Monday, March 31, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: World War I for kids: A history with 21 activities by R. Kent Rasmussen

Every year the dreaded World War I project strikes. Random middle school students suddenly appear demanding 20 facts about a single topic. The smart ones have weeks, the procrastinators need them, like, now and are usually rather surly when I tell them that their fellow students have already checked out my entire World War I section and anyways I don't have an entire book on the Zimmerman telegram, trench warfare, or carrier pigeons. However, in view of the demand, I've been slowly building this section. Slowly because, however heavy the demand, it's still only once a year and therefore I want items that are attractive enough to check out all year round.

Which is a lengthy way of saying that Chicago Review Press has met my requirements with this book on an obscure topic, packed with information and activities (yes, you may not consider WWI obscure, but trust me, the kids do).

The bulk of the book is an overview of the war, beginning with an explanation of the treaties and events leading up to the war, the various fronts and what life was like in the trenches, a detailed overview of modern weapons developed and used in the war, naval and aerial combat, and the role of animals in the war. This is followed by a chapter dealing with the late entry into the war of the US, life on the home fronts, and the end of the war and its aftermath.

Suggested activities range from making a parachute or periscope (the instructions are wordy, but fairly easy to follow) to more academic assignments like creating a "scoreboard" of all the countries involved in the war or creating your own propaganda posters or slogans. Personally, I find most of the activities ranging from the mildly pointless to the monumentally boring and slightly weird. Kind of like making a scale-model of a concentration camp (yes, that's an actual project - I lent them my hot glue gun). However, teachers and homeschooling parents may find them useful if they're looking for extension activities. Additional information includes a detailed list of key personalities in the war, and annotated bibliographies of websites and films about the war. Notes, a glossary, bibliography, and index are also included.

This is an overview of the war, not an encyclopedic treatment, so while it briefly mentions the role of women, treatment of African-Americans and native populations in colonized countries, and movements such as women's suffrage and anti-war groups, it doesn't deal with these at length.

Verdict: This isn't a book the average middle grade reader is going to sit down with and read cover to cover, unless they're deeply interested in history and/or World War I. Although it's well-written and the author does an excellent job of explaining the complex events of the war, it's still pretty dense and text-heavy and the black and white photos and grayscale maps aren't very inviting. It is very well-organized however, and would make an excellent resource for students who need additional information on various aspects of the war, which is exactly what I need. It also makes good browsing reading - try booktalking the chapters on how weaponry changed or the involvement of animals in the war. If you have a need for similar overviews of the war, especially connecting the various events and covering, at least briefly, all aspects of the war, this is an excellent source and addition to your World War I resources.

ISBN: 9781613745564; Published April 2014 by Chicago Review Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Saturday, March 29, 2014

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

Random Commentary
  • This was our town's spring break - we had a staff meeting on Monday, my big t-shirt party, and I worked the desk that night and then vacation! Woo! Well, except I also went in to work a couple hours because I had to interview somebody, but that was just a drop in the bucket - I'll take a couple more hours off somewhere else. There's no RA RA READ this week, because I did not send out a department newsletter on Friday!
  • Of course, you want to know what I did on my vacation, right?
    • I had a huge list of things to do, but mostly I spent lots of time reading totally frivolous books and making deposits into my bank of sleep. I should probably just accept that I'm never going to get caught up...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Say Hello like this! by Mary Murphy

Like board books and easy readers, sometimes picture books for the very youngest can be the most difficult. It's hard to get the text simple enough without making it bland, illustrations that are attractive but not too complex, and overall a story that will attract toddlers but not bore adults to tears, especially if it's one you know you will be reading over and over again.

This Lucy Cousins look-alike hits all the nails on the head and promises to be a storytime favorite!

This picture doesn't do justice to the cover, which is actually a vivid teal with sparkly text for the title. The endpapers show several pairs of animals (cows, chicks, geese, and what might be either hamsters or guinea pigs) all making animal sounds. Each page describes a hello "A dog hello is sticky and loud" and shows two animals grinning cheerfully at each. Turn a half page flap and it says "like this!" and adds the animal sounds, showing the two animals now excitedly greeting each other. The book features dogs, cats, frogs, chickens, beetles, and donkeys. On the final spread, it shows all the animals and tells the listeners there's one hello missing...turn the page, and we see all the animals looking out at the audience and a big sparkly hello.

Verdict: I can see kids delightedly practicing their animal sounds, jumping, peeping, making cat paws, and more in this delightful story, not to mention enjoying turning the half page flaps. A real winner for toddler storytime!

ISBN: 9780763669515; Published 2014 by Candlewick Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order list

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lost for words by Natalie Russell

I generally don't like picture books about the storytelling process. It just feels...self-indulgent to me. So when I first saw the description of this, I was like "nah." But...then I realized it was a tapir. There are not enough tapir books! Come to think of it...are there any tapir picture books? Hmmm...also, it's Natalie Russell, and I really adored her pictures in Moon Rabbit, even though I didn't end up buying it for the library....and while I generally look at Peachtree for nonfiction picture books, not fiction, when they do hit a good one, they really hit it...

