Thursday, March 31, 2016

Secrets of the Ancient Gods: Thor Speaks by Vicky Alvear Shecter, illustrations by J. E. Larson

Although I haven't seen the overwhelming interest in all things mythology that surrounded the advent of Rick Riordan's original Percy Jackson series, there is certainly a growing body of work featuring the Norse myths and Shecter has brought out another humorous, informative guide narrated by the amazing Thor himself.

Thor would like you to know that all those stories about how dumb he is are just stories. He's really just as smart as he is big, and strong, and did he mention really, really strong? Really. Tough guy Thor walks readers through the mythology and early culture of the Norse, including myths and legends of his own great deeds (and a few of other gods, but those are much more boring and you can skip them if you want to get to the good parts, i.e. the ones about Thor). You'll learn why Odin only has one eye, why Thor hates giants, and just what a loser Loki really is.

The book is illustrated throughout in striking black and white pen drawings that may remind some readers of Edward Gorey's work. They strike a nice line between stylized and creepy. There's also a brief guide to Norse gods and monsters, glossary, secondary and primary sources, and index.

Verdict: This was a quick and fun read, perfect for kids wanting an introduction to Norse mythology. I'm always a little torn as to where to place these titles - they're not really nonfiction, or even a straight-up guide to mythology since they also include cultural facts and lots of humorous narrative. Anyways, promote this one with Riordan's new Norse mythology series and the other new fantasies based on Norse mythology or as a precursor to Ben Thompson's heavier (but just as fascinating and humorous) history of the Vikings.

ISBN: 9781620915998; Published 2015 by Boyds Mills; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

This is the companion to Hippopposites and features a rhyming rhinoceros.

The same sturdy blue rhino is pictured on each page with various accessories, actions, or colors. The two pictures on the cover are a sample of what's within - Bat and Hat. Each page has one word. Some of the rhinos are textured, like Mossy and Glossy. The mossy green rhino is covered in felt and the glossy blue rhino on the facing page is, well, glossy.

The book is a little longer and larger than a typical board book. It has 20 thick, sturdy pages and is about 8x8 and more than an inch thick.

It's a great title for all ages of a board book audience. Babies will enjoy the textured aspects, toddlers can find the bold details in the pictures, recognizing colors and other elements and young preschoolers can practice their rhyming skills.

Verdict: This is a simple but clever title that babies and toddler up to preschoolers will enjoy. It would also make a great choice for storytime or inspiration for a flannel board. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781419715143; Published 2015 by Abrams Appleseed; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Library Day by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell; First Field Trips: Public Library by Cari Meister

Today I'm looking at two books about visiting the library, one more fictional and one nonfiction, as well as some thoughts on library books in general.


Anne Rockwell has a long history of books introducing children to everyday activities and places. She's recently started a series called "My First Experiences" which I've found very useful in my library. In this title, a blond boy named Don of about five accompanies his father to the library. They return materials and then his father leaves him in the children's room while he goes to use the computer. The boy listens to stories then hangs out with a another boy. They look at books, movies and magazines. One of the librarians from storytime suggests books for the boy and then he explores the children's room where various quiet activities are taking place. Don's father returns and he gets a library card then gets his books scanned and checked out. Don and his father return home after making plans to come back for a puppet show the following week.

The second library book is in a new series from Bullfrog books - First Field Trips. In brief, simple sentences it shows a small class of diverse children visiting the library. They meet a librarian, "She helps people. She finds books. She finds information." They sit for a storytime, learn to use the catalog, and find out the library has different types of materials like books, dvds, and magazines. Their teacher uses self-check to scan his materials, which are due back in two weeks. There are a few simple definitions of areas in the library and a little picture glossary and index.

Opinion on Anne Rockwell's title seems divided between librarians who are fans of Rockwell and absolutely adore it, love the diversity (not the main character or on the cover of course though. sigh.) and the more updated library. Then there's those who are horrified that the father abandons his child in storytime/to wander around the library, that magazines are promoted when many libraries aren't carrying them anymore and the generally old-fashioned drawings.

The child abandonment doesn't really bother me - I work in a small library and while we do have a "no unattended children" policy we're not really that aggressive about it, as long as the kids are behaving and not visibly distressed. Lots of libraries offer storytimes for preschool age without parents present. Rockwell's illustrations do have an outdated feel to them, but for many older adults introducing children to the library they're a familiar style and there is some diversity included.

Meister's nonfiction title is much more diverse - I think that might be the first time I remember seeing a younger African-American man portrayed as a teacher. It also portrays a generally technologically-updated library and is more general in portraying the library.

So, which book is better - my answer is neither. My opinion is that, although many familiar community landmarks like post offices, fire engines, and schools are all more or less uniform, libraries adapt to their communities. While I agree that magazines are rapidly dying and it's probably better not to emphasize them so much, every library has a different emphasis. Some libraries may offer chess games, art activities, and unaccompanied storytimes as seen in Rockwell's title. Others may have self-checkout or other services as in the nonfiction title. The library I work at has our picture books organized in neighborhoods, graphic novels integrated into juvenile fiction, toy train, kitchen, and dollhouse, circulating toys, and a pet hamster. A neighboring library has a manga collection that's probably 3 times the size of mine. Another has a dedicated teen area and programs. Another has a strong local history section. It's not really possible to write a "definitive" library book since all libraries are so different. I appreciate that both books show vibrant, happy spaces that are clearly supplying children and families with services they need and want and that's the most important thing.

Verdict: If, like me, you have teachers clamoring for "community" books both are excellent selections. However, if your budget is limited the Public Library title from Bullfrog is more generic and likely to hit more points in common with your individual library.

