Friday, April 19, 2024

The Bellwoods Game by Celia Krampien

 This poignant and chilling story expands the trope of "kid turned ghost" into an adventure in friendship and fear.

The story opens with the original events of 1982, when a girl named Abigail flees from her bullies to the Bellwoods and never returns. Present-day, it's tradition for 6th graders to go into the Bellwoods and "play the game." If they ring the bell on the far side of the woods, they save the town for another year from the ghost of Abigail Snooks. Bailee is eager to play - she's been ostracized by her friend Fen, who blames her for tattling to the principal about a risky plan and getting him (and most of the school) stuck in detention.

Bailee is chosen to play, along with Fen and Carmen, a girl who skipped several grades and is alternately ignored and taunted for her intelligence. They're not alone in the woods though - they're joined by new kid Noah, who's determined to find out the truth about the game and the ghost and Bailee's former friend Madison, this year's organizer of the game, and who has been acting hot and cold towards Bailee ever since the incident.


It turns out that there is, indeed, a ghost in the woods - but Abigail is not the real danger. There is an ancient creature in the woods that grows stronger every year and only by ringing the bell can the kids truly save the town for another year. But what will happen the year after that, and after that as the creature grows stronger? Nothing can be trusted in the Bellwoods, but in the midst of the most dangerous, high-stakes game they've ever played, this group of kids will reveal their secrets and their darkest feelings. If they survive, they might not only save the town but find a new bond of friendship together. 

Black and white drawings and panels are scattered throughout the book, showing a diverse group of kids, a chilling representation of the creature in the woods, and the frightening events that ensue. The year's previous winner, Arlo, is addressed with they/them pronouns.

Verdict: This reminded me a little of Doll Bones, with its mixture of illustration, bildungsroman, and spooky events. It's a little slow-paced and more reflective than gory for horror fans, but it's beautifully written, includes relatable characters, and will certainly appeal to certain kids who like atmospheric, slightly creepy stories and are fluent enough to read and enjoy a full-length chapter book. I enjoyed reading it and have several kids in mind who I am eager to hand it to. I only buy a few middle grade novels at this point, because of the changing tastes and needs of my audience, but this will be one of them.

ISBN: 9781665912501; Published July 2023 by Atheneum; Galley provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Shells... and what they hide inside by Helen Scales, illustrated by Sonia Pulido

 This is a board book, scaled down version of Scales' What a shell can tell from 2022. Simple text, giving basic information about shells, fills the board pages and a myriad of flaps can be pulled down to view shells and their interiors.

Readers will see a beach scene, with shells beneath rocks, garden scene where they can find hiding snails, and a fun variety of shells and the creatures who live in them. The penultimate page gives an option to open "glass drawers" and describe the different shells pictured both on and under the flap. The final page shows a beach scene with shells to investigate - some with creatures inside, some empty.

The text makes an effort to be both accurate and accessible to young children. One page asks readers to imagine what shells feel like, picturing a spiky murex shell, rough oyster shell, etc. There are no actual textures on the page, which is a little disconcerting though. Two lift-the-flaps explain why shells have their particular texture.

One of the best spreads shows a variety of shells on lift the flaps that kids can look at and identify the mollusk, if any, inside. The art is interesting and detailed, but general enough for a young board book audience.

The pages themselves are sturdy, but the flaps are the thickness of cardstock or very thin cardboard and there are so many  it would be difficult to reinforce them all. At least one spread has all of them opening up, instead of pulling down, and I flipped the book upside down to pre-open those.

Verdict: If you have a lift-the-flap or pop-up collection, or if you include these types of books in kits, as I do, this is a great addition to those collections. I would find it difficult to recommend for a general board book collection, especially as it's priced like a picture book, not a board book.

ISBN: 9781838667887; Published April 2024 by Phaidon; Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, April 15, 2024

Humphrey's Tiny Tales: Playful Puppy Problem by Betty G. Birney, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Genre: Animal stories
Protagonists: Animals, male
Reading level: 500s
Series: Probably complete with 7 titles
Originally reviewed in 2016

Review: This is part of the rather odd trend of cutting chapter books down to beginning chapters. I find this pointless since, if they're trying to attract a previous fan base, those kids are unlikely to be familiar with the characters and if they're trying to build a new fan base the books are really quite close together in reading level and by the time the kids move on to the older chapter series they're likely to have lost interest. However, they are useful beginning chapter books and I've bought quite a few of them - the younger series of Hank Zipzer (Here's Hank), Judy Moody (Judy Moody and Friends) and Humphrey's Tiny Tales (Humphrey).

