Monday, September 30, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Monsters and Legends by Davide Cali, illustrated by Gabriella Giandelli, translated by Judith Taboy

Sometimes being a librarian, voracious reader, and having a somewhat photographic memory (for certain things. i.e. useless facts I have read in books) does not assist in the reviewing process.

One of the things that really surprised me in the Tapir Scientist I reviewed last week was when the author said that most people don't know what a tapir was. Now, I don't remember when I first saw a tapir in a zoo, although probably when I was a child, but I can't remember a time when I didn't know what one was.

The same thing happened to me when I read this book. It's one of those quirky fact books and it's focused on monsters and legends people used to believe in and the real creatures they were based on. As I read through it, I kept thinking "surely everyone knows unicorn horns were really narwhal horns? Cyclops were inspired by elephant skulls? Mermaids were actually dugongs, or manatees? But then I realize...not everyone has a brain packed full of useless information.

This book is a little different than most esoteric fact books. It's a European title but the translated text is mostly pretty lucid and interesting. It starts out with a variety of monsters and legends and the animals they were based on and moves up to the present day with things like giant squid and the coelacanth, on to vampires, witches, and zombies intermixed with mysteries there's no definitive answer to yet, like the mokole-mbembe or Bigfoot.

The book isn't very logically laid out and skips back and forth between monsters proven not to exist, those that did actually exist in some form, and those whose origins are so far still a mystery. There's no bibliography or source notes to back up the author's assertions or historical facts. The last page is labeled "notes" but it's a glossary with four words - Sloth, Heretic, Hominid, and Plesiosaur. This isn't the type of book a kid could use in a report. But it's still an amazing book and for me it's the illustrations that push it over the line from "badly researched nonfiction" to "art book with informational aspects".

Giandelli's art is stunning. There's two styles, simple black, white and yellow line drawings, sometimes funny, sometimes creepy, and smooth, colored illustrations that reminded me of Henri Rousseau's paintings. Each piece of artwork is a miniature masterpiece and I especially loved the way she drew the first page of monsters to match the descriptions but still give enough clues to match them with the real animals on the following page.

Verdict: Kids who love monsters and Bigfoot and other weird and creepy urban legends will gobble this book up and get an appreciation for fine art along the way. It is an oversized picture book in format, so you might have a little trouble finding the right space for it on your shelves, but I would say it's worth it. I'd put it in your graphic novel or fiction section because of the lack of source notes or historical context, but it would also make a good starting point for kids to find out more about urban myths and legends.

ISBN: 9781909263031; Published July 2013 by Flying Eye/Nobrow Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's tentative order list

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This week at the library; or, I need a vacation from my vacation

Random Commentary
  • I had Monday and Tuesday off, which I used for a fall cleaning and reorganization of my apartment. Anybody want to buy some extra bookshelves?
  • Got back to work on Wednesday and found our system had crashed. 30 people came to storytime in addition to the 20 kids of the school class and a good time was had by all (except the circulation staff) reset the room for the afternoon, went to the daycare, another 20 kids came and checked out books while I was gone, then general craziness. I probably owe the circulation staff chocolate, or somebody does at this point.
  • Another two visits on Thursday morning, a couple hours on the desk, and Messy Art Club. Also Teens on Screen (teen movie night) which I did not have to do, since our cataloger got roped into doing teen programs. I think about 10 teens came! Moving it to an earlier time worked well! We are still talking about my neighborhoods plan and everything is crazy. I am getting a sore throat and the staff probably never want to hear my voice again, I have talked so much!
  • Half day on Friday, I didn't expect too many people to show up at We Explore, especially since the weather was so nice, but 22 people came. I am trying to phase out these vague, themed, storytime-ish We Explores and I think I almost have a new plan in place, but I won't start it until the spring. I plan to have 1 monthly series with Pattie (she's doing a science series right now), 1 monthly series that I do with the same structure - I'm thinking of an author/illustrator series like the Eric Carle program I did last spring. The third monthly We Explore would either be an outside performer or a casual drop-in playgroup type thing, like We Explore Boats.
  • I am feeling that I may have overscheduled myself in the realm of outreach. I just got a request for the five first grades of one of our elementary schools to visit, looked at the week they requested, and realized I already had nine outreach visits that week, plus regular programs.
  • Saturday - I was hoping it wouldn't be too crazy, so I could get all the backlog of work done, and finish planning the October programs. HA! Just once, I would like to work a Saturday when all the dang computers don't crash.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

8th grader Edward spends most of his time trying not to be noticed. He lives with his odd aunt and has decided that nothing really matters and he'd rather think than participate in the world around him. Unfortunately, pushy Feenix (Edith) seems to delight in tormenting "Dweebo" and pretty much everyone else who she comes into contact with. It's just her way of making everyone participate. The third protagonist is silent Brigit, the new girl at school, that nobody knows much about. Certainly they don't know about the secret she's hiding and why she doesn't speak.

