Monday, April 29, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: The Fairy Ring; or, Elsie and Frances fool the world by Mary Losure

In the 1920s, people believed in fairies. Or at least the Theosophists, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, did. Their belief was helped along by a series of photographs taken by two young girls, showing delicate, transparent fairies.

One girl, Frances, saw little green men and delicate flying fairies. She told her older cousin, Elsie, who thought it would be a good joke to take some pictures, so she painted and cut out fairies and with the help of some hatpins and a borrowed camera they took the photos that would become famous.

It's hard to look back at these photos from a modern perspective and see how people were so easily fooled, but the theme that runs through this story is that people see what they want to see. The Theosophists already believed in fairies and were just looking for the proof of what they already "knew".  Mary Losure tells the story of two girls, one who believed in fairies and one who just wanted to prove her artistic ability and the photos that became unexpectedly famous.

The book includes a lot of original documents, mostly letters, and there's additional information in the bibliography and author's note. This is pretty short for a nonfiction chapter book, under 200 pages, including back matter, but it's really a fairly brief story. Although the cousins gave some interviews near the end of their lives and they have living descendants, there's really not that much information on their lives as children.

I have a hard time thinking of an audience for this story, at least at my library. All my fairy fans are little girls in love with pink sparkles and my history buffs are generally boys who want books about war. It's not exciting or funny enough to appeal to the kids who would normally like a book about a good hoax. One of the big appeals of this story is the connection to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and while I'm guessing quite a few kids are vaguely familiar with Sherlock due to the various movies and television shows, I don't think many of them know much about the creator.

Verdict: This could work if booktalked for its haunting, mysterious quality and the odd bits about the story - did Frances really see fairies? What about the final photograph that the girls didn't pose for? - but it's not something I can see having wide appeal. It has gotten a lot of enthusiastic reviews, so I may be wrong, but it seems like a niche book that needs a bigger library than mine to find its niche.

ISBN: 9780763656706; Published 2012 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, April 27, 2013

This week at the library; or, OK rain, you have made your point. NOW STOP.

Random Commentary
  • This self-promotion thing looks cool - several librarians are putting together a month of librarians promoting their programs and stuff. I have to admit that I am not feeling remotely awesome right now. I am feeling sick, tired, depressed and unbelievably stressed, which is probably the cause of the first three. It has been a very stressful past few months but I am hoping things look up soon. Meanwhile, I have bought rice and chamomile tea in bulk, because that's pretty much what I'm living on now.
  • This was my annual visit from all the preschool and 4K classes at a small preschool. Of course it rained, but we managed to work around that and I only had to reschedule one visit to next week (when I will link up to what we did).
  • Staffing drama continues. I am now hiring an aide, a process which I detest since I am a horrible judge of character and have just fallen back on the "everyone is probably crazy so don't make friends with them until you've known them at least a year" theory, but this doesn't work in interviews! Plus the added bonus of teens who want to apply because they "love the library and love reading" but don't really get that the job is 3 parts shelving, 1 part moving furniture, and 1 part cutting things out (with the occasional vomit clean-up) and adults that think they will be doing storytime and helping me plan programs, not doing the grunt work and then I feel bad because these are our good patrons and they don't understand why I don't want them to work for me.
  • There was no We Explore because we were closed on Friday for our annual staff development day. We had an all staff meeting, something we only do twice a year, the city manager came to explain the complicated changes in PTO, FMLA, and other interesting acronyms, our consortium IT guy came to show us the new Enterprise catalog (and I felt very guilty b/c he kept saying things like "you've seen this of course" and I didn't want to admit that I haven't looked at the catalog in months - never use it at all, just use the staff catalog!). We had pizza for lunch and did a Reader's Advisory exercise (conclusion: we read lots of romance and almost no thrillers and nobody but me reads graphic novels) and then the police came to talk about first shooter emergencies and other potential safety hazards. We took the new staff on a tour around the building's exits (and discovered one we'd forgotten about in the basement and a breaches and confirmed that we could indeed climb out of the upstairs windows (this was my contribution, having seen several kids successfully try the experiment)).