The original Humphrey books, about a class hamster, regularly rise and fall in popularity and seem to be as much of a staple as Beverly Cleary or Junie B. Jones.

SO, what is this book about? Humphrey is hanging out in his cage and watching the class doings with interest when he learns that the kids are going to do experiments, he's going home with Richie for the weekend and Richie is....going to do an experiment on HIM! Humphrey is very worried about this, even more so when he gets to Richie's house and discovers they have a very playful and scary new puppy. But once the experiment gets underway and Richie's uncle, the school janitor, helps Humphrey feel more at home, things seem to be going well. But when disaster strikes, only Humphrey can fix the experiment - if he can get past his fear of the puppy. What will Humphrey do?

Verdict: So, honestly I found this book to be....boring. Nothing much happened, it was rather repetitive and I kind of trudged through it. But kids who are struggling to move into chapter books will find this a good choice. The language and plot is simple so they can concentrate on their reading skills without losing track of what's happening, there's enough mild humor and silliness to keep them reading, and there are only a few, easily identifiable characters. It's a good choice for my younger book club, which has a lot of struggling readers and I'll continue adding these titles to our collection.

Revisited: Humphrey, and these simpler chapters, continue to be solid backlist titles for circulation. One thing I've found, which proves that sometimes publishers know better than me lol, is that as the years pass and the original books become "classics" there are parents eager to introduce them to their kids who really like the younger versions. Humphrey is definitely in this category and if the original books are popular and you initially missed these shorter chapters, they are well-worth purchasing, especially as this year is the 20th anniversary of the original Humphrey stories. These also are solidly in the "gentle reads" category for my patrons.

ISBN: 9780399252020; Published 2014 by G. P. Putnam/Penguin; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Sunday, April 14, 2024

This week at the library: I have returned (but not until after the eclipse and no, I totally didn't plan that really)

  • Paws to Read
  • Family storytime
  • 4K outreach storytimes
  • We Explore Nature
  • Kids/Teen Dungeons and Dragons
  • Family Storytime
  • Fact Finders
  • Teen Advisory Board
Meetings, outreach, etc.
  • National Library Week
  • 4-H (hosting)
  • Great Give-Back (sports teams volunteer day)
  • I returned to work on Wednesday the 10th, not only missing the eclipse, but also prevailing on my long-suffering associate to cover Dungeons and Dragons for me that evening, although she didn't end up needing to since only 3 kids showed. This week is very busy at school apparently. I only had one kid at Fact Finders, but they're a favorite of mine and I like hanging out with them, so it's cool.
  • I whipped through a lot of random stuff left on my desk and then immediately tackled the first steps in prepping for summer. I am dumping all the info into Canva templates and then my long-suffering associate is doing all the formatting.

Friday, April 12, 2024

One day this tree will fall by Leslie Barnard Booth, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

 It's fitting that I read this beautiful picture book, celebrating the life of a tree and biodiversity, at the same time as I was reading Albert Marrin's new narrative nonfiction When Forests Burn about the history of wildfires. I'm also trying (somewhat) to restrain myself from yelling at people who are getting out their leaf blowers to remove any last vestige of leaves or dead plants that they somehow missed in the initial scouring in the fall. Ahem.

The story opens with a twisted, broken pine, covered in moss and fungi. "One day this tree will fall and this story will end. Won't it?" First, we have to go back to the beginning of the story, following the tree from seed to sprout, from sapling to full growth over the period of many, many years.

As the tree matures, it is damaged by fire and drought, but survives and provides a home to numerous wildlife from insects to mammals. But finally, it does fall. But that's not the end of the story. Over many more years to come, the fallen tree provides a home for animals, nutrients for fungi and moss, and a source of food for various bugs that continue the process of decomposition until finally, the fallen tree's story begins again - as a soft, nurturing place for a new seed to sprout and the cycle to begin again.

Textured illustrations show a variety of natural colors, from greens and browns to reds and blues, in the journey of the great tree. Back matter includes an in-depth look at the information behind the story in the life cycle of a tree, including all the different creatures who are part of the interdependent life cycle of trees and the habitat they live in and support. A final note gives specific information about the Pacific Northwest forests which are featured in the story, a glossary, and sources.