These three are forced together when a Time Fetch, sent out by the Keeper, is accidentally picked up by Edward and then taken by Feenix. Guided only by cryptic comments and strange, quasi-mythical forces, the three must stop the foragers and the chaos that threatens to destroy time and engulf them all.

This debut fantasy reminded me strongly of Diana Wynne Jones, but it just doesn't have that sense of character that pulls the chaotic magical elements and hints of mythology along. The time fantasy was very Diana Wynne Jones, with mythical creatures who mysteriously hint at their true  natures, a truly fearful blending of Norse myth and Grimm fairy tales, and a gradual building of magical forces. Edward's aunt was also very much in the tradition of DWJ, with her combination of eccentricity and intelligence. The protagonists start out as DWJ people, being neither particularly lovable nor sympathetic, but they just don't stay strong throughout the whole story. There's never any reason for Edward's attitude and Feenix eventually seems more like a posturing mean girl than the strong, unique woman she's destined to become.

Verdict: This wasn't perfect, but for a debut fantasy it's not bad. DWJ fans will probably really like it, and I was quite taken with it myself, despite the flaws. However, DWJ is not particularly popular at my library, alas, so I will probably pass on it myself. If you have an audience for this type of fantasy though, it's worth adding. I will also add that I was quite awed by how British this American book by an Iowan author sounded though!

ISBN: 9781616202200; Published August 2013 by Algonquin/Workman; ARC provided by publisher at ALA annual 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

A Crooked Kind of Perfect was very popular at my library, so when I had a chance to review Center of Everything, even though I'd already bought it, I thought I'd give it a try.

Ruby Pepperdine lives in a small town in New Hampshire that's obsessed by donuts. To Ruby, however, the important thing isn't so much the circle as the center and for her whole life the center of everything was sitting on the roof of her family's car business with her grandmother Gigi. But now Gigi is gone and Ruby, the quiet one, the one who always does what's expected, who always knows the right thing to do, is feeling completely lost and adrift. She's certainly not ready to give a speech on Bunning Day, when the town celebrates their founder and the creator of the doughnut, Captain Bunning.

The story starts with the legend of the doughnut, then jumps to Ruby getting ready for the parade. It hops back and forth in flashbacks as Ruby moves closer and closer to the moment of her speech and bit by bit the reader learns why she's feeling so lost, why she's fighting with her best friend, and what's happening around her and in her head.

This felt to me very like Sarah Dessen for the middle grade crowd, not that that is a bad thing at all. I thought the constant flashbacks and non-linear storyline might get confusing, but it all kind of blended together well and judging by the number of times this has been checked out, it's certainly not deterring any readers. There's a kind of dreamy quality to the story, as Ruby comes to grips with grief and moving on, that in some ways makes the quirky bits stand out but in other ways they fit in almost in a magical realism sense.

Verdict: This isn't a book I'd personally want to reread, but it was actually kind of satisfying to let my adult thoughts go and sink into the mindset of a just-growing-up middle grade girl. Lots of middle grade girls will like the blend of sadness and hope and how Ruby is slowly growing into a sense of self and a realization that the world is complicated and things don't always happen as they are supposed to. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780547763484; Published March 2013 by Harcourt Children's Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013; Purchased for the library

Monday, September 23, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Tapir Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

While I still love the Scientists in the Field series and religiously purchase and recommend them, I must admit that I've really only skimmed the last few volumes. However, this latest addition to the series brings back the team of Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop and that was all I needed to see to know this would be a great read.

One of the things I like about this author/photographer combination is that they always do something a little different, even when writing in the confines of a series. The focus of the text is never quite what you expect, the photographs catch you unawares with their beauty and subject matter.

In this book, the authors introduce us to a team of scientists and local activities working to study tapirs and save them and their habitat. The particular focus of this group is a trip that focuses on tagging and tracking tapirs on a ranch in Brazil. While this book includes a lot of information about tapirs and the current efforts to save them, it had a more intimate feel, a focus on the scientists and everyday people involved that I feel has been missing from some of the latest Scientists in the Field titles. One of the things I really appreciate about the SitF series is that they talk not just about the important scientists, but the local people who are also involved in the project. So they profile not just the team leader and other scientists but also the field assistant, a local who had to quit school at 8th grade but uses his trapping skills learned as a child to help trap the animals, the darting specialist, who doesn't like to hunt and darts animals instead and the ranchers who own the ranch where the tapirs and many other wildlife live.