So I borrowed it and read it and I am IN LOVE.

Tapir has pencils and a notebook, but he doesn't know what to write. All his friends are good at writing; Giraffe can write poems, Hippo can write exciting stories, Flamingo can write songs...but Tapir's got nothin'. He tries behaving like his friends, but it's no good. Finally, Tapir finds his own quiet place and his own special talent and realizes that his pictures can say everything that he doesn't have the words to write.

This book gently introduces children a large number of writing concepts; stories should have a beginning and an ending, songs are composed, the simple rhyming flow of a poem. While the text is a little long for younger storytimes, it would be easy to adapt it and leave out the animals' writing.

Most attractive, of course, are the softly glowing illustrations. Tapir's friends and his world glow with sturdy, vibrant colors and when Tapir finally begins his drawings they are a perfect blend of rough pencil sketches that could have been done by a child and skilled artistry.

Verdict: A simple but beautiful story. This won't have your storytime group racing around with delight, but everyone will have a satisfied sigh when Tapir resolves his problem and produces his lovely pictures, showing his friends just how much they mean to him. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781561457397; Published 2013 by Peachtree; Purchased for the library

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Let me play: The story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America by Karen Blumenthal

I never really thought much about Title IX. Like most people, I assumed it just dealt with girls being allowed to play sports. I have absolutely no interest in sports, never played, and am pretty skeptical about all the "building teamwork" claims, but I'm a strong advocate for girls doing anything they want to do.

However, reading this book was fascinating and I learned there was so much more to Title IX than I had thought. Blumenthal walks the readers through a history of Title IX, giving snapshots of key personages along the way, along with personal stories of girls and women affected by the act and statistics of how it changed educational opportunities for women. The author does a really good job of condensing the many complicated issues, groups, and people down into a cohesive narrative.

Unfortunately, with all the photos being black and white and the poor design of the book I'm not sure I would be able to convince any kids to pick this up and read it. The layout is confusing and oddly random, breaking up paragraphs and even sentences and it gives an overall cluttered feel to what's really a very strong narrative. It's also directed at older readers, middle school more than middle grade, and nonfiction is a hard sell for that group.

Verdict: I enjoyed reading this and found it very educational; I'm definitely going to remember to buy more sports books featuring girls next time I have a shot at updating the sports section (periodically I try to do this and usually end up just sighing and letting it go again). It would be great if publishers had more series featuring contemporary female athletes. However, I probably won't buy this book for my library.

ISBN: 0689859570; Published 2005 by Atheneum; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, March 22, 2014

This week at the library; or, Everything is in pieces and bits

Random Commentary
  • Busy week. Lots of little miscellaneous things, trying to clear everything up for my week of vacation.
  • Did have an idea about running a baby storytime concurrently with Preschool Interactive - it's sounding very attractive to me, but I will have to mull it over some more. Pattie and I are having ongoing dialogue about where we see our respective departments going and maybe we'll consider some changes in 2015 - it's nice to have colleagues to discuss with!
  • I worked Saturday - we showed Frozen on Friday night (167 people) and again Saturday morning (88 people). I went to order a couple more copies, since people were coming in and putting MORE holds on it (close to 600 in the system and at least 30 in my library) and found that Amazon won't let you order unlimited copies! Drat.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Maple by Lori Nichols

This is an example of a book that's really simple, but hits every note with perfect pitch.

Maple loves her name and she loves the tree that her parents planted when she was born. Her tree grows with her and it's the perfect friend, inspiring her to imagine, play, and just dream. Sometimes Maple feels a little lonely, but she always comes back to her tree through autumn, winter, and in spring. To her delight, something new is added in spring; another tree! Maple is thrilled with the new tree and her new baby sister, but sometimes it's hard to play with a baby. Then Maple realizes that there is something she can always share with baby Willow; her tree! The trees and girls look forward to growing together and end happily sharing their trees.

The pictures have the same simple joy and peace of the story. Maple is a delightful little girl who joyfully experiences each season with her tree. Her simple expressions, from wonder to disappointment, are artfully expressed. The tree motif is recreated in each page, from images of the growing tree to leaf rubbings and prints stamped on the background.

Verdict: This is a perfect book to celebrate the seasons or introduce a child to a new sibling. It's also a gentle reminder that there's nothing wrong with simply enjoying nature and a little solitude. I'm very happy to look forward to more books about Maple and Willow. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780399160851; Published 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library order list.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

Annie is excited that she's finally going to meet her mysterious grandmother and even more thrilled when she finds out that she lives in an old hotel. But why is her single mother so upset? Is her grandmother really that sick? Annie's first encounter with her grandmother is a shock - she's not the loving relative she'd hoped to meet. She could never like this horrible old woman, even if she is dying. But the next morning Annie wakes up...somewhere else. Fifty years in the past to be precise, where she meets a young girl who's living the hotel. Molly is tired of being cooped up and feels lonely and neglected. Annie is her first friend and the two click almost at once. When Annie realizes who Molly really is, it's almost as big a shock as time traveling - her new friend is the same person as the horrible old woman she met? Annie determines to change the future of her her new friend, but will she change her own future as well?

