Monday, March 27, 2023

Outside Amelia's Window by Caroline Nastro, illustrated by Anca Sandu Budisan

Opening with endpages covered with nature journaling about birds, this gentle and lovely picture book features a young girl learning to spread her wings.

The story opens with two children moving in next door as Amelia peers over the edge of her book. The girl has red hair in pigtails and wears pink overalls, the boy a riot of bright yellow curls that match his shirt, blue pants, and a red bicycle. Amelia is Asian with black hair and is accompanied by a pink dinosaur, matching the swirling pink blossoms overhead.

Amelia is comforted by her mother, sits and reads, and watches the children, while a wheelchair sits unused in the corner. There are hints that she has been ill and is recovering but it is only when a small bird takes a ribbon from her treasures and begins to weave a nest in the tree full of pink blossoms that Amelia begins to come out of her shell. The backgrounds of the pages begin to include the nature journal style of the endpages, with information about redstarts. As Amelia watches the growing family, reads about their long migration, and sees the chicks learn to fly, she stretches her own wings, venturing out of the house in her wheelchair to meet the children next door.

The story ends joyously, with Amelia "soaring" like the birds, playing with her new friends, and dreaming of the little birds on their long migration across the world.

The lovely watercolors show Amelia's quiet introspection and slow growth of courage as she eventually ventures outside. There are subtle hints of support for her, her mother's quiet embrace, letting Amelia move on her own timeline, and a ramp to a treehouse so she can be with her new friends when she finally ventures out. I'm very excited to see a hint that there will be a spin-off, Amelia's Nature Journal, featuring the redstart and other birds Amelia watches.

Verdict: A quiet story, but with stunning illustrations that will catch the imagination of listeners. While this is a bit lengthy and subtle for a toddler audience, preschoolers will be able to follow the sequence of events with some help and elementary school listeners will find it an inspiring story, encouraging them to try new things and observe the natural world around them. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781542027854; Published March 2023 by Two Lions; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, March 26, 2023

This week at the library

Two little friends at We Explore Nature

  • Paws to Read
  • D&D (2 sessions)
  • Family storytime (2 sessions)
  • Outreach storytimes (3 sessions)
  • Library on the Go outreach visits (3 sessions)
  • Family Fun (drop-in)
  • Anime Club
  • We Explore Nature
  • Kids Make it: Sewing
  • Cupcake Wars (teens)
  • This week ended with our Book and Bake sale. The Friends were going to have a try at running it themselves this year, without help from the staff. I also hosted a youth services meeting, although we had no attendees so made it a YS staff meeting, and we had a managers' meeting.
  • The week ended with some mild excitement as a leak developed above my desk Friday evening and there was a heavy fall of snow Saturday morning. Thankfully, my wonderful colleagues took care of it Saturday morning so I didn't have to work another Saturday! Next week is Spring Break, but with all the things going on this week, we realized that we have stretched ourselves too thin. I cancelled some events out through May and did a closer review of the summer schedule.
  • I finished going through all the missing/lost lists, which I'll do again in August and then in December, did a lot of work on the strategic plan data/survey, and lots of scheduling specifically for field trips.
  • Our picture today is a good example of the importance of having different programs for different audiences. These two don't come in for the regular storytime on Tuesday and Thursday but this smaller, quieter group, which is able to do more hands-on activities is just their speed!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Zap! Clap! Boom! The story of a thunderstorm by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Elly MacKay

I personally love thunderstorms and since I get frequent requests from teachers for weather books, I'm always willing to look at a new title. I had already preordered this one, based on the combination of author and illustrator and the subject, but I was pleased to get a review copy as well and it turned out to be well-worth purchasing!

Salas' poetic language follows the formation of a storm, from a clear day, to gathering clouds, to the first rumbles of thunder. The storm builds, with the titular refrain, ZAP! CLAP! BOOM! until it moves on and everything is clear and storm-washed, shining with raindrops and glowing from the sun. Back matter includes a more in-depth explanation of storm, how they form, what creates lightning and thunder, and further sources including videos. 

The art is created in Elly MacKay's unique overlay style, featuring three children whose skin is shown in shades of peach and brown, all with black hair, one short, one with two braids, and one with a waist-length sweep of straight hair. Images are overlaid with splashes of rain, cut paper and watercolors imitate the drip and sway of wet leaves and branches, and the end shines with golden light, the hills layered with oranges and greens and the sky a pale lavender.

Verdict: A lovely read-aloud, evoking the power and beauty of storms with added information to follow up children's interest. Pair with April Pulley Sayre's Raindrops Roll for a weather storytime or class unit on storms. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781547602254; Published March 2023 by Bloomsbury; Purchased for the library; Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Just a worm by Marie Boyd

Worm, a squiggle of white paper, overhears the conversation of two children, shown as giant, blocky shoes. One says "Ew!" and the other responds "It's just a worm." Worm is indignant at being dismissed and begins to make its way through the garden, interrogating other creatures as to what they can do. Worm meets spiders, a caterpillar, butterfly, ladybugs, bees and a snail and each one has a special ability, from pollination to sealing their shell shut with slime. Finally, when the snail remarks that what Worm can do is "cool," Worm realizes all the things it contributes to the garden and proudly declares "I'm a worm!" on the last page, where it is shown as a pink paper squiggle, as on the front cover.

The text is a little clunky, but also uneven - it jumps back and forth between other creatures' abilities and whether or not they help the garden grow. The caterpillar's ability to metamorphose is mentioned, but not its voracious devouring of plants. The ladybug eating aphids is featured, but not its metamorphosis. Viewed from a fiction perspective, the message that Worm is only worthwhile because of the things it can do, is discouraging, but not unusual. The most unique element of the book is the quilled paper art; the simple colors do create a rather bland and lifeless garden, but the intricate details of each flower and leaf are interesting. Back matter talks a little more about worms and includes a paper quilling project.

Verdict: If looking for informational or nonfiction books about worms and garden critters, readers will do better with Freedman's Carl and the meaning of life and Messner's Up in the garden, down in the dirt. However, if you have room for additional titles on the importance of worms, or want a supplementary title for an art project with quilling, this is a nice addition.

ISBN: 9780063212565; Published March 2023 by Greenwillow; Review copy provided by publisher

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Giants' Farm by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Aladdin's Quix line features both original and reprinted early chapters and easy readers. They were created around the same time as Scholastic's Branches and Acorn line, but have, in general, not garnered the same amount of interest. I personally feel some nostalgia around the Quackenbush titles, which I grew up with, but usually the art styles are unlikely to appeal to modern kids. However, I'm getting so many requests for beginning chapters and early readers that I continue reviewing pretty much anything that comes across my radar, and I was interested to see how this series would stand up to the passage of time.

The Giants' Farm, and sequels, were originally published in the 1970s and the cadence of short, stilted sentences, as well as dePaola's iconic art, will be familiar to those of us who have been around for a while and grew up reading Frog and Toad, Commander Toad, Golly Sisters, and other classics of the genre. DePaola's art shows the found family of giants, Grizzle, a stereotypically huge giant with big teeth and ears, Dazzle, a jolly fat giant who loves to cook, the twins Grab and Grub, and little Dab, the smallest giant, who likes to read and comes up with the ideas. Although at first this looks like a traditional nuclear family, it's made clear in the first few pages and throughout the book that they are friends and none of them are really in "parenting" roles. Grizzle, the biggest and strongest male, does the hard work of the farm, but sometimes he feels upset and needs comforting. Dazzle, a female who loves to cook, enjoys feeding all the giants but sometimes needs their help to work on her projects. Grab and Grub, both male, don't have strong personalities outside of their twin-ness and making silly jokes. Dab, the youngest and a girl, is always considered useful and helpful despite her small size. Each giant has their role and all work together to support their family and their farm.

The illustrations give all five giants short hair, a variety of pants and tops, with a hat for Dazzle and a flower in Dab's hair. The text is typical for easy readers at the time, what would be considered intermediate or, as Quix has reformatted it, a beginning chapter book, with the short sentences smoothed into brief paragraphs. Surviving classic easy readers at this level would include Frog and Toad and Nate the Great.

Verdict: This is a pleasant, mildly humorous story. I have an audience for classic/traditional stories, so this could well be popular in my library; I will be seeing how the first title circulates before purchasing the reissued sequels. If you have an audience for the classic style of easy reader, with black and white illustrations, it's likely to be a good choice for your collection.

ISBN: 9781534488588; Originally published 1977; This edition published February 2023; Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, March 20, 2023

Browsing the beginning chapter books: Frog meets dog by Janee Trasler

Genre: Humor

Protagonists: Animals, gender not identified

Reading Level: F

Series: Three titles, part of the larger Acorn imprint

Originally reviewed in August 2020

Review: Three bulgy-eyed frogs look askance at a friendly brown dog. "Dog wants to play." Dog tries to play with the frogs, but ends in failure every time. The frogs tell her to "Go" and she sadly walks away... but when a bear shows up she returns and her play-fails save the day! The frogs are ready to play now, but it will take some help for them to figure out a way for Dog to join in their play. Dog realizes at the very end that there are a few things frogs do that she might not want to join in with, like eating flies!

Full-page art is broken up with speech bubbles and simple sentences, some in larger or smaller font. Some of the text is against a brown (dirt) background and more difficult to read. There is a quick tutorial in the back on drawing the frogs and the simple art is humorous and appealing. Kids will giggle over Dog's flops and failures, especially when she gets peppered all over with red wasp stings.

Verdict: A funny addition to the Acorn series, sure to please young readers and their caregivers. A must-have for your easy readers or beginning chapter sections.

Revisited: These are still popular, but it's too bad only three were made. On the other hand, there's only so many -og rhyming words, and Trasler has a new comic easy reader series coming out that showcases her humor well. These are still worth purchasing if you missed them the first time around though.

ISBN: 9781338540390; Published May 2020 by Scholastic; Purchased two copies for the library

Sunday, March 19, 2023

This week at the library

Working on patterns with two sewers.


  • Paws to Read
  • Family Storytime (2 sessions)
  • Family Fun (drop-in)
  • Pokemon Club
  • Library on the Go outreach
  • We Explore Nature
  • Lakeland School Field Trip
  • Project Explore
  • Late Bookaneers
  • TAB
  • Kids Make It: Sewing
  • One of my associates was out on Monday and a teen aide supervised Paws to Read. Despite me accidentally shocking the poor puppy before we started, everything went fine with only one little accident. Miss Esther thrilled the kids with two shark storytimes, and staff bravely dealt with the earworm of Baby Shark. One of my associates runs We Explore Nature and then repeats it for the Lakeland School group (local special education school) and the attendees really liked this week's program. It's a quieter, more laid-back program than our Tuesday/Thursday family storytime and it's great to have different styles of programs to offer. I had a smaller group at Project Explore, and one which wasn't really comfortable with the amount of initiative needed to fully experience the program, but they did have fun with modeling clay and paint and we actually had some teens - one taught my associate how to knit and a group of three siblings came near the end and got very into beading and checked out the maker kit to take with them. I had two kids at Late Bookaneers - I think people do prefer the later evening time, but they need more prior notice to fit it into their schedules. I've gotten several girl scouts very into sewing since their session last month and they came back to do more work at Kids Make It - two girls are trying out the Turn Tunic from Sewing School and it's a learning experience for all of us!
  • I was out Tuesday afternoon, since I worked the desk Saturday, which turned out pretty busy. The temperatures dropped and a lot of people came in to warm up or just explore the library. I've been working on data collection and organization for the strategic plan, and I took a little break from the never-ending nightmare of the missing/lost list to rebuild some of our Pinterest boards. We also finished moving the shelves and furniture in a small reorganization. The dvds moved down a shelf, all the maker kits are together on a long shelf with more room, and we opened up the central area and (hopefully) gave the teens a smaller space but one that the adults won't infringe on quite as much.
Projects for next week: Continue work on Pinterest pages and lost/missing list, rough out more of the summer reading handout/log, plan at least 2 more summer activity kits, start trying to narrow down a date for the 5th grade science show.

Read, to review:
  • Quest kids and the dragon: Pants of gold
  • Finn Feline Frenemy
  • Astrid the Astronaut: Robot Rebellion
  • The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker
  • One World by Nicola Davies
  • Dear Yesteryear
  • In a patch of grass
  • Apple Pie Picnic
Review copies to read:
  • Flying horse
  • Lotus Island: The guardian test
  • World's worst time machine
  • Unicorn Island: Beyond the portal
  • Nayra and the Djinn
  • The bright side
  • Mama Shamsi
  • City Beet
  • Benny the bananasaurus
  • Fearless farm boy
  • All in a day
  • Henry the snail
  • There is a cow in my bed
  • Who ate what?
  • Very good hats
  • Skull cat
  • Survival Scout by Eaton

Friday, March 17, 2023

Guardians of Horsa: Legend of the Yearling by Roan Black, illustrated by Roberta Papalia (Glass House Graphics)

Little Simon has been producing a lot of graphic novel adaptations or companions to long-running and popular beginning chapter book series recently, including Heroes of Olympus, Super Turbo, Wrenly, and others. With Guardians of Horsa, they branch out into an original property which I think will be quite popular although it's nothing particularly new.

The story begins with a herd of horses on a volcano playing in and around the lava. Their manes and tails are fiery, and their coloring shades of red and brown. Gamma Ray, the bravest and most daring, overextends himself and lands in the water, where he encounters a water horse, with dark blue skin and fin-like mane and tail. We learn that Ray is a prince of the Fire Realm and then jump to the water horse, who turns out to be Stillwater, the daughter of an important general. The two learn they are part of a prophecy and then the action moves yet again to the land, where a goofy colt named Terra, with pinkish skin and green, foliage-like mane and tail, is bewildered to learn he is also part of the mysterious prophecy. The three learn that they are supposed to find a mysterious and magical yearling. They meet the fourth member of their team, a wind horse warrior named Gale, and the four set out on their quest. Constantly arguing, fighting and squabbling, the three patrician horses are far too proud, suspicious, and prejudiced against their neighbors to make any progress. However, Terra, the "commoner" and least-considered of the four, inadvertently leads them into both danger and magic and after a battle during which three of the four discover new powers, they manage to come to an agreement and this time work together as they continue on their quest. But there are new dangers ahead, including... the naysayers!

The art is slick and digital, the horses blocky and muscular, rather than the fantasy-style flying horses or unicorns of most stories. Bright flashes of light, chunky rock creatures, and stereotypical royalty abounds, with the four obviously poised to learn lessons about humility, getting along, and valuing the different abilities and knowledge of their neighbors.

Like many of their properties, such as Captain Awesome, Critter Club, Rider Woofson, this is written by a pseudonym which could be an individual author or a team. While a specific artist is listed, they are part of the Glass House Graphic conglomerate which generally does the art for this imprint's graphics and covers. The discussion as to whether this devalues individual artists' work is a different matter, but I'm looking at it only from a librarian's viewpoint and someone looking for what will encourage young kids to enjoy reading and build fluency. As a whole, it's about what you'd expect with rather clunky language and art. However, it's got an engaging theme and tropes persist for a reason, especially in beginning series fiction.

Verdict: This is sure to be popular with fans of Dragon Masters and Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly and young readers who are ready to gobble up a fantasy adventure with magical horses will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

ISBN: 9781665931571; Published January 2023 by Little Simon; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Nat the Cat takes a nap by Jarrett Lerner

This new blended comic and early reader shows just how fluid the two genres are. Although speech bubbles didn't really become a strong trend in early readers until Willems' Elephant and Piggie, they're now standard fare in many readers. However, the classic model of simple illustrations on a white background and basic text persists as well.

Lerner combines both in this sarcastic reader, with Nat the Cat, a blocky gray feline, speaking in speech bubbles while an unseen narrator uses the traditional short sentences. The narrator announces Nat's nap, waking him up constantly, which Nat resents and says so, in his own dialogue. Finally, a rat shows up on the scene and Nat takes what victory he can, finally getting his nap (but not the best of the narrator).

Lerner's simple, blocky illustrations don't add too much detail to the text but are smoothly blended in with the flow of the plot. More lengthy, traditional comic early readers tend to only work for more fluent readers, since it's hard to learn to read while also following the art. This one could be given to a beginning reader, although they might not pick up on all the sarcasm.

Verdict: A fun addition to early reader collections, nicely aimed at very early readers; it would also make a good companion reading, with one person doing the narration and one Nat's responses.

ISBN: 9781665918916; Published January 2023 by Simon Spotlight; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, March 13, 2023

Browsing the beginning chapter books: The absent author by Ron Roy, illusttrated by John Steven Gurney

Genre: Mystery

Protagonists: White; two boys, one girl

Reading level: 500s (Lexiles)

Series: The series is complete with 26 titles. There are numerous spin-offs, including special editions, and a younger series, Calendar Mysteries. Coming in 2023, there is a new spin-off, A to Z Animal Mysteries

Series first published in 1997; Originally reviewed in April 2021

Review: Ron Roy's A to Z mysteries are one of the perennially popular beginning chapter mysteries for readers, featuring the now familiar trope of a small group of (white) children solving simple mysteries from missing items to strange circumstances. The series has a number of spin-offs, but I only kept the basic 26 books of the original series in my library.

This first story features three kids, Dink who loves to read, Josh who's into art, and individualist Ruth Rose who likes to wear outfits all in the same color. Their inaugural mystery begins when Wallis Wallace, Dink's favorite author, doesn't show up for the author visit at the local bookstore that Dink and the store owner set up. The three friends follow a variety of clues, along with shy Mavis Green, an aspiring writer, until they finally find the solution.

Mavis Green turns out to be Wallis Wallace, trying out a new plot for her next mystery book, and the kids are excited to meet their favorite author and look forward to their next mystery.

A lot of things in this book have dated - no cellphones and getting information about someone on a plane flight just by calling the airport for example - not to mention three young kids roaming the city with little supervision. From an adult perspective, Wallace is a jerk, disappointing a bunch of kids and messing up a store owner's planned event by staging a mystery and not telling anyone. There's no mention of any apology or rescheduled event either. The kids have generic clothes that don't look substantially different from modern clothing, and the adults are mostly shown in pants, long skirts, or other neutral styles.

Verdict: No matter how outdated I find these, they're still heavily used and recommended by teachers, which means that kids frequently ask for them as well. So, regardless of my personal opinion I'll keep replacing them. I would at least make sure you have more diverse options though, like Field Trip/Museum mysteries and Milo and Jazz.

Revisited: These continue to be popular and most have been updated with new covers. I continue to replace the worn titles and will be purchasing the new spin-off, A to Z animal mysteries.

ISBN: 9780679881681; Originally published 1997 by Random House; Purchased for the library and replaced several times.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

This week at the library

Talking about bugs


  • Let off STEAM
  • Paws to Read
  • School art show
  • Family Storytime (2 sessions)
  • Outreach storytimes (9 sessions)
  • Family Fun (drop-in)
  • Anime Club
  • We Explore Nature
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Fact Finders
  • I like to move it
  • Kids make it: Sewing
  I should have scheduled an additional person for Monday night. I don't know why I forgot that the art show brings in several hundred people. D&D was a challenge, due to various issues (mostly the DMs feeling like crap and only a small part of our regular group attending) but we made it through. We got another storm on Thursday, but I still had a decent group at Fact Finders with an extensive discussion on bugs - the kids didn't want to leave! Only two sewers (and their grownups) at Kids make it, but I FIXED THE CLANKY MACHINE!! It's got a loose bobbin holder, which I replaced for $30, but it still makes a horrible clanking sound, and I took the whole thing apart and got it to sew smoothly! I'm working another Saturday, but only to go in for a meeting of our strategic planning committee. I have mixed feelings about the survey - I'm not in a good space right now to take the comments reasonably and with a grain of salt, but thankfully my director will do that for me.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Esme's birthday conga line by Lourdes Heuer, illustrated by Marissa Valdez

This sweet chapter book introduces Esme, a brown-skinned, smiling little girl who lives on the top floor of a rather dilapidated small brick apartment building with her Mimi and Popo. On her first birthday after moving in with her grandparents, they gift her with a guitar and she's thrilled... but what about a birthday party? Nothing daunted, Esme sets off to put together her own birthday party, complete with pinata, music, and cake, by inviting all the residents of the building to share in her celebration and contribute their own unique skills.

Esme's cheerful friendliness wins over everyone, even when the music teacher winces at her playing and the elderly sisters are overwhelmed by her exuberance. Even Manny, the grouchy caretaker in the basement, gets an invite and readers will giggle over Esme's cheerful indifference to his bad temper as she bounces off on the stairs, having set the elevator on fire! Soon, Esme is conga'ing her way back home, accompanied by all the residents of the building who are ready for a party! In the end, even Manny can't resist her and gives a grudging smile as she shares her cake.

Esme's unstoppable optimism shines through as she bounces into each apartment, cheerfully assuming everyone will naturally be thrilled to help and participate in her birthday party. There's no explanation for why she's living with her grandparents and she briskly accepts that they don't know about birthday parties and moves on to arrange things for herself without whining or complaining. Although there's no specific Spanish included in the story, and "Mimi and Popo" are not specifically Spanish titles, Esme's cat's name "El Toro" and the flavor of the apartment and her friends mark her as coming from a Latinx heritage.

Verdict: A charming beginning chapter book that will make readers giggle as well as a normalizing representation of a child being raised by their grandparents. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780735269408; Published 2022 by Tundra; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Busy Feet by Marcia Berneger, illustrated by Susanna Chapman

Edited to add: It's a picture book! A slightly smaller format than the typical picture book, but not a board book. I'm very excited that our copy came in!

Starry Forest is a new-to-me independent publisher. A quick overview of their list made me think of the lists from Usborne or Beaming Books, with a variety of illustrated classics, inclusive titles, Christian holidays, and activity books. They do include some bilingual (Spanish) materials and their titles are available via Baker and Taylor.

The book I am reviewing today is the first in a series called "Busy Baby" and is a bright, busy collection of art and movement. The simple rhyming couplets follow a variety of children's feet through movement, activity, and daily tasks. "Feet walk STRAIGHT/then spin 'ROUND./Dizzy feet/all fall down!" The main feet pictured are white with an explosion of freckles and several feet with dark brown skin. There are also some lighter brown-skinned feet and a child in a wheelchair. The freckled feet and one set of dark brown belong together, as they are shown sharing a bath, bedroom, and other activities.

Bright backgrounds of pink, orange, green, and blue are covered with dancing, running, wiggling feet. The pages are crowded with birds, stars, swatches of color, toys, and random shapes. It makes for a busier book than I'd recommend for very young children. I only saw an egalley of the title, but it is described as a picture book in the publicity materials and as a picture book/board book in Baker and Taylor's listing, so I'm not clear if the binding is a regular hardcover picture book or a board book.

Verdict: While not recommended for infants due to the busyness of the art, this would be a nice addition to collections for toddlers and young preschoolers, especially if tied to an outdoor or movement-based program and should work well in a group setting. I'm always looking for more toddler-oriented titles and I anticipate this being a popular storytime pick. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781951784102; Published February 2023 by Starry Forest Books; Egalley provided by author; Purchased for the library