As always, Nic Bishop's photographs are marvelous. They capture not only the tapirs and the scientific expedition in all it's dirt, wonder, and exhaustion, but also the beauty of the Pantanal area. From the exquisite detail of the hairs inside a marsh deer's ears to a troop of coatis, tails held high, the wildlife and landscape is awesomely pictured.

Verdict: I'm excited all over again about distributing this to my patrons, not least because they will recognize some of the animals from our live animal program every summer, featuring Diego the coati! It's warm and human with hope and beauty - and lots of information about tapirs and their habitat. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780547815480; Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin; Purchased for and borrowed from the library

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cybils is coming! Get out your nominations!

I am really excited about Cybils this year. I am chairing the new Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category, and we have a great group of folks to get this newly revamped category off the ground:

Round 1

Franki Sibberson at
Ellen Zschunke at
Amy Broadmoore at
Alysa Stewart at
Roberta Gibson at
Jen Fukuyama at
Reshama Deshmukh at

I'm also going to be judging in Round 1 of easy readers/early chapter books. This was the first panel I was on when I first started with Cybils and I am so pleased to be going back to where I started!

Nominations will open October 1, so start thinking about all the great easy readers, early chapters, and nonfiction you want to nominate!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

This week at the library; or, All My Numbers are Awesome!!

Random Commentary
  • The 2012 numbers for Wisconsin libraries came out and my numbers are TEH AWESOME. In our system, my 107,000 circulation of children's materials was beaten only by two other libraries, one only by a margin of 1,000. I had the most number of children's programs (305) and with over 11,000 children in attendance over the year, far and away the highest number of program attendance! Even the one big city library in our consortium didn't break 9,000. I am going to frame these numbers and sleep with them under my pillow.
  • I only had 1 person signed up for Tail Waggin' Tutors and was feeling pretty down about this, but I had forgotten how much our town hates signing up for anything. By the time people had dropped in and out, about 15-20 people came in the end I think. It's not exactly the "right" way to do a reading to dogs program, which is supposed to be one kid, one dog, sitting and reading for 10 minutes or whatever, but it worked for us. I had dog books on display, kids wandered in in family groups, and sat down to meet Max, pet him, and read him a book. I did scoot out a toddler who was getting disruptive, but most just read or petted quietly.
  • I had another staff member sticker kids for toddlers 'n' books, since I was out doing 3 outreach storytimes for the elementary school. Then I went straight from that to the youth services committee meeting at the system. I was only 15 minutes late and there was still pizza! I really thought this fall would be calmer - I didn't have an ALSC committee, I cut back on programs, but somehow everything seems to expand to fill the time available, ya know? Feeling a little (ok, maybe a lot) frantic and flustered and frustrated, not least because the children's area is a huge mess.
  • This was my first try at combining a preschool visit with Preschool Interactive. There is only one preschool/4K site within walking distance (the others are outside of town) and in the past they've all come to visit for one long week in April and the rest of the year I do a remote collection with them. So, this year, we talked it over and decided we really wanted the kids to check out more books and get to the library more often and I decided to combine it with my preschool storytime, so I wasn't doing additional programs. 18 four year old kindergarteners, a whole class, came around 9:30. I had the storytime craft and a selection of books ready in the Storyroom and they filed in and browsed the books and did the craft. Once they had picked their books, they went one by one back out to the circulation desk (I made them each bags by printing out labels with their room and name and sticking them on our plastic I Love My Library bags) and checked out their books. They put their craft and books in the bag (I'd already put 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten folders in), and hung it on our coat racks. Then they had some time to play with (and argue over) the trains and then they joined us for the regular Preschool Interactive program. The storytime portion ends at 10:30 and the school kids left then, while the "regular" kids moved on to the art project. I think this worked ok, although I was of course, worried about the numbers again. I can't decide if I should keep doing Preschool Interactive or not.
  • Thursday I got two different staff members to cover for Pattie and myself. Our Reference Associate did baby storytime, which she's done before. In fact, she's the only staff member who's been willing to sub for it more than once! Then our floater, who does everything from circulation duties to occasional stints at the reference desk, supervised Lego Club with set-up help from my aide. I left him a detailed map and instructions as well (this isn't a regular thing - I think I've had subs for my programs maybe...once a year? on average)
  • I got people to sub because Pattie (who was speaking) and I and another librarian all went up to Franklin for an early literacy workshop. I will admit, I was not feeling enthusiastic about going. I was happy to spend some time with my colleagues and some of the sessions looked interesting, but OMG NO MORE IDEAS PLEASE was the thought in the back of my head. I have so many half-finished projects, new program series, and masses of ideas already, from craft projects on Pinterest to programs I have yet to implement to my neighborhoods project and a gazillion other things...what I really wanted was a couple days off to catch up!
  • However, I did get several useful things (and no, I'm not talking about the watermelon Jolly Ranchers I snagged from Pattie). I especially enjoyed the session with an outreach librarian from Milwaukee (who actually remembered me from a brief meeting 2 years ago...and I've already forgotten her name) which reminded me it's really time I updated my Preschool Interactive to the five early literacy skills and I drafted out something which I'll be switching to in October I think. Pattie and I also planned out the rest of her science programs for the year, which ended up leaving me some extra $$ to buy more books! Yay!
  • Friday. It's been a looooong week. I started filling swimming pools for Pattie's science program when I came in and spent the rest of the day doing desk time, weeding, collection development, and cleaning off my desk. Only a few kids came for the program, but they made up for it with super cuteness! Also, my Wednesday outreach visits were a SUCCESS. A family came back today because the little boy was so excited about visiting the library and brought home 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten. So the mom brought him and his little sister in. I don't know if they'd ever visited the library before, but his little sister got a 10KBK folder, and it was awesome!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Athlete vs. Mathlete by W. C. Mack

Twins Owen and Russell are nothing alike. They don't look alike, they don't share friends, and they certainly don't share interests. Owen shares his dad's love of basketball and is serious about his place on the team. Russell is a serious student and leader of his school's Masters of the Mind team.

But everything changes in seventh grade, starting with a new coach. He's impressed with Russell's height and tells him to try out for the team. To everyone's surprise, he makes the cut. Now Owen is struggling against jealousy, as Russell turns out to have some natural abilities. Russell is worried about losing his old friends and his Masters of the Mind team, but is finding out he enjoys basketball more than he expected. Can the brothers reconcile their differences and work together as a winning team, or will they lose on and off the court?

Now this is a book that takes a pretty basic plot, that's been done plenty of times, and turns it on its head in an awesome way. I loved that the author didn't descent into stereotypes, but kept the story realistic. Russell does have some amazing natural abilities, but he is also really bad at other parts of the game and needs to work hard to get into good physical condition. Owen doesn't suddenly turn out to have some amazing abilities elsewhere. It just so happens that Russell is good at academics and sports and Owen is really only good at sports. Owen isn't a very likable character; he's mean, overbearing, and selfish, but he's completely realistic in his behavior and the alternating viewpoints show how he got to the point of justifying the things he did, even when he knew they were wrong. Russell is a bit too good to believe sometimes, but he becomes a bit more human by the end.

Verdict: This is a book that will fly off the shelves; funny, realistic, school drama, sports, there's something for everyone. I highly recommend it and am looking forward to adding the sequel, Double Dribble, as well.

ISBN: 9781599909158; Published February 2013 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher; Added to the library's order list.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Last-but-not-least Lola: Going Green by Christine Pakkala, illustrated by Paul Hoppe

Yet another beginning chapter book series has started.

  • Spunky girl with a slightly odd name? Check.
  • Is she the class clown, hyperactive, and socially awkward? Check.
  • Is her family slightly quirky? Check.
  • Does she have friendship problems? Check.
Le sigh. So, Lola Zuckerman is tired of always being last because her last name starts with Z. She's determined to win the Going Green contest, not just because her older brother won it, but to show she can finally be first in something and beat her former best friend, Amanda Anderson. Lola and Amanda haven't been friends since Amanda moved into a big new house and she and Lola had a fight.

Of course, all Lola's best ideas get taken before they get to the Zs, she gets in trouble for saying mean things about Amanda, who makes fun of her with her new friend, and she just knows she's never going to win. But then...she does! Only it doesn't feel quite as good as she'd hoped. With a little compromise, Lola finds out that she can be friends with Amanda again and maybe some things are more important than being first.

Well, not really. In the preview of the second book, Amanda and her bff are still being mean to Lola, who is still being her usual chaotic, socially awkward self, etc. etc.

So, kids love these series. They like the formulaic aspect, they like the realistic kids, and everyday problems of school and family. But do we really need another one? I am all for formula over unique - often unique just means it's so esoteric or literary a kid can't or won't read it - but there are a lot of other beginning chapter books out there that could be written. First of all, what about all the Princess Poseys? By which I mean, what about all the girls who aren't in constant friend drama or trouble with the teacher, who aren't quirky and loud and "unique". One of my most popular chapter book series is Julie Bowe's books about a class of very ordinary kids, featuring the most average girl of all. Even though she's not loud and in your face, she still has a story to tell. What about the kids of color? Yet again, we have another dang redhead when there are, on average, more kids of color even in a small predominantly white town like mine than actual redheads. And, of course, redheads are always wild and crazy. I also found the teacher (do we have to have another quirky teacher?) unbelievable. I can't believe that no parent has complained about her strict alphabetical policy, especially when it means that kids like Lola are always last for everything. I can't believe that she hasn't gotten in trouble for calling the kids candy nicknames. I also have trouble believing the Going Green competition and how she let it keep going even when it was obviously causing a lot of classroom ructions.

