Monday, November 30, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the mind of a mollusk by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Keith Ellenbogen

I usually really enjoy Sy Montgomery's writing and I am a big fan of octopuses, so I was surprised that I didn't get into this more.

Montgomery follows a group of scientists beginning a research project on octopuses on the island of Moorea. Some of them are researching the animals' feeding habits, some of them are investigating their personalities and psychological makeup, and they are all working towards collecting enough data to analyze whether octopuses are threatened as a species or not.

The text is interspersed with stunning underwater photographs, lots of octopuses, and other shots of the island and research materials, like the shells and bits from the octopuses garbage piles. There are sections explaining different facets of the animals' biology, like how they change color and their influence in history and culture. Interviews with the various scientists are interspersed with the story of their research. There's a sum of the team's research and questions still to be answered at the end of the book, as well as a bibliography and index.

Verdict: So, I like this series, this author, and this animal. But somehow the book just didn't engage me and I kept comparing it to Montgomery's stunning Tapir Scientists. I didn't feel as interested in the various scientists and the story of their research seemed cut short. I wouldn't not recommend this, but I was disappointed that I didn't get into it as much as I wanted to. I may be feeling a little wishy-washy today.

ISBN: 9780544232709; Published 2015 by Houghton Mifflin; Purchased for the library

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dreaming of Books: Beginning chapter sparkly books with diverse characters

I had this feature as a page, but it didn't get updated enough. I'm going to make it an occasional posting thing. These are the books I wish publishers would publish....

I am looking for more fairy, princess, sparkly, fantasy books for beginning readers with diverse characters, a la Rescue Princesses.

Rainbow Magic is ok, but the only diversity aspect is the characters' skin color on the covers and every book is exactly the same.

Mermaid Tales is very popular, but like Rainbow Magic the only diversity is the girls on the covers and there's even less variety.

Rescue Princesses is awesome. It's got the princess factor, it's a good reading level, and it features a diverse cast of characters and cultures in a simple, kid-friendly way. It's also got girls who go on adventures and rescue animals! Pretty much all my girls love this, but I've also gotten enthusiastic responses from parents, especially a couple big families with adopted children who want books that their kids can read to spark off discussions of their birth cultures.

And, we've already got suggestions!

  • Enchanted Sisters by Elisa Allen (only drawback is there's only 4)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

This week at the library; or, Vacation!

I only worked Monday this week. We had a staff meeting, a programming/departmental meeting, and I worked the information desk in the evening while Ms. Pattie did Tiny Tots. I hopefully got enough stuff settled that the rest of the week (the few days we're open) will run nicely without me.

Vacation plans: Laundry, planting more bulbs, cleaning out craft supplies, dishes, writing reviews, walking, breakfast with a friend, more cleaning, more writing, and catching up on reading. Also, lots of audiobooks.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Lulu and the hamster in the night by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

Lulu just gets better and better. My favorite used to be Lulu and the cat in the bag but I think this is my new favorite.

Lulu, who loves pets and is allowed to have as many as she wants as long as she takes care of them, acquires a hamster from a classmate who has been treating it with indifference and is planning to abandon it. Under her care, Ratty begins to be more friendly and settle down in his new home. But then Lulu and her cousin and best friend Mellie are invited to spend the night at Nan's house. This would be great news, but Nan does NOT like pets in general and most definitely not rodents. Lulu and Mellie decide to take Ratty along anyways, but things quickly go wrong and there's a big disturbance in the night. What will Lulu and Mellie do and how will Nan react?

I love Lulu. In each book she seems to be maturing a little, but she maintains her enthusiastic love of animals. McKay's turns of phrase are charming as well "They followed after Lulu in a prowly golden parade." was one of my favorite images. I laughed myself silly over Mellie and Lulu's exchanges about the penguin show.

Verdict: Sweet, comforting, and full of animals, not to mention a diverse set of protagonists. This is perfect for fans of Critter Club who are ready to move on to something a little more challenging.

ISBN: 9780807548240; Published 2015 by Albert Whitman; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Small Readers: Ling and Ting, Twice as Silly by Grace Lin

I enjoyed the previous Ling & Ting book, but then somehow forgot about the series. Cybils brought it back to my attention and I remembered how fun it was.

As the title says, this is all about being silly. Ling and Ting get up to all sorts of silly tricks and jokes from planting cupcakes to a silly plan to get an apple or even writing a silly story. Lin's art is simple but sweet. The slightly bumpy lines give it a homemade feeling that's very attractive.

These follow a classic easy reader format. Simple, short sentences with a surprise at the end of each brief story. The text is a level 2 or 3, depending on what system/publisher you're looking at and I'd say is just right for an intermediate easy reader.