This is the kind of historical fiction/friendship story that a certain subset of kids, mostly girls, will devour. That subset never included me, so it's hard for me to judge the merits of the story. The interactions between the characters and the historical details are very realistic and make the story feel more, well, real. I wonder though, if the audience for this type of book isn't shrinking. It seems like more and more kids ask for contemporary realistic fiction, fantasy, adventure, etc. Historical fiction, especially this type of character-driven story, seems to be sinking in popularity. Unless it's based around major historical events, the more disastrous and exciting the better, it's a hard sell. It requires more empathy than many kids seem able to produce, especially when it features a child reconciling a difficult adult with the child they might have been.

Verdict: The writing is strong and the historical setting very well done. I'd call this a solid mid-list title. If you have kids who like this genre and the budget to support their interest, go for it. Otherwise it's an additional purchase. Snyder's Bigger than a Breadbox (which this is a sort of prequel to) did ok for us, not spectacularly, but enough to make this worth adding, so we'll just have to see.

ISBN: 9780375869174; Published 2014 by Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Splish, Splash, Splosh! by David Melling

This is a book for older toddlers, as it has a story progression and simple counting. Each page has half of a rhyming couplet "One fluffy duck goes waddling one day./Two fluffy ducks have found a place to play!" Each spread shows a small diving board and swimming pool with a branch in the corner. The only thing that changes in each picture is the addition of another duck and their accessories. There's also a little mini story focused around the branch in the corner.

The colors are bright and cheerful, representative without being too vague. There are many details to notice, from the ducks' swimsuits to the little story with the bird and branch, but the simple white background and and basic layout don't change, keeping it from getting too cluttered.

It's on the large side for a board book - about 8 inches square. Like a lot of Tiger Tales, it has a soft padded cover. I'm very anti-padded cover firstly because something about puffy covers makes me feel like crawly bugs and secondly because I've found their bindings are often poor. I borrowed this from another library and it looks almost new - except it's already got a little rip in the spine, something that happens really easily with this type of binding.

Verdict: Despite the poor binding, this is a very attractive book both in text and art and worth adding. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781589256439; Published 2012 by Tiger Tales; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library order list

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: About Habitats: Forests by Cathryn and John Sill

This is the sixth and latest book in the Sill's About Habitats series.

This series profiles a number of different habitats. Each spread has a simple, informative sentence on one side and a beautiful painting on the facing page, illustrating the concept. There is also a caption describing the predominant elements of the painting.

So, for example, we read "The trees and other plants in forests are different sizes and grow in layers". We see a picture of a lush rainforest, labeled neatly "tropical rainforest" and on the painting itself the forest floor, understory, and canopy are designated.

The book opens with a map, showing forested areas across the world, and ends with thumbnails of each plate with a paragraph about each concept described in the original sentence/illustration. There is also a glossary, bibliography, and websites as well as a handy guide to the rest of the About series, which includes animals as well as habitats.

The book itself starts out with a simple description of forests and includes pictures of all different types of forests and the animals who live in them. It moves on from a general description to move specific explanations of canopy, understory, and forest floor, seasons and weather, animals that live in forests, and finally several pages on the importance of forests to all living things.

The cover picture I have here doesn't really give a good idea of the rich colors and exquisite detail that goes into the paintings. Each one is beautifully designed to perfectly illustrate the concept given in the text while not isolating a single tree or animal. I can't decide which is my favorite, but I think it might be the otters! I used the F&G (folded and gathered) early review copy to create a flannelboard/game and the four year olds that I used it with loved identifying the animals, discussing the different kinds of forests, and matching up the thumbnails to the big pictures.

Verdict: These are the ideal books for young children to learn about animals and habitats. I've used them in storytime over and over, made flannelboards of them, handed them to enthusiastic 4K and Kindergarten teachers, and even older kids love the art and additional information in the back. A must-have series for your library and this latest addition is no exception.

ISBN: 9781561457342; Published 2013 by Peachtree; F&G and finished copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

For the next stop on the blog tour, hop on over to Tolivers to Texas or visit the Peachtree Blog

Sunday, March 16, 2014

RA RA READ: Multi-author, Multi-media Series

A few years ago, Scholastic debuted a new kind of chapter book series. Each book was written by a different, popular author, and there was an online component with games, scavenger hunts, etc. The books also included collectable cards. The series was, of course, 39 Clues. This series is still going strong with spin-off series, but there have been several other similar series started. This is a very popular genre and features a range of children of ages, sex, and race. All of these series are shelved by series in the Favorites section at the beginning of the juvenile fiction.