Verdict: This isn't a bad book, per se, it's just very formulaic in a genre that I feel is overpopulated. If you have lots and lots of Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody fans who just can't get enough of this type of character, it's worth adding, but it's not really going to balance out the collection.

ISBN: 9781590789353; published September 2013 by Boyds Mills Press; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA annual 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Get into art: Animals by Susie Brooks

I'm still (well, always, really) on the hunt for the perfect craft book. I've started to think it's like the Holy Grail, the perfect book that only exists in my dream libraries. Yes, I have libraries I go to in my dreams. I'm a librarian.

Usually, I steer clear of art appreciation books. I admit that some of this is personal bias - I don't really have much interest in art myself, especially modern art, but it's also because most of these titles emphasize teaching kids about art and artists, which isn't practical or possible the way my art programs are run. Plus, people don't often check out books about art, it's just not a thing in my town.

This book though, after some initial doubt, I started to really like. It starts with some rather vague maundering about animals in art and how to choose paints, pastels, paper, and other art materials. Then, each spread features a single artist. At the right side of the right page, there's a lift the flap that covers about half the page and hides the project. The page has information about the artist's picture, their work in general, and their life. It also has art appreciation information. The craft project is given in simple steps and has more suggestions about thinking about art as you make it.

The projects include making a cut paper snake, like Matisse's The Snail, painting a dog (Landseer), paper monkey sculpture's (Alexander Calder's Crinkly Giraffe), seaside string prints (Georges Braque's The Bird), scraping paint to create a peacock like Edward Bawden's Peacock and Magpie illustration, a fish picture like M. C. Escher's Fish (E59), painting and sculpting like Joan Miro, Totem poles, painting a sheep to match Franz Marc's Yellow Cow, painting a plate to match a Chinese porcelain dish, a stencilled cat to go with Andy Warhol's Portrait of Maurice, and an Edgar Degas-style horse painting.

The final pages include a glossary of art terms and history, some information about complementary colors, and a list of all the materials you'll need for each project. There is also a brief index. The inclusion of the totem pole as an art project tipped me off that this was originally a British book - for some reason British children's books have a weird, 1950-esque attitude towards Native Americans. Although totem poles can be used to tell stories, they can also be sacred objects and it kind of annoyed me that they included it as a kids' craft.

Verdict: Despite the annoyance of the totem pole and the low circulation of art appreciation books, I will probably buy this one. The mixture of projects and art is very balanced and most of the projects are simple enough for kids to do on their own without a lot of instruction or assistance. The hardcover is a reasonable price and the animal theme will attract kids and parents.

ISBN: 9780753435762; Published August 2013 by Kingfisher/Macmillan; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's tentative order list

Saturday, September 14, 2013

This week at the library; or, Jumping in with both feet

Random Commentary
  • Programs begin again this week. I've decided to add in all our programs to get a better feel of what's going on each week. Somehow a lot got crammed in this first week back and I feel we had a full week!
  • All I did for the homeschool meet 'n' greet was bake cookies, buy some grapes, and put together some children's crafts. I also gave a quick 10 minute talk on library resources. They ran the rest of it themselves pretty much and then I helped clean up. Which was good, b/c I was on the desk! I had intended to lend them my aide, but we had a schedule mix-up and she wasn't available. I think there were about 25 adults and maybe 20 kids. They brought some teens to watch the kids. Hmm. That was more than I thought. Anyways. It was a really crazy day.
  • We explored the Ice Age Trail last year and it was a hit, although not as many people came as I would have liked, since it was also the day a big senior group meets in the library and takes all the parking. This year, I vowed to plan no programs on senior travel day. The Ice Age Trail Alliance volunteers came on Wednesday and we walked through the library and planned and then they came at 8:30am to get everything set up and I helped. We still had about the same number, 26, but I realized that's actually a good number! The kids loved it and you can see pictures at the Photo albums! I'm going to add some captions later. Basically, they did storytime, then we did a mammoth hunt (think We're going on a bear hunt) through the library, then we had more storytelling and things to touch and cave drawing.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rose by Holly Webb

When I think of Holly Webb, I think of her magical animals series, beginning chapter books which I believe are kind of a cross between Puppy Place and Rainbow Magic fairies. However, I was requesting some UK books on Bookmooch and the cover of this caught my eye so I asked for it as well.

I am in love. Utterly in love. Sometimes you get tired of all the unique, breathtaking, new, different books and just want a good, satisfying orphan fantasy.

