Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cupcake Cousins by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes

Cupcake books are hugely popular right now and I've been buying fluffy frosting reads as fast as I can, so I was delighted to read this book that has all the sweet treats readers expect of a baking book with a little more than the average sugar bomb.

Cousins Willow and Delia just can't wait for their annual vacation on Lake Michigan. Their beloved aunt is getting married and they're expecting the best vacation ever with lots of baking fun on top. Unfortunately, things start going wrong almost at once, starting with the horrible flower girl dresses they're supposed to wear, a new cook in "their" kitchen, and a series of mishaps that get them in trouble with, well, just about everybody. Then Willow and Delia find out some really bad news - it looks like this will not only be the worst vacation on Lake Michigan, it might be their last. Can they fix everything they've messed up and make their aunt's wedding a success or do they really just make things worse, in the kitchen and out of it?

Things that I loved about this book

  1. I loved that the girls weren't perfect little chefs; they loved to cook and sometimes things turned out well, but sometimes they were disasters!
  2. I loved that their family was mixed-race and it was addressed in casual ways - parents sharing family history about the Great Migration etc. - but it was never the main point of the story. Delia had a distinct personality and was as pivotal to the story as Willow, although the story was more from Willow's perspective.
  3. I loved the realistic way the girls are depicted. It's hard for them to think about others' perspectives and give up their own wishes, but once they've been gently reminded by an adult to think about how their actions affect other people, they go back and try to fix what they've messed up.
I did think some of the ending solutions were a little unrealistic. Living in a tourist town myself it's hard to imagine a bed and breakfast/gallery being a realistic way to make a living long-term, but it does fit well into the story and the girls' efforts to help the adults. So much of the story is spot-on realistic without being didactic or depressing, like the affect of unemployment on Delia's family, that this is really a minor quibble.

It's a nice length - a little under 300 pgs, but with large type and lots of cute illustrations that won't turn off kids who are reluctant to read anything over 200 pgs. Bonus - it's set in the general vicinity of where I live and most kids here have at least visited Lake Michigan, even if they haven't actually vacationed there!

Verdict: I can't wait to hand this to all my cupcake/friendship story fans! This was a delightful debut and I look forward to more from this author. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781423178309; Published May 2014 by Disney-Hyperion; ARC provided by the author; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Little Bee by Edward Gibbs

This is a revamped review previously published.

We've been really loving Edward Gibbs' I Spy books in storytime and I picked this up to see if it was as good as his picture books. Happily, it is just as excellent!

This delightful board book has a fun sequence - the bee is fleeing from a hungry frog, who is being chased by a snake, who is being chased by a mongoose, etc. The repeated text starts out with "Little bee, little bee.../why do you flee?" Then you turn the page and the bee responds "Because there's a hungry frog chasing me!" This pattern repeats throughout the book, until it ends with a big hunter running away from the bee. It's a bit reminiscent of Brown Bear Brown Bear but with more action!

The pictures are bright and colorful and done in Gibbs' unique, curly-edged style. The blue mongoose was rather oddly-shaped, but all the other creatures are clearly identifiable. The book is a rectangle, about 6x7 inches square. On my copy, the bee on the cover has little fabric wings made out of a sparkly, thick cloth. Despite tons of circulation, the wings are still intact.

Verdict: This is not only popular with parents, it would make a good storytime readaloud for the toddlers, especially with a small group. For a larger group, you might need to blow up the pictures a little. It would also make a good flannel board or extension activity.

ISBN: 9780316127073; Published 2011 by Little, Brown; Borrowed from the library

Monday, April 28, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Nest by Jorey Hurley

When I select books for storytimes, I look for very different things in fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, I'm looking for a story, for repetition, for a hook that will draw kids in and immerse them in the book. In nonfiction, I look more for a starting point, an opening to build discussion on. While you can have good narrative nonfiction, in a storytime setting my preference is for more of a sharing experience where the book offers a basic narrative and set of facts and we expand on those.

This book, with its simple but lovely illustrations and minimal text fits well within my requirements for nonfiction.

The first spread shows a pair of robins with one egg in their nest and the matching text is "nest". The book continues with one word on each page following the robins through the seasons and showing their eggs hatching, baby robins being cared for, and finally building their own nests. The illustrations are rendered in Photoshop, but they look like simple cut paper images with the seasons showing most strongly in the changing "leaves" of the tree, represented by multiple colored ovals. An author's note expands on the first year in the life of the robin family and some additional facts about the birds.