39 Clues, although fairly short chapters, are specifically aimed at a 9-12 age group. They are exciting adventure/mystery stories with lots of peril, some violence, and a lot of references to history and famous historical figures, events, and places.

39 Clues
This series features two kids who discover they are related to the Cahill family, the most influential family in history. Members include famous inventors and other figures of history. The kids find themselves caught up in a giant treasure hunt, tracking down clues across the world to the serum that gives the family its power. They also compete against other members of the family. There are 11 books in this series and it is complete.

39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers
This is the second series. All of the Cahill branches are together again and they battle against a secret organization called the Vespers who have taken Cahills hostage to force the kids to search for more clues to another secret. There are currently 6 titles available and more planned to come.

39 Clues: Unstoppable
This is the third 39 Clues series. The kids lose the serum and basically the series starts all over as they try to retrieve it. There are 2 titles available and more planned to come.

Infinity Ring
Three kids discover the secret of the Infinity Ring and learn to travel through time. They learn that the history of the world is broken and only they can fix it. Sound familiar? This series is a little older than 39 Clues - it's overseen by popular teen author James Dashner - but it's still fine for 9-12. It has the same mix of adventure, mystery, and history as 39 Clues.

Spirit Animals
This series features four kids and is the first fantasy-based series in this genre. In the fantasy world of Erdas, each child has to discover if they have a spirit animal. The four kids and their spirit animals have to fight against an ancient evil and save their world. They're searching for talismans.

Other mysteries involving clues and adventure
Chasing Vermeer, Calder Game, and The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett
Name of this book is secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
All the wrong questions by Lemony Snicket
London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart
Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Saturday, March 15, 2014

This week at the library; or, I should have done bears because I have a really good growl right now

Random Commentary
  • I have part of a sinus infection or a cold. Just enough cedar in the air to make my throat scratchy and me miserable, not to mention taking enough decongestant to clear my head and simultaneously make me feel sick. Yay.
  • Monday
    • Arrived early at 11:30 to prepare for presentation
    • Coughed through lunch with and presentation for Kiwanis
    • Staff meeting
    • Meeting with director and Lindsay
    • Ate a banana and tried to clear some stuff off my desk
    • Information desk - art show at 5:30, at least 100 people, maybe more. Checked on adult program (informational meeting), then the art show people flowed into Tiny Tots and I answered a reader's advisory question for read-alikes for Luna Bay for a girl who's nuts about surfing fiction. Yes, that was exactly as hard as it sounds. Did get a little work done on the desk, but not much.
  • Tuesday
    • Children's desk - distributed stickers, filled book bundles and displays, a little shelving, and finished my Storytime Substitute Resources.
    • Worked on programs - I have nothing planned for tomorrow, let alone the rest of the program session! Went back and forth to my office to make flannelboards
    • Discussion with aide about where or not we want to move the hamsters into the new, giant aquarium that a patron donated, or if I want to turn it into an I Spy game. I Spy game wins - it's just too big!
    • Left early at 4:30, went shopping for supplies for the rest of the week, then grocery shopping, then home around 5:30.
    • Low level sinus headache worse
    • Finished a flannel board (my "good" hot glue gun is at home)
    • Remember a bunch of emails I needed to send. Send emails.
  • Wednesday
    • Storytime set up, pack storytime bags (my aide usually does this, but I didn't have everything I needed yesterday)
    • Preschool Interactive - small group, only 14. It's not the weather - I think everybody is sick. Pattie had small groups yesterday too. I croaked a bit but I made it through.
    • Break for the information desk, confusing question on ebooks.
    • Phone calls - booked a magician for our big circus party.
    • My aide called in sick. Called my second aide to sub. She's sick. Augh! Panic! Happily, there wasn't much shelving. I did some, circ staff did some, and one of our staff's kids was waiting for a ride and they finished it up for us. Yay!
    • Planned programs, worked on the Neighborhoods, answered questions
    • Heartwarming encounter with a teen who used to be a problem teen "I've changed a lot. I read books." We pulled out most of the teen area finding the perfect book for her to read. Also chatted with current group of naughty teens in a mostly friendly, albeit profane, conversation. Apparently one of them is moving and wanted to know if I'd ever been to the place. The conversation wound up with them saying "WHAT? I'm moving to a f--ing hick town?" I resisted the urge to say "Sweetie, where do you think you live now?" and instead gave them a firm reminder that they could not swear in the library. Now that I think of it I should have given them Little Fish, but they don't read. Still hope though!
  • Thursday
    • A little early to work (I start at 9:30 on Thursdays) worked on cleaning off my desk
    • Webinar - updates on Wiscat (our ill catalog for the state)
    • Out to the children's desk for about an hour, grabbed a snack for lunch
    • Information desk from 12-2 - about 30 minutes I spent with our other staff on a tutorial on our new self-checkout.
    • Finish a flannelboard game, start collecting stuff for the program, misc. questions etc.
    • 3pm setup like crazy
    • 3:30-5:30 Mad Scientists Club, clean up, chat with patrons, etc.
  • Friday
    • Set up and do We Explore program - super excited that a group came from 30 minutes away specifically for MY program!
    • Meetings about publicity and scheduling, grabbed some cheese and crackers
    • 12-3 on the main information desk - processed new books
    • Cleaned off my desk while working through some of my backlog of webinars, continued to process new books, misc. stuff.
      • Librarians as literacy leaders for summer reading
        • I like the idea of passing out library cards to my daycare kids when they finish, if they don't have one. We are supposed to have the capability for mobile circ, so I could work something up around this idea.
      • Using Using Nonfiction in the Library , the Classroom and at Home
        • Really annoying that I didn't figure out how to forward the webcast until I'd listened to 20 minutes of teen nonfiction, which I didn't want!
    • My desk is clean! Of course, I didn't get my homework for the early childhood course I'm taking finished, but I've ended up doing that on the weekend pretty much every week so far.
    • I finally left about 5:20, just enough time to go home and change my shoes before going out to dinner with a librarian friend and a collection development discussion. Still had paint on my pants, but she won't care.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Rump: The true story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