Library Day by Anne Rockwell
ISBN: 9781481427319; Published 2016 by Simon & Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Public Library by Cari Meister
ISBN: 9781620312964; Published 2016 by Bullfrog/Jump; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, March 28, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: How to cook in 10 easy lessons by Wendy Sweetser

I've been looking for new "making" books this year as I try to drag this section out of the 80s (not that craft books from the 80s are necessarily bad, but some of the pictures....oy) and I picked up a bunch of cookbooks to check out.

This one is addressed to middle grade kids and is pretty awesome. It's one I can see giving to kids - and adults - who want to learn the basic skills of cooking. It's divided into 10 "super skills" and each uses previous skills to add to the current skill and practice in the recipes.

The book starts with a list of basic equipment, safety tips, and general instructions. It starts with instructions on using knives, chopping and cutting then gives you recipes for soup, fresh vegetable platter, and fruit salad to practice your slicing skills. Next, you learn to peel and grate, then adding your knife skills in make pork kebabs, cheese straws, key lime pie, and apple tarts. Then you move on through crushing and juicing, mashing and pureeing, frying, boiling, grilling, making sauces, whisking, and kneading. Each section gives several recipes - to practice your accumulated skills. The recipes cover a wide range of tastes and dietary needs. Some are vegetarian, they range from dips to main dishes, and there isn't a preponderance of desserts.

The book is illustrated with simple, colored pictures of equipment and hands demonstrating the various moves. I am disappointed that all the hands are white though. I appreciated that a variety of tools were pictured, as in the juicing section it offered options for a simple juice press, a juice extractor, and a larger hand-cranked press. Being someone who dislikes a lot of fancy kitchen tools, it was nice that pretty much everything can be done with a few simple tools. There are also "check your skills" boxes that take you back to the pages for quick refreshers on the different techniques.

Verdict: The one downside is that the book is only available in spiral-bound hardcover, but it's pretty sturdy and no cookbook lasts forever. This is a really good approach to teaching cooking to older kids and one that I definitely recommend.

ISBN: 9781633220393; Published 2015 by Walter Foster Jr.; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, March 26, 2016

This week at the library; or, Only one more week until vacation!!

I'm reading these first. After I review the stack on my desk.
Then I'll go on to read the stacks on the other shelf.
And the ones in my bag.
What's going on in my head and at the library
  • Monday
    • Read with Pearl
    • Well....the police cleaned up the blood? An interesting day.
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions) (Pattie)
    • Middle School Madness (off-site at the youth center)
    • This was a very Alexanderine day. Grrr. I took Sculpey clay to the middle schoolers and I am not even going to write it up. They had fun and made things. The end.
  • Wednesday
    • Winter Wigglers: Obstacle Course (Jess)
    • March Outreach: Spring Hatchlings (5 sessions)
    • It was a soggy day. I love all my 3s and 4s but I am glad this is the end of my outreach season. I'm tired.
  • Thursday
    • Books 'n' Babies (Pattie)
    • Messy Art Club: Painting Eggs
    • Dismal rainy day. I have to admit I didn't feel like doing a program at all today! I just wanted to finish the 101 things I had to do before going on vacation. It was pretty slow since it was pouring wet snow, but about 40 people showed up. I finally left around 6:30.
  • Friday
    • Library Closed, vacation begins!
Projects in Progress or Completed
  • Weeding and collection development
    • I had hoped to finish this week b/c I want to start summer planning when I get back but it didn't happen. I made it through the 639s.
  • Lots of last-minute stuff before I go on vacation.
What the kids are reading: A Selection
  • Isle of the Lost, sequel (not out yet)
  • Fantasy League - missing
  • great unexpected by creech
  • very hungry caterpillar movie
  • adorable toddler requesting "ama ama" (llama llama)
  • i spy books
  • books with chinese characters - had to put on hold
  • many spring break reading recommendations
  • very tricky graphic novel question
  • voracious reader has finished Michael Vey and Percy Jackson. Blackwell Pages, McNabb's Traitor, Osborne's Hitler's Secret. Wasn't interested in Magnus Chase, didn't have the first volume of Alex Rider or hero.com available.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham

The Princess in Black is back, in her third book, along with the long-promised horde....

of bunnies!

Princess Magnolia and her "unicorn" Frimplepants are happily on their way to a delicious brunch with Princess Sneezewort when they get the danger signal. Somewhat frustrated, they race to the rescue only to discover a...bunny. Yep, a cute little purple bunny. How is that a monster worth missing brunch?? But pretty soon there are more bunnies and more bunnies until it's a HORDE of bunnies and the Princess in Black is getting worried. Sure, they're cute but what are they doing? Besides eating everything in sight!

Pham's colorful illustrations are as cute and wickedly funny as ever. Magnolia's dreams of delicious brunch are enough to make anyone hungry and her adoration of the bunnies' cuteness will make readers giggle.

It can be difficult to follow up a unique gambit like the Princess in Black - the twist endings and surprise are muted once you know the conceit and it makes it a little more predictable. I felt the second title was a little bit blah compared to the first. However, this one ramps up the fun once again and adds in another dimension to the theme of not taking things on face value. Just because Magnolia looks like a fancy, frilly princess doesn't mean she can't enjoy tasty treats and be a monster-fighting ninja princess! And just because the bunnies look cute and fluffy doesn't mean they're harmless!

Verdict: This series is a must-have for every library that serves elementary students. Great as a read-aloud as well and many older readers also enjoy it! The third title is all that one could desire and I can't wait to introduce it to the many, many fans of the Princess in Black!

ISBN: 9780763665135; Published 2016 by Candlewick; Purchased for the library

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Secret Hero Society: Study Hall of Justice by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen

I enjoyed reading this but I'm really not sure about the appeal to kids.

Bruce is thrilled to be accepted into the prestigious Ducard Academy. But almost immediately he starts to realize that something strange is going on. There are some very odd students at the school and even though he makes two sort of friends - Clark and Diana - they quickly get annoyed with his mystery-solving efforts and go their separate ways. But when things get even worse at the school and the three get trapped in detention (with creepy librarian Brainiac) they have to work together to escape.

The story is told in notes and case files primarily from Bruce, occasional emails and texts and comic panels. The art is black and white and in Nguyen's distinctive, watercolor style. Unless the reader knows absolutely nothing about superheroes (and even then it's hard not to absorb some cultural information) it's going to be fairly easy to identify embryo Bruce, Superman, and Diana at the least. The rest of the supervillains will be more or less familiar depending on your level of DC comic familiarity.

However, I don't think the point of this is to surprise the reader - it's going to be obvious to anyone who the main characters are, and most of the minor characters as well. The fun comes in feeling like you are "in" on the joke and seeing how a young Bruce Wayne handles an investigation as a kid.

Verdict: While my kids enthusiastically read superhero comics, I'm not sure if they'll go for this since they don't usually like novel-length books about superheroes and the black and white art is likely to put them off. On the other hand, it's about "real" superheroes, Nguyen's art is fun, and the mixture of formats is usually a draw. While I enjoyed reading it personally, I'm not sure I want to start another series that may or may not be popular.

ISBN: 9780545825016; Published 2016 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Peek-a-Boo Zoo by Joyce Wan

I am personally not much of a fan of the cute, but....who can resist Joyce Wan? This is one of her newer board books, which I wrested from the hands of adoring moms and babies so I could review it.

I'm just going to tell you upfront: The cover has glitter on it. Live with it. It won't last forever. Each spread has a little rhyme on the left giving clues and a cute and cuddly animal on the right playing peek-a-boo. Lift the flap and see the animal. "I am a cool bird./I waddle and slide./In the ice-cold sea,/I swim and glide." The rhymes aren't earth-shattering and won't present a challenge to older children, but that's not the intended audience. This is a cute and comforting book, perfect to cuddle up with a baby or toddler and enjoy a good game of peek-a-boo.

Wan's illustrations are super cute with lots of rounded colors, thick lines and simple shapes. The flaps are attached at the bottom and rounded at the top (they open down) and you can easily reinforce them with a little library tape to extend the life of the book.

Verdict: Everybody needs a little cute and peek-a-boo is never out of style. Buy it.

ISBN: 9780545750424; Published 2015 by Cartwheel/Scholastic; Purchased for the library.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Juna's Jar by Jane Bahk, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

Lee & Low does some absolutely lovely books, but they tend to be very text-heavy. This is understandable - it's difficult to balance between providing enough context for kids who aren't familiar with the diverse cultures portrayed and writing authentic stories for diverse kids themselves. Although this has a little more text than I usually look for in picture books, it's such a lovely story and so beautifully written and illustrated that I think kids will sit through it.

June loves her kimchi jar. She uses it to collect things with her best friend Hector. But then one day when she visits Hector's apartment his Abuelita tells her that Hector's parents have taken him to live in a big house. Juna is devastated and her big brother, Minho, gets her a fish for her kimchi jar to make her feel better. That night Juna goes on a magical adventure with her fish....but the next morning it's too big and has to move out of the jar. Her brother has another idea and they plant a seed, which takes Juna on an adventure to the rainforest. When they put a cricket in next, June rides it across the city to Hector's new house, where she sees him tucked up with his own kimchi jar full of treasures. Juna is ready for new treasures - and a new friend - to help her put them in her jar.

Softly colored drawings express Juna's sorrow at losing her friend and her wonder in the magical world she inhabits. I loved the expressive blues and greens swirling about the pages, especially in the dream sequences. It would be a lovely inspiration not only for kids to find their own jars and treasures but also to create their own imaginative landscapes.

Diversity is smoothly mixed into the story, teaching the reader a few phrases of Korean and Spanish and presenting a family life that will be familiar to many children - closely-knit siblings and friends who move quickly or live with grandparents.

Verdict: Although this is a longer story and will need an older audience to truly appreciate it, it's also a lovely, diverse journey into imagination and feelings. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781600608537; Published 2015 by Lee & Low; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, March 21, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Breakthrough: How three people saved "blue babies" and changed medicine forever by Jim Murphy

This was well-written and an important book, but I have serious doubts as to whether I will get any kids to read it.

The story is prefaced with the first, tense operation on a tiny "blue baby" a girl whose malformed heart was threatening her life. Until that moment, heart surgery was an unknown and impossible procedure. Even more startling, the quiet man supervising the operation from behind the scenes was African-American.

Dr. Alfred Blalock, a researcher and chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins, was encouraged to pursue the research into saving the lives of blue babies by pediatrician Dr. Helen Taussig. But it was Vivien Thomas, a man whom most assumed was just a janitor, who was the true genius behind the procedure.

Murphy walks readers through the struggles and personality conflicts leading to the pivotal operation, to the challenges faced by the researchers both in their personal lives and in medical science, and follows the results of fame and fortune for some and near-obscurity for others.

End materials include extensive source notes with explanations, bibliography, credits and index. Despite the positive aspects of the book, it just doesn't grab the reader. Is it interesting and important to read about the contributions of often overlooked people like Thomas and female doctors like Taussig? Absolutely. Does Murphy do a good job of explaining the situation, context, and following the story? Yes. But despite all that the story just....drags. It meanders into descriptions of surgical instruments and anatomy, digresses into the vivisection controversy, and only at the end does it follow up on the results of the first child to undergo the operation. To sell narrative nonfiction to middle grade readers there needs to be a strong narrative and this didn't feel that strong to me.

