Thursday, January 17, 2019

Sarai and the meaning of awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown

I generally stay away from books written by/featuring celebrities (no shelf-life) but this one clicked with me for several reasons. It's not the best-written, but it fills a lot of gaps.

I had never heard of Sarai Gonzalez, and I've never heard any kids talking about her, but apparently she appeared in a very popular music video a few years ago and is, according to her brief wikipedia page, a Latina icon. She'd be about 13 or 14 now and I'd guess from the style and the story that she's probably better known on the East Coast (she lives in New Jersey and the music video featured Brooklyn NY).

However! That's neither here nor there, as most of the kids I'm going to suggest this to are allowed limited, if any, access to utube. In her first book, Sarai is ten and has her own business making cupcakes. She has a normal relationship with her younger sisters and a large and supportive family. Sarai is ready for another awesome day when she gets bad news - her grandparents are going to have to move, since their rental house is being put up for sale. Sarai sets out to make enough money to buy the house that is central to her family's gatherings. First she tries baking cupcakes with her sisters, but they're too little to help and Sarai gets too bossy; it ends in disaster with little money to show for all her effort. Then she tries a lemonade stand, that morphs into a stand for chicha morada, a purple corn drink from Peru. Finally, she and her cousin Juju audition for a dance contest with a big prize.

In the end, the girls don't make it to the dance-off competition and they don't make enough money; but everything ends well as her family finds a new home that's right down the street where her grandparents and cousins can live and Sarai learns some lessons about being adaptable and listening to her sisters and family.

Although a bit rough and didactic, this is generally a very relatable story. Sarai and her family aren't wealthy by any means and although everything ends happily it's not a wish-fulfillment ending but a practical solution, finding another house and the family all working together to purchase it. Sarai has fights with her sisters, gets over-enthusiastic and messes up, and has grandiose plans that don't play out. She isn't immediately catapulted to stardom and she gets frustrated and upset. But her family is always there to help and the story gives readers a look into a warm and supportive, multi-generational family with a variety of traditions. Sarai and her family are shown going to church, partying with the family, and working together. Black and white illustrations show a variety of body types and skin colors and, in what might be my favorite part of the story, none of the many girls pictured are absurdly skinny. They're all healthy, happy, sturdy girls with a normal body for a child and the adult women show a variety of body types and sizes.

Verdict: While this may not be an everlasting classic, it's a great addition to diversify your beginning chapters and will be very attractive to readers (probably mostly girls) ages 7 and up.

ISBN: 9781338236682; Published August 2018 by Scholastic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Walk and see 1 2 3 by Rosalind Beardshaw

This backlist title is part of a series showing children exploring the outdoors. It's not 100% realistic - the kids are shown wandering a rather pristine woodland and field with no adult supervision in sight - but it's adorable nonetheless.

A child with tanned skin and a shock of black hair sticking out from their cap and a white child with strawberry blonde hair flying around their headband, start the story by running through the fields with their friendly white and black dog. The two friends cross a wooden stile and start up a hill toward three trees, passing under four clouds. They encounter squirrels and acorns, mushrooms and pinecones, ducks and stepping stones. They eat apples, investigate a fish pond, and stop by a herd of sheep to pick blackberries from a hedge. Finally, having reached 20 footprints, they walk home under the light of 100 stars and with a flashlight leading the way. The two end up tucked up together in one cozy bed (which is apt to strike American readers as... weird. Although it's never expressly stated, the dark-skinned child appears to be male and the white child female).

The illustrations are soft and colorful, although again not exactly realistic. Most of the scenes seem to be of a typical four seasons fall - squirrels gathering acorns, falling leaves, and apples. But there are also yellow dandelions and although they see geese flying south the ducks seem to have no urge to do so. Maybe early fall?

Verdict: Although not realistic, this is a sweet and attractive celebration of outdoor fun along with some simple counting practice. Toddlers are sure to enjoy finding each animal, leaf, and natural object in the pictures.

ISBN: 9780763693381; This edition published August 2018 by Nosy Crow; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How to eat pizza by Jon Burgerman

Burgerman's Rhyme Crime won me over, despite being not at all the kind of book I usually like. So, I viewed his latest import, showing a panicked pizza slice in eye-searing color with eager anticipation and was not disappointed.

The story opens with a circle of yellow pizza slices, snoozing under their paper napkin blankets (one is clutching a teddy bear). An unseen narrator invites readers to get started by choosing a slice, add a few toppings, and... wait a minute.


The pizza slice goes into an immediate panic, and tries to convince the reader that there are so many other options! Eating pizza is disgusting - what about the crusty bottoms?! The slices next try to stick together and encourage the reader to try some veggies instead, but this backfires since the reader decides to eat.... pizza with FRIENDS! i.e. all those tasty vegetables!

The goofy story ends with a box of nervous doughnuts suggested that maybe a bagel would be better?

Verdict: Goofy and colorful, this appeals to every kid who loves a good "being eaten" story, which is pretty much all of them. Go forth and devour!

ISBN: 9780735228856; Published November 2018 by Dial Books for Young Readers; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, January 14, 2019

Water Land: Land and water forms around the world by Christy Hale

This is a really interesting and unique look at parallel geographical features. Each thick, glossy spread shows a body of water, like a system of lakes. Small people are shown in the background and on the water. Turn the page and the cut-out of the water turns into a land feature, like an archipelago.

After the five spreads, there's a comparison of each of the water and land forms with a definition and a thumbnail. Open this spread up and see a list of examples of specific bodies of water and land formations, then open it out into a giant outline map of the world with the different areas pinpointed on it.

The art looks like prints, but is actually created with digital layers. The small people shown enjoying the water and land are shown in a variety of races and hues, but none have visible disabilities.

Verdict: While not a particularly interesting book for storytime, this would be a unique addition to a unit on geography or the water cycle and fills a gap in this area. It would also make a good choice for an art or science-themed program, encouraging kids to create their own art that flips to create a new picture.

ISBN: 9781250152442; Published 2018 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, January 13, 2019

RA RA Read: Stories with Science

When I originally made this list, back in 2016, it was a small, but popular sub-genre: fiction that included science experiments or concepts. They range from more heavily narrative-based to more science with a light narrative. Reluctant readers, those who prefer non-fiction, and kids who like hands-on learning often like these stories. Happily, in the two years that have gone by, the volume of science-based narratives has really exploded, thanks to adults discovering the maker movement "look at this cool new thing!" (librarians and teachers mutter that we've been doing it for decades thanks very much). However, more science-based stories is good!

For Younger Readers (Grades 2-4)

  • Summer Camp Science Mysteries by Lynda Beauregard
    • Mystery, Graphic Novel, Science Experiments
    • Each book in this series is focused around a different science concept. The counselors at camp pose questions, challenges, and perform experiments relating to the central concept. It's mostly still in print, either in paperback or more expensive library bound.
  • Zoey and Sassafras by Asia Citro
    • Fantasy, Science Experiments
    • I love, love, love this series! Zoey uses science to help her mother treat the magical creatures that come to their door. She tests compounds to help a monster get rid of the mold on his fur, learns about bacteria when helping a unicorn, and so on. There are science experiments in the back as well as the science included in the book.
  • Ellie Engineer by Jackson Pearce
    • Realistic Fiction, Making
    • This series is based more on the maker movement. Ellie has a hammer, drill and other tools and likes to build things. Along the way, she gives the reader tips, learns about math, and also negotiates social relationships. Safety tips and suggestions are included in the back. This series is still coming out with new titles.
  • S.W.I.T.C.H. by Ali Sparkes
    • Science Fiction, Nonfiction Blend
    • This series is in two parts; it starts with bugs and then moves on to reptiles. This weigh more heavily on the narrative side; they feature twin boys, a mad scientist neighbor, and transformations into bugs or reptiles. Incorporated throughout the books are facts and information about bugs, reptiles, and other animals and science is (with differing levels of realism) used to solve each crisis. Some titles are out of print, but most are still available from Darby Creek, an imprint of Lerner, in either paperback or (expensive) library bound.
  • Doyle and Fossey by Michele Torrey
    • Mystery, Science Experiments
    • This six-book series is still available in paperback, although most hardcover and prebound versions are out of print. They're basically Encyclopedia but with science instead of misc. logic puzzles. The solutions and science experiments are at the back of the book.
  • Girls Who Code by Various
    • Realistic Fiction, Coding
    • This is a fairly typical friendship series, which a diverse group of girls working together. They all meet in and around coding club and coding is incorporated into their projects and activities. This series is written by a variety of authors and sponsored by the Girls Who Code group.

For Middle Grade Readers (Grades 3-6)

  • George's Secret Key by Stephen Hawking
    • Action and Adventure, Scientific Theory, Technology
    • The loose story lines, treasure hunting, journey to space, etc. are just filler for the explanations of technology, scientific theory, and essays from prominent scientists throughout the book. These won't appeal to kids who want a straight-forward narrative, but those who want science with a little story to hold it together will enjoy it.
  • Club CSI by David Lewman
    • Mystery, Scientific Method
    • These are spin-offs of the popular CSI tv shows. They feature middle school students using their forensic class studies and logical deductions to solve various mysteries. There is no blood or gore.
  • Nick and Tesla by Bob Pflugfelder
    • Action/Adventure, Technology
    • This series is based around the stories of twins Nick and Tesla, who live with their eccentric uncle, who is also an inventor. They fight off bad guys and discover secrets about their parents all while creating various scientific contraptions like robots, alarms, and more. The books are all available from Quirk Press.
  • Explorer Academy by Trudi Trueit
    • Action/Adventure, Technology
    • This is a new series from National Geographic, their first step into middle grade fiction. It's kind of like 39 Clues but with technology. A lot of the gadgets, technology, and futuristic science is explained at the back. The story was fairly blah, but I think kids may get into it.
  • Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang
    • Graphic Novel, Coding, Math
    • I will admit these drive me crazy, but the kids like the combination of puzzles, adventure, mysteries, and coding they include.
  • Science Comics by Various authors/illustrators
    • Graphic Novel, Science
    • This series from First Second often includes some kind of framing story around the central scientific concept. For example, in Koch's Bats: Learning to Fly, a bat being rehabilitated introduces readers and himself learns about his species and how they are endangered and being helped. In Dinosaurs by M. K. Reed and Joe Flood readers learn the story of Mary Anning and the history of fossils, both their discovery and natural history.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

This week at the library; or, Now things are really getting started

Rainbow girls! The metallic and fluorescent biocolor was
very popular!
What's Happening at the Library
  • Monday
    • Paws to Read
    • Department Managers Meeting
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions)
  • Wednesday
  • Thursday
  • Friday
    • Anime Club
    • Free Lego Build
  • Saturday
    • All the colors of winter: An art extravaganza
  • Worked 41 hours: 20 hours on desk: 7 programs
Enough vacation. Let's get back to work. No, I did not do 8 straight storytimes, two dance parties, and an after school activity on Wednesday. I only did four storytimes and after school, an associate did four storytimes and my school colleague did the dance parties. For the after school activity I took air-dry clay for their paleontology theme and we made our own fossils (and unicorns, pinch pots, etc.). Plus books!
Finished weeding the ya fiction. So many perfectly nice books had to go. I wish there was an equivalent of Wimpy Kid for teens so we could buy a couple shelves of those and then feed our circ numbers off that and get interesting stuff for the rest of the collection. I spent about an hour Friday night looking through statistics from our consortium and playing with spreadsheets...
Saturday's program was basically lots of paint! I had biocolor, tempera, paper, stickers, markers, scissors, magnet, glitter finger paint, and a few other things. My staff worked super hard to set up, keep things clean during, and clean up afterwards. I finished paperwork, filled one more cart to weed on Monday, and went home!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

I don't really think of Phelan's water colors being funny, but pit Arthurian knights against dinosaurs and, well, yeah.

Sir Erec is pretty much your average knight and is having an average, if slightly annoying, evening at the Round Table. For some reason, when it's time to share deeds of valor, he decides to up the ante and proclaims that he has defeated forty dragons. Never mind that they all know dragons aren't real, that there has been peace for years, and everyone is slightly bored. Next thing he knows, Merlin has sent him off on a quest with several other knights and they're facing... what are they facing? Could these be REAL DRAGONS?? Thankfully, they don't breathe fire - because they're pretty much terrifying as it is!

With a few deft strokes, both in black and white illustrations and text, Phelan sketches a picture of the slightly nervous Sir Erec, muscle-bound Sir Bors, bookish Sir Hector, and mysterious Dark Knight. Then there's Mel, the squire, who turns out to be very useful in the end. The book is just under 150 pages, but it's definitely not a beginning chapter book; similarly to Princess Cora and the Crocodile, it has sophisticated humor and vocabulary, even if it doesn't match up to the popular 400 page tomes of middle grade today (which are ridiculous because few kids can read that long a book anyways but that's a different discussion). There are some panels of illustrations interspersed among the pages and in the back are facts about dinosaurs and an explanation of why dinosaurs from different eras showed up together (because Matt Phelan thought it was cool, which is, to my mind, a perfectly reasonable explanation).

Verdict: I'm not a fan of Arthurian fantasy and I can take or leave dinosaurs, but I laughed all through this and look forward to introducing it to my readers, young and old. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780062686237; Published October 23, 2018 by Greenwillow; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Super Potato: The epic origin of Super Potato by Artur Laperla

Super Potato originated in Spain and now his awesome adventures are coming to the US, courtesy of Graphic Universe.

The story begins with Super Max, an amazing superhero with great hair, 737 muscles (he has more than the average human!), and no problem defeating the bad guys... until the villainous Dr. Malevolent turns him into a potato! All hope is lost! Potatoes can't be superheroes!

Or can they?

A quick stop at home for the accessories of his (failed) action figure, and Super Potato is on the job, complete with great hair! Er, maybe no hair. His first task is to get Dr. Malevolent to turn him back to the awesome Super Max, of course, but when that plan goes awry (think giant potato peelers!!) he'll have to decide if he can keep being a superhero - without great hair or his 737 muscles.

The goofy cartoons reminded me a little of the style of Trondheim. Super potato is a, well, a potato while Dr. Malevolent (and his pet rat) are skinny, long-nosed creatures that posture and rant. A quasi-futuristic city, distressed potato-citizens (Dr. Malevolent got a little handsy with his ray gun for a while), and plenty of jokes, both for superhero fans and young readers, make it clear why Super Patata is a popular comic strip in Spain.

Verdict: I've been wrong about European import comics (and vegetable-themed superheroes) before, but I really think this one will click with younger kids. I wouldn't go out on a limb for it if I wasn't sure though, because the library bound titles are expensive at over $20 apiece while the more affordable paperbacks will be so skinny they disappear on the shelf.

ISBN: 9781512440218; Published August 2018 by Lerner/Graphic Universe; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: A walk in the forest by Lisa Manuzak

I'm catching up on board books - I bought a bunch in August to fill in the board book section and I've also, slowly, been opening up a bit more to buying less sturdy titles with toy elements. I'm still careful to assess them for how quickly they will wear out or be damaged, but I'm starting to view this collection as more ephemeral, like magazines. We've also added a little bee sticker and the logo "busy books" to books with a toy element (lift the flap, sliding, wheel, etc.).

This title is produced for Smithsonian Kids and is an exploration of the forest. The book is large - about 8x8 inches - with a curved top and rounded edges. The top is cut out like a handle and also allows the wheels to spin. Each page includes multiple different sections of type. Across the curved handle is the simple narration, "Let's take a walk in a leafy green forest. We can look for animals, plants, and bugs." On the page itself are small chunks of text adding information, describing things in the picture, and giving suggestions for experiencing the forest. There are also captions on the animals and plants and a little "Did you know?" information box on every other page.

Each spread has a spinning wheel. The wheel is thin cardboard and has curved edges, making it easy to turn. The thick cardboard pages are tightly sealed around the edges, so the wheel can't be torn out or the pages pulled apart (hopefully). As you turn the wheel, different animals or plants appear in the picture. One wheel, that of birds in a tree, shows the bird at the top of the wheel and a caption on the turning part of the wheel. It's not designed quite right and bits of the birds show in the edges as you turn it, which could be an issue with kids trying to rip the window open to see the rest of the picture.

The art is colorful and cute, but mostly realistic and although a lot is included the scenes are not too crowded.

Verdict: This is overall a sturdy and fun book that can be used with children in many different ways, both talking and reading. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781680522365; Published December 2017 by Cottage Door Press; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

No boring stories! by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Charles Santoso

I was not a fan of Snappsy the Alligator and so had firmly convinced myself that, ergo, I was not a fan of Julie Falatko. But then I read Two dogs in a trench coat go to school and laughed all the way through. And now I have found myself, however reluctantly, becoming a fan of her latest picture book. Clearly, Snappsy and I just didn't click but everything else is just fine.

The story begins on the end papers, as a cute, fluffy bunny tries a series of writing groups - fluffy bears, cute kittens, cuddly puppies... finally, she comes across the International Society for Writers of Odd and Weird. Trembling with hope, she makes her way past signs prohibiting cuteness, cuddling, and birthdays. At first, it looks like she will be welcomed as Star-Nosed Mole opens the meeting, but no, there are No Bunnies Allowed! The rest of the group shows up; Giraffe-Necked Weevil, Babirusa (a kind of pig), and Yeti Crab and they recap their story so far. Meanwhile, eyes are watching them...

As the story progresses, Bunny keeps trying to join them only to be kicked out at every turn. Finally, she begs to be allowed to join and explains that she doesn't want to be in boring, cute stories anymore! She wants to write weird, exciting stories like they do! Fine, she can listen. But she can't interrupt! The story is progressing nicely, with evil grapes, a babirusa princess, and... no ending. Maybe they do need Bunny's help to pick an ending after all?

Although a picture book, it's written and paced like a comic with panels lightly picked out in gray backgrounds, speech bubbles, and a nice flow between words and pictures. There are definitely some lessons about judging on appearances and finding your own place, not to mention polishing writing skills. However, it's also just a funny story about weird creatures and evil grapes.

Verdict: This is not only a fun story, it's a good choice for teachers to use in classrooms in writing units to encourage readers and writers to explore parts of a narrative and work together to create a story.

ISBN: 9780451476821; Published November 2018 by Viking; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library