Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cybils Statistics

It is the Eve of Cybils Shortlist announcements!

Every year I've done something a little different for a Cybils statistics post. My first year, 2009 (Easy Readers/Early Chapters), I posted a list of all my reviews and what I was doing with the review copies. In 2010, (Fiction Picture Books) I reviewed every single title and had only energy enough for a quick commentary on the shortlists of various categories by the end. In 2011 (Nonfiction Picture Books), I posted a more complex shortlist commentary, but I also broke down all the nonfiction nominations by subject, type of illustration, etc. In 2012 I was on the Graphic panel and also took over Nonfiction Picture Books as category chair. I posted a list of all the Cybils titles I purchased for my library as well as a break-down of the graphic nominations by genre. I also posted a reflection on collaboration and the benefits of Cybils (in addition to reading lots of great books!).

This year I have a running list of every Cybils nomination I've reviewed, but I also returned to my first love, Easy Readers/Early Chapters and continued as chair of the newly reorganized Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction categories. SO MUCH DATA. I've mostly looked at titles libraries would have on their shelves, so the data doesn't include several self-published or very small press items. My library is in a consortium of 42 libraries, with access to a huge range of libraries across the state, in case you're wondering if I had a truly representative sample.

Early Chapters: 44 nominations
  • 30 titles (estimate) were entries in a series. 2 titles from the same series were nominated from 3 series.
Early Chapters: The protagonists
  • Girls
    • Amelia Bedelia means business
    • Clementine and the spring trip
    • Nancy Clancy secret admirer
    • Heidi Heckelbeck goes to camp
    • Ivy and Bean take the case
    • Kelsey Green, reading queen
    • Like bug juice on a burger
    • Lulu and the cat in the bag
    • Lulu and the dog from the sea
    • My happy life
    • Princess Posey and the new first grader
    • Starring Jules as herself
    • Starring Jules in drama-rama
    • Stella Batts who's in charge
    • Big hairy secret
    • Gum girl: chews your destiny
    • Two and only Kelly twins
    • Violet Mackerel's natural habitat
    • Violet Mackerel's remarkable recovery
  • Boys
    • Calvin Coconut extra famous
    • Danny's doodles
    • Ellray Jakes and the beanstalk
    • Gone fishing
    • Home sweet horror
    • Iggy Loomis
    • Super Schnoz
    • Life of Ty penguin problems
    • Notebook of Doom: rise of the balloon goons
    • Dragonbreath: the case of the toxic mutants
  • Group of indistinguishable friends OR gender not clearly defined OR both genders get equal time
    • No-Sneeze Pet
    • Campfire crisis
    • Jo Schmo shifty business
    • Milo and Jazz, case of the locked box
    • Sidney and Sydney: Third Grade Mix-Up
  • Other: Adults, anthropomorphic adult animals, inanimate objects, etc.
    • Mysterious traveler
    • Barefoot book of Jewish tales
    • Three-Ring Circus 
    • Claude in the city
    • Arnie the Doughnut
Early Chapters: Other data
  • Children with divorced parents
    • Calvin Coconut
    • Violet Mackerel
    • Calvin Waffle (secondary character in Danny's Doodles)
  • Children with deceased parents
    • My happy life
    • Big hairy secret
    • Third grade mix-up
    • Home sweet horror
  • Children of color (has to be main protagonist, not a friend thrown in for the purposes of diversity)
    • Calvin Coconut
    • Ellray Jakes
    • Lulu (2 titles)
    • Mysterious Traveler
    • Milo and Jazz
    • Gum Girl
  • Children in poverty or lower middle class (or at least not in suburban middle class or wealthier; this is hard to define)
    • Clementine
    • Big hairy secret
Genres (other than contemporary, realistic fiction (home/school/friends)
  • Fantasy (4 of these are faux superheroes)
    • Dragonbreath
    • Big hairy secret
    • Iggy Loomis
    • Shifty business
    • Super Schnoz
    • Gum girl
  • Horror
    • Home sweet horror
    • Notebook of doom
  • Other
    • Arnie the doughnut
    • Claude in the city
    • Mysterious traveler
    • Barefoot book of Jewish tales
    • Three-ring rascals
Easy Readers: 39 nominations
  • Picture Book Tie-Ins:
    • Fancy Nancy Apples Galore
    • Splat the cat blow snow blow
    • Very Fairy Princess teacher's pet
    • Tony Baloney school rules
  • Seuss-Style Silliness
    • Pet named Sneaker
    • Squirrels on skis
  • 2 Friends (adult - Frog and Toad style)
    • Ant and Honey Bee
    • Bink and Gollie best friends forever
    • Dodsworth in Tokyo
    • Inch and Roly and the very small hiding place
    • Joe and Sparky go to school
    • Monkey and elephant get better
    • Mr. Putter and Tabby drop the ball
    • Pinch and Dash and the terrible couch
  • 2 Friends (children)
    • Elephant and Piggie (2 titles)
    • Fly Guy and the Frankenfly
    • Ling and Ting share a birthday
    • Monkey and robot
    • Spooky friends
    • You can do it
  • Graphic Novels
    • Elephant and Piggie (2 titles)
    • Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas
    • Otto's backwards day
    • Patrick eats his peas
    • Robot go bot
    • Big wet balloon
  • Other
    • Car goes far
    • Dig Scoop Ka-Boom
    • Love is in the air
    • Me too!
    • Missy's super duper royal deluxe class pets
    • Murilla Gorilla jungle detective
    • Penny and her marble
    • Poppy the pirate dog
    • Buddy to the rescue
    • Squirrel's fun day
    • Meanest birthday girl
    • Twinky the dinky dog
    • Urgency Emergency big bad wolf

Monday, December 30, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree by Jane Kohuth, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles

I'm generally skeptical about biographies for very young children - I don't think they have the context to really be interested in historical figures, which is why, in my opinion, picture book biographies really only work in schools, where teachers can introduce them in the context of classroom units. However, this easy reader biography of Anne Frank really, really works and I was surprised and pleased to see how good it was.