Friday, April 26, 2013

My happy life by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

When Dani can't sleep, she counts all the happy things that have happened to her in her life, ending with how excited she is to get her new schoolbag and go to school for the first time. But when she gets there, she starts to get worried. Will she like it? Will she have friends? Happily, after a few days she meets Ella. Ella is her very best friend and they are together through everything, even when they fight.

Then Ella moves away. Dani knows about loss - her mother died a long time ago - but she just can't handle Ella's loss. She's lonely and sad and she can't stop crying. Slowly, she starts to have happy times again. She makes new friends, although none are as close as Ella. She accidentally hurts another little boy and feels better after she apologizes. Her dad gets her two hamsters and they cheer her up even more. Best of all, she gets a letter from Ella and they are going to visit her!

This simple chapter book perfectly captures the the mindset of a young child, dealing with changes, loss, and friendship for the first time. Each page has a few simple sentences that perfectly capture Dani's feelings "The bandage that her teacher put on didn't help. It was very small and kept falling off. Dani kept crying. She cried because it hurt. She cried because Ella had moved." Julia Marshall, the translator, is a new name to me but she did an excellent job capturing the essential feeling of the language and experiences.

I've always been a fan of Eva Eriksson's illustrations and her snub-nosed little boys and girls are perfect for this story. When Dani is happy her whole face lights up. When she's sad her misery is apparent in every line of her body. The simple line drawings are the perfect accompaniment to this story.

Verdict: This won't appeal to every child - it's too long for most beginning readers and older readers won't be interested in a story about such a young child - but sensitive children who are good readers will find this a story to treasure.

ISBN: 9781877579356; Published 2013 by Gecko Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my order list

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Galaxy Zack: Hello Nebulon! by Ray O'Ryan, illustrated by Colin Jack

This is the "boy" complement to the Critter Club series I reviewed last week. In fact, they were both bound together in the ARC I received. This is a cute beginning to a series and a nice, if not unique premise, but I had some problems with the book.

So, the idea of the book is that Zack is a perfectly normal kid with annoying twin sisters, dealing with normal kid problems like moving, going to a new school, making friends, and dealing with a school bully (that happens in the next book). He's just doing it all in outer space on a planet called Nebulon.

My problem with the book is first that there's no real conflict. It's a sort of Jetson family version of the future. Zack's family first shows up in their own space cruiser, when they arrive at the planet they pick out a futuristic car that pops open and Zack fits more or less in at school and makes a friend immediately. Even his worries about his dog, Luna, left on earth are resolved by the final chapter as his dad brings Luna up to space for him. There isn't really any plot, just Zack looking at weird aliens and their world.

My second problem is more an ongoing annoyance. This is supposed to be a futuristic world and Zack's family a super-normal, everyday family. WHY does Zack have to be blonde and his sisters redheads? Some scientists think the redhead gene is dying out anyways. It's much, much more likely that Zack's family would be biracial or even just brunette. This really annoys me. There's no reason they have to be white, it's just a default for the author and publisher I guess. But seriously? I live in a small, homogeneous, midwestern town. There are still more biracial and African-American kids than there are redheads. And YES, books with kids of color like this will sell - I have lots of kids who love the EllRay Jakes series. I would like artists to add some brown pencils to their art supplies and authors to cross off redheads from their list of descriptions forever PLEASE.

Verdict: I think kids will probably check this out, but they'll be disappointed that nothing interesting really happens and the series will die on the shelf. I'll pass on this and we'll stick with Pamela Service's beginning chapter series about aliens.

ISBN: 9781442453869; Published April 2013 by Simon and Schuster; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Make a splash: A kid's guide to protecting our oceans, lakes, rivers and wetlands by Cathryn Berger Kaye and Philippe Cousteau

This is one of the better books on environmental activism for kids that I have seen. It doesn't shy away from the grim realities of the pollution and other issues affecting water, but it also offers a plethora of real-life examples of things kids can do to make the problem seem more manageable.

The one drawback is the book's rather chaotic construction. It takes almost 15 pages just to explain all the different features of the book before it starts. The real-life stories are broken up into sections in the chapters and it can be hard to pick up the threads of the different stories when they pop up again.

