiger terms" or word definitions. Here's a sample of the simple text; "Tigers are full-grown when they leave their families. They are big, heavy cats, but they can climb trees and jump great distances."

Like all of National Geographic's publications, the photographs are clear and gorgeous. The book has an excellent layout, not too cluttered but with many points of interest. The pages alternate between simple paragraphs and more graphic layouts, like "Cool Cat Facts" that has pictures of tigers in pawprint outlines accompanied by a few simple sentences.

Verdict: I strongly recommend purchasing at least a few of these easy readers for your library. Ideally, you'll buy all of them! Start with the titles by Laura Marsh - a nice variety of subjects, concisely written, and appropriate for beginning readers at various levels. Tell your patrons to look for the yellow spines and happy reading!

ISBN: 9781426309120; Published January 2012 by National Geographic; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 7, 2012

This Week at the Library; or, The Longest Three Day Week Ever

I am packing about two weeks of programs and work into three days, plus being sick. It's a loooooong week.

The BIG program this week was our Annual Kids' T-shirt Decoration on Tuesday. I had about 70 kids signed up and 80 kids and parents showed up, so about 2/3 of the kids who signed up came, plus walk-ins. We had:
  • one table outside the door with the t-shirts, manned by our adult svs librarian, who checked off their names as they took their shirts. She also popped in and took pictures and supervised the transport of wet shirts to the storyroom at the other side of the library to dry.
  • I stood inside the door and directed people as they came in, while also running the ironing table.
  • two tables (covered with plastic) with fabric crayons, stencils, pencils, permanent markers, tracing paper, regular paper, and books of outlines (my flannelboard books work for this). [Note: people were confused that the pencils and pens did NOT transfer. This section was very busy, could have used a third table - and a staff person to supervise and help with writing words backwards. Maybe more signage? Put items in boxes with signs? Need to put scissors at this table]
  • one table with sewing materials - needles, embroidery thread, scissors, ribbon and misc. bits
  • one table (by the door) with iron for ironing on the fabric crayon designs. Other half of the table had fabric markers, fabric paint, and newspaper to slide inside the shirts with a sign asking people to take one item at a time and return it and a sign reminding people to put newspaper inside their shirt and to use the paint sparingly. And a sign about the iron being hot if I had to step away. [I had meant my aide to man this table but had neglected to find out whether she knew how to iron - or how to iron the transfer designs! People didn't really follow the signs about taking one thing, but it's prohibitively expensive to buy enough for each table, so I ended up using my aide as a gofer and to collect the unused items from the t-shirt drawing/painting tables. I should have used her to escort wet shirts as well. Note to self - be more efficient in future. I also need to cover this table with something before ironing the crayon on as it gets messy, but plastic would melt. Paper from my large rolls?]
  • table at the back with Culver's Coloring Contest sheets and markers for kids who were waiting their turn. [this wasn't really necessary, I could have just had the sheets by the door for the kids to take, but if this program gets any bigger I would need it]
  • two tables with new books to look at for kids waiting their turn [could have just been one table]
  • tables down the middle of the room for t-shirt decoration [there were seven tables left and we used all of them. Might want to see if we can make this eight tables next year.]
So, overall, a success! This program cost about $150 so the number of people that came made it worth it. I did registration right up until the Monday and the number registered vs. actually showing up was very maneagable. It would be great if we could have a second iron next year, as the kids get very impatient waiting for their design to be ironed, but I don't know if anyone will want to donate their iron to melt crayons with, since irons are generally not the same afterwards! I was considering needing two sessions in future, but I think we are fine with one.

I forgot that last year I cancelled all storytimes and this year I did two Open Storyhours on Tuesday and Wednesday. I wish I hadn't as I was also scheduled on the desk for a while around noon and then had to do the afternoon programs so I had very long days plus being sick. Note to self - next year only do afternoon programs. I just sang a couple songs, read some stories (with lots of coughing) and we did collage on Tuesday and beading on Wednesday. Nobody really came - a couple of Miss Pattie's regular babies/toddlers who were disappointed she wasn't there. A couple new people who had the days off b/c of spring break and were interested in our other programs. A couple older kids who were only interested in the crafts.

Lego Club on Wednesday didn't finish until 6pm but I'm DONE!!

Ooh, left out favorite sweet stories of the week - my storytime people on Wednesday morning were chatting with each other about how the seeds I gave out several months ago were still growing! This take-home project comes up at least a month, it was definitely a favorite with kids and parents. We'll do it again at the beginning of summer.

Also, had a 13 year old guy who is waaaaay smarter than his contemporaries - he's figured out how to talk to girls - you find out what they're interested in and study up on it. His request? "Do you have those comics that go the other way, that the girls read?" I gave him Cirque du Freak manga (didn't have the first vol. of Fullmetal Alchemist available) and a quick explanation of how to read the panels and he was satisfied.

Friday, April 6, 2012

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel / 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman

This book was not as funny as I had hoped it would be.

I am always looking for new beginning chapter books - those and easy readers are our big "I'm looking for" items right now and have been for the past year or so. The push towards making children learn to read earlier, and the large number of children who aren't able to read fluently - or at all - the huge middle grade tomes they're churning out now makes beginning chapter books a hot item.

I had hoped for a funny, easy chapter book with animal perspectives, something like Lucy Nolan's Down Girl and Sit series, a very popular one which I myself enjoy.

However, this story felt much too scattered and confusing. I figure my brain on decongestants if about equivalent to a 7 year old's brain while learning to read so if I found it difficult to follow, so will they.

In the story, each chapter is narrated by and named after a different animal. In the first chapter, Twitch, a squirrel, tells about how much he loves living outside the school - until a mean dog accidentally chases him into it. Then Green Eggs and Hamster, the first grade pet, helps him hide and sends him on to Miss Lucy Cottontail, the second grade pet who gives him some rather clever advice which sends him to Sweetie the library rat, whose clever plan doesn't work and winds up with both Sweetie and Twitch fleeing from the dog which introduces them to the school of neon tetras in the third grade, Lenore, the fourth grade parrot, and all of them are being chased or pulled by the dog when they encounter Nancy the art room turtle and the chase finally ends with the help of Angel, the fifth grade corn snake and Galileo and Newton, the science lab geckos. Once the police and the principal arrive, we finally hear the perspective of Cuddles, the principal's dog, and then end with some final thoughts from Twitch.

The action is fast and furious and it really should be funny - Vande Velde has written many hilarious stories and Bjorkman's illustrations are crazy and wacky, but somehow it just reads like a catalog or a bored announcer at a race "and now the rat is out. and now the fish are being pulled by the dog. and now the snake is loose." The animals' individual personalities are mildly humorous and help differentiate the various chapters, but it's still a rather boring read.

Verdict: I was disappointed by this book, but on the other hand I have taken rather a lot of decongestants and am facing running a program for 65+ kids, plus three other programs, in the space of two days whilst being sick. So possibly my sense of humor is dull. I will see what the kids have to say about this title after I've circulated it a few times. I would ultimately say - buy it. There aren't a lot of beginning chapter books out there, especially ones like this with quite a bit of text but not so much that it's daunting and a very manageable length, so just make sure you hand it to kids who aren't taking any medication.


[Update: The children have spoken - it is hilarious and they want more!]

ISBN: 9780823423644; Published October 2011 by Holiday House; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie by Laurie Jacobs, illustrated by Anne Jewett

Grandma Tillie is just a boring old lady - all she can do is knit. But when Mom and Dad are gone, Grandma Tillie disappears into the closet and out comes...Tillie Vanilly! She juggles, she dances, she tells silly jokes! Then there's Chef Silly Tillie and her Diner, and Madame Frilly Tillie and her wonderful makeovers. But when it's time for bed, the girls know who they want - just Grandma Tillie, to read a bedtime story.

The cool colors and funny details, like the cat imitating Grandma Tillie as she hams it up, will keep parents and kids in giggles. Kids will recognize familiar family routines and grandparents will enjoy reading this one aloud - and maybe getting a few ideas for babysitting.

Verdict: A delightfully silly story celebrating imagination - and grandmas. It will be a family favorite and will have kids clamoring for rereads.


ISBN: 9780979974687; Published January 2012 by Flashlight Press; Ebook provided for review by publisher; Purchased for the library

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Today's Air Force Heroes by Miriam Aronin

This new addition to Bearport's Acts of Courage: Inside America's Military series offers a variety of high-interest snippets on a topic of interest to many kids - the military.

In our town, quite a few kids have parents, siblings, or relatives in the military. Some of them may be considering military careers themselves. Others are just interested in high action stories of bravery and courage - with dangerous weapons. And who isn't?

The book begins with a very noncommittal and brief introduction to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The focus here is the specific acts of bravery of various soldiers, so the simple introduction is appropriate. It covers the September 11, 2001 attacks and explains why America went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan. Then we are introduced to the heroes of the Air Force.

Senior Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda rescued many people from the attacks on the Pentagon despite his own injuries. Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, a medic, treated and saved many wounded soldiers in a rescue attempt before dying from his own injuries. Captain (now Major) Kim Campbell managed to safely fly a "Warthog" back to base after being hit by enemy fire. Staff Sergeant Earl Covel risked his life to direct the jets coming to the rescue of him and his team. Special Agent Gregory Carmack saved lives by killing a terrorist trying to set off a car bomb.

These stories conclude with more short stories about heroic acts from Air Force members outside of combat - in Hurricane Katrina and in caring for young children in Iraq and Afghanistan.The book concludes with a glossary, bibliography, further resources, index, and links to the publisher's website and more information online.

Each section about the Air Force heroes gives information about their hometowns, medals, and a photograph. Additional information about the Air Force, history of the conflicts, and more is included in the plentiful photographs and captions. The book also shows a diversity of genders and races both in the generic photographs and in the heroes chosen to highlight.

Verdict: This will be a top pick for students who like military history and information and a great supplemental resource for those looking to do reports on contemporary figures. The series includes volumes on the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines as well. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781617724473; Published January 2012 by Bearport; Review copy provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library