What I really like about these books, besides the humor and general fun, is how the girls' culture is seamlessly part of the story. The clothing and backgrounds make me think the story is set in an older time period, maybe 1950s or 1960s, and it's like someone went back in history and wrote a book about the kids that were always there but nobody noticed. Their culture as Chinese-Americans is included in little things, like painting toys red for luck, but they don't celebrate specific holidays to show their ethnicity (a tired device as far as I'm concerned). The focus of the story is on the humor and how the girls are the same and different as twins.

Verdict: While I mostly focus on purchasing easy readers for younger readers at the very beginning of learning to read, I do have a smaller number of classic and carefully selected easy readers for those who are more at an intermediate stage. Ling & Ting is a series that fits in well and I definitely recommend them.

ISBN: 9780316184021; Published 2014 by Little Brown and Company; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lulu's Party by Kit Chase

I am so pleased to see that another Playtime with Friends book has come out. I'm usually not much of a "cute" person, but I really liked Oliver's Tree and was excited to see what happens to the next featured friend.

Lulu is feeling a little dismal and lonely on a rainy day and decides to invite her friends over for a party and a special surprise. But the treat gets ruined! Is her party ruined too? Fortunately, Lulu has some good friends who can think of a special treat that they can all share together.

Kit Chase's art has a sweet, British feel to it. It reminds me of Ernest Shepard, handmade stuffed animals, and cozy tea parties.

This isn't a ground-shaking book and it's unlikely to win awards. It's just a simple, sweet story that families will enjoy reading again and again and is likely to become a small child's favorite story. The gentle, hopeful story will resonate with kids who understand about small disappointments looming large and the happy denouement as her friends come up with a solution and they all head outside for a circus party will have them begging for another reading.

Verdict: This would make a lovely addition to a book list on resiliency, if your school district focuses on that. Otherwise, it's the perfect story to cuddle up with on a rainy day.

ISBN: 9780399257018; Published 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, November 23, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: What's up in the Amazon Rainforest by Ginjer Clarke

I really wanted to like this book - I'm in the market for more chapter-book-like nonfiction and Ginjer Clarke has done some very serviceable nonfiction series before. However, there were some layout decisions and other elements that made me take this off the list, for my library at least.

The rainforest and general terms and concepts are covered in the introduction, then the book is divided into sections covering the Amazon river and the different levels of the rainforest. There are chapters on the native peoples of the Amazon, different products and medicines we get from the rainforest, and how readers can participate in conserving the rainforest. Back matter includes a brief bibliography, lengthy index, and fold-out map.

The book is a small paperback size, 140 pages. I like the glossary included directly into the pages and the many photographs and additional information breaking up the text. However, there were a couple things that annoyed me. First, the book is formatted like a journal, complete with water stains, highlighting, and areas on maps and photographs are circled by what looks like red marker. I don't know about other libraries, but this type of book in my library inspires an endless stream of kids to the desk "Ms. Jennifer, someone WROTE in this book!" and those who don't join that stream are busily scribbling on the book themselves, since "someone wrote on it already."

I found several typos; one on page 27 "One night, a water lily blooms a giant white flower that smells like pineapple." and some turns of phrase that I just didn't appreciate, like the anaconda's "fangs" on page 32. Now, it's true that all snakes have teeth of some kind, but I think it would have been better to explain how the anaconda's fangs are used, rather than inadvertently joining in with the "all snakes are venomous and will attack you" sensationalist view. Again on page 40, when talking about piranhas, it labels them "deadly" and mentions that the native people tell stories about them attacking humans, but it's my understanding that piranhas do not attack large prey and only eat humans and other large mammals if they are dead or dying. I'm skeptical about the claim of poison dart frogs having the "strongest poison in the world!" on page 93. Maybe, maybe not, but there's no source to prove it either way.

Verdict: So, basically, I liked the idea of the book and the chapter book size, but the journalistic details bothered me and I found myself reading skeptically the information included. It would probably be fine as an introduction for kids who just want to read about the rainforest, but I can't quite bring myself to recommend it.

ISBN: 9780448481036; Published 2015 by Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This week at the library; or, I am thankful for vacation

What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • This was a crazy week. Not as crazy as some, but I am definitely ready for the weekend and some time off over the holiday. I thought last week was crazy.....
  • Practically the first thing that happened on Monday was I accidentally deleted my master calendar for the entire year. Yes. I did this. I can't believe it either.
  • Then I tried to put books on hold for our next Bookaneers meeting and was frustrated that no other libraries seem to purchase the books I want. Why aren't they buying National Geographic pre-readers in bulk??
  • I made it through 5 storytimes on Tuesday, although I lost my voice near the end and got a miserable headache.
  • If only I had the money someone previously expended on library-bound biographies of celebrities from the 90s....
  • I did a very abbreviated form of Winter Wigglers on Wednesday, then, my car being unavailable, prevailed upon my associate to drive us over to discuss a new remote collection for a group of middle school and high school students (I guess they're remedial or something? Not really sure, but I'm friends with the teacher and many of the kids and they don't have any books!)
  • Embossing went really well on Thursday. Got my aides started on shifting the juvenile shelves and may owe one in particular chocolate, as apparently some of the shelves don't fit when moved and I had sort of forgotten that...
  • Friday happened and then it snowed.
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Finished weeding and making replacement carts for oversize titles (one of them SMELLED. *shudder*)
  • Started fiddling around with weeding 000-300s. I'm going to update Bible stories next year and there are a lot of things in that section that didn't get updated/weeded when I did neighborhoods - I only did the 398s and 623s really thoroughly (book by book I mean).
  • I made an agenda for our meeting next week. Things are getting real.
  • Emailed a high school teacher with an idea for a new circulating collection, then popped over to talk to her about it. I think it's going to happen!
  • Turned in the paperwork for my mini grant. I won't be able to actually circulate the materials until later - many of them need books or containers and I have to wait until late in December/early January to have the budget to finish them.
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • Bone (really need to move the poster closer to the books)
  • TIM defender of earth and Enormous Egg recommended for a patron I know checking out Raising Rufus
  • Sports bios (this will be updated with new books soon! except I can't find anything recent on Michael Jordan )-:)
  • The most reluctant reader I have ever met has become hooked on Jake Maddox. SCORE!
  • lexiles for a 5th grader, reading suggestions for a reluctant 3rd grader. looks like i'll be getting some more book club attendees!
  • more lexiles. apparently everyone needs points to turn in now.
  • Helped a patron find pictures and information about the state of Virginia. I think for a homework project? I should get the rest of that Arcadia series.
  • Wimpy kid
  • I survived
  • Dear dumb diaries
  • Treasure hunters
  • easy readers like easy DK readers
  • non-princess books for grandpa to read to his little princess-lover (-:)
  • easy books about trees
  • and a personal recommendation of Georgette Heyer

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jake Maddox: Gymnastics jitters by Margaret Gurevich, illustrated by Katie Wood

At my first book club for 1st - 3rd grade, I asked all the kids what they were interested in. One of the reasons I did that was my plan to introduce them to more books that were centered around their interests. One mentioned gymnastics, so I found a Jake Maddox sports story and took it home to read first so I could booktalk it.

"Jake Maddox" is a pen name that includes a number of different authors writing sports stories. Rather like Carolyn Keene or Franklin Dixon. The Jake Maddox sports series feature a wide variety of sports at an easy reading level, featuring both boys and girls and with a quite decent rate of diverse characters as well.

This particular title features gymnastics team captain Dana and her teammates in a lesson on good sportsmanship. They have just one a trophy and are nervous about their next opponents, the Superiors. Supposedly, they play dirty and will do anything to win. They have some little spats but after a talk with their coach the Raiders, led by Dana, take the high road. After a practice where everything goes wrong, their coach gives them the day off. When they come back and compete in the meet, things go great, the Superiors are nowhere to be seen (some of them sabotaged the equipment) and their team wins the gold.

The black and white line drawings show a diverse cast of girls, although all have similar body types and sparkle. No, I don't know how they got a black and white picture to convey glitter, but they did. Back matter includes a brief glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, and some gymnastics facts.

This 65-page beginning chapter book is not great literature. The story is a little choppy and the girls are interchangeable, the ending is rather trite and predictable. But that doesn't matter. When I'm selecting beginning chapters, I look for a readable text, engaging storyline, subjects that interest kids, and, if I can find it, at least some diversity. This book may not be as beautifully written or illustrated as some beginning chapter books, but kids at this age need a wide selection to pique their reading interest and this adds to that variety.

Verdict: This isn't what most people would think of as a typical book club book, but I'm focusing on letting the kids pick books that interest them. This meets the needs of both my book club readers and my library patrons as well. I'd still love to see better-written beginning chapter books featuring diverse kids, both girls and boys, playing sports, but until then I'm perfectly happy handing this out. I recommend that every library have at least some of the Jake Maddox titles.

ISBN: 9781434239082; Published 2012 by Capstone; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Small Readers: Don't throw it to Mo! by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks

I had somewhat divisive feelings about this book. Mo loves sports, especially football. He's the smallest on the team and mostly sits on the bench, but he keeps practicing even when the opposing team says mean things. Then Coach Steve has an idea to use Mo's small size to help the team and Mo sticks to the plan and wins the game!

Ricks' illustrations are bright and cheerful. Both Mo and the coach have dark skin and Mo's team has a variety of skin colors, although they're all bigger than Mo. This is a Penguin Level 2, so the text is brief and simple with short sentences and simple, repetitive dialogue.

It's great to see more easy readers with kids of color, and more easy readers featuring kids in everyday situations (rather than the never-ending stream of oddball animal friends). There aren't many sports-based easy readers and I can see this one flying off the shelf. However, I'm doubtful about the realism of the story. I know pretty much nothing about sports, but I can't quite believe that they'd stick one tiny kid on a team where everyone else is twice his size. I've never heard of training kids to catch footballs by smearing butter on them. And the "underdog wins the big game" is an awfully tired trope. However, as I said, I know nothing about sports and classic tropes are still around for a reason - people like them.

Verdict: Although I'm a little doubtful about the realism of this, it's a stand-out for the diversity, sports, and everyday kids. I can't think of anything else out there that's similar so this is a definite must for your easy reader collection.

ISBN: 9780670016310; Published 2015 by Penguin Young Readers; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What forest knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall

I've loved Lyon's other beautifully poetic picture books, and this seasonal title would be a perfect fit for my library, but I have one quibble that makes me hesitate.

Starting with the endpapers, which feature a stark winter landscape, shadowed by a few trees with a squirrel and rabbit in the foreground, the story begins with a forest in winter. The reader catches brief glimpses of a child and dog exploring the winter landscape. Slowly winter fades "Forest knows buds - soft life pushing through hard wood" and spring and the birds arrive. Animals begin to appear and light and green cover everything, but summer is all too brief. Fall arrives and the animals begin to return to their dens, leaves fall and finally winter arrives again.

I love the poetic language, which is brief and lovely. In general, I like the pictures, but the second to last spread, which slaps a close-up of the dog's face across the whole book is just...jarring. It doesn't fit in at all with the restrained, natural feel of the rest of the story and art. Some of the collage items interposed across the other pictures felt odd too, but I could see them fitting in with the art upon repeated perusals. I just can't take the cartoony dog's face. Or creepy, depending upon how you feel about staring black eyes.

Verdict: I'd love to have this for the beautiful seasonal poetry and the art on the whole, but I will probably pass as there are a lot of season books out there and that weird page just messes it up for me. If I was going to use it in storytime, I'd just skip that page probably.

ISBN: 9781442467750; Published 2015 by Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Amazing Animals: Tigers by Valerie Bodden

When I finished our huge Neighborhoods project (it hardly seems real that pretty soon I won't be able to say "last year") one of the last things I did was purchase a lot of additional books to fill in weeded sections and empty space. One of the areas I knew we were going to need more titles was in the animals neighborhood. While I purchase almost exclusively from Baker and Taylor, I do make use of one rep who covers Bearport, ABDO, Creative Education, and a bunch of other nonfiction publishers. She came over and we had a cozy sit-down with stacks of catalogs and lots of sample books to discuss. Creative Education's Amazing Animals is one of the series I really liked and while I couldn't afford to get the whole thing, I did buy as many of the most popular animals as I could.

Who doesn't love tigers? I had to get tigers. The Amazing Animals series are a large picture-book sized series, heavily illustrated with photographs. Each page includes a simple paragraph about tigers and occasional supplemental information like the definition of a word, extra fact, or caption for a photograph. The text is simple enough for beginning readers to tackle or for young children to sit through. A sample paragraph; "Tigers live on the continent of Asia. Some tigers live in forests. There can be a lot of snow there. Other tigers live in swamps. It is warm in the swamps." The book ends with a short folktale about tigers. Back matter is one page including two books for further reading, two websites, and a brief index.

The pages are glossy and, unlike the usual bland white background of most easy series nonfiction, has borders that repeat the colors of the photographs. I've had these titles for close to a year and they have held up very well to multiple circulations. The pages are not easily ripped, the bindings are sturdy, and the amount of photographs and colored borders mean there's not a lot of white space to get dingy.

Verdict: These are great for kids just beginning to read or to learn about animals. They have enough information for lower grades doing reports and are definitely worth the $20 price tag. If you're getting ready to update your animal series, take a look at these.

ISBN: 9781583417201; Published 2009 by the Creative Company; Purchased for the library

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thrive Thursday: December 2015

It's time to start collecting awesome school-age program ideas for the December Thrive Thursday round-up! Leave your links here in the comments or over on the Facebook group.

