Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Small Readers: Sofia Martinez, Picture Perfect by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith

A friend put me on to this series and I absolutely loved it! I've always been sad that I couldn't get any kids to get into Jules' Zapato Power series. I'm not sure why - the covers are a little bland maybe. But Sofia Martinez, oh I can booktalk this one!

Sofia is the youngest of the three Martinez sisters. Everyone says she and her sisters, Luisa and Elena look alike. But Sofia wants to look different! A family get-together gives her an idea and in her next school picture Sofia will definitely stand out of the crowd!

The pictures are colorful and attractive. Sofia is an enthusiastic, bouncy little girl whose personality shines through both the words and pictures. The art picks up the changing emotions of the simple story and gives the reader glimpses into Sofia's warm and busy family.

The text is intermediate, what I'd call a level 2 or 3 in my library, perfect for kindergarten up through 2nd grade. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text in bright pink. The meaning is easy to pick out from the context, but there's also a helpful glossary in the back. Several discussion questions are also included.

I've been looking for more realistic easy readers and Sofia's Latina identity is just the icing on top of the cupcake. Kids will empathize with her dilemma and giggle over her solution. The text is smoothly written and the Spanish integrated so that it won't disrupt the reading experience, whether or not kids know what the words mean. Sassy pictures and a depiction of a caring, happy family round out a very nice start to a new easy reader series.

Verdict: Picture Window only offers paperback or library binding, but the $15 price tag is quite reasonable and definitely worth it to add a little diversity and a fun new series to your easy reader section. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781479857738; Published 2015 by Picture Window/Capstone; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On the Wing by David Elliott, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

I'm generally not a fan of poetry books *pauses while friends throw things at me* but poetic picture books can really work, if they bridge the gap between those who are uncertain/reluctant to check out poetry and the almost constant circulation of our picture books. David Elliott's picture books of short poems have always done very well for us. I've used selections in storytime, in displays, and they check out quite a lot.

When I borrowed this new one, I was at first confused that they'd switched to a new illustrator. Then I remembered that the illustrator for the previous three books in this series, Holly Meade, passed away several years ago. I was interested to see how the new illustrator, Becca Stadtlander, would measure up.

So, this follows the same format as the previous titles which explored animals in the sea, on the farm, and in the wild. Each spread or page features a different bird and a clever, majestic, or funny poem about them. I love that Elliott doesn't dumb down the language and uses such rich vocabulary as "conflagration" with ease. My favorite poem, personally, is "The Wandering Albatross" which has a lovely, haunting rhythm. Some of the poems are just a few lines, making them perfect for introducing very young children to both poetry and birds.

The new illustrator has a very different style from Meade's rough, colorful woodcuts, but it is a lovely combination with Elliott's poetry and fits the theme of birds beautifully. The delicate paintings capture the grace and loveliness of the birds as easily as their more quirky features and habits. From the sweeping majesty of the condor soaring far above the landscape to a flock of feisty sparrows, each bird is delicately and lovingly drawn with personality and verve.

Verdict: If, like me, you only purchase a few poetry books each year, make sure to include this continuation of a popular series on your list. The new illustrator was an excellent choice to continue the legacy of Elliott and Meade and take the series in a new direction. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780763653248; Published 2014 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Monday, September 28, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen

This book sounded really cool, but I wanted to look at it first. However, it took quite a while before I was able to get my hands on it! It is, indeed, quite lovely.

There isn't so much a story in the book as an exhortation to start small and plant a few native prairie plants. If you plant just a few things, more may follow, along with native animals, until the prairie is reborn.

Back matter includes an explanation of the history and destruction of the great prairies, how to start your own mini prairie and research native plants, and more information on the various plant and animal species mentioned in the book. There is also some additional information on endangered vs extinct and some further resources.

The lovely, delicate illustrations perfectly capture the beauty of small details in the prairie so lovingly described. Birds, flowers, snakes, insects, the tiny creatures grown and expand until they sweep across the page in a flurry of life and motion.

Verdict: This isn't likely to work well in a storytime, as there isn't really a story, more a list of species. If you're looking for a story about reviving a wild meadow, try Meadowview Street by Henry Cole. However, it's a lovely, lovely book and would be a perfect complement to a class project or research into native plants.

ISBN: 9780816679805; Published 2014 by University of Minnesota Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cybils is Here! Cybils is coming!

I am proud and happy to announce the first and second round panelists of Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction, of which category I am chair. I will also be judging in the first round of Easy Readers/Easy Chapter Books. Get your nominations ready, because it's only a few days away!

Round 1 Panelists for Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction. These folks will be reading approximately 100 nonfiction titles, choosing the 5-7 that best fit Cybils' criteria of child appeal and literary quality.

Round 2 Judges for Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction. These folks will take our finalists and, in only a month and a half of intense reading, discussion, and evaluation, choose the One Book To Rule Them All, i.e. the winner!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

This week at the library; or, Reaching out to outreach

Thinking about weeding
the juvenile nonfiction.
What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • The real craziness begins this week. Last week was just pretend-craziness. School here started very late - after Labor Day - so my outreach isn't starting until this week. I'm also taking next week off so I had a lot of prep work to do.
  • Data. Daaaattaaaa. The official 2014 data was released today. Of course, I already had my happy data day dance with the preliminaries last summer, but I like to look again.
    • Service Population: 24,484
    • Children's materials circulation: 121,079
    • Children's e-content (which has nothing to do with me): 378
    • Children's programs: 364
    • Children's program attendance: 12,282
    • Teen programs (I count school visits): 24
    • Teen attendance: 456
  • My first visit to the after school community center for middle schoolers. There was a fairly small group there and I only checked out about 3 things. It would work a lot better if I had a mobile hotspot, but I don't think it's worth it for just this monthly group. If I ever started doing books by the pool in the summer though....the kids were absolutely enthralled with the Osmo though.
  • First visit back to one of my preschool/daycares. The threes and fours are so tiny at the beginning of the year!
  • Thursday I frantically rushed through all the misc. things I could think of that would need to be done, Friday I was gone all day at a workshop and then...vacation!
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Starting to put together materials for book clubs starting in October.
  • Shifted the manga - we're running out of space
  • Weeding YA - again, running out of space
Professional Development
  • Youth Services workshop - using technology, adapting services to kids with disabilities, starting an anime club and lots of other stuff.
  • Cybils. I am cybiling like crazy!
Stealth Programs and Displays
  • Nothing new!
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • "how things work" for a four year old - Macaulay is really too old, I showed them some things in the nonfiction section and let them browse.
  • Pete the Cat
  • Trapani and other music-based books - Music section in neighborhoods.
  • Read-alikes for I Survived for a 5th grader. I survived true stories, Can you survive, Samantha Seiple, Expeditioners, Secret Files. I really need to make a list for this.
  • Leaf books, fall books, apple books.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Anna Banana and the friendship split by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Meg Park

This looked like a really fun new beginning/intermediate chapter series with a diverse main character. But for some reason it just didn't grab me.

Anna loves her best friend Sadie, but they don't always get along. She thinks Sadie is lucky, with parents who let her do whatever she wants. But Sadie can also be bossy and mean. When they have a fight on Anna's birthday, she's devastated and at first tries to make up with Sadie. But then she realizes she needs to stand up for herself and tries...but it all goes wrong. Does she have to choose a new best friend?

I guess what mainly bothered me about this is that Anna's parents are supposed to be a contrast to Sadie's - involved, caring, etc. But it takes them quite a while to realize that something is drastically wrong with Anna and then they just...don't really do anything. Really, I suppose I'm looking at it from an adult standpoint and not how it would appear to a kid, so it's not a legitimate complaint, but it just bothered me.

There are illustrations throughout the book, but this was an ARC so I didn't see the finished illustrations. Despite my own reservations, if you have readers who like stories about friendship with lots of interpersonal stuff going on, this would definitely be a good choice. The writing is snappy and fresh, the characters aren't too stereotyped for this type of book, and a lot of kids struggle with friendship issues.

Verdict: I think this just wasn't a good fit for me personally, since I dislike stories that focus primarily on relationships and this whole series looks like it's going to be one friendship drama after another. I'm going to take the ARC to work and see what my book club kids think about it, but most of my readers are more interested in books where something happens (although that might be my own bias coming through) so I don't think this series is necessary for us. However, it's really nice to see a diverse main character and if I had a bigger budget I'd definitely add this one.

ISBN: 9781481416054; Published May 2015 by Simon and Schuster; ARC provided at ALA Midwinter 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Raindrops fall all around by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Laura Watson

This boardbook is adapted from a full-sized picture book. I haven't read the original, but the board book works very well.

Smooth rhymes talk about the raindrops falling all around, focusing on various animals and ending with a rainbow. "A flowing creek fills up with rain./Rain seeps down into the drain." shows a cheerful yellow duck, two chipmunks, and an orange bird parading over a slowing filling creek while the opposite page shows three smiling cats watching the rain pour down into a storm drain.

The illustrations are large spot illustrations set against a white background and picture a cast of colorful and happy animals. Even the dog and cat, obviously a little nervous about the thunder, are curled up cozily together. The animals are cartoonish but easily identifiable.

The book is a large square about 8x8 and although the text is an odd, thin font, it would still make quite a decent read-aloud.

Verdict: A great choice for a rain-themed baby or toddler storytime or for reading on a rainy day. Picture Window books are only available in library binding, so this board book is an excellent and affordable alternative. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781479560424; Published 2015 by Picture Window; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bear Hug by Katharine McEwen

A young bear remembers the lessons of his parents as he prepares for the winter, meets another young bear, and begins to teach his own cub about survival.

I'm really torn about this book. On the one hand, I like the text. It's sweet without being sentimental, flows nicely off  the tongue, and it isn't too text-heavy. I've been reading a lot of picture books for Cybils 2014 picture books and the most common reason I put something in the "do not purchase for the library" pile is that there's too much text.

Also, I absolutely love, love, love the illustrations. Simply stunning collages with color and enticing shapes to capture the eye. There's life and warmth in the pictures and I just want to pore over them, catching each small detail and spot of color and the wonderful shapes of the bears and the details on the trees. Yes, I really like these illustrations.'s really difficult for me to overlook the weird clash of natural history and anthropomorphism. I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure adult male bears do not teach their cubs anything or stay with the family. In fact, bears being omnivores, they are quite happy to add "my offspring" to the dinner menu. This seems to be an attempt to portray an idealized, traditional family but I don't understand why that was necessary - why not stick to the facts, make it a female bear, have her think about how her mother taught her to survive, and then have her own bear cub?

Verdict: I really, really love the illustrations and seasonal books are always popular so I might go ahead and purchase it, but I doubt I'd use it in storytime and if I did it would be accompanied by an educational discussion of What Bears Are Really Like and how Single Families Are Ok Too. Apparently she's quite a prolific author/illustrator in the UK so I will wait hopefully for new releases from her here in the states.

ISBN: 9780763666309; Published 2014 by Templar/Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, September 21, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Let it begin here! April 19, 1775: The day the American Revolution began by Don Brown

Although I've purchased most, if not all, of Don Brown's easy historical nonfiction, I've never actually read one. However, as I was choosing books for the kids at my book club to choose from last spring, I thought the I Survived fans might enjoy this author so I borrowed one to read, so I could better booktalk it.

It starts with a simple explanation of the events leading up to the first, bloody battle at Lexington. The story continues through the events and personalities until the battle and its aftermath are over. The book finishes with a recap of what happened to the main players and a brief bibliography.

