Monday, November 30, 2009

Flamingos & No Room at the inn by Jean Malone, Snow Wonder by Charles Ghigna, Katie Woo: Goodbye to Goldie by Fran Manushkin

My easy reader mixed-review today, is all varieties of nonfiction and almost-nonfiction.
Flamingos, a station stop 2 All Aboard Science Reader, contains lots of interesting facts about flamingos and a plethora of photographs. I was a little irritated that they had a pronunciation guide for "carotene" but not "lamellae". The last two pages, encouraging readers to recycle etc. to help flamingos felt a bit tacked on to me. Altogether, a nice nonfiction easy reader for kids interested in birds.

Flamingos by Jean Malone
ISBN: 978-0448452067; Published January 2009 by Grosset and Dunlap; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils; Purchased for the library

The next easy reader I have here is not exactly nonfiction, but it's not one I'd casually hand out for just any beginning reader. Katie Woo's dog, Goldie, is very old. One day, she dies. Katie goes through a simple process of grief, from crying to remembering all the wonderful things about Goldie. There is a simple glossary, discussion questions, and projects in the back. This is an excellent easy reader to hand out to kids who have lost a pet - or a friend. If you're not worried about the dying dog in the beginning upsetting the reader, kids who like dogs will also enjoy this story as it's full of Goldie's funny antics.

Katie Woo: Goodbye to Goldie by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon
ISBN: 978-1404854956; Published August 2009 by Picture Window Books; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils; Purchased for the library

Okay, I admit this isn't even remotely nonfiction, but I threw it in here anyways. It's a simple list of all the wonderful things to do in winter, especially in snow. There were a couple things I wasn't happy about with this book - I felt that the rhymes, sometimes stretching across two pages, were too long for the reading level. This is a sticker book, with the sticker pages in the middle, so libraries will need to either remove or tape over them. The illustrations focus on one extended family with big smiley faces and simple shapes. This could be a fun purchase for an individual family, especially if your beginning reader has never seen snow or is looking forward to winter, but it's a bit flimsy for a library purchase.

Snow Wonder by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Julia Woolf
ISBN: 978-0375855863; Published October 2008 by Random House; Borrowed from the library

This easy reader is a retelling of the Nativity story. It's a simple but fairly well-written retelling. However, this story is going to work for some and not for others. The "religious" elements, for lack of a better word, have been tidily smoothed over. Jesus "was born to bring peace to the world." The angel Gabriel asks Mary to be the mother of God's Son - not quite the same as the original announcement! "Joseph was not sure whether he was good enough to be a father to such a special child." Um...that's not how I remember it!
The illustrations are rounded and gentle - but we're still stuck with the traditional Westernized versions. I guess we can be thankful Mary's hair is covered so if she's still showing blonde we can't tell.
Families looking for a simple introduction to the traditional story without any religious or possibly controversial elements might want to read this, but it's basically a watered-down version of the Biblical story.

No room at the inn by Jean Malone, illustrated by Bryan Langdo
ISBN: 978-0448452173; Published October 2009 by Grosset and Dunlap; Review copy provided by the publisher
Verdict: I recommend Katie Woo - an excellent story dealing with the death of a pet. Flamingos is a good purchase if you have lots of fans of birds or need more nonfiction in your easy reader section. Snow Wonder, because of the stickers, isn't something I'd add to my library but if you're a parent or giving a gift, consider it. I don't honestly think we need any more Westernized versions of the Nativity story; I don't recommend No Room at the Inn.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear by David Bruins; Delicious Bug by Janet Perlman

Today, we have two stories with a lesson. In our first story, three friends learn an important lesson; everyone has different strengths. In the second story, two chameleons learn to share.

Ninja, Cowboy and Bear are good friends and do everything together...until one day they start arguing about who is better. The bear can build bigger rockpiles than the nina. The ninja can catch more bunnies than the cowboy. And so it goes until they all feel awful and their friendship is broken. Finally, each one finds a quiet way to think about things; and they realize that each one is important and different in a unique way. The story ends with a version of "rock, paper, scissors."

Although the unexplained disintegration of the characters' friendship is a realistic part of childhood - who hasn't seen kids playing in perfect harmony one moment and fighting the next? -- it doesn't make for a good story. The problem with this narrative is that there's not really any plot, it's just a series of events and platitudes. The language is mostly simplistic but sprinkled with unexpectedly complex words. Like most heavily didactic picture books, this is aimed at teachers and parents desperate to calm down competitive and constantly fighting children. The kids won't care, but it will make the adults feel better.

However, I did really like Hilary Leung's illustrations! They make me think of the Japanese kawaii culture (correct me if I'm wrong, this is just my impression). There's the rounded and somehow perky characters with their fingerless hands and bright cheerful colors. The illustrations include small insets of games the characters are playing and bigger, bright landscapes as the characters compete.

So, if the previous book is an example of how not to write a didactic picture book, this book is an example of a good picturebook that teaches a lesson. Although the main point of the story is the importance of sharing, there's a definite plot and characters outside the lesson. Two chameleons are good friends and always share the bugs they catch. But one day, they unexpectedly catch a delicious bumblebug simultaneously. Chaos ensues as the two selfish chameleons fight over who's going to get the bug until their selfishness nearly gets them eaten. Reconciled, the two friends repair the damages and settle back into their shared friendship.

There's no need to emphasize the lesson in this story, since it's seamlessly blended into the plot of the two bickering chameleons. It's full of hilarious little asides from the other animals and the funniest part is the two chameleons sparring away with their tongues sticking out, which leads to much silly dialogue "back off shlobberface! back off dragonlipsh!". It's natural that the sheepish chameleons should clean up the mess, after seeing the chaos they've caused and the friends they've irritated. It's no surprise that this book is based on an animated short by the author, "Dinner for Two". The illustrations are delightfully splodgy with side panels showing parallel stories and reactions from the other creatures - I can easily see this being quite a funny cartoon!

The best didactic picturebooks are those whose plots can stand alone with their accompanying "lesson." Remove the lesson from Ninja Cowboy Bear, and there's nothing left but some cute illustrations. Remove the lesson from Delicious Bug, and you still have a fun and silly story about sparring chameleons.