Verdict: Use this in storytime to talk about the life cycle of birds, seasons, and to help children expand on images and make guesses, for example "The word on this page is jumping - who is jumping? (baby robin and cat) why are they jumping? Can the cat reach the robin? What season is it (spring) how can you tell? What other animals have babies in the spring?" A definite choice for your picture book or nonfiction section. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781442489714; Published 2014 by Paula Wiseman/Simon and Schuster; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 26, 2014

This week at the library; or, A nice, relaxing vacation...whatever

Random Commentary
  • Somehow vacation is never as relaxing as I hope it will be. I took Monday and Tuesday off (our newest staff member supervised the last Tail Waggin' Tutors), and since we were closed Friday had a really long weekend, but since I got sick Thursday night and was still sick when I went back to work...oh well. Nothing's perfect. I did get the kitchen clean.
  • I plunged right back in without a space for breath when I returned - I had most of my work done, but programs still needed last-minute planning and I had a preschool visiting (come to think of it, I think I've gotten sick almost every year when they come. So either they set something off or it's just April I can't take) Anyways, I did my Pete the Cat program for them (sans snacks) and then I had to work Saturday and the school librarians came over to plan the district Battle of the Books for next week....let's just say vacation rapidly became a distant dream.
  • As I was leaving, one of the staff told me somebody wanted to talk to me. I went over to the children's area, and one of the little girls from the preschool visit this morning had returned with her mom and baby brother! The mom said they'd NEVER BEEN TO THE LIBRARY BEFORE! I gave her some new books and they were picking out books as I left. Outreach for the win!
    • Wednesday - Preschool Interactive, desk time, all the things that were neglected during my absence.
    • Thursday - came in at 8:40ish which was not early enough, ran around like a chicken with my head cut off to get ready for the preschool group at 8:50 (thankfully they didn't show until 9 because I wasn't ready!) then trying frantically to finish one section of my neighborhoods project b/c it's causing issues for staff and patrons to have every book in the 600s sitting on a cart in my office, then on the information desk, said hi to the group of preschoolers that came in on their own (at least I was realistic about what I could do - they just kind of hung out, drew some Culver's pictures, had storytime, etc. and I waved to them as they passed) then grabbed something to eat, finished the section of Neighborhoods YAY, then Lego Club. It didn't feel like it, but we had 52 people! Continued discussion with Pattie on a big outreach project we're planning for the summer. Once we get everything in place shouldn't be too time-consuming...Frustrated struggle with the hamster water bottle and by the time I left it was nearly six.
    • Friday - learned my lesson and came in at 8:30 to set up for the preschool group, ran the Pete the Cat program for them and then sent them out to the lobby with handfuls of pennies to do the wishing well, giving myself about 5 minutes to set up for the regular group. It was a small group and we finished a little after 11. After I cleaned up, I took care of misc. stuff - weekly newsletter, planning stuff for next week, new books, etc. Left around 12:30 and ran errands for myself then staggered home.
    • Saturday - feeling grumpy because I felt sick and cancelled my breakfast date with Sara the Librarian before work which just made me feel grumpier and...yeah, I don't know where that's going either. Saturday. Busy, no more crazy people than usual, worked alternately on Neighborhoods, thinking about school visits for summer, more new books. I don't know if my aide was really finished painting the reading nook, but we were tired of it cluttering up the back, so out it went!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Guinea Pigs Online by Jennifer Gray and Amanda Swift

I would never have thought of using guinea pigs to teach online safety, and I have to admit I still don't think it's particularly efficacious, but it sure is fun!

Fuzzy and Coco are best friends (no, not that kind of friends! There will be no baby guinea pigs) even though Fuzzy's attempts to cook annoy Coco and Coco's insistence that she used to live in the palace and knows the queen annoy Fuzzy. But then they have a quarrel, a really bad one. And Fuzzy is missing! Coco will have to learn how to Go Online and get some help from other guinea pigs before she can save Fuzzy, reunite with the queen, and crush the sinister plans of Scarlet Cleaver, who is looking for guinea pigs to test out her new restaurant...or maybe to test out something else!

This reminds me of Michael Bond's Olga da Polga stories. Not that anybody knows them anymore (sigh) but they feature a delightful guinea pig with an independent mind and a penchant for storytelling. These guinea pigs are much more contemporary of course, and they actually go on adventures instead of just imagining them. The story is wacky and silly and rather British, but I can still see kids who are just getting into chapters really getting into this one.

Verdict: A little longer than an average beginning chapter book (almost 200 pages) the bold print and illustrations will encourage beginning chapter readers to tackle this one. I thought the online safety tips at the end were kind of superfluous - it's hard to see kids extrapolating from a nonsense story about a guinea pig to their own online experience, but it's a fun added touch. Not a necessary purchase perhaps, but fun to add if you have the budget and lots of beginning chapter readers.

ISBN: 9781623650377; Published 2013 by Quercus; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library's wishlist

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I have a bad feeling about this by Jeff Strand

I was really trepidatious about this - would it be as funny, as wacky, and snarkalicious as A Bad Day for Voodoo? Answer: Yes, yes it will.

Henry isn't a wuss. He takes reasonable precautions, like any sixteen-year-old who wants to live to see adulthood. Anybody knows jellyfish...ok, he's a wuss. Secretly, he'd like a little more self-confidence. Be able to talk to girls, that kind of thing. But he's pretty sure a week in survival wilderness camp isn't going to improve his life. Turns out, he's right. There's only five guys at camp, the food is disgusting and the only fun thing about the "games" is seeing who can be worse - probably Henry and his best friend Randy. Things look up a little when Henry meets a girl, Monica, from the music camp three miles away, but a second encounter ends in a disaster so that's out. But unbeknownst to anyone, trouble is brewing on the horizon and survival camp is about to become very, very real.

If you're hoping for some deep thoughts on manhood, the beauties of the wilderness, or some sensitive reflection on post-traumatic stress and violence in modern teens' lives, forget it. The closest you're going to get is Henry's vague "that's too bad" thoughts about the bloody death of one of the protagonists as he makes a run for the trees. There are no lessons learned (unless it's that you never can tell with girls), and no survival skills gained (even with the helpful wilderness tips included).

But, if you have a warped sense of humor, as I do, you will laugh hysterically through the entire book. So really, it's therapeutic.

Verdict: Great for teens looking for a quick, funny read, but be aware there's blood, death, and inappropriate humor.

ISBN: 978-1402284557; Published 2014 by Sourcebooks Fire; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Little You by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett

This is what I call the "mommy love" genre. There's not really a plot, just a (often poetic) listing of the ways a mother (or more rarely a couple or father) loves their child. Parents eat this up, and kids love the comfort of familiarity at bedtime etc. but frankly they annoy me.

This one is a little different though. It has a gentle, if sometimes oddly pointless text "Little you little wonder/Little wish gentle thunder." However, it's more the reassuring sound of a parent's voice and the gentle rhythm of the words that matter.

The illustrations are simple with broad chunks of color. They show the little child of the cover with both parents and all three have the same lightly tan skin hue.

This is a typical board book - 7x7 inches with a sturdy spine that opens nicely and 13 pages, counting both covers. It's put out by a publisher that's not known for its board books - Orca - and is from Canada, both of which may account for the higher price of a little over $9 (with discount).

Verdict: If you're looking for basics, I wouldn't add this but if you're looking to expand your collection, especially with books featuring children of color, I would recommend it. Worth the slightly higher price.

ISBN: 9781459802483; Published 2013 by Orca Book Publishers; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library's order list

Monday, April 21, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

This stunningly photographed book is an unusual look at a butterfly's life. Instead of focusing on the life cycle of an individual butterfly, it focuses on the farming, raising, and packaging of pupas on butterfly farms.

The description of the caterpillars' life and transformation is woven into the narrative of their journey from Costa Rica to Boston. There's additional information on life cycles, the associated vocabulary, a glossary, and further reading. As I've come to expect from a Scientists in the Field author, the local/native workers are given equal, if not more, face time and their role in the process is emphasized.

The photographs are simply gorgeous from the intricate details in close up butterfly photos to rows of iridescent green pupae. Harasimowicz could definitely give Nic Bishop a run for his money.

My one reservation about this book, and why it's not sitting on my shelf right now, is that it's published by Milbrook. If you're not familiar with Milbrook, they do not offer a wide variety of bindings - library bound is often their only option. Is this book awesome? Yes. Is it $20 worth of awesome? Well...I am really trying to get away from expensive, library bound nonfiction. A hardcover usually suffices for our amount of circulation. Sure, it might fall apart in about five years - but that's about the shelf life of most nonfiction anyways.

Verdict: Clear, concise writing about an unusual aspect of butterflies; beautiful photography; excellent additional research information. But I still can't decide if I really need another butterfly book at this price. I expect I will go on taking it on and off the list for some time to come.

ISBN: 9780761393429; Published 2014 by Milbrook; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This week at the library; or, It's winter all over again

Random Commentary
  • COLD. It snowed again, although nothing like they got up north. Not very spring-ey if you ask me, although I normally like the rain.
  • Our director and head of circulation served dinner to about 25 people who came to Tiny Tots (I work the desk Monday night, or I would have helped!). Parents really appreciated it so I think we'll do it again next year for National Library Week.
  • Pattie had egg hunts, but someone else got to hide the eggs because I was at the kindergartens )-:
  • I had desk time, programs, outreach, and packed program planning for the rest of the spring and continuing to work on Neighborhoods into any spare moment.
  • Webinars
    • The Scoop on Series Nonfiction Spring 2014 from Booklist. There are some series I'm really interested in for promoting the Neighborhoods and DK is doing some new things that I want to try as well.
  • We were closed on Friday, but I managed to pack quite a lot into this week nonetheless.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists' Club by Bertrand R. Brinley, illustrated by Charles Geer

Still going retro here! Now you know why I called my after school club the "Mad Scientists Club". Although it's really a pretty common name, it was actually this book that I had in the back of my mind.

I have a fairly large collection of what I call "small town adventures". Although they often seem to represent a stereotypical 1950s lifestyle, they're mostly written during the 1960s-70s. They show groups of kids (generally all white) roaming about a small town with almost complete freedom to solve mysteries, track down criminals, invent things (often involving explosions) and generally create havoc.

Now, I'm not in favor of going back to the "good old days" when kids "used their imagination and didn't play all these video games" (shakes cane and yells). For one thing, stories like these were as unrealistic when they were written as they are now. Most kids didn't build their own submarine, solve crimes, etc.

However, what I really love about these stories (and yes, I am going to actually talk about this one) is first of all that they're funny, but secondly that the kids are exploring, experimenting, and learning and they're having fun. That's what I think is missing in how kids are learning about science - they need to know it has practical applications and that it can be fun. This is the spirit I want to have in my after school clubs, that science is something everyone can do, that you don't need a teacher or a parent or a librarian, that you can try things out on our own. This is part of the reason I don't have a "lecture" portion to my club and why I constantly encourage the kids to "just try it!" and if they don't like the project "try something else!".

So, actual book time! This is the second collection of stories about the Mad Scientists Club. There are seven boys in the club (girls are totally peripheral characters in this series) and they work on various science projects together, led by their president Henry Mulligan. They're impeded in scientific progress by the occasional interference of adults, including the stereotypical Irish policemen, and their rival club, led by Harmon Muldoon, ex-scientist who was kicked out of the club. These are definitely of their time stories, with an all-white, all-male cast, and various references that will strike jarring notes for the modern reader, like the story "Big Chief Rainmaker".

Verdict: Would I recommend that you purchase these books for a modern library? Probably not. There are reprints available from Purple House Press, but they're pricey and, as I stated earlier, these are outdated in many ways. However, I've kept the copies our library previously owned on the shelf and they do circulate occasionally - parents with a lot of restrictions on what they want their kids to read will often prefer these older books, since they don't care about the stereotypes. I have my own copies and I enjoy the humor as well as the attitudes towards science. I recommend reading them to get some ideas for how to introduce your patrons to science and for a laugh, and if they're still circulating I'd keep them in your collection, but they're not a necessary addition that I would recommend purchasing if you don't already own them.

ISBN: 0590098535; Published 1968 by Scholastic (this edition is out of print); From my personal library

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Last of the dragons and some others by E. Nesbit, illustrated by Erik Blegvad

 I'm going a little retro today. I'm in the process of re-cataloging and arranging my entire library and am currently going through paperbacks. I have a lot of middle grade books I'm in the middle of, but nothing at review point yet, so...have something old!

Edith Nesbit's collection, A Book of Dragons, has been republished several times in different forms. This particular edition includes an extra dragon story - "The Last of the Dragons" and has an admittedly awful cover. These stories typify what I think of as "common magic" every day, ordinary children who suddenly encounter magic, usually with complete equanimity. I always think of E. Nesbit as the creator of this genre.

"The Last of the Dragons" is the story of....the last dragon. Of course, the princess must face him and be rescued by the prince. But the princess thinks this is a great shame and wouldn't it be better to give the dragon some kind words and maybe a few biscuits? The dragon has never faced such treatment before and it changes his whole attitude.

"The Book of Beasts" in which a little boy is made king and learns he oughtn't to open books that his nurse says should stay case horrid beasts come out! Fortunately, the little king remembers his duty, wipes away his tears, and finds the right creature to put right the wrongs he's done.

"Uncle James, or, The Purple Stranger" is a truly adorable story. A princess and a garden boy live on an island where everything is backwards - there's a chihuahua as big as an elephant and the elephant can fit in your pocket, for example. The princess has a horrid uncle who tries to take over the kingdom, but the clever gardener's boy saves her. I love that the princess tries her best to do her lessons, although she is not very good at them, and when Uncle James gets shrunk "the dragon took him because he wanted a birthday present."

"The deliverers of their country" is, perhaps my favorite story. There is a sudden plague of dragons on England. At first nobody believes the children who see them, then everyone thinks it's interesting, but as the dragons grow bigger and bigger and keep multiplying it becomes a major infestation and nobody knows how to deal with it. Fortunately for England, a naughty boy and his sister are prepared to be the Deliverers of Their Country, especially when St. George isn't able to help. A little plumbing, and the problem is solved!

"The ice dragon; or, do as you are told" in which two naughty children discover the truly awful things that can happen to children who sneak out of the house at night - like sliding all the way to the north pole and nearly getting eaten!

Hmm, no, I think "The Dragon Tamers" is my favorite. It tells the story of a blacksmith who accidentally discovers a dragon in his cellar. Catastrophe is averted by his clever children and there is bread and milk for everyone!

"The Fiery Dragon; or the Heart of Stone and the Heart of Gold" is the closest to a traditional fairy tale, complete with a captured princess and a rescuing prince. Except the prince turns out to be a really nasty piece of work an an usurper to boot and the real heroes are the princess herself and the brave pig-boy. He becomes a prince and marries the princess and "keeps no hippopotamuses and is consequently very popular."

"Kind little Edmund; or, the Caves and the Cockatrice" is probably the most outdated of these stories as it's a rather moralistic tale about not asking questions, respecting your betters, and the frontispiece for the story shows a boy being whipped by his schoolmaster.

Finally, we have another fairy tale, "The Island of the Nine Whirlpools". It takes a mathematically-inclined sailor boy and some help from the princess herself to get her rescued from all the fearsome guardians her nasty father has set about her.
Verdict: If I was replacing and adding classics, which I hope to do in a year or two, I'd definitely add this one to the list. The stories are fresh, funny, and clever. Although some of the language is outdated, the characters and plots are lively enough to overcome this. There's a nice, very affordable edition from the Looking Glass Library series by Random House that I have on a list to get sometime soon!

ISBN: 0140350691; Published 1972 by Puffin (this edition is out of print); From my personal library

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Read, Read, Read, Said the Baby: I know a lot! by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Sara Gillingham

This is the third in the "empowerment" series by Stephen Krensky, meant to encourage kids to celebrate their independence (at least until they realize that mommy won't let them out of her sight until they're 21. I'm feeling a bit grumpy at the moment, yes).

Each page features two opposing or related things the little girl on the cover knows, in rhyming couplets; "I know rocks are heavy/and flowers are light./I know bright means day/and dark means night." Some of the things are oddly phrased like "bright" for sunlight, contrasting wet water with glue that "will dry" (because doesn't water dry too?).

The colors have a blocky, modernistic feel, reminiscent of an older style of illustration. It's great to see a child of color featured in a board book, especially doing every day, ordinary things.

The book is a tall rectangle, 9x6, and has 7 pages, counting the covers. It's the type of sturdy board book binding that will get worn at the edges but will stand up to a lot of use.

Verdict: The text isn't exactly perfect, but the bright art is very attractive and it's great to see a child of color in a board book. It would be a good starting point for conversations with a toddler about what they can do. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781419709388; Published 2013 by Abrams Appleseed; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library order list

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Beneath the Sun by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Constance Bergum

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for Melissa Stewart's latest seasonal/habitat book in the series that includes When Rain Falls and Under the Snow. Somehow I've never gotten around to reviewing either of those titles, although I use them regularly in storytime and they are everything I want in a nonfiction picture book. Happily, Beneath the Sun is equally delightful.

The book opens with a look at what kids do on a hot day - but what do animals do? The rest of the book covers a wide range of habitats and creatures from earthworms and golden eagles to frogs and sea stars. The simple text not only describes what they do in the heat, "A golden eagle soars through the cool air high above the desert." but also adds facts about the animals "Its thick feathers shield its skin from the sun's hot rays.

Bergum's watercolors have muted colors and softened lines and backgrounds, but keep the focus firmly on the various animals featured in each illustrations. Many of the spreads are divided into a smaller side panel with a second animal or text or a continuation of the illustration in the larger panel. I'm often not a fan of watercolors for nonfiction books because they all tend to blur together, but as you can see even in the cover illustration, the animals are clearly identifiable.

When I'm looking for nonfiction for storytime (both in-house and outreach) I'm often looking less for nonfiction narratives and more for books that will spark off a dialogue. That's what makes Stewart's books so versatile. You can read them straight through as a story, or you can use them to engage the audience. I always ask the kids to try to identify the animals and offer guesses on their behavior and adaptations; how do they think they're keeping cool? for example. Then, after reading the text we'll repeat and explain the unfamiliar words.

Verdict: If you're trying to add more nonfiction to your storytimes, or planning your summer storytimes, this is the perfect addition. Kids love identifying the animals and learning about their different behaviors and the tie-in to their own behavior in the summer is a great early literacy connection. A must for your library connection and highly recommended for use in storytimes.

ISBN: 978156145335; Published April 2014 by Peachtree; Review copy provided by the publisher and donated to the library

For more information about Melissa Stewart, her books, and lots of helpful science information, check out Melissa Stewart's Science Clubhouse

Next stops on the blog tour
Monday - Blue Owl
Tuesday – Geo Librarian
Wednesday- Kid Lit Reviews
Thursday- Tolivers to Texas and Chat with Vera
Friday- Sally’s Bookshelf

And for more on Peachtree's great nonfiction offerings, check out The World of Peachtree Publishers

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This week at the library; or, It's a circus here!

Random Commentary
  • My new cushions came! These replace our old beanbags and I've been waiting since last year for them to arrive! Almost as exciting was the massive box they arrived in *gloat*
  • The circus party was huge and insane. It will take me some weeks to fully recover. All programs hereafter shall be measured against this bar - we had to call the police because our program was messing up traffic (well, parking, but still...) and they were like "hey you should tell us when you're planning something this big" and we were like "omg we didn't expect 300 people!" although...we had about 200 last year so....yeah, next year somebody's going to get stuck directing traffic and parking (it's not going to be me. there are probably people still trapped in the fields of Illinois from my short and ill-fated career as a parking attendant for football games)
  • I spent the rest of the week catching up on webinars and planning programs for the rest of the spring, and trying to catch up on stuff - working on Neighborhoods, cleaning out my desk, etc. I think I'm going to focus the rest of this year specifically on collection development for the Neighborhoods, which means picture books in the subject areas and nonfiction at all levels, since I'm doing major weeding/replacing as I grow. Next year (or when I finish) I'll work on completing all our juvenile series.
  • I remembered at the last minute that I scheduled a school visit from a parochial school at 9am on Thursday! They're the last parochial school left in town (the Catholic school closed) and they brought their 1st/2nd grade combined class, about 17 kids. I did a tour and read a couple books, then they were able to make masks and browse and check out books.
  • Smitty and Mary G. are a music program that we had last year - retired music teachers, very affordable, and so much fun! They're wonderful ladies and so nice to do this for us - it's a very low-stress, relaxing program. All the kindergarteners from one of our elementary schools came (which I was super thrilled about since I don't do much with that school and want to change that) plus a couple families so we had about 80 people.
  • Happy moment of the week. One of our regular patrons brought in a family from Thailand that they are hosting. The little girl is trying to learn English and I showed them several different easy readers they thought she might like, Disney Princesses, etc. Then, as she looked over at the new book stand, her face lit up and she started talking excitedly to her mom - she'd seen a cat book and she loves cats. Of course, that's the juvenile shelf and the chapter book was too hard. I raced around like crazy and found some of Schaefer's Mittens books for her. She gasped in surprised delight, and was even more excited when I opened it and showed her that it was super easy to read. Super librarian strikes again!
  • This was an exhausting, but fun and fulfilling week! My feet hurt though. So I'm just going to hang out at home, do some collection development with a friend, and then we're going down to IL on Sunday to buy baby toys with some grant money (and visit Ikea. I need to finish the new design of my bedroom)
  • Webinars
    • Graphic Novel and Comic Collections for Teens (Infopeople) 
      • I missed the first 10 minutes of this, but it felt much more directed towards schools. My teens just want manga and superhero comics, they don't care about understanding their inner struggles. Or anybody else's, as far as I can tell. I can see how it would be useful if we had someone focusing on building teen programs - there were some interesting apps profiled
    • Creating Eye-catching and readable flyers and brochures
      • I wish I'd had this webinar 6 years ago, when I started! I've learned most of this through trial and error, but it's good to be reminded. I'm gradually getting a more uniform design for my flyers and marketing and doing more intentional marketing and not just spraying pictures and paper everywhere.
Circus Party Set-up (I actually got very few pictures because I was running around frantically most of the time and large herds of people crammed into small spaces doesn't really make for good photo ops)
Food tables in the lobby
Storyroom set up for juggling practice
Children's area windows decorated
Some of the craft tables
Facepaint station under the Big Top
Welcome to the circus library!
Photo ops in the lobby
(painted the night before!)
Adding toys and a tent to the ops

A little clown (we did not have any
real clowns)

Picnic in the lobby (all the tables were full)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Willow and Twig by Jean Little

Willow has been getting by as best she can, caring for her difficult brother Twig and adapting to whatever circumstances throw at her as she moves between temporary homes and strangers who range from casually kind to dangerously volatile. But when events become too overwhelming even for her coping skills, she finds herself sent across the country, with Twig, to her unknown grandmother. All she knows is that she didn't want Willow - will she take them in now? Then Willow finally meets her and begins to recall her childhood memories. Events move with dizzying speed and Willow is suddenly discovering she has a family and a history she never knew. She has to use all her coping abilities to handle her new family and to help Twig transition as well.

Little doesn't sugarcoat Willow and Twig's life. Twig is deaf from childhood abuse and has other physical issues from his mother using drugs during her pregnancy. Willow is fiercely protective and reluctant to allow adults, who don't know or understand Twig, to take over his care. At the same time she desperately wants a life of her own and to try to be normal. They're also biracial and must face prejudice and curiosity from kids and adults. But Willow's new family isn't completely normal either - her uncle is blind and she finds out that her mother and other uncle were adopted. With love and understanding, Gram helps Willow settle in and being to flower in her new home.

Like all of Jean Little's work, it focuses on characters having hope and triumphing even in the darkest of circumstances and portrays characters with disabilities in everyday settings, with both faults and virtues, making them the protagonists of their own stories instead of foils to a "normal" main character as they so often are, or plot devices to showcase compassion in other characters (*cough* Wonder *cough*)

Verdict: This isn't a perfect story - there are some subplots that are left dangling and sometimes the story is a little overly dramatic in portraying the children's miserable lives and then fixing every difficulty as it arises. However, it's a tale of hope and courage and eminently readable. Sadly, it is out of print, but if it ever gets reprinted I will definitely buy a copy.

ISBN: 0141306696; Published 2001 by Puffin Canada; From my personal library

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oliver's Tree by Kit Chase

At first glance, this is just a cute little book about animal friends playing in the forest. Adorable and will probably circulate quite well, but nothing particularly special. However, think about it a little from an adult perspective, and you'll see how lovely this little book is and how it gently teaches lessons without hammering kids over the head with them.

Oliver, Lulu, and Charlie love to play outside. Lulu and Charlie especially like to climb trees, specifically when they're playing hide and seek. But Oliver is a bit too big to climb. They try to find a tree they can share together, but after trying out many different trees Oliver gives up and leaves. But his friends don't give up! With a little hard work they find a way they can all enjoy the trees and play together.

Chase's art is sweet without being too saccharine. Her rosy-cheeked little animals frolic happily in a forest with mushrooms, a variety of trees, flowers, and swirling background patterns of ferns. Even the empty spaces of the backgrounds are a soft, beige hue. The illustrations are sometimes full-page spreads, sometimes little cameos of the friends trying out different trees or hiding places.

So, what did I love so much about this? It shows kids including a friend who's a little different. They have to change the way they play, but they all find something they can enjoy together. It also shows children enjoying natural, outside play as well. There are a lot of picture books out there that include lessons on diversity, tolerance, etc. but this is one of the best ones I've seen so far that portrays children naturally playing together and making accommodations for a friend.

Verdict: Buy it for the cute and it will change the way kids play without them even noticing. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399257001; Published 2014 by G. P. Putnam's Songs/Penguin Group; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: At the beach by Elizabeth Spurr, illustrated by Manelle Oliphant

If you thought all my reviews were going to be positive, THINK AGAIN. Oh Peachtree. I do love, love, love their nonfiction, but so often their fiction just seems to fall short. This is part of a trilogy showing a child in the natural world. Each page has a few individual words or a simple sentence that combines to create simple rhymes "Sun Sky/Shore Boy/Sand Pail/Spade Toy". Some of the word choices felt odd to me - I don't think I've heard kids use "spade" anymore, will they understand that the pail of sand is "baking" in the sun?

The main reason I didn't like this was the illustrations. Frankly, that kid is creepy. The images are static and he looks more like a posed doll than a live child. The sketchy backgrounds and crosshatching seem like they'd make it difficult for a very young child to focus and the story doesn't offer much scope for interaction with an older child. Overall, I felt the art looked amateurish and lifeless.

Verdict: There are fans of this series, but I wouldn't add it to my library. I prefer playBac's Eyelike Nature series (now sadly out of print) or something with more lively illustrations or photographs.

ISBN: 9781561455836; Published 2013 by Peachtree; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Bugged: How insects changed history by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton

I am just itching with excitement over Sarah Albee's latest social history book. Her first history, Poop Happened! was a big hit at our library, not only with the kids - quite a few teachers and librarians read it as well.

This book tackles the big effect that tiny creatures have had on world history. It starts out with a preface that gives some general information about the influence of insects and defines important terms. Then the bugfest begins...with hilariously titled chapters, sidebars and text boxes of information ranging from the humorous to the disgusting, cartoons and reproductions of art and photographs, this is a riveting introduction to the role of insects in world history.

Albee explains how insects transmit diseases, the many beneficial bugs that exist, why bugs are so hard to get rid of, and how insects are in every part of our life - from the good to the bad. Then we move on to the really gross bits....DEATH BY INSECT. Mwa ha ha ha. Albee walks the reader through the "big four" of insect-borne diseases and then starts out with the earliest known epidemics and up to the current date. Along the way we learn that insects helped the spread of Christianity, brought about the fall of the Roman Empire, stopped the advance of the Huns, helped Europeans conquer the Americas, and influenced the colonization and economy of Africa. A final chapter discusses how we combat bugs today, the pros and cons of pesticides, and how kids can deal with insects, good and bad. Back matter includes a glossary, further information in books and websites, and sources.

Albee has a conversational, enthusiastic style that will quickly draw in both history buffs and reluctant readers. While they're groaning and gasping over the gross bits, they'll find themselves learning a lot about history and how it's shaped not just by humans, wars, and politics but also by things like insects and climate.

Verdict: This is a great book to hand to kids looking for something engrossing to read, those interested in history, kids who want a fun book to dip into for facts to surprise and gross out their friends, and pretty much anyone who's interested in how the little things in life make a big difference in history. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780802734228; Published April 2014 by Walker/Bloomsbury; Uncorrected proof supplied by author for review purposes; Purchased for the library

Saturday, April 5, 2014

This week at the library; or, Back to work!

Random Commentary
  • Things I did this week
    • Interviewed five more people and selected a youth services associate for the summer (at least, we'll make a final decision once we've called references)
    • With my director and our cataloger, finally decided on the first two neighborhood categories! See my awesome signs here.
    • Scrambled to catch up on everything that was neglected the week I was gone.
    • Was very proud of myself for taking some time off Thursday morning, to make up for coming in on my vacation to do an interview (I'm working on not working if you know what I mean)...until I realized we'd switched the schedule and I was working Thursday night so I would have come in then anyways and I wasn't actually taking any time off. Oh well.
    • Stressed about my Bridge Science program next week, but reminded myself that I have LOTS of popsicle sticks and everything is better with popsicle sticks.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Summer I Saved the 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz

I really enjoyed Calli Be Gold, so I was excited to hear that Ms. Hurwitz had another book. It looks like she's going to stick to the niche of the ordinary girl, at least for now, and I can always use some more stories in this genre, not to mention she does an excellent job of capturing exactly what readers want in a book like this.

Nina wonders what happened to her family. After her grandmother's death a year ago her lawyer parents have turned into workaholics, her older brother is never around, and her best friend is drawing farther and farther away - or were they ever really friends at all? It looks like a long, boring summer before she's plunged into the scary world of high school. Then, inspired by a teacher and her grandmother's memory, Nina makes a small decision; she will do 65 good things, one for each day left of summer. As she does her secret good deeds, things as simple as a compliment or watering a neighbor's flowers, she starts to realize that her little sparks of happiness have set off something bigger in her neighborhood.

As editor Wendy Lamb says in the introduction, readers who want to "Take a break from dystopian/apocalyptic/zombie tales and read this warmhearted story" will be satisfied and delighted. There are some sniffly moments as Nina deals with her grief over her grandmother's death, the sweet excitement of her first kiss, the hilarious reactions of her wacky neighbor and an overwhelming sense of hope and a belief that small things can make a difference. It's not all sunshine and flowers; Nina does some serious thinking about herself and how she's gone through life so far and makes a conscious decision to reach out and make an effort to connect. Some of the neighbors are dealing with real, painful issues and there are a lot of growing pains for Nina as well. Not all her good things work out the way she expects and some things can't be fixed. But Hurwitz manages to invest her realistic characters and story with an overwhelming sense of hope and joy as Nina grows into herself and perseveres in her good deeds.

Verdict: Middle grade readers looking for an inspirational, realistic book with a happy ending will devour this story. Like Calli, Nina is an average girl who finds her own niche in the world and discovers she can make a difference in a small way. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780385371063; Published April 2014 by Wendy Lamb Books/Random House; ARC provided by author; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wild Berries by Julie Flett

I never really know with Simply Read - their books are always gorgeous, but sometimes they're not really marketable, if that's the word I want. So I usually don't buy them unless I can borrow a copy elsewhere to look at. This one turned out to be both lovely and marketable.

When Clarence is a baby, his grandmother carries him to the woods to pick berries. Now that he is older, he carries his own bucket and walks to the woods with his grandmother. They enjoy a peaceful day of picking and observing the natural beauty of the woods before returning home. A pronunciation guide to the Cree words is included as is a recipe for wild blueberry jam.

Julie Flett's illustrations are lovely in their simplicity . Simple shapes and blocks of color, enlivened by brush strokes show Clarence's quiet observation of the creatures that share the berry patch and show a beautiful, somewhat isolated world. The book is physically small, about 8x8 inches, but packs a visual punch.

Verdict: A simple but lovely book, perfect for a quiet one-on-one reading at bedtime or before a little berry picking expedition.

ISBN: 971897476895; Published 2013 by Simply Read; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library's order list

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Ten in the Bed: A bouncy bedtime counting book! by Gill Guile

This board book illustrates the traditional rhyme with the addition of fun sounds. If you're not familiar with the rhyme, it's a subtraction chant (so it's not really accurate to say it's a counting rhyme). It goes "There were ten in the bed and the little one said 'roll over, roll over!' So they all rolled over and one fell out." Then nine, eight, etc.

This one adds a sound for each stuffed animal that falls out from "oops, crash, ow!" for the giraffe to "oink, oink, oops!" for the pig. The pictures are bright but soft colors, and all the animals are very obviously friendly and comforting bedtime friends. Careful attention to the pictures will show a logical order to the animals falling out of bed, a pattern older children will be delighted to follow, while younger children will be happy with the apparent spontaneity of the animals rolling out.

This book is a stiff cardboard rectangle, 7x9. As you can tell from the picture, it's die-cut into shapes with the cover having a large open square to show the inside. The pieces of pages overlap - as you turn each one, they get bigger and bigger, revealing more empty bed, until the final page is full and the animals climb back in. There are ten pages, not counting the endpapers. Despite the oddly shaped pages, it feels very sturdy with thick cardboard and an extra strip down the inside of the right edge of the cover to keep it evenly closed. There are some wrinkles in the cover that hint at possible bending, but nothing too major.

Verdict: This has lots of things to explore - differently shaped edges, pictures of different animals, rhyming text, fun sounds, and the subtracting aspect. While I normally don't buy movable or novelty books for the library, this seems to be quite sturdy and the attractive aspects outweigh the possibly falling apart issues. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781589256187; Published 2013 by Tiger Tales; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to my library's order list