The book is formatted like a small picture book, about 9 x 7 inches. It's small enough not to be daunting, but doesn't look so much like a picture book that it will turn off kids who don't want to read "baby books". The story is illustrated throughout with Brown's watercolors, which are at turns sad, bloody, and occasionally humorous.

This is narrative nonfiction at its best. The story of the battle reads smoothly, including key events, dates, and people in a natural way within the flow of the story. Although the book doesn't shy away from the grim realities of war, the watercolors soften the blood and gore and it's not excessively graphic. Sensitive children may want to avoid this, but it's not inappropriate for the average 2nd to 3rd grade reader.

Verdict: This series definitely deserves the many positive reviews it has received and makes a great recommendation for younger readers interested in history. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781596432215; Published 2008 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This week at the library; or, Now things are really starting

New counter in teen area

What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • Monday was scheduling craziness. There was also a staff meeting and errands and cleaning off my desk and THINGS)
  • Tuesday was busy, busy, busy. Toddlers 'n' Books and then the first meeting of the local homeschool/charter school group having classes at the library. They were very well-behaved, but it was busy! Then I set up outreach visits with the local after school community center for middle and high school students (although I think they're mostly middle schoolers).
  • Wednesday was Winter Wigglers and finishing projects in preparation for Thursday and upcoming programs.
  • Thursday I came in to work around 11ish, tackled the mass of stuff on my desk, had a huge and enthusiastic group for Messy Art Club, and then did a presentation at our biggest daycare/preschool/4K site. It was pretty awesome and we've got lots of plans for increased outreach and collaboration in the future!
  • Friday was crazy. That's all I'm going to say.
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Spanish collection development (re-cataloging, weeding, ordering, moving the shelves)
  • Organizing library new book pins (Pinterest lets you move pins now! Yay!)
Professional Development
  • Cybils. I am cybiling like crazy!
Stealth Programs and Displays
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • I should get more copies of David Shannon's David.
  • ALL four of my copies of Raina Telgemeier's Smile are checked out and I had two fans in today.
  • Harry Potter
  • Patron mentioned how much they loved Jump's Bullfrog books - I'm hoping to get more next year.
  • Homeschool/school groups - apples, communities, self-esteem, art. I need more apple books.
  • Read-alike for Marsden's Moon Runner, which I don't have - I gave her some younger things (Izzy Barr, Jake Maddox) and then Van Draanen's Running Dream with the caveat that her mom should approve it.
  • 10 year old wanting to read Donnelly's mermaid series - mom wasn't sure. I gave her Ingo instead.
  • Leveled book for a sixth grader. I picked Brain finds a leg and My life in dog years.
  • Books for 5th grader and middle schooler
  • Fall books
  • Judith Viorst book

Friday, September 18, 2015

Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills, illustrated by Rob Shepperson

Mills follows up her previous Franklin School Friends titles with the long-awaited story of athletic third grader Izzy Barr, the third member of the trio of Kelsey Green and Annika Riz. Well, I've been waiting for it anyways! I loved the previous books which did a great job of capturing the single-minded focus of third graders, their trials and tribulations, and I was interested to see how Mills presented a girl with an athletic bent. I can't wait to give this one to my girls who beg for stories about girl athletes.

Izzy Barr loves sports and most of all running. She's thrilled to be running in the upcoming city 10K and in her school's field day. But when her dad doesn't make it to her softball game, she starts feeling second-best to her older step-brother Dustin. Will Izzy get herself back on track and tell her dad how she really feels?

Shepperson's black and white drawings show Izzy and her two friends from the previous books, each with their own particular interest - athletics, math, and reading - scrambling through a diverse school and with family and friends.

Izzy faces real difficulties without letting her story devolve into a problem novel or lecture on family dynamics. Both she and her dad have to reach out to each other and be honest about what they want, but there isn't necessarily a magical ending where Izzy gets everything she wants. Izzy's friends are supportive and the "mean girl" isn't unrealistically nasty. Mills' strength lies in the realism of her characters and her understanding of how third graders think and act. I love that she reflects the diverse interests and home lives of the kids; some have stay at home moms, some have working parents, some parents work night shifts. I especially love that their teacher is depicted realistically. She's not a goofy stereotype, but a firm, kindly, and probably exhausted woman.

Verdict: These are the perfect books for kids who are ready to start branching out from beginning chapters and like "real stories". They'll sympathize with the daily trials and tribulations of Izzy and her friends and see themselves and their world reflected in the diverse interests and families depicted here. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780374335786; Published 2015 by Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Baby Animal Farm by Karen Blair

Animals and animal sounds are perennial favorites for small children and this book delivers both with a sweet, diverse cast.

Five cheery toddlers take off on a trip to the farm. Each page features an action and a sound; "Cuddle the kittens. Mew, mew, mew." There's a simple background story of the one child who drops a teddy and the dog following after them with it, only to supply it at the perfect moment at the end.The last page features the quintet sleeping peacefully in their strollers, ready to go home.

The soft, pastel illustrations remind me of Helen Oxenbury's classic illustrations and the rosy-cheeked children and simple, clean backgrounds feel very British.

The book is a sturdy 7x7 square with cream backgrounds and a total of 8 spreads.

Verdict: A great choice for a small, quiet storytime or for cozy one-on-one reading. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763670696; Published 2014 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mina's White Canvas by Hyeon-Ju Lee

Generally speaking, "unique" does not describe my picture book collection. I purchase popular, accessible, and storytime read-alouds at a much greater rate than award-winners or artistically interesting books. Not that there can't be overlap in those categories, but if it comes down to an award-winning illustrator or the latest llama-llama book, I'm going with the llama, no matter how much it makes me cringe. However, sometimes a book comes along that's so intriguing and lovely I indulge myself and add it to the collection. This is one of those books.

Rosy-cheeked Mina, in an empty room with a white crayon, looks up at the gray sky and feels gloomy. So she draws a snowflake. And another. And the world begins to change into a mysterious, marvelous place. Soon Mina is exploring a winter woodland with blue and green trees and friendly, quirky animals. Mina's white crayon draws a red ladder, a blue door, and everything her new friends need for a wonderful day. When the day ends, the crayon is gone and Mina is back in her empty room, but her head is full of memories and a colorful sunset softly glows outside the window.

The bare white landscapes come to life with the magical blue shades and sharp red accents of the illustrations. I love how the colors expand from the plain white crayon and the soft curves and deep blues and greens of the trees. It's a mysterious and yet friendly world, no hint of danger only a happy, warm adventure. It's not a logical story - how does Mina's white crayon produce different colors? But it's an imaginative child's world, where anything can happen. The illustrations are simple but give a delightful feeling that there could be all sorts of animals and adventures hidden away behind the trees and snow.

Verdict: This might be considered a grandchild of Harold's Purple Crayon, but it is clearly it's own story with a life and personality of its own. Definitely add if you want a cozy story for a gloomy winter day and something to spark the imagination and warm the heart.

ISBN: 9781441318268; Published 2015 by Peter Pauper Press; Galley provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Monday, September 14, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Eat like a bear by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

I purchased this when it came out last year and have used it extensively in programs, but just now realized that I never reviewed it.

Sayre's poetic text and Jenkin's rough paper illustrations take the listener through a bear's diet starting in April, when she awakens hungry and searches for food: "Leaping trout? None about. Bushes? Bare. No berries there."

The bear eats bits of greenery and scavenges frozen a frozen carcass. As the months progress, she finds more food from ants to fish and makes an unsuccessful run after an elk calf. A brief pause for romance "Hunting's over. Time for clover...and for meeting another bear." and the hunt for food progresses. Finally, it's November "Can you winter like a bear? It's November and the fat you wear will help you live through winter." In the final spread, the bear is joined by two little cubs.

There are two pages of additional facts and information on bears, from the dangerous feeding bears to how hibernation works. An author's note explains the inspiration for this book.

I have a confession to make. I love this book and I've used it in a lot of storytimes and outreach visits for fall, bears, and animals. I've never gotten to read the whole thing through. Kids just aren't interested in listening and the disjointed rhythm of the text seems to throw them off. However, this is still a book I recommend wholeheartedly. Part of the reason I can never read it straight through is that a couple sentences sets off a barrage of discussion "Is it eating butterflies? I don't eat butterflies! Ewww, why is it eating butterflies? Why doesn't it eat fish? etc." While it doesn't work as a straightforward read-aloud, it's works extremely well as a starting point for discussion and for the kids to get involved.

Also, all the kindergarteners I visit now know the word "omnivorous."

Verdict: This is a must-have to supplement your fall and bear storytimes. It's a great discussion-starter and, unlike many animal books for younger children, is very factual without being graphic or frightening (the parents that is - kids can handle the concept of a bear chasing an elk calf just fine and they are all generally in the "she caught it! she's gonna eat it!" camp.)

ISBN: 9780805090390; Published 2013 by Henry Holt; Purchased for the library

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lexiles and How I handle them; A very long story with some intemperate language

This is from the perspective of a public librarian with no educational background. Really, none at all. My sole school experience was going to a high school to take the SATs and a six month internship in a high school library (where I learned that school librarianship was definitely not for me, but I did enjoy cataloging manga and dictionaries in multiple languages which I did not speak). However, that's another story.

The school district of the public library where I have been working for over seven years heavily uses Scholastic Reading Counts, which is a leveling/quiz system. Kids have to read a certain amount at their "lexile level" and take quizzes to earn points. Some teachers are very strict about kids reading only "at their level" or within about a hundred points either way. Some teachers just want the kids to get the minimum points they need to pass and then read what they want. Sometimes it's the parents who enforce kids reading "at their level."

Your nine year old
doesn't enjoy Thomas
That's what you get
for being a "good"
Lexiles don't take into account content or themes, cultural knowledge or even actual good writing. Scholastic Reading Counts "levels" very few graphic novels and when they do they are always extremely low, no matter the content or complexity of the art. Novels in verse don't show up often either, and naturally they are more likely to include Scholastic titles than other publishers. Some of the inconsistencies and craziness I've encountered:
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien has a lexile of 1000 but The Fellowship of the Ring is only 860. So a kid with a high lexile can only read the first book in the series.
  • Jim Benton's Dear Dumb Diary has a higher lexile at 1100....but only the first one in the series.
  • Sugar Creek Gang, a soppy religious series I devoured as a child has lexiles in the 1000s....primarily, I think, because it is soooo badly written. Sentences last for whole paragraphs and the author was only familiar in passing with the concept of punctuation.
  • Pam Bachorz' Candor, a teen novel about mind control and cults, is 350. Which sits it next to Judy Blume's beginning chapter series The Pain and the Great One.
  • Dashka Slater's sweet picture book, The Sea Serpent, is 660. Cynthia Leititch Smith's smoldering paranormal romance Eternal is 690.
  • Pamela Duncan Edward's alliterative picture book Princess Pigtoria and the Pea at 770 is higher than the 700 awarded to Amy Efaw's After, a hard-hitting novel about teen pregnancy and infanticide.
You can yell all you want about "but lexiles aren't supposed to be used that way!" The official Lexile page says the levels aren't supposed to correspond to grade level....but I have yet to meet any teacher, parent, or school who didn't use them that way. Personally, I believe the whole thing is one huge money-making scam and also that it enables lazy teaching and parenting. Just hand them a book at their level, no need to "read all the books in the library" (as cheerfully says).

So, I am not a fan of lexiles, or any labeling system. I find them frustrating, limited, and worse than useless. Again, this is just my opinion. I'm not an educator. I'm a librarian whose mission is to encourage kids to read and enjoy reading. I have yet to see any evidence that forcing kids to read only at their lexile level improves reading. I'm not against challenging kids or encouraging them to stretch their reading horizons, improving their reading skills or assessing comprehension. I just don't think a computer-generated assessment of a book has any meaning whatsoever. Especially as someone who has been doing reader's advisory since I was a child, having to take into account some random computer generated statistic just frustrates me to the point of screaming. As I once told a parent at a moment when I had passed all patience, "lexiles are crap".

I had never encountered reading levels before my current job, although I was vaguely familiar with AR, and found it a completely ridiculous system. When I first came there was a printout of all the quizzes owned by the school and books owned by the library, dating from 2007, and I did ask for an update of the list. I was informed that since the school had purchased the entire program they no longer provided the lists (reasonable enough, since that would be literally thousands of titles). I was extremely frustrated that parents and teachers were using this arbitrary system to limit what their children were reading. Constant requests to label all our books and my own determination to do no such thing (thankfully supported by my director, although possibly not to the extent of my own "over my DEAD BODY" declaration) were stressful and I hated that I couldn't convince anyone that this was a ridiculous system. 

Can you see the evil?
However, one day when I had what seemed like an endless stream of lexile questions and altercations, one of my then-aides said "wow, I've never seen you so mad before." After I had spent some time screaming into the pompoms in the back room, I sat down and thought about it. Can I change the curriculum requirements of the school, the way teachers teach, or the way parents parent? No. From my own personal experiences I'm pretty skeptical about changing peoples' minds about anything anyways. Does being frustrated and angry make anything better? Nope. Does arguing with parents and teachers change anything? Nope.

In the end, I'm trying to serve my population the best I can, balancing my own experience and knowledge with what the public wants. It's why I buy Barbie books and Paw Patrol movies, give advice to parents who are worried that their four year olds can't read yet, and do Valentine's Day programs. My own feelings about those things range from disinterest to hostility, but I'm not here to serve my own interests.

Librarians not pictured
So, in 2013, I decided to turn the horrible lexile lists into a useful resource. It would be a compromise between the parents who want all the books labeled and grouped by level and my own desire to see lexiles go down in flames whilst librarians dance around the bonfire.

I started with the 1000+ lexiles, since those were the most urgently needed, especially by younger kids with high lexile levels. I downloaded the entire list from Scholastic Reading Counts (it's about 25 pages in Excel, so you can guess how lengthy it is). First I went through and removed all the titles our library did not own (my obsessive memory for collection development came in useful here) then I removed all the titles that would not be of interest to my main audience, kids in 3rd to 8th grade, then I annotated each title and added the genre, lexile level, and number of points. This took me literally most of a year. It was a huge project. Next I tackled the 900s and did the same thing.

The results: Parents loved it. They could look through the list and find possible reading selections without having to continually carry stacks of books to the desk and ask me to look up their level. I was more relaxed about the whole thing, since I took a more reasonable view of what I could and could not affect. I was still recommending good books to the kids through the annotations and curated list. Parents frequently bring the list up to the desk and ask me to help them pick books from the list that will interest their children, so the list doesn't negate my reader's advisory help. Teachers and school librarians have also gratefully used my list and I have a better rapport with them. I relaxed my evangelistic fervor. While I will still talk to parents if they're receptive, I don't feel the need to aggressively condemn lexiles to every parent who asks for books on their child's level.

Fast forward several years. This year I took the time to update and reformat the 900 and 1000+ lists. I deleted titles we no longer owned and updated the list with new titles. Then I tackled the lower levels. Rather than download the hundreds of pages of lexiles, since those lists are much more extensive, I took our Pinterest boards of recent purchases and ran each title through Scholastic Reading Counts. I created a list for each level from 500 through 800 and a combined list for 400 and below, since those levels are rarely asked for. Of course, as soon as I had practically finished this gargantuan task, I realized it would be a lot easier to search, sort, and format the list if I just...put it in Excel (cue head to desk). So I took an extra few days to start transferring my beautifully formatted lists to Excel. Going forward, I plan to update the lists yearly. This whole thing is very time-intensive, going through the lists, looking up titles, formatting, fighting with the printer, but I do it anyways.

Literacy center
My new associate helped me set up what is going to be our literacy center. Right now it includes the lexile lists and the five finger rule bookmarks my associate created, but eventually we plan to include more parent-friendly literacy information - advocacy for reading comics, for reading aloud to your children, etc.

It's difficult to let go of your own personal feelings (or beliefs or principles, or whatever) but my belief that I'm here to serve my community is stronger than my feeling that lexiles are a horrible thing. Creating annotated lists is a compromise that still allows me to fulfill my purpose of helping kids find great books as well as meeting the needs of my families in the community.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This week at the library; or, It's the circle of library life

What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • Monday off for Labor Day
  • Tuesday programs begin again! I was deathly determined to finish those dang lexiles, since the printer had defeated me on Saturday and I did!
  • Wednesday was the second day of school, which means that the middle schoolers (and their chrome books) began drifting in). Of course the wifi was spotty. I'm never sure if it's the connection or user error...
  • Thursday I wandered in to work around 11:30. Things happened. 50 people came to Lego Club. More things happened. Pattie and I ran Tap to Play, our playing with ipads program. Only one family came, but they stayed for over an hour. I had a chance to test out the Osmo and then I wandered in and out, talking with my aide and getting stuff read, while Pattie hung out with the kids and her two ipads. Conclusion - the Osmo is amazing (my teen aide can't wait to check it out) but generally too hard for kids under 5.
  • Friday I had off b/c of working two Saturdays in a row.
  • Saturday was the Ice Age Trail mammoth hunt. We had about 50 people, our biggest group ever! You can see photographs from this year and previous years online.
  • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions) (Ms. Pattie)
  • Books 'n' Babies (Ms. Pattie)
  • Lego Club
  • Tap to Play
  • Mammoth Hunt! with the Ice Age Trail Alliance
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Lexile project truly finished (until it's time to update them all again next year)
  • Spanish collection development (re-cataloging, weeding, ordering)
  • September book order
  • Staff scheduling for October
Professional Development
  • Some left from last week
    • One of my favorite patrons who I have labored over high lexiles many years. She's getting into historical romance, but definitely not ready for (or interested in) bodice-rippers. I spent an enjoyable time on Saturday picking out books for her - Luxe, Matched, Georgette Heyer, Robin McKinley, and Rosemary Sutcliff. Her sister wasn't there but is into the dramatic/angst genre right now, so I recommended Three Little Words as something that would supply both the angst and the more positive outlook her mom would prefer. Never really went through the Lurlene McDaniel stage myself, but I get it!
    • Teen boy really wanted another book by Jennifer Nielsen, the only ones in our entire system were The False Prince and The Mark of the Thief (which he's read). I tried a lot of different books - Catherine Fisher's Relic series, Dragon and Thief, Garth Nix, and he finally picked Brotherband Chronicles for himself and reluctantly took Catherine Fisher. Of course, later on I realized there actually are two more books after The False Prince but nobody owns them so I tipped off our cataloger to get those for YA.
  • Very tricky reader's advisory - kid likes Sfar's Little Vampire and wants only graphic novels that are like that one, spooky but not scary? His mom would like him to try some chapter books. I convinced him to take How to Train Your Dragon (even though he was skeptical that it didn't look like the movie), Mal and Chad, and Notebook of Doom. Now that I think of it, I should have tried Labatt's Sam mysteries.
  • Fancy Nancy chapter books
  • New Oliver Jeffers and Tom Lichtenheld (also recommended Chopsticks)
  • Recommendations for a 12 year old girl who likes animals and mysteries - Gilda Joyce and Kiki Strike
  • Voracious fantasy reader - put Tournament at Gorlan on hold and recommended Cinda Williams Chima and Incarceron. And then I gave him Skulduggery Pleasant when he came back.
  • A Dragonbreath fan! She was doubtful when I told her about Hamster Princess until I described it, and now she's definitely going to read that one next.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Talking Cat and other stories of French Canada by Natalie Savage Carlson, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

I don't really feel too many pangs when I have to weed beloved books. I feel some regret when I find something that I love but the kids are obviously just not into, but I don't feel a sentimental desperation to keep it in the library. Yes, I am a slash-and-burn weeder.

However, some things I will take home to love. This collection of folktales is one that I was introduced to through Clifton Fadiman's anthology, I think. It was there that I first read and loved the stories "The Skunk in Tante Odette's Oven" and "The Talking Cat". This book contains seven funny, quirky stories, all of them featuring a broad cast of characters from an imaginary rural Canadian village.

Carlson's introduction explains the magic of storytelling and how she learned these stories from her mother, who learned them from her great-uncle.

The first story, my favorite, introduces us to Tante Odette, a stingy and lonely woman who wakes up to an unusual problem one morning. Yep, there is a skunk in her oven. Tante Odette repeats her troubles in a rhythmic, sing-song recital until she has a large crowd gathered to help her deal with this tragedy. But none of the suggestions find favor with Tante Odette. Finally, Rene Ecrette, "the simple son of Francois, came slap, slapping his feet down the road" and it is simple Rene who solves the problem of the skunk, with a little understanding of animal - and human - nature.

"The Talking Cat" features Tante Odette and her stingy ways and how a clever farmhand gets the best of her - but teaches her there's more to life than saving and scrimping. As the moral says "If you must follow the advice of a talking cat, be sure you know who is doing the talking for him."

"Jean Labadie's big black dog" is a funny story about the power of imagination - and how it can backfire! "The Speckled Hen's Egg" is a little like the old folktale about not counting your chickens before they hatch, featuring a woman who starts to imagine she is royalty and wealthy - all from a hen's egg! "The Canoe in the Rapids" is a whole story all around that gag you see in cartoons - where a character thinks he's talking to a friend and it's really a bear. I guess this wasn't just a new joke for cartoons! When a fish story goes wrong, Albe meets "The Ghostly Fishermen" and gets more than he bargained for when he tries to prove his story true. The final story, "The Loup-Garou in the woods" shows how differently a story can be, depending on who tells it - and who was there!

Roger Duvoisin's black and white illustrations, scattered throughout the book, capture another time and place with a group of sturdy, odd, funny people going about their days and getting into wacky troubles. I especially love the pictures of Tante Odette's worrisome adventure with the skunk.

Verdict: I love these stories. They're part of my childhood memories and I love the folktale trickster, wise fools feeling of them but with the very different setting and characters than most stories. Did I suffer any pangs weeding this? Not really. Their time is past. There are only a couple mentions of the Native populations and none are particularly accurate or inclusive. The genre of stories about adults has long passed away and kids now read books predominantly about kids. Even Duvoisin is no longer a well-known illustrator and the age of story collections is past as well. I'll be happy to keep this in my personal collection, but it no longer has a place in the library.

Published by Harper & Brothers (Weekly Reader Children's Book Club) 1952; Weeded from the library

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Piggy Paints by Jim Benton

Jim Benton, best known for the Franny K. Stein and Dear Dumb Diary series, expands to board books in this funny rhyming romp.

Mischievous Piggy wakes up, ready to paint. Soon the walls, floor, paper, and every available surface is splashed with color and images until Piggy retires, exhausted, to bed. The swinging rhymes will entrance your small listeners and make them want to try their own painting (hopefully not on the walls). "Piggy paints big./Piggy paints little./Piggy paints pigs/with a kitty in the middle."

The art is Benton's trademark cartoon style with a humorous touch that older listeners and readers will appreciate while younger children call out colors and animals. Piggy's wicked grin and admiring friends, combined with the effervescent enjoyment of his artistic endeavors makes this a delightful romp.

The book is a slightly smaller format, about 5x5 inches square, but the pages are sturdy and it's a nice average size overall.

Verdict: A fun addition, if your patrons aren't too uptight that they worry about paint on the walls! This is one in a series of silly board books from Jim Benton.

ISBN: 9780545647854; Published 2015 by Cartwheel/Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Welcome Home, Bear: A Book of Animal Habitats by Il Sung Na

Sometimes it seems there are so many gorgeous picture books you just don't have enough storytimes to go around. Fortunately for my sanity, I have several bear-themed storytimes that this will fit nicely into, because I couldn't bear not to use in storytime. Heh. Bear.

I'm writing this at the tail-end of summer and I haven't had a lot of sleep. Ahem. Anyways.

Il Sung Na returns with another animal-themed book, this one exploring habitats with a delightful touch of imagination. Bear has decided he's tired of the same old green forest and wants to try a new home. So he goes visiting to see where the other animals live. But Mole's underground home is too stuffy, Octopus' ocean is too deep, and Camel's desert is too hot. Finally, Bear realizes the perfect place for him is back in his green forest.

The illustrations are in Il Sung Na's unique, layered style. They have a light, amusing quality, as when a bug-eyed Bear freaks out about his hot paws in the desert sand while a pink and blue Camel watches with a crooked grin,, but there's also a delicate beauty in the detailed foliage and the print-like green and blue forests on the end pages.

The plot of a creature looking high and low and discovering what they want is at home all the time is a familiar one, but the humorous twist to the plot as well as the natural details make it fresh and new. When Bear visits Octopus under the sea, we learn obliquely that Octopus squirts ink. It rains in the Orangutan's home so where does the Orangutan live....the rainforest! Goat lives in high places, so she's a....mountain goat! The lovely illustrations are eye-catching and distinctive and will keep your audience's attention as well.

Verdict: This is a great introduction to any storytime repertoire and a lovely and fun book on its own. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780385753753; Published 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, September 7, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Before We Eat from farm to table by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Mary Azarian

Simple, rhyming text takes the reader through the process of creating food, starting with planting, tending and harvesting plants and caring for animals. The next step is packaging and transport, then the grocery store, shopping, and preparing a meal. The book ends with a spread featuring all the people involved in the food cycle.

I'd like to add more books on this subject and this one includes a wide variety of processes and is aimed at very young children, but there are a couple things that make me hesitant to add it.

It focuses on what looks like family farms and local, organic produce and animals, but pictures the food being transported in semitrucks. I like the idea of local, organic food, but the practical reality of where I live is that not many people can afford to purchase it in stores. The farmer's markets we have don't include the variety of foods pictured here. I also felt the animals being included and showing gathering eggs, milking cows but nothing of the meat process (seriously, what else were you planning to do with those pigs?) is a bit disingenuous.

There is a decent variety of races and ages pictured, as well as some children involved in the work. However, I'm not really thrilled with the blocky woodcut style of the illustrations. I wanted a lot more information in the book than was available and something that fitted more exactly in my local area.

Verdict: This publisher's titles are a little more expensive and this wasn't quite what I wanted, so I'm going to pass on it. However, if you are looking for books to introduce the food cycle to very young children this could be a good choice.

ISBN: 9780884483526; Published 2014 by Tilbury House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, September 6, 2015

This is what summer looks like: The evaluation

I'm actually testing out the winning school librarian's
queen of summer reading crown but whatever.
How it went:

Pretty good overall. Having fewer programs and replacing the big craft parties with performers was less stressful. Our circulation wasn't as insane as previous years, probably due to the opening of the new pool and weird weather, but it was still quite decent. I still think the summer reading can be simplified more, but nobody complained about the lack of plastic crap and kids were perfectly happy with small candies and/or coupons.

I am trying to stop thinking of it as a "completion" thing and more of an ongoing reading program, so kids bringing in their logs at the end for a free book is more of a bonus prize and not a "oh no hardly any kids completed the program!" I think the more important number is the return visits, which were over 2,000.

The Numbers

  • June: 14,412
  • July: 9,166
  • August: 11,721
  • Total summer circulation: 35,299
Programs and program attendance 
  • Programs: 72 
  • Attendance: 3,340 
Summer Reading 
  • Registered for Rubber Ducky Readers: 74 
    • Logs returned: 50 
  • Registered for Every Hero Has a Story: 808 
    • Return visits (June/July): 2,342 (approximate)
    • Logs returned: 170 
  • Registered for Teen Summer Reading: 81 
    • Participants who won prizes: 52
Plans for next year
As I said, I do have some plans. I would like to break up the general summer reading calendars so the kids turn in the June calendar for passes, then get the July calendar and turn that in for their free book. However, because the passes depend on age, in order to do that I need a better Rubber Ducky Readers program and I am hoping to use the WLA early literacy calendars for that next year.

If all goes well (and I'm kind of doubtful about this) we will have a walled in area of some kind and be able to really expand the gardens next year and do more outdoor programming. We'll see how it goes, budget-wise.

I would like to partner with summer school for more things - possibly take boxes of books over there and have kids check out as they get picked up or something, or maybe collaborate on some programs.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

This week at the library; or, Last week of no programs

This was whipped up by one of our circulation staff
when I begged for help fixing my bare board.
What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • Still working on Lexiles. Last bits of planning, running errands, etc. for the start of programming next week. I went up to see my associate and her absolutely adorable dog whom I am now in love with (and the baby, but really I'm a dog person) and locked my keys in my (running) car. Yay small towns where the police will come pry your doors open...
  • I also worked on cleaning out my backlog of webinars.
  • And spent another couple hours running around to schools to drop off marketing and try to book outreach. Success! My fall is FULL. and then I realized I had booked 5 school visits on a day I was off. GEEZ.
  • I was right down to the wire finishing the lexiles, but I took a break to make a bunch of coloring starter pages for the art station, inspired by an ALSC post a while back.
  • Saturday was crazy and I HATE LEXILES AND EXCEL.
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Lexiles finished! (or they would have been if the dang printer hadn't run out of toner. I just have half a list to print and one more to format for printing)
  • Reorganizing Spanish
Professional Development
Stealth Programs and Displays
  • Michael Vey audios - we don't have the latest.
  • Two recommendations of Hilda
  • Eleanor's Secret, two recommendations of Castle in the Sky

Friday, September 4, 2015

Toto Trouble: Back to crass by Thierry Coppee

This is a new series of cartoon strips brought over to the US by Papercutz. It reminded me strongly of Goscinny's Nicolas series, which I think is hilarious, but updated for a more modern audience.

Toto is a typical little boy; he drives his parents, teacher, classmates, and sometimes even himself bananas. Always ready to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, you can be sure that most of the page-long comic stories are going to end with with a cross between a groan and a giggle.

A sample storyline: "End-of-the-year gift" shows Toto's long-suffering teacher politely, if not necessarily happily, excepting the gifts presented by her students at the end of the year. Toto's present, a mysteriously dripping box, inspires her to a little guessing game, including a taste test...."Hmm, I think I've guessed! It's...pickles in vinegar!" says the teacher, only to be capped by Totos' ending line "No, it's a little puppy!" accompanied by a green-faced teacher and grimacing classmates.

The art is sure to attract cartoon fans. It's got that excellent "I can whip out a page of these every day" feel that I always get from French comics. The font is a little small, but the character expressions and the timing is perfect. Toto's wide-eyed innocence and the mounting frustration of the adults trying to deal with him is perfectly illustrated and the comic timing works in every story. Toto's class is diverse and while there is some gender stereotyping, it's not too bad.

So, I thought this was really funny and I think kids would too. BUT there's a reason it's subtitled "Back to Crass" and the back advertises "dumb jokes and gross gags." If you have sensitive parents or kids, be prepared for complaints. Toto makes several borderline off-color jokes, there's several panels joking about the kids learning about where babies come from, and the public urinals inspire several penis jokes. It is French after all.

Verdict: This is funny and kids would love it. I wouldn't not recommend it because of the likelihood of complaints, but if you add it to your collection, be mindful of whom you recommend it to and be prepared to explain to irate parents that different cultures have different standards of humor.

ISBN: 9781597077262; Published 2014 by Papercutz; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Small Readers: What this story needs is a pig in a wig by Emma J. Virjan

I felt that what this story really needed was a better plot. Or a plot at all. A little harsh perhaps, but I was disappointed.

The story starts out well, with a cheerfully nonsensical rhyme "What this story needs is a pig./A pig in a wig,/on a boat,/in a moat,/with a frog,/a dog,/and a goat on a log." However, it doesn't go anywhere. More and more animals are added, the pig loses her temper when the boat gets crowded, and all the other animals take themselves and their accouterments off to a nearby island. Of course, the pig realizes she's lonely and calls them back, deciding "What this story needs now is...a bigger boat!"

I've always found this particular plot line - that wanting solitude and a smaller group of friends is selfish and lonely - personally annoying. I realize this is a silly story about a pig in a wig, and not an outward condemnation of my inward neuroses, but still....why couldn't the pig invite her friends to play one at a time perhaps? Regardless, it's really not a plot at all, just a list of animals and things, coming and going.

The art made me think of a cross between Mo Willems and Charise Mericle Harper, with simple lines and colors and cartoon touches. It's fun and easy to follow, but didn't impress me as being particularly individual. The text is in a font about midway between the extra large type of a very beginning reader and the smaller type of a chapter book. I did appreciate the layout, which kept the text clearly on bold backgrounds, not blended into the pictures as some easy readers do.

Verdict: This sounds as though I really hate this book, and while I didn't personally click with it, it's a perfectly sound effort. The rhymes are smooth and have a nice rhythm, it's pleasantly humorous, and kids who have devoured all the Elephant and Piggie books will be happy to pick it up. I'll be looking at future installments to see if the plots broaden out a little. An additional purchase.

ISBN: 9780062327246; Published 2015 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

That's (not) Mine by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Anna Kang's first book, You Are (Not) Small, was a fun look at perspectives. Now she has branched out into a classic sharing theme, but with her own fun twist.

The story begins with the big bear comfortably settled in its chair and knitting. Then along comes a short, blue interloper who declares "That's my chair." The argument escalates until the little fuzzy produces their own chair. It's a....really nice chair. It squeaks! It spins! Big fuzzy begs for a chance to try it out but it ends badly...and guess who gets the chair? Temporarily anyways. The fight is back on and gets more and more heated until a simple apology ends it all and they take off to play together - leaving the chair open for another claimant.

Christopher Weyant's ink and watercolor illustrations make me think of colored pencils and markers. They have that friendly, child-like feel while still being smooth and professional. His fuzzy creatures with their bulgy noses are cartoonish and yet relatable, with a wide variety of expressions and body language. The illustrations are simple, just the chair(s) and the fuzzy creatures against a plain white background, but the humor, feelings, and mischievous activities shine through.

If parents are looking for a book that will "teach" their kids to share, this probably won't be the one. I'm skeptical of bibliotherapy in general anyways. But if they're looking for a book that will make them stop and giggle the next time they yell "it's mine!" this is it.

Verdict: Fun, fresh, and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781477826393; Published September 2015 by Two Lions/Amazon; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

[Side note] I couldn't resist putting up the adorable poster in my reading area. Granted, I have more problems with kids building, throwing, climbing, and jumping on and off the cushions, but maybe they'll get the hint!