It took me a while to convince myself to read this book, but once I'd made it to the second chapter or so, I was hooked.

In Rump's village, names are only for people and they can decide your destiny. So when his mother dies before finishing his name, he's stuck with not only a horrible name, he's pretty sure that if he does have a destiny it will be as awful as his name. Then he discovers the spinning wheel hidden in the woodpile. Secrets, tragedy, and magic happen rapidly and he finds himself leaving the village for the first time in his life. As he travels to the castle of King Barf and to Yonder to meet his mother's relatives, Rump's name is slowly revealed. But is it his destiny to remain tangled and trapped forever, or did his mother have one last secret that will set him free?

The cover is kind of misleading - Rump's friend Red isn't actually present, other than gnome-messages, after the first couple chapters. The story does bend a little heavily for my taste to the "discovering who you are and taking control of your destiny" but it's a really fun journey to get there with lots of silly, weird, tragic, and funny steps along the way. I really liked how she showed the trolls' "simple" approach to life as neither bad nor good, but just different - Rump admires their philosophy, takes away some things to think about, but realizes his own life is much more complex (not to mention sludge is disgusting). The ending does trail off a bit - as an adult reader, I can't help wondering what's going to happen now that the economic basis of the country has basically been destroyed, but I'm not sure kids would think about that, except to wonder what really happened to the selfish king and the miller's beautiful but not particularly bright daughter.

Verdict: If you have fans of fairy tale retellings who like quirky characters and some moralizing mixed into their adventures, this will be right down their alley. I'd probably make it an additional purchase, as there seems to be a lot of these out there, but this was quite a fun read and if you have the budget I wouldn't hesitate to add it.

ISBN: 9780307977939; Published 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Heartbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance

It's too bad it took me so long to pick this up off my review shelf, because I loved it and I wish I'd had it available to hand to kids last year when it first came out!

Quentin is a pretty typical 13 year old guy. His mom works at a garage and his dad hasn't been around since he was little. He has two best friends, Rob, who's ok at sports, and Abby who's good at math, science, and art. Quentin is pretty good at English so they make a great team and have been friends since elementary school. Then, one day, he somehow ends up being the messenger for a high school guy - and the message he takes is a break up. Things snowball out of control quickly and suddenly Quentin finds himself earning money as the Heartbreak Messenger, delivering break up messages for high school guys. But it's not as good a gig as it looks at first - the girls that cry are bad enough, but some of them seem to have never heard of "don't shoot the messenger." It's not his fault after all, is it? Then there's his friend Abby...or maybe she's more than a friend? He's ready to give it up when he overhears that his mom is having money problems and now he just has to go on with it. But between orchestrating a little revenge on the side and then finding his business and personal life getting mixed up, he's not the only one facing heartbreak.

I really liked the middle school kids portrayed in this book. They make mistakes, they do stupid stuff, but they're basically good kids, good friends, and when they stop and think they do the right thing. The high school kids are much more one-dimensional with the Tough Sports Girl, Football Player Who's Really a Softie, Scary Gang Guy, and Popular Girls Who Get Revenge, but that's pretty much how a middle schooler would see these strange beings and it felt right for the story - the focus is Quentin and his friends, not the peripheral high school kids whose lives he sees into. It was funny, touching, and I loved that Quentin and his mom had such a warm relationship and he was so anxious to help her out. Quentin's self-realization at the end about relationships and how he really feels about Abby might seem a bit mature for him, but anyone who's hung out with middle school kids will be familiar with their startling jumps into maturity (and right back out again, as witness Quentin's plans for his next business!).

