Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Black Bird Yellow Sun by Steve Light

Light steps away from his familiar, intricate style to produce a bold new board book. A sharply defined black bird stands against bold backgrounds of splashy color; a yellow sun, purple grapes, green grass, and pink flowers. Each background is sponge-painted, with thick, luscious texture. Hidden in each spread is a little orange worm, accompany Black Bird as she discovers the many colors that can be seen throughout the day, from the blazing yellow of the newly risen sun to the quiet blue of the moon against a darker blue sky.

The bold, brief text names the bird and the color in each page and nothing more, but the pictures open up older readers to speculation on a possible story. Why is the bird accompanied by the worm? Is she not hungry? Are they friends? Babies can also appreciate the bold contrasting colors and practice pointing and turning pages as they view each new color and shape.

The book itself is a medium-sized square, about 7x7 inches. It's a thinner cardboard than some board books, but without any additional moving parts should be sturdy enough for many small hands (and mouths) to enjoy it.

Verdict: This departure from Light's usual artistic style will be a welcome addition to board book collections, especially for the youngest of listeners. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763690670; Published March 2018 by Candlewick; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lola Dutch by Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright

An exuberant and imaginative character springs to life in this debut picture book from a husband and wife team. Lola Dutch is, as her animal friends often say, “a little bit much.” She begins the day sliding down the banister of her Parisian-style apartment house, then creating a magnificent (and messy) breakfast. The next project for the day is a trip to the library, resulting in towers of books about inventors and artists which, of course, leads to some great art. After all this fun, Lola still has ideas but Bear is firm. It’s time for bed! But first there have to be bubble baths, bedtime stories, and a majestic bed fort. But maybe sometimes simpler is better? Finally, Lola is tucked into her own gilt bed, in her pink room, with Bear to tuck her in and say goodnight.

The story is illustrated in soft pastels and watercolors with many homages to famous artists and authors. In her imagination Lola travels through a papercut landscape of Matisse, crosses a bridge over a Monet lily pond, and she and her friends create magnificent portraits in the style of Klimt, van Gogh, and Picasso, among others. The book itself is a creative adventure, with a dollhouse printed on the back of the jacket and paper dolls to cut out and play with.

This was fun and exuberant. Fancy Nancy fans are sure to enjoy it, as well as Eloise aficionados. The things is, it’s awfully similar to Eloise. Lola lives in a mansion, accompanied only by Bear, Gator, Crane, and Pig. They are too subservient to her whims to be family, and Bear especially seems to act much like a combined butler and nanny. All of the books they see at the library are older classics, scientists, and artists, nearly all male. Some of the names include Da Vinci, Bell, Edison, Morse, Dickens, Bronte, and Austen, and the main artists are Matisse and Monet.

It’s a cute book. But do we really need another book about a privileged white girl who gets to explore her dreams and artistic interests with no curbs or barriers? I’d argue that we don’t. Fancy Nancy is, I think, popular precisely because it features an everyday little girl making the most of what she has - Fancy Nancy can make even a motel visit into something special. Crafty Chloe makes things with her own two hands - she doesn’t need an artists’ studio, professional tools, and a mansion setting to let her creativity free.

Verdict: Is this cute? Yes. The pictures are adorable, the additional activities fun, and the cheerful text attractive. Will kids check it out? Sure. Will it be memorable? I doubt it. It’s time we saw more girls of different races exploring their creativity - and took it out of the city mansion setting. An additional purchase at most.

ISBN: 9781681195513; Published 2018 by Bloomsbury; Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sinking the Sultana by Sally M. Walker

Walker sets the scene for this horrific maritime disaster by walking readers through the history of transport - and steamboats - on the Mississippi river. From this more industrial history, she moves to an overview of the Civil War, focuses on several soldiers who will be involved in the disaster. These and thousands of other soldiers, released from prison camps in the South, prepare to head home on the doomed steamboat. Walker builds the suspense - and also the evidence - adding quotes, evidence, and introducing more key players. Finally, in the seventh chapter, it all comes to a head with the Sultana’s explosion - and the deaths of thousands of men, as well as other passengers. The aftermath is shown through survivor’s accounts, the experiences of rescuers, and what little is known of the investigation at the time. Finally, the verdict is reached - and no one is held responsible for the disaster, clearly due to a combination of bribery, greed, incompetence, and sheer bad luck.

Walker lists the prevailing theories of the time, later evidence, and the fates of those few who left accounts and whose names were known. A final author’s note discusses Walker’s investigation the story and the societies which keep the tale of the Sultana alive. There is also a glossary, bibliography, and index. The advance review copy I saw did not include all the art, but the final edition includes multiple maps, drawings, and photographs.

This account steps outside the usual fare of battles and major players to illuminate bribery and corruption - and the tragic results for everyday soldiers and their families. Walker also talks about the rescue efforts and humanity of local families who helped the survivors, many of whom had recently been their enemies.

Verdict: As I continue to update the 900s, I look not only for broad overviews but for titles that show new perspectives and different views of past conflicts. This is a good example of that, showing the effects of war on ordinary soldiers and families, as well as discussing the causes and aftermath of a preventable disaster. A well-written and interesting look not only at a little-known disaster but also at the history of steamboats and the mid-south area.

ISBN: 9780763677558; Published October 10 by Candlewick; Galley provided by publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Putting my money where my mouth is: Other Awards


There are other awards, which are not Cybils or ALA. Hard to believe I know, but they do exist! I have a sort of random selection of awards that I've found work well in our library. I had a beautiful, comprehensive list of them.... which I lost. So I had to recreate it. There are a lot more, especially in the teen realm, but I don't really use those much.

Books reviewed on my main blog are linked to their review. (P) indicates they were purchased for the library. (R) means it was read and listed on my shorter review blog, Flying Off My Bookshelf.

Edgar Award (juvenile nominations)

  • Audacity Jones steals the show by Kirby Larson
    • Available in the consortium
  • Vanished by James Ponti (P)
  • Assassin's curse by Kevin Sands
    • Available in the consortium
  • First class murder by Robin Stevens
  • Newsprints by Xu Ru (P) (R)
CLEL Bell Awards
  • Library book by Tom Chapin (R)
    • Available in the consortium
  • Little plane learns to write by Stephen Savage (P)
  • Say Zoop! by Herve Tullet (P)
  • Motor Goose by Rebecca Colby (P) (R)
  • Things to do with dad by Sam Zuppardi
Gryphon Award
  • Hidden life of a toad by Doug Wechsler (P)
  • Honor Books
    • Dog on a frog by Kes Gray (P) (R)
    • King Flashypants and the evil emperor by Andy Riley
      • Available in the consortium
    • Sam the man and the rutabaga plan by Frances O'Roark Dowell
      • Available in the consortium
Elizabeth Burr/Worzalla Award
  • Deadly flowers by Sarah L. Thomson (P)
Jane Addams Children's Book Award
  • Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson
    • Available in the consortium
  • Sachiko by Caren Stelson (P)
  • Honor Books
    • First step by Susan Goodman (R)
      • Available in the consortium
    • I Dissent by Debbie Levy (R)
      • Available in the consortium
    • We will not be silent by Russell Freedman (P)
    • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
      • Available in the consortium
Scott O'Dell Award
  • Beyond the bright sea by Lauren Wolk
    • Received as part of a publisher prize. Added to the library
Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Different pond by Bao Phi (P) (R)
Ezra Jack Keats Book Award
  • Crown: an ode to the fresh cut by Derrick Barnes
    • Available in the consortium
  • Muddy: The story of Blues legend Muddy Waters (illustrator Evan Turk) (R)
    • Available in the consortium

Putting my money where my mouth is: ALA awards 2017


I don't follow awards slavishly; I feel that winning an award and appealing to kids in general and my specific audience in particular are two (three?) different things. Still, it's good to be aware of what's out there and I do get school assignments for award-winning books. We are having a big awards display in March, and since the ALA awards are a large portion of children's awards, it makes sense to focus a post on them. (Note that I have left out most, if not all, of the teen fiction titles - I don't purchase in that area)

Books reviewed on my main blog are linked to their review. (P) indicates they were purchased for the library. (R) means it was read and listed on my shorter review blog, Flying Off My Bookshelf.

Newbery Medal Winner
  • Hello universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (P)
    • Honors
    • Crown: an ode to the fresh cut by Derrick Barnes
      • Available in the consortium
    • Long way down by Jason Reynolds (P)
    • Piecing me together by Renee Watson
      • Available in the consortium
Caldecott Medal Winner
  • Wolf in the snow by Matthew Cordell
    • Honors
    • Big cat, little cat by Elisha Cooper (R)
      • Available in the consortium
    • Crown: an ode to the fresh cut by Derrick Barnes
      • Available in the consortium
    • Different pond by Bao Phi (P) (R)
    • Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (P)
Sibert Award
  • Twelve days in May by Larry Dane Brimmer (P)
    • Honors
    • Chef Roi Choi and the street food remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (R)
      • Available in the consortium
    • Grand Canyon by Jason Chin (P)
    • Not so different by Shane Burcaw (P)
    • Sea otter heroes by Patricia Newman (P)
Geisel Award
Pura Belpre Awards
  • La princesa and the pea by Susan Middleton Elya (P)
  • All around us by Xelena Gonzalez
    • Available in the consortium
  • Frida Kahlo and her animalitos by Monica Brown (R)
    • Available in the consortium
  • Lucky broken girl by Ruth Behar (P)
    • Publisher prize
  • Honors
  • Epic fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya (P)
    • Publisher prize
  • First rule of punk by Celia Perez (P)
    • Publisher prize
Schneider Family Book Awards
  • Silent days, silent dreams by Allen Say
    • Available in the consortium
  • Macy McMillan and the rainbow goddess by Shari Green (P)

Putting my money where my mouth is: Cybils Awards 2017

The Awards Hibiscus

I have been involved with Cybils since 2009, specifically in the nonfiction divisions, but also in picture books, graphic novels, and easy readers/early chapters. Cybils is unique in that it is a grassroots award; nominations are public, judges are chosen from a varied group of parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, authors, and educators. The twin criteria are child appeal and literary quality and we also look at diversity. Shortlists are announced on New Year's Day and winners on Valentine's Day.

Books reviewed on my main blog are linked to their review. (P) indicates they were purchased for the library. (R) means it was read and listed on my shorter review blog, Flying Off My Bookshelf. Winners in each category are highlighted. (Final note - as I do not purchase ya fiction, I have not included that category).

Board Books
Early Chapters
Easy Readers
  • What makes a monster by Jess Keating (P)
  • Shark lady by Jess Keating (R)
    • Available in our consortium
  • Once upon a jungle by Laura Knowles (P) (R)
  • Danza by Duncan Toniatuah (R)
    • Available in our consortium
  • Hatching chicks in room 6 by Caroline Arnold (P) (R)
  • Adrift at sea by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch (R)
    • Available in our consortium
  • Dazzle ships by Chris Barton (R)
    • Available in our consortium
Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels
Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
  • Miss Ellicott's School for the magically minded by Sage Blackwood
    • Available in the consortium
  • Countdown conspiracy by Katie Slivensky (P)
  • Dragon with a chocolate heart by Stephanie Burgis (P)
  • Last day on Mars by Kevin Emerson
    • Available in the consortium
  • Face like glass by Frances Hardinge
    • Available in the consortium
  • Spirit hunters by Ellen Oh (P)
  • Properly unhaunted place by William Alexander (P)
Fiction Picture Books
  • After the fall by Dan Santat (P) (R)
  • Book of mistakes by Corinna Luyken (R)
    • Received from a publisher as a prize. Added to the library.
  • Big cat, little cat by Elisha Cooper (R)
    • Available in my consortium
  • Escargot by Dashka Slater (R)
  • Creepy pair of underwear by Aaron Reynolds (P) (R)
  • Baabwaa and Wooliam by David Elliott (R)
    • Available in my consortium
  • Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon
    • Available in my consortium
Junior High Nonfiction
  • Whydah by Martin Sandler (P)
  • Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School football team by Steve Sheinkin (P)
  • Motor girls by Sue Macy (P)
  • Poison by Sarah Albee (P)
  • Bound by Ice by Sandra Neil Wallace (P)
  • Isaac the alchemist by Mary Losure
    • Available in the consortium
  • Locked up for freedom by Heather Schwartz
    • Available in the consortium
    • Will purchase later - direct from publisher
Middle Grade Fiction
  • Amina's voice by Hena Khan (P)
  • Armstrong and Charlie by Steven Frank
    • Available in the consortium
  • Insignificant events in the life of a cactus by Dusti Bowling
    • Available in the consortium
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz (P)
  • Epic fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
    • Received from a publisher as a prize. Added to the library.
  • Restart by Gordon Korman (P)
  • Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel
    • Available in my consortium
Middle Grade Nonfiction
Poetry
  • Out of wonder by Kwame Alexander
    • Available in my consortium
  • One last word by Nikki Grimes
    • Available in my consortium
  • Bull by David Elliott
    • Available in my consortium
  • Fresh-picked poetry by Michelle Schaub (R)
    • Available in my consortium
  • I'm just no good at rhyming by Chris Harris (P)
  • Miguel's brave knight by Margarita Engle
    • Available in my consortium
  • Keep a pocket in your poem by J. Patrick Lewis (R)
    • Available in my consortium
Senior High Nonfiction
  • Uprooted: The Japanese American experience in World War II by Albert Marrin (P)
  • Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman
    • Available in my consortium
  • Dog in the cave by Kay Frydenborg (P)
  • Alice Paul and the fight for women's rights by Deborah Kops (P)
  • How dare the sun rise: Memoirs of a war child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana (P)
  • Queer, there, and everywhere by Sarah Prager (P)
  • March against fear by Ann Bausum (P)
Young Adult Graphic Novels
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden (P)
  • Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld
    • Available in my consortium
  • Soupy leaves home by Cecil Castellucci
    • Available in my consortium
  • New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China by Gene Luen Yang (P)
  • Buddha: An enlightened life by Kieron Moore
    • Available in my consortium
  • Tyson Hesse's Diesel: Ignition (P)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

This week at the library; or, Vacation is all gone now

We finally got in a great starting group for Anime Club!
Happening at the library
  • Monday
    • Sensory Playgroup
    • Tiny Tots
    • Vacation!
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions)
    • Lego Club
    • Vacation!
  • Wednesday
    • Winter Wigglers: Obstacle Course (2 sessions)
    • Worked 12-8
  • Thursday
  • Friday
I am pleased that I was gone for 5 days (if you count the weekend) and I only had one voicemail - and that was a hang-up so it doesn't count. I am not a fan of phones. Lots of deadlines this week, mostly for scheduling and things like the STEM calendar. March and April are done! Email me if you want to be added to the list for the editable publisher file!

I also had a book club that went long - and confirmed me in my suspicion that few kids nowadays know much about history. We had a vigorous discussion about dates (no, I was NOT born in the 60s *rolls eyes*) and about whether Snow Treasure is true or not (it isn't - it's historical fiction).

I'm glad I remembered to go to the HEAL committee meeting. It's a planning committee for a wellness program with a lot of different participants from various county groups. I think I've got some possible spots for Library on the Go this summer.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Bolivar by Sean Rubin

I usually don't like big, bulky graphic novels that are more art than words. Or books about New York. Or philosophical treatises about what people see or don't see around them.

This book has all of those things. I loved it anyways.

The story begins subtly, in the mosaics on the end pages. They show big, green and gray, clawed feet moving alongside a pair of small, human footprints. The title page and opening are lovingly created, showing a busy New York with tight-packed brownstones and patches of green and trees. A voice over announces a new dinosaur exhibit, talking about their extinction. Slowly, the reader realizes there's something... different in the picture. Until the story begins and we know the truth - there is a real, live dinosaur in New York. His name is Bolivar and this is his story.

Text is interspersed with full-page illustrations, alternating with comic panels. Readers will follow along Bolivar's somewhat lonely life, snickering at the sometimes humorous way he lives "The forms said you couldn't have any dogs or cats in the apartment. Bolivar didn't have any dogs or cats, so he was allowed to live there." But someone does notice Bolivar - Sybil. A small, blonde girl next door. Sybil's mother is too busy with work, errands, and life in general to listen to Sybil and her classmates just make fun of her. But she's determined to prove Bolivar really exists. Armed with a camera, she sets out to capture her proof, and in the process explore New York. But things don't end the way she expects; when Bolivar is mistaken for the mayor and outed as a dinosaur by the famous (white, male) paleontologist, Sybil starts feeling sorry for him. Eventually, Sybil realizes that what she really wants is a friend - and Bolivar decides that maybe having just a few people see him won't be so bad after all.

It's disappointing that in such a diverse city all the main characters of the story (besides the dinosaur) are white. However, at least the crowds, people, and various staff show a little more diversity although it's ironic that a story about not noticing what's around you picks such a small portion of the population to focus on...

Despite this drawback, the art is exquisite, full of detail and obvious love for the giant city and its busy inhabitants. Lots of cross-hatching, earth tones, and many clever details fill the story. It's not exactly a middle grade title, nor yet a beginning chapter, but I plan to introduce it to my 3rd and 4th graders. I can see it being used in classrooms as well, for observation and story pacing.

Verdict: I don't often buy Archaia's titles - they tend to be more expensive and leaning towards the artistic rather than the popular. But this charming title will definitely be attractive to my readers (when it was pulled out in our recent unboxing event several kids immediately slapped their name on it) and an excellent book club pick. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781684150694; Published November 28, 2017 by Archaia; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Beanstalker and other hilariously scary tales by Kiersten White, illustrated by Karl Kwasny

This was another choice for my October Book Explosion club meeting (genre - fantasy) which I did not have time to read. It turned out to be quite awesome, but not quite right for any of the kids who attended that meeting, so it's just as well nobody wanted it although there's still a chance it will get picked by a latecomer!

Apparently this was inspired by a series of tweets from the author, which I missed as I do not tweet. It's not quite fractured fairy tale fare, although very close, and it's a mix of gory, gruesome, and just gross. But it's also quite funny and I giggled all through it.

The story opens with Rapunzel in her tower and Prince Charming coming to save her. Only her "fair hair" isn't what he thinks it is and Prince Charming *cough* or Charring, has his own secrets.... following her stepmother, we visit another kingdom where everyone loves the sweet, charming, lovely, Snow White. They love her so much they prefer to wake at night, as she does, and everyone looks rather pale... When the stepmother sends her stepson Jack away, he winds up at a kingdom that is looking for a princess - and they decide to set a test with a pea in the bed. Except Jack never was good at spelling (or eating vegetables) and he leaves something quite different in the bed... not to mention the pease porridge...

So it continues, weaving in classic fairy tales, adding zombies, arsonists, and vampires, interspersed with rewritten nursery rhymes with quite a different meaning. Finally, just when the narrator is about to give up hope (along with the stepmother - yes, it's the same stepmother in all the stories) Jack manages to do something clever, for the first time in his life. Er, maybe. Maybe not. Yeah, definitely no sequel for this book...

Verdict: Recommend to readers who like Lubar's Weenie books or Gidwitz deliciously dark fairy tale fantasies. Just...don't eat the pease porridge. Ever.

ISBN: 9780545940603; Published 2017 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consoritum

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: One happy tiger by Catherine Rayner

I hadn't realized Rayner had created a board book until it came up in the Cybils finalist list. I enjoy her sketchy illustrations and have used several of her picture books in storytimes and toy bags in the past. The illustrations in this book are actually from an older, British picture book - Augustus and his smile. But how does her art work in a board book setting?

Against an orange background, a sad tiger sits alone, facing away from the reader. But on the next page, he discovers two little red bugs on a leaf. Then the background changes to green, against which three blue and green birds shine. The tiger's pleasure and surprise grows as she sees four butterflies, fluttering about the page. Five transparent dragonflies appear next, then six footprints in the original orange world. The tiger, now happy, bounces cheerfully through a rainstorm, stretches sleepily in the company of eight bees, swims with fish in a rainbow of tigers. In the last spread, the happy tiger looks at ten of her new friends.

The book is a little taller than the typical board book - think roughly the size of the Scarry classic, I am a bunny. The pages are sturdy but a little thinner than the heavy-duty cardboard used in board books.

Although this is primarily a counting book, there's still a slight storyline as the tiger's moods change. Rayner's art is colorful but not lurid - soft blues, greens, and oranges meld throughout the story. The splashy pictures mimic a child's drawing in some cases, as in the simple fish shapes sketched into the water, and in others show the power of line and movement, as in the messy scattering of line that so beautifully captures the tiger's anthropomorphic expressions.

Verdict: This book will be an excellent choice not only for toddlers, learning numbers, and identifying animals. It's also a good resource for parents and teachers wanting to work with children on recognizing emotions, if they're ready for more subtle changes in expression.

ISBN: 9781589252349; This edition published 2017 by Tiger Tales; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Alfie by Thyra Heder

This picture book absolutely made me do a doubletake and then I laughed and laughed!

The story begins with a little girl with dark skin and crinkly hair telling about how she got Alfie on her sixth birthday. Although at first she spends lots of time with him, when Alfie doesn't respond she gradually loses interest and on her seventh birthday he disappears. This sad news is followed by a stark white page with the little girl and Alfie on opposite pages, smudged in shadow.

Then the story flips and Alfie is telling the story of how he met Nia. (I thought at first the story was repeating and then - doubletake!) Little does Nia know, but he's been appreciating her all along, loving her presents and wanting to show her how much he likes her. On her seventh birthday he sets out to find a present and after various advice ends up outside where he falls asleep in the pond. Waking up in spring, he wakes up just in time to find a present for Nia's birthday, happy that he's made it in time and they are seven together.

Of course, the joke is that time just moves to slowly for Alfie he hasn't realized he's lost a year! The author's note talks about her own Alfie and how she lost interest but he was there when she came back and rediscovered how interesting turtles are. The final page shows the smudged shadows of Nia and Alfie, together again.

This is a pitch-perfect story on so many levels. It has an unusual pet, a very realistic child who loses interest and then rediscovers her friend, subtle bits of humor throughout, and a beautifully and lovingly drawn African-American family.

Verdict: A delightful addition for storytime or your pet collections. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781419725296; Published 2017 by Abrams; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sick soil: The dust bowl by Kevin Blake

This new series from Bearport offers a unique look at disasters throughout history by framing them in light of the ecological causes and effects. The series includes famous incidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the Dust Bowl. It also includes more generic eco-disasters including incidents of high amounts of air pollution, climate change, and polluted water.

I was sent a copy of the title featuring the historical disaster of the Dust Bowl for review. The story begins with a dramatic recounting of the dust storms and what it was like to experience one. However, the main focus of this title is a little different than most historical disaster books. The geography of the great plains and the history of white settlement, emphasizing the planting of wheat, is covered in detail. A massive drought, combined with the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, started the disaster. This might have been mitigated by the natural protections of the plains; however, lacking the native grasses, the topsoil simply dried up and blew away. Millions of pounds of dust was blown off of the prairie, blackening the sky and coating cities as far away as New York. The human and economic cost of the disaster is shown in vintage photographs and quotes from people living in the Dust Bowl. Finally, in 1940, the combination of the economic impact of the New Deal and the return of the rain ended the drought and the black blizzards. However, the story doesn't end there. Long-term changes in farming practices and from the migration of farmers to the cities changed history once again.

Back matter includes a discussion of measures taken to prevent similar catastrophes as well as a brief discussion of the possibility of similar or even worse events in the future due to climate change. A glossary, brief bibliography, and further reading is also included.

This is not a comprehensive history of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, or the environmental changes and farming choices that led to the ecological disaster. It's an introduction meant to capture the interest of struggling readers and give them a basic overview of the topic as well as encourage students to complete further research on the many topics presented. As such, it's an excellent resource.

Verdict: As I'm updating my resources on weather, history, and natural disasters, I think this is an excellent series that will see a lot of use both by individual students and in the classroom.

ISBN: 9781684022236; Published 2017 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, February 11, 2018

RA RA Read: Captain Underpants and other gross and silly books


Captain Underpants is a super popular series with boys and girls alike who love gross humor and off the wall silliness. This series appeals most to younger kids, who aren't ready for the more sophisticated humor (if you can call it that) of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Generally the cut-off for which my audience will enjoy Captain Underpants is between 4th and 5th grade (what Ms. Yingling calls "The Pilkey Line") Some Captain Underpants books are a mixture of text and comics (what I like to call graphic blends), while others are all comics.

In addition to the classic Captain Underpants books, currently being continued and republished in full color, Pilkey has several other series.

  • Ricky Ricotta (available both in black and white and in full color by Dan Santat)
  • Super Diaper Baby
  • Adventures of Ook and Gluk
  • Dog Man

Read-alikes for Captain Underpants (comics)
  • Lunch Lady by Jarrett Krosoczka 
    • These are more funny/adventure than potty humor, but have the same light touch and irreverant attitude. 
  • Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex 
    • This is a trilogy about a barbarian who gets transported to earth - specifically to a third grade special education classroom. It's funny and gross and empowering and also, unfortunately, only partly still in print. The paperbacks don't hold together well, so if you're going to look for it try to find prebound copies. 
  • Knuckle and Potty Destroy Happy World by James Proimos (ISBN: 9780805091557) 
    • This is a stand-alone title about two book characters who are tired of their saccharine stories. 
  • Tyrannosaurus Ralph by Nate Evans
    • This is a new graphic novel series featuring a wimpy boy who gets his brain transplanted into a dinosaur - and himself transported off earth to fight in an alien arena.
Read-alikes for Captain Underpants (chapter books)
  • Melvin Beederman by Greg Trine 
    • There are 8 books in this series, which is basically a prose version of Captain Underpants, more or less. Unfortunately, I've never been able to get kids really into them. 
  • Super Chicken Nugget Boy by Josh Lewis 
    • 4 titles in this series of a boy who turns into a superhero. A giant chicken nugget superhero. It's a little more challenging of a read, but it's a good choice for younger kids who like the gross and silly but are able to read longer chapters. 
  • Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist by Jim Benton 
    • This funny series features a girl who's a mad scientist and her wacky adventures. 
  • Vordak the Incomprehensible by Scott Seeger 
    • There are three books in this series from a super villain's perspective. Things don't quite go his way, but that doesn't stop him from grandiose plans and teaching his audience just how to be the best evil villain they can be (only not the best ever because that's for Vordak the Incomprehensible) 
Read-alikes for Captain Underpants (graphic blends)
  • Danny Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon 
    • The 11th and final title was published in 2016 (sob). The humor in these is different - it's more snarky and tongue-in-cheek, but they're still a great read-alike for kids who like funny and some comics. 
  • Tom Watson
    • Watson's series include the Stick Dog and Stick Cat titles. They're much less gross than Pilkey, especially since they feature animals and not humans, but they often appeal to a wider range of kids and parents like them better than Pilkey.
  • Andy Griffiths 
    • Griffiths is sort of the Australian Pilkey, but be aware that his books dial the gross and irreverant factor way, WAY up. Killer Koalas especially is really out there. However, kids love them and the scratchy illustrations that fill them as well. He has several series and stand-alones as well as some easy readers. 
    • 13-Story Treehouse (series)
    • Killer Koalas from Outer Space 
    • The big fat cow that goes kapow

Saturday, February 10, 2018

This week at the library; or, Vacation come to me...

I drew the lines, but he cut and wove it all himself!
What's happening at the library
I started working on summer reading more intensively this week, as well as programming, scheduling, still updating maker kits, and realizing that I have way too much paperwork on my desk. I took Friday off and I won't be back at work until next Wednesday, when I'll be working an evening shift. Must remember that...

A vast winter storm was foretold and school was cancelled Friday, so I thought we'd better cancel Anime Club. I cleaned off my desk and left. Now how many days will it take me to stop thinking about work.... probably the number of vacation days before I go back to work!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Where's Halmoni? by Julie Kim

This is a delightful, new, and unique book to offer beginning chapter readers. The story begins on the endpages, as a grandmother buys a cupboard... and something surprising comes out of it and swallows her up!

When her grandchildren arrive a few moments (and pages) later, they go on a journey to rescue her, encountering magical creatures both helpful and frightening, a clever rabbit, and one scary tiger. There are all sorts of clever jokes and hidden surprises for readers to discover throughout the book, as well as a satisfying story.

Kim's art is a blend of traditional and contemporary. The kids wear contemporary clothes and equally contemporary grouchy expressions (long journeys in a magical world are exhausting!) and there are comic panels and and a linear flow of the story. But there are also fantastic creatures from Korean legend and culture, Korean script interwoven, and lush blues and greens, vivid oranges, and lots of curving lines and smooth earth tones.

The final pages translate the Korean language included and an author's note explains some of the history and tradition, both cultural and personal, behind the book.

Verdict: I have a small Korean population which I think will appreciate this, but all of my graphic novel fans are sure to find it a delightful adventure with funny jokes and interesting creatures. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781632170774; Published 2017 by little bigfoot/Sasquatch; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Cosmic Commandos by Christopher Eliopoulos

Jeremy is a nasty kid. I'm just going to get it out there. He thinks his life "stinks" because he can't play video games, has to go to school and do homework, and is always getting compared to his perfect twin brother, Justin. Justin is almost ridiculously perfect, preferring to clean his room, always making sure he does his homework and gets ready for the day at school, and desperate for Jeremy's attention no matter how nasty Jeremy is to him.

Then Jeremy finds a ring in a cereal box, makes a wish, and suddenly he has actually become a Cosmic Commando, from his favorite video game. Except he's never been able to beat the game and now the villains are coming to life too! Jeremy is sure that he can do it all on his own, if he just plays the game enough to be able to duplicate it in real life - and things would be a lot better if Justin just disappeared. But Justin keeps trying to help, no matter how mean Jeremy is, because he knows that the reading the manual - and working together - will get them through this.

Eliopoulos' style will be familiar to readers of Franklin Richards and Meltzer's Ordinary People Change the World series. Even when they're in dire straits or miserable, both boys have big heads, cute grins, and cartoon eyes. With matching hair-styles and faces, the only way to tell the twins apart is their different colored shirts (and Jeremy's perpetual scowl). The cover of the book is designed like a cereal "made with whole grain excitement" and the plot is a classic Saturday morning cartoon, translated into the real world.

It's funny with several moments of feels, cute kids, and a satisfying ending. But the characters are just so...unpleasant. Jeremy is a really nasty kid and it's hard to believe his parents never noticed how he tortures his twin brother (Or took him to therapy. That kid needs some serious therapy.) But Justin isn't very realistic either, seeming like a cartoon version of the "good kid" and his doormat behavior is almost as annoying as Jeremy's whining.

Verdict: I've got lots of fans of Winick's HILO series and of course Wimpy Kid and this is definitely a close cousin to both of those series, albeit for a younger demographic. I just really dislike siblings who are nasty to each other with no consequences.

ISBN: 9781101994481; Published 2017 by Dial; Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Let's Go, Bobby! by Ruth Wielockx

A smiling brown bear sets off on a series of adventures, inviting readers to trace his path in numerous patterns. Bobby rides his bike in zigzags over the mountains, he rides a scooter in a spiral, a go-kart loops around flags in a circle, and so on. Each different pattern is impressed into the cardboard deep enough that a little toddler finger can easily trace it, but the pages are still sturdy and stiffened. Bobby dresses in a different suit for each vehicle, from a conductor's cap on the train to a sailor suit on the sea. The left side of the page includes a picture of the vehicle and Bobby, in a stiff pose, hands at his sides, showing off his outfit. The right side includes the pattern with a few details like trees, houses, and the appropriate road surface.

The book itself is a large rectangle, about 7x10 inches. There are ten spreads, each indented page is backed by a regular page so it doesn't weaken the pages. The art is bright and cheerful, it almost looks like posed clay creations.

This is perfect for developing motor skills, especially those used in writing, in young children. It's not ideal as a storytime book, as every kid will want to trace Bobby's path, but perfect for one-on-one reading.

Verdict: A must-have for your board book collection. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781605373614; Published 2017 by Clavis; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

How to grow a dinosaur by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Mike Boldt

Esbaum and Boldt make a great team in this humorous but sweet story of a new sibling.

A orange dino, complete with suburban parents (mom wears capris and dad a suit) is thrilled at the arrival of a new sibling. At least, it's going to be a sibling. Right now it's just an egg. Waiting is hard, but when the new baby finally arrives, a charming pink, big dino is ready, with all her best action figures, dino toys, balls, and sports equipment. But "BAD NEWS! Babies are too little to play." In fact, babies can't do much except make messes - so it's up to the older sibling to teach that baby everything! The time passes quickly playing peek-a-boo, learning to roar (gently), and helping figure out what's wrong when baby cries. Naturally, there are perils in baby's new world - a random cliff, saber-toothed tiger, and smoking volcano or two, but you, the big dinosaur, are there to smooth the way. Just make sure you don't teach baby dino any bad behavior! Soon enough baby dino will be roaring, playing, and loving you, the big sibling, because that's what you've shown them what to do!

There's no mention of the dinosaurs' gender, although readers may assume the older one to be male, from the sports equipment and rambunctious behavior. So make sure you remind yourself to use neutral or female pronouns. I like to remember this just to mix things up a little, so I'm not exclusively assuming all picture book characters to be male, which is alas, all too easy to fall into.

Boldt's art is friendly and cheerful, with some funny in-jokes for fans, like a copy of "I don't want to be a stegosaurus!" lying on the floor.

Verdict: Perfect for families looking for new sibling books that don't focus on the negative or assume sibling rivalry from the start. For storytime readers there's plenty of roaring, silly jokes, and dirty diapers. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399539107; Published 2018 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, February 5, 2018

Poop cures by Ellen Lawrence

Ever since our school district adopted a new curriculum, one school's fifth grade classes comes to me in the fall for materials for their inquiry projects. I usually start with a list of anywhere from 20-50 subjects and then work with the teachers and students to narrow them down as needed. Certain topics show up regularly - mythology, space, a variety of famous figures both old and new, animals, and World War II. But every year I get a few new subjects (one of my favorites was "frozen bodies" later narrowed down to cryogenics. That's a fifth grader with imagination!) and this year a lot of kids asked for... books about poop! For which I take sole responsibility, since I booktalked all my animal feces books to them at their last library visit! The call went forth for More Poop Books and Bearport has answered the call with a new series, "The Scoop on Poop."

I received one title, Poop Cures, for review and it does not disappoint. There are photos of feces under the microscope and historic cures involving poop. Lest you think the days of poop as medicine has passed, the book cheerfully informs you of cures in World War II for dysentery involving fresh camel poop (get it while it's hot!). The story doesn't end there - every kid needs to know the whys and werefores of fecal transplants right? Of course they do! And this book delivers with an explanation of bacteria and the nitty-gritty of fecal transplants and poop pills.

Back matter includes an activity to design your own (imaginary) poop cure and a picture glossary, index, and further suggested reading. This series includes six titles; Building with Poop, Poop detectives, Poop eaters, Poop power, and Poop's many uses.

Verdict: Kids don't get tired of the gross and icky and this new series mixes science with some classic gross-out information and a touch of humor. A must-have for any library with elementary school students.

ISBN: 9781684022496; Published 2017 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Welcome to the children's area, with a side-discussion on tub books

Duplo table, tool bench, and board books. The board books
have colored dots on the spines and matching colored
strips on the shelves to keep them roughly in order
It's been a long time since I showed off our children's area and an even longer time since I talked about why and how we collect and circulate what I call "tub books" i.e. paperback 8x8 tv tie-ins.

Since I just finished, in early January 2018, completely weeding and revamping our tub books and finished it up by reorganizing the children's area with my associates' help (she also reorganized the board books) this seemed like a good time.

Our play area is the most heavily used section of the library. It is in the back corner of the children's area and has one entrance - through the shelves coming from the children's area. At the back, it opens into the Storyroom (the door is always unlocked since the emergency exit is through there). It used to be a complete circle of shelves, but I removed one to put in our market stall. There's a secondary play area, intended for older toddlers and preschoolers, on the other side of the stall, next to the circulating toys.

Above the board books are the backs of the cd holders and above the tub books we keep book bundles for checkout. Additional toys (puzzles, flannelboard sets, etc.) are located on a shelf between the youth services desk and the flannelboard wall.

Book bundles above the shelves, board books and tub
books on the shelves. Market stall to the right.
My main intent for this area is that it be a place where families can relax, play, use their imaginations, and interact. Occasionally I get asked where the "kids computers" are. Farther down the aisle, there are two public computers available for use (I opened up the aisle by the windows so busy parents, especially those with no second adult, can keep an eye on their kids while they get necessary work done on the computers). They do not have games or educational software loaded on them. They're just basic computers.

When I started designing the children's area (almost ten years ago now!) I made a conscious decision to stay away from technology and focus on hands-on, imaginative play. Every library creates their space to fit their community and this is what fits the majority of my community. Our schools have a plethora of technology, from ipads and smart boards in four year old kindergarten up to maker labs and robotics in middle and high school. I don't need to try and mimic this in the library. This is a place where families can come together and interact, build early literacy skills, and take a break from their busy lives.

It's almost always a mess. Kitchen toys, puzzle pieces, books, toy bags, often they're strewn abroad. I'm perfectly ok with this. It gets picked up eventually (usually by parents and kids, but sometimes by staff) and the fact that it's not pristine makes it more welcoming, in my opinion. It's often loud (yes, there's a hammer in the tool table). That's fine - it's as far as you can get from the quiet upstairs area and if people need quiet, there are times of the day when it is more peaceful. I often have homeschool families coming in during those times to study and work together or family visitation groups.

I created tub books back in... 2012 I think? I had noticed that people repeatedly asked for Barbie, Disney, and other media-related books. We had some interfiled in the picture books, but I was hoping to eventually move to neighborhoods there and I had noticed that the prebound books were often lost or missing, with prohibitive replacement costs, and frankly looked like crap regardless. If they were going to look so dingy, why not at least get them cheaper?

Tub books. We currently have 9 tubs, several of them shared.
Armchairs, slightly too large table, and Read and Grow chart
(1,000 books before kindergarten). There's also an art tub
for creations waiting to be picked up.
I bought a bunch of cheap dish tubs from Walmart and filled them with Berenstain Bears, Disney, Barbie, Dora, Little Golden Books, Clifford, superheroes, and Thomas. All in paperback (except those moved over from the picture books). They had a label with their tub designation (TUB DISNEY), a barcode, and an address label. No other processing. This mean I could waive the processing fee and make the cost of replacement a flat $5 (which I often waive anyways, especially if they've circulated a lot and were falling apart anyways.) The average life of these titles is about 30 circs, or around two years. I noticed an almost immediate change as soon as I introduced them. Families who had previously been divided, caregivers sitting on the couch and looking at their phones while children ranged restlessly about, were more frequently to be seen reading together. I could clearly hear that many of these adults struggled to read - I could hear them sounding out words, stumbling over sentences, and working hard to get through these books. But the kids listened. And the families were together. Having the familiar characters seemed to help both adults and children relax and enjoy their reading time together. I got a lot of feedback from caregivers that they felt more comfortable and less judged in the library (most of them did not say this directly, but that was the import of how they responded).

It may sometimes appear that I just randomly dump toys and books in the play area. But this simply isn't true. I spend a lot of time researching, looking at other libraries, talking to parents, and connecting with the community organizations to figure out the best design, most welcoming features, and affordable but sturdy toys.

Train table, entrance to the Storyroom
Every item, both books, toys, and furniture, that is added is carefully reviewed. Changes are made in the same way. The train table is a staple of the area, never moved or traded out for a different toy. It's a recognizable feature and one that children and families return to use again and again. I've replaced the entire table once and every few years I replace tracks and train cars.

Our original kitchen, added two years ago, was a cheap wooden one from Amazon. Thanks to a memorial donation, we were able to replace it with a market stall, sink, and stove to create a permanent kitchen area. Kids happily tie on aprons and cook, clean, and serve meals every day!

Our original loveseat was replaced, at my request, with two separate armchairs. It was rare for families to sit together on the loveseat, whereas the chairs are big enough for a caregiver and several children, or to stack up diaper bags and books.

Other side of the market stall - stove, sink, and
aprons hanging on the shelf.
Our original child-sized table (one of the first things I purchased - when I first started working here there was a table with a "do not move" sign on it. Being a rule-breaker, I promptly moved it and the legs fell off) was a cheap one that always wobbled. I hope to eventually bring in a new, child-sized table. The one we have is borrowed from the school-age area and is a little too large for the space.

Interchangeable toys include the tool table, a dollhouse (which needs to be replaced) and the duplo table. I also have a road mat/rug. When not in use, the toy sets are stored in the basement or lent out to other libraries. Eventually I'd like to add some more interactive toy sets to trade through, but that's a long-term goal.

Tub books

  • Barbie
  • Berenstain Bears/Clifford
    • Combined tub. I generally buy only the "original" Bears and do not purchase the "Living Light" titles.
  • Disney
    • 2 tubs, includes Pixar and Disney-themed Little Golden Books
  • Little (Golden Books)
    • Non-media titles, both classics like Pokey Little Puppy and newer titles
  • Paw (Patrol)/Peppa (Pig)
    • Combined tub with Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig titles
  • Star Wars/Superhero
    • Combined tub - includes all the Lego-themed titles as well
  • Thomas (the tank engine)
  • TV
    • TMNT, movie titles like Trolls, Blaze and other Nick titles, etc.


Links and resources for the children's area:

  • Read and Grow: 1,000 books before kindergarten
  • Train table - Melissa and Doug, $100 on Amazon
  • Market stall and kitchen pieces, $250-$600 at Community Playthings
    • These are expensive - I was only able to purchase them because of a memorial donation. But they are worth it. Very high-quality and have held up to constant use.
  • Tool bench - donated
  • Duplo table - bought on Amazon in the mists of time
  • Dollhouse - Melissa and Doug (falling apart)
  • Small toys and accessories - purchase on Amazon, donated, or purchased through Discount School Supply
Future additions
  • Child-sized table and chairs
  • Sturdy dollhouse
  • New/additional building tables
  • Additional slotted shelves for board book shelving
  • As always, I replace individual toys every few years

Saturday, February 3, 2018

This week at the library; or, Super Blue Blood Moon

Dinos from book club
Happening this week
Projects completed and in progress this week
  • Circulating maker kits
  • Planning programs (sometimes immediately before doing them)
  • Setting up February outreach
  • Reports, scheduling, and paperwork
  • Remote collections - putting together lists for the social issues units. I really want to have some book lists the teachers can just use and this seemed like a good place to start, especially since it's coming up at several schools and I'd done some work on it previously.
  • We won 25 brand-new books from Penguin Random House! An unboxing video is coming soon!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy by Dori Butler, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau

[Originally published March 3, 2010. Updated and revised.]

Once upon a time, there was a group of kids in the library who wanted dog books. Stories about dogs! Books about dogs with pictures! Anything on dogs! They liked dogs! They were very enthusiastic!

And I thought, "I should review that Buddy book," so I sat down and read it that evening....and fell in love.

Buddy (his name is really King, but....) is such a marvelous, distinctive character. Even children who are reluctant to read about an anthropomorphic animal will love Buddy's realistic, humorous, and believable voice. Buddy has been sent to the P-O-U-N-D; but he's sure it's a mistake and he's desperate to get out and find his girl, Kayla, who called him the "King of crime-solving". When he gets adopted by a new family, he's determined to use it as an opportunity to escape and find Kayla, but ends up helping his new owners instead.

Although there's a lot of humor and light-heartedness on the surface of the story, it's also full of suspence, genuine mystery, and some deep issues. Buddy's confusion and torn loyalties and the misery of the boy whose family has adopted Buddy will resonate with any child who's had to endure a divorce or experienced adoption or foster care. Unlike many beginning chapter books, there's a genuine mystery and a logical sequence of clues - with an unexpected ending, just in case you thought it was too easy!

Now eight years later, Buddy has a solid series of mysteries under his collar - and his backstory, from his time with owner Kayla, is being expounded in a series of easy readers.


Verdict: Dori Butler is definitely the go-to for mysteries for the younger set and this series has proved its worth over the years. Hand this one to kids who like animals, realistic stories, mysteries, and humor - there's something for everyone. A highly recommended series, widely available in a number of formats.

ISBN: 9780807509104; Published March 2010 by Albert Whitman; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Pennybaker School is headed for disaster by Jennifer Brown

Thomas has always thought of himself as a regular kid who goes to a regular school. Then his mom gets super-excited about his magic tricks, learned from his grandfather, and now he's headed to the eccentric, one might even say downright weird, Pennybaker school for the gifted. And he's wearing a tie. Can life get any worse?

Of course it can. Thomas is starting to think that maybe, just maybe, the new school won't be so bad. He's made some friends, sort of, gotten involved in the upcoming great spitball battle, and has even gotten a little interested in some classes. But then the head of Helen Heirmauser is stolen. It's the most hideous statue ever and Thomas can't understand why everyone reveres it so much, which makes him the natural suspect. Pretty soon the whole school - and his family - has turned against him. Not to mention most of the town. Now he has no choice but to join forces with the ultimate weird kid next door (Chip wears socks for whatever he's studying that day and talks like a Victorian novel) to solve the mystery and clear his name.

This book is extremely quirky. School Library Journal recommends it to readers who like Palacio's Wonder and, asides from my own dislike of that book, I have to say it's possibly one of the most ridiculous read-alikes I've encountered. Stuart Gibbs, maybe Gordon Korman, sure. Wonder? Um, no. One of the soul-searching moments of angst comes when Thomas encounters a student who is using his "gift" to tame hedgehogs. But his parents expect him to follow in their family's footsteps as a gifted taxidermist. The kids (and adults) put their hands over their hearts whenever they pass the statue or refer to Helen Heirmauser. Thomas' grandmother is having a pitched battle with his mother, who wants her to stay quietly at home while Grandma Jo would rather be skateboarding and doing parkour. Chip wears entomology socks. Part of the action takes place at the town roller rink, where Thomas agonizes over going out the security door.

Like I said, quirky.

While there are serious aspects to the book, especially the rather dark parts where Thomas' whole family basically deserts him because they think he's stolen the head, it's hard to imagine any kid taking the story seriously - let alone a sixth grader, which Thomas purports to be. The "message" of the book is about the importance of pursuing your dreams and special "gifts" and accepting differences, but it's so over the top that it's hard to translate to the real world. I'd also say, from an adult viewpoint, that while being yourself is awesome you still have to fit into society. But, setting aside all my personal thoughts on the book...

It's funny. Recommend it to kids who like quirky fiction, light-hearted mysteries, and funny school stories. Basically, it's more Wimpy Kid than Wonder, more Series of Unfortunate Events than Howe's Misfits.

Verdict: If you have fans of the above genres, it's a fine addition to your library. I'm not up for starting another series and don't have a lot of kids who appreciate quirky, so I'll pass on this series.

ISBN: 9781681191744; Published 2017 by Bloomsbury; Borrowed from another library in my consortium