Saturday, February 28, 2015

This week at the library; or, Half a week is better than no snow

What's going on, in my head and at the library
  • I took Monday and Tuesday off. It was cold. I wrote many reviews, worked on some personal projects, and started redoing my bead curtain, which had not been working the way I'd hoped. I also got my hair cut, redyed, and dyed. I seem to have picked up another sinus infection or cold (probably from the kids who coughed in my face right before I left for vacation). Ah well, the life of a children's librarian.
  • Wednesday - I did a walk through of the children's area for safety issues after hearing about an Incident on Friday, tackled mounds of stuff behind my desk, got new books out, made some more Neighborhoods signs, did storytime, finished weeding the 560s, and other misc. duties.
  • Thursday - I cleared some things off my heap and started working on reports in the morning. Fortunately they fixed the furnace enough that the babies didn't freeze. I went on the information desk for two hours (avoided one of our most....time-consuming patrons by the skin of my teeth. Thank you previous librarian for taking one for the team) and also missed out on the soiled chairs due to my cold and only vaguely noticing there was a slight smell until another staff member picked up on it. EXCITING NEWS!! I am expanding my book club - some of my working parents were sad that their kids could not come and I've got a pretty good relationship with our biggest care facility, so I set up the first of what will hopefully be a monthly book club type program with their after school groups. There will be circulation! Woo! Then I did Lego Club - only 18 people came, but almost all new and several of them wouldn't have enjoyed the usual chaos so this was perfect. Belatedly realized that having my aide come in tomorrow instead of today meant I had to clean up so I went home an hour late.
  • Friday - I worked on reports, went through some more new books, went to the post office, and then set up and did my Dr. Seuss program.
  • I went home, in company with a soiled cushion (it's a long story) and determined to turn off all work email and soon as I finished those last few emails and requested all the books for the next couple weeks' programs.
Stealth Programs
What the kids are reading: A Selection
  • Dinosaur books (more enthusiasm for Neighborhoods)
  • Peppa pig (really need to buy some)
  • Max and Ruby (looking at my picture guides! of course they were all checked out...)
  • Books on the science of sound - most of what I have is experiment books
  • Look and Find - I get so many requests for these and they just disintegrate. I showed them how to look for the light blue/magnifying glass sticker to find other seek and find books and they took Bob Staake's Look a Book.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

I will admit that I wasn't much interested in this when I first received a galley. But once I started reading it, I couldn't put it down and I found myself alternately laughing and gasping in disbelief "ewww, really? REALLY?" to the very end.

Grunhilda the Black Heart is the descendant of a long line of nasty, evil, powerful witches. Unfortunately, witchcraft isn't so in demand any more and her skills are, well, not all that they could be. She's good enough that her boss at the Salem Witch Museum regrets firing her. (Possibly. Do pieces of dung have regrets?)

But Grunhilda still needs a job. When she finds an ad for being a lunch lady, she decides it's the perfect job for her; and it is, until one of those annoying children figures out that she's really a witch and blackmails her. Madison isn't as smart as Grunhilda thinks she is. In fact, Madison knows she's stupid - everyone says so. She absolutely needs that potion to make her smart. But what she doesn't know is that Grunhilda, well, not all her potions work out exactly right and pretty soon Madison is living a new life in which flies figure largely and snakes are more of a worry than the principal. But Grunhilda has an unexpected change of heart. There's only one problem - will her wicked ancestors let her do something *gag* NICE?

Lucke's art is grotesque and covered with messy black sketches and artfully placed stains. Characters flare their oversized nostrils, smirk with caricatured mouths, and Madison is afflicted with freckles, glasses, and little, tiny legs. It's perfect. This isn't a pretty-pretty story, it's meant to make you giggle and gasp and groan and the art looks fresh out of the kitchen of a lunch witch. Don't miss the final sketch. I won't give it away, but leeches are involved.

The publicity promotes this as similar to Roald Dahl's Matilda and while there's certainly some Dahlesque elements to the story, I'd say this is more grotesque than Dahl ever got. Plus, there's some poignant moments as Grunhilda suddenly empathizes with Madison on feeling stupid. Dahl's children are all rather...perfect, if you think about it.

Verdict: This won't be for every kid, but for those who like gross stories and nasty characters getting a swift comeuppance with an unexpected underdog coming out on top, this will fly off the shelves. Definitely a must have for your library to balance out all those *gag* NICE stories.

ISBN: 9781629911625; Published March 2015 by Papercutz; ARC provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Whatever the Weather by Carol Thompson

 I am completely in love with this new series of board books from Child's Play.

There are four titles in Carol Thompson's Whatever the Weather series, each featuring a diverse cast of happy toddlers enjoying the weather.

Rain shows a small child and her stuffed toy as a big gray cloud forms overhead. Rain pours down and her emotions shift from bewilderment to surprise to delight as she splashes in the puddles. When the rain stops, the puddles are still there for her (and her now dripping toy) to enjoy, complete with a rainbow. There is a very simple, limited vocabulary "Rain  drops. Plip plop. Drip drop, plip plop."

 In the opposite number, Sun, a happy group of toddlers experiences the delights of a sunny day in summer. A big yellow sun is repeated in the illustrations on each page. The adorably plump, multi-hued babies put on their sun hats and sunscreen, take off their clothes, splash in their wading pools, and dance in the sunset, repeating the mini sun artwork waved by one girl on the first page. In the final spread, one toddler is shown in a walker with an oxygen tube - I think this is the first time I've ever seen a child with a disability depicted in a board book. Toddlers will love this one, with the lovely colors and textures of the hats and other props and happy babies cavorting on each page. Don't forget to talk about the shadows and look to find your own!

Snow is a warm tribute to Keats' classic, Snowy Day, featuring a curly-haired toddler excitedly experiencing the wonder of winter. Looking out the window in his yellow pajamas, he exuberantly yells "Snow!" then puts on his red jacket, white hat with bobble, and the rest of his snow clothes to go outside. He slides and falls in the snow, admires his crunching footprints and cloudy breath, then builds a whole bench of "snow monsters" complete with stick arms and faces. Chilly, he goes inside and waves goodnight to his snow monsters from the window.

While most toddlers won't recognize the tribute to Keats, parents will chuckle over the gentle reminders and enjoy this toddler-appropriate version of the classic tale.

The final book in this series, Wind, is my favorite. I love windy days and the group of happy toddlers clearly join me in this delight. The first spread show four giggling babies and a dog, all with wild, blowing hair (or ears!). On the following pages, the wind blows away hats, ruffles hair, whooshes dandelions and pinwheels, until finally, on the final spread, it quiets and a little girl, with a leaf in her hair, peacefully looks down at a now still pinwheel.

