Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Glory O'Brien's History of the Future

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
By A.S. King, read by Christine Lakin
Published 2014 by Blackstone Audiobooks

Glory has no plans for her future. What if she doesn't have one? Her mother did stick her head in the oven, and that kind of thing runs in families. But when Glory and her best friend drink a petrified bat (or maybe it's mummified?), they begin having visions of the future. Now Glory will know for certain if she has one - but will it be one she wants?

I'm pretty sure I'll read anything A.S. King publishes. I listened to this one for YALSA's Hub Challenge and I'm very glad I did.

I loved this book. For quite a while, I wasn't sure if I would. I mean, it's pretty strange. A girl and her friend drink the remains of a bat and begin having visions of a dystopian future - it's definitely out there. And most of King's books have some sort of out there element. But this one just hit all the right notes for me. I loved Glory and her mixed feelings about her mother (about whom no one talks, including her dad). I like that Glory does not want to get close to anyone, which includes the readers. She is complicated and angry and unsure - she feels very much like a real teenager. I think King did a fantastic job of exploring Glory's grief - maybe because an immediate member of family passed away, I'm always conscious of the way grief is portrayed in books for young people. King captures the complicated experience of grief really well. I really liked reading about Glory's experiments with photography and the discovery of her mother through her photography notebook. I thought the other characters were developed nicely as well - from Glory's father to her best friend to her best friend's mother and more. Every one is unique and feels real, like I could meet them on the street someday.

I thought the plot here was exceptional. Magical realism can sometimes be hit or miss for me, but it was completely engaging this time around. Glory's visions of the future were kind of like a car accident - horrible but I couldn't look away. How does the world end up looking like she sees it? What is Glory's part in the history of the future? Can she find a way to change it or is everything already in motion? Really gripping stuff. And, of course, I can't help but love the feminism in this book. King knows how important it is that the young people of today care about the injustices around them and she clearly wants to foster a desire to correct these injustices. This book reminded me of how much I wanted to change the world when I was younger and made me feel guilty for not continuing that nowadays.

I thought the audio was really well done. I worried initially that this kind of story wouldn't work for me on audio - sometimes I lost focus while listening. But the narrator for this was perfect. She sounded exactly right for Glory's voice and the short chapters and awesome story definitely held my interest the whole way through. In fact, I sped through this, finding excuses to listen whenever I could. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Rump

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
By Liesl Shurtliff, read by Maxwell Glick
Published 2014 by Listening Library

Names are destinies - so Rump really wishes his mother hadn't died before she finished telling him his full name. Growing up Rump hasn't been easy but, if you can believe it, it's only going to get worse when Rump discovers his magic.

This was a book on the Bluebonnet list for the 2014-15 school year and I didn't get around to reading it before the vote, but I was still interested. I recently lost my iPod (not physically, but it doesn't work anymore), so, in need of a new audiobook, I spotted this one and decided to download it.

This worked really well in audio format. I thought the narrator had a believable inflection for a child's voice and he did a good job with slight alterations to distinguish between characters. There is enough action to keep the listener engaged throughout and it's paced well, though I did find it to drag a bit when Rump was in Yonder and I started wondering just how much time had passed.

The story is a lot of fun. I'm a big fan of retellings, so obviously I was interested in this one. Rumpelstiltskin has always been a favorite tale of mine, and I think he is the perfect character to explore more deeply. I really liked imagining him as a boy, and I think kids will get a kick out of it as well. The story is surprisingly easy to relate to, because it's really about names and how perception can shape your future. Growing up, I wasn't a huge fan of my name (I'm still not, really) and, in general, our names do set the course for our futures. People will perceive you a certain way if your name is Phil rather than Bill. It may be subtle, but it's there. It's an interesting thing to consider, and one that I think helps make this book ripe for discussion.

I also wondered where the book was going to go - Rump re-enacts the tale we all know pretty early on in this story, so I wondered how he was going to spend the rest of his time. And, that part does start to feel a little long. Additionally, since readers (theoretically) know Rump's true name, it's not quite as suspenseful as it could be.

Overall, though, it's a cute story and I'm looking forward to checking out Shurtliff's newest - about Jack (of Beanstalk fame).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
By Becky Albertalli
Expected publication April 7, 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Simon is being blackmailed - but he's more concerned for Blue, the boy he's been emailing. The boy he is getting to know bit by bit. The boy with perfect grammar and a willingness to forgive Simon's occasional mistakes. The boy that Simon is maybe falling in love with. So Simon's life is a bit complicated, but he'll do anything to protect his relationship with Blue - and the relationship it could be.

I requested this e-galley because I'm always on the lookout for new GLBTQ fiction for teens and this definitely fits the description.

First, let me say that my summary up there is terrible and please ignore and just read this book because it will make your heart happy. No, seriously. Ignore my terrible attempt to sum up one of the most hopeful, affirming, adorable, charming, and downright delightful books I've read lately and just go read it for yourself. Or, I guess, maybe read the rest of my review and then go read it.

Simon. I feel like that's all I really have to say. If Albertalli doesn't nail Simon's voice, then I don't know what life is anymore. Simon is one of the most endearing characters I've met recently. He is messy and complicated and full of so much longing - longing to keep his life as simple as he can for as long as can. Longing to slow down all the change that seems to have infiltrated his group of friends. Longing to come into his identity on his own terms, not on those dictated by society or forced upon him by someone who can't possibly understand what it's like. And, of course, longing to know the true identity of Blue, the boy who has inexplicably stolen his heart right out from underneath him. I'm almost positive that if Simon were real, I'd already be friends with him. He reminded me so much of people I knew in high school and college, and also of myself.

Because Albertalli has done a remarkable thing: she's made a book with a message that doesn't feel preachy or overbearing. It's a message about the humanity that should live in all of us and it's a direct call-out to those who try to quash it with hatred and ignorance. It's Simon's story, but it's also the story of many GLBTQ teens. With Simon, Albertalli has created a character who shows them it's okay to be messy. It's okay to be angry about coming out and your sexuality and making a big deal out of something when you don't even want to. It's okay to cry when you should be laughing and laugh when you feel like crying. It's okay to be confused about coming out, and it's okay to do it in whatever way feels right to you.

This book will make you cry, but it will also make you smile. It will break your heart and heal it. This book was a delight and I'm so happy to have read it. I can't wait to recommend it to young readers and share it with everyone I know.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: The Island of Dr. Libris

The Island of Dr. Libris
By Chris Grabenstein
Expected publication March 24, 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Billy's summer is not looking so great. He's stuck in a lakeside cabin with just his mom, who is too busy working on her dissertation to spend much time with him. But when he reads a book from a particular shelf in Dr. Libris' library, everything changes. Soon, Billy is on the island in the middle of the lake with the characters from a book. But this can't be real - can it?

I've been a fan of Grabenstein's for a long time now and I really enjoyed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, so it was a no-brainer for me to download and read the e-galley of his newest book.

It's also not difficult for me to imagine why this book exists - Grabenstein's last book was a big hit, particularly with librarians and other book-lovers, and he also co-authors a bestselling series with James Patterson. This book is another homage to books and reading, so I'm sure the publishers are counting on this being a hit as well.

Unfortunately, for me, this one just isn't as good. It doesn't have the same charm and fun as Grabenstein's previous title and, honestly, it feels a bit unfinished to me (which may simply mean that a sequel will come sooner or later). It shares many similarities with Grabenstein's previous books - short chapters, characters to whom it's easy to relate, and loving tributes to beloved characters and stories. But it just didn't work as well. I never really connected with Billy and the secondary characters never develop in their own right - Walter just felt like a sidekick rather than his own person, which is a shame. Notably absent is Dr. Libris himself. There are some memos included that are meant to give some indications of his character, but he doesn't really enter into the story directly and I felt like the story needed him. A lot of my unanswered questions might have been addressed had Dr. Libris actually played a role in the story. I never understood the motivation for Dr. Libris' experiment or how it would make him money - which is mentioned several times but never explained. Additionally, while Billy must figure out how to solve the problems he has unintentionally created for the characters, it's not the same as the puzzle-solving mysteries of Mr. Lemoncello. I had high hopes for this, but it just fell short for me.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Noon Year's Eve

This is an idea that I'd seen floating around library listservs for the past several years and finally decided to give it a shot at our library. The idea behind it is simple: host a party counting down to noon on New Year's Eve for all the little ones who can't (or shouldn't) stay up until midnight. It's a fun way to have a celebration for those too young to participate in a late-night party.

Our expectations were exceeded. We planned on 40 children attending; we had over 120 people total. We received so many compliments on the program that we are definitely planning on hosting a party again next year - but this time we'll be more prepared! Here are the activities we shared with patrons.

Noisemakers: what's a New Year's party without a noisemaker? We made very simple shakers out of plastic cups and anything that would rattle inside of it - beads, beans, and bells. We used clear cups so you could see the pretty colors of the noisemakers inside. You could tell this was a popular station as the noise level in the room grew and grew.

Party hats: again, you can't have a real celebration without a festive hat. We bought plain solid-colored party hats and set out as many different stickers as we could find to decorate them with. As I said, we planned on 40 kids, though we bought supplies for slightly more, but we still ran out of hats. One of our volunteers improvised by making hats out of solid colored plastic cups, a hole punch, and yarn. They were pretty cute.

Coloring sheets and interview: coloring sheets are always a way to fill up a preschool program and they always get used. I also found a printable New Year's interview, which I thought was cute. It asked things like the child's age and favorites and what they hoped for the coming year. I wish I had gotten to see some of the responses! The coloring sheet was a very simple "Happy New Year!"

Balloon drop: of course, the main event of the program was our countdown to noon and balloon drop. Before the program, we made a very simple balloon drop out of two paper tablecloths and some yarn. We laced the two cloths together with the yarn, then taped the whole contraption to the ceiling and filled it with balloons. When the time came, we found a fun clip on Youtube that showed New Year's celebrations around the world while counting down. We started the video with one minute to go, but didn't start counting aloud until 10. When the countdown finished, I yanked the yarn, the cloths ripped apart, and our young patrons were showered in glorious balloons. They absolutely loved this part of the program and their excitement was definitely infectious.

A toast and a fortune: after the balloon drop and as patrons gathered their belongings, we treated them to a cup of sparkling juice and a fortune cookie to get their new year started.

As I said, this program was a huge success with tons of compliments and I'm looking forward to repeating it next year!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Edward Hopper Paints His World
By Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor
Published 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
I could not have named a Hopper painting before I read this book and, now that I have, I feel sad about that. This book - I loved it. I loved how Hopper's dream never wavered, no matter how his circumstances may have changed. His story is told simply but in a way I found very effective and moving. However, what makes this book truly excellent are the illustrations - they are simply breathtaking. Minor has done a beautiful job of melding his own style with Hopper's - the last few pages will really highlight this for readers. I just think the art here is absolutely stunning.

A Bed for Kitty
By Yasmine Surovec
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a very simple story for young cat lovers. To show how much she loves Kitty, Chloe buys her a special bed. But anyone who's had a cat knows how that usually goes. Chloe doesn't understand why Kitty doesn't sleep in her new bed, so she tries to show just how wonderful it is. It's a cute story, one that I think would work really well in a toddler time - the illustrations are very simple and the story focuses strictly on Chloe and Kitty. Adorable.

Bear Sees Colors
By Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman
Published 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
I adore the Bear books - I love the simplicity of them, and the illustration style just makes me sigh in contentment. It's like visiting an old friend every time I read a Bear book. This newest is no exception. In this book, Bear and friends discovers the joy of colors. I love the design and layout of this book - alternating the full-color spreads with white pages to really highlight the vibrancy of the colors. The rhymes are sometimes a bit off (something I've found in other Bear books as well), but I'm so charmed by the illustrations that I'll just look the other way. A delightful new book about colors.

By Raul Colon
Published 2014 by Paula Wiseman Books
This is one of those books that makes me think I'll never serve on the Caldecott committee. This book is getting tons of praise and I've seen it touted as a contender for the Caldecott - but I just didn't like it. I have a fair appreciation of wordless picture books - going through early literacy classes instilled in me the importance of letting children infer and tell the stories from the pictures - so I've no beef with this book in that direction. I guess I just didn't think it was terribly interesting. It's not a book for me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Liars, Inc.

Liars, Inc.
By Paula Stokes
Expected publication March 24, 2015 by HarperTeen

Max and his friends have no problem profiting from their classmates' desire to lie. But when Max's best friend disappears, will all the lies catch up to him? Did Max have something to do with it? Or are there lies that even Max didn't know about?

Liars are kind of a big deal in teen fiction right now - they're popping up everywhere. While I don't have a particular fondness for them, I thought the blurb for this sounded suspenseful enough to give it a try. I didn't know beforehand that I'd read this author before, though under a different name and a different genre.

I'm not sure how much I have to say about this one. It was an interesting enough read and I was invested enough to want to know the truth behind Preston's disappearance, but it's probably not a book I'll remember for a long time. What I enjoyed most was the actual mystery. I though Stokes did a great job making it complicated but not convoluted, with twists that were surprising and mostly believable. My predictions about the truth were close but not exact, and I was pleased with Stokes' explanation of things.

What I didn't like were the characters. I thought they were all pretty selfish, making many poor choices. I was consistently frustrated with Max - he does not make a lot of rational decisions during the course of the story (though maybe I wouldn't either if the FBI suspected me of murdering my best friend). I also didn't love the dynamics between Max and his family - it seemed like something terrible had to happen for him to remember that he actually cared about them. I get that he's had a rough life, but he's been with the Cantrells for quite some time so I would have hoped he'd treat them better. However, I relate very little to Max's story, so maybe it's accurate and I just don't know. I really despised Parvati and I did not understand Max's attachment to her. He's pretty sure he's in love with her but most of their interactions don't seem to go much beyond some playful banter in between the sexy times. I just didn't buy their relationship.

Overall, this was a decent enough mystery/thriller to keep me engaged, but not memorable enough to sit on my keeper shelf.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.