Verdict: There's a very mild romance, lots of hilarious antics, and a few serious but not too preachy moments. In fact, if I was laying out the perfect formula for a realistic fiction book that would appeal to kids in 5th through 7th grade, boys and girls, this would pretty much be it. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781250029690; Published 2013 by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan; ARC provided at ALA; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby

While often overlooked in discussions of children's books, board books are, in my opinion, a critical collection for any library that serves young children. I've gotten a bit too complacent about my own library's large board book collection; while I do get a lot of compliments on the variety, amount, and overall decent condition, when I rearranged this area last year I found myself with extra space (and noticing a lot of the books that really needed to be retired!). I can't weed right now, but I can definitely fill in some of those empty spots on the shelves! In pursuit of this goal I've borrowed a lot of board books from other libraries and am digging back through my own (pitifully small) collection of board book reviews.

My full-length reviews for this blog average around 300 words and it's hard to stretch a board book review that far, but I'm going to have a try at a weekly series of board book reviews. I'll be revising older reviews and bringing over my short reaction pieces from my secondary blog as well. No promises that it will stay weekly though! More likely I'll go for a few months and then take a break until I get another stack together to look through.

The reviews will focus not just on content but on the physical book as well. Keep in mind that my primary audience for this blog is librarians and the focus is on collection development for libraries; there are a lot of board books that are great purchases for use at home, but won't work well in a library (puzzle books for example).

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Sample Bullfrog Books (imprint of Jump!)

 A new small publisher, Jump!, specializing in "Beautiful nonfiction for beginning and struggling readers" asked if I'd like to preview selections from their new imprint, Bullfrog Books. Of course, I said yes. I love easy nonfiction and between adding a nonfiction section to our easy readers and getting ready to start organizing most of the picture books by subject and integrate easy nonfiction, I am ALL about the easy nonfiction this year.

They sent me one title from each of five different series and that's what I'm looking at today.

Each book is a nice square size, just right for small hands without being so small they'll disappear on the shelf. They're about 7x7 inches (can't find my ruler to measure more accurately!) and have a nice, cheerfully colored border. The books begin with a message to parents and teachers, encouraging them to look at the photographs together, ask questions, and gives some sample questions tailored to the particular book. There's a table of contents for the short "chapters", a simple picture glossary with 4-8 words, an index, and a list of sources to learn more, including a child-friendly search engine. The back cover shows all the titles in the series.

Pigs is part of the "Animals on the Farm" series. The book emphasizes the different parts of the pig, from the docked tail "The farmer cut it short when I was a piglet" to how smart pigs are "I am smart. I learned to open the gate. Pig on the loose!" I would have liked to see a mention of how good a sense of smell pigs have, especially when the book mentioned that they don't see well, but it does show them sniffing and digging.

Dump Trucks is part of the "Machines at work" series. I had some reservations about this when I first read it, but after I'd look at all the titles in the different series and gotten a feel for their layout, it makes more sense. I like that they show a female driver, and have several captions for the different parts of the truck. There's a side dump that's not explained until the glossary and several images don't show a truck at all, which is a lot in a book of only 24 pages. The image of a dump truck and some kind of attachment laying blacktop was confusing. The attached machine isn't identified and the dump truck itself is obscured by the gutter of the pages. However, after looking at all the books, I can see there's a strong emphasis on very simple statements that will encourage kids to ask more questions. I still don't like the blacktop spread, but the other ones make more sense, since they'll encourage kids to ask questions.

Clownfish, from "Life under the sea" was my least favorite book and I thought it was written in a very confusing way. It starts with a male clownfish looking for a nest, then swimming home to his anemone, then finding his mate. "He chases her. He bites./He touches her with his fin. Follow me to the nest!" Will kids understand that all three of those sentences, especially since the first two are separated by a page turn, are all how he's getting the female to follow him? The female lays eggs and then goes home. Then it has the male guarding the eggs - no mention of fertilization, but I can see that would be difficult to introduce in a book with this limited vocabulary. What's really confusing though is the last page where it says "The clownfish chases him [big fish] away. Hooray! The eggs are safe!" and the accompanying photograph shows two fish. the picture glossary shows this same picture and says "mate: A fish's partner; a clownfish needs a mate to make babies." This is confusing - does the mating pair care for the eggs together or not? Do they come together only for breeding? I looked it up and apparently they live in sort of colonies with one breeding pair. They also change sex, if one of the breeding pair dies. I get that you can't exactly explain that in the space given, but it really wasn't clear who was tending the eggs and if the fish stayed together or not.

 In Red, a sample of the "Colors in Nature" series, I learned something new - that the color of male cardinal's feathers comes from the berries they eat. I looked it up to be sure - it didn't make sense that the female would eat the same things and not be bright red, but somehow it all works out. The photographs in this one were possibly the most vibrant and I really liked the question and answer format that showed most strongly in this one. I'd definitely use this in storytime as well as for individual reading or reading aloud.

