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 Krasnewsky, illustrated by Tanya Leonello

Kids really like books where things, people, 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 the two best things ever!

The story opens with a 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 through 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.

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