Thursday, July 19, 2018

Texas trail to calamity: a Miss Mallard mystery by Robert Quackenbush

This is another title in Aladdin's new imprint, Quix, which features reprints and updated editions of early chapter books in a new layout for contemporary readers.

I remember the Miss Mallard mysteries, and several other Robert Quackenbush titles, from my own youth and was interested to see if they hold up to the test of time.

Miss Mallard is a duck detective, traveling the world to solve crimes. In this title, originally published in 1986, Miss Mallard is on vacation in Texas when she's thrown by her horse and ends up spending the night with the Butterballs. During her stay, she witnesses some mysterious behavior that culminates in the theft of an important document - "a list of the first three hundred duck families who settled in Texas". Luckily, with the skills of Miss Mallard, the thief is discovered and the document is safely taken to the museum.

Quackenbush's distinctive drawings, with heavy crosshatching and multiple shadows, have been somewhat lightened in some of the spot illustrations. Some full-page drawings are also included. As much as Quackenbush's art is part of my childhood, I have to say that it doesn't age well. The hats and almost Victorian style of the clothing, the dark, muddy drawings, and the cluttered backgrounds are not likely to appeal to most contemporary children. The Miss Mallard books in particular have not, I think, aged well and a mystery involving the (white duck?) settlers of Texas with no reference to the native or Mexican inhabitants who came first is rather tone-deaf.

Verdict: A nostalgic sigh for my youth, and I might be tempted to pick up some titles from other series, but these are unlikely to find an audience with children, unless their parents were fans in their own youth.

ISBN: 9781534413108; This edition published May 2018 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Small Readers: I wish I was an orca by Sandra Markle

I’m most familiar with Sandra Markle as the author of many excellent science books for middle grade readers, often for Lerner. So I was very interested when I saw she had written a series of easy readers under the label of Ranger Rick. Each of these books encourage readers to imagine they are an animal and then learn about how that animal lives.

This book focuses on orcas. Readers learn that orcas live in oceans, eat fish, seals, and whales, and their feeding habits differ from area to area. They live in pods and breathe air, and calves learn from their pod how to live as an orca. More facts about orcas are included on each page, along with photographs. On most spreads Ranger Rick, the raccoon, pops up to ask readers to imagine how they can relate to the orcas - what if their family had a special way of talking, what if they could see using echoes, etc. The final spread celebrates the reader and the orca’s special abilities.

Back matter includes additional facts about orcas, some activities for kids to try, a short glossary, and a link to a Ranger Rick website.

This is supposed to be a level 1 reader, “simple sentences for eager new readers,” but like most nonfiction titles actually is a much higher level, an M in the guided reading level system, due to the more specialized vocabulary. It’s also much more text-heavy than I usually see for beginning readers.

Verdict: If you are looking for more nonfiction easy readers for intermediate readers, this new series has proven to be a popular one in my library and will serve you well. The cartoon Ranger Rick was annoying to me, and I think few kids are famliiar with the logo anymore, but it’s not an integral part of the story.
ISBN: 9780062432087; Published 2017 by HarperCollins; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Honey by David Ezra Stein

The bear from David Ezra Stein’s Leaves returns in a new, tasty-sweet adventure.

Bear, after his first hibernation, awakes hungry. As he searches for food, he remembers the sweet taste of honey from his first year but it’s too soon for honey, even though he diligently follows the bees and regularly checks their tree. The bear enjoys the warmth and feel of spring, the rush of rain, the sweet taste of berries, but he still longs for honey. Finally, the time has come and there is honey, “Warm, golden, sweet, clear, slowly flowing, spicy, aromatic, sparkling with sunlight” just like his memories and his new experiences in the water, air, and meadows of the spring and summer. The summer ends with bear remembering the sweetness of summer - and the taste of honey.

Stein’s swashy, swirling colors show a plump bear amidst the color and verve of spring. Many of the illustrations are set in rough frames, like little glimpses into the bear’s summer adventures. The bees are quick little scribbles of yellow and white wings, the bear a big gray shape with a friendly, sweet look. The pictures slowly shift from the golden-brown vegetation, dusted with snow, left over from winter to the bright green of spring. The greens deepen and the sunlight grows into summer, until it is time for the gold of honey and the soft nights of autumn and blues and browns begin to creep over the landscape.

Verdict: A perfect storytime choice for reading about bears, seasons, or learning to wait patiently, this delightful sequel is a must-have for your library collection.
ISBN: 9781524737863; Published 2018 by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 16, 2018

Baby Penguin's First Waddles by Ben Richmond

This is part of a series of nonfiction picture books produced by the American Museum of Natural History.

This is the story of the first part of an Emperor penguin chick's life and does an adequate job of describing their behavior, habitat, how the parents raise them, and the wider world of Antarctica. The whole is illustrated with vibrant photographs.

There are no sources or further reading, but the last page discusses the dangers of global warning and there is a note from Paul Sweet, the museum's Collections Manager in the ornithology department.

The text is in rather large chunks and although it's a large font is not suited to be read aloud because it's so long. However, this is a great text for fluent readers in the early grades who are starting their first research projects. This is something my school district focuses on, so this would be a great text for them to use. Younger children will appreciate the plethora of photographs.

Verdict: Penguins are perennially popular and this is a strong addition to expand your collection in this area.

ISBN: 9781454927013; Published 2018 by Sterling; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, July 14, 2018

This week at the library; or, Back into the fray

Giant beetle!
What's happening at the library
As you may be able to guess from how early I've been showing up at work, my a/c is still out. We had 52 people at Storywagon, which is about average if a school doesn't come. Life continues to be exciting. Our desk chair broke - the back sort of fell off, which was interesting, and the city department showed up to mow right in the middle of the outdoor part of my associate's bug program...

My a/c was fixed on Friday afternoon! Woo! A good program on Saturday - not too busy, could probably have started later and gone until 2 with people getting really into it later on. Saturday program for July completed!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Sparks! By Ian Boothby, illustrated by Nina Matsumoto, color by David Dedrick

The Graphix imprints presents another cinematic graphic novel; at first a light-hearted and humorous adventure, bringing to mind Tom Watson’s popular Stick Dog and Stick Cat adventures, there are several more serious themes for readers to pick apart from the narrative.


In a peaceful, everyday town, a baby falls down a well… and a gallant dog springs to the rescue. But this is no ordinary dog! This dog is really… a cat! In fact, it’s two cats. As we slowly learn throughout the story, August, the inventor of the dog suit, was a naive kitten who ventured outside and paid dearly for his curiosity, being catnapped and tortured by evil scientists. During his time in the lab, he meets Charlie, a daring cat who’s willing to try anything to gain his freedom. Together, the two manage to escape and together they save people as a gallant dog. But, the odd little blonde baby who is so often in trouble is more than just her parents’ little princess… she’s actually a supervillain with a shocking (literally) secret!

August and Charlie must navigate their own painful pasts and their current friendship in order to work together and save the world.

Lots of cute pictures of cats and their wacky adventures keep the humor high, while sprinkling the apparently light-hearted story with darker flashbacks to the cats’ past in darker blue hues. There are plenty of gadgets, blinking lights, robotic arms, and computer screens to make things look techy, and no lack of bathroom humor with the robotic litter box. Humans in this world show plenty of diversity, leaning towards darker skin. The evil baby and her “parents” are white and blonde, but clearly not wholly human.

Verdict: This will be a popular graphic novel for fans of Captain Underpants and Stick Dog who are ready for a little more serious in their funny.

ISBN: 9781338029475; Published 2018 by Scholastic Graphix; Purchased for the library

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Our principal is a frog by Stephanie Calmenson, illustrated by Aaron Blecha

In the past few years, beginning chapter books have become more and more popular. Scholastic led the charge with their Branches series and more and more publishers are creating their own illustrated beginning chapters. Read and Bloom from Bloomsbury was a disappointment to me; I've only found one series (Wallace and Grace) that I liked.

So, I was interested to see that Aladdin has jumped on the bandwagon with an interesting twist; their new Quix (Fast-Fun-Reads) beginning chapter books are illustrated with black and white cartoons. They have bold text in a large font and.... they are adapted picture books!

The first title I looked at was adapted from the 2001 picture book, The Frog Principal, which was illustrated by Denise Brunkus. There are some slight changes in wording and updates - the computers are more updated, there are cell phones instead of landlines, etc. The basic plot and most of the text remains the same though.

Mr. Bundy, the principal at PS 88, is always trying to improve life for his students and teachers. He decides a magician will make a great assembly speaker, as long as they are suitably educational of course. Unfortunately, he gets Marty Q. Marvel, a very confused magician, who accidentally turns him into a frog! Mr. Bundy manages to get back into school and keep on working as principal, but being a frog causes more and more problems, until he finally solves his problem through a lucky circumstance.

Verdict: This is amusing and the black and white cartoons are funny. It doesn't stand out from the crowd though, especially in comparison to the more up to date and popular Branches titles from Scholastic. An additional purchase.

ISBN: 9781481466677; This edition published May 2018 by Aladdin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Small Readers: I can run by Murray Head

While I still have reservations about some of the artwork in Holiday House’s I Like to Read series, they’re really the only imprint that regularly turns out excellent books in the emergent, or A through E levels.

Despite my animosity towards squirrels (must they dig up everything in my garden?) this is a cute and attractive title. The endpapers consist of multiple panels of photographs of squirrels, peeking out of holes, eating nuts, or just generally looking cute. The left side of each spread features a single sentence, “I can…” and an action word. Some, like “run” and “hide” are repeated. On the right side a photograph of a squirrel completing the action is shown. Cute pictures of squirrels peeking out of holes, dodging hawks, and eating peanuts, will make this a popular choice for animal-lovers.

The book is in I Like to Read format, which means it’s not the typical rectangular shape. It’s a much wide, almost picture book size, about 9x9. The simple text puts this at a level A, just right for emergent readers.

Verdict: A fun addition to a popular series. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780823438310; Published August 2017 by Holiday House; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Natsumi! By Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

“For a small girl, Natsumi did everything in a big way.” This is the story of a little girl - with a BIG personality! She’s always being told to be quiet, to be calm, to be slower, gentler, to be different. As her town gets ready for a festival of traditional Japanese arts, Natsumi tries to join in, but she’s too rough for flower-arranging, too wild for the tea ceremony, too loud for traditional dancing. Only Grandfather sees how hard Natsumi tries and finds the perfect thing to fit Natsumi’s talents.

At the festival, each one of the family shines in their own way from the tea ceremony to dancing; and with grandfather’s help Natsumi shines as a taiko drummer, her exuberance and energy the perfect fit for a new town tradition.

I loved this story’s blend of traditional and new; instead of changing the dancing or flower-arranging to fit Natsumi, or forcing Natsumi to change to fit them, her grandfather found a way for her to participate and still be herself. Readers who are just a little too exuberant for the average classroom, or who struggle to fit into a family or culture’s mold of expectations will find hope in this book that they can create their own traditions.

The bright, colorful pictures show a family that honors the traditional ways while embracing a contemporary lifestyle. Natsumi shines in the line of children with her big, Godzilla-shaped umbrella. She bounces out of the picture, flails her arms, and joins in everything with all her energy.

Verdict: I would have liked a little more background on the taiko drumming; The only explanation of it is given in the author and illustrator bios on the back cover flap, neither of whom have any Japanese heritage. Both are experienced creators though, and I assume they researched their subject thoroughly. This would make a fun storytime read or discussion-starter with kids who have trouble fitting in and the bright colors and expressive faces of the characters are truly charming.

ISBN: 9780399170904; Published 2018 by G. P. Putnam/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 9, 2018

Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d by Mary Losure

This unusual biography of Newton completely captivated me once I started it; but I think it will need a lot of booktalking to get kids to pick it up initially.

The narrative of Newton, focused primarily on his youth, begins with the discovery of a small notebook belonging to a young Isaac Newton, wherein he wrote of the secrets of alchemy and the philosopher’s stone. Newton was separated from his mother at a young age, left behind at the family farmhouse while his mother went to live with her new family. Isaac attended the village school and rarely saw his mother again until his stepfather died and the family moved back to the farmhouse, when he was ten. But Isaac was soon sent away again, this time to live with an apothecary and study at another school. Losure considers how Newton may have felt, but never goes beyond speculation to fiction; during this time she focuses on the books he would have had access to, his writings, and contemporary events and philosophy.

Newton moved on to the University of Cambridge, continuing to be solitary, hoarding his secret discoveries to himself. But then came the plague and he returned to the farmhouse of his childhood. Isolated and alone, even in the midst of family and servants, Newton made a great discovery; a mathematical work he called fluxions. When Newton returned to the university he continued to study mathematics, revealing his knowledge to no one; but he also delved ever deeper into alchemy. Although eventually the university discovered his mathematical genius and he did, reluctantly, share some of his discoveries, Newton continued his search for truth on his own. He created his own telescopes and instruments, retreated from the Royal Society after Robert Hooke dismissed his experiments with light and color in prisms, and despite great acclaim after his astronomical discoveries and laws governing motion were made public, continued to pursue his own path.

Losure’s back matter consists of some further explanations of Newtonian laws, chemistry, and alchemy, copious source notes, photographs of some of his original documents and writings from his youth, bibliography, and index.

The genius of Losure’s book lies in the smooth blending of science and story, making Newton seem like a real, albeit strange and remote, person. Readers will sympathize with his difficult family situation and imagine their own reactions and feelings in his place. Losure simplifies the mathematics and science so readers will find themselves understanding the basics of Newton’s experiments without stopping to struggle with the complicated mathematical equations, although mathematically-inclined readers may also pursue those in more detail.

Verdict: Beautifully written and presented, this book brings the life and world of Newton to contemporary readers, showing not only the importance of his discoveries but also the change from medieval to modern world that he played such a large part in. The problem will be trying to find readers for it. While the writing is clear and comprehensible, something even elementary-aged children will be able to learn from, it’s not, at first glance, a riveting topic. I wouldn’t hand this one to reluctant readers or those who are unwilling to explore new topics. It will need a reader who is passionately interested in history or science and one who is willing to give a book at least a chapter before losing interest. Although it may not have a wide audience, it’s a great book that deserves recognition and to be promoted to readers, something that will expand their worldview and understanding and may spark a lifelong interest in learning.

ISBN: 9780763670634; Published 2017 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, July 7, 2018

This week at the library; or, Vacation time!

Baking pies. In 85 degree heat.
I have no desire to live in historical times.
What's Happening at the Library
  • Monday
    • Paws to Read
    • Worked 12-8
  • Tuesday
    • Vacation!
  • Wednesday
    • Library closed
  • Thursday
    • Wrinkle in Time movie showing
    • Vacation!
  • Friday
This is our chance to catch our breath before July starts!

Ha ha ha. Sum total of this week - one staff member down with probable case of hand, foot, and mouth, my a/c died Wednesday night, and the chipmunk has developed a taste for pepper-laced birdseed. Well, it could be worse? At least my allergies are just making me mildly sick, not completely unable to breathe.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Brownstone’s Mythical Collection: Marcy and the riddle of the sphinx by Joe Todd-Stanton

I am pleased that I’ve gotten several kids into Joe Todd-Stanton’s graphic novel/picture books. His art is lovely and he has a magical way of creating unique stories that capture the imagination. I loved his first book in the Brownstone series, Arthur and the Golden Rope, and now Arthur’s daughter, Marcy, returns with her own story.

To her father’s disappointment, Marcy doesn’t seem to have his curious mind and fearless interest in exploring. In fact, she’s afraid of the dark. But when Arthur disappears into an Egyptian tomb, Marcy digs deep to find courage and track down her father. She not only discovers fascinating aspects of Egyptian mythology, she also discovers that she can be brave when someone she loves is in danger.

The endpages are the first indication that here is something wonderful and delightful to the eye. Elaborate star maps, including symbols of Egyptian mythology and gods cover the pages. One then meets Professor Brownstone, chronicler of the mysterious and fascinating Brownstone family. Arthur, now “very old and far too portly” still looks quite limber, perched in a large, burnt orange chair and telling stories to a wide-eyed Marcy. With her father, Arthur’s adventures unfold in her mind’s eye; but, alone in her bed, they turn into frightening monsters.The art grows from there, as Marcy expands her horizons and explores to Egypt. There she encounters the mysterious world of the tomb where her father is trapped and then the sun boat of Ra himself. Golds, oranges, blues and yellows glow from the pages until, triumphant, Marcy returns home. There she stands, proud and brave, in her father’s big red chair and tells her own adventures.

Verdict: Fans of Joe Todd-Stanton and all those who enjoy mysterious and wonderful stories will find this beguiling to the eye and the mind.
ISBN: 9781911171195; Published 2017 by Flying Eye; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Life in the Amazon Rainforest by Ginjer L. Clarke

Technically, this is an easy reader, however Penguin level 4 is generally too high for my easy reader section. I usually place them in the juvenile nonfiction and consider them part of the beginning chapters.

This nonfiction title starts with a brief introduction to the rainforest, a map, general description of the weather, and the layers from forest floor to emergent trees.

Each chapter in the main section focuses on selected animals from a different area; dolphins, capybara and caimans in the river, jaguar and tapir on the forest floor, and so forth. Some of the animals are familiar - boas, bats, spider monkeys, and sloths. Others are more unusual like the hoatzin (a bird), harpy eagles, and ocelots.

The final chapter briefly addresses the destruction of the rainforest and ways readers can recycle and otherwise help. Back matter consists of a small glossary.

The book is illustrated with photographs, many of them set in frames, with a few full-page photos. This is a nice introduction to the rainforest, which would also work well as a supplemental resource. However, I feel there is a major gap in this story; there is no mention of the approximately twenty million people who live in the rainforest and are as much a part of it as the fascinating creatures that also call it home. The only reference to the inhabitants are a mention of the use of poison dart frogs in blow darts and a photo of said dart guns. I've noticed that many calls for "saving the rainforest" seem to ignore the people who live there and should be part of any conversation involving its current and future use and preservation.

Verdict: This serves as an introduction for rainforest animals, but should be supplemented with more materials that include all aspects of the rainforest.

ISBN: 9781524784881; Published 2018 by Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Small Readers: Flower Wings: Marigold Fairy makes a friend by Elizabeth Dennis, illustrated by Natalie Smillie

My first thought was that this was just another fairy series, like the Rainbow Magic books. However, when I first read one, I found that they were much more than I had expected.

This story features the Marigold Fairy. All of the fairies in the land of the Flower Wings have magical powers from the flowers they belong to. Marigold, with dark skin, a tower of rich, curly, black hair, and a full skirt of bright yellow petals, takes after her flower. She keeps pests out of the garden and makes the vegetables grow big. She’s best friends with Butterfly and usually the pests all leave when they ask them to. But one day they discover a baby bunny is eating all their carrots! Are all pests bad? Can they learn to live with the pests and share with them?

Gardeners won’t be very amused by the solution, which involves all the pests participating in growing food together, but it fits in with the theme of friendship in the book. A final page talks about the “science behind the story” and explains how marigolds work, their uses in the garden, and the interaction between butterflies and marigolds.

The colors are bright and cheerful, with lots of brilliant greens and glowing yellows and oranges. The animals all look cute and cuddly (even the snails) and most of the text is clear and easy to read against the backgrounds. It’s a low level easy reader with a few more complex vocabulary words - in my library it gets a red sticker, which is for beginning readers, one step up from emergent readers with just one or two words per page.

Verdict: Although the story is kind of trite, the bright, cheerful pictures are very attractive and the addition of some facts makes this stand out from the usual fairy fare. Recommend to beginning readers who like fairies and animals and to fans of the Rainbow Magic easy readers.
ISBN: 9781534411746; Published 2018 by Simon Spotlight; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A round of robins by Katie Hesterman, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

I know a lot of people love Ruzzier’s illustrations, but I have never been a fan, I’m not really sure why. Something about the colors and the faces just doesn’t click for me. However, I have finally found a book with Ruzzier’s illustrations that I can whole-heartedly recommend.

Hesterman’s cheerful verses tell the story of a robin’s life cycle. Beginning with the male frightening other birds away from their chosen nesting site and Mama robin building a nest, the robins raise their first clutch. Hesterman goes into more scientific detail than one might expect, explaining how the mother robin incubates the babies, their development, hatching, and feeding. There are also quiet verses describing the peace of a spring evening, humorous moments as the father robin defends his territory, and delightful language like “fluffs of plump perfection.” The robins grow, fledge, and fly away, and the original parents begin the process all over again, raising a new clutch.

Ruzzier’s illustrations are carefully correct, showing the building of the nest, development of the chicks, and fledging. They’re also funny, with big, cartoon eyes, silly expressions, and all the squabbles of bird life shown in a very human-like way. Some spreads show soft pink, orange, and blue pastel backgrounds, fluffy clouds, and soft stripes of color. These are interspersed with spreads that show the birds, eggs, and nest against a white background, making them pop out of the page. The mother robin dreams of cute baby robins, the blue eggs line up against the page, ready to hatch.

Verdict: This would make a delightful addition to a bird storytime or lesson, as well as a nice mix of poetry and science. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399547782; Published 2018 by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 2, 2018

President Lincoln's killer and the America he left behind: The assassin, the crime, and its lasting blow to freedom and equality by Jessica Gunderson

This slim volume is part of a series of four books that examines the aftermath of presidential assassinations. This particular title looks at the assassination of Lincoln and speculates on how America's future might have changed had Booth not fired the fatal bullet.

Much of the 64 pages are devoted to explaining the context of Lincoln's death. The author explains the backgrounds of both John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln and their respective rises to fame. Booth came from a family of famous actors and was incredibly popular; however, he was also an ardent supporter of the Confederacy, slavery, and his increasing anger at Lincoln and the North during the war led to a breach between him and his equally famous brother, Edwin Booth, who was an abolitionist. Lincoln rose from poverty and tragic family circumstances to become a powerful political figure. But the respect and admiration he gained in history was far away when he struggled with the growing unrest in the country and the horrors and difficulties of the Civil War. These two very different men were set upon tragic paths by the turmoil of the United States leading up to the Civil War, including the bloody battles over Kansas and the rise of the Confederacy.

Gunderson covers briefly but concisely the plot to kill Lincoln and several other members of his cabinet and the tragic events that followed. The final chapter discusses the impact of Lincoln's death and Johnson's difficulties in leading the country after the Civil War. What would have happened if Lincoln had survived? Would he have been able to reunite the country? Would his plans to support and unite African-Americans and whites have saved the country from a hundred years of prejudice, racism, and oppression? We'll never know.

Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, source notes, bibliography, and an index.

Verdict: This is a good introduction to a pivotal event in American history and an excellent source for teachers to use to assist in critical thinking and social studies. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780756557164; Published 2018 by Capstone; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library