Verdict: Although it's a title I'd love to purchase to diversify the collection and because it's an interesting story, it doesn't have the same grab as Jarrow's medical mysteries and some of Murphy's previous titles. If you have a larger collection or more dedicated readers, this would be a good choice.

ISBN: 9780547821832; Published 2015 by Clarion; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, March 19, 2016

This week at the library; or, Is it a full moon and nobody told me?

Humphrey II. He has bitten me twice.
What's going on in my head and at the library
  • Monday
    • Playgroup with Pattie
    • Read with Pearl
    • Tiny Tots (Pattie)
    • I....have no idea what's in the air or weather or what, but we had a lot of VERY strange things happen. Daylight savings? Also a staff meeting. And a meeting with a local community group that runs our only after school place for tweens and teens which went well and we have lots of ideas for future collaboration.
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions) (Pattie)
    • March Outreach: Spring Hatchlings (3 sessions)
    • The strangeness continues. I did have a fun last outreach session at school and I did not get any pies thrown at me, so there was that. On of my patrons said our collection was the best they'd ever seen, after many years in large city libraries and another said we always had great choices. WARM FUZZIES!
  • Wednesday
    • We Explore Science: Seeds (Jess)
    • No programs for me today! So I had a summer reading meeting. Woo. And lots of work at the desk and a visit from the special needs school.
  • Thursday
    • Books 'n' Babies
    • Lego Club
    • Meetings to discuss the gardens, weeding, and a tiny group at Lego Club, probably due to the nice weather.
  • Friday
    • Hammie II has passed beyond this mortal ken, he has traveled to the great hamster wheel in the sky, he has gone where no man can follow. He is an ex-hamster. I cleaned out the hamster cage, worked on collection development for a couple hours, grabbed some lunch, then went to Wal-Mart and to Petsmart to buy Humphrey II. Then I locked Humphrey, my cell phone, and my keys in the car. (possibly I will get some good karma from finding someone's debit card in the parking lot as I searched for my keys?) Then I waited for rescue (at least I finally remembered to leave a spare key at work...) then I moved Humphrey into his new home (it will need some adjustment, I couldn't get all the pieces back together correctly) wrote a FB eulogy for Hammie, finished up some misc. stuff and went to the grocery store. I finally got home at 5 and realized I'd forgotten to buy mushrooms. Am now at home wondering what the heck I did with my dirty tupperware from lunch. I cannot find it anywhere. Phew. So much for half-days!
  • Saturday
    • Blessedly quiet day. More or less. I'm going to tempt fate and post this now at 12:45, even though we don't close until 2.
Projects in Progress or Completed
  • Weeding and Collection Development in progress
What the kids are reading: A selection
  • My faithful reader is almost finished with the Alice books. We looked at some other titles - Hilary McKay's Caddy Ever After, Katie Finn's Unfriended series. She also took some of Natasha Friend's books. She would really like a read-alike for Lauren Myracle's ttyl series but I haven't come up with one yet. I think she might like novels in verse, but it's hard to find light-hearted ones and she's not really into the really intense stuff. Maybe Sonya Sones.
  • Snow White
  • Books on maps for a young child - went with Kids Can Press Follow that map which was perfect.
  • Dr. Seuss
  • books on Samoyeds
  • mysteries - turned out she actually wanted scary stories.gave her a lot of suggestions and she took Poblocki and Preller
  • manners - found one in the teen section. Never had a kid ask for that before...
  • service dogs
  • dork diaries
  • nancy drew
  • junie b. jones
  • spirit animals audio (another library has them)
  • transitional chapter books
  • Sonic and Mario books - might be able to find some more Sonic comics
  • zombie books
  • more resources for children with autism like Point to Happy. I put some of the learning aids I'd gotten on hold. I'm also waiting for a parent who promised to donate some items.
  • Mystery - London Eye, CSI Club, Mac Barnett, Encyclopedia Brown. Took London Eye.
  • Owl diaries, which I just got!
  • Inside Out
  • Return of the Indian. well....we have them. It's certainly not one I'm going to buy new copies of though.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Small Readers: The Worm by Elise Gravel

I was a little doubtful when I first heard about this series, but having read it I am completely on board with its unique layout and subject.

The series, Disgusting Critters, features a number of "critters" from head lice to...worms!

The endpapers of this title are nicely wormy, with cheerful pink worms squirming across the page. A friendly pink worm greets readers and we learn many interesting facts, with longer vocabulary (skeleton, invertebrate, photoreceptors, etc.) highlighted boldly in the text. As the simple information is presented on the left side of the page, the worm carries on a running commentary on the right.

The art really makes this story. The background is a plain light green and brown, but shows up the pink worm nicely. Not only are its comments hilarious, but the accompanying art adds another humorous dimension. On the spread where we learn about earthworm vision (they have no eyes but sense light with photoreceptors) the worm buries its head in a bag, saying "No eyes? that can't be true. I'm sure I had some eyes around here somewhere. Hmm. Let me look..."

Audience on this one is a little tricky. The book is a trim size, slightly shorter than the average easy reader, but about the same length. The simple text also lends itself to the easy reader designation. However, it does have some significantly challenging vocabulary. On the other hand, it's likely to be lost in a typical juvenile nonfiction section because of the smaller format. On the whole, I'd put it in an easy reader nonfiction section, assuming you have one, and probably just in easy reader fiction if not. Fans of Elephant and Piggie will be attracted by the comic format and humor and nonfiction readers will enjoy challenging themselves to learn the facts on each page.

Verdict: A fun start to a delightful new series which I wish I'd discovered sooner. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781770496330; Published 2014 by Tundra; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

Mechanic Lupe Impala and her friends El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria love cars. They are eager to get set up in their own garage where Lupe will fix the cars, Flapjack will clean them, and Elirio will paint his fantastic designs on them. There's just one problem - no money! When they see a car contest they decide to fix up an old junker to be the best lowrider ever and with determination, grit, and skill they do just that. Their lowrider takes them to the stars and back to earth to win the contest!

The text sings with delightful words in both Spanish and English and their trip through space is a poetic dance. The art is unique with a southwest, homemade flair. Raul drew it in colored ballpoint pens to mimic the drawings of his youth.

Back matter includes an author's note about lowriders and an illustrator's note about the art. There's also a glossary of Spanish words and a short teaser comic for the next volume.

The whole story is one celebration of love for nostalgia and culture - and that's where I'm not sure it's going to find an audience in my library. I have a fairly large Hispanic population, but we're in Wisconsin. I'm not sure the kids have ever heard of lowriders, much less would be interested in them. A graphic novel with Hispanic characters playing in the snow or going to cheer on their favorite football team is more likely to find an audience here.

Still, this is such a lovely book that it's hard to put it aside. I think it would be fun to introduce kids to a different culture and time period and this book is really original and delightful.

Verdict: I don't think this is going to find the universal audience that some of the reviews posit, but it's definitely a worthwhile purchase and a fun, unique title to introduce kids to.

ISBN: 9781452128696; Published 2014 by Chronicle; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Look & Learn Farm Animals by Catherine D. Hughes

Look & Learn is a series from National Geographic Kids that has been quite popular in our board book section. This particular title features farm animals and, although as an adult some of it makes me snicker a bit, little ones will adore it.

Five farm animals are featured with two spreads each. The first spread has the animal's sound and a photo of the animal on the left and a simple fact and additional photos on the right. This is set against a simple colored background. The second spread for each animal has full-page photos and additional sentences, mostly about what people use the animals for. The animals are horses, chickens, sheep, pigs, and cows. I personally snickered over the fact that the facts for horses, sheep, and cows include how humans use them but pigs and chickens have additional facts about their babies. No bacon and eggs here! A final spread includes all five of the animals with simple questions based on the earlier pages.

The book is a small, sturdy square, about 5x5 inches. I didn't care for the colored backgrounds, feeling that a plain white setting would have been better, especially for young babies, but the photographs were, as always with National Geographic, excellent.

Verdict: A great introduction to nonfiction for babies and toddlers, perfect for a farm storytime. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781426323072; Published 2016 by National Geographic Kids; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Typewriter by Bill Thomson

It's been almost three years since we saw a book from Bill Thomson and six years since we first met a trio of diverse, curious, imaginative kids in Chalk. I'm thrilled to show off his brand-new book, Typewriter, which is a splendid celebration of the power of words.

Two boys and a girl arrive at a closed carousel, the only spot of color in the dull wilderness a monarch butterfly (perhaps left from the Chalk adventure?). They are delighted to see something special on top of the bee - a mysterious box. When they open it they discover...a typewriter. A few minutes of tweaking later and they type their first word... and the magic begins. With a simple word the snow-covered landscape is transformed into a beach and the exuberant creators start adding to their newfound playground. Things get a little (ok, a lot) out of hand and they'll need some quick thinking and fast typing to save the day. Adventure over, they pack up the typewriter and cycle off together, perhaps thinking of new stories to tell.

Thomson's stunning art, which is created by hand and not digitized, is the perfect medium to capture the exuberance and joy of the trio of children as they discover the power and magic of words. I love that there is diversity not only in the children pictured but in their actions - this time it's the girl who initiates the mischief and comes up with a clever plan to set it right. There are many subtle details in the art - the butterfly from a previous book, the play on words of the "spelling bee", not to mention the delicious scariness of the giant crab!

The clear sequence of events in Thomson's wordless titles make them great storytime choices, especially if you're just starting to use wordless titles in your storytimes. Be prepared for gasps of excitement, delight and surprise as you turn the pages and have the kids tell the story and discuss what is happening in each picture. Older listeners will be inspired to create their own stories with a few simple words and pictures while teachers will find many uses for this new book in school (once you've explained what a typewriter is of course!)

Verdict: Another triumph of wordless art - celebrating the power of words! A must have for your library and a good opportunity to check the condition of your other Bill Thomson titles and see if a revamp is needed before featuring them in a program.

ISBN: 9781477849750; Published 2016 by Two Lions; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, March 14, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: What's your style? Hipster Fashion and Boho Fashion by Karen Latchana Kenney

My next two articles for Nonfiction Notions are going to focus on or include crafting and making books so I requested some new titles from two of my go-to publishers, Lerner and Capstone. You'll be seeing more about those titles soon, but I had several titles that didn't fit into what I was writing and I wanted to feature them here.

These two, Hipster Fashion and Boho Fashion are from the "What's your style?" series which also includes Edgy, Preppy, and Streetwear fashion. Each book starts out by explaining the look, showing how it's worn by various celebrities who are into the fashion style. There are ideas for getting the look for yourself - advice on accessories, shopping, makeup, and hairstyles - as well as a few DIY projects that are simple and inexpensive. Resources on learning more about the fashion, further reading, and a glossary are also included.

These titles are heavily addressed towards girls - the Hipster Fashion features some male celebrities and a few guys are pictured and occasionally referenced but more in an "oh, and guys too" way. There is racial diversity in both the models and illustrations, although Boho Fashion's casual advice to shop at ethnic stores made me feel a little iffy. However, there's no diversity in body types (unless you count the suggestion to find long, loose skirts and dresses in the plus-size area of stores). Also, Boho recommends heavily depending on thrift stores. Unless you live in a large city (and even then) the selection, especially of vintage clothing, is really slim and prices aren't always affordable. However, I did appreciate that both titles gave suggestions for having a sense of style without having to buy tons of expensive clothes and accessories.

Overall, compared to the average fashion book for tweens and teens, these are light, fun reading with lots of practical advice and reasonable suggestions for kids who want a popular "look" while being on a budget. They could also be a great reference for a fashion program with teens - find your style, create accessories, etc. My one concern, as a library, is that these titles are only available in expensive library binding ($25 apiece) and with the heavy dependence on celebrities will be outdated quickly as those celebrities go out of style and/or change their looks.

Verdict: Recommended if you have a big audience for fashion books or the $$ to update your fashion section, otherwise they're a little too expensive for the average budget.

Boho Fashion
ISBN: 9781467714709

Hipster Fashion
ISBN: 9781467714723

Published 2016 by Lerner; Review copies provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, March 12, 2016

This week at the library; or, Spring has Sprung upon us

What's going on in my head and at the library

  • Monday
    • Read with Pearl
    • I had a long staff meeting (i.e. me, Jess, and Pattie) about upcoming programs and projects, packed remote collection baskets, prepped for programs, and cleaned off my desk.
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions) (Pattie)
    • Rock 'n' Read
    • Woo! Very large group at book club! So exciting!
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
  • Friday
    • Quiet day weeding and working on projects, with a staff meeting.
Projects in Progress or Completed
  • Finished weeding the 590s! On to the 600s.
Professional Development
  • Finished reading What if everybody understood child development? by Rae Pica
  • Read Recipes for Play by Rachel Sumner
A Selection of Book Requests and Reader's Advisory
  • Charlie and Lola
  • beginning readers (i.e. easy readers)
  • Captain Underpants
  • Introduced my colleagues to the Princess in Black
  • Series of Unfortunate Events
  • superhero comics
  • El Deafo
  • Sunny Side Up

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

Oh, I have been WAITING for this with bated breath! New graphic novel from Victoria Jamieson, author of Roller Girl! Featuring class pets including a guinea pig! Obviously funny! Happily, it did not disappoint.

GW, otherwise known as George Washington, is determined to break out of prison, i.e. second grade, where he's being held as the class pet. But first he needs a plan...an invention...and his best buddies, Barry and Biter. He's got the invention, he's got the smarts, he's got the...pals? Uh-oh. Barry and Biter (her name is Sunflower now) have been brainwashed! But they won't desert the Furry Fiends, even when they meet their greatest challenge yet - the villainous Harriet the mouse and her minions!

The art is perfect; light and funny and skillfully detailed, Jamieson's style shines through in the glimpses of kids and she expands to include the exuberant animals of her earlier picture books.

Both adults and children will find this funny from Sunflower's "conversion" to the running gag of the disappearing mice and will be waiting eagerly for more adventures of the Furry Fiends.

Verdict: Hand to fans of Guinea PI, fans of funny comics, and everyone who thinks hamsters are furry little geniuses. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781627791052; Published 2016 by Henry Holt; Purchased for the library

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power and Squirrel You Know It's True by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

I heard a lot of positive things about these comics - humorous, strong female characters, good stories, etc. and I went ahead and purchased them for the library. I was not disappointed.

In the first collection, Squirrel Power, Squirrel Girl aka Doreen and her best squirrel are moving to college and going "normal" but it's hard to do with new roommates, cute boys, and Galactus on the move. Wait, WHO?? How is she supposed to get to orientation and make friends when she keeps having to save the world?

The fun part about this first collection is that it's, well, fun! Doreen has no angst about her role as squirrel girl and while she can be awkward and socially inept she just picks herself up and keeps on going. She's not lying on her dorm bed moaning about how difficult it is to be her and what a horrible life she has (*cough* Spider-Man *cough*) she's out there living it. She's friendly, chipper, and comes up with unique solutions to problems that can range from talking things out and peaceful resolutions to punching everything in sight because sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The second volume, Squirrel You Know It's True didn't grab me quite as much. It makes heavy use of the "perspective" trope I've seen a lot in Batman - that everyone sees Squirrel Girl through their own lens. This rather bores me. However, the interactions with her new friends, both hero and human, are warm and she grows both as a heroine and as a person.

While I put both volumes in teen and they're directed to that audience, there's nothing inappropriate in them for a younger audience. Squirrel Girl has some mild romantic crushes and makes some very definite statements about consent, equality, and feminism, but there are no graphic references to or visuals of sex or violence. Basically, it's a light-hearted romp through superhero land with Squirrel Girl as guide and guardian.

Verdict: This isn't likely to appeal to fans of the more gritty superhero comics, but to kids who like a good story with some comic book action it will be a fun read. Fans will appreciate the many side references as well. I think the audience that it will most instantly appeal to is Lumberjanes fans but right now I only have a couple I have talked into reading those titles. Whether or not it's a necessary purchase depends on your demographic and what they enjoy reading, but it's definitely a fun superhero comic to hand to younger readers and to those who would like to see more girl power in their comics.

Squirrel Power
ISBN: 9780785197027; Published 2015 by Marvel; Purchased for the library

Squirrel You Know It's True
ISBN: 9780785197034; Published 2015 by Marvel; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Up Hamster Down Hamster by Kass Reich

This little book reminded me of Kate Duke's guinea pig board books, sadly out of print.

A series of blocky hamsters illustrate various opposites. "IN hamster" shows the two little hamsters in a fishbowl, complete with flippers and bubbles. "OUT hamster" shows them outside the bowl, wrapped in cozy towels. There is "SHHH" and "SHOUT", "DAY" and "NIGHT", "LOST" and "FOUND". Each page is a couple that rhymes, ending with a panorama of all eight hamsters tucked into bed and then a last page that pictures all of them, bright and cheerful, with accessories.

The illustrations have broad lines with splashes of color that spread over the lines. Each page has a simple illustration - a hamster pulls a friend in a wagon - against a simple colored background. Yellow, gray, blue, and other pastels set off the subdued colors of the hamsters and their doings. The book is a smallish rectangle, about 4x6.

Verdict: I usually prefer bolder colors, photography, or more defined illustrations for board books, but this was a really cute concept and nicely done so a variety of ages can enjoy the silly antics of the hamsters on different levels. The only drawback is that Orca's board books tend to be pricy, ranging around $9. A nice addition to your board book collection if it's within your budget.

ISBN: 9781459810136; Published 2015 by Orca; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Song of Delphine by Kenneth Kraegel

This is an odd, sweet story but it definitely grows on you.

Delphine is a servant in the palace and an orphan. She lifts her spirits by singing but is excited when the Princess Beatrice arrives, thinking she will finally have a friend her age. Unfortunately, Beatrice turns out to be a cruel, selfish girl and makes Delphine's life even more miserable. But Delphine still has her music and her voice carries her into a magical adventure one night. When dawn arrives the next day, things seem to be worse than ever but Delphine's music eventually brings her a happy ending.

I love the beautifully textured and detailed illustrations. There are plenty of serious moments in the art, but also comical faces and light-hearted humor. I especially loved the giraffes. There is a softness and warmth to the pictures, shown in Delphine's blurred hair and the simple but effective scenes that combine the delicate textures and details of the art created by dots with the gentle colors and swatches of earth-hued colors.

The story is pure wish-fulfillment and admittedly borders on saccharine. Delphine goes from rags to riches with no thought for what poor servant will take her place or for the realities of her situation (poor servant girls don't generally get out of dungeons). The text is lengthy and rather cloying in places. However, the art is so delightful and the story just the kind of soothing, happy ending that children will love to listen to over and over again before bed.

Verdict: This is different, but a delightful addition to any collection. Hand it to fans of princesses, giraffes, and read it aloud for older kids in storytimes about music.

ISBN: 9780763670016; Published 2015 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, March 7, 2016

Nonfiction Monday: Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed B. Collard III

I've enjoyed many of Collard's other science books, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this one. Sadly, things like work and eating and sleeping often get in the way of my reading time.

Most people think forest fires are bad - but Collard has a different approach. Focusing on the effect forest fires have on several bird species, he discusses the way these birds - and other plant and animal species - can actually benefit from forest fires. The ecological effects of forest fires, suppressing and controlling them in various ways, as well as the economic and ecological impact of salvage logging are also discussed. Although Collard has clear opinions, with scientific evidence to back them up, he presents a balanced and nuanced pictures of the effects of forest fires and ways fire control could be addressed in the future.

Lists of birds, statistics, and data are included throughout the book. Back matter includes additional resources, an index, and an introduction to the author and acknowledgements.

Verdict: This is an interesting approach to a little-discussed topic. Readers interested in wildlife and ecology may be interested in picking this up. The only drawbacks are that it's a large picture book-sized layout, something which can be difficult to get older readers to pick up, and as a small press title the price is a little higher than the average hardcover. However, it's worth it to add this informative title to diversify your collection of disaster books and help kids see the different sides of natural disasters.

ISBN: 9780984446070; Published 2015 by Bucking Horse Books; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, March 5, 2016

This week at the library; or, A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox!

It's all worth it.
What's happening in my head and at the library
  • Monday
    • I celebrated Leap Year by a Pirates of Penzance marathon, hence the subtitle above. We also had an extra-long staff meeting. That was practically all that happened today because we had a lot to discuss.
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions) (Pattie)
    • Bookaneers
    • Massive snowstorm! Storytime was cancelled because there was no school. It was a quiet day and I got a lot of work done and happily circulation stepped up to help with shelving as my aide was out sick. I had a small but happy group for book club.
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
    • Books 'n' Babies (Pattie)
    • Lego Club
    • Tap to Play
    • I had an average but VERY enthusiastic group at Lego Club. Tap to Play is really dead but we've only got one more anyways.
  • Friday
    • I went to Walmart and bought vast amounts of candy (for science next week), cheap oil (same thing), and last-minute things for the Dr. Seuss party. Then I finally wandered into work and did some weeding and reports and things kept happening and I didn't leave until nearly 4pm.
  • Saturday
    • Dr. Seuss Celebration
    • I'm tired and I need to figure out a way to plan so that I magically have everything I need, but not more than I need, for an unknown number of attendees and don't freak out before every program.
Projects in Progress or Completed
  • Back to the 500s weeding - I'm up to the 590s
  • Still working on easy readers with Jess
  • Weeded and cleaned out tub books
  • Planning programs
  • Monthly report, budget, orders
A selection of book requests and reader's advisory questions
  • Alice books - I'm still buying the series a few at a time
  • Reader's advisory for a voracious teen reader. We discussed a lot of different things and she took Eleventh Plague and Stolarz' Deadly little secrets.
  • Books about rainbow looms - we don't have any
  • Dr. Seuss - lots of requests from teachers and parents
  • Sudden recurrence of interest in rainbow looms - need to order some books
  • graphic novels - need to fill in several series, Korgi, Bird & Squirrel, etc.
  • Behind the bedroom wall
  • I was just wondering if I should get more Sonic the Hedgehog comics and a kid asked for them so I probably should.
  • I should buy additional copies of Willems' pigeon books

Friday, March 4, 2016

Small Readers: Bradford Street Buddies: Backyard Camp-Out by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Michelle Henninger

This is the second book in the Bradford Street Buddies series. It's a somewhat old-fashioned series about neighborhood kids and their everyday adventures, but it's none the worse for that.

In this episode, twins Jada and Jamal find some old camping equipment and get the idea for a backyard camp-out with all their friends. The backyard camp-out quickly turns into a hunt for a missing cat and a celebration that brings all the neighbors together.

Henninger's pictures show a cheerfully diverse neighborhood and pick out humorous and mildly exciting moments of the story to emphasize. Most of the spreads are covered with art with the text placed on lighter colored backgrounds.

This is a level 3 Green Light Reader and has short chapters, more complex vocabulary and sentences, and a font type close to that of a chapter book.

Verdict: There aren't a lot of easy readers featuring people, let alone diverse kids, and the mild mystery will interest readers. If you're looking to expand your upper-level easy readers this is a good core series to add.

ISBN: 9780544368439; Published 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, March 3, 2016

HiLo: The boy who crashed to earth by Judd Winick

I waited a long time for a library to purchase it so I could borrow it. The description sounded intriguing, but not enough that I wanted to purchase it sight unseen. After reading it, my emotions are mixed. Warning: SPOILERS.

DJ is bored. Ever since his best friend Gina moved away, years ago, he feels like he isn't good at anything and doesn't stand out. Then a mysterious stranger literally falls out of the sky and suddenly life is very exciting. HiLo doesn't know anything about who he is or how life on earth works. To complicate things further, Gina suddenly shows up again but she's changed a lot. The adventure gets even crazier when other, more dangerous things start crashing to earth and HiLo figures out who he really is and what he's there for.

The art is bright and bouncy, with lots of explosions, eyes popping with shock and surprise, and flashy color. HiLo at first seems very young, probably because he's racing around in his underwear, but then switches to a more "gritty superhero" look later on as he remembers his purpose and realizes the danger his new friends are in.

So, on the pro side this was a fun, exciting adventure with colorful art that fans of superheroes and adventure comics will like. On the other hand, I had a couple issues with it. First, it goes at sonic speed from "alien who doesn't understand how earth works" funny to "Ender's Game child soldier who's really a robot fighting an unstoppable evil" dark. Secondly, it sticks with some rather boring superhero tropes without really bringing them up as discussion points - maybe the unstoppable evil robot kind of has a point that robots, especially since they are clearly sentient, should not be slaves to humanity? Of course, destroying entire planets isn't really a good solution but having HiLo basically validate his human programming to destroy fellow robots who step out of line instead of using his clearly human sentience to stand up for what's basically an entire community of slaves seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. Granted, you can't get really deeply into matters of law and human freedom in a quick kids' comic but this glossed over those issues awfully fast.

Again, while it's great that DJ and Gina were both kids of color and it's great to see some biracial protagonists in the story, we're still stuck with the blond-haired, blue-eyed, white savior. DJ and Gina's story is clearly secondary to HiLo's battle and why would a super-advanced civilization create their fighting robot in the form of a small Caucasian boy anyways? As far as the gender divisions, Gina is obviously smart, funny, and going places - but a large part of the storyline is her reassuring DJ that he's not boring or incapable of change, even though he's basically done nothing but mope since she was gone.

Verdict: While I had....issues with certain thematic elements, it is still a fast-paced and fun story and it's good to see some representation at all, even if it's only in the background and secondary protagonists. Actually, the one thing that makes me feel the iffiest about purchasing this is that the hardcover binding feels like it won't last very long. I don't really have a definite decision on this one, you'll have to decide for yourself.

ISBN: 9780385386180; Published 2015 by Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: You are my baby: Pets by Lorena Siminovich

reviewed this series back in 2014 and, despite an incident, said they were quite sturdy overall.

I am now having to eat my words.

The concept is simple and delightful. The main part of the book shows an adult animal, gives a clue, and then you open the little book to show the baby animal and an animal sound. This book features a series of pets; dog, cat, bird, hamster, and fish. The books are simple and short with 6 pages, the back page being full to hold the book steady.

Siminovich's art is cozy and simple and kids love the animal concept and the additional sensory treat of the differently shaped pages combined into the two books.

Unfortunately, it turns out that they are NOT sturdy - not enough for my library anyways. Something about the extra-thick cardboard pages seems to invite kids to dangle them by the smaller book part and every few months the books simply disintegrate. Sadly, I have decided to nix them from my collection and stop replacing them as it's no longer worth the money and effort.

Verdict: If your patrons are more gentle with board books or you're willing and able to purchase frequent replacements, these are adorable. However, if your patrons are rough on their books (ours are and not just on board books either) these are probably not a good choice.

ISBN: 978145213437; Published 2014 by Chronicle; Borrowed from another library in my consortium (whose patrons are clearly more gentle with their board books than us)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood

This book is stunning. I'm just going to start with that. Freya Blackwood has taken a difficult subject and made it accessible, explaining emotions through gorgeous, touching art.

In a warm, brown background is a girl whose Auntie calls her Cartwheel. Then the war comes. Now she is alone in a gray, frightening city. The words pepper her like a cold waterfall and she is alone. At home she can wrap herself in a blanket of the words and sounds she knows, but not outside. Then she meets another girl. At first tentative and uncertain, Cartwheel slowly accepts the girl's persistent friendship and begins to create a new blanket of words.

The illustrations are lovely, showing Cartwheel's original home, dress, and familiar blanket of words in glowing orange with the new land in cold grays, blues and greens. Gradually, as Cartwheel adds to her words, the colors come together until the last spread shows a blue and green landscape glowing with touches of vibrant orange.

For children who have never known the experience of being in a strange country where they don't speak the language, this is a lovely and gentle way to explain the feelings and emotions one might go through. For those who are experiencing this, this title will validate their feelings and show them hope of adding to, not replacing, their blanket of words and experiences.

Verdict: A lovely addition to any picture book collection. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780544432284; Published 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium