Monday, July 4, 2022

True History: The Founders Unmasked by Jennifer Sabin; The Legacy of Jim Crow by Clarence A. Haynes

In the past few years I've focused on updating the United States history sections with titles that cover a wide range of events and time periods and which include a wider variety of perspectives. In addition to kids who are interested in reading history and our homeschooling families, I provide materials for several school units on the American Revolution and Civil Rights era and monthly baskets with social sciences topics for free reading. So I was interested in taking a look at this new series, True History, that explores different events and periods in US history.

These are definitely different from anything I've looked at before and, most importantly, they don't just mention previously forgotten, overlooked, and oppressed characters, they center them in the narrative. In The Founders Unmasked this can be seen right away in the front cover; the traditionally-pictured founders are grayed out with the people they enslaved brought into full color next to them.

Rather than a straightforward narrative of history, centering familiar events and people like the Boston Tea Party, George Washington, Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Jefferson, or focusing on a limited and specific group of people and events like Martin Luther King Jr. and one or two marches, these titles are discussion guides that lead readers into thoughtful reflection on people and events they may have previously accepted without criticism. Jennifer Sabin, the creator of the series, writes a foreword to both books explaining the purpose of the series, that it "sets out not to rewrite history but to collect some of the existing facts and growing body of evidence that paint a more honest picture...the purpose...[is] to give you information and tools to ask tough questions and come to your own conclusions."

The Founders Unmasked explores the legacies of founders as disparate as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton; focuses on the life of Sally Hemings, and jumps forward to Frederick Douglass to tie together events 100 years apart. Throughout the book, readers are constantly asked to reconsider, think critically, and draw parallels to their own lives and things they see in current-day America. In The Legacy of Jim Crow author Clarence Haynes goes beyond the brief overview of Martin Luther King that some kids get in school to explore the ideas, struggles, and lives of Black citizens during the era of Jim Crow and forward into current day movements like Black Lives Matter. He shows how pernicious the strands of racism and prejudice are throughout our society. However, Haynes also lifts up forgotten names and overlooked people, celebrating Black accomplishments in science, media, and more. As media became entwined in daily life during this era, additional inserts include looking at how Black people are portrayed in media and a "closer look" at contemporary artists and activitists.

Both titles, in addition to Sabin's foreword, include introductions, reproductions of original documents and photographs, and further reading in print and online. I did notice several typos here and there, but I've mostly just given up on those. Throughout the chapters there are set out paragraphs that include, "What does that mean?" which defines words or concepts in the text, "History recap" which sets events into their larger historical context, and each chapter ends with discussion questions.

Who are these books designed for? They are not, in my opinion graphic in the sense that they describe in gruesome detail things like murder, rape, lynching, and slavery, but they are truthful in acknowledging that these things are part of our history. The authors both introduce what they call "Hard History" that involves looking back honestly at history and acknowledging that our nation and the people who founded it were flawed while looking forward and trying to do better as we move forward. These books explain difficult concepts very clearly, showing readers how to reason from one event to another. However, I am doubtful about expecting this kind of serious discussion and critical thinking from grade school kids and if your community is heavily invested into the philosophy of American exceptionalism, there will be a lot of outraged parents, so have your sources and admin support ready.

When I consider my community, I think these books will be of most use to teachers, who can select passages and discussion topics appropriate to their particular class, and for browsing in the public library I would suggest them for middle school and up, so I'll be putting these into our young adult area and sending them to teachers to preview. Wherever you decide they best fit, I do think these should be part of most public library history collections, in whatever area makes the most sense for your audience, and also a great classroom title for social science teachers. Additional volumes on Indigenous peoples and immigration are coming out in the next few months as well.

Verdict: An essential purchase for most libraries.

Founders Unmasked; ISBN: 9780593386101
Legacy of Jim Crow; ISBN: 9780593385999
Published February 2022 by Penguin Workshop; Review copies provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, July 3, 2022

This week at the library

a portulaca bloom


  • Paws to Read
  • We Explore Artist Julie Paschkis
  • Pokemon Club
  • Grow a Story
  • Open Sewing
  • Storywagon: Snake Discovery
  • Library on the Go: Summer School
  • Teen Advisory Board
  • Teen Board Game Night
The new adult services librarian started this week and we switched over to the second half of summer reading. I am continuing work on updating the picture book neighborhoods and starting on building connections and new scheduling plans for the fall, when we will be making a lot of changes and updates to our services. I'm tired. People don't really understand that even when you're on a "break" from programming, you're still constantly thinking, planning, working, and looking ahead and after the last few years we're all tired.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Francis discovers possible by Ashlee Latimer, pictures by Shahrzad Maydani

I am currently weeding the picture books and renewing our Neighborhood organization and there are things I am definitely looking for. This book was not one of them, but when I read it I knew I had to have it. (In case you were wondering, I need more funny books, train books, and toddler read-alouds).

Francis, a sweet little girl in sunny yellow shorts and t-shirt with brown hair and brown skin, loves words. She enjoys sitting with her small, diverse class of eight students and reviewing letters and words and is excited that it’s her turn to pick words for “P.” But when they review their letters from last week, some of the other kids say F is for fat and whisper about Francis. The way they use “fat” makes it sound like a bad word, a mean word, and even though the teacher makes them apologize, Francis is hurt and sad and can’t stop thinking about it. Her Baba takes her to the park and they sit quietly, with no pressure for Francis to explain what’s wrong.

Then she finds a new word, “possible.” As she dreams of all the ways things can be possible, watches the other people in the park, and imagines possibilities, Francis begins to feel at home in her own skin again and realizes that “possible” is her word.

Maydani’s illustrations show a wonderful variety of body types, swimming, sunbathing, running, playing, and digging. Soft, textured illustrations bring to life Francis’ emotions and her rejuvenation as she discovers that she is more than her classmates’ mocking words.

An afterword by the author talks about her inspiration behind the story and the way she wrote it, including letting Francis experience all her emotions, sitting quietly with her Baba while she thinks things through, and seeing the beauty in many different body types.

Verdict: This makes a sweet read-aloud that is more than just an “issue” book, encouraging readers to think about their words and how they use them, and to accept and celebrate themselves.

ISBN: 9781419749100; Published May 2022 by Harry N. Abrams; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Thursday, June 30, 2022

How to build a human in seven revolutionary steps by Pamela S. Turner, art by John Gurche

I loved this book, but I'm not sure how many kids would read it. I seem to be saying that a lot about more challenging nonfiction titles, especially longer science books, as it seems that kids don't, won't, or can't read them. There seem to be a lot of reasons for this; shorter attention spans, reluctance on the part of teachers to promote nonfiction, especially science-based titles, lowered reading ability, emphasis on levels, and most of these I can't do anything about, but I can purchase and promote excellent nonfiction and try to get kids to give it a try at least!

With humor and heart, Turner traces the path of human evolution in seven steps. Each chapter addresses a different major change, starting with early hominids moving to walk upright and moving on to the building of tools, the increase of brain size, migration, the discovery of fire, communication through speech, and the development of storytelling. She talks about the science behind evolution, the difference between species of hominids, and how our early history shapes our history today.

Along the way, she explains evolution, what it is and is not, and how it differs from the popular conception of things like “survival of the fittest.” In the author’s notes, she expands more on this, including a section on genetic differences and racism.

This is a lengthy and challenging book, in the context of middle grade fiction and lighter nonfiction, but Turner’s clear prose and funny notes make it a joy to read as well as providing food for thought about what makes us human, how we get along, and the preconceived ideas of race, evolution, and being human that we have absorbed.

Verdict: While this won’t appeal to most readers, especially those who aren’t going to pick up a longer, more dense book, it’s worthy of inclusion on your library shelves and worth promoting to middle school and high school students to read and ponder as well as to teachers to promote to their classes.

ISBN: 9781623542504; Published April 2022 by Charlesbridge; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Big Nate: Destined for Awesomeness

This isn't so much a review as a discussion of collection development choices. Before Wimpy Kid, there was Big Nate. A comic strip and then a notebook novel, Big Nate is similar in many ways to Wimpy Kid, although much more episodic, having started and continued life as a daily comic strip.

Big Nate, a white boy in middle school, considers himself a superior student, intelligent, witty, handsome, and irresistible to the girls he considers desirable. His "talents" are playing chess and drawing comics, but he continually insists that he's not a "nerd." His single father is played for laughs and he has a mutual hate-hate relationship with his teen sister. Of course, Nate's awesomeness is all in his own mind. Even his so-called "friends" find his arrogance, selfishness, and clueless behavior to be too much at times. He continues to pursue Jenny, although she consistently pushes him away and is in turn pursued by Kim, portrayed stereotypically as fat, stupid, and aggressive. He also spends a significant amount of time hating his social studies and homeroom teacher, Mrs. Godfrey, who continually tries to get him to actually do some work but he considers to be picking on him. In a nutshell, Nate is a complete jerk. His antics are sometimes humorous, but the only reason I tolerate him is seeing him repeatedly get his comeuppance.

That's my personal view. Wimpy Kid fans are usually quite happy to read Big Nate when they discover the series, although he doesn't have the brand recognition of Wimpy Kid. Since I consistently have to replace the books, both the paper over board notebook novels and the paperback comic collections, I have started buying them in prebound formats so when they inevitably fall apart I can get them replaced through the lifetime binding guarantee. I had vaguely realized there was going to be an animated series, but hadn't thought about it much since, in my experience, kids almost never connect adaptations with the original book or series.

Bearing in mind that I have not read all the Big Nate books and comic strips and have not seen the animated show, the plots of these episodes were, in my opinion, over the line and much nastier than the book. In one episode, Nate is in danger of getting too many detentions and, following a school legend, disappearing. A new student shows who is even more of a prankster and Nate eventually "sacrifices" himself (he gets splashed with gross food from the cafeteria) to "save" the principal while the new kid turns out to be an escapee from the "institute for criminally insane tweens." Nate's "heroic" actions don't last long however, and in subsequent episodes he deliberately spends thousands of dollars on his dad's credit card and evolves an elaborate plot to spend time with Jenny, while at the same time hiding his fear of cats. Meanwhile, his sister is attempting to break their father of his psychological fear of using bathrooms outside their home while her father tries to "cure" her of her claustrophobia.

The art is supposedly a "fresh new look" but it's basically stills of animation interspersed with reprinted comic strips which inspired the plot lines.

I can't imagine Nate ever actually worrying about anyone (other than himself) getting hurt and the plot with his sister basically toilet-training their dad was gross and creepy. Not to mention the persistent stereotypes about fat kids, and the overall denigration and harassment of all the girls.

Obviously, I'm not a fan of the series. I find it mildly humorous at best, and this newest iteration not funny at all. I think the stereotypes are harmful and especially dislike the new one of the "insane" kid introduced apparently just for this show especially gross.

I'm still going to purchase this book for the library and continue purchasing (and replacing) the Big Nate books. Why? Well, regardless of my personal opinions, an overwhelming majority of kids like Big Nate and find it funny and their caregivers consider it harmless. I read plenty of crap when I was a kid that was, dare I say, even worse than this (Elsie Dinsmore anyone?) I'll happily recommend other options for families that don't want their kids reading it, and I would love to see more genuinely funny comics and notebook novels that do not include these harmful stereotypes so I could offer better alternatives, but right now this is what we've got. In the end, I do my best to provide a balanced and accurate collection with an emphasis on popular reading materials for all ages, and this is something kids will want to read.

Verdict: I consider this along the lines of other media tie-ins - not something I personally like or recommend, but which kids will want to read and so most collections will want to purchase it.

ISBN: 9781524875602; Published August 2022 by Andrews McMeel; ARC provided by publisher; Will purchase when available in prebound binding.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Classic Rereads: That's Good, That's Bad! by Joan Lexau, illustrated by Aliki

I don't remember now how I first heard of this book, but I originally borrowed this 1963 story of sequential consequences through inter-library loan and found it hilarious, delightful, and still fresh and fun.

A hungry tiger meets a little boy and tells him to run, since he is going to eat him! "I have no run left in me" declares the boy, and tells the tiger a lengthy story of how he has been running all day, trying to escape from a rhino. The tiger responds, "that's good!" or "that's bad" to each twist and turn in the story until....well, I won't tell you how the clever boy ends the story and escapes the tiger AND the rhino. The illustrations are bright and I love the way Aliki separated the different threads of the story and keeps the main characters viewing the action at the sides.

After testing it on preschool kids and finding them absolutely spellbound, sitting in breathless anticipation of each flip of the plot, I found a used copy for my professional collection and we enjoyed it for several years. Finally, in 2020, a new edition was published!

I've frequently heard it said that kids can't, or won't, sit still like they "used to". Now, there are a lot of different factors in this - electronics of course, and school schedules, and considering that we are now doing storytimes for babies whereas a few decades ago storytime was for elementary-aged kids. However, in my experience, toddlers and preschoolers will quite happily sit for even a lengthy story if it is has a folktale-like cadence.

I may have read this story as a child, but once I rediscovered it I realized I absolutely had to have it for storytime. I purchased an old and rather worn copy online and the kids LOVED it. They even liked my introduction, where I showed them "the mystery book" since it was missing its jacket!

Nevertheless, one can't fully enjoy a book unless you can recommend it to friends and colleagues, and with the only copy in my professional collection, kids coming to the library wanting the book I read in class were bound to be disappointed. So I was THRILLED when I found out that Prestel was republishing this gem!

The story is simple. Boy is exhausted, sitting on a rock, when Tiger shows up. Tiger tells him to run, so he can chase him and eat him, and Boy replies (in my favorite phrase of the book) "Eat me then...I have no more run in me." Tiger is curious, so Boy tells him the story of his adventures, with Tiger responding "That's good" and "That's bad" as one thing leads to another. It turns out, Boy is being chased by Rhino and a wild chase it's been!

Each spread is in dark blue with the shadow of green trees and the figures of Boy and Rhino acting out the story. In the forefront is the face of Boy, the storyteller, and Tiger, the listener, while the text runs on a white background strip below.

When Boy finally gets to the end of his story, there's an unexpected ending for Tiger and Boy's clever tale saves the day and that's good! For Boy at least...

This edition keeps the original art and text, although it's in a larger format than the original I have, which makes it a much better read-aloud. It adds some background information on the author and illustrator and compares the story to the Scheherazade and the Arabian Nights. The only problem I've had with this story is explaining to kids that Boy is NOT wearing a diaper - I tell them he's wearing special shorts because he lives somewhere very hot.

Verdict: I am delighted to see this classic story back in print and in a lovely edition that's perfect for reading aloud. I can't wait for my friends to be able to share it with a whole new generation of kids, who I promise you WILL sit still for it!

Revisited: This is still available, but you will need to purchase directly from the publisher or from an online seller rather than a library vendor.

ISBN: 9783791374192; This edition published March 2020 by Prestel; Review copy provided by publisher and added to my professional collection to replace my battered old copy; Purchased another copy for the general library

Monday, June 27, 2022

In short, I am busy: That's good, that's bad

  • Flannelboards, Manipulatives, and Storytelling
    • Loud/Quiet by Leslie Patricelli (flannelboard)
    • Two little blackbirds (flannel puppets)
  • Rhymes, songs, and movement
    • Loud and Quiet by Caspar Babypants
  • Vocabulary and concepts
    • Opposites and comparisons
    • Relational thinking
  • Toddler listeners (*Nonfiction)
    • Double take by Susan Hood
    • Big and little by Cheryl Pilgrim
    • Stop go, Yes no by Mike Twohy
  • Preschool listeners (*Nonfiction)
    • You are (not) small by Anna Kang
    • I am (not) scared by Anna Kang
    • That's (not) mine by Anna Kang
    • Caveman A B. C. story by Trasler
  • School-age Stories (*Nonfiction)
    • That's good, that's bad by Margery Cuyler
    • Goodbye friend, hello friend by Cori Doerrfeld
    • That's Good, That's Bad by Joan Lexau
    • The little red cat who ran away and learned his ABC's by Patrick McDonnell
    • Umbrella by Ingrid Schubert

In short, I am busy: Eggs

  • Flannelboards, manipulatives, and storytelling
    • Are you oviparous?
  • Rhymes, songs, and movement
    • Flap little birds (use the tune of "hop little bunnies")
    • Here's a little egg
  • Vocabulary and Concepts
    • Oviparous, amphibian, hatch, nest, tadpole, fledgling
    • Learn about creatures that lay eggs
    • Cycle of life for birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects
  • Toddler Listeners (*Nonfiction)
    • Peep and Egg: I'm not hatching by Laura Gehl
    • Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchinson
    • This little chick by John Lawrence
    • That's mine by Michel Van Zeveren
    • *What will hatch by Jennifer Ward
    • Early bird by Toni Yuly
  • Preschool Listeners (*Nonfiction)
    • *What will I be by Nicola Davies
    • Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend
    • Odd egg by Emily Gravett
    • *Eggs 123 by Janet Halfmann
    • Chickens to the rescue by John Himmelman
  • School age stories (*Nonfiction)
    • *An egg is quiet by Dianna Aston
    • Egg drop by Mini Grey
    • Chicken chasing queen of Lamar county by Janice Harrington
    • Argus by Michele Knudsen
    • An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni
    • *Hatch by Roxie Munro
    • Foxy and Egg by Alex T. Smith

Sunday, June 26, 2022

This week at the library

Still working on the wedding quilt for my brother
and sister-in-law, who recently celebrated their
first anniversary... still, they can't actually use it
right now, since they're living in a burning wasteland.


  • Paws to Read
  • Taste of Farmer's Markets
  • Family Storytime: Everything Grows
  • Maker Workshop: Beading (2 sessions)
  • Storywagon: Figureheads
  • Summer school kindergarten field trip: Kohls Wild Theater
This week had many complex moving parts. Our lighting project was finished over the weekend and the library is MUCH brighter than before. Possibly a little too bright in some spots, but it's just right in the areas I use (youth area and community room) so I'm pleased. The summer reading program I'm doing doesn't really include registration. I changed that because it was becoming very time-consuming and difficult and because the DPI didn't even ask for registration or participation numbers for the annual report last year anyways (now, they might pull the surprise thing where they ask for different numbers AFTER WE'VE ALREADY COLLECTED THEM but that just means they're gonna get estimates and like it). We're also not really focused on numbers as much. I have ~350 kids and ~100 middle schoolers participating and I'm ok with that. Mostly. It's hard to get away from focusing on the numbers, but realistically with what I'm dealing with (covering adult services, COVID surges, changes in traffic) it's quite good. All our programs have had decent attendance as well and we have a steady stream of traffic in the youth area. The other new thing I tried this week was having Storywagon, our big performers, at the large cafetorium at the middle school, where "fun" summer school for elementary and middle school, happens. The school was wonderful about collaborating with me and although I only had two families come, there were close to 100 students there, so the first experiment was a success!

Next week our new adult services librarian starts and our biggest performer (Snake Discovery) is scheduled, so I have high hopes of things being interesting. One really nice moment was a grandmother on Saturday telling me how much she and her kids enjoyed my combination outdoor playtime/storytime last week. I read some stories and did some rhymes and then took the kids outside for a "hike" around the library, encouraging them to explore and fill brown paper lunch bags with whatever they found. They brought their finds inside and made nature suncatchers with them. I'm covering storytime for a beloved colleague who retired at the beginning of summer, so that was nice to hear.

I'm still not wholly back into systemic reviewing and I might not ever be, but I'm cutting myself some slack right now for general summer malaise and the not unexpected but still shocking blow at human rights this past week. It's hard to concentrate on cute picture books right now.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Classic Rereads: Ping Pong Pig by Caroline Jayne Church

When I discovered Ping Pong Pig, a few years after its publication in 2008, I fell in love with this silly story.

Ping Pong Pig has a dream of flying and his attempts to fulfill that dream exasperate and annoy all the other farm animals. The animals come up with a solution to keep Ping Pong Pig out of their way while they get their work done and Ping Pong Pig is delighted that he has achieved his dream...until he realizes he is not contributing anything while the other animals are working hard, especially after they have helped him "fly!"
Eventually, Ping Pong Pig figures out a way to keep his dream and help out around the farm as well.

Ping Pong Pig's perfect pink plumpness and the light-hearted, sweet story make him a favorite among Caroline Church's farm animal stories, which include a story about a goose and a sheep dog. Perfect for reading aloud to toddlers and preschoolers, this is an enduring storytime staple.

I would absolutely love to see Church's trilogy of farm stories back in print, starting with Ping Pong Pig. While I'd take it as a board book, what I'd really like is a full-sized picture book for use in storytime.

Sadly, this was never even made into a board book and both the hardcover and paperback are out of print and only available used and I had to weed our copy when it literally fell apart.

ISBN: 0823421767; Published September 2008 by Holiday House

Friday, June 24, 2022

In short, I am busy: Bookaneers

making puppets for Mr. Ball
Bookaneers is actually my private homage to China Mieville, but I am not going to tell the 1st graders that.

  • Program Goals
    • Reach beginning readers
    • Collaborate with school reading specialists to meet the needs of struggling readers
    • Encourage kids to build reading skills and enjoy reading!
    4:30-4:35: Introduction (new attendees and beginning of the year)
    • Introductions
    • How Bookaneers works
      • At the first meeting, or when they attend for the first time, kids receive a binder with a variety of starter sheets. They can get more sheets as needed from me or at the next meeting. They do not have to fill in the sheets for each book, they're just for fun and to help them remember what they read. 
      • Books are due at the next meeting. They have a due date taped to the front of each book. Don't forget your library card!
      • It's ok if you don't feel like talking about your book or didn't finish.
      • It's ok to have a parent or friend help you read and/or write in your binder
      • We all read at different levels and speeds. This isn't a contest or a class; we're here to have fun reading together!
    4:30 - 5:00: Discussion and craft
    • Make/decorate notebooks and bookmarks if it's the first meeting, discuss what books they like and why and what their favorite things are. 
    • Otherwise, crafts and talking about our books! Depending on the age and size of the group, there may or may not be a discussion. I tend to read aloud and talk to them more than have a discussion at this age.
    • Final meeting of the school year we decorate t-shirts or bags.
    5:00-5:15: Booktalks
    • I booktalk selections (in the past this was snack time, but we are not serving snacks for the foreseeable future).
    • I choose 9 titles total - 3 picture books, 3 early readers, 3 beginning chapters - and have 5 copies of each available. In addition, I will put on display whatever new books I have gotten recently.
    • If it's the last meeting of the school year, they each get a book to keep from the prize cart.
    5:15-5:30: Choosing books and wrap-up
    • Kids pick their book(s) for next time, finish crafts, younger siblings come in, etc.
    Additional resources and materials including lists of crafts


    In short, I am busy: Get up and move!


    • Flannelboards and manipulatives
      • Scarves or color wands to wave for Mix it up
    • Vocabulary and concepts
    • Toddler listeners (*Nonfiction)
      • Don't push the button by Bill Cotter
      • Jump by Scott Fischer
      • Get out of my bath by Britta Teckentrup
      • Play this book and Pet this book by Jessica Wiseman
    • Preschool listeners (*Nonfiction)
      • Firefighter duckies by Frank Dormer 
      • This book is magic by Ashley Evanson
      • It's a tiger by David LaRochelle
      • Open very carefully, Use your imagination, What's next door by Nicola O'Byrne
      • Mix it up by Herve Tullet 
    • School-age Stories (*Nonfiction)
      • Guess again by Mac Barnett
      • *Move! by Steve Jenkins
      • Warning: Do not open this book! and Please, open this book! by Adam Lehrhaupt
      • *Do you know which ones will grow? by Susan Shea

    Thursday, June 23, 2022

    In short, I am busy: Maker Workshop: Beading


    • Beading pliers (3 basic types)
    • Scissors
    • Beads, pendants
    • Crimps, clasps, wire
    • Misc. findings
    • Twisteez
    • pony beads, pipe cleaners
    • felt for work spaces
    I collected supplies from our beading maker kits and also occasionally order more supplies from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads Inc.

    • I had two small tables for little kids to work at with pony beads, large plastic buttons, some big foam buttons, pipe cleaners, yarn, and suction cups (for suncatchers)
    • 1 large table held all the supplies, two large tables were for adults and big kids to work at, and I set up at one table to instruct/help people.
    • I explain that I have limited supplies and if they want to do something really specific they should go to a beading store to get the exact requirements. That being said, I need to get headpins with much broader heads and we used up all the lobster clasps.