Let the ideas begin!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

This week at the library; or, I am feeling disorganized

wings at book club (you can tell who read Magicalamity
and who just likes wings)
What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • I don't know why. I just am.
  • Kohls Wild Theater is an annual event at our library. This year I booked it in May, sent out letters to the schools in August, reminded the schools again in October, forgot that I'd booked it and had a panic attack in early November when I sent out the school information again, and then spent an hour or two creating self-guided tours of the library. 
  • Thursday afternoon, I realized I had better put the colored arrows for the tours out NOW and scrambled to do that simultaneously with Lego Club. There was a lot of coming and going of me, my associate, and my aide, but I finished, kids built Legos, and all was well. Until a little girl helpfully collected a big handful of the arrows. Oy. My awesome associate, who does not like seeing her boss cry, put back the arrows and taped them all down. I was lucky to have an adult who likes to attend our after school clubs break down most of the tables and chairs for me.
  • Friday morning, I arrived at the same time as the Kohls van (they were early!) let them in and gave them the run-down of what to expect. I finished setting up the room with chairs, laid down tape markers on the floor, and selected books for a display. Then I finished the last bits of prep for the tours (putting out books and coloring sheets at different points and making sure everything was more or less in order, pennies at the front desk for the wishing well, staff prepared, etc.).
  • At 9:30 three classes of four year olds arrived on their bus and I started them off on the self-guided tours. They had to pace entering the library so they didn't get jumbled up. For the next half-hour, I zipped back and forth between letting the public into the performance room and making sure they sat in the areas delineated for them, checking on the tours ongoing in the library, and connecting up random kids (from the afternoon class) who arrived to join in.
  • At about 9:50 two classes of four year olds arrived from another school (walking) with lots and lots of parent chaperones and siblings. I moved them into their area, made sure they all knew about sitting on their coats and which door to get out of, then shepherded the classes returning from the tours into their space.
  • The program lasted about 30 minutes. During it I clapped, filled out their evaluation form, brought in latecomers, kept an eye on the audience for any emergencies, from sensory overload panic (I don't know if there's a specific name for this, but you know what I mean) to screaming babies, bathroom runs, or fingers in the floor electrical socket that's missing a cover.
  • Afterwards I helped shepherd the two walking classes out their door, helped teachers and parents keep kids from making a break for it, said "hi" to my friends, distributed hugs and coloring sheets, and thanked the teachers for coming. Then I went back into the room and chatted with the classes who had to wait for their bus to come (one of the teachers is also the bus driver) and shepherded them out their various doors.
  • Then clean up the display, pull up the tape, make sure the performers collected all their stuff, and went around the whole library picking up anything left from the tour (including peeling all the arrows off the floor). Normally I'd also have photographs to post to Facebook and organize, but I don't do photography with school groups.
  • And then I left because I was exhausted and I'm working tomorrow.
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Supervising, shifting nonfiction and holiday books and oversize.
  • Finally dealt with some of the mess of the library pinterest boards by transferring previous school booktalk lists over to my own pinterest pags and slimming down the library's pages.
  • Created self-guided tours for 4K groups on Friday.
  • Cleaning out files in an attempt to be more organized
  • Finished shifting YA
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • Read-alikes for wimpy kid and big nate - Odd Squad and Stick Dog
  • Dot the fire dog - only had the movie
  • Football books for a 4th grader - Mike Lupica and Jake Maddox. Wanted movies too, but all I could think of was Wild Soccer Bunch.
  • Made a kid very happy by telling her we just got Chi's Sweet Home 12 in.
  • What bees do in winter
  • Trains
  • Curious George
  • 1000+ lexiles
  • I survived read-alikes (time to get that list up!)
  • fire trucks
  • American Girl (historical fiction for 4th grader, was reading AG but teacher wouldn't pass it b/c not 100 pgs, so I showed them Beforever...heh heh heh)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Emily Feather and the Starlit Staircase by Holly Webb

In the final book if the Emily Feather quartet, Emily's feelings of displacement that have been lingering since the first book, when she discovered she was the adopted human child in a family of fairies, are finally put to rest. However, there are a lot of dangerous adventures before that can happen.

This is the most emotional of the quartet, as Emily finally realizes who she is and where she fits in her family. She and her twin sisters, Lark and Lory, and little brother Robin are figuring out how to get along now that things are different and Emily not only knows about magic but has a little magic of her own. They have normal sibling rivalries and squabbles, but with a little extra magic. But then they find that Eva, their mother, has been hiding a secret: she's going to have a baby, and it's happening soon. All the children react differently; Lory is furiously angry that her mother kept a secret, Robin is worried about no longer being the baby, and Emily is alternately excited about a baby and devastated to think that this child will "belong" in a way she never can. Emily is nearly lost for good when she abruptly leaves home to hide out with her human friend and try to think things over, but her parents' and siblings response makes her slowly start to let go of her fears and insecurity. When Robin takes her back in time to see her possible past and she meets her scared teen mother, Emily realizes she really does belong to her family. But her mother still has to give birth in fairyland and there's something dangerous lurking in the wood...

Although this book, and the whole series, tackles serious feelings, it's done in a light and gentle way that neither over-dramatizes nor discounts the real emotion Emily feels. Her teen mother is a little overly dramatic and the final revelations about her new baby sister, Wren comes a little pat, but it all fits into the light fantasy feel of the story. There aren't any final and definitive answers; Emily will never know for certain what happened to her birth mother, she doesn't know what her magic will turn into, and her family will always be different but she no longer doubts that she belongs.

Verdict: This is an utterly satisfying end to Emily's story. Perfect for fantasy fans who can't handle a 400 page tome of drama and embroiled plots, but like a little more character development than the typical beginning chapter book. Definitely worth taking a little trouble to purchase the UK editions.

ISBN: 9781407130958; Published 2014 by Scholastic UK; Purchased for my personal library

Emily Feather and the chest of charms by Holly Webb

I love Holly Webb her fantasy series for younger readers. After Emily discovers she's adopted and her family are fairies in the first book, Emily Feather and the Enchanted Door, she has a lot of complicated feelings about where she belongs. In the second book, Emily Feather and the Secret Mirror, she has some frightening adventures that don't allow her to really deal with these feelings, but do draw her a little bit deeper into fairyland.

In the third book, Emily's spark of magic and her relationship with her sisters is explored a little more. One of her sisters has apparently become enamored of a boy that none of her siblings, including her twin sister, like. Turns out they were right when he is shown up as a villain. Emily has to force herself past her feelings of inadequacy to join with her sister and brother to save her older sister. In the process, she learns more about her family, has some exciting and frightening adventures, and realizes that she really does have a spark of magic.

Verdict: This series just gets better and better. It has all the sparkly magic one expects from a fairy story, an age-appropriate, more serious discussion of what it means to be part of a family, and exciting adventures - all condensed into less than 200 pages. This one is worth purchasing from the UK, since it's not available here in the States, and worth getting in paperback, even if you have to replace it a couple times. Give it to the kids who have outgrown Rainbow Magic but still love fairies and to those who want a fantasy that isn't 400 pages long.

ISBN: 9781407130941; Published 2014 by Scholastic UK; Purchased for my personal library

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Small Readers: Pig and Pug by Laura Marchesani and Zenaides A. Medina Jr., illustrated by Jarvis

This easy reader has been the surprise hit of the year at my library. Easy readers, except for popular series like Fly Guy or Biscuit, aren't usually asked for by title. But I've had several enthusiastic kids asking for Pig and Pug. I don't know where they saw it, as I haven't booktalked it, but I'm glad they liked it as it's adorable.

Pig is lonely. On his farm, everyone has a job and a friend who is just like them. The cows give milk, the sheep eat grass, the chickens lay eggs. But poor pig is all alone. One day, a strange animal shows up. Is it another pig? Has pig finally found a friend? No, it's a pug. Pig can't be friends with a pug...or can he?

Soft pastel illustrations with scribbly details fill out the storyline without detracting attention from the text. Simple details, like Pug's panting tongue and Pig's small but expressive mouth add humor and dimension to the silly and sweet story.

This is a level 2 from Penguin, which is still pretty easy. The text is bold and simple with a few more advanced vocabulary words. There are still a lot of repeated words and phrases to keep early readers going.

Verdict: This has a subtle but neatly presented message about friendship and differences and is just a light, fun, and deftly presented story. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780606366106; Published 2015 by Penguin; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Outside by Deirdre Gill

I have to admit I wasn't really grabbed by this cover, but I'm glad I listened to recommendations to try this one out.

The title page shows a dark green wall and, centered on the page, a window looking out at snowy trees. A small red dragon toy lounges on the windowsill. The next spread (whatever you call the pages with the publication information; I am drawing a blank) shows a pale blue landscape and a lonely trail of footprints leading to and around a trio of trees. The story begins with a snowy day and a bored little brother. Reluctantly, he sets out alone into the snowy wilderness. His red coat stands out brightly against the soft shades of white and blue. Surrounded by looming, snow-covered trees he begins to create; a giant snow dog and then a castle. His creations come to life in a blaze of color as a dragon appears and they soar across the snowy landscape. Finally, he bids farewell to his snowy creations in the twilight and heads home, where he meets his brother, finally ready to play outside.

This is a wonderful tribute to winter and imagination. I love how the story encourages solitary, imaginative play and the little boy embraces both his time alone playing outside and having fun with his brother. The text is extremely brief and simple, the force of the story coming from the softly glowing pictures that expand the simple story into a creative tour de force.

Verdict: Even if you don't live in a place where snow is familiar, this is a simple and lovely celebration of imagination and play. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780547910659; Published 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, November 9, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Frogs by Seymour Simon

I am not a huge fan of Seymour Simon. I know, I know, heresy! Everyone loves Seymour Simon! It's not that his books are bad or lacking in quality, it's just that they're not quite what I need when I'm looking for elementary nonfiction.

A one-page author's note begins the book, explaining Simon's background as a teacher and interest in explaining the world around him. The book starts with a basic explanation of the characteristics of amphibians, then describes the different habits and habitats of some of the different species. More information about the amphibians is woven into the text describing the various types of frogs.

The text is illustrated with large, often full page photos of frogs in different stages of development and of different species in action. The last few pages of the book describe familiar species of frogs in more detail. The final two spreads discuss the importance of frogs in global climate change and conservation.

Words in the text highlighted in bold can be found in the back in a short glossary. There is also a brief index and links to websites for learning more - Seymour Simon's website, a conservation website for frogs, and the National Wildlife Federation.

So, what's not to like? Large font, gorgeous photographs, excellent expository writing. Well, the problem for me is the layout. In a school library, this would be an ideal book to recommend to an elementary school reader. But in my library, the large chunks of text - usually a whole page or more - will discourage younger readers or parents from picking up the book to read aloud or struggle through on their own. Elementary-age readers who can read this on their own are reluctant to pick up books that look like picture books. This is a weird peculiarity of my own town it seems, but one I've not been successful in getting over. A popular animal book like this one will probably circulate well, but Nic Bishop's titles, with less text and more photographs, have a wider audience.

Verdict: If you need more frog books and have a strong elementary audience for nonfiction, this is a perfectly good selection. If you're a school library, I'd say it's a definite purchase. For my library, it's an additional purchase that I'll add if the budget allows.

ISBN: 9780062289124; Published 2015 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, November 7, 2015

This week at the library; or, FAIRY TALE ADVENTURE

Jess made this. She has mad crafting skills.
What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • I have so many things to do. I am doing them like crazy. Luckily, I did not schedule a ton of programs this week and talked myself out of trying to do something fancy for Mad Scientists Club. ARE YOU CRAZY YOU CAN'T EVEN FIND YOUR TO DO LIST UNDER THE OTHER TO DO LISTS!!
  • Also I am getting a cold or a sinus infection or something and losing my voice and have had a low-level headache for days.
  • Fairy tale adventure went really well and we are all exhausted.
  • Lots of happiness from patrons for the Fairy Tale Adventure, some great comments from parents on Bookaneers - it's doing what I wanted it to do, bring together kids at all levels and stages of reading to have fun with books - new families coming in via four year old kindergarten outreach, and a gazillion fairy tale books checked out. All the happys!
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Finished weeding biographies and put together order
  • Ran a report and ordered BOB books
  • Finished tentative schedule for 2016
  • Planning for programs (which happened immediately afterwards) book club, tours, fairy tale adventure, upcoming tours with 4K next week
  • Finished ordering materials for mini-grant
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • Lexile help - Nim at sea
  • Lexile help - Mandie
  • Laura Numeroff
  • Very beginning easy readers (really, really need to make a list or something)
  • Hunting and martial arts
  • um....I forget

Friday, November 6, 2015

Race the Wild: Rain Forest Relay by Kristin Earhart, illustrated by Eda Kaban

This is a new nonfiction/adventure story blend that is sure to fly off your shelves.

Russell is thrilled to be chosen for the Race the Wild competition, but dismayed that the rules have changed and instead of being with the four friends he applied with he's been moved to a team of strangers. He's also upset at his erstwhile friends' growing unsportsmanlike behavior. However, there's not too much time to dwell on his troubles since they're in the Amazon rainforest, racing to snap pictures of rare animals, solve clues, and beat the other teams!

Kaban's black and white digital illustrations looked blurred and it was difficult to make out the details of the rainforest and the children. However, you can put that down to either my need for new glasses and/or a poor printing run. I really liked her art when I looked it up online, but either it doesn't translate well to black and white or it's cheap reproductions or some of both.

Each chapter ends with two pages of information about an animal or aspect of the rainforest, with pictures. There is a preview of the next book, Great Reef Games and ads for other Scholastic series in the back.

The story is brisk and well-paced and there are enough loose threads left by the end to entice readers to continue the series. How will Russell handle the problems with his former "friends", what secrets does his new team have, etc. I did feel that there were quite a lot of tantalizing hints that weren't followed up, like hints about where Mari's background knowledge comes from. I also had trouble keeping the four straight, but as this first book primarily gives a good introduction to Russell's character, I assume later books will focus on the other characters more.The book features a very diverse cast, but it's not part of the plot. Russell thinks about how the different teams are formed, but more in the gender than racial diversity aspect.

Verdict: Is this likely to win awards? Nope. The writing is a little choppy, the pictures not printed well, and the plot has too many loose ends. Do I recommend it? Heck YEAH. Adventure, a diverse cast, realistic characters, just a hint of mystery, and nonfiction included. Exactly what your beginning chapter readers want and need to get them hooked on reading. It took me a while to get my hands on a copy to review, they've been flying off the shelf all summer. Buy them all! Buy two copies! Recommend them to I Survived fans!

ISBN: 9780545773539; Published 2015 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Small Readers: Rosa Parks by Kitson Jazynka

My feelings about easy reader biographies are pretty much the same as picture book biographies - I don't see the point. But I have a habit of buying every National Geographic easy reader that comes out because they're so popular so I purchased most of the biographies they put out, without even looking at them.

Then Rosa Parks was nominated for Cybils and I took it home to read. It completely blew me away and is everything I always vaguely imagined an easy biography should be.

The book starts with a simple explanation of segregation and how it affected every day life. Then it talks in simple terms about Rosa Parks' life as a child and the people who influenced her. There is a section that sets the scene for the pivotal events by relating things in the 1920s to today, from how much a bar of chocolate cost to games children played. The explanation of what could have happened to Parks is honest but not graphic. There are inset "Words to know" sections that explain difficult terms as they are introduced, like "boycott" and "protest." Additional facts about Rosa Parks' life are included as well as what happened after the bus boycott. There is a quiz and a pictorial glossary at the back of the book.

One of the things I really liked about this book was that it simplified and made relatable historical events and people without glossing over facts or leaving things out. The book mentions at one point that Rosa Parks was not the first or only person to refuse to give up their seat, but that she was important in sparking the boycott. The book explains segregation and the time period in a way that kids will be able to relate to. It also talks about how Rosa Parks continued to fight against inequality and racism, helping kids understand that these are current issues, not things that only happened a long time ago.

This is a level 2 reader and the main text is bold and simple. There are additional text boxes with smaller, more complex text, as well as captions, timelines, etc. A beginning reader could easily handle the central text with some help on the additions.

Verdict: My perennial gripe about biographies for young children is that they don't give them any context or any way to link to the people they are presenting. This book does an amazing job of not only explaining the context of Rosa Parks' life, but why she is important and matters today. It explained confusing terms, included lots of interesting photographs, and was well-written and interesting as well as conveying important information. I can't wait to use this in a book club and I'm really glad I bought the National Geographic easy reader biographies, if they all turn out to be like this one!

ISBN: 9781426321429; Published 2015 by National Geographic; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Space Dog by Mini Grey

Egg Drop will always be my favorite Mini Grey, but that doesn't stop me from checking out every new creation she comes up with. Her latest is a wacky space adventure that will make kids giggle - and maybe pause to think a little as well.

Space Dogs, Astro Cats, and Moustronauts are sworn enemies on Home Plant. Always have been, always will be. But when Space Dog rescues Astro Cat and then they both come upon Moustronaut, they make some surprising realizations - and have a tough decision to make.

Grey's artistic genius lies in the details and this book is no exception. A sharp eye will catch all sorts of details from the newspaper headlines "First dog on Mars" to the titles on the houses of the people of Niblet 12 (hint - they're all munchies!). Her bug-eyed characters don't have a lot of expression, but they still have strong personalities all the same.

One of the things I love about Mini Grey is her unexpected ending. The expected ending of this book, of course, is for the three new friends to go home and change everything on their planet, with everyone getting along now that they know each other....but Grey (and her characters) have other ideas and in a twist ending they come up with their own happily-ever-after.

Verdict: Aside from the mild message that maybe those who are "different" might have something to offer after all, this is just a fun romp in space. Whether or not kids take away the message of tolerance and friendship, they'll certainly have fun and might even want to write a few adventures for Space Dog, Astro Cat, and the Moustronaut themselves.

ISBN: 9780553510584; Published 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, November 2, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond

This is a very unusual nonfiction book and an amazing one. Desmond's first book, Red Cat, Blue Cat was a delight and she doesn't disappoint in her second title.

The story begins with the deep blue endpapers, showing the faint outlines of whales drifting across them and a small, strange green submarine perhaps? The opening pages are stark white, with an author's note about the history of blue whale endangered status. The title page shows a small child reading the book and we turn the page and the story begins....a child is lying on their bed reading a book about whales. As he reads, he is transported into the book. When the book talks about how much the whales weigh, the little boy skips up a giant pile of hippos, demonstrating just how heavy the whale gets. The spread talking about the whale's eye shows a giant, dark blue background and, slowly coming into focus, the deep black of the eye at the center. Another spread shows a colorful swarm of krill, the whale's food. The little boy hefts gallons of milk as the book explains how much milk a whale calf drinks. The story ends as the little boy drifts into sleep over his book and into the deep blue sea as he dreams of whales.

The art and text are smoothly integrated into one lyrical whole with the collage and watercolor illustrations making the simple facts of the text memorable for the reader. It's dreamy and simple, but powerful.

Verdict: You absolutely have to get this for all your whale fans. It would make a great book for parents and librarians who are a little nervous about introducing nonfiction to storytime and also to spark children's imagination. Teachers will find it an inspiration for helping kids understand large numbers and creating similar projects on favorite animals. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781592701650; Published 2015 by Enchanted Lion; Borrowed from the library

Sunday, November 1, 2015

2015 Edition of Putting my money where my mouth is

This is a running list of titles I have reviewed and also purchased for the library this year. I'm updating it roughly once a month, or when I think of it. This does not include titles that were review copies and were donated to the library, which is indicated in the review. For a complete list of new library materials, you can check out the library pinterest page!
Reviews coming soon (or sometime anyways) ((yes, I have a BIG backlist of reviews))
  • Jake Maddox: Gymnastics Jitters
  • Let it begin here! by Don Brown
  • On the wing by David Elliott
  • Midnight library by Kazuno Kohara
  • Lulu and the duck in the park by Hilary McKay
  • Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce