Friday, November 30, 2018

Woodpeckers by Sneed B. Collard III

I like woodpeckers. I get downy woodpeckers at my birdfeeders sometimes, which is always fun. Also, did you know that woodpeckers and toucans belong to the same order, Piciformes? I learned that whilst cataloging! Enough dithering, on to the book.

In a casual, friendly manner, Collard talks about woodpeckers; the different types, their behaviors, effect on the environment, and current state of vulnerability. He makes mention of pop culture, like saying that you can't mistake a woodpecker's drumming unless you're absorbed in Shark Week or Minecraft. He talks about his own experiences with these fascinating birds - he and his son took the photos in the US and abroad. The photographs are occasionally blurry, but generally of a high, professional standard. The layout of the book is a large, picture book style with a lot of white space around the edge of the light font.

Back matter includes an author's note, encouraging readers to revisit the author's earlier book, a glossary, index, and photo bloopers.

The author is correct that there aren't many books for kids on woodpeckers and certainly nothing approaching narrative nonfiction, not since Hoose's Race to save the Lord God Bird in 2014. This accessible title combines humor and the author's friendly, down-to-earth text to create an informative, attractive volume on birds that should be better-known.

Verdict: A strong addition to middle grade nonfiction on animals; recommended.

ISBN: 9780984446094; Published May 2018 by Bucking Horse Books; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly

With the success of the delightful Sofia series by Jacqueline Jules, Capstone has added another own voices beginning chapter series, this time featuring spunky Yasmin Ahmad, a Pakistani-American.

Like the Sofia books, these are available in single titles or in a chapter-book style collection, which I am reviewing here. It includes four stories: Yasmin the explorer, Yasmin the painter, Yasmin the builder, and Yasmin the fashionista. In the first story, we meet Yasmin who is learning about maps. She draws a map of her hometown, but gets lost when she goes to the farmer's market with her mother. Will her map help her find her way back? In the second and third story, we see Yasmin at school, working on art and science projects and putting her unique spin on things. The four story returns to Yasmin's home and her extended family as she enjoys dressing up in her mother's clothes with her grandmother, Nani.

At the back there are questions about the stories, a glossary of the Urdu words in the text, a page of facts about Pakistan, a recipe and crafts, and a profile of the author and illustrator.

The bright illustrations show the spunky and enthusiastic Yasmin with dark skin, short black hair, and gold earrings. Her father is casually dressed and her mother wears a hijab outside the house. She appears to live in a fairly diverse area; her teacher is white, with short, spiky hair, but a variety of races and families are shown in the school.

I felt there was a little more wish-fulfillment in Yasmin's stories than in Sofia's life. Sofia has to deal with siblings, sometimes feeling left out in her big, noisy family, and not always getting her own way. Yasmin seems to be the sole focus of her family and lives in what appears to be a prosperous urban area. Despite her doubts, she easily wins an art contest (and free lessons with a famous artist) and her mother appears to have an extensive collection of beautiful clothing.

Verdict: This is a sweet look at a loving family, but it's not quite right for my audience. I appreciate that it gives my readers a look at a different culture which they are very unlikely to have encountered in our small town, but the economic status and single-child family is more of an outlier than the family's culture. We'll stick with Sofia, which is very popular in my library.

ISBN: 9781684360222; This edition published August 2018 by Picture Window/Capstone; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Small Readers: Mr. Monkey bakes a cake by Jeff Mack

Mr. Monkey, who looks like a human with a tail, furry ears, and large muzzle, is baking a cake. He dumps in bananas, sugar, and other ingredients, making a huge mess. However, he ends up with a great cake! Which he's too full to eat, having stuffed himself with bananas. Fortunately, there's a cake contest in town and he sets off to complete. Along the way, he runs into a series of catastrophes; he jaywalks and is almost run over by a tattooed cyclist, fends off birds, is chased by dogs, nearly gets attacked by a gorilla... finally, he arrives at the competition.... but he's too late! The competition is over. Could things get any worse? Well, that gorilla is still on the loose...

Cartoon illustrations show the series of mishaps, slapstick, and luck that Mr. Monkey encounters. Throughout the story, there's a small black girl in the background, carefully carrying her own pink-frosted cake and she gets incorporated into the happy ending. This comes in at a good beginning reader level - it's a 220 lexile level and would come out to a red sticker, or beginning reader (one step above emergent readers) in my library.

I'm... torn about this one. I really don't know what to decide in conclusion. On the one hand, I'm sure kids will like this. The cartoon illustrations and panels, slapstick humor, and colorful art are similar to other popular series like Jump-into-chapters, Elephant and Piggie, and Ethan Long's titles. There's a nice diversity in the background characters - the little black girl and tattooed bike rider with a basket full of flowers. But... for anyone who's been following children's literature discussions online there's been a lot of controversy (not just recently, it's always been around, it's just recently cropped up again) about depicting humans as monkeys, children as monkeys, etc. because of the racist overtones. I'm not going to comment one way or another on that - I don't feel qualified to judge and I haven't purchased most of the books discussed for other reasons - but this one... why is Mr. Monkey a monkey? He doesn't talk, and yet he's very anthropomorphic - and there's a very stereotypical gorilla in a cage. It just feels... off. Maybe I'm overly sensitive to it because of the ongoing discussion, but maybe this is a good thing to feel sensitive about?

Verdict: I don't know. Kids would like it and read it, but the depiction of a half-man/half-monkey feels off to me. I honestly doubt the author had anything but funny cartoons in his mind when he wrote/drew this - his work is very silly, similar to Ethan Long. It's got many excellent reviews, including some starred reviews. So... I really don't know. Am I overthinking this? Should I get it since I know the kids will like it? Discuss it in a book club? What do you think?

ISBN: 9781534404311; Published July 2018 by Simon & Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Oskar can... by Britta Teckentrup

I'm always fascinated by authors who can create books with very different styles; Britta Teckentrup has created nonfiction titles like the peek-through series, simple toddler books, and more reflective picture books. Her cut paper illustrations are very similar and yet she uses them for different effects in each title.

There is an earlier book about Oskar the raven, although I haven't personally read it. In this title, he is exploring things that he can do - simple things like jumping almost as high as his friend Mo, more complicated things like making the perfect cup of tea. The book ends by asking the reader what they can do.

The backgrounds are earth shades of green and brown, blue and cream. Oscar is a static image, set against each background with a few simple props - a soccer ball, red skis, and stack of stones.

Verdict: Artistically, it's interesting but I don't see it being a very good storytime choice. The things Oskar can do are so varied that they don't really parallel a child's experience (ski? ride a tandem bicycle?) and although it could be fun in a fanciful way it just doesn't really stand out. My favorite Teckentrups remain her peek-through and seek-and-find titles.

ISBN: 9783791373614; Published 2018 by Prestel; Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, November 26, 2018

Who eats orange? by Dianne White, illustrated by Robin Page

I was worried that this would be another Steve Jenkins-like title (nothing against him, it's just that he's very prolific and all the books start to run into each other after a while) but it turned out to be something quite new and outstanding (no, it's not by Steve Jenkins, but Page illustrates/works with him a lot, so that's what I immediately thought when I saw the cover).

So. Simple rhymes introduce different animals and the colors of the food they eat. Starting with the title, "Who eats orange? Bunnies in their hutches do./Chickens in the hen house too." shows a grey rabbit munching a carrot and vibrant red chickens pecking at cantaloupe melons (they do like these - I've fed them the rinds). The story continues with a goat eating an orange, a pig eating a pumpkin, and gorillas... "No! Gorillas don't eat orange. They eat..." turn the page to discover what gorillas, giraffes, zebras, and hippos eat! As you continue you'll note that the animals are loosely divided into sections - domestic animals, African animals, ocean creatures, wild animals of North America, tropical creatures, and so on. The book ends with a pudgy white hand in a red sweater scooping up a handful of blueberries and a rainbow of foods that people eat.

Back matter explores the habitats of each section - farm, Africa, ocean, forest, rain forest, and tundra. The vibrant digital illustrations mimic paper collages but have a smoother edge. Each animal and food is set against a white background and the simple art and text makes this ideal for toddlers.

Verdict: This is one of those excellent nonfiction titles that can be expanded for many different audiences. Read it in storytime with toddlers, helping them recognize animals and colors; read it with preschools and learn different kinds of fruit, vegetables, and other foods; study it with elementary students to discuss habitats and the similarities and differences between what animals and people eat. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781534404083; Published August 2018 by Beach Lane; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, November 24, 2018

This week at the library; or, I am not at the library

I took vacation. We close at 5:30 on Wednesday and are closed Thursday-Friday, then re-open on Saturday. The only event was Paws to Read on Monday and I left a lot of projects for my staff to work on, mostly decorations for life-size Candyland.

I often joke that my "vacations" are more of a change of venue. I slept (a lot), wrote many, many reviews, worked on Cybils, did the dishes and cleaned, did some shopping, worked on sewing projects, and generally relaxed. Ok, there was some collection development in there. I find it relaxing.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb

When I think of dramatic prisoner of war escapes, I usually think of Colditz in WWII - mostly because my sister was obsessed with it (there were Lego models). So I was fascinated to read this account of the "original" escape in World War I of a group of soldiers and pilots who escaped from the notorious German prison of Holzminden.

Bascomb builds the story slowly, starting with a rough outline of the war and the role pilots played - including the dangers they faced. As one by one men are captured and the war continues, the various characters make escape attempts, fail, and gradually come to be incarcerated in a notorious prison camp. Not all survive; if they make it through the initial deadly crash of their primitive planes, they still have to survive escape attempts and recapture, not to mention brutal treatment in the prison camps.

Eventually, a band of men, all of whom have made multiple attempts to escape, are housed together at Holzminden. There, despite the brutal treatment by the commandant Karl Niemeyer, they work together to plan a daring escape. It's not an easy task; some attempts are made and end in death or solitary imprisonment. Some men are sent to other camps. There are traitors and close calls, not to mention the physical labor and dangers of their risky escape tunnel. But eventually, a record number of men make their escape.

Throughout the book Bascomb details the various personalities of the men, bringing them to life as individuals. He doesn't shy away from cruel treatment, the realities of life as a POW, or even a frank discussion of how class continued to affect the soldiers even in a prison. Although honest, the book isn't overly graphic. It's aimed at a middle school audience but a strong middle grade reader would be able to handle it.

Verdict: This is the first book I read of Scholastic's new imprint, Focus, and I'm really excited about it! Action, adventure, history, and an author who doesn't shy away from the realities of war or whitewash the soldiers into one big happy family, including the different attitudes depending on the soldiers' countries, class, and their own personalities. This is sure to grab the attention of history and adventure fans alike.

ISBN: 9781338140347; Published September 2018 by Scholastic Focus; ARC provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Megabat by Anna Humphrey, illustrated by Kass Reich

I'm generally a little skeptical about stories starring sensitive boys - they tend not to circulate in my library. But this one won me over and I can definitely see an audience for this sweet and funny story.

Daniel Misumi is scared of his new house. It's old and creaky and, worst of all, there's a weird puddle in the attic which is also his bedroom! But when he takes up a jelly roll for dessert he discovers the source of the puddle... a talking bat! (It's tears, not pee. Just so you know.) Daniel and the bat quickly become friends and the bat gets a new name - Megabat! Plus a toy lightsaber! The next hurdle is Daniel's reluctant meeting with the next-door neighbors. Sweet Talia is instantly ready to help Megabat find his way home, but they've got bigger problems than just keeping Daniel's parents from finding out about Megabat. Now they've got to deal with Talia's nasty big brother, Jamie.

After some research at the library, Daniel figures out where Megabat's real home is. Will he be willing to let his new friend go? And can Megabat safely find his way home or will tragedy ensue? Along the way, there's a besotted and not-so-stupid pigeon, the thwarting of a villain (i.e. Jamie) and lots of silly bat talk.

Soft charcoal sketches decorate the pages, showing Megabat's homeland "Papaya Premium", Megabat pretending to wield a lightsaber, and other highlights of the story. A note at the back tells the readers more about bats and advertises the next book in the series.

Verdict: This slow and sweet story won't be for every reader, but there will be plenty of young readers who appreciate the slow building of a friendship and the quirky little bat.

ISBN: 9780735262577; Published August 2018 by Tundra; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Small Readers: My toothbrush is missing by Jan Thomas

Jan Thomas' easy reader series, The Giggle Gang, continues with this hilarious book. The first spread shows a mysterious paw reaching for a red toothbrush labeled "dog". The next page includes the title, My Toothbrush is Missing! in a speech balloon. The story begins with Dog, who is missing her toothbrush, and Donkey, Sheep, and Duck, who are worried but unhelpful. Dog tries describing her toothbrush and Donkey helpfully shows up with various options... but, as Dog exclaims after each try "that is not my toothbrush!" Sheep is increasingly exasperated as she identifies an egg beater, broom, and other items. Duck just can't believe her eyes! Finally, Donkey gives up and gets back to scrubbing her hooves... with Dog's toothbrush???

Thomas' bright colors and cartoonish illustrations have long been a favorite of the toddler and preschool set; I've also regularly recommended her books to beginning readers. Now that publishers have caught on, both old and new titles are being published in easy reader format to great acclaim. This funny story includes bold text that is easy to read, carefully arranged speech balloons and illustrations that make the story easy to follow, and her trademark surprise twist at the end of the story.

Verdict: I've been using these titles in book clubs, to recommend to emerging readers, and to read-aloud for years - each new addition is just as popular as the last. While they don't have the character recognition of Elephant and Piggie, they're a fun staple in any easy reader collection.

ISBN: 9780544966352; Published 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Penguin & Tiny Shrimp don't do bedtime! by Cate Berry, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Penguin and Tiny Shrimp may be in pajamas, and they may have brushed their teeth, but this is NOT a bedtime book!

There are no soft beds! No squishy pillows! This is a book with fireworks, swinging on vines in the jungle, and sailing through shark-infested waters! This book is just a party all the time. It will never make you sleeeeeepy. Yawn.

Santoso's grainy, colored-pencil illustrations (yes, it says they were created digitally but they LOOK like colored-pencil) show a perky penguin and silly shrimp racing through the Serengeti, unboxing a uni-hippo, and finally, much against their will, falling asleep.

Verdict: Kids will giggle themselves silly over this anti-bedtime book and maybe, possibly, get a little sleepy by the end. Perfect for a pajama storytime.

ISBN: 9780062491534; Published 2018 by Balzer + Bray; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, November 19, 2018

Stretch to the sun: From a tiny sprout to the tallest tree on earth by Carrie A. Pearson, illustrated by Susan Swan

The tallest tree on earth - a carefully hidden redwood in the forest - serves as a focal point to the changes and growth in the forest over many years.

The story begins with a dramatic storm, a tree falling, and a tiny seedling. Slowly, the seedling grows; the seasons change, animals come and go, the landscape shifts, but the tree continues to reach towards the sun. A miniature ecosystem is formed in its crown and vegetation sprouts, reaching every higher. Birds and flying squirrels, salamanders and all manner of insects inhabit the tree. Humans come and go, cutting lumber, building roads, but the tree survives to be protected and studied and become the tallest tree in the forest.

An author's note explains the process of creating and researching the book and additional facts about redwoods explain some of the passages in the book; how these trees are propagated, how long they live, and how they have been affected by history. A selected bibliography, links and locations to learn more, and some simple tips to help support trees are included on the last page.

Swan's layered collages add depth and color to the story, blending animals, vegetation, and more in the dense life of the forest. Feathery green leaves explode towards the sky with tiny creatures hidden in their depths; a fluttering butterfly, blue bird, and tiny owl. Sharp oranges and yellows show the influx of humans and machines against the browns and greens of the forest. The final look at the tree is a gatefold, showing three combined pages of green with birds of prey hidden in its branches.

Verdict: A richly illustrated story of an amazing tree, this is a great addition to STEM storytimes and outdoor investigations. Children will be eager to search for the animals hidden in the leafy art and the poetic text will make a good read-aloud for strong listeners.

ISBN: 9781580897716; Published October 9, 2018 by Charlesbridge; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, November 17, 2018

This week at the library; or, November week 2

Yeah, there were some spiders and pumpkins left in there.
But there's actually a Christmas story about spiders so...
What's happening at the library
  • Monday
    • Discovery Playgroup
    • Paws to Read
    • Books for Bedtime
    • Worked 12-8
  • Tuesday
    • Holiday Craft Extravaganza
      • Toddlers
      • Family/All ages
      • Teens
    • Worked 10-6:45
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
  • Friday
    • Outreach: Silly Dance Party
    • Worked 12-8
Busy week. Toddlers had a wide variety of crafts, provided by Miss Pattie. Family/all ages holiday craft was decorating die-cut magnets (we figured out that you have to paint them before putting glitter on them or it just peels off) and we also used paint, glue, and melted crayons. Time for vacation! In order to work on Cybils and catch up on reviews... I'll probably spend some time sleeping too!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Kitten Construction Company: Meet the house kittens by John Patrick Green

I saw mixed reviews of Green's first young graphic novel, Hippopotamister, but my book club kids loved it, saying it was really funny! So, although I'm again seeing mixed reviews and have some mixed feelings myself about his latest comic book, I'm not ready to dismiss it without some child testing.

A white man in a suit is examining blueprints for the mayor's new mansion. But even though the blueprints are great, he just can't hire the architect because, well, she's just too cute! In fact, she's a kitten! Marmalade is frustrated and angry that no one will take her seriously, so she ends up gathering a crew of adorable kitties who happen to be skilled plumbers, electricians, and carpenters. They're delighted to be hired as a construction crew, only to discover that they're being given pointless tasks. No matter how they try, everyone just sees them as cute kittens! So they decide to build their own, superior version of the mayor's mansion. On the big day, the city planner unveils the mansion to reveal a towering disaster! Will there be any way to save the day? And will the kittens ever be taken seriously?

Bright, cheerful colors fill the pages, showing the adorable, fluffy kittens as they don hard hats, drive vehicles, and work hard to prove themselves. The human-made mansion is laughably bad - balanced on columns, tilted all ways, and finally collapsing when it's unveiled. When the city planner tries to get his construction crew, a mixed race group that includes a black man and a white woman with curly, purple hair, to see how the kitten construction crew is doing things right he shows them pictures - cue for cute kitten videos on his phone of real kittens playing in and around construction equipment. The mayor is a dark-skinned woman in a dark pink pantsuit and the kittens' successful mansion is a towering building with lawns, a brick wall, and a large porch.

The message of not judging by appearances feels kind of weird - the humans are a mostly diverse group, but all the human construction crews are shown to be incompetent. The kittens never do really win respect - the mayor refuses to believe they built the mansion but the city planner promises to assign them new projects, since he's the only one not blinded by their cuteness. What I really want to know is... why are they building the mayor a mansion? What does the city planner have to do with this? It just feels... odd.

Verdict: This is certainly cute and funny, with a good message about not judging about appearances. Although it didn't quite click for me personally, I think it will be just as popular with the kids as Green's previous titles and look forward to discussing it in book club.

ISBN: 9781626728301; Published September 2018 by First Second; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Babies in the Forest by Ginger Swift, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller

I first saw Cottage Door Press, a new publisher at the time, at ALA a few years ago. For some reason it took me until now to actually buy some of their books!

This chubby little board book features two adorable foxes, Rusty and Ruby. The thick pages show the adorable foxes meeting other woodland creatures, tasting berries, and playing in the forest. On the left page is a sentence, "Ruby and Rusty love playing in the fall leaves" and the right side has the flap and sometimes a question, "Who is hiding in the branches?" The flaps are double-thick like the sturdy pages and set into a shallow depression with a space around them, not flush like flaps usually are. This means little fingers can easily pry them up without difficulty.

The book is about 4xx inches and the edges are cut in curves, adding additional texture and making it easier to turn the pages. The front cover is also embossed. This has a very sturdy construction and even if you're reluctant to buy flaps is one you can feel safe in adding to your collection.

I really liked the way the text is arranged to help the adult reading it interact with the child, using questions, finding things in the pictures, and following the simple "plot".

Verdict: This is a delightful choice for little ones, babies up to toddlers. The sweet illustrations and simple text make a good read-aloud and the flaps add an additional dimension to experience. A strong addition to any board book collection.

ISBN: 9781680521887; Published June 2017 by Cottage Door Press; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Made by Maxine by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Holly Hatam

Maxine, an inventive white girl with chalked pink and blue streaks in her hair, loves to make things, recycling, inventing, and tinkering. She has a special pet, a goldfish named Milton, for whom she's built a "spectacular" tank! But when Miss McMiller announces a pet parade on the playground after school, the other children are skeptical that she'll be able to bring Milton, since he doesn't have feet to march in the parade!

Maxine starts confidently planning a vehicle that will get Milton to the parade, but over and over again she fails. She considers borrowing a different, fluffier pet, but in the end realizes that Milton is her friend. With renewed determination, she sets to work and this time she succeeds in creating a "fintastic, fintabulous, fincredible fishmobile!" The story ends with Maxine and her fish and the confident assertion that "If I can dream it, I can make it!"

I was disappointed that Maxine was paper white; it would have been nice to see children of color in other but the background. I do think there's also some privilege implied in books like this, where the kids have access to a wide variety of materials and tools and the space to tinker with them. It's also a little unbelievable that the school would have a pet parade -and that they have a whole line-up of pets (bird, hamster, rabbit, and turtle) but most school-based stories aren't really realistic anyways.

Verdict: A cheerful story about try, try, trying again and not giving up.

ISBN: 9780399186295; Published October 2018 by Dial; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, November 12, 2018

Absolute Expert: Dolphins by Jennifer Swanson with Justine Jackson-Ricketts

This is a new series from National Geographic, featuring the latest research, photographs, and facts about a popular science subject, in this case dolphins. The "National Geographic Explorer" is a real-life scientist who gives expert knowledge and talks about their own experience in the field. Bonus points for both (of the two titles currently out as I write this) being women.

The featured scientist for this title is Justine Jackson-Ricketts, marine biologist. She specifically studies dolphins in the gulf of Thailand. The first chapters introduces dolphins as a family and the different species included. After this overview, the book delves more deeply into the subject, covering dolphins' bodies, adaptations, and habitats. Dolphins' social habits are covered in the next chapter, including a discussion of dolphins in the wild and in captivity. The final chapter discusses current issues facing dolphins and human involvement, both good and bad.

Back matter includes a suggestion for getting involved, further reading, index and credits. Like most National Geographic titles, this is a nice mix of expository and narrative nonfiction, mixing information about dolphins with narratives of scientists' experiences, mythology, and how dolphins have affected, and been affected by, humans.

Verdict: This is an excellent new series that is sure to intrigue middle grade readers. It's best for those who are strong readers, as it's fairly text-heavy with a smaller font. There are still plenty of factoids and photographs for fun browsing though.

ISBN: 9781426330100; Published May 2018 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, November 10, 2018

This week at the library; or, November

What's happening at the library
November I was going to plan fewer programs so I could write grants, work on projects, and plan for life-size candyland. HA HA HA HA HA HA. Maybe next week. Tuesday I covered storytime for my school colleague who, as I explained to people, told me where she was but I forgot. In the afternoon I put together my new dollhouse! Which turned out to have several broken pieces. This does not auger well. I set them with heavy-duty glue and got a 15% refund (couldn't get replacements - they didn't have it). Started a little on the grants, planning for next year, and a weeding project.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Timo goes camping by Victoria Allenby, illustrated by Dean Griffiths

I admit that when I saw this I was... skeptical. It's an odd little book, with illustrations that remind me of Michael Hague's oil paintings for Wind in the Willows, fairly dense text, albeit in a large font, and a slim, hardcover layout that just felt... odd. However, I ended up being charmed by Timo and his friends - which is a great bonus of Cybils, because you try different things!

Suki, a bouncy grey squirrel, has a great idea - the friends will go on a camping trip! Bogs the toad will sing, Rae the badger will do their engineering, and Hedgewick will cook. Timo, a gentle brown bunny, isn't so sure. He doesn't know how to camp - and neither do any of the others! So he takes himself to the library and finds just the right books. He takes lots of notes. Now Timo is ready, even though he's still nervous. When the camping trip starts, so do the disasters. Suki isn't quite as knowledgeable as she thought and when Timo tries to help she makes fun of him, as well as the others.

Finally, Timo has had enough. He tells Suki how upset and hurt he is and gets a surprising response. Suki apologizes and the others talk about how they feel; some of them were hurt by the teasing too and some don't care. In the end, Suki admits they all have a role to play, and Timo's notes and knowledge from the library turn out to be useful.

Paintings of the friends and their mishaps are scattered about the pages of this slim volume. While there's a definite moral pointed, there's just as much story as well and the lesson is given in a gentle, natural way. I also appreciated that while it's shown that Timo needed to speak up, Suki is just as at fault for not asking if her teasing hurt before assuming that it was ok.

Verdict: While I don't see this appealing to a broad range of my readers, it's too low-key and gentle a story for most of them, plus the text is fairly challenging, I definitely have an audience who will love these. I have a section of young readers who are very fluent and whose parents want them to read quiet stories along these lines and the kids enjoy them as well. Definitely putting on my list.

ISBN: 9781772780406; Published March 2018 by Pajama Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Animal Shapes by Christopher Silas Neal

This clever board book will appeal to both adults and children with its mingling of shapes, colors, and animals.

On the left side of the spread is the text of the page and a small image of an animal. On the right is a large shape. The text combines the two, "When a lazy turtle meets an oval, they become a..." and the following spread shows a cute combination of the two, "Slow-val".

Each shape cleverly combines the animal, shape, and description; the turtle is a large green oval, legs and tail tucked around itself, compared to a school of darting green fish. A woodpecker flattens itself against a trapezoid to become a "tap-tap-ezoid" as it taps on the bark. An orange-brown dog squats into a hexagon to become a "scent-agon" as it sniffs for a cat.

Some of the shapes are advanced for the audience - trapezoid, hexagon - but little ones can still enjoy the funny sounds - and the funny combinations of animals that result! The brightly-colored illustrations are very attractive and the text simple and brisk.

Verdict: A delightful addition to any board book collection; Recommended.

ISBN: 9781499805345; Published March 2018 by little bee; Purchased for the library 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Pterodactyl show and tell by Thad Krasnesky, illustrated by Tanya Leonello

Kids really like books where things, people, other kids, or animals get eaten. They just do. Get used to it. This book not only fulfills that basic urge, it also includes dinosaurs, so pretty much the two best things ever in one book!

The story opens with an orange-haired kid with a mischievous grin bringing his giant, green pterodactyl to school for show and tell (with a falconer's glove and red leash, naturally). The other kids, a blend of races and skin colors, are horrified by this monstrous creature and with good reason - one by one the students start disappearing!

From quiet reading time to recess, math to lunch, and all periods in between, the hungry pterodactyl chows down and the class gets smaller and smaller until only our red-headed mischief-maker and his pet are left.... but what will happen when he gets moved up to fourth grade?

Leonello's cartoons are full of many hilarious tidbits; during quiet reading time the kids read books with titles like "It's coming to get you" or "Scary stories" with a picture of a toothy pterodactyl on the cover. Small dinosaur models and other jokes are hidden throughout the book and the narrator's naughty grin will keep readers giggling throughout the tale of saurian greed. It would have been nice to see one of the diverse kids as the main character; kids of color never seem to get an opportunity to be funny. However, I did appreciate the more realistic class size (at least until they start getting eaten...).

Verdict: If, like me, you like to have "things being eaten" themed storytimes, this is a definite addition to that delightful genre. Also a great choice for Dinovember storytimes!

ISBN: 9781936261345; Published October 3, 2018 by Flashlight Press; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, November 5, 2018

Absolute Expert: Volcanoes by Lela Nargi, with Arianna Soldati

This is a new series from National Geographic. It has the latest research and information, as well as interviews and input from a current scientist in the field.

The book is laid out in typical National Geographic style, with lots of inset panels with additional information, photographs, varying fonts, etc. The book is divided into four chapters. It covers the basic formation and existence of volcanoes, both on earth and in space, different types of volcanoes, how volcanoes affect - and are affected and studied by - humans, and finally a collection of current information on climate change, scientists, and what we can look forward to in the future regarding volcanoes.

The featured scientist is Arianna Soldati and throughout the book she interjects her scientific expertise and personal experiences working with volcanoes. Back matter includes some additional experiments and reading, index, and credits. The book is a trim size, big enough to look and feel like a chapter book, not a picture book, but sizable enough to contain all the various information packed in it.

Verdict: This new series from National Geographic is a nice addition to their repertoire and sure to be popular with middle grade readers who have strong reading skills and enjoy science and nonfiction.

ISBN: 9781426331428; Published August 2018 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, November 3, 2018

This week at the library; or, Goodbye October

What's happening
  • Monday
    • Paws to Read
    • Worked 12-8
  • Tuesday
  • Wednesday
    • Worked 9:15-5:30
  • Thursday
  • Friday

Friday, November 2, 2018

King of the bench: Kicking and screaming by Steve Moore

This is a notebook novel, one of the countless spawned by the mighty machine of Wimpy Kid. This one has a sports focus - the main character is also purportedly the author. Steve is your average kid - he likes sports and has pretty good hand to eye coordination, but his feet - not so coordinated. Which is bad when soccer is the THE most popular sport in the world and he hates it. A fact which he inadvertently mentions to his friends, short and psychic Joey, enigmatic and weird Carlos, and Becky with the perfect smile.

Becky who also loves soccer.

Becky who now isn't speaking to him.

So, Steve braves bullies, humiliation, and signs up for the JV soccer team, just to prove to Becky that he's willing to learn about her beloved game. Then he finds himself on a bus to a soccer tournament, sprayed by a skunk, meeting the craziest best soccer player in the world, and, just maybe, learning to actually... like soccer?

The book is illustrated throughout with scratchy black and white cartoons which reminded me a little of Gary Larson or Stephen Pastis' style (Pastis blurbed the book). It has the requisite bodily humor jokes, weird best friends, and (sort of) triumph of the underdog. At least Becky is talking to him again (or will be, after he stops smelling of skunk).

There's a fair amount of soccer talk in here - sports aren't a huge deal around here, not as much as, say, football in Texas, but I do get a lot of requests for soccer players, mostly from the Hispanic kids who are more familiar with the Brazilian and other teams. There's also the deprecatory tone of many of these notebook novels, where the kid kind of realizes he's on the outside and/or sometimes being a jerk, but just keeps going anyways. There is some diversity, but all secondary characters (Becky is a great soccer player, the celebrity player is from South America). While I personally didn't find it particularly funny, as I often tell kids humor is subjective!

Verdict: While I have a lot of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and Dork Diaries fans, my library kids won't necessarily pick up any book that's a notebook novel. They've largely turned up their noses at Timmy Failure, Classroom, Charlie Joe Jackson, and only some kids are Patterson fans. If you have diehard notebook novel fans or sports fiction enthusiasts, this would be a fun addition to the collection.

ISBN: 9780062203342; Published March 2018 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bella Broomstick: Magic Mistakes by Lou Kuenzler

I can't really explain what unmistakably marks some books as of British origin - there's a certain whacky, Dahlesque flavor of fantasy that just is British and this definitely falls into that category.

Bella Broomstick lives with her nasty Aunt Hemlock and is the worst witch ever, not even counting her own parents (a spell to turn themselves into mice to make baby Bella laugh went sadly awry). She's failed the witch's exam two times and her third, dramatic failure, condemns her to a horrible fate - being sent to the human world! Except Bella is actually not so sure this is a horrible fate after all. She's sneaked a lot of peeks at a department store catalog and the thought of hot baths instead of a dip in the sludgy pond, a bathroom instead of an outhouse, and no more eating spiders and toads sounds good to her! Her new foster parents are lovely and she's fitting right in, mostly, until she loses the magical moth Aunt Hemlock enchanted to make the Ables want her. They couldn't possibly want to keep her without magic, could they?

Bella and her aunt are shown with the same dark skin and curly hair and Mr. Able is lightly tanned (although with black and white illustrations it's hard to tell if he's white or not). The rest of the human and witch world is shown as white (or, occasionally, green). There are lots of cute pictures of cats, sparkling potions, and Bella's new life as well as little decorations of her mean aunt turning her into things and her gruesome life before the Ables.

This is a very typical "rags to riches" story with a Dahlesque flavor of wicked villains and Bella's dark skin adding just a little diversity (one review says that all the "bad" people are dark-skinned but that's... not true? The nasty Seymour family is white and the pictures of the girls who bullied Bella in the witch world show them as white also while Mr. Able is possibly a little darker in skin tone.) The over-the-top abuse of Bella was just icky to me - her aunt threatens, beats, and uses magic on her, eats spiders and other nasty tidbits, and is just generally nasty. But for kids who like this dramatic genre, it's sure to be a hit.

Verdict: If you have a lot of fans of Dahl and this particular brand of British humor this could be popular; it isn't one that's gotten a lot of interest in my library though, so I'll pass.

ISBN: 9781524767815; This edition published August 2018 by Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium