Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fox and Crow are NOT Friends by Melissa Wiley, illustrated by Sebastien Braun

Although it's never referenced in the text, Aesop fables and the classic Three Bears story are slyly incorporated into this delightful subversion of the classic Frog and Toad type easy reader.

Fox and Crow, unlike most disparate animals (Frog and Toad, Houndsley and Catina, Cork and Fuzz, Pip and Squeak, etc. etc.) are NOT friends. It all began with the cheese...

The first chapter is a fairly straightforward retelling of the original fable. Crow grabs some cheese from a picnic, Fox flatters her until she drops it. But it doesn't end there. In the second chapter, Crow borrows a few props from the Three Bears to set a trap for Fox and pay him back. Finally, Fox tries to get back at Crow with some more cheese stolen from Mama Bear, but she turns the tables on both him and Crow and they are forced to work together to repair the damage they've done. They're still enemies, but they've learned that revenge doesn't pay!

Wiley's classic, funny, but age-appropriate text is brightened by Sebastien Braun's cartoon illustrations. The sly fox, clever crow, chunks of cheese, and Mama Bear are all simply but skillfully presented, adding just the right amount of color and decoding help to the text.

Verdict: This is a fun new easy reader with a great text and illustrations. I hope these two will collaborate on more stories. I strongly recommend purchasing the library bound edition, as this is one that will be read again and again!

ISBN: 9780375869822; Published 2012 by Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher (added to summer reading prizes); Purchased for the library

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Folktale series

 I'm looking at a selection of folktales from around the world today. This series is produced by Child's World and most of the titles are written by Amanda StJohn.

The Frog King, although it has a lovely cover, immediately strikes a sour note with it's subtitle of "An African Folktale". This is doubly annoying, since it says in the first paragraph that this story is from Kenya. So why does it not say "A Kenyan Folktale"? The other titles don't say "A South American Folktale" or "A Caribbean Islands Folktale".

Deep breath.

The story: A group of frogs croak and play all night, annoying the other animals. The frogs decide they need a king they can respect to keep them in order and go to the god Mmumi. He first gives them a stone, but when that doesn't work and they wake him a second time, he sends Mamba, the first crocodile. The note at the back gives specific information on the origins of the tale, explains some of the Swahili words, and explains...the...moral of the tale? "The Frog King teaches us to speak in a soft voice when playing in a space shared with other people." Um...ok...that's right kids, use your library voice or THE CROCODILE WILL EAT YOU.

Ahem.

Now we move on to Medio Pollito, Half-Chick, a Mexican Folktale (I thought this one came from Spain originally, but I could be wrong...hmm, according to the internet, it did originally come from Spain.) Ok, so Half-Chick wants to see the world and decides to hop off to the nearest town. Along the way he meets a trapped river and a dying fire, both of whom he refuses to help, and a lost wind who he does help. Arriving in the town, he is promptly popped into a pot where the fire and water both refuse to help him. The wind however, blows him out of the pot and up onto the roof where he becomes a weathercock.

According to the back notes, "Folktales don't just entertain. They have a job to do. They teach us to be the best person possible."

Um...ok. Mind you, the version I learned of Medio Pollito had him helping no one, and the wind took pity on him. Either way, he's stuck up on top of a roof.

 The version I've always heard of Frog Went A-Traveling involves a tortoise - the tortoise wants to fly, some birds agree to carry him while he holds a stick in his mouth, he gives way to the urge to brag, and falls to his death. That's pretty much this story, although it's a frog and she has the foresight to get the ducks to fly low, so she lands in the mud.

Apparently this is a Siberian tale - again, why not "A Siberian Folktale" on the front? Also, if you're going to draw a moral this is the one I'd choose - and it's the only one that doesn't have a lesson! Instead, it tells us how folktales are passed down (surprise - lots of people tell them to other people) and gives the reader a natural history lesson on Siberia.

Issun Boshi is a Japanese version of Tom Thumb (or the other way around, if you prefer). An old couple want a child, no matter how small, and they get Issun Boshi, who is only an inch high. He eventually ends up serving a lord and saving his daughter from an evil demon. He then gets the demon's magic hammer and becomes full-size, whereupon the girl falls in love with him and marries him. This, according to the back notes, means that you should never judge based on appearances.

 Finally, the story I think might be the funniest, Bouki Cuts Wood is a Haitian fool tale. Bouki gets into numerous difficulties because of his foolishness and finally ends up thinking he is dead! "Bouki makes silly mistakes so that we can learn from them." Um...ok...should you ever feel the urge to saw a branch off while you're sitting on the end, or think that a bleating goat signifies your death, feel free to reflect upon this story.


Verdict: The text is not too long, readable for an older group, say kindergarten. The art is the best part of these stories; each title has a different artist and the pictures are very attractive. However, the back notes are really laughable and that plus several other minor details I've mentioned above make me suspicious as to how much these stories have been abridged and cleaned up for modern readers. Multicultural folktales (or any folktale really) aren't too popular at our library, so unless you have a big demand for folktales I'd pass. I'd also add that these are available only in library bound editions and cost over $20.

The Frog King retold by Amanda StJohn, illustrated by Karen Perrins
ISBN: 9781609731373

Medio Pollito retold by Amanda StJohn, illustrated by Sue Todd
ISBN: 9781609731410

Frog Went A-Traveling retold by Amanda StJohn, illustrated by David Wenzel
ISBN: 9781609731366

Issun Boshi retold by Nadia Higgens, illustrated by JT Morrow
ISBN: 9781609731397

Bouki cuts wood retold by Amanda StJohn, illustrated by Cindy Revell
ISBN: 9781609731359

Published 2011 by Child's World; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, October 27, 2012

This week at the library; or, Where did everyone goooo?

Programs
  • 24th, 10am, Preschool Interactive
  • 25th, 3:30-5pm, Lego Club
  • 26th, 10am, We Explore Giant Boxes
Random Commentary
  • No matter how we try to schedule, staff always end up absent at the same time. We have such a small pool of staff that any absence sends large ripples. With both our director and adult services librarian out this week I was thinking it would be pretty crazy, but torrential rain kept things mostly calm. Some huge chunks on the desk, which are exhausting, but I keep reminding myself that it's only a few days!
  • Of course the computer broke down
  • And the patrons were annoyed over various mishaps
  • As was I
  • But that's life at the library
  • I spent most of the end part of the week (when not on the desk) getting ready for the holiday session of programs. Printing flyers, finishing publicity, etc. Now I just have to plan the programs...
  • I was pleased to see that, although I have not added all my October numbers yet (still need Books 'n' Babies, Tiny Tots, and Family Game Night) our stats currently total 1,065. It's been a good month.
Approximate hours this week
  • Monday, 11:40-8:00
  • Tuesday, 9-4:15
  • Wednesday, 9-5
  • Thursday 8:40-5:45
  • Friday 9-1ish
  • Saturday 9:50-10

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood by Barb Bentler Ullman

Willa is relieved when she and her mom move out to Plunkit, a small rural town near her uncle. The divorce was bad enough, with her dad moving across the country to go back to school and live with his brother and her perfect cousins, but living with Grandma Cookie is awful. The constant fighting between her mom and grandmother makes Willa even more stressed and she's always sick and miserable.

Out in the country, she finally feels like she can breathe. She doesn't care when they move into a trashy trailer; they can fix it up (and do). She loves the mysterious forest, even if she is a little worried by some of the strange things she sees. She also loves their elderly and eccentric neighbor, Hazel Wickett, who doesn't have electricity or indoor plumbing. Hazel takes care of Willa while her mom works in her new job in the used book store in town. As Hazel and Willa become friends, and Hazel begins to tell Willa magical stories, Willa's life takes a turn for the better and she realizes that divorce doesn't mean the end of everything. With new hope, new friends, and a reaffirmed belief in her family's love, she's ready to face new challenges and enjoy life in Plunkit.

On the one hand, the descriptions are beautiful, the "is it magic or not?" aspect of the fairies was handled very well and Willa is a strongly realized and emotional character, showing some of the physical consequences of stressful family situations. The story falls just on the acceptable side of the Southern Quirky line for me. On the other hand, many of the characters and situations were too good to be true, so this falls firmly in the fantasy genre for that reason alone. I found it hard to see Willa as a real nine year old. I can't think of any nine year old, urban, modern kid who wouldn't complain a single time about moving out to the country with no tv or spending their days helping an elderly woman with pioneer style chores (outhouse, laundry by hand, pumping water, etc.). Willa occasionally mentions that she's a little tired of the work and it's hard, but she never whines or complains. Willa's mom gets a job in the used book store right away; how many small towns have a used book store? She seems to think it will be fairly easy to make a living from the store in what is described as a very, very small town...that still has a general store and other familiar features of 1950s small town life. Finally, the teenage Vincent in the subplot is also a little too nice to be true and his dad's sudden conversion is hard to believe.

Verdict: A good effort for a first novel, but the characters just aren't very realistic. It feels like the author was really writing a fantasy/historical fiction and then decided to throw in some contemporary references. Kids who love the miniature and don't mind wish-fulfillment stories will still enjoy this though.

ISBN: 9780060736149; Published 2006 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A million miles from Boston by Karen Day

As I'm working with unbounded determination down to the bottom of my to read/to review pile, I pulled up the last of a stack of "growing up experiences at the beach" summer reads I picked up at ALA Midwinter 2011. (Others include Lexie and Junonia, in case you were wondering).

I skimmed this at the time I got it and enjoyed the bits I read, but I only now finally had the time to give it the thorough reading it deserved.

Lucy can't wait to get to Pierson Point, Maine, where her family spends the summer. She's worried about middle school, where she'll be a seventh grader, tired of dealing with annoying Ian, and best of all her dad's new girlfriend Julia won't be around. Lucy still grieves for her mother, who died six years ago, and Julia is starting to feel way too permanent.

As in her previous middle grade fiction title, Tall Tales, Karen Day writes with realism, warmth, and hope, showing a family dealing with difficult issues but working together to grow stronger. The theme throughout this story is change; Lucy has trouble dealing with changes and desperately wants to leave all her worries behind when she goes up to Maine for the summer, but they just follow her there and she can't ignore them. Even though she continually pushes her away, it's Julia who, in the end, helps Lucy deal with all the emotions and worries she's facing and become a stronger, more mature person.

Verdict: Not just a realistic, strongly written coming of age story, this is also just a great story with humor, tears, and a happy, hopeful ending. Kids who like good realistic fiction will enjoy this story all year round, although it will probably be easiest to book talk it as a beach read.

ISBN: 9780385738996; Published April 2011 by Wendy Lamb/Random House; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter; Purchased for the library (ARC donated to summer book giveaway)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated Amanda Hall

As I'm sure I've muttered about before, I don't like picture book biographies. I especially don't like picture book biographies about artists. I really especially don't like picture book biographies about artists that don't include any of the original art.

But, completely against my will, I found this picture book biography about an artist which has none of his original art to be AMAZING.

Michelle Markel's text is beautiful. It's imaginative, simple, lyrical, and quotable. She tells the story of Rousseau who, at the age of 40, decides to paint. He studies, practices, and goes on painting despite the negative comments of critics and experts. His art unfolds his imagination, revealing his love of nature, color, and adventure. Slowly he becomes accepted by artists and finally by the critics, although he is never a great financial success in his own lifetime. But he doesn't care and continues to paint the marvelous dreams he sees in his head.

I think what really made this book work for me were Amanda Hall's paintings. While completely original, they are strongly reminiscent of Rousseau's work. They're a more softened and child-like vision, if that makes sense. There are rich colors, odd perspectives, and strong shapes, just like the originals. There is one illustration of a lion attacking a deer that might be a little scary for sensitive children (and parents). However, the overall impression is of humor and warmth. Rousseau himself is painted seriously, but never taken seriously, adding to the light, imaginative tone of the story.

Verdict: I really enjoyed this story and while I wouldn't purchase it for my library (no matter how awesome they are, picture book biographies just do. not. circulate.) I'd strongly recommend it for a larger collection or a library where picture book biographies are popular.

ISBN: 9780802853646; Published 2012 by Eerdmans; Review copy provided by the publisher and used in special library giveaway

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This week at the library; or, Puppets and rain and school visits

Programs
  • 17th, 10am, Preschool Interactive
  • 17th, 1:30pm, Daycare visit (offsite)
  • 18th, 9:30am, Daycare visits (offsite)
  • 18th, 10:45am, Kindergarten visit (offsite)
  • 18th, 3:30pm, Messy Art Club Monster boxes and monster bookmarks
  • 19th, 9:30am, Lakeland Little Learners tours
  • 19th, 10am, We Explore Kohls Wild Theater
Random Commentary
  • Last day of vacation on Monday. Ahhh, vacation.
  • Small and somewhat annoyed groups on Tuesday for Miss Pattie's Toddlers 'n' Books. WHY is the parking lot full and WHY are some empty spots blocked off? Answer: Bloodborne pathogen city workshop in the community room and they're working on the parking lot sealing cracks and repainting lines.
  • Entire parking lot blocked off on Wednesday morning when I came in, but a fair number of people showed up so they must have finished and unblocked it at some point.
  • Need to buckle down and make calls for We Explore sessions for the winter/spring because if I want the community room I have to book it NOW!
  • Suddenly realized Wednesday night that I had been thinking "I have time, I have time" to put together a plan for the 5 consecutive tours from Lakeland on Friday (led by the teachers, 20 kids each. I have not yet learned how to clone myself) and then I looked at my Thursday schedule and..uh...realized that the beautifully scripted tours in my head were probably not going to come to fruition. Ran through a frantic variety of tours whilst doing back to back outreach, desk time, and programming Thursday. Finally decided Thursday night to split the 100 kids into two groups, have our adult svs librarian run the upstairs, me the downstairs, switch, and that's it.
  • Did you see those late hours on Thursday? I stayed 45 minutes late to clean up and set up for Kohls Wild Theater, including taking down all the tables and stacking the chairs. I showed up early on Friday morning and THE WHOLE ROOM WAS FULL OF TABLES. Major miscommunication between city guys and parks and recreation department. Had to grab random staff to break everything down again and then the guys had to come set everything up again. Argh! (that's not what I said when I saw the tables, but this is a family-friendly blog)
Approximate Hours This Week
  • Tuesday 8:30-4:30
  • Wednesday 8:50-5:00
  • Thursday 9:30-6:15
  • Friday 8:45-4:30

Friday, October 19, 2012

Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin

I've been seeing reviews and mentions of this comic here and there for a while, and finally decided just to buy a copy of the first volume.

Princess Adrienne thinks the whole classic fairy tale, princess in a tower story is ridiculous. When it comes to her turn, she's certainly not going to...one drugged dinner later, she's stuck in a tower, guarded by a dragon, listening to the crunching of tasty princes. However, when she discovers a sword under her bed and realizes she doesn't want her guardian dragon Sparky to die, she sets out to rescue her sisters and start a revolt. Along the way she'll deal with annoying armor, discover a secret benefactor, and run some dangerous risks before she's finally ready to set out on her quest.

The story is a funny take on all the classic fairy tale tropes and although this particular type of satire isn't new (sorry folks, people have been inverting fairy tale tropes for a long time but Disney still sells millions in Passive Princess) it's certainly funny. The dark-skinned heroine is a fresh touch and while there's plenty of stories about princesses deciding to rescue themselves, few of them scream insults out the window of their towers at the princes. Again, I can name several fantasy stories where the dragon is rescued, but most of them don't address the issue of how difficult it is to ride a dragon. The superhero jokes in the obligatory "why do warrior women get chain mail bikinis?" chapter are very funny as well. I thought making Adrienne's twin brother effeminate was annoyingly overdoing the trope-flipping and her father is a rather terrifying ogre of a man, but those are minor plot points.

The art is colorful and the characters have great expressions. As is clear from the back matter and the jokes, they're going for an anti-Disney and the art has a very cinematic feel. It's easy to see this as an animated feature. The additional story about the last luckless prince to attempt to rescue Adrienne is funny in a rather dark way, but there's several grim touches just below the surface throughout the comic and this fits in with those.

Verdict: Funny, definitely some fresh touches, and the art will appeal to kids. However, this is an independently produced comic and probably won't be available through most library vendors. It's a pretty small format paperback and has a very skinny gutter, losing the edges of most of the panels in the binding. I don't know if it was just a printer's error or if the whole run had this, but there's a major flaw, two vertical lines, running down the center of every page. I'm also a little doubtful about the "all ages" rating they've given themselves. Some of the chain mail costumes are extremely suggestive, many of the subtle parodies will pass over kids' heads, and there's quite a bit of underlying violence and terror. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn't purchase it for the library.

ISBN: 9781450798945; Published April 2012 by Action Lab/Firetower Studios; Purchased by myself (got my local comic shop to order it for me, but I'm sharing it with Sara the Librarian.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Margaret and the Moth Tree by Kari and Brit Trogen

First, let's just get this out of the way: This book does not have a good cover. It may very well have some artistic merits I am unaware of, but speaking as a librarian and purchaser of children's books, I must say that it looks like something photoshopped off the internet for a self-published book without an editor.

Now that we've dealt with that, I have to say that while I didn't feel justified in purchasing this book because of said cover, I really wanted to read it. The description sounded tantalizing, "Lemony Snicket meets Charlotte's Web" and I do like orphan stories (although I'm not a fan of Snicket).

Margaret, orphaned at a young age and suffering mild neglect from two elderly relatives in turn, finds herself at an orphanage. There Miss Switch tyrannizes over the luckless orphans and Margaret finds herself ostracized by all. But her amazing ability to listen, honed in her early years, returns and she becomes friends with a tree of moths who eventually help her turn the tables on Miss Switch and set all the orphans free forever.

I enjoyed reading this story, and it's certainly a quick read at less than 100 pages, something I would love to see more of in middle grade fiction. However, it's really a mish-mash of a variety of classic stories and tropes and it's not surprising to learn that the authors "decided to write a story together while on a road trip" as it definitely has that "and THEN" feel of a serial bedtime story.

There are Snicketish asides from the author, Matilda-like pranks on a nasty grown-up, who incidentally bears a strong resemblance in many ways to the evil orphanage matron of Annie, and a final farewell with the moths that clearly bears tribute to E. B. White.

Verdict: I like the length and there's definitely a promising imagination at work here, as well as fairly decent writing, but this was very derivative and there were one too many lectures on bullies and inner beauty. I'd be interested to see if the authors develop their writing skills and try again though.

ISBN: 9781554538232; Published April 2012 by Kids Can Press; Egalley copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: America's Hidden Animal Treasures by Stephen Person

Today I've got two samples from one of Bearport's new animal series, America's Hidden Animal Treasures.

The first title, Cougar: A cat with many names, focuses mainly on the habitat and behavior of cougars with some stories of encounters and discussion of conservation efforts. It discusses the problems with their need for extensive territories and increased building in what used to be wilderness areas. There are also comparisons with similar animals, like bobcats, and details on how they raise their cubs.

Back matter includes facts about cougars, organizations that help them, a glossary, bibliography of web sources, additional titles to read, and a link to Bearport's "learn more online" feature.

I would have liked to see a little more discussion of the humans vs. cougars issues and perhaps a little more history, but this was a very interesting title with lots of photographs and age-appropriate text.

Roseate Spoonbill: Pretty in Pink has a similar format, with features on the spoonbill's life cycle, habitat, threatened status, and the scientists who study them. I felt that this one was a little better in organization. It still touches very briefly on different topics, but gives enough information that a young reader could do additional research. I also like the feature of the narrative sections being about the scientists studying the spoonbills. The chapters include biologist Jerry Lorenz' study of spoonbills, the birds' habitat, food, similar species, mating and reproduction, hatchlings, and more. There are two full-page spreads dedicated to the spoonbill's history with humans and those who have tried to protect them. The discussion of threats they face was very clear and simple, but didn't make the issues too simplistic. This book contains the same set of back matter information as the cougar title does.

Verdict: Bearport has another strong series here featuring a unique set of animals and interesting viewpoints. There's enough information for homework but also plenty of photographs and interesting facts. An excellent selection to fill in or update your animal section.

Cougar: A cat with many names by Stephen Person
ISBN: 9781617725692; Published fall 2012 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to library (and other titles in series purchased for the library)

Roseate Spoonbill: Pretty in pink by Stephen Person
ISBN: 9781617725708; Published fall 2012 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to library (and other titles in series purchased for the library)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

This week at the library; or, Insert your own humorous comment here

Only a few days left to nominate for Cybils! Somebody please, please nominate my beloved North by Nick Dowson...

Programs
  • Preschool Interactive, Wednesday at 10
  • Lego Club, Thursday 3:30-5
Random Commentary
  • This was a pretty easy week to make up for last week. Miss Pattie was doing We Explore (multicultural/healthy snacking program) so I took Friday off and pretty much all I did all week was publicity, help out at circ (new staff member being trained), work on scheduling, etc.
  • I also had a couple of meetings with various people to discuss budget, programming for the winter/spring sessions, etc.
Approximate Hours This Week
  • Monday, 12-8
  • Tuesday, 9-2
  • Wednesday, 9-5
  • Thursday, 9:30-5:30
  • Didn't quite manage lunch every day, and of course was sick again, but I'm working on it. Less than 40 hours! To make up for working a gazillion last week...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Frank n Stan by M. P. Robertson

Copyright Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2012. All rights reserved. Art by M.P. Robertson. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.
"Franklin P. Shelley often asked his mother if he could have a brother or sister but she just said, 'We'll see'."

With this simple opening line, M. P. Robertson introduces a new and delightful twist on both the classic Frankenstein story and the classic new sibling picture book plot. Unlike most children in new sibling books, Frank is actively intent on acquiring a younger sibling. With some ingenuity, robotics, spare parts, and hard work, he achieves his desire. Stan is everything Frank wanted in a brother, even if he's not quite what their parents had expected. He's soon part of the family. But, eagle-eyed readers following the changes in Frank's mom won't be surprised when Frank is suddenly presented with a baby sister, Mary. Just like Stan, Mary is soon part of the family. However, Stan feels left out and useless and it takes some love from both Frank and Mary to convince him he's still an important part of the family.

Robertson's art is the main draw of this picture book. As you can see in the samples, it's endlessly detailed with delightful nonsensical notes (Frank's vintage clothing), mechanical details in Stan's construction, and hidden jokes. Robertson's art always reminds me of a colored version of Brian Selznick and incipient fans will enjoy the elegant pen and watercolor illustrations that make up Robertson's steampunk world.

Verdict: Parents looking for a more positive take on the new sibling theme will snatch this one up, as will kids who like robots, funny stories, and enjoy poring over detailed illustrations. There are plenty of jokes for adults as well, so repeated readings won't bore parents. An excellent addition to any library's picture book collection, especially for older readers/listeners.

ISBN: 9781847801302; Published October 2012 by Frances Lincoln; Review copy provided by publisher; Added to the library
Copyright Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2012. All rights reserved. Art by M.P. Robertson. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tua and the elephant by R. P. Harris, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

Tua is exploring the market in her town, Chiang Ma, Thailand, when she meets a very special friend; an elephant. She rescues Pohn-Pohn from her cruel mahouts and the two set off together on a delightful journey, full of adventure and excitement, looking for a safe home for Pohn-Pohn.

This is a beautiful little book, not just in the sun-drenched pictures of Taeeun Yoo, but in the whole design. The purple and gold motif is spread throughout the pages, including the deep purple font and the small designs on each page. Yoo's illustrations show the cheeky Tua, her new friend Pohn-Pohn, and the friends and enemies she encounters on their marvelous journey, with an affectionate warmth.

The Thai words sprinkled throughout the text are generally easy to understand from the context, but I would still like to have had a glossary - and a pronunciation guide. The story ends rather neatly and there are a few places where the story leans towards infodump, but on the whole this is a wonderful debut story.

Verdict: Fans of Kate Dicamillo will enjoy the combination of dreamy storytelling and lightly fantastic journey similar to The Tale of Despereaux. The story is compact, just about 200 pages, and perfect for the younger side of middle grade. Hand it to kids who like gentle adventures, parents looking for a good read-aloud (see, pronunciation guide needed!) and those who like animal friendship stories.

ISBN: 9780811877817; Published 2012 by Chronicle Books; Borrowed from the library; Added to the library's wishlist

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Moonbird by Philip Hoose

The Moonbird, a rufa red knot, has survived twenty years and thousands of miles of migration between Tierra del Fuego and the Arctic. Despite declining populations, threatened habitats, and dwindling food, he continues to make the amazing journey.

Hoose follows the bird, also called B95 after one of his bands, through the migratory cycle. Along the way, the reader learns about how these birds change their body composition in order to survive flying nonstop for days. We meet the scientists and activities who work with shorebirds and follow along in their discoveries over the years.

The story includes profiles of and interviews with scientists and activities, an appendix with ways youth can get involved from simple science projects to large organizations, extensive  source notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index. There are stunning pictures of the rufas and other shorebirds, maps, and aerial pictures of the hidden places the rufas use on their migration.

I found Hoose's profiles of the various scientists involved really interesting, as he details their varied backgrounds. Some were previously teachers or secretaries; others talk about their childhood and how they became fascinated by shorebirds. Hoose's text is dense but not overwhelming. He writes simply but with undeniable enthusiasm. The reader becomes drawn in by the powerful story of this one amazing bird; I was fascinated to discover that he's been sighted again, just a few months ago. Still going strong at over twenty years old!

I was intrigued by an earlier title about arctic migration that came out this year, North by Nick Dowson, and it was interesting to read a more detailed account of one of the animals that undertakes this amazing journey. I fell into the pace of the story and it's certainly well-written and researched. But will kids read it? Middle grade nonfiction is often a hard sell. Younger kids love to read about strange animals, weather, disasters, castles, weapons, you name it. Older kids are pickier. They're busy, the books often look too much like picture books, there's too much text, the vocabulary is too challenging. Many schools relentlessly focus on fiction, to the extent that by middle grade most kids don't consider nonfiction really "reading" (nor do their parents, an argument I'm frankly a little sick of having with patrons. If they're not refusing to let their kids read anything that looks like a picture book "those are for babies, my child needs chapter books" they're telling the kids they can't read anything above their lexile level, which pretty much rules out most nonfiction - Moonbird is an 1150, so way out of reach of most kids who read by lexile). The story of Moonbird is fascinating, but it reads at a slower pace than kids used to the rapid plots of popular fiction and movies will like. The outdoor explorations that many of the scientists credit for their interest in shorebirds rarely happen for kids anymore, not even the kids in my small, quasi-rural town, unless you count the ones hanging around the gas station in the evenings and they're not looking for birds.

Are you depressed yet? I am. However, we soldier on. There will be kids with a scientific bent, interested in animals, who will pick this up. The story of Moonbird has a good hook for booktalking - a bird that has flown thousands of miles around the globe and continues to defy expectations and survive under increasingly difficult circumstances. There are parents who encourage their kids to read what they're interested in and don't care about lexiles (at least in the summer). I'm currently focusing on updating our history section and animal books for younger children, but I don't regret purchasing this title as part of my ongoing, uphill battle to get kids to explore the world and go outside!

ISBN: 9780374304683; published July 2012 by Farrar Straus Giroux; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cybils 2012: The Review Round-Up

This is not an exhaustive list, because that would be too exhausting! Note that some of the links will take you over to my reviews at No Flying No Tights and some to my short reaction bits at Flying Off My Bookshelf.

Graphic Novels Middle/Elementary 
Graphic Novels Teen 
Fiction Picture Books
Non-Fiction Middle/Teen 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

This week at the library; or, New and Relaxed Librarian. Sort of.

Nominate for Cybils! Only a week left!

Programs
  • Homeschool meeting, Monday at 10. This is the new "hands off" group that is going to use the library to meet. I wasn't here, but I hear it went well and lots of people came. They're going to meet regularly at the library. I hear they were a little noisy, but that's easily remedied with a polite reminder to use library voices! (personally, I don't care about noisy - or moms hanging out to chat - but I'm not there)
  • 1st grade visits, Tuesday and Wednesday at 9am Tour, read The Three Ninja Pigs (a little worried about the use of "butt" but no complaints), Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs, and Elephant and Piggie Let's Go for a drive. We decorated giant gingerbread people afterwards and most of them made ninjas.
  • 2nd grade visits, Tuesday and Wednesday at 1pm Tour, I took one class to the basement, most of them have had the standard tour by now! read Creepy Carrots, Big Mean Mike (agh! horrible rip in my new book that some idiot mended with PACKING TAPE), Goldilocks and the three dinosaurs, and Let's go for a drive. Gingerbread people afterwards. Wednesday group was a pretty tough one and they didn't get to see the basement, but they enjoyed the stories.
  • Preschool Interactive, Wednesday at 10 Some old friends back - no 4k today.
  • Messy Art Club, Thursday at 3:30 New and relaxed librarian was not relaxed - tons of people showed up, we ran out of pumpkins, I had to scrub paint off the floor (one little girl did tell another "that's not the custodian, that's the librarian!" could have fooled me, kid) and I am going to A. never do paint in the community room again and B. institute registration starting in the winter session.
  • We Explore Outdoors, Friday at 10 Ah, a program I did not have to plan! Barb Converse from the Ice Age Trail Alliance came over to walk through the library with me on Monday and we discussed ways and means of doing her program - We're going on a mammoth hunt. She also set up an awesome display in the lobby. She came early Friday morning with three helpers and set up, and we went on a mammoth hunt through the library. It was AWESOME. About 35 people came, there was tons of stuff to touch, and the giant mammoth costume was a huge hit.
Random Commentary
  • Not sick! Determined to release guilt, relax, and walk every day. Now worrying that I am not relaxed enough...
  • Storywagon committee on Tuesday. We chose a number of tentative performers, 4 top choices and some backups if they're not available. We also revised the reading log for the summer and decided to use my teen review sheet. Yay me! Realized afterwards that I need to revise it to be more general and less library-specific.
  • Got lured into being the on-call staff person for the Friends Book Donation Drive.
Approximate Hours This Week
  • Monday 12-8
  • Tuesday 8:45-5
  • Wednesday 8:50-4:10
  • Thursday 8:45-6
  • Friday 9:30-6
  • Saturday 9:45-1
  • Lunch every day AND vegetables and fruit! Still working on sticking to 40 hours...will work on cutting back on work from home at a future point.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Eighth grade is making me sick: Ginny Davis' year in stuff by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Elicia Castaldi

"I'll just flick through it" I thought, when it arrived on my desk, shiny and new from processing. Ten minutes later, I had read a large chunk of the ending (yes, I read endings first. Live with it.). Later that day, review copies arrived from Random House, including the same shiny title. At home, I thought again, "I'll just take another quick look..."

I finally bowed to the inevitable, started at the beginning, and read the whole thing. I've never read Middle School is Worse than Meat Loaf, although I frequently recommend it as a read-alike for Wimpy Kid fans.  However, it's not necessary to read the first book to pick up the plot and get drawn into the story. It's surprisingly easy to pick up the plot from the sticky notes, emails, lists, pictures, poetry assignments and other "stuff" that comprises the book.

Ginny is excited about eighth grade. She has plans and everything is going great. But one by one things go wrong. Her mom gets pregnant, her older brother gets into serious trouble, her stepdad loses his job, and she feels sick all the time. With no money, her plans with friends get cancelled and it seems like nothing is working out. In the end, some issues are resolved, some are not, but Ginny has survived eighth grade and is ready for big changes like moving across the country and high school.

Ginny's stress is so real I started feeling sick along with her! It's easy for an adult reader to see her mistakes and some of her family difficulties coming, but Ginny's reactions and behavior are completely typical of a teen her age. I can look at her behavior and match it up perfectly with the attitudes of my after school middle school teens!

I went back and forth on where to place this book - eighth grade is really "teen" but I hate splitting series and there's nothing really inappropriate in the title. Kids tend to read up anyways, so we decided to put this one in juvenile fiction. I suppose it could have gone into graphic novels now that I think of it, but I'm not changing the spine label now!

Verdict: Whether or not you have the first title (and you should) this is a great book for reluctant readers or kids who like realistic fiction and want a fast read. Holm and Castaldi have done an excellent job blending their story and art together. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780375868511; Published August 2012 by Random House; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Paranormalists Case 1: Haunting of Apartment 101 by Megan Atwood

Darby Creek is Lerner's imprint that publishes titles for beginning and struggling readers. Some of their titles, like Pamela Service's Alien Agent series, are awesome.

This title is not awesome and I was disappointed.

Jane was ignored in middle school and kids never remembered her name, so now she goes by Jinx, wears black clothes, dyes her hair, is hostile to everyone, and trusts no one except her family and Jackson. Jackson is a quarterback on the sophomore football team, universally popular, but still hurting from his dad's death four years ago.

Recently, Jinx has finally gotten her Paranormalists website/blog up and running and is determined to track down some real ghosts, which Jackson will then exorcise (not that he's sure how this works, but that's his part of the team). But Jinx is furious when Jackson insists on helping Emily, one of the high school kids who always forgot Jinx's name in middle school. Using Jinx's tech and Jackson's research, they discover the secret to the terrifying haunting going on in Emily's apartment, but the discovery will also destroy their friendship.

This is the first title in a series and presumably the characters will be fleshed out more in additional installments, but the writing is bland and choppy and the characters are unrealistic. The main characters, Jinx and Jackson, are cardboard cutouts and tell the reader what they're feeling, instead of showing through the story. Their behavior is more like middle school students and it's hard to believe they're in high school.

>For example - the reader is constantly told how popular Jackson is, but his actions and behavior don't support this. Basically, he's a high school quarterback who shows no interest in girls and doesn't spend time with anyone but Jinx (and an occasional hanging out with the football team).

Jinx is "a freak," because she dyes her hair, wears black clothes and is reputed to deal in black magic. She sounds pretty Goth to me but among the various school cliques, she doesn't list Goths - is she the only one in the entire school - a school large enough to have separate football teams for each grade level? Would she really stick out that much in a school this size? And if she has no friends, how did word get around about her transformation during the summer before her freshman year? Jinx's character also doesn't fit with her sudden infatuation with one of the teachers (mentioned several times in one chapter and then never referenced again).

How, exactly, does having kids forget your name in middle school (in what must have been a huge school) translate to never being able to trust anyone? Why does Jackson demand that Jinx completely and absolutely trust him? Creepy! If Jackson was really so popular, he should have had friends to share with Jinx. Does Jackson actually have any friends other than Jinx? It doesn't look like it.

Finally, why is Jinx's mom concerned about Jackson? If I had a daughter who, in the summer between middle school and high school had a major personality change and became hostile, pathologically unable to trust anyone, and had no friends other than one boy all because no one paid attention to her, she's the one I'd be concerned about! I find it hard to believe that parents strict enough to set a curfew aren't concerned about Jinx's attitude (or the amount of time Jackson hangs out in her bedroom) and let her go off to a sleepover with a girl they don't know.

Verdict: The ghost hunting plot would make a passable middle grade novel or even a good teen title for struggling readers, but only if you completely rewrote the main characters. Their behavior and motivations don't make sense and the awkward and choppy writing style is hard to read. Not recommended.

ISBN: 9780761383321; Published October 2012 by Darby Creek/Lerner; Egalley provided by publisher through Netgalley

Monday, October 1, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: The house of a million pets by Ann Hodgman, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

We've had this nonfiction chapter book for a while and it's pretty popular with kids, when it's displayed. Nobody goes looking for chapter books in the 600's. When I started reading it, the author said that she was always being asked by kids why she didn't write a story about her pets, since she was a writer.

"Huh, she's an author?" I thought. "I've never heard of her." Ironically enough, this nonfiction title that she wrote after her other books seems to be the most popular thing she did. Her other titles are mostly Apple paperbacks and midlist, out of print selections.

Each chapter tells about a different pet she's owned, with sections in between like "Some of the best things about prairie dogs" and "The stupidest thing I've ever said about an animal." The stories are funny, gross, sad, and heartwarming in turn. Some of the animals die, some of them cause problems. She makes mistakes in trying to rehabilitate some wild animals and worries about purchasing exotic species.

This isn't a "how to" book for keeping pets. It's more an autobiography focusing on one aspect of the author's life; her beloved animals. Personally, it isn't the type of book I'd pick up. I don't like books about pets, and my own very unsentimental approach to animals makes me suspect that we are not kindred spirits. I also found the narrative to have a rather strong "and THEN" plod to it. However, kids who are obsessed with the care and keeping of animals really adore this title. There aren't a lot of nonfiction chapter books about this subject for kids and it's certainly funny and has a lot of variety.

Verdict: I don't know that I'd recommend adding this one unless you've got a really large population of older kids wanting pet stories, but if you have it I'd keep it!

ISBN: 9780805079746; Published 2007 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library (before my time)