Verdict: If you have enough extra in your budget, Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear is worth buying for the illustrations and to hand to those aforementioned harried teachers and parents. I'd strongly recommend Delicious Bug - perfect for small storytimes and recommended to readers who like a good story with a lesson.

P. S. Some bloggers liked Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear much better than I (I am notoriously picky about didactic books of any kind). If you want another opinion, check out BookMoot's review.

The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear
ISBN: 978-1554534869; Published September 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Delicious Bug
ISBN: 978-1553379966; Published September 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mozart in the future by Tania Rodrigues-Peters, illustrated by Pedro Caraca, translated by Paula Vaz-Carreiro

In the interests of full disclosure, I will first say that I don't like Mozart. In fact, I don't really like any of the Classical composers. (In case you are wondering, I like J. S. Bach, Alan Rawsthorne, Henry Purcell, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, and Poulenc, to give a few examples). I did not listen to Mozart while reading this, as suggested by the author. I was/am listening to Live! At the Concertgebouw but they're playing Bartok, which I like in small doses. Anyways.

This is a very...strange story. An ambitious mother, constantly pushing her son to improve his music, holds Mozart up as a role model. Max has a nervous breakdown and has to stay home, stop playing the piano, and rest. Um...and then a beautiful sort of fairy shows up who turns out to be the Spirit of Music. Max explains that he really wants to play, but he just can't and she asks who he'd like to help him. He calls Mozart. He...gets Mozart. Mozart doesn't get the modern world at all, but enjoys it anyways. Eventually, the spirit explains to Max that he does have talent even if he's not a genius, Mozart goes back to his own time and Max's parents and the doctor try to convince him it was all a dream but he knows it wasn't.

The illustrations are a kind of mixture of fantasy and cartoon and are rather attractive with long, flowing lines.

Asides from the plot, the major problems with this book are the length, format, and syntax. Although the book is only 100 pages long, the text is very dense, much too lengthy for a beginning chapter book. There are no quotation marks, instead, dialogue is marked with a music note at the beginning - but not at the end, so it's difficult to tell when the dialogue ends. The syntax is very odd. I couldn't figure out from the biographical information at the back what language this was translated from; the author appears to have come from Sao Paulo, although she now lives in Austria. Some examples:

"Max is a boy who loves music and who has been studying the piano for years because it has always been his favourite instrument. But the problem is his mother who demands too much of him and does not give the time to play with other boys."

"[music note] I don't know but, personally, I don't miss it at all -- Mozart says showing little interest in the so-called Internet."

I'm guessing translated from German (Austrian German is a standard variety of "regular" German. Your interesting fact of the day) but I may be wrong.

Verdict: Not recommended because of the length of the text, odd syntax, difficult punctuation, and unappealing plot. If you happen to have any young fans of Classical music (I don't at my library) they're going to be more interested in actual biographies of their favorite composers or possibly general histories or historical fiction set in the time period.

ISBN: 978-3950280401; Published August 2009 by the author; Review copy provided by the author for Cybils

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fancy Nancy: The dazzling book report by Jane O'Connor and A Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker

The easy readers I'm reviewing today fall into another category; picture book to easy reader. Both follow up on popular and well-loved picture books.

Fancy Nancy is a hugely popular series, encompassing picture books, easy readers, and a variety of "novelty" books (I recommend the Fancy Nancy Tea Parties for libraries - cover the detachable cards with clear contact and it circs like crazy with no damages!)

Although in general I am somewhat blah about fancy/princesss/pink books, I do really like Fancy Nancy. I love her elaborate words and the way she enjoys ordinary things. I also love how ordinary her family is; fancy does not equal wealthy! Also, I appreciate the way Fancy Nancy's parents let her express herself in her own inimitable style. I hadn't thought about this until someone (I don't remember who) at my library commented on how weird/cool/fun it was that her parents let her wear what she wanted. Blink. It's times like these I appreciate my own childhood. Thanks Mom.

So, how does Fancy Nancy translate from picture book to easy reader? Fantastically! Most of the Fancy Nancy easy readers deal with the world outside home, specifically school. Sometimes being fancy is wonderful; but sometimes it gets in the way, as in this story. Fancy Nancy is delighted about doing a book report; she is an excellent reader and she is going to have the most beautiful binder in the whole class. Unfortunately, she gets carried away with decoration and doesn't get to the actual report part. What will she do when she has to present her report? Will her teacher, Mrs. Glass, understand?

The interior illustrations are drawn by Ted Enik, but he has carefully imitated Robin Preiss Glasser's curly and exuberant style. And come on, who doesn't want that marvelous book chair on the cover?

Verdict: Kids who loved Fancy Nancy and are read to read on their own will enjoy this series, as will emerging readers who like realistic stories about kids and school.

ISBN: 978-0061703690; Published March 2009 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library
Our second picture book to easy reader is a much newer effort. Bonny Becker's Visitor to Bear was a big hit with its delightful illustrations, charming characters, and verging-on-the-silly-but-not-quite repetition. In the original story, Mouse convinces Bear that he really does want a visitor; and not just a visitor, a friend. In this easy reader, Bear does NOT want a birthday and Mouse uses similar tactics to show him that birthdays really can be a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with this continuation. It just didn't come up to the high standards I was expecting after Visitor. My main gripe is the plot. A grumpy bear who doesn't want visitors is one thing. A grumpy bear who would rather clean his house than have a birthday with his new friend is another. Why doesn't he want a birthday? The style tries to follow that of the picture book, with somewhat elaborate language on the part of mouse. But there's not enough space for the full amount of repetition so it falls a little flat. Because of the more advanced vocabulary, you're going to have to hand this out to older readers; who are going to be puzzled by the random plot.

Verdict: Now, just because I was disappointed doesn't mean it's a bad book! Comparatively speaking, this is a very good easy reader. It has charm and humor, a familiar character that many kids will recognize and a silly plot that they'll laugh over. It just didn't work as well for me as Visitor for Bear. I would have liked to see a continuation of Bear and Mouse's friendship, not a re-write of their first encounter.

ISBN: 978-0763637460; Published September 2009 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hand-Off by Michael Teitelbaum, illustrated by Ron Zalme

The plot of this story is extremely thin; all-around excellent athlete Pablo decides to try his hand at flag football. He does ok the first day, skims some plays that night, then fails miserably in the game the next day. And the next day. And so on. He religiously studies the playbook, practises constantly, and when the quarterback gets a sprained wrist stands in and wins the game.

The above-described plot takes up about as much space as the actual text of the plot in the story. What really makes up this book is a detailed description of the plays, how to play them, where everybody goes, and what they do.

The book is apparently based on a sports video game and the illustrations look like renderings of animated characters. Some illustrations of the various plays would help readers who have trouble visualizing all the different moves.

Verdict: This isn't really a story so much as a sports manual with a little plot thrown in for fun. The descriptions and explanations are clear and simple, so even a beginner can figure out what's happening. This book won't have much general appeal, but kids who are serious about sports - or interested in starting - will enjoy it.

ISBN: 978-0448449005; Published October 2008 by Grosset and Dunlap; Borrowed from the library

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: How-To Books from Kids Can Press

My first encounter with Kids Can Press was as a teenager; browsing through the library, looking for craft books, I found the Kids Can Do It series...and I was in love. A huge variety of projects, simple, easy instructions, helpful photographs....they're the epitome of craft books. Now, I am delighted to review two very unusual "how to do it" books from Kids Can Press. They've retained all the best of the Kids Can Do It series, but used it on some unusual topics!

Want to freak out your family and gross out your friends? Does fake blood sound like the perfect birthday present? Do you like gross and icky projects? Then 100% Pure Fake is the book for you! With clear, step-by-step instructions (plenty of warnings and safety precautions to reassure parents) and ingredients you can probably find in your own kitchen, you'll learn how to make different types of fake blood, scars, rotting flesh, eyeballs, the classic spill, broken glass, shrunken heads, and more! This book is genius, pure genius. What other gross craft book can you think of that not only tells you how to make fake differentiates between arterial blood, "basic" blood, and scabs? Perfect for craft programs around Halloween, even parents who don't like gross crafts will be resigned to the fool-proof projects which include cleaning-up instructions as needed!

How countries are formed on the global scale isn't something you often see in children's books - still less how governments work. At least, you don't see it in books kids will want to check out! At my library I have a tidy shelf of how-the-government-works books. I dust them every week. Booooring. But what if you weren't just reading about it....what if you were starting your own country? With step-by-step instructions, plenty of humor, fascinating facts about other country builders, large and small, and quirky illustrations, Valerie Wyatt and Fred Rix have created the perfect book for showing kids how governments are formed and stabilized (or not). And the how-to part isn't just a gimmick - the information and history is built around actual instructions on forming your own micronation and there's plenty of stories of people who did just that! This book is part of the CitizenKid series by Kids Can Press and I'm looking forward to checking out the rest of this series! Hand this book out to kids looking for something to do, researching governments, kids interested in virtual worlds, kids interested in politics and history...the list is endless. I, myself, am already planning a program based on this excellent guide.

Verdict: Highly recommended

100% Pure Fake by Lyn Thomas
ISBN: 978-1554532902; Published August 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

How to build your own country by Valerie Wyatt, illustrated by Fred Rix
ISBN: 978-1554533107; Published August 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Last week of programming before Thanksgiving!

Our main important thing at programming this week is to remind everyone there are no programs next week. Last year we neglected to do this and it was a disaster!

For Tuesday preschool storytime we read Gobble Gobble Crash a Barnyard Counting Bash (much excitement over counting the different animals), we made turkey masks, using leftover butterfly masks I'd cut for Halloween and feathers. Thanksgiving storytimes always struck me as kinda weird - you read all these stories about turkeys escaping from being eaten, sing cute turkey songs, make yourself look like a turkey....and then you eat turkeys. Whatever.

My same group showed up for Wii gaming. Argh, these kids should be outside running around. They are soooo antsy, bickering, roughhousing, etc. I am going to have to do something really structured next year for this, I think. Probably have to stay in the room and watch them too. Gah, where are my earplugs?

Saturday we had our Make it and Shake it toddler birthday party. This is mainly the brainchild of Miss Pattie, I just threw in some extra supplies and reserved the space. We had a nice big group and the kids had as much fun running around and jumping as they did making shakers and sparkly water bottles.

Time for the holidays! I have lots of reviews to post soon, including the last of my Cybils easy reader reviews....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A mixed bag of new stuff at the library!

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a nice mixture of new stuff!
  • Up. I haven't seen this yet, but I'm looking forward to it!
  • Chicka Chicka ABC. I decided we needed this in boardbook format after watching a little girl wander around the library singing "chicka chicka boom boom" over and over and over...
  • Trucktown: Spooky Tire by Jon Scieszka. I've started buying these hardback or pre-bound. The paperbacks are painfully flimsy.
  • Tattoo by Jennifer Barnes. Anything supernatural goes over well right now of course, and some girls asked me for Fate last year, so I finally got Tattoo.
  • Star Wars Omnibus Emissaries and Assassins. My Star Wars kids will be very happy! I already read this - our copy was backordered forever and I got it from another library.
  • Nature's Art Box by Laura Martin. As soon as I saw this, I knew we needed it! Serendipitously, I found it on clearance at Half Price Books and broke my "no buying books for the library you've got a student loan to pay off" rule.
  • Girls Acting Catty by Leslie Margolis. At last! I was able to give out a couple ARCs of this for summer reading prizes but this is another delayed one that I've been impatiently awaiting.
  • Sisters Club by Megan McDonald. Another for my girls who like realistic tween fiction.
  • Wild at Heart: Homeless and Fight for Life by Laurie Halse Anderson. Added these donations as a new series - if they circ well I'll get more.
  • Disney's animation collection: Mickey's Christmas Carol. I've avoided buying these collections because they tend to pair popular cartoons with really outdated, forgotten-for-a-reason ones, plus for only a couple cartoons they're expensive! But I wanted some more Christmas movies and this collection isn't too bad.
  • Maximum Ride the manga 2.
  • Mail Order Ninja 2. Okay, I am really irritated about this. I ordered all three. I get number 2. Now number one is listed as publisher out of stock and number three isn't available either. Argh!
  • Iron Man armored adventures volume 2. Can always use more superhero cartoons...
  • Generation T beyond fashion by Megan Nicolay. I thought our teen girls would enjoy this, and moms too as there's projects for little kids.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist 4 & 5. My second try at getting these - last time I ordered they arrived and were text, not manga. Now I have a new vendor and real manga!
  • Fancy Nancy the show must go on. Another Fancy Nancy easy reader
  • Eloise at Christmastime. more Christmas movies...
  • Duck Duck Moose by Dave Horowitz. A silly and fun story about ducks, a moose, and cross-country trips.
  • Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon. Finally! Been waiting for this one too.
  • Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. I am on a mission to get all of these for our library!
  • Animal Friends: a global celebration of children and animals. I admit it; I bought this board book solely for the adorable guinea pig.
  • Crossing of Ingo by Helen Dunmore. I'm rather proud of acquiring this; I had anxious fans constantly bugging me about when the next one was coming out...and I got this Canadian-published copy on Amazon and they are thrilled!
  • Hannah Montana: super sneak and truth or dare. Bleh. They circ. whatever.
  • Girl Genius: Beetleburg Clank. Yes, we have the omnibus. But it's getting tattered and as I am buying the whole series I wanted a complete set. Yum! Had to get this one on Amazon as it wasn't available through my vendor. Hope the other ones are coming soon....
  • Veggietales the toy that saved Christmas. more Christmas movies....periodically my Veggietales movies collapse into ruination and must be replaced.
  • Salt Water Taffy the truth about Dr. True. Modest but respectable circs.
  • Aliens in the attic. Hmm, only one hold on it, that doesn't bode well for the popularity of a movie. But, in my experience, people will pretty much check out any movie so it doesn't really matter.
  • Popular Mechanics for Kids: Firefighters. Wish I'd had this movie when an adorable toddler came in a few evenings ago dressed as a firefighter and wanting "fi-fi books"
  • Graphic Dinosaurs: Velociraptor. wish I could get better cover pics of this series online....
And that's all for now! I'm waiting with bated breath to see what, if any, budget I will have for December!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Violet Wings by Victoria Hanley

It took me a long time to get over my expectations for this story. You see, I am a firm Victoria Hanley fan. I discovered Seer and the Sword when I was a teenager, caught by Trina Schart Hyman's stunning cover. I loved Hanley's rich and romantic world. I'm not talking about love-romantic, but romantic in the sense of visionary, idealistic, and to quote the dictionary, "marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized." I love the way she can blend relationships and a little love-romance into her stories without it dominating the whole plot, as so many YA novels seem to do. (No, I'm not talking about Twilight. I'm talking about how the majority of YA fiction is focused on romantic relationships. It irritated me when I was a teenager and it irritates me now). Anyways.

I was soooo excited when I heard she had a new story coming out! One for tweens! But it's taking me some time to sort out how I feel about it. First, the story seemed completely different than anything she'd written or what I'd expected. It's non-stop action with minimal character development. A young fairy, Zaria, is shocked to discover there is something very unique about her. Suddenly, everything completely changes and she's battling spells she doesn't understand, enemies she can't find, and even her own friends. Her unique powers help her free the world of TirFeyne from an evil villain and she learns a startling secret at the very end. I know that's not a very good plot summary, but I don't want to spoil it.

At first, I didn't like it. It's divided into very short chapters, each one prefaced by a lengthy excerpt from a history of TirFeyne. Some of the excerpts are as long as the chapters! All the fairies have names derived from jewels and every time I thought I had figured out how their world worked, another part of it showed up. Their system of magic was based on complicated mathematical calculations (well, complicated to me!) and involved an odd and seemingly cliched trope of magical-education fantasies, those with more magic despise those without. The nasty human Zaria encounters is unbelievably horrible.

But then I thought about it a little more. And you know what? It works. It really, really does. The action grabs the reader, pulling you along until suddenly you realize "I know these characters!" Every new facet of the world is a like a marvelous surprise. The drama, the confusion, the exaggeration, it all perfectly fits the characters of the twelve-year-old fairies, suddenly encountering completely new circumstances and power they have no idea how to handle. Even the jewel names, which seem to have bugged quite a few readers, fit into Hanley's strangely beautiful world, a world both barren and vibrant. I want to know what happens next!

This book is not going to please fans of YA faerie novels. It's probably not going to work for those who want only the quasi-high fantasy adventure of Hanley's previous stories. But this book is perfect, absolutely perfect, for that in-between stage. Tweens who love romantic and thrilling fantasy but aren't ready for the more edgy YA titles will fall in love with Hanley's elaborately imagined and tensely plotted story.

Verdict: This is the absolutely flawless recommendation for the vast squadrons of little girls (and boys!) who are huge fans of Rainbow Magic but want to move on to something more challenging. Victoria Hanley has a massive and ready-made audience waiting for her newest creation; all we need to do is put it in their hands!

ISBN: 978-1606840115; Published August 2009 by Egmont; ARC received from the publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library (purchased again after it was stolen); Added to my personal wishlist

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Never race a runaway pumpkin by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Brian Biggs

The seventh Roscoe Riley story includes math, superstitions, candy, cats, pumpkins, and more!

Roscoe is very busy these days. There's a big contest at the town bookstore - whoever guesses the weight of the giant pumpkin will win a giant pumpkinful of books for the school library and a pumpkinful of candy for themselves! Ms. Diz, their teacher, is excited about this wonderful "learning opportunity" to learn about estimation - and pumpkins!

But Roscoe's got even more things on his mind - he's watching out for superstitions. No matter what his teacher, parents, and others tell him, he's sure that disaster is lurking around every corner. This being Roscoe Riley, it is! Just not quite the disaster he'd pictured.

I bought the first two books in the series for my library mainly because of the cute covers - I don't recall seeing any reviews. I stuck them on the series shelf and forgot about them....until a cute little boy solemnly trooped up to my desk and informed me that these were "really funny, do you have any more stories about Roscoe Riley?" I promptly bought the rest of the series and have been watching them fly off the shelf ever since, though it's taken until now for me to read one myself!

There's a lot of the classic beginning reader school story in Roscoe, the kid who gets in little troubles at school, supportive family and teachers, and a lesson learned. But Katherine Applegate ups the ante with silly jokes, a hilarious and off-the-wall conclusion, and a seamless blending of fact and fiction that both beginning and reluctant readers will enjoy. Brian Biggs' illustrations have an animated/cartoonish quality that perfectly fits the slightly zany story.

Verdict: Hand this to reluctant readers, kids who like school stories, kids who like nonfiction, and anyone who wants a good laugh!

ISBN: 978-0061783708; Published August 2009 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday at the library; or, this is your life in reference

8:30 - 9:00. Arrive. Lug in book bags. Take a quick look at shelving carts to see what's checking out. Login computers. Fix computers with errors. Try to get crashed computer to boot. Give up. Talk to circ about computers. Straighten displays. Check suggestion boxes. Tidy teen area and remove inappropriate rhymes from magnetic poetry board. Straighten children's area.
9:00 - 10:00. On the reference desk (we only staff one reference desk at a time. When I'm on the children's desk, it's also THE reference desk) Questions: "can you renew my books over the phone" (yes but I won't like it). "Do you have a fax machine?" (yes it's a dollar a page, outgoing faxes only). DVDs on Tai Chi (yes, once I realized I was spelling it wrong but they're checked out so I put a hold on them). "Books or magazines on renovating bathrooms?" (no specific magazines, but lots of books. include a quick lesson on the dewey decimal system). "food for fines" (transfer to circulation). Renew. Question about book club (transfer to circulation). "Do you have books on starting a business on audio?" (patron thrilled with playaways. I also put several audio cds on hold and directed him to the business books). guest card for person who forgot their library card. "I can't type in my library card number to use the computer" (number lock off). Renew.
10:00 - 1:00 Still on reference desk. More of same. Why do people calling to renew tell us everything we DON'T need to know first? When their book is due, what their book is, why they need to renew it...Just give us your name or library card number please!
In between questions, work on adding to order lists all the stuff I went through over the weekend. Tweak order lists. Look through Oni Press' new books online and join their mailing list. What? Mutant, Texas is out of print? Argh. That's the one problem with reviewing books from other libraries - you want them for your library and then discover you can't have them. Sniff. Check in books from Bookmooch, some are replacements, some are for the summer reading program. Fiddle around with tentative book/AV budget for next year. Do some ILLs.
1:00-1:30 Run to grocery store up the street to get lunch b/c there was nothing but a pear and a banana in my refrigerator this morning. Read a couple chapters of my current lunch reading, Before Columbus. Put cart of movies to be shelved out so patrons can grab them before they have to be shelved. Take flyer on beading to colleague and talk about possible adult or teen beading program next year.
1:30-2:00 Check in massive piles of books I went through this weekend (mostly from other libraries so they have to have fiddly bits of paper - when I bring back big stacks I do it for the circ. staff)
2:00-3:00 Go through stacks of new, repairs, etc. on my desk. Work on organizing ILL information. Check in more books. More ILL fiddling. Talk to colleagues about where to put new encyclopedias.
3:00-4:00 Pack books we are sending on Bookmooch. Take them and ILLs to post office. More ILL fiddling (no, I am not "officially" in charge of ILLs. Our regular ILL librarian is going out on maternity leave soon and I am training. Plus, I like to organize things and we are looking for ways to simplify the process). Fill in teen displays. Lay out stuff for storytime tomorrow. Punch holes in masks for storytime.
4:00-5:00 Fill in displays in children's area. Tell boys at computer to tone it down. Fill in new displays. Remind boys at computer again. Fill in displays in juvenile. Kick out one of the boys and glare at others. Fiddle with order lists. Go through stack of misc. paperwork on desk. Print and annotate BOB lists. Put stuff on hold from other libraries that I want to see before I buy.
And that is a Monday at the library!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: Upon Secrecy; By the Sword by Selene Castrovilla

Over the last year or so, I've been moving away from buying picture book nonfiction, specifically history and biography. I've found it just doesn't circulate well and it's too short for the kids who have homework in those areas. And, sadly, kids just don't seem to be very interested in history anymore. Sigh.

But there's one part of history that I still get quite a few requests for: war history. Now, you can discuss whatever societal impacts this has etc., but I'm here to hand out books. Preferably, good books. I've got lots of war history for middle school and older elementary ages, lots of books on weapons and about soldiers (or I will when I get those sets in January) but I have very few really strong books on major wars in history for younger kids. And yes, they do ask - and their parents, especially homeschooling parents, also ask.

These two books fill in a gap not just by telling the stories of some rather obscure but major players in the American Revolution, but by being springboards for further historical research and an amazing example of a thoroughly researched historical retelling.

By the Sword is the story of Benjamin Tallmadge and his introduction to war at the Battle of Long Island. It's a tense, emotionally packed story studded with historical facts and details. At the beginning of the story, Benjamin is a scared schoolteacher who's never killed a man. At the end, he's a determined and seasoned soldier, aware of the sacrifices he's making and the horrors of war, but firm in his resolve to fight for liberty. Bill Farnsworth's lush oil paintings (at least, they look like oil paintings to me) bring to life the fear and misery of the soldiers and the tedium and terror of battle. The endpapers include a detailed map of the battle area with details of the soldiers' positions and historical points. Included in the book is an author's note on the life of Benjamin Tallmadge, detailed timeline, and notes on the author's research and reconstruction of the battle. There's also a list of historical places to visit and a bibliography of resources.

The companion story, Upon Secrecy, isolates one incident in the history of the Culper Spy Ring, organized by Major Benjamin Tallmadge later in the war. In this snippet of history, Washington desperately needs to know whether or not the British know that the French are landing - and if so, what they are doing about it. In tense, concise prose, highlighting each link of the information chain, Castrovilla tracks the passage of the important information from British headquarters in New York to Washington in New Jersey, showing how a seemingly minor scrap of information was a major turning point of the war. The two illustrators for this story, Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson, focus on the faces and characters of all the persons involving, bringing to life the many different personalities.

This story also includes copious amounts of research; endpaper maps of Long Island Sound, an introduction describing the Culper Spy Ring, afterwords explaning the rival British spy network, "sympathetic stain" used to pass messages, detailed snapshots of each major character's life, an author's note on reconstructing the historical events, timeline, places to visit, and bibliography.

Verdict: These may not be what kids grab off the shelf first when looking for a book, but parents and teachers who introduce these to their students should have no problem catching their interest. Excellent read-alouds as well as starting points for older students to do their own interest, these action-packed stories with their wealth of background research and information are the perfect books to introduce budding historians to the American Revolution and the fascination of history.

By the Sword
ISBN: 978-1590784273; Published April 2007 by Boyds Mills; Review copies provided by author

Upon Secrecy
ISBN: 978-1590785737; Published September 2009 by Boyds Mills; Review copies provided by author

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This week at the library; or, gray November days

Our lovely sunny weekend seems to have drifted away and patrons and librarians alike are suffering. We seem to have had an unusual number of grumpy, irritable, and just plain....odd people in this week. Come forth, oh snow, and barricade these people in their homes! I am in a vengeful mood.

Just a small group for preschool storytime on Tuesday. A small child who is regularly left unattended in the children's area has discovered that he can join us for storytime and since he's quite independent and I've given up talking to his guardian (on the computer of course) we just welcome him in with a little sigh. He's very enthusiastic and well-behaved. We read Rubin's Those Darn Squirrels, Jack Kent's Round Robin (one of my patrons has a tattoo of Round Robin! Only time I have ever wanted a tattoo...) and Leaf Man by Ehlert. I'm always fascinated by kids' reaction to this. My first thought on seeing it was "it's gorgeous, but kids will think it's boring" but they don't - they always, always love it and it never ceases to intrigue me.

More restless kids at Wii. Finally told the whiniest boy there's nothing worse than a whiny boy and basically to shut up. Phew! Starting in January, I'm going to do a sign-in so there will be no more complaining about turns.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How do dinosaurs say I love you? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Teague

Recently, I confessed that I was a recent convert to Mo Willems. Now I have another confession to make. I've never read a Dinosaur book by Jane Yolen. Sure, I knew where they were and they're on the dinosaur reading list and all, but I'd just never read one. I thought they sounded sappy.

So, now that I have the newest one before me....I have to revise my opinion. The text on its own is very simple; just a list of bad dinosaur behaviors, corresponding dinosaurs being nice, and parents reiterating their love.

It's the illustrations that turn this into a classic that's going to be around for a long, long time. But first, a digression. There was recently an article somewhere on the rise of misbehavior in children's books. I've forgotten what it was titled, where it was printed, and whose blog I saw it on first, but it's out there somewhere. Anybody remember? Anyways, this series was mentioned so I went through and did a little checklist.
  • Dinosaur wakes up fussy and won't eat breakfast; Dinosaur waves and blows kisses as it leaves
  • Dinosaur doesn't play nicely; Dinosaur smiles
  • Dinosaur won't take nap and floods house; Dinosaur cleans up
  • Dinosaur misbehaves in car; Dinosaur holds hands in store
  • Dinosaur makes mess at dinner and won't go to bed; Dinosaur calms down, smiles, kisses and hugs know what I see? A toddler. Well, duh, you say, the dinosaurs are obviously toddlers. No, what I'm saying is I'm seeing a toddler who's learning how the world works. That you can't have everything you want. Some mistakes you can fix, sometimes all you can do is say sorry. Also, toddlers have a short attention span - they aren't going to remember something bad they did a couple hours later. Exasperating but true. So the text here is a reassuring model for toddlers, showing them how to clean up and calm down after making mistakes and reminding parents that no matter how exhausting and problematic kids can be, there are sweet rewards as well.

Ok, back to the illustrations. Teague's style reminds me a little of some of William Joyce's work; they both have that retro feel while keeping their art completely contemporary (I'm very proud of that sentence, me not knowing much about art). What I really like in the artwork, and what I think has held toddlers' attention in the past and will continue to grab them, is the gorgeous dinosaurs. Lots of color, movement, and unique shapes and decorations; kids will have fun matching up all the different dinosaurs with the ones on the endpapers and giggling over their silly behavior. Teague manages to make giant prehistoric creatures act believably as small children. Parents will laugh and nod their heads - it seems silly to picture toddlers as humongous dinosaurs, but when you're dealing with an angry/fussy/stubborn/upset toddler, they certainly feel as big as whatever space you're in!

Verdict: I don't usually put an age range on my reviews, but I think this one has two definite audiences; toddlers and parents of toddlers. Hand these over to dinosaur-loving, perpetually wiggling kids and their harried parents, sit back and watch them bond.

Update: Thanks Anamaria! The article I was thinking of is from the New Yorker, "Children's books, parents, and discipline," Zalewski, 10/19/2009

ISBN: 978-0545143141; Published October 2009 by Blue Sky Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poison Island by H. I. Larry, illustrated by Ash Oswald

In Zac Power's latest adventure, he must save his nerdy brother, rescue a secret formula, escape from a volcano - and all in time to get home and walk the dog.

Starting with his jump out of an airplane in the first chapter, twelve-year-old Zac's adventures are pure action. The story reads like the script of a adventure/thriller movie - Zac is hardly still for a moment, dashing from adventure to adventure. One minute he's escaping through the jungle, the next he's swimming through a barracuda-infested pool. There's no time for character development, description, or even much plot development, but that's not the point of the story. It's all about action!

These won't appeal to kids who like realistic fiction or the more family and school oriented stories that are usual for beginning chapter books, but reluctant readers, especially those who like action-packed movies and cartoons, will really enjoy this series. I'm happy to discover another good series for reluctant readers.

Oh, I almost forgot the illustrations - they're all pretty small, mainly pictures of gadgets, or highlighted parts of the story - clocks, exclamations, etc. They give the story a nice spy feel.

Verdict: Light, but fun!

ISBN: 978-0312346591; Published October 2008 by Feiwel and Friends; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alice's Shooting Star by Tim Kennemore, illustrated by Mike Spoor

I've given this a brief review before, but a good book deserves another look!
In Alice's Birthday Pig, Alice triumphs over teasing and gets her dream pet. In Alice's World Record, she wins out over her perfect(ly irritating) older brother and sees a whole new side of him.

In her third adventure, we get a good look at her relationship with her little sister Rosie. In the past, Alice has kind of resented Rosie getting away with all the things nobody else would even dream of doing. Rosie is the star, the cute one, the little sister who shines. But now that she's growing older, Alice is starting to see her as a person and maybe as a friend. Alice especially loves Rosie's wild imagination and the magical stories and language she brings home from nursery school. But their parents are worried about Rosie's "lies." Oliver tries to logically explain the difference between fact and fiction; their parents make her a truth-telling chart. Alice privately thinks they should just enjoy Rosie's silly stories and leave her alone. Especially when she gets stuck coaching Rosie in her part in the upcoming school production. In a final wild whirl of hilarious events, Alice is, for the first time her life, in the spotlight.

There's a lot packed into this little story. The illustrations catch the various characters' expressions and personalities perfectly and blend smoothly to enhance the text, the function of every beginning chapter book illustration. There's Alice's struggles as a middle child trying to find what makes her unique and where she belongs, especially when she's sandwiched between two very outgoing and assertive siblings. Alice's relationship with her sister Rosie is a perfect mixture of older sibling exasperation and growing friendship as she begins to see Rosie as a person. And the story is just plain funny. From Rosie's insane stories, to Oliver's ridiculous sulks, to the final laugh-out-loud catastrophe, this book will keep the reader giggling all the way through.

Verdict: Kids who love realistic and funny stories and anyone who's ever wished they could do something out of the ordinary will gulp down the Alice stories and ask for more!

ISBN: 0802853374; Published March 2009 by Eerdmans; Review copy provided by the publisher for Cybils; Purchased for the library; Added to my personal collection

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Name Is Phillis Wheatley; My Name is Henry Bibb by Afua Cooper

These two fictionalized biographies are both subtitled "a story of slavery and freedom". Each follows an historical personality from their early childhood through the horror of slavery until they finally arrive at freedom. The original Canadian titles are The Young -- instead of My Name Is-- and I think those are more appropriate, as these are really about the persons' childhood and young adulthood.

Phillis Wheatley's early childhood was idyllic. She is being trained as a Griot, a singer and important personage in her village; she is schooled at the mosque and is learning to read. She has a loving family and friends. Until one horrible night her village is attacked by slavers and she is taken away on a horrific journey. When they arrive in the Colonies, she is left to die; too ill to be sold. Mrs. Wheatley buys her and nurses her back to health. The Wheatleys are unusual for slave owners and when they see she is willing and interested in learning, they teach her all they can and supply her with tutors. They consider her a miracle and promote her poetry to their friends and neighbors. Eventually, Phillis travels to England to find patrons who are willing to print her poems. She is successful, but chooses to return to America and slavery when Mrs. Wheatley falls ill. While she is nursing her mistress, she is given her freedom. After her mistress dies, she chooses to stay with Mr. Wheatley and care for him also. Only after his death does she set out on her own, marrying John Peters, who is also free and educated. A brief afterword tells us that she eventually died in childbirth and most of the poems from her unpublished second manuscript have been lost.

The second story is far more harrowing. Henry Bibb's father was a white man and his mother was "an enslaved mulatto woman" i.e. mostly white but "black enough" to keep her in bondage. He suffered horribly at the hands of various masters, but never abandoned his dream of freedom and his desire for education. Eventually, after his own daughter is born, he follows his dream and escapes. The epilogue tells us that although Bibb was able to free his mother and was reunited with some of his siblings, he failed to rescue his wife and child, despite repeated attempts. His memoirs were widely read and he was greatly influential in the abolitionist movement, eventually founding a newspaper in Canada.

The reader is not surprised to learn that Afua Cooper is a poet, for these stories are full of rich and deeply emotional language. They are beautifully written and excellently balance the characters' reflections with the action of the story. I was fascinated by these historical characters' lives and devoured their stories as fast as possible. Historical fiction can be a difficult sell, but readers who enjoy the Dear America series (which I would guess influenced the change of title) will devour these with enjoyment and pause for reflection on the often overlooked aspects of early United States history.

However, despite how much I enjoyed these stories and the excellence of the writing, I am also...well, disturbed isn't quite the right word. Dissatisfied perhaps? My two pet peeves in historical fiction is first; behavior, language, and thoughts that are not consistent with the historical context (I could mention, for example, a certain highly popular series which includes expensive accessories....) second, the fictionalization of historical characters and events. In regard to this second, I was very uncomfortable with these characters. After I'd devoured the books, I found myself wondering "Is that really the way Phillis Wheatley grew up? what are her "childhood memories" based on? Do we know where she came from? Would her master's son actually have come into her ship cabin and held her hand to comfort her? That last sounds particularly unlikely." I was happier with the Henry Bibb narrative, perhaps because I am more familiar with this time period in history and have enjoyed reading personal narratives and literature similar to his memoirs, and the story had a definite flavor of a classic capture-and-redemption narrative of the time period.

However, I'm not saying that all historical fiction is wrong, or that historical characters should not be fictionalized. What I'm dissatisfied with (argh, should have chosen a different word, that one is hard to spell!) is the lack of context. Being the somewhat obsessive person that I am, I want to know which parts are true and which are guesses. In two historical fiction narratives I reviewed recently, Selene Castrovilla's works, there was extensive bibliography, sources, and author's notes on which parts of the story were guesswork and which were based on fact. I would have liked something similar in these books so I could get a better understanding of how much of the story was from the author and how much was based on historical facts. Afua Cooper appears to be a well-known authority on this time period and I am disappointed that she didn't share more with the reader.

Verdict: I'm interested in hearing what you, O Faceless Internet Readers, think. Is a good story a good story no matter what? Do you demand context, bibliographies, and sources in your historical fiction? Are you uncomfortable with fictionalized biographies, a genre which used to be standard in children's literature?

My name is Phillis Wheatley
ISBN: 978-1553378129; Published September 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

My name is Henry Bibb
ISBN: 978-1553378136; Published September 2009 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Saturday, November 7, 2009

This week at the library

Phew! I'm starting to think with longing of that winter break from programming...

Tuesday preschool storytime was packed, a daycare that occasionally attends brought a number of kids. They were much better-behaved than they've been in the past, so maybe they've been practicing.

Friday preschool storytime was unexpectedly large. First Fridays of the month are usually small b/c there's a big senior program and absolutely no parking. But the same daycare group came back again and we had about 25 people. Of course, the kids all told me loudly "we heard that one last time." Sigh. I wasn't in a glue mood, so we just had crayons, markers and glitter glue. Afterwards, I discovered that a little boy I'd assumed was with the daycare crowd wasn't with anybody. After some frantic looking, found out one of the storytime families was his aunt, although she hadn't brought him, and his dad was on the computers - didn't realize he'd decided to join us for storytime. Sigh.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Painting That Wasn't There by Steve Brezenoff, C. B. Canga

You can never have too many good, solid, beginning chapter book mysteries. Or dinosaur books. Or Star Wars anything. Or fairy books. Or...ok, ok, getting off the subject here. Sorry, haven't had my tea yet this morning.

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, beginning chapter book mysteries. You got your classics, Cam Jansen, A to Z, your middling populars, Third Grade Detective, Capital Kids (Am I the only person that thinks that should be Capitol?), your screwy/funny, Hank the Cowdog, Chet Gecko, your spin-offs, Nancy Drew misc. dreck, Mary-Kate and Ashley, and now...

We have a new classic on our hands! It's got all the elements - kids with strong independent voices and quirky nicknames, a real mystery and a real crook, and lots of clues and logical deductions, and, of course, clueless adults! Because why else would a kid be needed to solve the mystery?

This particular story is about a missing painting. Gumshoe (James Shoo) and his friends Sam (Samantha), Cat (Catalina), and Egg (Edward) are off on a field trip with their favorite teacher - Ms. Stanwyck from art class. They're excited to get a closer look at the paintings she's been showing them in class, and Egg is especially excited to be doing what he loves best; photography! But when a mean guard starts picking on Egg, they have second thoughts. And then Egg notices something's....different. Ms. Stanwyck won't listen, so it's up to the four to solve the crime!

The illustrations have a dark, spooky quality that fits the mysterious plot. I would have liked clearer reproductions of the pictures, so the reader can see the clues, but kids will enjoy the characters revealed in the illustrations and get a shiver out of the dark corners.

Verdict: I'm excited to discover this new mystery series and look forward to adding it to my library....sometime next year. Ah, end of the year budget woes.

ISBN: 978-1434216083; Published August 2009 by Stone Arch; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mo Willems

Until a little while ago, I was not a big Mo Willems fan. I had never actually read a Pigeon book. Or Knuffle Bunny. Of course I knew about them, but, well, "there's lots of good books out there" I told myself. "I don't have to read them all." And then I discovered Elephant and Piggie. Love, love, love. Now I read lots of Mo Willems in storytime and to class visits, and to random people walking by...we just finished a Mo Willems dedicated storytime week and, as if in celebration, three Elephant and Piggie books arrived in the mail today, Cybils goodness from teh lovely publishers! I'm looking forward to reviewing these, especially Watch Me Throw the Ball, which I have MEMORIZED due to reading it to approximately 1500 kids (no, not all at once. In groups) last May for summer reading program promotion. From the kindergarteners to the 6th graders, they loved it!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Peter Peter Picks a Pumpkin House by Christine Graham, illustrated by Susan Boase

This is a cute little story based on the Mother Goose rhyme, "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater" with some Jack and the Beanstalk elements. Peter Peter and his wife Wanda raise pumpkins and are content to live with their pumpkins and goat. But when the rains come, their poor little hut begins to leak and Peter Peter knows he must do something to fix their house. He sells their goat for treasure, but it looks like he's been cheated....until they have a marvelous harvest!

Verdict: The soft pencil illustrations fit in perfectly with this quirky and odd little story and there's plenty of nonsense reminiscent of the original rhyme. Some of the names "bingbang trees" are unnecessarily cute and the style has the slightly stilted flavor of an easy reader, rather than a beginning chapter book, but children that like nonsense stories will enjoy this little story.

ISBN: 0805087060; Published August 2009 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail by Lynn Hazen, illustrated by Doug Cushman

This is a story of art validated and finally appreciated. Seymour Snail has created art all his life; but is too shy to show anyone. When his friends accidentally find his art, they tell him it is so wonderful he should get a job as an artist. This sounds great to Seymour, so he sets out for the city. Unfortunately, he discovers that jobs for artists are a lot harder to find than he expected and he ends up working as an errand boy for nasty Mr. Stinkbug, an art gallery owner. Happily, the marvelous slime trails he has made across the park are discovered and he becomes a world-famous artist.

Some people will really like this story. Some people won't. I didn't. What mainly bugged me about this story is that Seymour's success is so criticism-free. Although he does say that he has been "practising all his life" there's no hint that he needs any outside opinions to improve his art. His friends think everything he does is perfect and his problem in finding a job isn't that his art needs work; it's that no one will look at it. As soon as someone "discovers" him, he's famous overnight. Now, this is a beginning chapter book and there's not a lot of space to talk about artistic struggles, but this story just puts me in mind too much of the people who regularly bug me at the library, wanting us to buy their self-published "masterpiece" because they are such a creative person and have been creative all their life. But they're too creative and have too much genius to join a critique group that actually critiques anything!

Verdict: On the other hand, this is a story about perseverance and belief in artistic vision. The plot is well-constructed and the characters are funny and perfectly drawn out in the illustrations. Kids who like Katie Speck's Maybelle series, slightly icky bug stories and drawing will probably enjoy this.

ISBN: 978-0805086980; Published May 2009 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library

Monday, November 2, 2009

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles Mann

I'm rather suspicious of the new trend of "adapting" popular adult nonfiction for younger readers. In the case of James Swanson's Manhunt, cut down to Chasing Lincoln's Killer, although I did read through the whole book I found it very choppy.

Before Columbus, cut down from 1491, however, I found to be very well done. The book flows seemlessly and is very well-designed to catch the eye and maintain interest, with different type, boxes with interesting facts, etc.

Charles Mann's basic premise is that the Americas before Columbus and other Europeans arrived, was very different than students have been taught - and archeologists have thought. He talks about how the Spanish conquerors were able to destroy ancient and powerful civilization, human sculpting of the rain forest, and more. The chapters I found most interesting were on the natives of North America and how they shaped the "wilderness"; as well as the ideas of wilderness came to be firmly lodged in the American mind.

Verdict: This is a challenging but accessible history for middle grade readers and up. Of course, it always helps to be able to hand over a book and say "everything they're teaching you in school is wrong. read this to find out why!" but you'll need someone who's at least mildly interested in history, Native Americans, or archaeology to successfully booktalk this.

ISBN: 978-1416949008; Published September 2009 by Atheneum; Borrowed from the library