The book also includes not only the real-life examples, but suggestions of projects and research ideas kids can use, facts about water and oceans, photographs, illustrations, and sources for more information and ideas. Most of the factual information centers around oceans, but the real-life examples are focused more on lakes and conserving water.

Verdict: The book is eye-catching and will probably get a few kids to pick it up and browse, but I would expect this book to be most useful when it's introduced to kids by a teacher or librarian and used as a blueprint for instruction and community projects.

ISBN: 9781575424170; Published November 2012 by Free Spirit; Egalley provided by publisher through Netgalley; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 20, 2013

This week at the library; or, Rain, Rain, Rain

Random Commentary
  • Cleaned out a space in the basement to store my recyclables. "Cleaned" is relative - due to several floods (and a sewage leak) the basement is, to put it mildly, ICKY. I brought a clean shirt to change into but what I really needed was a full-body disinfecting.
  • Now I need to figure out something to do with some large stashes, notably approximately 3500 pencils from a defunct bank and a  huge box of seashells.
  • Dealt with a number of staff/scheduling issues. On the one hand, an assistant/more staff would be great on the other hand I can barely handle what I've got now! I am learning how to be a better supervisor, sloooowly.
  • One of our elementary schools was flooded, so we had a lot of kids and parents showing up at the library all day - and at Lego Club, since they were all crazy with being cooped up in their houses by then! 60 people came, which is my best guess since it's impossible to keep track.
  • Summer things I'm working on right now - summer reading logs for The Learning Curve (they're going to be my test site and next year I'll add the BIG daycare), adapting Marge Loch-Wouters' program for my Rubber Ducky Readers summer reading program, making summer reading publicity for the schools, general summer publicity, May/June newsletter and calendars. Since I have to have the May/June newsletter articles in by MONDAY I'm running in to some snags since my summer reading isn't planned. Usually I spend months running it by other staff and making sure we iron out all the wrinkles, but with everything that could possibly go wrong going wrong (the only thing that hasn't happened is a flooded basement!) I am just going to do the best I can and people can give me feedback for next year.
  • I don't usually talk much about authors, but I'm sad to hear that E. L. Konigsburg has passed away. In grad school I spent hours on a Greyhound, spent the night in the bus station, and tramped across half the city in the snow just to hear her speak - and it was worth every minute.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Critter Club: Amy and the missing puppy by Callie Barkley, illustrated by Marsha Riti

This is a new beginning chapter series from Simon and Schuster. Amy is a bit upset about being left at home while all her friends go off to fun places on Spring Break, but she helps out her mom at the veterinarians' clinic and comes upon a missing puppy. As she tracks down clues, she discovers that the puppy's owner, Ms. Sullivan, isn't as mean and scary as everyone thought. One by one her friends come back and help her and in the end they discover the puppy and with Ms. Sullivan's help decide to start The Critter Club animal shelter and help animals.

This is a cute and fresh series that kids will enjoy reading. There are excerpts from a Nancy Drew story that Amy is reading throughout the book (they're really simple, so either made up or from one of the Clue Crew books I would guess) and Amy and her friends are pretty typical beginning chapter book series friends with an identifying characteristic (and race) for each friend - looking at my vendor, it looks like each following book is about a different friend.

The story is formulaic, but that's what kids at this age enjoy and want to read. Mysteries aren't the most popular genre, but the animals aspect of it will pull up the popularity a bit and the pictures are very cute but not too young. I also really appreciate that they're bringing a big chunk of the series out in paperback all at once, since that's how I buy my new series.

Verdict: If you're looking for new beginning chapter series about girls, this will be a good choice. Hand it to fans of Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, Princess Posey, and Puppy Place.

ISBN: 9781442457690; Published January 2013 by Simon & Schuster; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013; Added to my series purchase list for October

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

S.W.I.T.C.H.: Spider Stampede by Ali Sparkes, illustrated by Ross Collins

Josh and Danny, and their dog Piddle, generally get along pretty well. Except that Josh loves anything creepy-crawly and his twin, Danny, most definitely does NOT. Then one day Piddle gets lost in the mysterious shed belonging to their creepy, crotchety next-door neighbor Miss Potts and something strange and exciting and horrible happens.

They turn into spiders! Unfortunately, the first person who sees them is their big sister Jenny - and she is not a fan of spiders! After a series of hair-raising adventures and with the help of some friendly rats they manage to get back to Petty Potts. She's not all bad, but she's definitely a mad scientist! She turns the boys back and they escape, but are their adventures over?

Additional back matter includes a final note from Petty Potts with more hints on her secret S.W.I.T.C.H formula and the mysteries she hints at, a glossary, bibliography, list of the current titles in this series, and biographies of the author and illustrator.

Verdict: I think kids will really like the combination of facts and fiction in this story. It's just gross enough with lots of crazy adventures and only a little over 100 pages long. It could have been funnier and the writing falls a bit flat in places, but quite good overall. Add this if you need more beginning chapter books in your library. I will probably wait until next November when I add new series to the collection, since this is available only in paperback or expensive library bound editions. There are currently six books available in the series.

ISBN: 9780761391999; Published May 2013 by Darby Creek/Lerner; Egalley provided by publisher through Netgalley; Added to library's series wishlist

Monday, April 15, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Nowhere else on earth: Standing tall for the Great Bear Rainforest by Caitlyn Vernon

Ever since I read Salmon Bears I've been fascinated by the Great Bear Rainforest. This book addresses the unique features of the forest, but mainly focuses on the native peoples that live there and the environmental activism involved in saving the forest.

The basic text of the book takes the reader through the different aspects of the rainforest and the environmental concerns, from First Nation to timber industries. There are a lot of extras included. Quotes from activists, authors, and books (especially It's our world too by Phillip Hoose), photographs, cartoon illustrations, various inset paragraphs of text.

Some of the inset boxes include information and facts while some are labeled "take action" and give starting points for thinking and investigating various issues. Larger boxes include "Eco-Story" which are reminiscences from the author and "Voices from the coast" which are interviews and quotations from people who live in and around the Great Bear Rainforest, mostly First Nation, but also activists and scientists. The Voices sections were interesting, although I noticed they did all seemed rather one-sided. The Eco-Story sections were unnecessary in my opinion. The author isn't such a well-known activist (at least that I'm familiar with) that her meandering philosophical thoughts and memories from her childhood with activist parents are all that interesting.

Verdict: There is a lot of information included in this book and I found the first-person narratives from people who live in and around the rainforest interesting, but ultimately there isn't much practical information in the book. The suggestions to take action are vague and there are very few real-life examples. While I found this interesting, because I like bears! I don't see any kids in our library checking this out. I'd only purchase this if I had a lot of kids interested in being active for the environment or if we were near the Great Bear Rainforest, which we are definitely not.

ISBN: 9781554693030; Published 2011 by Orca; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, April 13, 2013

This week at the library; or, Revving up for the summer

Random Commentary
  • This is my last week to grab a breath before the avalanche of school visits, summer programs, and all the attendant joys falls upon me. Happily, the week started with rain! I love rainy days (once I've gotten all my books and bags into the library). Rain washes away all the pollen so I can breathe!
  • I love seeing the wacky end-of-semester projects the kids stagger in with. Today's best was a group of teens asking to use a study room so they could work on their "theme park based on the human digestive system". It looked pretty good, nice use of pipe cleaners.
  • For the past couple years I've collaborated with Pattie Woods, our Parent Connections' Parent Educator on a big extravaganza program for National Library Week/Week of the Young Child (yes, I know we were a week early this year, but we do it for the four year olds so we have to pick a day when they don't have 4K). Pattie does most of the work and I supply this and that. I have to really let go of my need to organize things for this because it always tends to be a bit chaotic and last-minute, no matter how much we discuss it beforehand! Pattie usually gets volunteers from MOPs to do a lot of the cutting out of crafts and teachers from the local preschools help out as well. She has an army, but still does a lot of the work herself.. This year we had the program throughout the library on Wednesday morning, so I didn't do preschool interactive that morning. There was food, dogs from the local animal shelter, a "real Clifford" as one little girl said, and several activity stations. I have no real idea how many people came, but I'm guessing around 200, including a group from the special education school.
  • We did have a few glitches, mostly in the realm of crowd control. We need to try to spread out the stations more next year (we had originally planned to have stations upstairs, but somehow that didn't happen on the day of the program). The circulation staff suggested an area for coats (not needed last year when the weather was warm!) and more garbage cans!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Starring Jules (as herself) by Beth Ain

I almost didn't read this book. It is set in New York and it features a spunky girl with individual style and "pizzaz". Two strikes! However, I am super glad I did go ahead and read it because it also features a really well-written depiction of elementary school friendships and a girl who is thoroughly realistic and every seven-year-old girl can relate to what she's going through.

Jules is mostly happy with her life as a "scrambled eggs and chocolate milk type person" even though she does not currently have a best friend. Her best friend went on a fancy vacation and now she is into girly things and Jules feels very left out. It's just her and her lists, trying to keep herself focused. However, things seem to be looking up! She gets asked to audition for a tv commercial and there's a new girl - from London! - who just might be her new best friend. But now she's stressed and worried about her audition and things don't go the way she expects with Elinor.

What I loved about this story was that it never descended into stereotypes. Jules' weird quirks are interesting and make her a unique person, but they also get her into trouble and sometimes hurt other people's feelings. There's a natural feeling to her problems with Charlotte, her former best friend, and the author keeps a perfect balance between them, neither demonizing Charlotte for liking more "girly" things than Jules nor throwing in a fake make-up. At the end of the story, it's like Jules' mom says - even if they like different things and aren't best friends any more, they can still be nice to each other. The tv commercial is almost incidental to the story, the real plot being Jules' friendships with different people and how she learns to compromise with other people while still being herself.

Verdict: This is a perfect book for girls in that in-between stage in elementary school. It's got just enough pizzaz to keep it from being a problem story about friendship, but enough gentle hints to help out girls going through their own friendship tough spots. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780545520478; Published March 2013 by Scholastic; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle is following the Judy Moody/Stink model here with a new series about the younger brother of Winnie.

Ty is a fairly typical seven year old; he likes to play goofy games, gets into trouble without meaning to, and is having trouble adjusting to a new baby in the house. A series of minor crises lead to him making a very bad decision and he ends up with a serious penguin problem (yes, that's a REAL penguin). Fortunately, his sisters are there to help save the day and he works things out with his mom and realizes the new baby isn't so bad.

I'm a bit tired of so many beginning chapter books and middle grade chapter books featuring phobic little boys (yes, Alvin Ho, I'm looking at YOU) that get stressed out over everything. I'm not saying those kids don't exist, but most kids are more interested in reading about kids with a little more balance in their lives (the opposite gender parallel is the class clown or spunky little girl. I am really, really sick of "spunky" little girls). Lauren Myracle does a really good job of keeping Ty a realistic and balanced character. He's nice to the preschoolers and is uncomfortable when the wilder Lexie wants to play guns with rubber bands, but he's also not above chasing the cat with a Dustbuster or doing a little perilous climbing. Ty's feelings about the baby are spot-on, but the author shows a real understanding of kids when Ty gets distracted from his feelings by pretty much whatever else is going on. Although the text is limited, the supporting characters are nicely drawn as well and I loved seeing a "spunky" little girl, Lexie, from an outsiders' perspective. The art is cute, but not too cute and complements the story nicely.

Verdict: I did find the final penguin exhibit a little beyond belief (then again, I've never tried the door handles at the zoo exhibits, so...) and the ending seemed rather abrupt - what happens with the sisters and the penguin? but overall this is a great beginning to a new beginning chapter book series. I'm feeling more enthusiastic about my summer booktalks already!

ISBN: 9780525422648; Published May 2013 by Dutton; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013; Purchased for the library

Monday, April 8, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: One step at a time: A Vietnamese child finds her way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

This is the sequel to The Last Airlift, which told the story of Tuyet, an orphan rescued from Vietnam. In the second part of her story, Tuyet is settling in to life with her Canadian family, but her polio-damaged leg doesn't allow her to walk properly and gives her constant pain. She needs an operation to correct her damaged leg and it can't wait.

Skrypuch's simple language captures the fear and bewilderment of a girl who's barely had time to deal with the trauma of her escape from Vietnam and new life in a strange country when she's confronted with yet another frightening experience. Tuyet still doesn't speak English and although she knows they're trying to fix her leg, she doesn't understand why they're doing it the way they are. However, with the help of friends she makes it through the operation. Then the real work begins as she struggles with physical therapy and recovery. However, Tuyet has boundless determination and insists on standing on her own two feet, both emotionally and physically, and finally triumphs. Along the way there are incidents and growing experiences that give the reader a good look not only at Tuyet's childhood but also at the time period.

An historical note explains polio, a disease most western children are, thankfully, unfamiliar with. Further resources offer more stories of children who suffered from polio and where you can get involved to help children in countries that still struggle with this disease. There are also a series of brief author notes explaining some of the things in the book - Tuyet's birthday, why her parents didn't stay with her in the hospital, etc.

Verdict: This is a strong sequel to The Last Airlift. It's just long enough for kids needing a 100-pg biography for school, but also makes an inspiring read for kids who like history and reading about real people. It's nice to see a biography that isn't either a picture book or a massive tome and this offers an interesting look at a unique person and time period. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781927485019; Published September 2012 by Pajama Press; Review copy provided by the publisher; Added to the library

Saturday, April 6, 2013

This week at the library; or, For my next trick...

Random Commentary
  • Ah, spring. Nothing like running one of my two big spring programs whilst so high on allergy medication I have to keep stopping to remember my own name.
  • I don't usually promote publishers or websites or anything, but this is something I've been waiting for and I'm very excited about! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has finally put together a website specifically for their awesome Scientists in the Field series - and it is well worth the wait. Check it out!
  • Really, really quiet Thursday which translated to a small group at Lego Club. But I had to work the desk that night, so that was actually good.
  • This week looks very...bare, but believe me it was INSANE. Lots of stuff going on that's not appropriate to talk about and it's been a very stressful week.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Odd Squad: Bully Bait by Michael Fry

This latest entry in the notebook novel genre isn't particularly new, but I found it funny despite the literary voice in my brain pointing out flaws.

Nick (the shortest 12 year old ever) is tired of being bullied by Roy, who's big, stupid, and mean. Against his will, he's teamed up with Molly and Karl on Safety Patrol to try to cure their "peer allergies". Molly gets teased because of her height and Karl is a stereotypical nerd, socially awkward and embarrassing to every human he comes in contact with. He's also the original (and only) real member of the Safety Patrol.

It turns out Nick isn't exactly innocent either, since he's been using his grandmother's phone to harass Roy and talk to Becky, the girl he has a crush on. Hijinks ensue, including an escaped boa constrictor, threatened death-by-tuna, and twistable science experiments.

The art is, I assume, fairly typical of the author's style (he's one of the creators of the Over the Hedge comic strip) but as it's not a strip I read, I didn't really have anything to compare it to. I don't think many kids will recognize it, but they'll like the art anyways - it's got that same mixture of cartoon style and a-kid-might-have-drawn-me that was so popular in Wimpy Kid and other titles.

There's nothing particularly different about this book. The characters are all very stereotypical - the bully who can't read and has family issues, the bullied kid who realizes he isn't innocent, the well-meaning adults who are totally clueless, etc. However, there are a few fresh touches. The Wise Janitor gets a makeover into a kooky storytelling hippie dude, there's a ghost who may or may not exist, and Nick's family is weird but funny. As long as teachers (and publishers) can refrain from suggested this book will assist in anti-bullying campaigns in any way, it's a hilarious read that kids will enjoy.

Verdict: This book made me laugh. It will make kids laugh. Go forth and purchase it.

ISBN: 9781423169246; Published February 2013 by Disney Hyperion; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

ChickenHare by Chris Grine

ChickenHare is a graphic novel series picked up by Scholastic's Graphix imprint. They've been touting it as a successor to Bone, but my gn friends said it really wasn't that good. Well, being the book skeptic that I am, I just had to see for myself. Warning: Ahead there be spoilers.

So, it's not so much that it's not good (although it's pretty humdrum art and overall text - looks like every other full color, clean-lined graphic novel Graphix puts out really) it's more that it's COMPLETELY FREAKING WEIRD INSANITY.

The story opens with a guy walking through the snow with what appears to be a rabbit and a turtle in his backpack and he informs them he's going to sell them to this crazy taxidermist. His name is Mr. Klaus. He looks like Santa Claus, except for the...uh...badly taxidermied animals he keeps fondling. They make a bid for freedom by insulting the picture of the taxidermist's long-lost...friend (I really, really hope they were just friends) goat Mr. Buttons. Mr. Buttons appears to have gotten tired of being beaten and run away forty years previously. The rabbit is really the rare ChickenHare and the turtle is a whiskered chelonai. They are imprisoned in bird cages with two other weird animals, a monkey-like creature named Banjo and a somewhat psychotic elf-like girl named Meg who has spunky female heroine written all over her. We discover the turtle's name is Abe, but ChickenHare is just...ChickenHare. They manage to escape, breaking the legs of the jailer in the process and damaging the butler. Mr. Klaus forces them to get into his sleigh and go after his fleeing taxidermy subjects anyways. ChickenHare gets separated from the other animals, who meet some strange little creatures who keep saying that Banjo is a "krampus" which is apparently something bad. ChickenHare meanwhile follows the ghost of a goat and discovers the body of Mr. Buttons - he fell into a crevice, broke his legs, and starved to death. His ghost has just been waiting for someone to come along and thaw his frozen body a little so he can get back in. They all meet up again (including the broken-legged corpse of Mr. Buttons) and have a battle. Mr. Buttons lures Mr. Klaus over the ice and they plunge into a freezing lake and die (well, sort of, the goat was already dead...). The weird little creatures have a feast, Mr. Buttons' ghost shows up and says all is well, and after discovering that the feast was Mr. Klaus' butler and his other servants (YES THEY WERE EATING PEOPLE OMG) they set out on their journey home.

Verdict: I...have no words to describe this. I mean, I don't mind serious subjects in a kids' comic but this makes no sense. "Oh, yeah, in this world Santa is a psychotic, brutal taxidermist" and "sure, let's just eat the bad guys" coupled with the typical kidsy art of Graphix kind of blows my mind. Especially the subtext of Mr. Buttons - stay with an abusive person so they don't hurt anyone else. I can see kids reading this, but I can't see myself spending any of the library's budget on it. I think I'll buy new copies of Bone instead.

ISBN: 9780545485081; This edition published 2013 by Scholastic/Graphix; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, April 1, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: FUNdamental experiments: Dirt by Ellen Lawrence

This is a sample from a new series from Bearport which I am very excited about. There are lots of experiment books out there but these have got a definite edge.

First, at only 24 pages with large, bold type, they're geared for younger readers and kids in general. However, the shorter length does not mean the book is lacking in content. Each page is packed with information, experiments, and ideas.

This book focuses on dirt (the other titles currently available in the series are Color, Motion, and Water). With simple investigative experiments, it walks kids through what dirt is made of, how rocks break down into soil, compost, how dirt interacts with water, how dirt helps plants grow, and worms. At the end of the experiments is two pages of "discovery time" with answers to the experimental questions. More sections of additional information encourage kids to think about how dirt is part of their daily lives, plus a glossary of terms, index, brief bibliography and link to learn more at the publisher's website.

This is the perfect book to get kids started on the scientific process by observing and recording what they see. Although some are a little messy, most of the experiments would be easily translated to a library (or school) setting. The text is informative but doesn't bog down and there are lots of questions to keep kids interested in the experiments.

Verdict: This is a must-have for your library, especially if you do any kind of STEM  programming or if you're planning on starting. Even if you don't use the experiments in this book, it gives a great lesson plan on how to set up observation and experimentation for kids. If we had a category for experiment and how-to books in Cybils I'd say this was a winner!

ISBN: 9781617727375; Published 2013 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher; Series purchased for library