Verdict: While not a raucous storytime read-aloud, this quiet, thoughtful story provides plenty of room for discussion and action with both kids and adults. Younger children will enjoy finding all the different creatures throughout the story and the book would pair especially well with a nature walk or storywalk where students can look for trees in different stages of their life cycle. Recommended for libraries looking for stories with a focus on nature and natural life cycles, especially those who offer or support outdoor programming.

ISBN: 9781534496965; Published March 2024 by Margaret K. McElderry; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

I am a rock by Ashley Qilavaq-Savard, illustrated by Pelin Turgut

 This is a beautiful, unique celebration of nature that's just right for bedtime read-alouds

Pauloosie and his mom are having a peaceful pre-bedtime discussion and he asks what it would sound like if his pet rock, Miki Rock, could talk. This branches out into a gentle question and response story of the interaction of rocks with their environment, the passing seasons, and the natural beauty of the Arctic landscape.

The story's rhythms, both in the text and in the passing of seasons, are pitch-perfect for calming rituals. Miki Rock listens to the animals, hears the waves on the beach, watches the seasons pass, and finally goes home with Pauloosie, where they enjoy new experiences. Pauloosie drifts off to sleep, cuddled with Miki Rock, dreaming of the world all around home.

Colorful illustrations show the stark beauty of winter, lush greens of spring and summer, ebb and flow of the ocean, and movement of wildlife. There is a glossary in the back to assist readers in pronunciation of the Inuktitut words.

Verdict: Not only a delightful bedtime story, this would make a great seasonal read for storytime, especially if you have a very rowdy group that needs a calming story. Of course, you'll need to make your own pet rocks at the end, as well as talk about what those rocks have seen in your local habitat! Recommended.

ISBN: 9781772274752; Published April 2024 by Inhabit Media; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, April 8, 2024

Haggis and Tank Unleashed: All Paws on Deck by Jessica Young, illustrated by James Burks

Genre: Humor
Protagonists: Dogs, pronouns not defined
Series: Complete with three titles
Originally reviewed in 2016

Review: This new Branches series features two kooky dogs and the art of James Burks, author of Bird & Squirrel and other fun books.

Haggis the terrier is bored. Tank the Great Dane is not. Tank has lots of great ideas, including being pirates! She's sure it will be lots of fun, but Haggis isn't so sure. Using their imaginations and some creative recycling, the two set sail on a wild adventure.

There's a lot of wordplay in the text, which mostly takes a back seat to the colorful graphics. Burks' trademark square corners and surreal humor shine through in the wacky adventure and Young's silly dialogue and easy text make a good combination. The story is told mostly in comic style panels.

For Branches I'd say this is intermediate - it does not have a lot of text, but the combination of simple sentences and dialogue would confuse a beginning reader and the font is smaller than the average easy reader. The wordplay will also be challenging to a reader who is not fluent or doesn't have a decent vocabulary.

Verdict: Fans of Burks' Bird & Squirrel and kids who like funny books but aren't quite ready for full-length chapters will be the ideal audience for this. It would also make a fun read-aloud for younger children. Recommended.

Revisited: I was always sad that there were never more than three of these - I really enjoyed the collaboration between these two creators. However, all three are still available in paperback and prebound format and they continue to be popular, even though there are many more options for early graphics now. I still think they're worth purchasing if you missed them the first time around.

ISBN: 9780545818872; Published 2016 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

Sunday, April 7, 2024

This week at the library: I'm not at the library

From a few weeks back, making 
a box house for a pet cat.


  • Paws to Read
  • Family Storytime
  • 4K outreach storytimes
  • We Explore Nature
  • Family Storytime
  • Young Fiber Artists
Meetings, outreach, etc.
  • Girl Scouts (hosting)
  • Managers' meeting (without me! somebody else had to take the minutes)
  • FirstPlay (hosting)
  • I was off this week. I left instructions for covering the important stuff (school requests etc.) and a goodbye note for our intern, who finished this week. I also logged in on Monday to finish writing and filing the monthly report. Otherwise, whatever happened happened.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Aftermath of a book challenge

This blog represents my personal views and not those of my employer or of the library as an institution.

To recap, last December a parent challenged over 400 books at the middle and high school libraries. This Book Riot article gives a good overview of the initial events. Because of the policies in place at the time, all the books were removed from the library shelves. In February, the principals of the two schools completed the book review. Some books were moved from the middle school to high school, all books were returned to the shelves, and a number of books were "restricted." In order to access the restricted books, parents had to "opt in" and give their child permission. The school district also sent out a draft of a new policy for challenged materials. The challenge and subsequent events led to a hotly contested School Board election, the end result of which in April was the return of two incumbents and the addition of a new School Board member who had campaigned against the book challenges. For context, like many school districts, the school is facing budget cuts and the fallout of a failed referendum (which was actively opposed by some School Board members at the time).
These are my thoughts on the current aftermath/state of the book challenges, again, I do not speak for the public library (nor for the school district, which I am not employed by in any way).

Speaking not as a representative of any particular institution but speaking as a degreed librarian with over 15 years of experience, there are several things about the decisions made that deeply trouble me and I think might be worth considering.
  • We are fortunate to have experienced, certified school media specialists, as well as resources at the school and public library available, but, as far as I know, they were not consulted or used in reviewing the materials. In one interview [the school superintendent] mentioned that he wished there was a book rating system - well, apart from the current lawsuits ongoing about that exact thing (and the many, many reasons it's problematic) there just happens to be a professional guide to this exact thing -it's called professional review journals. None of which were consulted. Instead, the principals were instructed to use for-profit, crowd-sourced sites, the equivalent of asking a random group of users on Facebook to figure out what's wrong with your car. Maybe some of the advice will be good, maybe it won't, but you don't know where it's coming from!
  • Following on from the use of for-profit, crowd-sourced sites to review books, instead of professional journals and librarians, I have questions about the restriction process. I did not see any explanation of how books were chosen to go on the restricted list. For example, Drama by Raina Telgemeier was restricted at the middle school. This is a frequently challenged and banned book. It is also the recipient of multiple awards, hugely popular with young readers, and recommended for grades 5-8 by School Library Journal. Callie, a middle schooler, is involved with her school's theater production and the story follows all the drama that ensues. A side plot is her crush on a boy she meets, who doesn't return her interest, but eventually realizes he has a crush on another boy in the play. I've attached the TWO panels that people most frequently complain about.

  • The unprofessional and random restriction of books is especially problematic because the restriction process is opt-in, not opt-out. I strongly suspect that many parents will just not bother to fill out the form OR assume that if the school district is restricting books they must necessarily be sexually explicit, which is certainly not the case. Another example of a restricted title is Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, an award-winning nonfiction title of WWII that follows the development of the atomic bomb. Why are students being denied access to well-written, intriguing books about our country's history? I wouldn't expect most adults to be familiar with this title - which is why we have professional librarians!

There are many kids struggling to read, either due to a lack of interest or to struggling with the mechanics, and it's a frequent topic of conversation among librarians, teachers, and parents as to how we can get kids to love reading. Putting barriers in place that they have to surmount to choose award-winning, well-written, popular books is certainly not the way to go about it.

A final issue with restricting certain books, with no clear criteria for said restrictions, is that it sends a devastating message to students who have experienced or are experiencing some of the things included in these books - you are inappropriate, you don't belong here, your experiences are not valid. It leaves them lost and alone, with no windows or mirrors for their experiences. Jarrett Krosoczka wrote a heartfelt letter to those who seek to ban his books and one of the things he says is "There are difficult truths in books for young readers because our young readers are living with those difficult truths."

I don't know what, if anything, can be done about these issues. As I said earlier, it may well be that it's better to move on and focus on the other issues the district is facing. But I think that, at the very least, we should keep these thoughts in the back of our mind as we seek to support the librarians and teachers of the school district and make sure that all students are supported, seen, and offered a strong education and a safe place to explore and grow.

Friday, April 5, 2024

The wonderful wisdom of ants by Philip Bunting

 Nobody does the subtle humor of googly eyes like Philip Bunting. A fairly recent Australian import to the US market, I've been increasingly delighted by his quirky style and informative titles. This particular book, published in 2021 but only available in the US this year, is a great example of his work.

The book opens with a magnified ant and the caption "this is an ant". "Hey!" says the ant. the next page features an ever-growing stream of ants, ballooning into quadrillions of ants! Bunting's humorous illustrations go from the general context of ants in the world, to their specific skills, abilities, and habits. We see cut-away pictures of ant tunnels, profiles of ant jobs, and detailed explanations of how ants use pheromones.

Bunting extrapolates from the fascinating abilities of ants to lessons for humans, like "Love your family." and "Reuse or recycle everything." ending with a stream of ants carrying the words "Leave the earth in better shape than it was when you got here."

Verdict: This isn't strictly a nonfiction book about ants, although it does contain a lot of information about them. It's not really a storytime read-aloud either, due to the length of some of the text. But it's a great choice for earth day (or any day) reads in an elementary classroom with fun facts and a thoughtful message. Pair with Bridget Heos' Just like us! Ants for an interesting exploration of the world of myrmecology and the interconnectedness of life.

ISBN: 9780593567784; Published March 2024 by Crown; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Waist-Deep in Dung: A stomach-churning look at the grossest jobs throughout history by Christine Virnig, illustrated by Korwin Briggs

 Virnig, a Wisconsin doctor turned author, debuted with what might be the grossest book yet in my collection, Dung for Dinner. The fun continues in this hilarious, disgusting, and thoughtful book about gross jobs throughout history.

Virnig opens with a thoughtful introduction about why people chose - or didn't choose - to perform these jobs throughout history. She also includes a warning for those with weak stomachs! The first section covers corpses and medical grossness, from making mummies in Egypt to the nurse's assistants who help people today. The focus is primarily on Europe, but Virnig gives a nod to other cultures, especially those with more advanced medical knowledge.

The second session plunges into poop - and vomit, pee, and other bodily substances, starting back in ancient Rome and moving through gross jobs like tanners, mudlarks, and the changes in how we collect and handle sewage. Virnig explores issues of equity and class as she goes beyond the surface grossness to talk about the inequities in the past - and today - in who handles our gross jobs, challenges worldwide in creating safe systems for water and sewage, and finishing up with a pointed reminder that these are not issues of the past - US sewers and water systems are in dangerously poor condition in many areas.

Briggs' light-hearted cartoon illustrations, which were also in Virnig's first book, do a great job of adding humor to the story, illustrating some of the grossest moments, and clarifying some of the explanations. The illustrations are in the same tans and grays as the general theme of the text.

Verdict: Funny, gross, informative, and thoughtful, this is the perfect book to hand to budding scientists who aren't afraid to plunge into a stinky subject and digest some big concepts. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781250762351; Published March 2024 by Laura Godwin books; E-galley received via Netgalley; Purchased for the library

Monday, April 1, 2024

Browsing the beginning chapter books: Blast Back! Ancient Egypt by Nancy Ohlin, illustrated by Adam Larkum

Genre: History
Protagonists: Historical figures, primarily white/western
Reading level: 800s
Series: 14 separate titles
Originally reviewed in 2016

Review: After a brief introduction, the book walks readers through the basic geography, religion, culture, and history of Ancient Egypt. It packs a lot of information into a little over 100 pages, including daily life, famous rulers, important events, and some natural history. The last few chapters talk about the end of the Ancient Egyptian civilization as it was conquered by the Romans and how archaeologists learn about the past, including the Rosetta Stone. It finishes with some of the legacy of Ancient Egypt.

The book includes a list of future topics for the series, a simple bibliography and biographies of the creators.

Larkum's line drawings add the perfect note of humor, while not caricaturing the customs or people. They have a classic cartoon feel and break the text up just enough.

I was rather disappointed with Little Bee's Hideous History series, but this is just right. It's the perfect length and interest level for beginning readers, includes a reasonable amount of information without being too graphic or one-sided, includes sources, and is both fun and informative. It's also available in both hardcover and paperback.

Verdict: I will buy them all! You should buy them all too! I can't wait to use them in book club. The only question in my mind now is where to put them - with our paperback beginning chapter series or in the juvenile nonfiction?

Revisited: Several of the titles are now out of print, but the bulk of them are still available. Their popularity has been very variable, depending on the subject. Many of them haven't checked out in several years and I don't think I could justify purchasing them now, since they're a bit older. I might consider moving them to the juvenile nonfiction and seeing if they circulate more there, with kids looking for easier/shorter books on popular topics.

ISBN: 9781499801163; Published April 2016 by Little Bee; Review copy provided by the publisher at BEA; Purchased for the library

Sunday, March 31, 2024

This week at the library: Spring Break

Nobody came to the sewing workshop
this week, but this young patron 
made two butterfly pillows at the 
last meeting (with help).
  • Homeschool hangout
  • Family storytime (sub)
  • Bookaneers
  • Family storytime (sub)
  • Sewing workshop
Meetings, outreach, etc.
  • FirstPlay (hosting)
  • I've gone back and forth on having programs, big programs, small programs, etc. over Spring Break. This year I just did a couple basic things and waited to see who would show. We are closed on Friday as per city policy and that also marked the first day of my planned time off, although I took home all the materials for the end-of-month reports.