Friday, August 31, 2018

Panda Camp by Catherine Thimmesh

Finally, a new panda book! It's a bittersweet addition to my library collection though. I remember as a child the excitement and interest in endangered pandas and how cute and exotic they seemed, how we watched videos of newborn cubs, and how they were almost like celebrities! Fast-forward through the years, and panda-fever has caught on again. Elementary school kids beg me for panda books, kids make panda pillows in sewing class and panda designs in perler beads. But are pandas in any better state, twenty years (ok, maybe closer to thirty) down the road? Sadly, it seems not. Is this a species that will ever exist successfully in the wild? Will they even survive in captive breeding populations? For that matter, should scientists devote time, effort, and money towards saving this rare and endangered species when there are so many other urgent crises at hand?

Thimmesh addresses these and other concerns, while still supplying plenty of cute panda pictures. She focuses on a specific program in China which is focusing on reintroducing giant pandas to the wild. This program includes a careful isolation of pandas from human (and shots of humans dressed in giant panda costumes) as well as a summary of the challenges and difficulties faced in the breeding of giant pandas. A chapter is included on the difficulty and controversies around saving large animals like the pandas, tigers, or polar bears whose habitat may no longer exist.

The narrative ends with the "success" of the panda breeding program - in 2016 pandas were removed from the threatened species list and reclassified as "vulnerable." However with less than 2,000 pandas left in the wild, how long will that continue? Will the reintroduction of pandas continue to change the ecosystem or will their habitat loss continue? Thimmesh concludes with the often-familiar list of "what you can do", a glossary, sources, and index.

While this narrative touches only briefly on larger concerns of conservation, ecology, and environmental concerns, it's also the first narrative nonfiction book on giant pandas I've seen in quite a few years and will fill a gap in library collections. It's aimed at a younger audience who may not be ready to think critically about environmental concerns but are at a point where they are gathering knowledge and thinking about how they can affect their communities on a smaller scale.

Verdict: Well-researched and written in an accessible style, this is sure to fly off your shelves to panda fans as well as providing a starting point for students wanting to do more in-depth research.

ISBN: 9780544818910; Published 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Inside the mystery package....

It's the complete collection of Brambly Hedge! It's being published in October! I'm so EXCITED! It will take all my willpower not to keep this for myself, but I will have to remind myself that I have the original miniature books in my collection plus this is a much better format for library circulation. And I think I need to watch all the movies again... (they're only on region 2, sorry!)

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Ciao, Baby! In the park by Carola Lexa Schaefer, illustrated by Lauren Tobia

Told from the perspective of an adorable baby with brown skin and slightly curling hair, this is a sweet adventure in the park. Nonna says “ciao!” and Baby gets packed into the back seat of a bike and they’re off. They settle onto the grass on the park - it appears to be early spring, based on the flowers, dandelion clocks, and grass but still chilly as Baby and Nonna are wearing sweaters and boots. They see a squirrel and Baby goes to meet it, “Scrunch, push. Scrunch, scoot.” but the squirrel takes off. Baby waves, “Ciao squirrel!” This doesn’t discourage Baby, who repeats their actions with a grasshopper and pigeon before it’s time to go home

Tobia’s illustrations are charming, showing a green oasis in the grey city and softly realistic drawings of the creatures Baby meets in the park. This has a little more of an urban feel than I usually purchase for my board books, but I love the idea of encouraging caregivers to take their babies outside and it’s nice to have a book with a darker-skinned baby who could easily be Hispanic (I’m guessing not because of the ciao, which I believe is Italian?).

Verdict: A sweet, sturdy board book which would make a good addition to your collection if you want more outdoor board books.
ISBN: 9780763683986; Published 2018 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mystery package!

I got a special package today. What could be inside?

Bubbles by Kit Chase

Kit Chase writes sweet and friendly books about a group of little animals who have everyday adventures, squabbles, and joys.

In this latest book, a sweet little kangaroo and a shy koala bond over the simple delights of bubbles. The friendly yellow kangaroo, with soft red cheeks, is blowing blue bubbles. When she sees some yellow bubbles, she follows the trail to discover another creature blowing bubbles - a koala!

But when Kangaroo tries to talk to Koala, Koala hides in the tree. Kangaroo starts to leave, but then the bubbles start again. The yellow and blue bubbles join into a delightful green bubble party. But then the green bubbles make a monster! Will Koala come down from the tree to help their new friend?

Chase's soft watercolors make these cozy stories come to life with red-cheeked little animals and light touches of pastels against a white background. Friendly little Kangaroo, bouncing up and down in her eagerness to make a new friend, and shy little Koala, nervous around this new bouncy person, are adorable. It's nice that the characters didn't default to male pronouns, as usually seems to happen. I was a little disappointed that Koala ended up talking - it would have been a nice, unique ending for them to continue their non-verbal communication, and would have definitely added to my audience as I have a large population of special needs kids and would love to read a book about how you don't have to be verbal to be friends.

Verdict: A sweet little story about friendship. An additional purchase, especially if you have fans of Kit Chase.

ISBN: 9780399545740; Published 2018 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, August 27, 2018

Titanic's passengers and crew by Alex Giannini

This is part of a recent series from Bearport called Titanica. Each book covers a different aspect of the Titanic, its construction, the great tragedy, and its rediscovery. This particular title is an overview of the passengers and crew.

The book begins dramatically, with a young man, Jack Thayer, leaping into the water as the Titanic sinks. He was one of the few survivors. The story then turns to the beginning of the fated voyage; the luxurious cabins and wealthy passengers of 1st and 2nd class and the more cramped quarters of 3rd class. There are statistics on the origins of the passengers and crews and brief biographies of famous passengers, from John Jacob Astor to Millvina Dean, the youngest passenger (and survivor) on the ship.

As well as dramatic stories of survivors and those who perished, the book also includes graphs and statistics on survivors, showing in bold detail the huge loss of life among the crew and 3rd class, as opposed to the 2nd and 1st class. It touches briefly on the aftermath of the disaster and some of the future lives of the survivors. Back matter includes a glossary, brief bibliography, and links for further information.

Verdict: The Titanic is always a popular topic and this is a great introduction for younger or struggling readers who aren't able or ready to read the many award-winning titles on the subject. As soon as I saw it I was sure it would be popular; we put them straight up onto a display with a model Titanic, along with the poster that came with them and they have been checking out regularly ever since. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781684024315; Published 2018 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library; Purchased additional copy for the library

Sunday, August 26, 2018

It's Cybils Season! I suggest you consider applying to be a judge, preferably in my category.

Once the excitement of summer reading is over, it's Cybils season! If you have been living in a hole without internet, you may not be familiar with Cybils. It's the thirteenth year of the Children's and Young Adult Literary Bloggers' Award (I think - I am not good at time math) and it's awesome.

There are a lot of children's book awards out there. They recognize literary quality, contribution to the genre and canon, and much more. Cybils is different. It's the only award that recognizes both child appeal and literary quality and the process is very transparent. You, the public, nominate books. Parents, teachers, librarians, and authors with public review platforms (aka bloggers) choose the best. Along the way, we review, discuss, and promote children's literature.

How can you get involved? At the least, you can nominate! Nominations will open October 1. However, if you'd like to dip your toes into the water of judging, now is the time to apply to be a judge! You can see the call for judges here. How to decide what category to apply in? As a general rule of thumb:
  • The most time-intensive categories are those with high numbers of nominations, first-round panelists. You'll be reading and discussing a LOT of books. Middle Grade Fiction, Speculative Fiction Elementary/Middle Grade, Speculative Fiction YA, and YA Fiction tend to have the highest number of nominations.
  • Categories for younger genres and more specific fields tend to have fewer nominations, but can require different approaches; fact-checking for nonfiction, early literacy for easy readers, discussing both art and text for graphic novels, etc. Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction, Poetry, Junior/Senior High Nonfiction, Graphic Novels, and Easy Readers/Early Chapters. It helps to know about the genre and audience for these categories but they also tend to have about 100 or fewer nominations.
  • Finally, there are a couple categories that defy categorization - Picture Books/Board Books has a ton of nominations and you'd think you could zip through them, but no! We are an award with professionalism! Think of all the careful consideration of art, text, and audience! Poetry is another outlier.
If you don't have the time to read through a ton of books, second-round judge may be for you. These people take our finalists, announced at the end of the year, and choose the best of the best. There's less reading - but more intensive discussion.

Finally, I suggest you consider my category - Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction. We create  a finalist list for both age groups and then choose the best for each category in the second round. Nonfiction is on the rise with a ton of amazing books coming out, an emphasis on nonfiction in schools and libraries, and recognition that nonfiction is an amazing reading experience that goes beyond just learning facts. Join me in my quest for world domination through, ahem, I mean, it's really awesome to discuss nonfiction with a diverse group of people from many different backgrounds and perspectives. I guarantee you (and the children you teach, parent, or write for) will be all the better for the experience.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

This week at the library; or, and now I'm sick

  • Monday
    • Management meeting happened without me. I worked from home on reports and went in about 2 hours late, got through some of the piles on my desk, covered the info desk 5-8pm.
  • Tuesday
    • Craft-o-rama
    • I was supposed to have an outreach today but thankfully it was cancelled.
    • I took the pee-soaked cushion cover to the dry cleaners and went in to work around 10. I had a project to finish, but my head was hurting so bad I went home a bit after five and finished it at home.
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
    • Worked 11-7. ish.
  • Friday
    • Worked 2-5. ish.
  • Saturday
I developed a lovely sinus infection over the weekend, which just tells me I should never take any time off. My temp staff are leaving this week, and I am very grateful the outreach I was going to do on Tuesday didn't pan out because I was not up to it. Also placed approximately 400 books on hold and I really, really, really wish the blanket hold option worked in our OPAC! (I'm not exaggerating. 250 for an outreach coming up in September, 100 for a book club, and 50 misc.)

I haven't updated my Storytime Extras blog in, well, years since I use a pretty small selection of rhymes etc. However, I'm now training my associate to take over some outreach so I have been updating!

Years ago I saw a library that had a "menu of services." I think it might have been Abby the Librarian? Anyways, I wanted it. After much labor, I have my own quarterly newsletter, complete with sections on our services etc. I am very proud of it!

I also completed the preschool STEM calendar through December. If you want a publisher document you can adapt, email me at jwharton(at)

Now I have a WHOLE WEEK with no programs! Then school starts the first week of September and I have two outreach visits and book club.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Crash: The great depression and the fall and rise of America by Marc Favreau

This comprehensive look at the history of the Great Depression is a great way to introduce young readers to this period in US history.

A prologue briefly reviews the catastrophic effects of the Great Depression and then the story plunges into the state of the US in 1931, when the Great Depression struck. The book continues through the causes, analyzing Hoover's policies, the worsening economic and political situation, and the advent of FDR. Chapters are devoted to the powerful influence of Eleanor Roosevelt and the changes in policy organized by ground-breaking Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The book seems to be rising to an optimistic high, with the successful policies of the New Deal and increasing confidence and economic stability.

But the downside is quickly shown in the onset of the environmental catastrophe of the dust storms, and the even more tragic effect of the Great Depression on the already oppressed African-American and Hispanic populations. Favreau speaks bluntly but sensitively about lynching and the deportation of Mexican workers, many of whom were American citizens. The rise of prejudice and anti-immigrant prejudice continues into the opening salvos of the United State's involvement in World War II and the end of the Great Depression.

Favreau reflects on the effects of the Great Depression and the delayed, but not forgotten, efforts by African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and women to achieve the safety and prosperity sought for by all Americans. The book is full of many firsthand accounts, personal recollections, and original documents. Back matter includes source notes, bibliography, timeline, index, and primary sources.

This is Favreau's first book for young readers and he does an excellent job of explaining a complex time period in history. Many of the darker aspects, riots, oppression, lynching, and prejudice are included to give a full picture, but in a way that is appropriate for young readers. There are a couple omissions; although Favreau gives a very balanced view of Hoover's administration, Roosevelt's seems to be presented through rose-colored glasses, with no mentions of any controversy beyond some acknowledgements of his lack of support for equality for minorities and women. The section on the dustbowl is also very brief, making it sound like the drought was the sole cause of the disaster, rather than years of damaging farming practices.

Verdict: A readable, compelling, and well-written overview; an excellent choice to introduce this time period to young readers and serve as a starting point for further research. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780316545860; Published April 2018 by Little, Brown; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Small Readers: Meet Woof & Quack by Jamie A. Swenson, illustrated by Ryan Sias

Picture book author Jamie Swenson branches out into easy readers in this sweet new series about two oddball friends. Woof, a curly brown dog, and Quack, a green-headed duck, are looking for something to do. Quack has a great suggestion; they should play fetch! There’s just one problem: Woof doesn’t like to fetch. What kind of dog is he anyways? It’s a good thing Quack is just as quirky a duck as Woof is a dog and loves to fetch. The two have a great time playing their own version of the game and ending in the most tasty way, with cake everywhere!

Sias’ fuzzy illustrations show a cheerfully smiling pair, with brushed charcoal outlines and bold, colored backgrounds. There’s no indication in the text of gender, but the brief publisher’s description on the back notes Woof as male, saying “his new friend”. No gender is given for Quack.

This is a level H title, which is on the more difficult side of the emergent readers I collect; the text is not as simple as an Elephant and Piggie comic, although it follows a similar format with two quirky friends and the text all contained in speech balloons. It includes more challenging vocabulary like interesting, would, and fetch. It would be suitable for a reader ready to start moving along from emergent-level titles to more challenging easy readers.

Verdict: Cute and funny, although this isn’t likely to have hordes of specific fans like Pete the Cat, Elephant and Piggie, or Fly Guy, it’s a perfectly solid choice to fill the voracious need for easy reader comics. Recommended.
ISBN: 9780544959514; Published 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How to code a sandcastle by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios

The Girls Who Code group expands into a picture book for the very youngest of coders in this latest offering.

After a quick foreword from Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, the story begins. Readers are introduced to Pearl, a biracial girl with a little spotted dog. She's ready for her last chance to build a sandcastle! All summer long things have gone wrong - cue a montage of a diverse range of kids and comic disasters - but today nothing can go wrong because Pearl has Pascal, a rust-proof robot. All she has to do is tell him to build a sandcastle and voila!

Or... maybe not. Turns out, Pascal needs to be given instructions in code and it's not as easy as Pearl thinks! Bit by bit, Pearl figures out how to get Pascal to build her sandcastle, meeting a variety of silly and comic mishaps along the way, as well as a diverse range of people on the beach.

A final two-page spread gives more information about code, written in simple language. This book can be read both as an instruction manual, working with young children to introduce coding concepts. It's also funny and amusing and, with some quick editing, could be a good storytime read-aloud. The diverse protagonists are a nice touch, although I noticed that the robot defaulted to male.

Verdict: A good choice even if coding isn't popular at your library; sure to be a fun summer storytime read.

ISBN: 9780425291986; Published 2018 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, August 20, 2018

Protest movements then and now by Eric Braun

This is part of a series from Smithsonian, under the mantle of Capstone, about protest movements. The other titles cover civil rights, environmental protests, and women's rights but this is just a general one.

Which, to be honest, was my first problem with this book. I'm not sure why it didn't designate in the subtitle that it's primarily about the 1960s, but apparently it's meant to be an overview of the formative protests of the 1960s. The book covers the changes in culture, economy, and the aftermath of the world wars that led to this decade being a pivotal moment for the United States. It addresses the reasons behind protests about civil rights, women's rights, the environment, and some nascent gay and lesbian protests, such as the Stonewall riots. The book covers the tools used in protest, from music and radio to marches and sit-ins and moving onto television. It ends with the results of the various protests and a chapter looking forward to the future and referencing current protest movements.

Additional information includes questions for discussion, additional resources, a glossary, websites, and more. Unfortunately, as well as many photographs and some archival material, the book also includes several typos and some clunky phrasing that seems due to punctuation errors.

It's an interesting look at protest movements, but it's not cohesive in its subject and tries to cover too much, at one point discussing civil rights and then jumping to women's rights movements, talking about legislation passed to protect the environment and then giving statistics on unemployment and and discrimination. The issues covered are very complex and the book is too brief to really do justice to them. The contemporary protests covered at the end are an interesting addition, putting the changes into perspective over time, but they also mean the book is likely to become outdated quickly, especially as the current administration repeals legislation and the long-term effects, if any, of protests from the early 2000s begin to show.

Verdict: As an introduction to the topic, something that readers might pick up to help them narrow down a topic, it's an acceptable choice, or would be if it had additional proofreading and the errors were removed. Unless you have a very generous budget though, it's an additional purchase at best since it will quickly become outdated.

ISBN: 9781543503852; Published 2018 by Smithsonian/Capstone; Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, August 19, 2018

RA RA Read: Read-Aloud and Easy Nonfiction

I've been working over the years to encourage more easy nonfiction in storytimes, as picture book selections, and just in general. Some years it goes by the wayside as I focus on other things, but this fall we're reviving several nonfiction-based programs for younger kids and so I'm revisiting this list.

You'll probably quickly notice that when I say "nonfiction" I almost exclusively mean "science and animals", as I put into the title of this post. When I "read" nonfiction in storytime, it's always a dialogue with the children. Often we end up reading very little of the actual text as we discuss the art and concepts presented. Narrative nonfiction is a whole different bundle of twigs and I have strong feelings about picture book biographies anyways.

  • David Adler
  • Jim Arnosky
    • A classic nature writer. Every Autumn Comes the Bear is a storytime favorite, but I've used many other titles - Bayou Babies, Racoons and Ripe Corn etc. to great effect.
  • Dianna Hutts Aston
    • Her series of books, gorgeously illustrated by Sylvia Long, have my favorite "layered" text; bold, simple sentences to read aloud, and more dense text for additional information. A Seed is Sleepy, An Egg is Quiet, etc.
  • Nic Bishop
    • He's not only a stunning nature photographer, he's quite a good writer too. His books are easily adapted to reading with small children. We use Snakes, Lizards, Butterflies and Moths, Frogs, and Marsupials on a regular basis.
  • Nicola Davies
    • A huge variety of books, focusing mainly on animals. Her "Flip the flap and find out" series is a mainstay of my outreach programs and we can spend an entire program just discussing the events in What Happens Next? I've also used Dolphin Baby and I'm looking forward to trying a program with Tiny Creatures
  • Suzi Eszterhas
    • These simple stories feature one animal's life cycle from birth to adulthood. They are adorable and make excellent read-alouds. I especially love Brown Bear because...bears.
  • Steve Jenkins
    • This is one of the most prolific nonfiction authors for young children. I've used his books in flannelboard matching games like What do you do with a tail like this? and another favorite of mine is Down Down Down.
  • April Pulley Sayre
  • Cathryn and John Sill
  • Melissa Stewart
    • My favorites are her weather/habitats series - Under the Snow, When rain falls, Beneath the sun.
  • Susan Stockdale
    • Her simple, rhyming stories work really well with toddlers as well as preschoolers. I love her latest, Stripes of all types, and I've used Fabulous Fishes for many, many storytimes.
A Small Selection of Narrative Nonfiction

Saturday, August 18, 2018

This week at the library

What's happening
I don't have anything to say. This summer has been really rough, things keep happening, and I am exhausted. I took an extra four hours off on Friday so I had the day off and I basically slept all day. Saturday was quiet, broken only by my coughing.

We Explore Resource List: Fall/Harvest

Friday, August 17, 2018

Hidden Women by Rebecca Rissman

There have been several books and a popular movie featuring these mostly forgotten African-American women. Capstone's title is part of their narrative nonfiction series, Encounter, and introduces readers to a variety of women from the history of the space race.

From the exciting first moments of the story, when astronaut John Glenn insisted on Katherine Johnson checking the numbers for his flight into space, each of the women is profiled and their contributions shown. Rissman sets the stage for the women who started out as "human computers" and then continued to be involved in science. Miriam Mann, a talented mathematician, fought against segregation in small ways as she developed the math to support space flights. Mary Jackson spoke out against racism and became part of the staff working on wind tunnels and an engineer in her own right. Dorothy Vaughan managed the human computers in West Area Computing, where the African-American women were segregated, but she also worked to keep her staff relevant and learning so that they would continue to have jobs as computers took over the work they had been doing. Annie Easley was a mathematician who also became a computer programmer. Christine Darden was part of the second generation of African-American women working at NASA, but still faced discrimination. The story ends with an encapsulated view of the moon landing, more information about Katherine Johnson and the use of her math in future flights, and a final reflection on the contributions and futures of the women featured.

Although none of the women were acknowledged at the time, they had a major role not only in the space race and development of computing but also in the battle of African-Americans and women against prejudice. The epilogue talks to several women involved in NASA about their experiences, how sexism and racism has improved -and how it hasn't. Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, critical thinking questions, and resources.

Verdict: This is a good choice for middle grade readers who aren't up to handling the more complex and intense books written on this subject but are still interested in history and science. It did feel a little disjointed, jumping from one woman to another, but the episodic nature may make it easier for kids to read.

ISBN: 9780515799641; Published January 2018 by Capstone; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The wish fairy: Too many cats! By Lisa Ann Scott, illustrated by Heather Burns

Brooke, a black girl, is playing in the meadow with her cat Patches when she rescues a dragonfly… and it turns out to be a fairy! Calla the fairy has blue skin and an adventurous nature; she’s ventured just a little too far from her home in Fairvana. Now that Brooke has saved her life, she must grant her seven wishes.

After careful though, Brooke wishes for one hundred cats. If one cat is awesome, more cats must be even better, right? Wrong. It’s fun at first, especially when her friend Izzy comes along, but she quickly discovers some problems. First, her own cat, Patches, has disappeared. Then there’s feeding and taking care of all those cats… then she makes an unpleasant discovery about where they came from! However, despite these drawbacks she and Izzy have fun. They clean out their savings to buy food for the cats (no endless supply of money here), talk Izzy’s parents into letting her keep one very friendly stray cat, Pumpkin, and make an extra trip to the library to pick up some books on taking care of cats. The story ends well with a nice set-up for the next volume, as Brooke plans her next wishes.

Black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout the book mostly focus on cute pictures of cats, but there are some sweet pictures of fairies, along with some gentle lectures on real friendship as the girls discover Calla’s social difficulties. I was thrilled to discover a beginning chapter book where the minority is the main character - NOT the friend or sidekick and she seems to be prominently featured in all the succeeding books as well.

Verdict: For fairy lovers this will be a great fill-in series, with an added fillip of diversity.

ISBN: 9781338120974; Published 2018 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Whose Boat? By Toni Buzzeo and Tom Froese

The previous titles in this board book series, Whose tools? And Whose Truck? are very, very popular in my library. They each follow a similar format: A spread includes some rhyming couplets on the left, describing the activities of the truck, tools, or boat pictured on the right. Lift the full-page flap on the right and see a double spread of the vehicle or tools in action.

This particular title is a little more complex than the others. It includes a harbormaster’s boat, tugboat pilot, car ferry captain, lobsterperson’s boat, coxswain’s boat (part of the Coast Guard), and firefighter’s boat. The final spread shows all the boats previously pictured as toys in a pool. The pictures of the boats include labeled parts like radar transponder, VHF antenna, kort nozzle, and towing winch.

The art has a retro, blocky feel, but includes a wide diversity of skin colors and genders. The back page pictures all the boats again with their names, fishing boat, tugboat, lifeboat, etc. The double pages make the book a little extra bulky and I’ve had issues in the past with them breaking before their time but they are so popular it’s worth replacing them a little more often. I would add additional reinforcement along the hinges of the book’s spine and the folding pages.

I normally stay away from board books like this, especially the cutesy ones that claim to introduce science concepts, great literature, etc. to babies. However, despite the advanced vocabulary, this actually works really well with toddlers and preschoolers. Those obsessed with machinery will sit still for it, and even if they don’t comprehend the different words, enjoy hearing them.

Verdict: This works not only as a cute gift but also as a library title; be prepared to replace it frequently though.

ISBN: 9781419728358; Published 2018 by Abrams Appleseed; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

An atlas of imaginary places by Mia Cassany and Ana de Lima

Although it's often a struggle to get kids in my library to pick up picture books after about age four or five (which is a whole different discussion) sometimes I'll pick up a special book for that rare older child who doesn't care whether or not they're reading a picture book.

This fanciful book takes readers on an amazing, imaginative journey through a series of islands. The text meanders through the book, including both descriptions and writing prompts in the discussions of the various islands. Readers will travel from the Sweet Sea Islands to the Desert of Lost and Found, from the Sea Forest to the Sleeping Whale. Finally, if you make it through the Labyrinth of Desires, you make it to the top of a mountain, "There they can wish for anything they want."

The real draw of this isn't the text though, it's the art. Delicate drawings create whole imaginary worlds to explore and spark new ideas. One spread, the Jungle of Changing Spots, features animals who change their coats at every sneeze. It shows a rainbow frog with white stars, a zebra-striped tiger, leopard-spotted bird, and fluid pink snake. The jungle around them is reminiscent of a William Morris pattern with curving leaves and vines, carefully structured plants, and flashes of color in the shape of animals and flowers. Another spread, the Upside-Down Mountains, shows a floating collection of mountains, many of them holding pools of swirling blue water. Two white legs flash into one mountain pond, while a girl with reddish-blonde hair swings below another upturned mountain.Blue birds drift across the peach-pink sky and ladders hint at more secrets within the mountains.

Although this is marketed as a children's picture book, I will probably put it in juvenile fiction and promote it to readers who like dreamy, imaginative graphic novels.

Verdict: This may find some classroom use as a collection of writing prompts; otherwise, while it may only appeal to a few children, it will be treasured by those few. Consider your collection and audience before purchasing.

ISBN: 9783791373478; Published 2018 by Prestel; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, August 13, 2018

Action Presidents: George Washington! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavry

I've read a lot of of fiction/nonfiction blends recently, but I always have an uneasy feeling that they mix up fiction and nonfiction too much to really be a good choice for middle grade readers. I feel much more confident in Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales; when he adds in fictional elements (like the armies of World War I being different types of animals) it's easy to tell the real story from the fictional add-on.

So I was thrilled to discover an equally excellent graphic history series that promises to be both fun and informative. The narrator of this story, seen only briefly at the beginning and ending, is Noah the Historkey, pardoned from Thanksgiving on the condition that he tells the true story of USA history. Through Noah, the author discusses how legends grew up around the founding of the United States, especially the early leaders, and promises to introduce readers to the real George Washington, ACTION PRESIDENT!

This biography of George Washington starts with his youth, involvement in the French-Indian wars (one might say he kind of started them), reluctant appointment to lead the Continental armies, and even more reluctant appointment to president. Along the way, the creators show us a real portrait of the president, warts and all. His involvement in slavery, the lack of rights for women, his military failures and personal foibles. They also introduce readers to the wider world of the colonies; the initial struggles of the young country, the prejudice and oppression faced by Native Americans and African-Americans, and the tragedies and complex history of both sides of the American Revolution. The good, bad, and the ugly are all shown, including plenty of jokes, caricatures, and snarky humor.

The art is black and white with sharp angles and bulging cartoon eyes. Lots of action and movement keeps it from becoming just more talking heads while the text is packed in densely around and in the panels. I've included a sample panel from the beginning, showing Noah the Historkey.

Verdict: This new series promises to fly off the shelves, both for kids who are interested in history and those who love comics. More presidents are coming soon and I can't wait to read them!

ISBN: 9780062394057; Published February 2018 by Harpercollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, August 12, 2018

RA RA Read: Middle Grade Narrative Nonfiction

I have a lot of go-to choices for middle grade nonfiction, but in some ways it's trickier to recommend than fiction - they can get outdated faster, especially science titles, and the layout can make parents and teachers reluctant to pick them up because they look like picture books. You can also check out the articles I've written for SLJ BeTween, focusing on nonfiction for tweens. Below are the titles that I regularly recommend and have had generally good responses from readers and adults.

By Publisher/Series
By Author
  • Sarah Albee
    • Albee writes narrative nonfiction that focuses on some of the smaller aspects of history - that have big effects. Her latest is Dog Days.
  • Carlyn Beccia
  • Georgia Bragg
  • Nancy Castaldo
    • These are geared towards the older end of the middle grade spectrum. She's explored dogs, seeds, and several aspects of animals.
  • Nathan Hale
    • Hale writes dense, informative, and very entertaining graphic history. He's written titles on World War I, the Alamo, the Donner Party, and many more.
  • Rebecca Johnson
    • Among others, she's done some great titles for Milbrook, the only drawback being how expensive this imprint is. Definitely worth a little extra $$ though. When Lunch Fights Back and Zombie Makers are my favorites so far.
  • Sandra Markle
    • Great science titles for the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, especially those not yet ready to tackle Scientists in the Field. She has a whole series about the efforts to save different animals, many of them set up like mysteries. Penguins is one of the most recent I read.
  • Patricia Newman
  • Steve Sheinkin
    • His history books will take a strong reader, but they're worth a little extra effort. I actually put Port Chicago 50 into teen, as there is more mature content, but most strong middle grade readers could handle Bomb or Lincoln's Grave Robbers.
By Title

Saturday, August 11, 2018

This week at the library; or, Last week of summer reading

Staff and volunteers setting up in the gardens
What's Happening at the Library
Last week of summer reading, working on a major new marketing project for next fall, processing applications for open positions, planning fall outreach, and lots more. I need new tires. My feet hurt. It never ends. Note that when I say "last week of summer reading" as most children's librarians will understand, this means "last week of summer reading" for the rest of the staff, not my department. We still have a backlog of work, set aside during the summer, another huge chunk of work to plan fall, prizes to distribute for another 2-3 weeks, drop-in programs and outreach, clean-up and inventory from the summer programs and heavy traffic, not to mention regular work. Say something nice to your children's librarian. Better yet, write them a good review, specifically mentioning them by name, on their library's facebook page or send it to their supervisor!

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

I have been waiting for this book forever! I have always been interested in hyenas, partly because they are just cool and partly from reading Tamora Pierce's Emperor Mage. This book celebrates the weirdness and awesomeness that is hyenas in a way that only Scientists in the Field can.

The main scientist featured in the book is Kay Holekamp, a zoologist from the University of Michigan, who has been studying hyenas for over 30 years. Montgomery plunges right into the story, acknowledging and discrediting the many legends and negative press around hyenas and then using some of Kay's quotes and her own observation to introduce readers to this amazing animal.

Interspersed with an account of the fascinating biology, habits, and behavior of hyenas is the story of Kay Holekamp's studies and the people who are involved. Kay's story follows her from an internship at the Saint Louis zoo, travels around the world with her husband, divorce, a doctorate, and finally taking over the hyena study in Masai Mara. She acknowledges the work done by Laurence Frank, but also is open about the issues with the way field study was done in his time and how she changed the methods used. Kay reflects on the changes she's seen, both in the landscape, the hyenas, and in her own life. She married her assistant and partner, who works in neuroscience in the states, she teaches at the university in the school year and works in the hyena study in the summer; and her new assistant is her old supervisor from the zoo!

Montgomery profiles everyone involved in the camp, from the graduate students to the staff who keep the camp running. One of the most interesting profiles is of a local, Benson Ole Pion, who started working in the camp as an assistant cook but became interested in the hyenas, eventually became an assistant researcher, and is now preparing to move his family to the states to further his education and become more involved in the hyena studies.

The animals themselves are not neglected, with chapters on their complicated behavior, hierarchy, and how they differ from other mammalian species. There are exciting accounts of targeting and testing hyenas, the aftermath of a flood in the camp, and funny accounts of taking a shower in the camp.

The book ends with a series of quick facts about spotted hyenas, bibliography and online resources, and index.

Verdict: A strong addition to the Scientists in the Field series, this is a great book to give kids interested in animals and science. It will inspire them to think about their future careers as well as foster diversity. Strongly recommended.

ISBN: 9780544635111; Published May 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Purchased for the library

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Zach & Zoe Mysteries: The Missing Baseball; The Half-Court Hero by Mike Lupica, illustrated by Chris Danger

 Zach and Zoe are eight-year-old twins who love sports, especially basketball. This isn't surprising since their father and grandfather were both players in the NBA and their father is now a sports reporter.

In The Missing Baseball, Zach's new, signed baseball goes missing. Some suspect Mateo Salazar, who's new, and Zoe doesn't get what's the big deal. Zach has lots of baseballs after all. But this is signed by Will Hanley, Zach's favorite player! Luckily Zoe loves mysteries and is determined to find the solution; even if she doesn't care about the baseball herself, she wants to support her brother.

Their second mystery is formed around basketball, their favorite sport. The Half-Court Hero features a summer weekend competition, coached by their dad. The twins are excited since they don't usually get to play together. But the court at the rec center is in poor repair; missing nets, splintered benches, and faded paint. After the twins mention the problems, someone starts fixing it up and Zoe is determined to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, they still have a competition to play.

Black and white drawings mostly show Zack and Zoe, with occasional pictures of their father, grandfather, and friends. I am not really a sports fan, so I while I do purchase plenty of sports books I don't often read them myself. However, I was intrigued by the addition of a mystery and the younger audience. Frankly, I was very disappointed. The writing is trite and pedestrian, even if you are the type of reader who likes blow-by-blow descriptions of sports. The mysteries are trivial and seem like an afterthought. In The missing baseball there is at least a theft (or possible theft) but it seems to be there mainly to give Zoe an interest. The Half-Court Hero is even more pointless, since the whole mystery is to find out who is fixing up the ball court - even the characters in the book are confused as to why Zoe has to "solve" this mystery.

Both Zach and Zoe are white, as are most of their friends and teachers. Zoe's interest in sports is frequently brushed aside in favor of her interest in "mysteries" and to feature Zach. Their mother is a complete nonentity, there only to distribute platitudes and meals. There's no conflict in the sports themselves; the kids make every shot they take, even when it's been explicitly said that they're not very good at sports (both Zach and Zoe are, of course, excellent players at all the sports). The frequent exhortations to be a good sport, have fun, and not worry about winning come off as bland platitudes when the kids win constantly anyways. The two are relentlessly upbeat, cheerful, and extremely irritating. A final, minor annoyance is that there's no indication that this is a series to be read in order; however, if you read both books it's clear that the baseball title comes first since it's referred to in the basketball title.

Verdict: Lupica is a popular author for the middle grade crowd; I can only suppose that he was heavily edited or really didn't know how to write for this age group. The lack of diversity is another strike against this series. Purchase only if you have avid sports fans who need more to read, otherwise stick with David Kelly's excellent sports mysteries or the Jake Maddox titles.

The missing baseball
ISBN: 9780425289365

The half-court hero
ISBN: 9780425289396 

Published May 2018 by Philomel/Penguin; Review copies provided by the publisher

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Small Readers: Fish are not afraid of doctors by J. E. Morris

This is an interesting idea; easy readers that combine both story and a social-emotional lesson. In this story, Maud the koala is waiting to see Dr. Susan. She’s anxious and, looking at the fish in the aquarium, wishes she was a fish who didn’t have to visit the doctor. She tries to hide, but the moment arrives… Dr. Susan checks her out, and Maud is having fun, until it’s time for her vaccination. A shot! After some gentle discussion, Maud imagines herself as a fish, swimming in the ocean, blowing bubbles, and before she knows it the shot is over!

A final note to caregivers explains how to use visualization and blowing bubbles, real or imaginary, to help children deal with anxiety and pain when visiting the doctor.

The book is arranged in comic panels with a clear progression of events and the occasional speech bubbles. Most of the text is enclosed in small white boxes at the top of the panels. The illustrations are bright and cheerful and Maude’s face is expressive while the doctor is friendly and sympathetic. The text is a little advanced for a beginning reader, but would be readable with a fluent reader to help out.

Verdict: This is well-written enough to double as a story as well as a therapy tool. Recommended for general purchase and use as well as recommending to caregivers to handle fears at doctor visits.

ISBN: 9781524784430; Published April 2018 by Penguin Workshop; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My pillow keeps moving! By Laura Gehl, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Two fun creators - Laura Gehl, author of the Peep and Egg picture books and Weyant, illustrator of Anna Kang’s fun titles - team up to create something new and super silly.

A stray cat and dog are shivering sadly outside of The Pillow Place when a man walks in to get a pillow… and comes home with a very unusual pillow! It keeps wiggling around! But it IS soft and fluffy, so he can’t return it. The man tries to purchase a footstool and a warm jacket, but each time there’s something wrong. Finally, he realizes that this odd thing makes a better pet dog than a piece of furniture. And that gives the stray cat an idea… especially since the man needs a new hat!

Weyant’s cheerful colors and humorous faces evoke feelings of classic funny illustrators, especially Jack Kent and Syd Hoff, but his art has a charm all its own. The dog looks just enough like the pieces of furniture for kids to get the joke, but not so much that they can’t enjoy a laugh on a grown-up.

Verdict: A sweet, funny story with enough repetition to make it a favorite for toddler storytime and humor that’s just right for the preschool set. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780425288245; Published 2018 by Viking; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, August 6, 2018

Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette by Selene Castrovilla, illustrated by Drazen Kozjan

Selene Castrovilla has written several picture books and short chapter books on the American Revolution. I've used them in book clubs and recommended them to teachers and, after several years with no new titles, was pleased to see that she had come out with some new books. Somehow, I discovered at this time that I'd missed some of her earlier works, including this one which features the friendship between George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette.

The story begins with the arrival of Lafayette in American in 1777. He met Washington and was quickly impressed by him. Washington wasn't very interested in the little Frenchman - their previous experience with the French had not been good. But they needed allies and so he was polite. It was the beginning of a close friendship. Washington eventually came to be close friends, almost a father figure to the young Frenchman. Lafayette, given a chance, fought valiantly for the Americans, cementing both his worth to the cause and his close friendship with Washington.

An extensive back note gives the rest of the story; Lafayette's involvement in the rest of the war, the eventual separation of the two friends, divided by wars, imprisonment, and tensions between the two countries. Lafayette's last visit to American came too late for him to meet his hero, but he was given a great welcome by the American people.

Further resources include a timeline of both men, places of interest to visit in the US and France, a bibliography, and several other resources. There are also quotes from Lafayette included in each segment of the story.

This didn't quite click for me as much as Castrovilla's other works. It's laid out very definitely as a picture book, which is a very difficult sell in my library; both parents and kids consider anything in picture book format to be a "baby book" and some of our schools' reading programs count by page number. Gah. I preferred Castrovilla's books that are more chapter book style. Although this was lengthy and had some great dialogue and a look at what is now a little-known episode of the American Revolution, I felt that for the audience it lacked a lot of context. Most of the 3rd and 4th graders I work with don't know the basics of the American Revolution, let alone the more complex history behind the involvement with France and England. I felt like more context would have made this more accessible to the kids.

Verdict: While I don't feel this stands alone well, it is a good supplementary text for students learning about the American Revolution. I will be recommending it to teachers and especially to my homeschool students. I purchased it as part of my work on updating our 900s section with a wider selection of titles.

ISBN: 9781590788806; Published 2013 by Calkins Creek; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Saturday, August 4, 2018

This week at the library; or, And now it is August

I baked a ton of stuff for the bake sale. But not as much
dough as I made. So now I'm baking it for teen programs later.
I hate baking. Why do I do this?
What's Happening
Still have programs, but also winding things up. Working on fall schedules, booking outreach, etc. Sorting through Library on the Go books - I hope some more come back soon, b/c I'm worried I won't have enough for outreach through August!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Ruby and Olivia by Rachel Hawkins

Olivia can’t understand why she and her twin Emma have grown apart so quickly. But more and more it seemed like it was Emma and her friend Ruby, with Olivia tagging along, until Emma and Ruby had an argument. Now all three are alone. So why does Olivia take the blame for Emma and get stuck with community service? She’s not really sure. Now she has to spend three days a week at Camp Chrysalis and is horrified to discover that she’s stuck with Ruby - and, as she later discovers, Ruby and Emma’s rival crush Garrett. At first they are relieved that they won’t be picking up trash, but cleaning out the old Live Oak Mansion. They’re not so pleased when they start clashing - and discover that there’s something alive in the house. Something evil.

A ghost story, a friendship story, a story about growing and changing, this has a little something for everybody.

The story is told in text exchanges between Olivia and Ruby and in alternating viewpoints. Readers will get swept up in the spooky mystery of the house, but also become invested in the stories of the individual girls, so different and yet slowly growing into a better friendship than Ruby and Emma ever had, for all their similarities. This book definitely reminded me that middle school girls go through a lot of drama (boys aren’t immune to it either, but the girls seem to have more of it) but Ruby and Emma, with the support of their families, do a good job weathering the storm and giving great promise of the people they will become.

Verdict: Hand this one to readers who like spooky adventure stories but also those who enjoy more introspective slice-of-life, realistic fiction.

ISBN: 9780399169618; Published October 24, 2017 by Putnam; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Gordon: Bark to the future! by Ashley Spires

It feels like forever since we've had a book about the brave space pets of P.U.R.S.T. After the saga of Binky and his struggles to protect his family from the space aliens (bugs) who live in space (outside), the story expanded to include the wider universe of space pets. We heard the story of Sergeant Fluffy and his brave defense of P.U.R.S.T. headquarters. Now, for the first time ever, we'll hear the story of a non-feline pet - Gordon the dog!

The story begins dramatically; the aliens have invaded, Binky is captured, and only Gordon can save the day. Luckily, he's good with technology and has built a time machine to go back in time and fix things.... or will he make things worse?

To Gordon's shock, he messes up time and now he's in a time period when he doesn't exist - and when the organization only allowed felines! Then things get worse and Binky never gets to become a space cat! Luckily, friends are friends no matter where you are - or when you are. With some past and future help, Gordon manages to save the day!

Spires' distinctive art style may make it hard to tell the different between Binky, with his triangular markings and ears, and Gordon's pale tan triangles. However, readers who have met the characters previously will be delighted to see their old friends again and even new readers can pick up enough of the story along the way to follow along.

Verdict: If you don't have the Binky series, you absolutely must go back and purchase them, and then of course you'll need the P.U.R.S.T. titles. Delightfully fun, these are solid additions to any beginning chapter book section.

ISBN: 9781771384094; Published May 2018 by Kids Can Press; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Small Readers: Dance, Dance, Dance! by Ethan Long

It’s funny how many funny easy readers feature dancing animals - Ballet Cat, Elephants Cannot Dance, and now Ethan Long’s quirky addition, Dance, Dance, Dance! Horse is really putting down the moves, when Buggy shows up and asks what she’s doing. How can Horse be dancing if there’s no music? The music is in her head! Buggy decides she wants to dance too - and she can be just as good as Horse - but she is having trouble getting going. Fortunately, Horse has a solution!

Long’s cheerful cartoons show a long-legged horse and a fluffy fly with long eyelashes. The two dance across brightly-colored pages, their text in square speech bubbles.

Verdict: Hopefully this new series will continue; it’s sure to be popular with emergent readers, although the characters don’t have quite the unique pull of more long-running pairs like Elephant and Piggie. At least not yet!

ISBN: 9780823438594; Published 2018 by Holiday House; Purchased for the library