The pages are full of the exciting, whooshing wind, with spinning leaves and bits of paper, flapping clothes, and happy, delighted toddlers, enjoying the wild and windy weather

Thompson's art is full of soft, vibrant colors and interesting shapes. The sweet, colorful drawings, reminiscent of Helen Oxenbury, are given additional dimension with collage. Brightly colored bits of paper make leaves, a sun, snow, and speckled black and white birth tree trunks.

Each book is six pages long, laid out in a sturdy 7x7 inch square. They're an affordable $5 and perfect for toddlers who are just beginning to explore the world around them. This was my first introduction to Carol Thompson's board books and I loved them so much I went back and found several other titles she's done to add to our board book collection as well - Snug, Blankies, and Little Movers (series).

Verdict: These are the perfect addition to your board book section; they would work well as read-alouds for a small lapsit storytime or one-on-one reading. The diverse cast is just one more bonus for these delightful books that toddlers are sure to love. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781846436833

ISBN: 9781846436802

ISBN: 9781846436819

ISBN: 9781846436826

Published 2015 by Child's Play; Review copies provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, February 23, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

Scientists in the Field has many awesome authors and illustrators, but when you see a new collaboration from Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop you know it's going to be especially great.

This book chronicles the efforts of Laurie Marker and the Cheetah Conservation Fund to save the endangered cheetahs of Namibia. The book begins with a map locating Namibia, then introduces Laurie and several of her students as well as the ambassadors, a set of cheetahs who cannot be released into the wild and so serve as ambassadors for the CCF. After the introduction, and a page of facts about cheetahs, the book goes into more detail about Laurie Marker's life and how she came to be in charge of the CCF. Interspersed with more facts about cheetahs and history of Namibia, the book then branches into two main themes; Laurie Marker's unique efforts to conserve the cheetahs be working with local farmers, and the scientific study of cheetahs that goes on at the center.

Back matter includes a bibliography and resources, acknowledgements and index.

Of course, the book is packed with photos of adorable, awe-inspiring, and active cheetahs. There are also photos of the various people involved in the center, activities in the laboratory, and pictures of the stunning landscape and other wildlife that inhabits the area.

Verdict: This is one of the best entries in the Scientists in the Field series and one that I strongly recommend. It's a perfect blend of inspiration and science, and encourages kids to dig deeper and think about a popular topic (cheetahs). Like all the books in this series, it does a great job of showing the viewpoint of the local inhabitants and their involvement in the project. I'm sometimes sad that, although they're such great books, this series doesn't circulate as much as I wish it would - that will be no issue with this title. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780547815497; Published 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Summer Proposal

I spent a lot of time and work on my proposal for summer reading this year, which I took to our staff meeting earlier this week (The staff meeting is all the department heads - youth services, technical services, adult services, circulation, and director. Everyone gives input, but the director has the final decision) and then to another meeting with the director and adult services librarian (who was not able to be at the staff meeting). This is a more structured version of the shorthand I used to present to the staff with some tweaking from suggestions.

This was my sky-in-the-pie dream, so I didn't expect to do ALL of it! Just get it out there for discussion. We're going to stick with the CSLP theme this year, pretty definitely go to the calendars as logs, and prizes are still under discussion - we are almost definitely not doing the plastic crap, but are discussing food coupons or small candies. I'm working on some compromises and tweaks to adjust to staff's suggestions and concerns. Personally, I'm more of a risk-taker and am generally in the field of "let's just try it and see what happens!" but summer reading is run from several desks (I don't have enough staff to cover the children's desk in the evenings and on Saturday) so it needs to work for everyone.

The plan
  • Go back to registration; a simple online sign-up recording child's name, age, and school.
  • When people request the summer calendar, which they will do starting in May, they get signed up. Sign up continues throughout the summer, as always. While supplies last, they will get a small prize, donated by a local artist, at sign-up.
  • The program calendar is the summer reading log! (this is a rough draft, built on last year's calendar, so not all dates etc. are correct)
    • When they have 5 days crossed off, they get stamped and put a sticker on Rocket's Reading Doghouse (giant cardboard construction)
    • We will also keep markers etc. at the youth services desk and kids can add a decoration to the doghouse along with their sticker, if time and inclination allow
    • Forget their calendar? Just stamp their hand!
    • Little ones want to keep their stickers? Go ahead!
    • Big families only want one calendar to keep track of? Just write all the kids' names on one calendar!
    • In July, participants return their June page to receive a packet of passes (received through the consortium)
    • In August, they return their July calendar and get to go into Rocket's Reading Castle (the Storyroom) and pick out a book to keep.
  • Other reading programs (participants can do the calendar program as well if they want)
    • Ages 0-3 will still do Rubber Ducky Readers
    • 6th grade and up can put their checkout receipts into a box for a chance to win a small prize each week, total cost of all prizes not to exceed $100 (I think I got this idea from a discussion on the Facebook Teen Librarians group) winners will be posted on Facebook and the teen bulletin board.
    • We will continue the Queen of Summer Reading competition (the school librarian with the highest participation wins the title and a snazzy necklace for the next year and I give all the elementary school librarians a list of participants, who all get to pick from the prize box when they return to school)
  • The last change - brand all reading programs with Rocket from the Paws to Read theme purchased from ILA in 2013. We will still use the superhero and other CSLP themes for programs, displays, etc. but Rocket = Reading Program Time!
Why brand summer reading with one theme?
  • Save $$ by not having to buy new marketing materials each year
  • Save time not making an entire new decorating scheme each year
  • Brand reading programs with a memorable character that will clue in parents and kids that it's reading program time!
  • Build collaboration with local community organizations; specifically, the animal shelter
  • Most patrons don't notice or care about the theme and it doesn't help market summer reading; it's a lot of time, money, and work for no purpose
  • If Rocket doesn't work out, we can always go back to the different themes every year - it's not an irreversible change!
Why get rid of plastic crap and simplify summer reading?
  • Disproportionate time and money spent on summer reading.
    • In 2014 we spent over $1,200 on summer reading. This is roughly the same amount spent on performers and only about $500 less than spent on programming supplies for the entire year. This does not include time spent on all the summer reading processes, requesting donations (most of whom no longer donate), etc.
    • Performers brought in over 1100 in attendance, our total programming numbers were over 12,000. Summer reading has stayed steady around 500 participants with only small increases each year.
  • Patrons don't care or don't want prizes
    • I informally polled as many parents as possible last summer, especially our most frequent library users. The most-preferred prize was a book and the most frequent request was to make sure all the kids could receive a book as a prize.
    • The parents who most like the plastic prizes were those with preschool or younger kids and all said stickers would be just as good
  • Make the program easier for participants and reach a wider audience
    • The most frequent reasons I heard from non-participants and those who didn't participate more than a week or two were:
      • They lose the bookmarks and don't realize they can keep going
      • They don't sign up at the beginning and think it's too late
      • It's too much work to keep track of reading and remember the bookmarks (we replace a lot of forgotten/lost bookmarks)
    • Reaching more kids
      • There are two ends of the spectrum for readers; kids who struggle to read even 15 minutes a day (required by the bookmarks) and kids who easily read an hour or more every day and are not being challenged.
    • This loose, casual program will allow kids and parents to set goals that fit their family's needs and allow the youth services department to focus on providing programs, stellar reader's advisory, and and a welcoming atmosphere, rather than enforcing rules, being the "library police" or prize distribution. Kids will be able to focus on enjoying the library, rather than getting their piece of cheap crap.
Projected results
  • The 5% who currently complain or don’t participate because of prizes will participate
  • The 5% who are in it for the prizes (and usually hit multiple libraries) will complain as usual and then continue to participate in other libraries' SRP as usual.
  • 90% won’t care.
  • I anticipate that our yearly slow increase in participation (about 50 each year) will continue
What’s the worst that could happen?
Everyone hates it and complains, participation drops. Next year we go back to the regular program and everyone forgets about it.

  • These aren't ALL the resources I consulted, just some of the most accessible I pulled together for the staff meeting and to refresh my points in my head. I also had many conversations with other librarians, including with a Milwaukee librarian (they have been doing the same theme for quite a few years now) and at conferences.
  • I asked for take-away quotes from Storytime Underground on Facebook to bolster my presentation. These are some of the responses.
    • It is eco friendly to scale down on small plastic prizes with huge carbon footprints!
    • We have become a "plastic junk free" zone. Our wonderful system Summer Reading coordinator scores many books for us to give to children to keep. 
    • As a parent who hated the plastic junk I eliminated it from summer reading years ago.
    • Because the plastic junk is just that... Junk. It gets pitched as soon as possible by parents, is of no real value, and, in my mind, does not motivate. Junk.
    • We went cold turkey on plastic tchotchkes last year for exactly the reason you stated above -- we wanted to use the money for something else. We expected a huge outcry, but only about three people even mentioned the "prize box" and those people were adults. The kids never noticed. Woohoo!
    • We took the money that would have been used for prizes and had the kids "earn" an animal through Heifer International. It was very popular and we had no complaints about prizes.
    • We started not giving out little toys/trinkets every week to the little kids. We only had 3 parents complain that their child did not get a toy. Most were happy not to get a cheap piece of plastic that they would lose interest in by the time they got to the car. Worked for us!
    • I used to give books away as prizes via a weekly raffle, plus we had personal sticker sheets posted around the room and a communal bulletin board kids could contribute to every time they read for the SRP. I know some people really think that plastic trinkets motivate but I honestly believe that praise and public displays of accomplishment are what really work and stick with kids the most. When I stopped plastic toys cold turkey, no kid ever complained. The only negative remarks I received were from adults.
Philosophy: I really want to, as I think Marge Loch-Wouters may have said, "get off the summer reading train." No more "earning" prizes, no more spending most of our time at the desk processing reading logs, handing out prizes, discussing with parents whether they can get an extra log for vacation and then an extra prize when they come back, and so on and so on and so on. Personally, if summer reading participation was cut in half and people went to neighboring libraries with "better" prizes....I wouldn't care. If your only motivation for coming to the library is to get a prize, I'm fine with you visiting another library instead. And I don't mean that in a nasty way; we have more than enough patrons to go around and plenty of libraries with different service models of summer reading, so there's something for everyone - I don't have to be that something for everyone. I'm fine with changing the program a little - or a lot - every year to fit what we've learned and how our patron base changes from year to year. I've made changes, always including smaller prizes every year and every year summer reading participation grows.

So, the discussion continues - baby steps every year and we'll see what happens this year!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

This week at the library; or, It is Officially Too Cold

What's going on, in my head and at the library
  • Seriously cold. There is ice on the inside of my windows. So. Cold. I ordered another dehumidifer, hoping to help with my cough and cold-that-never-ends. Maybe, at this point, it's actually the plague. Or something. Being sick does not make me more cheerful. Also, I could not sleep several nights this week and I redid my three main blogs.
  • Monday
    • I presented my plan for summer reading at the staff meeting, struggled through some program plans, tidied some displays, went on the information desk for the evening, wrote up the staff minutes, sorted through new books, and did a little more work on weeding the dinosaur books. Also hauled out our legos for a teacher I'm lending them to and stayed late with a stranded patron.
  • Tuesday
    • Worked more with my new associate, Jess, then she went to help Pattie with storytime and I did...something...made fruit pictures for storytime tomorrow. Something else I think...We went to do storytimes at the school together, thank goodness she came because I have almost no voice. I don't know what I'm going to do for my three storytimes on Thursday. When we came back she tried out some alone time on the desk and I dealt with invoices. In the contest between me and my desk, my desk is winning.
  • Wednesday
    • I did storytime and then some time on the information desk, then worked out a more or less regular schedule with Jess (and revealed by catastrophic inability to do math that involves time) and then we went over the marketing for the next month or so. She started working on it and, set free and with a song in my heart (although that might have been because my lunch was uneatable so I just had an orange) I went off to work on the signage for the neighborhoohds and a second summer reading meeting with the director and adult services librarian. Then, that night, realized that even after spending forever on Jess's schedule I messed it up (seriously, I cannot deal with math that involves time) and had to update the calendar because I shorted her hours. Oy.
  • Thursday
    • I was hopeful that school would be cancelled; not that the library would close, but I had 3 outreach visits scheduled this morning and storytime interrupted by wracking coughs is not fun for anyone. Of course, it did not close. I made it fine through storytime though, albeit with some coughing on the side (and coughing in return, so I've probably reinfected myself). I had an impromptu meeting with Pattie about our huge April program and a performer who's coming for some school classes in April as well, and then Mad Scientists Club. There were only a few people there, which was actually fine because I kept having to deal with things that I'd forgotten but absolutely had to be done before I left. I finally left over an hour late, leaving a massive chaotic black hole in place of my desk, cart piled high with vinegar and assorted goods in the storyroom, and then after I went to the grocery store in the freezing dark (forgot to pick up a prescription) and got home I spent the next couple hours emailing all the things I had forgotten anyways.
  • Friday - Vacation!
    • I have a long list of things to do, reviewing among them. I have a stack of really fun, lovely things from Penguin - Smick and Little Baby Buttercup among them. And I just got Chicago Review Press' new book, Zoology for Kids. Plus all the things from ALA Midwinter.
Stealth Programs
What the kids are reading: Selections
  • There must have been, like, 5 people asking me for Peppa Pig books in the last couple weeks.
  • Stumper which turned out to be Pony Called Lightning by Miriam Mason - a library in the consortium has it.
  • Lots of requests for Battle of the Books
  • Discussion with parent whose elementary daughter reads at a middle school level and likes sports books with girls. Sigh. That's why it's on my Dreaming of Books list.
  • Battle of the Books - but at another school district!
  • Where is Ida B.? it was accidentally returned yesterday. How could it have been lost in less than a day? Four staff members searching, and it finally showed up in adult fiction.
  • Batman! The most adorable three year old Batman fan. I steered him and his grandpa to the Brave and the Bold movies and comics. After some consideration, he took the one with Green Lantern on the cover, after discussion as to whether or not GL had caused the vines to attack Batman. But it was probably Poison Ivy he decided.
  • Where's Waldo
  • Magic School Bus books
  • One of my book club members told me she read her book in an hour and a half! We agreed that she should pick more than one book next time!