The story talks briefly about how Anne was an ordinary little girl, who liked to play with her friends, write, and collect pictures of movie stars. It explains the Nazi invasion in simple terms and shows their persecution of Jews without being too graphic or frightening. Most of the story focuses on Anne's life in hiding and how, despite the difficulty and sadness of her life, she still maintained hope, as symbolized by the chestnut tree. The story ends by explaining that although Anne did not survive the war, she lives on in her words and in the hope and kindness she believed in.

This is a level 3 Step Into Reading title, intended for 1st through 3rd grade. The language still has the brief, declarative sentences of an easy reader, but more complex vocabulary (collected, thoughts, opinions, memories, complained, etc.) is included as well as the more complex context of the story itself. The art is soft and pastel, conveying the fear and sadness of the story without making it nightmarish. The dark, earth-colored art doesn't do as well in the final illustrations, showing Anne's legacy and the hope she left behind though.

Verdict: I would definitely recommend this for a public library. It's a great introduction to Anne Frank for young children, as well as being a good story for them to read, even without complete context. Parents (and teachers) will want to be prepared to offer more explanations of the historical events, including Anne's death, since kids will probably be curious to find out more about her life.

ISBN: 9780449812556; Published 2013 by Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Added to the library

Saturday, December 28, 2013

This week at the library; or, Interrupted by the holidays part 1

Random Commentary
  • This was a short week. My aide is not here and my second aide doesn't start until January, so I did a fair amount of shelving (although not as much as our awesome circulation staff, who rallied valiantly to the cause). Mostly it was a bits and pieces kind of week - we're closed the 24th and 25th. I spent a lot of time working on end of year reports and statistics, fiddling with minor things, cleaning off my desk, and rummaging through Pinterest to see if I could actually USE some of those ideas I've been collecting. If you're the kind of person who likes data, you can look forward to three very lengthy posts on budgets, programming, and circulation data coming up in January!
  • Weeded the Ws in the picture books and the Christmas books. Phew!
  • And, of course, zombie books. We delete them, a few months later THEY RISE FROM THE DEAD! Some of the holiday books seem especially prone to this.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Books about kids in other countries, especially picture books, are hard sells at my library. My picture book audience is all young children and many of these books are aimed at a grade school level. Since I'm looking for picture books that make good storytime read-alouds for younger children, it's hard to find something that genuinely portrays the children in a foreign culture but doesn't make it so foreign that the kids in my small town can't relate to it. I think this book manages to hit all my exacting requirements.

Lalla wants, more than anything else, a beautiful malafa. She wants one for beauty like her mother, for mystery like her sister, to be a lady like her cousin, to be like a long-ago queen like her grandmother. Finally, in the quiet of the evening, Lalla wants a malafa so she can pray like her mother. In her beautiful new malafa, Lalla knows that a malafa is all the things she thought it was and more; it's for faith.

A note from the author explains how she came to change her views on women's veils after spending a year in Mauritania. There is also a glossary for pronunciation.

Although American culture has very few rites of passage for children anymore (think about how many small girls don't need to borrow their mother's high heels anymore - they have their own) I think small children will definitely get the idea of wanting to play dress-up or borrow the pretty things their mother or older sisters wear. The unfamiliar words are clearly defined in the context of the text. There are brief references to the Koran and Muslim faith, which may bother parents who are uncomfortable with introducing their young children to a different religion (The closest Mosque to our town is at least 30 minutes away and we have maybe 3 Muslim families, so this is something kids are unlikely to be familiar with) but the religious references are very general and I think parents can easy cover it all under faith and prayer if they're not ready for a discussion of comparative religious beliefs.

The art is what really sells this for me. The malafas glow with color and pattern and swirl enchantingly around the warm and comforting extended family. In some ways this isn't just about wanting to grow up, religious beliefs or cultures; it's about the strength and relationships of the women in Lalla's family. The settings include lots of tiny details to intrigue children from bats in the trees to the houses like "tall cake".

Verdict: This is a lovely way to gently introduce young children to a different culture as well as a celebration of growing up. The art and story is accessible and this is a good selection even for a small, homogeneous community like my own.

ISBN: 9780375870347; Published 2013 by Schwartz & Wade/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Added to the library

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monkey and Robot by Peter Catalanotto

I have mixed feelings about Catalanotto's work. Some of his picture books have fans, like Question Boy, and I do like Ivan the Terrier (although the eyes are a bit freaky) and my library has lots of fans of his concept books, Daisy 123 and Matthew ABC. And not every author and illustrator can hit it right with each title. However, I think he really missed the boat on this easy reader and I am a bit flabbergasted that it got published by a mainstream publisher, and is even going to become a series.

Look at the monkey. Look at the monkey's face. Look at the monkey's mouth. Look at the monkey's TEETH.

I'll wait while that image settles into your brain.


The four chapters are fairly typical easy reader/odd couple fare, although they do have a bit of added nonsense. The two friends watch a monster movie together, although Monkey is scared and keeps his head covered for the whole movie, thus leading to what is arguably the best illustration in the book because you cannot see the monkey's face.
In the second chapter, the two friends are going to try playing a "nice, friendly, fun game." which is hard for Monkey who doesn't like to lose. There's a little confusion over the dice (Monkey thinks Robot is telling him to die) and then a dog steals the die! Fortunately, they figure out a way to play anyways. The third chapter shows Robot explaining to Monkey about the cocoon he has found, but there are some unexpected results. This was probably the funniest chapter. In the final chapter, they're playing hide-and-seek. Robot explains how it works to Monkey (Monkey is...oddly ignorant of things like cocoons and traditional childhood games. Maybe he spends a lot of time with his head under a sheet.) but the game doesn't turn out to be as fun as Monkey expected. Fortunately, all ends happily.

As I said, the stories are ok, sometimes funny, a bit odd in places, but overall not too bad. The art is what really turned me off though. I know Catalanotto is a decent artist, because I've seen his work in other books, but these black and white drawings looked like something a kid drew in school with a pencil and a working knowledge of perspective. Monkey is so badly drawn, even in the scenes where his teeth aren't freakily glaring at the reader, that I found it impossible to concentrate on the text.

I went to my vendor and looked at demand for this title to see if it really was as weird as I thought, or it was just me. This title was published in January and from June 2012 to October 2013 total demand was 1717. To put this in perspective, A Pet Named Sneaker by Joan Heilbroner (which I'd consider a filler easy reader) was also published in January and had a demand of 2893. Dig, Scoop, Ka-Boom by Joan Holub (which I'd think of as a hot topic/popular easy reader) was published in June and has a total demand from January to October of 2065. It was a Junior Library Guild selection, but frankly I haven't been very impressed with JLG's easy selections in the past (I use them for YA titles).

Verdict: There are some good points to the stories and I liked the humor at a couple points, but overall I felt this title was poorly illustrated and has less than stellar writing. Not recommended.

ISBN: 9781442429789; Published 2013 by Richard Jackson Books/Atheneum; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: ChopChop: The kids' guide to cooking real food with your family by Sally Sampson

I sometimes think the "making stuff" books are the hardest section to do collection development for. It seems like there's no lack of excellent nonfiction on a variety of subjects, but try to find a book of crafts or recipes that is easy enough for kids to tackle, complex enough not to bore them, interesting enough for adults to be involved, has good directions, attractive layout and photographs, but not too easily outdated, diversity in the models and activities, and is unique enough to be worth purchasing but not so weird that nobody will ever pick it up...phew!

This is a pretty good cookbook. It's not ideal, and my personal preference is still for the DK books, even though they often have confusing British terms, but it's definitely worth purchasing. Most of my patrons and their kids want books on baking, but I try to add in some general cookbooks from time to time.

ChopChop is apparently a magazine, although I've never heard of it (which wouldn't be surprising, as I don't read magazines). The layout of the book is quite magaziney though, with lots of photographs, bold and large text, and the title is only available in paperback.

It starts with a simple introduction to kids on why it's fun to cook and not to be scared to try new things. Then there's a series of general tips, like being willing to try new tastes, and more specific things like remembering to clean up. There's instructions on how to wash your hands. The next section is an introduction for parents. It acknowledges the extra mess kids in the kitchen can make, but encourages parents to let kids try anyways! There's a list of essential ingredients - I don't agree with their thoughts on kosher salt, but they do say you can use any kind of salt. The photograph shows organic yoghurt, 365 (Whole Foods brand) oil, King Arthur flour, white tuna, dijon mustard, and organic chicken broth. The essential equipment list is pretty reasonable - knives, bowls, measuring tools, etc. and there's a second "not essential" list that includes a blender, salad spinner, and food processor.

The first "recipe" is actually a "seasoning experiment." It shows the kids how to cook plain potatoes and try out different kinds of seasoning to see what they like. This was a pretty good idea and one I haven't seen before. The recipes in the book are divided into Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Desserts. Breakfast starts a section on things that don't need to be cooked, then has smoothies, oatmeal and granola, pancakes, french toast, eggs, and breakfast sandwiches. Lunch stars with a section on sandwiches, including quesadillas, then has some more egg dishes, and tuna and chicken salads as well as a recipe for trying your own mayonnaise. The rest is a wide variety of dips and spreads ranging from hummus to guacamole and peanut butter. Then they have "lunch bowls" which are things like "pasta or grain bowl" sort of salads.

In between lunch and dinner they have a section on soups and the introduction emphasizes how easy it is to change soups to match your own tastes. I, personally, feel I have eaten enough beans to last me a lifetime and refuse to eat any soups containing beans. Except maybe lentils which aren't really beans in my opinion. There's also a section on breads in the soup section - cornbread, multigrain rolls, and buttermilk biscuits. After the soup section is a salad section, which is actually a salad dressing section since that's what all the recipes are. The actual salad "recipe" is lists of ideas of things you can put in salad.

The last section on dinner once again encourages kids to try new things and experiment with "family dinners" using candles, having conversation, etc. Again, it may not be to my personal taste (I remember family meals where we were supposed to "talk about our day" with great distaste and much preferred being in my room with a good book, but again that's just me and most parents will probably applaud the ideas presented here. Just...if you have introvert kids or sulky teens, do you really need to have conversations about what they would change about the world or if they could have dinner with one person, living or dead, who would it be? My choice would be dead because they wouldn't talk to me while I was trying to read.) Ok, a little off topic here. Anyways.

There are a lot of basic chicken recipes, then a selection of burgers (including a bean burger). There are tofu recipes and then customizable meals like chili, baked potatoes, and tacos. There's a section on pasta (and I'm sorry, but there is no point in eating whole wheat pasta when "you will learn to appreciate its flavorful, grainy goodness." It starts out tasting like cardboard and keeps on that way. Again, just my opinion.) which includes lasagna and then finally some vegetable recipes, mostly different things you can roast. I did notice with appreciation that they include artichokes which makes me wonder if they didn't have some California influence somewhere - only people I ever met who regularly eat artichokes were from California.

The dessert section is probably the weakest part of the book, but I wouldn't be buying this for that part so it doesn't really matter. It starts off rather patronizingly saying that "Of course, we think a piece of fruit is itself a lovely and satisfying dessert - but we understand you might feel otherwise." The first dessert is baked apples, not bad, then applesauce (since when is that a dessert?) fruit crisp, frozen yogurt, and fruit tart. Then they have brownies. Now, I can't speak from personal experience but having done quite a bit of baking with whole wheat flour, I am highly skeptical of their statement that brownies made with whole-wheat flour makes them "nutty, rich, and amazingly yummy." Banana bread, yes, cupcakes, yes, chocolate chip cookies, yes. Oh wait, chocolate chip cookies with whole wheat or whole wheat graham flour. Here I can speak from personal experience. Cookies made with whole wheat flour are disgusting. They taste like sugar-infused cardboard. They make great weapons, being as hard and heavy as a brick, but not great desserts. Molasses cookies might be ok with whole wheat flour, and their peanut butter cookies have no flour. Fruit and nut energy bars are not a dessert.

The final section is drinks and has lots of things kids will enjoy mixing like fruit, honey, mint, etc. The book ends with acknowledgements, an index, and a brief note about ChopChop magazine and the author.

Verdict: There's a really great diversity of recipes (and kids used in the pictures) and they're laid out in a way that's easy to follow, with some things marked "expert" and most being projects kids could easily handle with a little adult help. There are a couple slightly patronizing areas and I think they should have either left out the desserts section or relabeled it fruit and just skipped the baking part but I think people will be able to mostly overlook that. It's not the book I'd hand to kids and parents who have no experience cooking or are just starting trying to eat more healthily; the emphasis in the photographs on expensive, brand-name or organic food and again several patronizing areas could be very daunting, but for families who are serious about kids being involved in cooking and family meals and who already have done some research about their food choices, this is a good selection.

ISBN: 9781451685879; Published 2013 by Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cybils Reviews and Reactions

These are all the Cybils nominations I've read and reviewed as of today. Note that some links will lead to my reviews at No Flying No Tights and some to my Flying Off My Bookshelf short reaction pieces. *Starred items were purchased for or added to the library through review copies etc.

Easy Readers
Early Chapters
Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction
Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction

Saturday, December 21, 2013

This week at the library; or, Starting to finish everything

Random Commentary
  • I took off Monday and Tuesday to do fun things then I had my last outreach visits on Wednesday and Thursday, sort-of interviews for the aide position (it seems silly to have a whole sit-down interview for a six-hour a week shelver. Basically we just wanted to meet them.) and miscellanous stuff.
  • Other projects this week included: cleaning off my desk, cleaning out the storyroom, publicity for next year, Maker Kits for next year, my sections of the newsletter, working on programs for next year, weeding, processing new books, and sorting donations. Some of these things barely got started...
  • We had a fairly massive ice storm Thursday night, so Friday was very quiet. I meandered in late, since it took a while to get the ice off my car (and decide whether I wanted to risk the drive at all)
  • Then I worked Saturday. Crazy!
Our new flannel and magnet boards (you can hang backgrounds on both, but the white one on the left is really a magnet board)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Joe and Sparky go to school by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

I quite liked the first Joe and Sparky easy reader I read, but the years came between us and when I saw that another saga in the Joe and Sparky adventures had been nominated I wasn't quite so enthusiastic off the bat. Would it live up to my memories? Had Joe and Sparky lost any of their fizz?

Well, I am a bit more of a critical reviewer now, but Joe and Sparky still have most of their pizzaz.

In the classic easy reader odd couple style, Joe is a giraffe who's always curious and eager for new situations. Sparky is a turtle who just wants to sit in the sun and relax. But no matter what crazy trouble Joe gets them into, they are still friends and they make it through together. In this story, Joe sees something big, yellow, and loud. What could it be? "Well," said Joe, "from the looks of it, it is a bus for noisy short people." One little accident later, and somehow Joe and Sparky are on their way to school. Fortunately (or unfortunately from Sparky's point of view) Miss Hootie breaks her glasses, so she doesn't realize she has two new students - who have decided to take a field trip to school. But school isn't as fun as they'd hoped. Joe tries and tries but he just can't get a star, while Sparky is soon covered in stars - but just wants to go home. They try the math dance, math food, the interesting "pond" in the boys' room (since there's no giraffe or turtle room) more and more things go wrong for Joe, but Sparky is learning something new - he loves school! With a little help from Sparky, Joe gets a star after all and they both head home after their fun field trip.

The illustrations are bright and really pop with Joe's bright yellows (Sparky thinks he looks like a bus!) and splashes of green and blue. The "class" is mostly shown as the same four or five kids, with a fairly decent show of diversity. The real focus is on Joe and Sparky of course, and their antics and misunderstandings. These are a bit like Amelia Bedelia, but not quite so over the top. The difficulty level of these easy readers is intermediate. There are complete sentences and paragraphs and some challenging vocabulary, as well as the word play.

Verdict: These are great intermediate easy readers. Funny, with humor that will reach kids on their own level, attractive art that adds to the text, and while each story follows a similar pattern, the plot is different enough to keep kids' interest going. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763662783; Published 2013 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and Gollie have the best of both worlds, with a classic style and a contemporary flair. In the classic tradition of easy reader odd couples, Bink and Gollie are total opposites, both physically and in personality, but they're best friends nonetheless.

There are three chapters, each containing a separate story. In the first story, Gollie is thrilled to discover she's really royalty. When short and spunky Bink comes over to hear the exciting news, she's disappointed that Gollie is no longer going to cook pancakes for her and leaves. At first, Gollie enjoys being a queen, but eventually she misses Bink and is happy to go back to being plain old Gollie again.

In the second story, Bink is tired of being short and tries out a marvelous invention to grow taller. It doesn't quite work the way she had hoped, but with some help from Gollie she feels taller in the end, even if she hasn't grown at all. In the third and final story, Bink and Gollie decide to start a collection, hoping to get their names and picture in a book of records. With a little help from another friend, they find a way to make a record even if they don't have an amazing collection.

Fucile's facile illustrations use an economy of line to express emotions, humor, and action. Bink and Gollie are splashes of bright color in a gray and white world, their backgrounds fading behind them as they skate through the story.

In addition to being an odd couple, Bink and Gollie returns to another older style in not fitting perfectly into any of the tightly boxed publishing categories. Are they an easy reader? Well, they're a little oversized, but they have the odd couple, three short chapters, brief text, and spot illustrations. But the text is much more advanced than the typical easy reader. Are they a beginning chapter book? They're way oversized for that genre, and while the vocabulary level matches a chapter book, the limited text and colored illustrations are more in line with an easy reader. Some libraries just give up the fight and put them in graphic novel, or even picture book. I recently moved them from easy reader to the general juvenile fiction area to fully honor what I think is the most classic part of their style - stepping out of the bounds of typical publishing levels and creating a story that's both sweet and tart and utterly unique. The emphasis in Bink and Gollie is on the fun of the story, the suspension of disbelief, the delightful illustrations and not on what reading level or comprehension is appropriate for whoever is lucky enough to light upon the adventures of Bink and Gollie.

Verdict: Wherever you decide to put these stories, they are a delight with a sly sense of humor and a topping of silly. For the right child, these are the stories that will stick with them until they go searching for them again to introduce them to their own child.

ISBN: 9780763634971; Published 2013 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

Monday, December 16, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: See what a seal can do by Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Kate Nelms

I've always been a fan of sea lions, not seals. Seals look like slugs, big furry-whiskered slugs. At least, that's what I always thought until I read this book.

This book falls into one of my favorite new styles for read-aloud nonfiction, double text (I just named it that). There's a basic story in big, bold letters and simple text. In this case, it starts with the seal dragging himself across the sand and into the sea to look for food, takes him through a long search, escaping from predators, and finally back to the beach where he relaxes.

The second part of the book's text is in small, inset paragraphs and adds facts about gray seals from how they swim to how they can open their mouths underwater to catch fish without drowning.

The book starts with a brief note about wild seals and ends with a simple index (which would make a great introduction to indices for very young children) and a couple websites kids can go to for more information about seals.

The endpapers show the eighteen different kinds of true seals, draw on a cream-colored background in shades of brown. The illustrations in the book look like adapted photographs. The seal's huge, liquid black eyes and sharp details of his whiskers and some of his surroundings are shown, but they're softened and given an underwater look with swirls and a shifting overlay of colors.

Verdict: When I'd finished this book I knew a lot more about seals and they were a lot more interesting! Although they could never live up to sea lions, I'll definitely take a longer look next time I'm at the zoo. This would make a perfect storytime book, as well as a great introduction to both seals and nonfiction for young children. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780763665746; Published 2013 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, December 14, 2013

This week at the library; or, Last week of programs!

Random Commentary
  • It has been a week of highs and lows. Some things I can't talk about - administrative stuff like wages and salaries are keeping our lives interesting. 
  • We always replace the last Toddlers 'n' Books of the season with a cookie program and a LOT of people came. 50? 60? Something like that. Of course, it was this morning that Hammie chose to go to that great hamster wheel in the sky, but fortunately I didn't check him until everyone was gone. Right now Hammie is visiting Santa and next week he's going to return (having gone on a diet and dyed his fur a little darker) with a brother, Humphrey, who will hopefully distract from any changes!
  • A few more kids returned challenges for Paws to Read and I am hopeful that we will make my overall goal of 50 participants for this first year.
  • So...forwards! I have a couple weeks now to go on vacation, relax, sleep in...
  • HA HA HA that's just what people think I do when there are no programs. I'm going to be planning winter programs, scheduling and organizing outreach, overhauling Preschool Interactive, working on reader's advisory and other resources, lots of marketing and publicity, end of year reports, hiring and training a second aide, and doing a lot of shelving while my first aide is gone over the holidays. I'll also be working on my newest idea (I know, hard to keep track!) Maker Kits! More on that later!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sea monster and the bossy fish by Kate Messner, illustrated by Andy Rash

Sea Monster Ernest is eager to show the new fish around school. But the new fish isn't nervous, like Ernest was when he first came. In fact, the new fish is a little...make that a LOT...bossy. He gets more and more controlling, until he starts the Fresh Fish Club for cool fish and Ernest, while happy to be included, is worried about the fish who are left out. Ernest comes up with a non-confrontational, if a little sappy, solution and everyone is happy again, even the new bossy fish.

Andy Rash's cartoons are bright and colorful, with silly fish faces and lots of clever artwork fitting the giant sea monster in with the other fish. The fish have big, bulbous eyes and a plethora of patterns and shapes. With their very human expressions matched to fishy bodies, kids and adults will get a kick out of the child-pleasing art.

I have to admit I was skeptical when I first picked this book up. I'm not a fan of bibliotherapy and I dislike the whole bullying theme in books for younger kids. Parents do ask for them - I had a patron request picture books on bullying because she said there were a lot of bullies at her child's preschool - but I'm personally not a fan of labeling bully behavior in such young children. A three year old, in my opinion, isn't a bully - they're a three year old! Not to mention so many of these books fall into the "big stupid bully" cliche or the "bully who really just wants to be friends" cliche.

However, I should have expected an excellent author like Kate Messner to steer clear of these pitfalls and this is one book I'd feel happy handing to parents whose kids are having social difficulties in school. Her fishy kids are very realistic, from Ernest who's easily swayed by the exciting new kid, even if he has doubts, to the bossy new kid himself. I especially appreciated that she didn't label the kids and showed the subtle social interactions that went on without making on of the kids out to be the bad guy - just not understanding how to play nicely. While the solution is a little mature for the kids to come up with on their own, and a little sappy, it fit in well with the book.

Verdict: If you have parents clamoring for anti-bully books, and you probably do since that's one of the "hot topic" issues right now, this is a really good choice for younger kids, with a funny story, a gentle lesson, and no black and white labeling.

ISBN: 9781452112534; Published 2013 by Chronicle; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's tentative order list

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Brown Bear by Suzi Eszterhas

I saw this series, Eye on the Wild, at an ALA conference a few years back and fell in love. This one is my particular favorite, because I love bears.

Beaaaars, so round and furry and awesome. Beaaaars.

Ahem. So, this is a picture book format, simple introduction to the life cycle, especially the growing-up years, of a brown bear. The story of the bear's lives begins with their birth in the den and moves through their growing up years until they set out on their own. The text is simple and bold, using plain language to explain to young children how the bears' mother takes care of them and adding in interesting facts seamlessly to the text. It's a little longer for reading aloud to very young children, but four year olds up through first grade will enjoy listening to this.

Of course, the big draw of these books, and this one especially is the bears. Eszterhas is a wildlife photographer and specializes in photographing families and baby animals, so you know there are going to be lots of awesome bear pictures. I loved the way it started out showing the bears when they were small and they slowly grow through the story, following the text, so at the end they're as big as the mother bear. Close-ups show the cubs nursing, fishing, digging for clams, and more.

A final page gives a list of bear facts and there are more photographs on the endpapers. I would have liked to see some sources or bibliography, but this is an introduction for very young children so it's really not necessary.

Verdict: Adorable photographs and simple, clear text perfect for older storytimes or bear fans. There are also volumes on the cheetah, gorilla, lion, orangutan, and sea otter, which is my other favorite. There was supposed to be an elephant and tiger next year, but they appear to be cancelled on Baker & Taylor, although they show available for preorder on the author's website. Hopefully that will change, since these are great books to introduce young children to popular and endangered animals.

ISBN: 9781847803023; Published 2012 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books; Purchased for the library

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Little Golden Books and the Censorship of Goodness

This is as much a discussion as a review, so sit yourselves down and get ready to lambast me in the comments. Before we start - this is just my opinion and what works in my library. Just because you do something different, it does not mean you are a Bad Librarian (or me either for that matter).

So, the two books I have here today are Little Golden Books. Rico the Brave Sock Monkey is a classic mash-up of Corduroy and Toy Story, complete with vintage illustrations. Robots, Robots, Everywhere has a Seussish vibe along with Staake's bold designs. They're both cute and fun stories, with lovely illustrations and strong content. But how many libraries add Little Golden Books to their collections?

I'm betting more in our area, since we are near Racine, original home of the Little Golden Books, but not many. They're not a good format for library collections, being skinny small and having no spine information. And this leads us to another discussion, and my main one today. I've been thinking about this for a while as I read blog posts and listen to librarians about being commercial-free, making children's areas that don't have branded toys, and collection development. Do you buy Barbie books, Thomas the Tank Engine books, or tv tie-ins, many of which are Little Golden Books? Do you have them and plan to weed them, especially after some of the posts about commercial and brand-free library collections?

I agree with these ideas in theory and have implemented some of them. Most of my toys and circulating toys are brand-less and encourage dramatic and interactive play without a pre-written story to stick in the kids' heads. I think this is important. Collection development though is a different matter and here I'm going to get, possibly, a little controversial. Do I, personally, think kids should be reading tv tie-ins, Barbie books, etc.? Frankly, no. I didn't watch tv at all as a child and movies very rarely. I wasn't allowed to play with Barbies (and wasn't much into dolls anyways). I hate the commercialization of childhood and I enjoy a good diatribe on Disney Princesses as much as any other dedicated peruser of Hearthsong.

But, and this is a big BUT, do I have the right and the authority to make that decision for my parents and kids at the library? If I have a mom and her daughter come ask me for Barbie books, should I say "you shouldn't be reading those they will commercialize your child, are badly written, and do not encourage early literacy"? However tactfully you put it, in my opinion, this is a kind of snobbish, reverse censorship. Yes, I try to have a balanced collection, I try to buy the best books that have both child appeal and literary quality (woo Cybils!), I try to educate people on the benefits of reading together, of books that promote early literacy skills, of limiting screen time, but I am also a public librarian. I'm here to provide what my community wants and needs - not what I think they SHOULD want and need.

So, in an effort to perform this delicate balancing act, in 2011 I added a collection we call Tub Books. I got the idea for this from Batavia Public Library in IL (I should interview at a gazillion libraries every couple years, just to get more ideas!) who had paperback picture books in tubs. I bought the tubs for $2 at Walmart and each one has a label. Tub books are cheap, mostly 8x8, paperbacks. This year I also started adding paperback, tv tie-in easy readers, since they are often not "good" easy readers because of the vocabulary so they fit better in the tub books. They get a label and barcode slapped on them and that's it. When they start falling apart, I fix them with cheap tape and I almost never charge for damage. If they're lost, people pay a lowered replacement fee, since we do so little processing. I just cleaned out and reorganized the tubs in September and we currently have:
  • Barbie
  • Berenstain Bears
  • Clifford
  • Disney/Pixar
  • Dora
  • Lego
  • Little Golden Books
  • Superheroes
  • Thomas the Tank Engine
  • TV tie-ins (everything else - Star Wars, Strawberry Shortcake, Spongebob, Olivia - is, I think, mostly what's in there right now)
What impact have the tub books had?
  • Most of the tub books circulate anywhere from 15 to 30 times each every year, which has definitely had a positive impact on our circulation.
  • Positive reactions from patrons - now when they ask "do you have Dora books, Barbie books, etc." I can say "yes" and the patrons know that the library has what they want, that I listened to their requests and they feel ownership in the library.
  • Parents who used to text on their phones while their kids hung out in the play area now sit down and read together. The play area also has all the board books and until a few months ago had the concept books as well, but the "real" picture books were not circulating well there. Many of these parents, as I can tell when I listen to them read, are not strong readers. I think the "real" books were daunting to them. But a familiar character, that both they and the child know, feels safe and easier to approach.
  • Reader's advisory - I've used the Tub Books as jumping off points, both approaching patrons and being approached. I've introduced Barbie and Disney Princess fans to Fancy Nancy and Ella Bella Ballerina, Disney/Pixar and Thomas fans to the nonfiction trucks and machines section, etc.
  • Most people check out a mixture of Tub Books and "real books", so it's increased circulation in other areas as well.
  • It's not all sunshine and flowers - Tub Books can be messy, since kids frequently pull the tubs off to rummage through them, the books often look tattered and generally icky, and they have a tendency to fall into cracks and behind things. I made the decision that I'd rather have an ephemeral collection that was frequently updated than expensive prebound copies that would last past their interest date and I spend probably an hour at least every couple of weeks taping up rips and stapling the books back together. I also had to work with the circulation staff to know that Tub Books were going to look like crap and not to send them back to repair.
Ultimately, this has been a positive thing for our library and if you think it's something that would positively impact your community and that fits into the mission of your library, I encourage you to think about the needs and wants of your patrons and give it a try.
This is a mess, but you can kind of see how it works. Those are book bundles up on top. I am planning to make signs to put on the shelves with pictures so the kids can match up the tubs themselves, if they're not reading yet.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

This week at the library; or, Foooooooog

Random Commentary
  • Monday was a definite Monday-After-A-Holiday. In a word, it sucked.
  • Tuesday was AWESOME. I felt like singing that song from Annie "yesterday was plain awful, you can say that again, yesterday was plain awful, but that's not now, that's then" (yes, I had that in my head). I listened to a great webinar about the annual report and realized I could be counting a lot more things! I am going to have phenomenal numbers next year! It was gloriously foggy all day (I love fog) and I felt no guilt for the kindergarteners being insanely wiggly b/c, as I had told the teachers when they asked if I could switch to two weeks earlier at the last minute, it was pot-luck storytime.
  • Then other stuff happened. I spent a lot of time finishing fiddly little things and had some long, heart-felt communions with the laminator. The result being all new signage in our children's area! As you can see, I put new signs on all the tubs and baskets and matching signs on the shelves, so kids can easily put things away. Certain People were skeptical about whether this will work or not, but I have faith in my families!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston

Other than his food-critic parents' inventive threats (and equally inventive but much less palatable food) Elliot lives a pretty boring life. Then, one day, the letter arrives. To his amazement, he's been invited to tour his Uncle Archie's workplace - the Research and Development department of DENKI-3000. Not only that, his friend Leslie has been invited as well. There's just one problem...he doesn't have a friend named Leslie! But he soon will...

Together, Elliot and Leslie discover the Creature Department, the most mysterious and inventive section of DENKI-3000. But all is not well; the company is in trouble, the creatures who staff the department are threatened, and there's something terrible hiding in the park.

This is a wild romp featuring fantastical creatures, gross-out humor, wacky inventions, and some old-fashioned villains. The final version will have additional illustrations and multimedia aspects which I didn't see (I read this as an egalley).

At 326 pages the book felt too long for its intended audience to me. Of course, I can't tell from my egalley how much of that will be taken up by the multimedia aspects, but it's still quite a chunk of book. I would say it's directed at a younger middle grade audience with the cartoonish creatures, gross-out humor, and several digressions into didactic discussions of how the inventions are fueled by the essence of hope, etc. and those kids are generally less likely to pick up something really thick. Elliot and Leslie are one-dimensional and the plot skips wildly around, throwing in new characters and creatures and ending with the actual hero being a creature everyone discounted and teased.

Verdict: Older kids looking for fantasy where they can get immersed in the plot and characters will be disappointed, but hand this one to those kids who are camped out in your 398 section perusing the guides to monsters and dragons and other books with lots of fun pictures and creature trivia and they'll love it. Not a top pick perhaps, but definitely an additional purchase that will find a happy home in most mid-sized to large libraries.

ISBN: 9781595146854; Published November 2013 by Razorbill; Egalley provided by the publisher for review

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The girl of the wish garden: a Thumbelina story by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Nasrin Khosravi

Mostly, I purchase books of general interest. The more "arty" books, the fancy award-winners, the books with subtle meanings and delicate art that the critics rave over, I glance at and pass over without regret.

We own a lot of Fancy Nancy and Llama Llama.

However, sometimes a book that's a little different, that's haunting and artistic and poetic and all those words that usually make me cringe, comes along and I fall in love.

The author has written a number of books with extensive reviews and awards, none of which I have ever heard of. The illustrator (now deceased) was apparently a well-known Iranian illustrator. I saw the cover of this book at ALA last summer and was intrigued enough to request it via inter-library loan, as no libraries in our consortium owned it.

The story is a poetic retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina, although the original story is referenced only in the subtitle and author's note. Each page features a poetic interpretation of one of Thumbelina's adventures facing a full-page illustration. The text, while a little lengthier than the average children's picture book, will make word lovers quiver with delight.

"In a land of dreams, where time itself
can shift and change,
I once saw this tale unfold.

The child was named Lina.
Her mother had found her in a silken flower
in a garden of wishes, where the birds sang wild
and the winds blew free."

It would take someone who actually knew something about art to adequately describe Khosravi's illustrations, but when I look at them I see numerous details that will keep drowsy children occupied while the words flow around them. Thumbelina's skirts billow about her as she floats through complex landscapes of color and pattern, with picture layered upon pictures. Repeated motifs dance from page to page as the colors shift from blazing reds and dark browns and blues to the billowing white of snow, winter, and finally Lina's dress shifts from red to white as Lina rides off on the wind.

Verdict: This is one unique book that will have a fairly wide appeal, thanks to the intricate and beautiful artwork. Some parents might balk a little at reading the poetry aloud, but I would booktalk this as a lovely bedtime story, sure to provide sweet dreams.

ISBN: 9781554983247; Published 2013 by Groundwood Books; Borrowed via inter-library loan; Added to my tentative order list

Monday, December 2, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Things that float and things that don't by David A. Adler, illustrated by Anna Raff

I almost didn't borrow this book to preview because I thought the illustrations looked blah and unattractive. Well, I still think they're not the strongest part of the book, but it's such a good explanation of science concepts for young kids that I purchased it for the library anyways.

The book starts with a sort of general introduction and question. There is a lot of water in the world and people have been using it to travel and move things for a long time. However, how do you know what floats and what sinks? Why does a boat full of people float, but a pebble sinks?

The rest of the book uses a combination of narrative and experiments to explain the concept of density; how and why things float. There isn't any back matter, but the various vocabulary words (density, dissolved, displacement) are explained in the text and I would say that this title doesn't need any, because of the young audience and the layout of the book, which incorporates experiments. If you are doing any programs with preschool science, this whole book is a program just waiting for you!

Now, I really didn't care for the illustrations. As Ms. Yingling has noted, covers (and sometimes illustrations) don't seem to be Holiday House's strong point. These illustrations are very bland and simplistic, with awkward perspectives especially in the hands. The drawings illustrating the scientific principles are the best, but the cartoon illustrations for the rest of the book don't work well, in my opinion.

Verdict: Illustrations aside, this is a great explanation of density for young kids and I really liked the smooth way the author blended the scientific explanation and the experiments illustrating his explanations. I have three swimming pools that I mostly use for science programs, so having this book is kind of a must for me!

ISBN: 9780823428625; Published 2013 by Holiday House; Purchased for the library

Saturday, November 30, 2013

This week at the library; or, Let the holidays commence

  • 5th grade library visits
Random Commentary:
  • I don't do programs Thanksgiving week - attendance is just too spotty and it's easier to take the whole week off rather than explain which days we're closed. I worked about 10 hours on Monday, a full day on Tuesday, and left early on Wednesday. We close at 5:30 on Wednesday and don't open again until Saturday.
  • However this year I did get the 5th graders from our closest school coming to check out books. I was a bit nervous about this since they've only visited once a year in the past for a scavenger hunt, tour, and booktalking, but the teachers were enthusiastic, we needed the circulation, and I was just going to hope I had enough mysteries for 70+ kids. It worked out great - I'll do more booktalking next time, since we won't have a tour.
  • Mostly this week was finishing all the shifting and getting ready for Paws to Read, which starts next Monday. See the shifting!
Paws to Read Challenges and drawing slip box

Audiobook shelf, shifted and beautiful!

Back of the audiobook shelf - series

In process - Favorite Characters section at the beginning of juvenile fiction

Shifting Spanish, biography, and new nonfiction


Favorite Characters done - lots of empty space for things that still have to be labeled