Unlike her friends at the orphanage, Rose never dreams of her family coming to find her or of something magical happening to her. Her most magical dream is to get out of the orphanage and become a housemaid, which will give her a freedom beyond anything she's ever known. When a housekeeper collects her to housemaid for the mysterious Mr. Fountain, Rose is thrilled - and determined never to tell anyone about the mysterious pictures she's been seeing in shiny surfaces. But Mr. Fountain is a famous alchemist, magic really does exist, and Rose soon gets caught up in an evil plot involving a wicked witch, some bewitching glamours, a talking cat, and missing children.

This book was just, so, satisfying. Plenty of peril, but you know it's going to come right in the end. The snobby children turn out to not be so bad, but nobody is a perfect little angel. There's no magical, over the top happily-ever-after, but a good solid ending with room for more adventures for Rose and her friends. The cover isn't quite ideal, it's a bit more British than I'd like, but I can live with it.

Verdict: I was thrilled to discover that the Rose books are being published in the US this fall! They'll have new covers, which are quite attractive, and I can't wait to booktalk them to kids. I think kids will devour these, especially those kids who like a good, solid magical orphan story. *sigh of happiness*

ISBN: 9781408304471; Published 2009 by Orchard Books; Received through Bookmooch; Added new editions to the library's tentative order list

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Question of Magic by E. D. Baker

E. D. Baker is the queen of fractured fairy tale fantasies, in my opinion. Her books are always funny and if they sometimes have anachronistic language or thoughts, that's ok. This is her best book yet and I was completely enthralled with it.

Twelve-year-old Serafina lives in a fantasy medieval world. She's pretty satisfied with her life; she knows that in a few years she'll marry her childhood friend, Alek, she loves her family, and she's happy in their simple home in the town. Then she receives a mysterious letter from a great-aunt she never knew she had and travels to a nearby village to find out what her hinted-at inheritance is.

Turns out, she's the new Baba Yaga. Serafina is at turns terrified, angry and bewildered. Eventually, she figures out some of how the magic works. As the new Baba Yaga, she must answer the first question of anyone who asks. The magic lets her always give the right answer, but she can't choose the question and she can never answer more than one. Every question makes her older. Serafina starts to see that there's a wider world than she ever knew. She meets magical creatures and powerful people, makes new friends, and flees from dangerous enemies. Through it all, however, she never stops trying to get back to Alek and her home.

There are so many things I love about this story...Serafina is a practical, do-it-yourself kind of girl. When she realizes she's trapped, she does everything she can to find a solution and get back to her home, but she also enjoys the new things she's learning, seeing, and doing. When she finally runs out of resources, she's not afraid to ask for help and depend on her family. Her romance with Alek is just perfect. Although her age may put some people off, it's appropriate for the medieval-type world she lives in. Her interactions with Alek are perfect for the middle grade crowd, focusing on their friendship and strong love for each other. There's enough to give readers a little dreamy thrill, but nothing inappropriate and I loved the way Serafina realizes that her tribulations and experiences have given her a new appreciation for Alek and her home. I also loved that Serafina, while she did her best in her job to help people, never succumbed to "I am the chosen one who must save the world" fantasy tropes. War is shown as a messy, painful thing where everyone suffers and there aren't always good people just waiting to help out Serafina when she gets into trouble. People are just...people. Weird, good, bad, and sometimes upset at what she says, even when it's the Baba Yaga and not herself talking. As always, E. D. Baker is funny, thoughtful, and writes a story that hangs together well and is will catch the attention of the average middle grade reader.

Verdict: Hand this to all your fantasy-loving kids who like adventure, magical creatures, a spunky heroine and a little romance. Definitely recommend.

ISBN: 9781599908557; Published October 2013 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual 2013; Added to the library's order list

Monday, September 9, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Fun with nature by Annalees Lim

I keep looking for new craft books, but somehow I can never quite find the exactly perfect one I'm looking for. This is one of the most recent titles I bought and it's ok, but not perfect.

The book starts with some simple instructions - always ask a grown-up for help, get inspiration outside, and the tools you will need, paint, paper, clay, glue, and scissors.

There are nine projects and they are mostly what I think of as "decorative" crafts. Creating a mini greenhouse out of a plastic bottle, leaf and seashell prints, pinecone hedgehogs, dried flower picture, paper tree, stone painting, collage with leaves, and a nature crown. The book ends with a page that includes a brief glossary, index, and a link to the publisher's website for more resources.

The instructions include general directions, but the pictures are really specific so I don't think many kids or parents will try to make anything other actually pictured, at least not in my rules-are-all-important town. It seems like there isn't anything here that kids couldn't think of on their own, but, in my experience, kids are getting less and less creative so maybe this will spark a little imagination and outdoor play. The pictures are very cute and the book has been circulating well, but I would have liked something a little more open-ended and longer.

Verdict: It's only available in paperback or library bound and 9 projects are in no way worth $20 in my opinion. However, the paperback is very thin and flimsy-looking, so unless you really need more craft books (which I do) I'd just pass on this one.

ISBN: 9781477701904; Published 2013 by Windmill Books; Purchased for the library

Saturday, September 7, 2013

This week at the library; or, Back to school, back to work

Random Commentary
  • All the kids went back to school on Tuesday but we don't start programs until next week. I like to give parents and kids a week to settle into school routine - and myself an extra week to plan! After all my cleaning and organizing efforts, I still had a lot of programs to plan, especially since I don't really have much planning time during actual sessions, so I try to have all my program plans written out through December.
  • I was feeling guilty about working so long in my office, so I went out to the children's desk all day on Tuesday. On the one hand, I talked to a lot of parents about programs, so some good marketing there. On the other hand, nothing got planned.
  • Budget problems. Oooooh, my head.
  • Then teen problems. I am going to be Cranky Librarian this year. I am not putting up with this shit.
  • I hope to present my Neighborhood Manifesto to the staff as a whole soon. I spent some time revising and sending them resources to look at. *crosses fingers*
  • That was Tuesday, pretty much.
  • Wednesday, the city guys came to measure for my chalkboard wall. I AM SO EXCITED. Also, planning programs, or trying to. A constant stream of interruptions from staff and patrons, mostly asking about programs, which is good but...interrupting. Mad Scientists Club hasn't exactly gelled in my head yet and I am a little worried about that.
  • I have HAD IT with the disruptive teens. It's a specific group of about 15 kids, probably if we kicked out 2 of them the rest would go. The director and I gave a group of them final warning - if they misbehave to the point where we have to ask them to leave, it will be for the entire school year, no second chances. Middle schoolers we'll still give some leeway too (as I pointed out to H, when he asked, their frontal lobes haven't fully fused so they get more second chances...)
  • The queen of the toilet plungers (that would be me) strikes again!
  • Thursday. Well, that didn't work. Let's face it, we are wimps. After spending over an hour talking to the teens, talking to the director, talking to staff, I finally had them leave and then discovered they had trashed my suggestion jar (ranging from sexual obscenities to crumpled blank paper, to nasty bullying notes about other teens). Starting Friday, I am going to give up my afternoons and work on asking them to leave when they misbehave, then rinse, wash, and repeat. This is the only thing that has worked in the past, and the thought of doing one more thing, especially when I'm not on the desk, is making me cry in exhausted stress, but it's just too busy at the information desk for the person on duty to deal with this and for some other reasons I'm the only person that can take care of this. 
  • I did get a lot of suggestions online from other librarians and I am going to push for moving the teen area downstairs so they will have more supervision and I don't have to keep going upstairs and leaving all the kids and families in the children's area who want readers' advisory to go deal with disruptive behavior.
  • I did manage to finish planning September programs in the midst of all this though!
  • I got some of the partially written October plans finished on Friday, although I came in late (long story, involving the high school, yearbooks, and my aide's limited access to a car). I was on the information desk from 3-6 and after psyching myself up, of course none of the naughty teens, except one, came in. Snapped a pic of said teen and friend. "Why are you taking pictures?" "Because the staff don't know who you are." " when we misbehave?" "Yes." Teens practically tiptoed up the stairs and started READING. I am so keeping the camera ready and waiting! Otherwise an avalanche of hold requests, reader's advisory, reference, etc.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Tib and Tumtum: Welcome to the tribe by Grimaldi and Bannister

Lerner Graphic Universe publishes a lot of European, especially French, graphic novels. Sometimes they work well, sometimes they just don't translate culturally. I think this new series will do quite well, even if it's not super popular.

Tib lives in a sort of caveman Miyazaki forest. It's lush and green and the tribe is happy and safe. Well, mostly. Unfortunately, Tib has a birthmark on his face and the other kids tease him relentlessly. Then Tib meets an amazing creature, who he names Tumtum. He hopes that such a rare creature will make the other kids like him, but he just can't seem to get anyone to believe him about Tumtum. When he finally does get the tribe's attention, it's not in a good way and suddenly he has to decide if he's going to protect his new friend or follow the tribe.

The book is formatted like a Tintin comic, picture book sized with lots of small panels. The text is fairly simple and all dialogue. The art has a crisp, digital feel to it and the lush green landscape and cute dinosaur definitely feel a bit Miyazaki-ish. However, I would give this one to middle grade kids because, well, this dinosaur is not a vegetarian. Plus, some of the cavewomen are dressed a little skimpily.

Verdict: There's lots of humor in this story and the messages about not teasing, appreciating differences, and sticking by your real friends are lightly done. With the Croods movie I anticipate a lot of interest in funny cavepeople and parents will like the anti-bullying messages. This probably won't be as popular as, say, Babymouse or Summer Camp Science Mysteries, but it's a fun, nicely written, and well-illustrated graphic novel that a lot of kids will enjoy.

ISBN: 9781467712972; Published 2013 by Lerner Graphic Universe; Purchased at ALA annual 2013 for the library

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Caterina and the perfect party by Erin Eitter Kono

I have a favorite picture book from childhood, Fuzzy Rabbit by Rosemary Billam with illustrations by Vanessa Julian-Ottie. When I saw the cover of Caterina, I knew I would have to have it, because something about the art strongly reminded me of Fuzzy Rabbit. Turns out, it's an adorable story all on its own as well.

Caterina, "a little brown bird with great big colorful thoughts" is planning a party. She has lists and decorations and details galore, because everything must be perfect! The invitations have been sent, the decorations are up, the food is ready...and disaster strikes in the form of a big storm. Will Caterina's soggy party be a total failure, or will her most important list save the day?

I loved that Caterina's list-making wasn't seen as a bad thing, and although she did learn to like surprises changing her character wasn't the point of the story.

Most of all, I loved the illustrations. I went back and looked at the author's previous books, most of which are out of print, and I think she must be using a new technique for this book because none of the covers of her previous books look similar in style to this one. The art is mixed media so there are drawings and painting, but also collage. I adored the bright colors and friendly details of each page and the cut-paper weather. The silhouette page, showing thick lines and textures on the animals as they march through the rainy evening and the mud was fascinating.

Verdict: Adorable, you must buy it. There aren't too many party books out there and this one has illustrations that will catch the eye of both children and parents and the text is fun and well-written as well. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780803739024; Published July 2013 by Dial/Penguin; Purchased for the library

Monday, September 2, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Little Fish: A memoir from a different kind of year by Ramsey Beyer

Ramsey Beyer lives in the city and has for the past ten years. But until she was 18, she lived in a tiny town called Paw Paw. This is the story of her first years away from home at art school and how she dealt with feeling like a "little fish".

In zines, lists, blog entries, and comic strips, she records her life from her first tentative arrival at art school in Baltimore to her second year and a firm relationship.

I've seen a lot of graphic memoirs of 20-somethings and my general feelings are um...mostly unprintable, but generally fall into the "what makes your angst so interesting?" However, I will admit that this book held my attention and I can actually see older teens and young adults checking it out.

One of the things that made me actually like this comic was that Beyer is not as self-absorbed and oblivious to the rest of the world as most authors/artists in this genre I've read. She lists at one point the things she's been fortunate in having - a family that's financially well-off and supportive of her, her school, good friends, and opportunities. Her journey to figuring out who she is and what she wants out of life is very balanced. She realizes there are things she misses about small-town life and someday she'll go back to it, but she also loves the excitement and opportunities in the city. She thinks a lot about how people change - not just her friends and family back home and the way she sees the world, but even her new friends as they start relationships and make choices.

The art is very zine-like, if you know what I mean. It's black and white and I don't see anything saying the final book will be in color, so I'm assuming that what I see is what we'll get. There are lots of cut paper backgrounds and the comic panels have a sketchy, doodling look to them. Most of the text, especially the many, many lists, is in a kind of old-fashioned type-writer font. This wasn't to my taste, as it made it difficult for me to read and I was distracted by the many typos - were they part of the "authenticity" of the art, or just because I read an uncorrected proof? Some of the story is repetitive, particularly the introduction of her roommates and friends but then later in the story new names are suddenly dropped in and I couldn't figure out who those people were.

Verdict: This wasn't 100% to my personal taste, but I enjoyed the realistic and pretty balanced look at a kid from a small town going to the big city for the first time and growing into an adult. I think quite a few teens at this point in their lives, especially those in a small town planning on going to bigger cities for college, might enjoy reading this. It's not going to fly off the shelves like Twilight, but it should have a pretty steady audience and I'd recommend it for your teen collection. 
[updated to add: I gave this to my teen aide, who is going to college this fall and she really liked it. I also got a finished copy of the book for review and yes, it is in black and white but the finished art has a cleaner, more striking look and while it still has the zine-ey look, the book as a whole is more polished and some of the repetitive parts and typos were cleaned up. So, finished copy, very cool!]

ISBN: 9781936976188; Published September 3, 2013 by Zest Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; ARC provided by the publisher for review; Added to the library's order list