Friday, February 20, 2015

This is a moose by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Really funny books are hard to review. Humor is so...subjective. However, I just had to talk about this one.

Every year, when I visit all the schools in May/June, I take one or two funny picture books. I read samples or the whole thing to every class from kindergarteners up to sixth grade. 2014 I took two books - My Humongous Hamster and This is a Moose. The kids loved the hamster, but the most frequent requests I had at the library afterwards, and continuing well into the fall, were for "the moose book".

The endpaper shows a shadow of a moose behind a camera lens. A voice yells "Focus!" and we turn the page to see the film begin "This is a moose - take one!" We behold the mighty moose, descendant of many mooses. He wants to be an astronaut. Wait, WHAT?? The unseen director goes on, getting more and more exasperated as he tries to film a "normal" moose and gets interrupted by the moose's unnatural ambitions, his grandmother, a random giraffe (who wants to be a doctor), and all the woodland creatures helping the moose achieve his goal. There's a surprise at the end as we discover who the director actually is - and everyone realizes that maybe we can be whatever we want.

Tom Lichtenheld's colored pencil illustrations have the perfect blend of friendly illustration and wacky humor to capture kids' attention. I really like that his art is friendly and accessible, but doesn't overpower the story. He complements the text with little side jokes and perfect timing in the pictures to maximize the humor.

Verdict: This could be a sententious story about how you don't have to stay in the little box of what society expects of you. Honestly, however, I doubt that many, if any, kids will bring away that thought. It's just a hilarious story about a moose. And that's awesome.

ISBN: 9780316213608; Published 2014 by Little, Brown; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Small Readers: The Super Secret Adventure Club by George McClements

I like some of McClements' picture books, Baron von Baddie and the Ice Ray Incident particularly, but I really could not get behind this easy reader.

The story is told completely through dialogue and the pictures. Older brother Sam is annoyed by pesky younger sister Bea as he tries to choose a name for his clubhouse with his friends, Matt and Luke. As each one imagines a different use for their stack of cardboard boxes, it morphs into the thing with annoyed sister Bea along for the ride. For example, when one of the boys declares it a Rocket, named Space Place, it shows the boys shooting across space in their rocket with Bea as a pink alien glaring from her saucer. Finally, Bea yells that they should stop talking about their "Super Secret Adventure Club" and the boys happily take the name and settle down in their club.

The collage-style art is not unattractive and one of the boys is dark-skinned with curly hair (although I'm personally reluctant to count friends towards diversity - why not the main character?). However, I found the art to feel very stiff and posed; there was no life or movement in it. The text was scattered in different places throughout the artwork, in widely varying fonts, colors and shapes. This isn't helpful for a beginning reader. It's not like Toon books where they carefully place the text in an orderly way within the comic panels; here the kids not only have to deal with the the struggles of a beginning reader, they've got to hunt for the text they're supposed to read.

The two things that really annoyed me, and which put this in a do not purchase pile for me, was first the old, tired stereotype of a boys-only clubhouse. Yes, I do realize that it could easily fall into the "annoying younger sibling" however, there's no resolution of this part of the plot. At the beginning there's a squabble over the flag, which Bea claims is hers. She doesn't get thanked for naming the clubhouse, apologized to for the boys' noisy play disrupting her tea party, or really recognized at all. Not to mention - boys playing with an imaginary rocket, T-Rex and pirate ship vs. girl in pink having a tea party - stereotypical much?

The other thing that annoyed me, but which isn't particularly germane to the book, is that this is yet another paperback from Scholastic rebound by one of those ubiquitous prebound companies. A significant chunk of the artwork disappears down the gutter and it makes the pictures really confusing - one of them nearly wipes out Bea-as-pterodactyl, and other take an inch or so out of the middle of pictures making them look like a jumble of shapes and colors. Baker and Taylor's prebinds are so much nicer, without the binding companies logo splashed all over the book, and usually without the issues of the gutter and they're not more expensive, often significantly less. I'm not in favor of libraries using these companies to populate their easy reader and picture book sections with substandard bindings.

Verdict: Not recommended, either the book itself or the binding. I will wait for McClements to come up with something a little more unique - I know he has it in him.

ISBN: 9780545436854; Published 2012 by Scholastic/prebound by Book Farm; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, February 16, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Feathers: Not just for flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

I was sure I had reviewed this title - and then realized that I hadn't at all! I merely thought I had because I used it an an outreach visit to kindergarten classes and we had such an involved discussion (specifically around whether or not penguins have feathers) that I thought I'd reviewed it. This is the winner of the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category in Cybils and deserves every accolade that can be heaped up on it, in my opinion.

The book begins with an expanded spread of the cover, introducing the idea that feathers do many different things. The illustrations show different types and sizes of feathers of a particular bird and the text explains one of their uses. This illustration also pictures a familiar object to the compare to the feather's use. The bird is also pictured in a detailed illustration, the caption including its name and location.

So, for example, a tricolored heron is shown spreading out its wings like an umbrella to shade itself from the sun. The illustrations include a small and large feather and a tiny umbrella. The pages have the smooth, slightly textured look of an eggshell with the illustrations drawn so they look like pictures and found objects attached to a scrapbook. Some have tape or tiny pins drawn to look as though they are holding the pictures to the pages, while the feathers and other objects are delicately shadowed to give the impression that they are 3 dimensional objects.

The text is separated into a simple sentence "Feathers can glide like a sled" and then supplemented with additional text in captions and on the paper shapes added to the "scrapbook". Information on different types of feathers, with illustrations, and an author's note which mentions research methods are included at the back.

Verdict: The layered text makes this accessible for a wide range of readers and listeners, from very young to elementary age children. The illustration style is not only interesting and beautiful, it may also inspire children to create their own nature notebooks. A lovely, useful book, highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781580894302; Published 2014 by Charlesbridge; Purchased for the library

Saturday, February 14, 2015

This week at the library; or, Vacation is a fleeting dream

Yes, I take awful pictures.
What's going on, in my head and at the library
  • I created a new page for my blog, intended to sort of go with my awards/collection development posts. Basically it's the kind of books I'm looking for (right now). Realistic middle grade fiction featuring Latinas? More tractor books? BRING THEM ON!
  • I took Monday and Tuesday off and promptly came down with a sinus infection. Drat. I hadn't really planned anything though (actually, I forgot I had taken days off until, like, Friday afternoon).
  • My new associate started on Wednesday! My first time training a professional staff member (I, er, didn't really train my summer person last year - I stole her from another library... Hopefully I will get it right...I got some really helpful advice from other librarians and I'm determined! I had a painful sore throat, so it was lovely to have someone to help out at storytime when I visited the schools
  • Then I opened a mysterious box on my desk and I GOT A HILDA DOLL!!! Hilda is going to live at home with me for the foreseeable future (and, of course, I must now buy ALL the books for myself.
  • Yay! TWO schools are signed up for the fifth grade program! It is so much easier (for me) when the fifth grades come to the library for my big program instead of me visiting them at the schools before summer reading. They're a whole different audience than kindergarten - fourth and I have to bring a whole separate bag of books for them! This year I've got Science Alliance, a local group, who is pretty awesome.
  • My other big project this week was laying out my plan for a new summer reading program - I'm presenting it to the staff on Monday. Wish me luck - if it doesn't get approved, I'm going to have to do a heck of a lot of fundraising to get enough money for all the plastic crap I didn't plan to buy this year.
  • Cybils winners!!
  • I can't believe I didn't talk to a single kid about books this week! This makes me sad.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Nana in the city by Lauren Castillo

I really like Lauren Castillo's books. It's funny how much harder it is to review titles that you like though. It all seems to devolve into vague mumbling about "fantastic" and "wonderful" but I will do my best.

A little boy goes to stay with his nana at her new home in the city. At first, he's unhappy. The city is noisy and busy and scary; how can Nana be happy here? But then she makes him a superhero cape and shows him how wonderful the city is. She shows him a park, live music and friendly dogs. They give a pretzel to a homeless man and he smiles at them, and the city lights up at night. The little boy is delighted to discover that "The city is busy, the city is loud, and it is the absolute perfect place for a nana to live."

Castillo's illustrations have bold colors and broad lines. Bright red accents make Nana stand out against the sometimes drab city background. At the beginning, when the little boy is frightening, the city looms over them and the busy streets are full of faceless people. As he gets to know the city, color explodes across the urban landscape and people come into focus.

Verdict: This is a unique and wonderful celebration of trying new things. It's definitely a different take on the typical grandparent picture book, which usually involves them visiting their grandkids and entertaining them. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780544104433; Published 2014 by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Valentine's Day Board Books

[I almost never do holiday book posts, but I wanted to revise this review covering Valentine's Day-themed board books that I wrote a few years ago, so here you go.]

Two of the four books I am reviewing today are specifically holiday-themed and the other two are more generically "love" themed. I will say, first of all, that Valentine's Day is not a holiday I particularly like (I don't really like any holidays, to be honest) but the crafts are easy - lots of pink paper and glitter and both kids and parents are happy. Despite my own feelings, we do Valentine's programs every year if only so that people can't remind me, yet again, of the year I did a snake-themed storytime.

So, we begin with 10 Valentine Friends, a counting book. This is a tried and true formula from author Janet Schulman and illustrator Linda Davick. They also have a Halloween, Christmas and Easter book in the same format. Bland rhymes and flat, digital pictures walk the reader through Valentines for each child in the story. A separate space on the side of each page shows the cards made so far. It's easy to count, strongly holiday-themed, and boring. However, there aren't too many Valentine's Day books, parents ask for them, and they like the counting aspect. A book doesn't have to be amazing to be a successfully circulating title and this one will definitely go out every Valentine's Day. I'm fine with adding this to the holiday collection, but this is a book that I do not see a use for as a board book. The children pictured are much older than a board book audience and the story and counting are too complex for babies and toddlers, let alone the Valentines concept.

 Next, we have Duck and Goose: Goose Needs a Hug. This is Tad Hills' very successful board book line with simple concepts illustrated by his cheery team of little birds. In this title, Goose is feeling sad and his friends keep trying to cheer him up. Finally, they take the time to listen to what he wants and find out that he just needs a hug. This would make a nice, non-romantic Valentine's Day read for even the youngest ones in storytime and Hills is expert at including just the right amount of text for young listeners. This is a definite must to add to your board book collection.
Sweet Dreams Lullaby is one of the lovelier bedtime board books I've seen, with sweet little rhymes and glowing pictures. A little bunny is inspired by the parent bunny to cuddle up in bed and "dream of water-lily beds/where baby peepers rest their heads./a daddy frog sings low and deep,/lulling all the pond to sleep." Each spread features a different verse about a different aspect of nature, including sunny days, clouds and sky, night sky, stars, etc. The pictures are my favorite part of this sweet little board book, with softly glowing pastels and cute, happy faces. I'm not really 100% behind this as a board book, since I feel the rhyming text is too long for most children aged two and under, which is who I buy board books for; however it's also available as a hardcover picture book. This would make a nice Valentine's Day present or a sweet read for an evening storytime.

Finally, Tweet Hearts is what I'd think of as a novelty book. It's a counting book, counting little hearts doing silly things, with a final spread that pops out a thin cardboard heart saying "I love you." The pictures are cute and parents will like this one, but it's not something I'd recommend to a library. The hearts are hard to differentiate from the illustrations, especially for a young audience. In one spread there are bubbles and heart-shaped bubbles, in another heart-shaped balloons and clouds. Older children would have no problem with this, but I can't see a reason to be reading this very small board book to an older child. The pop-out heart at the end will last about 30 seconds on the regular board book shelf.

Verdict: I highly recommend Goose needs a hug in board book format. I suggest purchasing Sweet Dreams Lullaby and 10 Valentine Friends as hardcover picture books. Give Tweet Hearts a miss.

10 Valentine Friends: A holiday counting book by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Linda Davick
ISBN: 9780375871306; This edition published 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Duck & Goose: Goose needs a hug by Tad Hills
ISBN: 9780307982933; Published 2012 by Schwartz & Wade/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder
ISBN: 9780307980601; This edition published 2012 by Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tweet Hearts by Susan Reagan
ISBN: 9780307931535; Published 2012 by Robin Corey/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the prize box

Monday, February 9, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

I didn't realize this was a series! I read and loved Ocean Sunlight, but somehow missed a couple other titles along the way. Today, I'm looking at Buried Sunlight.