The last sample, Lions, comes from "My First Animal Library" and offers a simple introduction to the habits of a lion pride, not unlike the Pigs book. This does a really good job of introducing the different behaviors in the lions, especially in the small space offered. The pictures are clear but not too gory or graphic.

So, the pros of this new imprint - gorgeous photographs, text that will spark curiosity and questioning, high-interest topics, simple text that will attract beginning readers, and many of these will also make great discussion-type read-alouds for storytime.

Cons? Well, this may be nitpicky, but I'm worried that those nice white backgrounds on the covers won't stay white long. My library patrons are notoriously hard on their books and I see a constant cleaning in my future for these. They are expensive - even with Baker and Taylor's discount they're $20 apiece, which leaves you with the possibility of bindings that will last long past the interior pages and the content. If you buy them in complete sets from the publisher or a distributor, they get down to $17, which isn't quite as bad, but you're still paying $107 for only 6 books.

Verdict: For me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Since I'm focusing on increasing nonfiction easy readers and easy nonfiction for our new neighborhoods project in the picture books, these are exactly what I need and worth the cost. I will probably put them in the picture books, since they hit many of the subject areas I'm looking to expand and the more picture book shape will be more conducive to people checking out picture books than easy readers (yes, my patrons are that nitpicky. I once had a patron refuse any nonfiction on the grounds that they "looked like picture books"). I'll definitely be getting the Colors in Nature, Machines at Work, Animals on the Farm, and possibly the My First Animal Library series. They've also got several season-themed series and we're a little crazy on the subject of seasons, especially fall, so those look very good too.

Animals on the Farm: Pigs by Wendy Strobel Dieker
ISBN: 9781620310052

Machines at work: Dump Trucks by Rebecca Stromstad Glaser
ISBN: 9781620310199

Life under the sea: Clownfish by Cari Meister
ISBN: 9781620310304

Colors in Nature: Red by Rebecca Stromstad Glaser
ISBN: 9781620310366

My first animal library: Lions by Mary Lindeen
ISBN: 9781620310649

Published 2013 by Bullfrog Books/Jump!; Review copies provided by publisher; Selected series added to library wishlist to purchase, probably this summer.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

This week at the library; or, It's time to move the furniture

Random Commentary
  • I started this week feeling very out of sorts. I think I will take a cue from my mom and move all the furniture in my apartment (well, not ALL of it, but some of it). I am actually taking a vacation during Spring Break (after my big annual t-shirt program) and there shall be much moving of furniture.
  • Snow, program planning, more snow, low-average program attendance, more snow, Neighborhoods. That was the week. (except for the FIFTY people at Lego Club, including most of my naughty teens who were surprisingly well-behaved and even made two things under the stern eye of a former high school teacher who had brought her own little ones)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup

Princess Adela would much rather pull weeds than pour tea. Unfortunately, her opportunities to garden are shrinking rapidly, as her father turns over her education to her kind but conventional stepmother. So Adela jumps at the chance to visit the famous gardens of Lady Hortensia, even if there are rumors that she might be a witch and even if it means dressed up and being, sigh, sociable. Once there however, Adela finds out that magic isn't a fairy tale after all, especially that whole "being transformed" bit. She'll need the help of a group of unusual allies to defeat the wicked witch and change the course of her whole life.

This is a serviceable, if not especially inspired, fairy tale-ish fantasy. Adela is a briskly commonsense heroine and her friends, especially the jackdaw who is enchanted...but definitely not an enchanted prince! are nice touches. It just didn't grab me for some reason. I've read and enjoyed a lot of period fairy tale and fantasy retellings where the characters aren't historically accurate - E. D. Baker spring to mind - but somehow this just plodded for me. The ending felt a little overly messagey and didactic as well.

Verdict: If you have fans of E. D. Baker, Jessica Day George, Kate Coombs, Patricia Wrede, and M. M. Kaye's Ordinary Princess who just can't get enough of the "not your typical princess" trope, this is a light and fun read that they'll enjoy. I don't think we really need any more of this genre though, and the cover is a real deal-breaker for me. The giant black bird blotting out the garden, the fuzzy photographed princess, it just looks wrong.

ISBN: 9780763656850; Published 2013 by Candlewick; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thrive Thursday: School-Age Program round-up

Welcome to Thrive Thursday, where we showcase awesome programs for school-age kids!

The Programs
The Philosophy

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Thrive Thursday Placeholder

This is a placeholder for March's Thrive Thursday. Leave your links in the comments and I will beautifully arrange them for our enjoyment on March 6

From Marge Loch-Wouters

Strike three you're dead by Josh Berk

I hadn't expected to like this book - I have absolutely no interest in sports - but I picked it up off my backlog to read because I was looking for more middle grade mysteries (in expectation of the return of 80 5th graders next year, all clamoring for mysteries). To my surprise, I found it funny, engrossing, realistic, and just all-around fun.

Lenny and his two best friend, Mike and Other Mike, are looking forward to a leisurely summer and Lenny enters an "armchair announcer" contest for the Phillies, never expecting to win. But he does! Lenny is living the dream, meeting his heroes, getting ready to actually announce an inning...when a promising young baseball player drops dead. What really happened? Lenny and the Mikes, as well as their new friend Maria, are determined to find out.

There's plenty of sports information for the die-hard fan, but just as much mystery and humor for any other reader included as well. The characterization of the Lenny and his friends is spot-on hilarious, from Lenny's traumatic last baseball game to his more athletic friend Mike, and Other Mike's obsession with fantasy and computers. Maria is a great addition to the team with funny and awkward interactions between the kids as they try to figure out how to relate to this girl who's just as big a fan as them and is turning out to be nothing like they expected.

There's a great mystery, not too graphic but definitely not too little-kids-ish for the audience. There's awkward preteen boys interrogating librarians. There are mustaches. There's a tough girl who isn't ashamed of liking baseball. There's interesting things you can learn in books, like safecracking. And, of course, lots of baseball trivia.

Verdict: The sports mysteries I bought for teens have been gathering dust on the shelf, but this one will definitely be a popular choice for middle school readers who are interested in sports or mysteries. I am delighted to see it's going to be a series and the sequel, Say it ain't so! will be published next week.

ISBN: 9780375870088; Published 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library

Monday, March 3, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Ancient Animals: Terror Bird by Sarah L. Thomson, illustrated by Andrew Plant

This delightfully gruesome easy reader will introduce young prehistoric fans to a new animal; the Terror Bird! Simple text and basic vocabulary introduce not only the terror bird, it's habitat, daily life, and speculations on why it went extinct, but also the concept of top predators and other flightless birds.

The text is brief but informative, a difficult combination for nonfiction easy readers. On the one hand, you need more specialized and complex vocabulary for nonfiction while on the other hand you need simpler, basic words for a true easy reader. This book hits nicely in between with text like "The bird rushed at its prey. The prey ran for its life. It was not fast enough."

The pictures are vivid and do an excellent job of fleshing out the simple text, showing the various details of the terror bird's physical structure as well as its habits and habitats. There is a pictorial list of other flightless birds, both living and extinct, and a "more to discover" section with a few books, videos, and websites listed. There's plenty of predator action pictured, with a generous dose of gore to fill in the thrilling action sequences.

Verdict: This is a great start to a new series and will certainly interest kids who like the prehistoric era and are correspondingly bloodthirsty. I'd definitely recommend adding it to your easy readers or easy nonfiction shelves.

ISBN: 9781580893985; Published 2013 by Charlesbridge; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's wishlist.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

This week at the library; Or, My Brain Freezes

Random Commentary
  • WHY IS IT SO COLD?? I leave my window open for a few minutes and it freezes that way. *whimpers*
  • My director is gone for the next two weeks, but so far nothing too drastic has gone wrong...and the other staff have been very firm about me not doing anything to surprise her when she comes back *pout*
  • Finally got my second school visit rescheduled - this is the county special education school, so it was a small group but after some initial disinterest they really got into the books and then enjoyed browsing. What will fat cat sit on? continues to be extremely popular!
  • Met with Pattie and started planning our giant collaborative April program, celebrating National Library Week and Week of the young child. We take over pretty much the whole library and around 200 people come (this is a total guess). It's pure chaos and extreme awesomeness! Most of our meeting was Pattie presenting ideas and me being the grouchy librarian and saying no. I did approve sno-cones though!
  • Pattie was gone so I covered Toddlers 'n' Books for her. Which led to stress b/c in the past I've had kids cry (and parents not too far behind) when Pattie wasn't there! Thinking about service to working families to distract myself....finally time for storytime, I thought too many people wouldn't come because it was freezing cold and people seem to have a psychic sense that Pattie isn't there, but there was a pretty large group for both storytimes. I did a Quiet/Loud storytime and it wasn't bad. Nobody really cried...anyways, it's over. Phew. Glad that trauma is over. A few more days to obsess about it and I will move on. Overall not a particularly fun day, especially since it ended with a spate of reference questions I was unable to answer (mainly due to lack of the materials requested).
  • I'm starting our Neighborhoods project, so I put a lot of work into that, and then programs and various crisis, spent most of Friday morning at Walmart looking for ingredients for our next Mad Scientists Club and ended up buying enough borax for 20 years of slime. Oh well.
  • For some reason I've been completely exhausted and just really down these past few weeks. I blame the winter, being out of oranges, my director being out of town...could be anything, really. Then I was looking for something and ended up reading back through my This Week at the Library posts in 2011, the first year I ran this blog series. Wow. That was a...horrible year. Some really amazing highs and some really awful lows. This year is not so bad in comparison.