Beginning with dark blue endpages, speckled with starry points of light, this lovely book explains fossil fuels in a simple, accessible way. The sun, who acts as the narrator, explains how its energy is trapped in plants through photosynthesis and then hidden deep under the earth. That energy is accessed when we burn the fuels. A sense of the eons of time required to build up fossil fuels is shown in the friendly language and art, showing the slow build up of tiny, sparkling motes of energy, shown in little explosive stars of light against the black strata under the earth. The second half of the book explains how the rapid use of the fuels it took so long to build up damages the planet and atmosphere and causes changes, first small and later likely to be severe, to occur. Simple graphs show how the normal changes in the planet's atmosphere are disrupted and happening far more rapidly than ever before. The final pages blaze with the sun's light as it asks "Will you work together to use my ancient sunlight more slowly, to find other sources of energy, and invent ways to thin the blanket of CO2? The choice is yours."

Three pages of extensive notes expound on the concepts introduced, offering more information to parents and children who want to learn more. Some of the other reviews I looked at criticized the book for not offering "things kids can do" and normally I would like to see that as an option, to keep titles like this from being too scary and depressing for their readers, but in this case I don't think that's needed. First of all, I would agree with Paul Fleischman in his latest title for teens, Eyes Wide Open that making it sound like recycling will save the earth is too simplistic, even for kids (seriously, one book I read suggested kids write on both side of the paper to save the earth. Uh, really?). Secondly, this title has a matter-of-fact, scientific tone that informs without being frightening or overly dramatic. This would be a good book to start with to teach kids the scientific concepts behind why we recycle, walk or bike when possible, use public transportation (if the option is available), conserve water, keep the heat or a/c off when possible, or whatever other environmental measures are right for your family.

Verdict: This is the best explanation of fossil fuels for young listeners and readers that I've seen - it even made sense to me! The text is clear and interesting and the inspired illustrations richly complement the text. A definite must-have for your collection.

ISBN: 9780545577854; Published 2014 by Blue Sky Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the picture books/neighborhoods backlist for future ordering.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

ALA Awards; or, Putting my money where my mouth is, edition 2014

There are a lot of awards - I do a bulletin board display of as many as I can find in April. However, for collection development purposes, there's really only two I look closely at. Cybils, because the combination of literary quality and child appeal means the majority of the books will circulate well and ALA's awards because they are the best-known and people (even if it's other staff and librarians) will ask for them.

I didn't make it to the awards ceremony this year, although it was in Chicago - it's a two-hour train ride and I didn't feel like shelling out for a hotel room (or getting up early enough to take a train that would get me there in time). I like the excitement of the awards, but I have never been an indiscriminate award buyer. I feel that the majority of titles are chosen for literary quality and/or appeal to teachers and librarians. That's not necessarily a bad thing; child appeal isn't part of the criteria for most of these awards and books that adults are passionate about and booktalk will turn out to have sometimes surprising appeal to children. ALA awards do what they are intended to do quite well and the committees this year picked a great slate of stellar books by the criteria they were given.

But in my small library, with my small budget, I can't afford to purchase books that don't pull their weight and circulate off the shelf. I have limited time to handsell titles and things that would normally be assigned by teachers; well, kids are unlikely to show up asking for since our school libraries are so strong. We also have lexiles to contend with, although I rarely look at them when making purchasing decisions it's a consideration.

  • Crossover by Kwame Alexander
    • I looked at this for Cybils but was skeptical that it would circulate in my library. Only a couple sports authors are popular and novels in verse only if they're a very specific subject will circulate. I still am skeptical, but since it won the Newbery in addition to other awards I have to purchase it. Who knows, it might surprise me!
  • El Deafo by CeCe Bell
    • Purchased. This has gone out 4 times since I bought it in September, so not super popular, and I disagree with all those who compare it to Telgemeier, but I'm not sorry I purchased it. We have a large deaf population in and around our town and it's worth it to reflect the experience of these kids and for other kids to be able to understand their lives a little better.
  • Brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
    • Purchased. This has gone out 5 times since I purchased it in October and is currently checked out. It has a GREAT cover, which really helps and I put it into fiction. I don't want to fictionalize Ms. Wilson's experience in any way, but this type of book will only see the kind of circulation it has if it's in the fiction section. I am also really, really pleased to see a diverse book win a mainstream award.
  • Beekle by Dan Santat
    • I love Santat but I admit I was surprised that he won. I purchased this and it has gone out 14 times since May and is currently checked out.
  • Nana in the city by Lauren Castillo
    • I loved this but there were a lot of new books I didn't get b/c I spent so much on replacements - I'll move it up to the next order list, which will be March.
  • Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre
    • Two other libraries in my consortium own it, so unless someone requests it I will not purchase - you are probably all well-aware of my feelings about picture book biographies.
  • Sam and Dave dig a hole by Jon Klassen
    • This was interesting, but not something I see being a big favorite with kids. Too surreal. However, a couple classes did a big thing with the Caldecotts last year and a lot of kids got really obsessed with Extra Yarn so I purchased this for them and it has gone out 8 times since October and is currently checked out.
  • Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
    • This is a picture book biography I can see being popular since it really has very little to do with the actual subject and is attractively illustrated. However, it's not something I feel the need to fit in to my tight budget. 2 other libraries in my consortium own it.
  • The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
    • I love Sweet's illustrations, but I really, really cannot handle picture book biographies, especially ones about obscure figures from history. Rather than go into a rant, I am just moving on. I will not be purchasing this. 7 libraries in my consortium own it, 5 of those being school libraries, it's circulated 1-2 times in the public libraries and 0 in the school libraries.
  • This one summer by Jillian Tamaki
    • This was a real surprise - has a teen book ever won a Caldecott? This is not the type of graphic novel that my teens will check out (the only thing other than superhero comics and manga they will read is Faith Erin Hicks and Courtney Crumrin) but I do plan to read it myself and four libraries in the consortium own it.
  • You are (not) small by Anna Kang
    • In the picture books. Has checked out 12 times since we bought it in July. I am planning to make a binder (or, rather, have a volunteer make a binder) of picture books for beginning readers and this will be on there).
  • Mr. Putter and Tabby turn the page by Cynthia Rylant, Waiting is not easy by Mo Willems
    • I feel kind of meh about these super long-running series. Mr. Putter and Tabby aren't super popular here; Elephant and Piggie are. I don't really see them as award-winners. I'm happier with the Cybils list this year in this area.
I am....not happy with the Sibert this year. Only ONE science-themed book? I have many rants on this subject, but I am not going to share them here. Just...I am disappointed and I think this is one of the reasons STEM is difficult - if teachers and librarians don't value the great STEM books, why do they expect kids to take an interest?
  • The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
    • Moving on...
  • Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
    • Still making up my mind about this one. It is definitely teen and this kind of serious history is a hard sell for my teens who only use the ya nonfiction for browsing type reading - celebrity biographies and memoirs like A Child Called It and Soul Surfer are popular, but this kind of scholarly work is more likely to sit on the shelf.
  • Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell
    • Josephine Baker is an awesome person, but WHY did they have to make it a picture book biography?? 6 libraries own it, 4 of them school libraries. Will not purchase.
  • Brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Wilson
    • Discussed above.
  • Separate is never equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
    • Previously looked at for Cybils. If I lived in a different area I might consider it, but I find his art to be extremely inaccessible for people unfamiliar with its history or origins. 1 library owns it. I will not purchase.
  • Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy
    • Well, one is better than nothing (I'm looking at YOU NCTE list) and this is indeed an awesome book. Gone out 4 times since we purchased it in October and just went out again.
Coretta Scott King
  • Brown Girl Dreaming, Crossover
    • Repeats from above
  • How I discovered poetry by Marilyn Nelson
    • Triple whammy of poetry, teen, autobiography. 3 libraries in our consortium own it, 2 are school libraries, none of them have checked out. Pass.
  • How it went down by Kekla Magoon
    • Two libraries own it - I trust the judgment of our cataloger who buys teen fiction and she didn't purchase it.
  • Firebird by Christopher Myers
    • Gorgeous, but not enough actual dancing pictures in my opinion. However, four libraries in the system own it and I am considering purchasing it when I have the budget available.
  • Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell
    • Discussed above.
  • Little Melba and her big trombone by Frank Morrison
    • I absolutely refuse to buy any books about jazz ever again. I don't think anyone in this town even knows what jazz is. I have two that check out occasionally - Squeak Rumble Whomp Whomp Whomp and Charlie Parker Played Bebop and I do not need any more. Only 2 libraries own it.
  • When I was the greatest by Jason Reynolds
    • I was confused by this because the list I was reading said Jason Alexander, and then I realized that someone had transposed the Newbery winner. Anyways. Same thing with this on teen fiction. 3 libraries in my system own it.
Pura Belpre
  • Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
    • Discussed above.
  • Little Roja Riding Hood by Susan Guevara
    • I wasn't real impressed with this one and I already bought a lot of fairy tales, but I'll go ahead and get it, especially since I have a couple families who have recently gotten interested in bilingual stories.
  • Green is a chile pepper by Roseanne Thong
    • Purchased. Has gone out 12 times since I bought it last February. Not super popular, but we had it checked out for storytime and outreach for a long time.
  • Separate is never equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
    • Discussed above.
  • I lived on butterfly hill by Marjorie Agosin
    • I looked at this because I liked the cover, but I don't think it will circulate. 2 libraries own it and no, it's not circulating.
  • Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera
    • I looked at this, but this won't circulate - I need individual biographies. 1 library owns it.
  • A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
    • Only 2 (school) libraries own it. I placed it on hold to look at it.
  • Rain Reign by Ann Martin
    • I was skeptical about this because her books so often seem depressing and I'm kind of tired of the "genius/quirky child on the spectrum" trope, but quite a few libraries have it and it's checked out at about half, so I'll get it for the Wonder fans.
  • Girls like us by Gail Giles
    • A handful of libraries have this but the circulation does not look good. Too close to adult for my teen area, which skews young. Pass.
  • I'll give you the sun by Nelson Jandy
    • We own it. It's gone out 7 times since we bought it in September and is currently checked out.
  • And we stay by Jenny Hubbard
    • I'll recommend this to our teen selector - I think it could be reasonably popular.
  • Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley
    • No one in my system owns this. I am ok with that.
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
    • Quite a few libraries have this one, but it looks like very low circ. I am ok that we passed on this.
  • This one summer by Mariko Tamaki
    • Discussed above.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

This week at the library; or, New programs!

at least ONE person used the blankets!
What's happening in my head and at the library
  • Monday - Tuesday. Busy. Investigation of graffiti on study room wall, which....was...signed...sigh, we are dealing with middle schoolers here. Planning programs for the rest of the week, endless small things to deal with, massively plugged toilets, staff meeting, all my spare time at home Monday/Tuesday devoted to making sensory blankets. 
  • Wednesday - no babies showed up to the program, which kind of made the sensory blankets useless (although one little girl did use one for a picnic blanket) my nice middle schoolers showed up to help and a sweet teen asked if she could start a club for perler beads, which balanced out the reappearance of the group of problematic teens who I have had to ask to leave four times in less than two weeks. Reports, reports, reports. Two giant Olafs mysteriously appeared in the workroom and my January circulation is significantly up.
  • Thursday - more reports. A small Lego Club - only about 35 people, mostly little kids, showed up. Swim lessons are big right now I think. Packed up all my outreach and went through my list of cancelled replacements from Baker and Taylor, hoping to find some on Amazon, and then my list of requested anime.
  • Friday - 3 outreach visits, somewhat hoarse, 3 hours on the information desk, 1 hour on the youth desk, left early.
Stealth Programs
What the kids are reading
  • Magic Tree House
  • Fancy Nancy picture books
  • Westerns - this is for a couple mentally disabled, homebound adults. This was a tricky one until I thought of the Tucket series by Paulsen! I also pulled a couple of the Dear America (the boy ones).
  • John Deere, although he was fine with some other construction books. I need to find some John Deere books, somebody asked for this recently as well.
  • A collection for a twelve year old with Downs to take on a trip - happily, I hadn't yet weeded my easy reader collection, Read to Me, or something like that (I was going to replace it) and I also suggested one of the National Geographic easy reader collections.
  • I put up my DK Star Wars poster and immediately got Star Wars requests.
  • Two boys looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid (although I think they actually just said the first book they thought of b/c I was glaring at them for horsing around)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Please bring balloons by Lindsay Ward

I just fell in love with this story. A little girl finds a mysterious request on a carousel polar bear and goes on a magical journey to the north pole where she joins a polar bear party! "It had been a perfect adventure." But it's time to go home and to bed and the adventure is over...until she finds another note.

Ward's lovely collage illustrations have a homey but magical feeling. Sometimes the backgrounds are random, like the polar bears made out of scratch white paper with scribbled schedules and note on them, sometimes they blend with the story, like the snowy background of the north pole created out of old maps.

This story reminds me irresistible of Raymond Brigg's The Bear which is one of my favorite movies, even though their artistic style is totally different. This is a bit dreamier than the books I usually use in storytime, but preschool ages will appreciate the magical adventure and it's a perfect story to read before bedtime.

Verdict: Definitely make this an addition to your collection. There aren't a lot of fantasy books that work well for younger children, but this dreamy story is one of them. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780803738782; Published 2013 by Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group; Purchased for the library (and noticed a huge piece ripped out of a page when I read it again to review it, so purchased again for the library)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Small Readers: Hot Rod Hamster and the Wacky Whatever Race by Cynthia Lord, cover by Derek Anderson, interior illustrations by Greg Paprocki

Cynthia Lord's popular picture book series, featuring a fuzzy, enthusiastic hamster and a cheerfully vigorous, swinging text, have been turned into a series of easy readers.

In this first title, Hamster reprises his first adventure, building a car, when he sees an advertisement for a soapbox derby (they don't call it that, but that's basically what it is). With his friend Doug and the mice he choose the materials for his new car - a box, wheels, decorations (flames of course) and they're ready to go! Hamster and his dragster are the smallest ones in the race, which features some big dogs and he quickly falls behind. However, a clever trick lets him keep to the rules and still win the race!

The pictures are "based on the art" of the original illustrator, Derek Anderson. They don't have the life and color of the original, but are perfectly serviceable for an easy reader.

The text is all over the place. One page has a speech bubble and a simple rhyming couplet, another has the text divided into two-word sentences placed in different locations across the page. The font is not as small as a typical chapter book, but it's smaller than the usual easy reader. Because of the layout, font, and more complex text, this is going to fit best a reader who already has some fluency and is familiar with finding words in different locations on the page.

Verdict: Hamster is a popular character and this cheerful easy reader, although it doesn't have the spark and pizazz of the original picture books, will probably be attractive to beginning readers with some fluency.

ISBN: 9780545694421; Published 2014 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's easy reader backlist to purchase

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Guys Read True Stories edited by Jon Scieszka

The Guys Read anthologies don't check out super well at my library, but I purchase them anyways because sooner or later someone is going to come in with a short story assignment and then there they are, right at hand. However, I purchased this volume specifically for myself because it features a short comic by Nathan Hale with one of my favorite American frontier stories, the Guy Who Survived a Bear Attack (I didn't say I could remember his name, just his story).

Scieszka's introduction hints at the delights to come, mentioning hooks for the different stories from hunting for tarantulas in the Amazon to the amazing story of Jumbo the elephant. The book is illustrated throughout with black and white watercolor sketches by Brian Floca.

The first story, "Sahara Shipwreck" by Steve Sheinkin, is appropriately awesome. It features a shipwreck, desert survival, tons of gruesome details, and some thoughtful discussion of slavery, different cultures, and how life or death experiences change a person. I can sell that, no problem. "They drank their own pee." That's all you need.

"Tarantula Heaven" by Sy Montgomery is a fine piece of science writing, with the added "ick" factor of spiders. No matter how annoyed I get when people teach their kids to be afraid of spiders, they're always going to add an "ick" factor. The only part that really threw me was a paragraph near the end, that was...weird. It started comparing tarantulas to Christmas stars and talking about how they made the horror and sorrow in the author's life worth it for that moment. That seems a bit over the top to me. However, the rest of the story is quite compelling.

Then, of course, there's Nathan Hale's story of Hugh Glass. Shot by the Arikara, attacked by bears, left to die in the wilderness...he survived. It's an awesome story. I was at first skeptical of the way Hale skips around in the story, interspersing the survival tale with historical context and different legends around Hugh Glass. However, as I finished the story I realized that it really works; it makes you really see the difference between the legend and what might have happened and the historical context of what we know for certain. Hale's art is in black and white, but it's got his trademark humor and characters, including an ironic look at how the white settlers interacted with the Arikara and what set off the whole mess in the beginning.

Candace Fleming, who wrote a biography on Barnum, contributes "A Jumbo Story" the tale of the world's largest elephant. From his popularity in London to his sale to Barnum, star status, tragic death, and commercial value, she covers his story in all its weird, giant glory.

"Uni-Verses" by Douglas Florian is a series of science-based poems. Each poem is accompanied with a brief paragraph explaining the science behind the verse. I didn't care much for these poems, not being a big fan of Douglas Florian anyways, and I have a hard time picturing any kids not skipping over this section. Which is what I did after skimming the first couple poems.

"This won't hurt a bit: The painfully true story of dental care" by Jim Murphy is interesting - historical medicine is always good for a gross wince or two - but it's not really a story, more an informational narrative.

"A pack of brothers" by Thanhha Lai did not, in my opinion, fit into this anthology well at all. It's a very personal memoir talking about Lai's experience growing up with six older brothers in Vietnam. Although it does give some cultural context, it's mostly personal recollections of her childhood. I have a hard time seeing a tween boy, the audience for this anthology, having interest in this. Although it's technically a true story, it sticks out like a sore thumb amid the survival/historical narratives. I think it would have done much better in another context, as it was well-written.

"Mojo, Moonshine, and the Blues" by Elizabeth Partridge is a brief biography of the life of Muddy Waters, a pioneering blues singer. Partridge doesn't shy away from the more difficult aspects of his life and her writing is almost lyrical, but I can't think of any kids, boys or girls, who would be interested in historical blues musicians.

"A Cartoonist's Course" by James Sturm is another personal memoir, talking about his childhood interest in cartooning and how he arrived at his current career. I do have kids ask for drawing books, but none that are super into drawing comics and Sturm's cartooning books don't circulate much, if at all, so I don't see much interest in this story. I personally found it rather boring and pretty much like every "this is how I became an artist/writer" narrative I've read before.

The final story, "The River's Run" is by T. Edward Nickens, an editor for Field & Stream and Audubon. I'm really not an outdoors person, so I couldn't relate to the desire to fly to remote places and nearly get killed canoeing down dangerous rivers just to fish (I don't like fish either) but we have a lot of kids around here who are interested in hunting and fishing and they'd probably not only enjoy the story but would probably be familiar with Nickens name as well.

Verdict: Short stories are a hard sell for most libraries and this collection was, I felt, weak in spots. However, it does have some really stellar contributions that will attract readers from Steve Sheinkin and Sy Montgomery to Nathan Hale, Candace Fleming, and T. Edward Nickens. I'm comfortable with my decision to house this collection in the fiction section with the rest of the Guys Read anthologies and I'm not sorry I purchased it (although I did wait to get it in paperback). Recommended if you have fans of the anthologies, kids who get short story assignments, or kids who like true survival/adventure stories.

ISBN: 9780061963810; Published 2014 by Walden Pond/HarperCollins; Purchased for the library