Saturday, June 30, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (22)

Silly Goose's Big Story
By Keiko Kasza
Published 2012 by Putnam Juvenile
I really enjoy Kasza's books - I think they are humorous and surprising and always have a sweet message. This new one is no exception. Goose loves to tell stories and his friends love to hear them but Goose does not want to let anyone else be the hero. What happens when real-life danger finds the friends? I love how expressive Kasza's illustrations are.

Red & Yellow's Noisy Night
By Josh Selig, illustrated by Little Airplane Productions
Published 2012 by Sterling Children's Books
This is a great bedtime book, as well as friendship story. Yellow wants to sleep but Red wants to play his strummy. Can they find a way to both get what they want? Adorable illustrations, I think this is perfect for the youngest ones and would work great in a pajama time storytime.

Beep and Bah
By James Burks
Published 2012 by Carolrhoda Books
What an adorable and unique story! A robot and his friend (a goat) go off to find the missing sock. The robot has been longing for adventure, so this is the perfect chance to find it! Their antics are very funny and kids will especially love the surprising and silly ending. Delightful illustrations as well.

When Dads Don't Grow Up
By Marjorie Blain Parker, illustrated by R.W. Alley
Published 2012 by Dial Books for Young Readers
I found this book to be absolutely charming. It talks about all the things that will happen if you have a dad who never grows up - he will splash in puddles with you and think wearing matching clothes is overrated. The illustrations depict dads of all different ethnicities and I think kids will love reading this one with their dads. I also imagine this would work very well in a storytime about families and love.

By Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
This is an excellent book about color. It focuses solely on the color green and shows the wide variety that the word "green" encompasses. We see khaki green and jungle green, pea green and forest green. It's absolutely stunning how Seeger shows the variety of this one color. Each page features a cut-out that shows a small piece of the next page, often with a new shade of green. This book is perfect for sharing one on one.

Palazzo Inverso
By D.B. Johnson
Published 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I have seen Johnson's books on the shelves before but had never bothered to pick them up. This one popped up on a cart I was looking through and it's clear from the cover that the book is inspired by M.C. Escher. I was intrigued enough to read through it. I don't really get it. I see what Johnson's doing, with the story being read front to back and then back to front and the illustrations being confusing and odd, just like Escher. But, to me, there wasn't really much of a story. Not my favorite.

The Great Gracie Chase: Stop That Dog!
By Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mark Teague
Published 2001 by Blue Sky Press
This is a very cute story about Gracie, a dog who doesn't like noise. So when some very noisy painters come into her house, she decides to take herself for a walk. But when everyone starts after her, she feels the need to run. And so begins the Great Gracie Chase! Teague's illustrations are perfect for this lighthearted tale of a dog who just wants things back the way they were. I'm sure this book would be very popular in a dog storytime.

Meet Me at the Moon
By Gianna Marino
Published 2012 by Viking
I don't necessarily await the publication of new picture books with bated breath, but this one was heavily promoted at Midwinter, so I was anxious for its arrival. I had seen some of the artwork before publication and thought it was absolutely gorgeous - the finished product does not disappoint. This is a simple story of an elephant who must go ask for rain. She leaves behind her baby but promises to meet at the moon after the rain. It's a sweet telling of the love between a parent and child with lovely illustrations of the African continent.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Perfect Escape

Perfect Escape
By Jennifer Brown
Expected publication July 10, 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Kendra has long felt overshadowed by her older brother Grayson and his OCD. So, when he returns home from treatment just as Kendra gets caught doing something she really shouldn't have, it feels like the last straw. Without a second thought, Kendra snatches up Grayson and the two of them set off for California and the old best friend they hope to find there.

I had previously read Hate List by Brown and found it a very compelling and well-written read. I had heard praise for her second novel as well, though I haven't had the chance to read it myself. So I was pleased to spot ARCs of her newest at Midwinter and happily grabbed one. What I liked most about this book: the focus on a difficult sibling relationship. I know I have said before that I am joyous when I see depictions of opposite sex siblings as friends (I'm thinking of Into the Wild Nerd Yonder here) because there just don't seem to be many examples of that. But, the sibling relationship in this book completely resonated with me. For the first 21 years of my life, I, too, felt overshadowed by a difficult older brother, one whose problems seemed to suck all the joy out of our family and garner all the attention. As a result, I tried desperately to be the opposite - the perfect child, the normal one. Sibling relationships are some of the most interesting dynamics we have to explore as people and, I believe, they are especially fraught during teen years. How many times did I, like Kendra, poke fun at my brother and his difficulties while inwardly feeling guilty and hating myself for doing it? How many times did I, like Kendra, feel like no matter what I did, it wasn't going to be enough to balance out my brother? While perhaps not everyone who reads this book will have had a similar experience, this is what makes Brown's books successful and great to recommend to teens - they are so relatable. Even if you don't have an obsessive-compulsive brother, you might have a brother and your relationship might not be perfect. Even if you're an only child, I think there is something in this book with which you could relate. Brown leaves the ending ambiguous and I think that will definitely appeal to readers. I like she is a gifted author of contemporary YA and I will definitely be recommending this book to my readers.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Program: Riddle Me This

As I mentioned in my first post about summer programming, I'm putting on weekly programs for my tweens (yes, I think of them as my tweens, even though I only know a handful by name - THAT WILL CHANGE) and I'm also trying to be better about posting things in a timely fashion. So, my second summer tween program was entitled Riddle Me This. We focused on riddles, puzzles, mazes, and all kinds of tricky things.

This program was nowhere near as involved or elaborate as my first program and, almost immediately after finishing Spy Academy, I began to worry that the kids would be disappointed with this one. Turns out my fears were completely unfounded. Here's what I had for them.

Riddle table: at this table, I had a variety of paper activities for them to try. I photocopied some elaborate mazes, a hidden picture puzzle, a spot the differences activity, some optical illusions and three different sheets of riddles. The riddles were divided into classic riddles, book-themed riddles, and stories to solve. I didn't think the kids would be very excited about this table - I mean, they could have done it themselves at home. But, nearly every kid who came to the program went to this table first and they all worked dilligently to solve as many riddles as they could without hints (I had two teen volunteers sit at the table with hints for all the riddles, as well as the answers). I even saw one child from the first session (I'm running my program in two back to back sessions) dutifully working on his riddle sheet long after the program ended.

Puzzle table: once again, I solicited staff to donate old jigsaw puzzles. I painted over the puzzle scene in a variety of colors, using acrylic paint. Then I set out the new colorful puzzle pieces and a bevy of craft supplies - Sharpies (many different colors), gemstones, glitter pens, googly eyes, and feathers. I put out an example of what they could do with them and just let them have at it. The idea was just for the kids to decorate the puzzle pieces or repurpose them into works of art. They seemed to have a lot of fun with this as well, many creating multiple pieces of art and excitedly showing them to me. My volunteers seemed to enjoy making their own masterpieces, too.

I Spy table: prior to the program, I ransacked our magazine donations and cut out pictures of things (animals, food, furniture, people, pretty much anything age-appropriate and interesting) - lots of picture. Then I put out colorful half-sheets of paper and glue sticks and invited them to create their own version of the I Spy books. I expected this to be the most popular part of the program but it definitely wasn't. There were a few tweens who headed straight for this table and stayed there the whole time, including one particularly meticulous boy. I'm not sure why this station was not as popular - maybe I'll ask some of the kids I do know by name for their input.

Book table: just in case the kids finished quickly or got bored, I pulled a bunch of puzzle and riddle books from the shelves and set them on display in the program room with us. A few kids perused them here and there but, as usual, they were mostly ignored. I did have one tween finish the riddles in ten minutes and then spend the remaining 35 reading through the books - that's what they were there for.

Ultimately, the kids had a lot of fun with this program. It was relatively quiet and low-stress and still seemed just as popular as the more high-octane program of the first week. So, I shall never doubt the diverse pleasures of my tweens again!

What would you have done? Anyone else ever hosted a riddle program?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Team Human

Team Human
By Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Expected publication July 3, 2012 by HarperTeen

Mel lives in New Whitby, Maine, a.k.a. Vampire Capital of the Country. But that doesn't mean everything is copacetic with her and the vamps - one of her friends' lives was devastated by a vampire. So when a vampire named Francis enrolls in her school and proceeds to sweep Mel's very best BFF off her feet, she is having none of it. Mel will do anything to keep Cathy on Team Human.

This book...I don't know how to begin. Let me start by saying that this book was rumored for a long time before anyone actually knew it was a real thing. In fact, I didn't believe it was actually going to happen until I had an ARC in my hands. But, let me tell you something, I am so glad this book is real. Because it is fantastic. This is how I want all my teen books to be - funny and smart and full of character and still able to make me cry (YES, I CRIED) at the drop of a perfectly phrased sentence - hell, this is how I want all my books, regardless of intended audience, to be. This was on my list of most anticipated reads for 2012 despite having only read one book between the two authors - that's how talked about this book was. And sometimes, the hype will kill a book for me (I hate to bring it up, but my disappointment in Katniss is the best recent example of this). It's definitely not the case with this book. Team Human is basically everything I expected it to be and more. Larbalestier and Brennan (Rees Brennan? I'm not sure, so I apologize) have created a witty and delightful novel that pokes fun at paranormal romance while also managing to be romantic and paranormal. Mel is a wonderfully complex narrator (and person of color - hoorary!); I absolutely loved the voice created for her. I don't know how the two authors collaborated so seamlessly - this is a one-person narrative with no obvious hiccups where the authors distinguish themselves from each other or the narrator. Everything flows beautifully and nicely. The pacing is great as well; I didn't find any bits that dragged. There are multiple storylines to keep readers interested in the variety of action occurring but it doesn't feel gimmicky or frustrating or underdeveloped. And, I have to admit - this book made me cry. More than once. Not full-out sobs or ugly crying (leave that to The Fault in Our Stars) but still teary-eyed. Because, in the end, Larbalestier and Brennan have written a book about friendship and how to be a good person and the struggle we all go through while we figure out what it means to be human. No doubt, this book is going to be hugely popular, and I couldn't be happier about that. This is a surprising and wonderful book, and I really need to go read more by these authors (and hope they collaborate again!).

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: For What It's Worth

For What It's Worth
By Janet Tashjian
Expected publication July 3 by Henry Holt and Co.

It's 1971 and Quinn lives in the mecca of music: Laurel Canyon. His mom is friends with Cass Elliot, his sister has babysat for Carole King, and he writes a music column called "For What It's Worth," filled with musical trivia that probably no one else cares about. But Quinn's world is about to be changed: he might have his first girlfriend, he might be aiding a fugitive, and he might have opened a portal to the afterlife with his Ouija board - could things get any more complicated?

Despite my best intentions, this is the first Tashjian novel I've read. She is one of those authors I've been meaning to read, having heard nothing but good things about her, but haven't gotten around to yet. So, when I saw ARCs of her newest at Midwinter, I figured it would be as good a time as any to try her out. I'm not disappointed. Tashjian creates a believable narrative voice in Quinn - a music-obsessed high schooler who has no idea how to talk to girls and for whome music is everything. This book is an easy and quick read - the action and prose just seem to flow so nicely that the pages fly by. There are some heavy topics at hand, though - it's 1971, after all, and Vietnam looms large over the people in Quinn's life (though he maybe doesn't get what all the fuss is about). Tashjian weaves a number of threads together to tell this story, though I'm not sure each is done as successfully as all the others. What is, I assume, to the major story arc - Quinn's use of the Ouija to contact Club 27 (Janis, Jimi, and Jim) - seems to me the least interesting bit. I suppose, however, that I can see how this is the thread that ties the rest of them together and, thus, the story wouldn't be the same without it. I think Quinn's developing self-identity and exploration of the war and the politics surrounding it are accurate and interesting to read about. It made me, an adult, wonder what it would be like to be growing up in that time period and made me appreciate that each generation grows up in the shadow of something almost too large to comprehend. This book is just plain readable and filled with interesting musical trivia and cameos. I think this has some definite appeal, especially to boys.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: Dust Girl

Dust Girl (American Fairy Trilogy, book 1)
By Sarah Zettel
Expected publication June 26, 2012 by Random House Children's Books

Callie lives in small-town Kansas with her mother, running a small hotel and waiting for her long-gone father to return to them. But the Dust Bowl is taking a toll on Callie and she isn't sure how much longer she can wait. When a mysterious man shows up promising answers about her heritage and encouraging her to find them in California, it isn't long before Callie finds herself on an incredible and dangerous journey.

As I've said a time or two before, I'm a big fan of historical fiction and I find the Dust Bowl particularly fascinating. Combine that with a little magic and it was a no-brainer for me to snag this ARC at Midwinter. This book hooked me almost immediately and I easily fell into Callie's world. Zettel does a wonderful job of evoking the desperation and hope all muddled together by the inhabitants who are slowly being swallowed by dust and forgotten. She also gives a strong voice to Callie, a girl of mixed heritage in more ways than one. I found her a very compelling character - conflicted, full of dreams, loyal, strong. I desperately wanted to help Callie find the answers to her questions about her true identity - and I completely understood her longing for family. She has a realistic voice and I definitely enjoyed taking the journey with her. Zettel has done a wonderful job creating the atmosphere for her story - it's a bit mystical and uncertain, hardscrabble and defiant. Like I said, I became completely immersed while reading. At times, I became a bit bored with Callie's uncertainty over who to trust - she seemed to change her mind every few pages. But overall, I found this an enchanting story, one that I think will appeal to many readers. I like Zettel's version of fairy lore and will be interested to see how she continues to flesh it out in the remaining books of the trilogy. I very much look forward to reading the next installment.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

In an effort to not be posting about programs months after I actually held them, I'm probably going to be posting more frequently this summer. So, this is about my first storytime of the summer season. It happened to fall on Father's Day weekend so our theme that week was dads! Now, I want to preface this by admitting that I was not entirely enthusiastic about this theme (I didn't pick it; the themes are all chosen ahead of time by other Youth Services staff) - there is nothing wrong with celebrating fathers, obviously. But, a lot of kids these days don't know their fathers, or don't have one (well, technically, I suppose everyone does but you get what I'm saying). Additionally, not a lot of dads are bringing their kids to storytimes - let's just be honest, it's the moms that do it. So, if it were up to me, I would have billed this as a special Father's Day storytime, which might have encouraged dads to come with their kids and let everyone know ahead of time what we'd be focusing on. Despite my qualms, though, no one seemed uncomfortable or angry about the choice of theme, so maybe it's all in my head. Anyway, let's get to what we did.

Welcome, introductions and reminders - I tried to get the kids to tell me what special day was happening that weekend; one child shouted "SUNDAY!"

Opening: Open Shut Them - I slacked on looking for a different opening, so I suppose I'm stuck with this one for another season.

Book: The Daddy Book by Todd Parr - I'm not really a huge fan of Parr's illustrations but this is a nice book to talk about how daddies are the same and different. Many kids chimed in to let me know that their own dad did something similar to what was being described on the page.

Song: "Bluegrass Jamboree" by Hap Palmer - though I still love "Silly Dance Contest" I wanted to mix things up a bit, so I picked this new activity song. It went over really well, though if someone could explain to me what action I'm supposed to do for "step and swing as the banjos ring", I'd really appreciate it. They especially loved falling to the ground.

Book: Daddy Hug by Tim Warnes, illustrated by Jane Chapman - I love Chapman's illustrations; they're adorable. I picked this book because it features many different animals and some great vocabulary words. I had the kids help me name the animals and we acted out a few of them (monkeys, sheep, lions, etc.). They all loved this one.

Flannel: Where's My Daddy? - I know I sound like a broken record but I really don't like flannel stories and, for once, I think the kids were on my side (usually, for some reason, they love them). I picked this one from available options because it was the most relevant and also it was about dinosaurs. But the kids were bored within the first 30 seconds with this one. Maybe my own ambivalence about flannel is too apparent.

Song: "Skinnamarink" by Bob McGrath - it was the only song about love that I could think of off the top of my head and the only one I found in our (admittedly small) professional collection. I had some parents who seemed enthused about this one and it was a nice quiet sort of song compared to what we usually do.

Book: Oh Daddy! By Bob Shea - I love Bob Shea; he's one of my new favorite picture book authors. His style is just so simple and bright and his stories are funny and enjoyable. So, it was a no-brainer to pick this one. The kids loved it! They laughed at all the silly things that Daddy did and they loved the big hugs at the end.

Book: The Biggest Kiss by Joanna Walsh, illustrated by Judi Abbot - I picked this one as a general love/family title so that everyone would feel the love at the end of the program. I like the illustrations and the different kinds of kisses are sweet (though some of the descriptions are a bit odd to me). I had everyone give their caregiver a big kiss at the end of the story and all were happy to do so.

Closing: Wave Goodbye by Rob Reid - still a big hit with my crowd and I'm not sick of it yet, so we're good to go.

And that was my dad-themed storytime! What would you do with this theme?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (21)

Memoirs of a Goldfish
By Devin Scillian, illustrated by Tim Bowers
Published 2012 by Sleeping Bear Press
I don't know why this book ended up on our new book cart, and I also vaguely remember reading it before, but I never posted a review of it, so why not now? This is an adorable book about a goldfish who recounts his life. First, he is alone in his bowl and he likes that just fine. Soon, he is joined by an increasing number of intruders and begins to feel very unhappy. But when all the intruders suddenly disappear, will he have a change of heart? Very sweet story, it might work in a storytime about fish but it also might be a little too long.

You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses
By Taeeun Yoo
Published 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books
I've recently become a big fan of yoga and I like to think I'm pretty good at it. I was definitely interested in seeing how they would introduce the practice to kids when I spotted this picture book. I think it's a very simple and cute introduction to some of the more interesting yoga poses, though I was confused when they introduced mountain pose (there was an animal theme going on  -they could have done pigeon or something else). But it's a very cute little book that explains how to do each pose, accompanied by an illustration of a small child in the pose. The next page names the pose and shows the child in the pose among the animals each pose is named for. Very cute, this will definitely appeal to yoga moms.

The Unruly Queen
By E.S. Redmond
Published 2012 by Candlewick Press
This is the story of a horrible little girl who doesn't behave. She has had a new nanny every week and none have done anything to curb her unruly behavior. But when nanny number 53 arrives, she's got a little trick up her sleeve to convince Miss Minerva that maybe she should try to change that behavior. I think kids will like reading about the clever way the nanny changes Minerva's behavior and parents might enjoy a new idea for getting their own unruly kings and queens to behave.

C.R. Mudgeon
By Leslie Muir, illustrated by Julian Hector
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I could not resist picking this book up - it's about a curmudgeonly hedgehog for crying out loud! Mr. Mudgeon is simply set in his ways and doesn't like change. So when Paprika shows up with her poppies and spicy foods and mariachi bands, he's in for a very unpleasant change of pace. I really liked this story and I think kids would enjoy it as well. Good for a storytime about changes or hedgehog (very specific, I know, but why not?)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Dinosaurs Before Dark

Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House, book 1)
By Mary Pope Osborne
Published 1992 by Random House Books for Young Readers

Where did the mysterious tree house in their back yard come from? Before they can find out, Jack and Annie are whisked back in time - the time of the dinosaurs! How will they get home? And can they avoid becoming a dinosaur's next meal?

I must admit that I had never before read one of these books until a few short months ago. They are insanely popular and, coincidentally, it's the 20th anniversary of the first title being published. For a while now, I've known that I should pick one up and read it, just so I would finally have some idea what all the fuss is about. This is an incredibly quick read (as an adult), but it's paced nicely for kids. The chapters are short and each one ends on some sort of cliffhanger - perfect to keep new and reluctant readers moving along through the book. Now, even though I only read this one, I know that somehow this whole thing is tied into Morgan le Fay and magical librarians (or something like that), and I would definitely be interested to see how that is developed for young readers. Also, the thing I really like about this series is that it's educational at the same time it's entertaining. Osborne has also created a number of non-fiction companion books to teach the kids who are fanatic about her books real things about the time periods and animals and other topics they encounter while reading the Magic Tree House series. Even with over 40 titles in the series now, it's still nearly impossible to keep them on the shelves. I can understand why kids love these - I may even continue reading the series myself!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Between the Lines

Between the Lines
By Jodi Picoult & Samantha van Leer
Expected publication June 26, 2012 by Simon Pulse

Delilah is a bit of a misfit - she's not popular and doesn't have too many friends. Plus, lately she's become a bit fixated on one specific book - a fairy tale written for kids. Delilah just feels a connection with the book. When the prince of the story starts talking to her, she wonders if she's crazy or if the connection is deeper and more complicated than she could have imagined.

I feel like I've been hearing about this book for years now - it was definitely one of the most buzzed-about new titles at Midwinter. In fact, I was disappointed that I didn't manage to grab a copy. I'm a fan of Picoult and was very interested to see what her young adult debut, co-authored by her teenaged daughter, would entail. So, when a coworker came back from the TLA conference (Texas Library Association) with an ARC and asked if anyone wanted to borrow it, I immediately volunteered. I'm not going to lie, though - this book is a let-down. It reads almost nothing like a typical Picoult novel. One of the things I love about Picoult's books is her use of multiple narrators - it gives readers a better opportunity to empathize with and understand each character. The same technique is employed here - chapters alternate between Delilah and Oliver's voices and excerpts of the actual fairy tale - but it doesn't work as effectively as it normally does in a Picoult book. I didn't feel especially connected to either character and didn't find myself rooting particularly hard for their romance to overcome its obstacles. But I persevered and finished the book. Don't get me wrong - it's not bad. I'm not entirely sure what the degree of collaboration is between mother and daughter in terms of the actual writing of the novel, but it's decent for a first book. The concept is not exactly new and stunning but it's handled well enough. However, it started to get a bit tedious - Delilah and Oliver try a number of different solutions to no avail and I started to imagine that maybe what made the most sense is that their obstacle couldn't be overcome. But, this is, ultimately, a romance, so of course love prevails. I don't think that's too much of a spoiler there (would anyone really have expected a different sort of ending?). In the end, everything is tied up just a bit too nicely, which doesn't really feel like a typical Picoult ending either. I'm sure this book will be a hit because there's already a built-in audience as well as a lot of people looking for romances (I feel like more people read romance in the summer, I don't know why), but it definitely left something to be desired for me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss
By Stephanie Perkins, read by Kim Mai Guest
Published 2011 by Listening Library

Anna is looking forward to her senior year of high school - she has the perfect job and a crush with excellent potential for more. So, she is understandably outraged when she is shipped off to boarding school in Paris. How could her father do this to her? With a rocky start, Anna begins to wonder how she'll ever survive the year. Maybe she could get a little help from hunky Etienne...

I downloaded this audiobook on a whim - I remember reading a ton of good press about it when it came out and I was interested to see how I might feel about it (I am always looking for more contemporary YA). I was definitely in the mood for something light and sweet after listening to a couple of crime family dramas and this was perfect. Well, the book is not perfect, but it was exactly what I wanted at the moment. Yes, this book is lovely - the characters, oh my goodness, you will absolutely fall in love with them. The setting - I mean, really? IT'S PARIS! And the storyline - the chemistry between Anna and Etienne is obvious from their first meeting and readers can't help but root for them (at least, I couldn't). But there are still some flaws - at times, Anna is a bit too oblivious for my liking. And a huge plot misstep (at least for me) - when Etienne asks Anna about the book he gave her, why doesn't she immediately go pull it off her shelf and figure out why it seems so important to him? That would have been my first thought, especially if I wanted to be reading something more into it like Anna clearly did. Additionally, the audiobook narrator drove me crazy. She has a very pleasant voice and I think she's well-suited for this narration; however, she spoke so quietly that I had to turn my volume to the maximum. Very annoying. Overall, though, this book is indeed quite the charmer. I couldn't help but fall in love with it. I will definitely be checking out Perkins' other titles.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Program: Spy Academy

Well, it's been summer here in Texas for a lot longer than in most places, but now officially summer reading has started at both my jobs. In my position of Empress of All Things Tween (I think I keep changing my title slightly), I'm providing weekly programming for kids going into grades 4 through 6 in the fall. Unfortunately, my library has a social media policy, so I'm not allowed to tell you its name or, more importantly, share any pictures from my program. But I can still tell you what we did - maybe you'll find some inspiration!

I decided that for summer it would be easier to have my programs set up in stations that the kids could migrate to and from at their own pace (in the past, my programs have been much more structured, with everyone doing the same thing at the same time). I hoped that this would make it easier on me and my teen volunteers (I have 9 assigned to help me every week). This seemed like an especially good idea because my boss wanted me to offer the same program back to back, i.e. once at 3:00 p.m. and again at 4:00 p.m. I didn't build in any recovery time between the two sessions, so this station structure seemed ideal.

The Texas Summer Reading Club there is Get a Clue! @ Your Library and I wanted to try to fit most, if not all, of my programs into the theme (you can judge whether or not I was successful at the end of the summer). So, for the first week, I decided on spies and hosted a Spy Academy, designed to train future secret agents for a lifetime of covert ops. The program took place in two different rooms and you'll see why in a minute.

In the main program room, I had four stations set up: secret messages, disguises, super spy trading cards, and target practice. I also had a table set up near the door with packets of information that I created and all our relevant spying books for kids to check out (so far, they never seem to actually get checked out and I'm not sure why). Let me explain each of the different stations for you.

Secret messages: basically what it sounds like. I made a mixture of baking soda and water and the kids used Q-tips to write secret messages on half-sheets of paper. After their messages dried, they painted over them with grape juice and all was revealed. I also had some information on the table about other kinds of invisible inks (like lemon juice and onion juice). This was probably the least popular station of the program. I had originally planned to have rubber band messages, too, but couldn't find rubber bands in the right size in time.

Disguises: here, kids were encouraged to start building their own disguise kits. I put out plain paper bags for them to store their goodies in. In the months before the program, I had asked my co-workers (and so had my mom) to donate old sunglasses/eyeglasses. I ended up with over 80 pairs (I had limited registration for the program to 80 kids, so perfect amount). Kids could try on different styles and then choose the pair they thought suited their disguise. I also had fake mustaches. I made these out of stiffened felt, tracing patterns I found for free throughout the interwebs. I hot-glued each mustache to a long, plain wooden craft stick (I didn't want to mess around with spirit gum or anything sticky to attach the mustaches directly to skin). Once again, kids could try out different styles (I think I had seven different kinds of 'staches) and then choose the one they liked best. I also set out paper binoculars that we had left over from Lemony Snicket party supplies. The kids seemed to like this station, but I think a lot of them were confused. I had a number of kids coming up and asking if they were allowed to take things home. I hadn't made a sign for this table, figuring it was self-explanatory (I thought the bags for loot would give enough indication), but I guess I should have been clearer. My volunteers managed to capture some kids trying on their disguises on film.

Super spy trading cards: this is another idea I found in various places on the Internet and adapted for my program. The trading cards were doubled-sided. On the front, there was space for them to attach a picture of themselves (if I had a Polaroid or something, I would have liked to do this for them, too), their code name, their cover story, and their super spy skill. Code names were created randomly: I had two baskets filled with slips of paper; adjectives were in one, nouns in the other. The kids drew a slip from each basket and voila! Code name created. Code names were to be used by other secret agents to keep true identities secret. Cover stories/legends were the believable new identities created for introducing themselves to strangers. First names were chosen based on the first letter of their actual name (I tried to use unisex names so kids wouldn't have problems if they got a "wrong" gendered name); last names were found using the date of the month they were born (like the 16th for example). I used last names of characters from famous children's books, perhaps in vain hope that some astute child would recognize this but ultimately for my own amusement. They then had to fill in background information for this cover - where they came from, their hobbies, pets, etc. Super spy skills could be anything they could think of. The back side of the card contained information about the use of the code name and acknowledgement of their completing the training, as well as a place for their fingerprint (the only means of true positive identification should the card fall into the wrong hands). I was surprised by how much they seemed to enjoy this station and a little disappointed because I didn't really get to hear any of the things they came up with. There was some confusion about the difference between code names and cover stories, which I expected, but my volunteers helped explain very nicely. For the curious, my code name is The Atlantic Viking and my cover is Harper Watson, a local community theater actress from small-town Indiana with a pet cockatoo. My super spy skill is lying.

Target practice: less than a week before my program, I started freaking out about not having enough to do in the main room while groups of kids were occupied in the second part of the program. I had found (on Pinterest) a tutorial for creating marshmallow shooters out of PVC pipe and toyed around with the idea of using this in a program. Of course, there was no way I could afford to make shooters for 80 kids on a library budget, so I nixed the idea. But when I reached my panicking point, I came back to it and found a much-cheaper alternative: marshmallow poppers. I think I found them on Martha Stewart's magazine's website, but they can probably be found a few different places. Here's how I made them. I cut the bottom from a small paper cup, as close to the edge as possible. Then I tied off uninflated balloons and cut them roughly in half (through the bulb of the balloon). I stretched the open end over the bottom of the cup and used packing tape to secure it in place (duct tape probably would have worked even better). I ended up using both halves of the balloon and found they worked equally well, though the end without the knot was obviously a bit harder to grasp. Then you simply load a mini-marshmallow into the cup, aim and fire! The kids were supposed to be aiming for a bowl maybe five feet from the practice line, but of course marshmallows ended up everywhere. I did have to remind some children that they were not to aim at anyone else and they should only be using one marshmallow at a time. Unsurprisingly, they loved this; it was probably the second most popular activity.

The most popular activity is what awaited them in the second room of the program (where I had an additional staff member and two volunteers stationed): a laser obstacle course. Now, I didn't have real lasers - I can't imagine that would be feasible or legal for a library program. What I did have was a good-sized meeting room criss-crossed by yarn, attached to the walls with straight pins (the meeting room has fabric covered walls). The kids entered the room on one side and at the other side, past the spider web of yarn, sat a bowl of chocolate and another filled with disappearing ink. The kids had to navigate their way through the yarn, retrieve a prize (they could choose either one piece of chocolate or one bottle of ink) and then make their way back through the yarn to the room's entrance. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see too many of them actually navigating the course - I spent the majority of my time in the main program room as well as ferrying groups of children back and forth between the two rooms. But, from what I heard, the kids had tons of fun with the obstacle course and no one hurt themselves and the course managed not to collapse while they were in it, so it was a success.

All in all, I think the kids had a lot of fun and the program ran mostly smoothly. I'm a little worried having done this as the first program with a big exciting element - I hope the kids who come to my next program aren't disappointed by its more cerebral activities. I'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

Here is the last plan for my spring storytime session - I promise I'll try to be better about posting these things in a timely fashion!

Welcome, introductions and reminders - this week we were talking about bugs!

Opening: Open Shut Them - yeah, I definitely think I need to find something new for this; I'm starting to find this one boring.

Book: Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Lydia Monks - I didn't know about this book until it was introduced to me by my internship supervisor in 2010 but she was very passionate about it and I have remembered it since then. I really think my storytime voices need work, though - the kids didn't seem all that excited about this one, though I did get them to scream with me throughout the book.

Song/rhyme: "Itsy-Bitsy Spider/Big, Humongous Spider" - basically what it sounds like, we did the "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" rhyme and then followed it up by using our entire arms to make big, humongous spiders to climb up the waterspouts. They thought this was funny.

Book: Bugs Galore by Peter Stein - this was a new book that came in shortly before storytime and I thought the illustrations were bright and bold. In rhyming text, Stein talks about all the kinds of bugs we might encounter. Unfortunately, I don't think the beautiful illustrations were enough for the kids to connect with and this one seemed to drag on.

Flannel: The Very Hungry Caterpillar - okay, this being the last storytime of the spring, it would also, of course, have to be the first storytime where I encountered a problem child with an oblivious parent. This was most obvious as I prepared to start this flannel story (based, of course, on Eric Carle's beloved book). PC (that's problem child) would not sit down. In fact, PC stood directly in front of the flannel board, causing other children to cry out, "I CAN'T SEE!" I repeatedly told PC to sit down because other children needed to be able to see the board. I actually paused the story to try to deal with PC. PC completely ignored me; in fact, it was like I was speaking a foreign language (which I know was not the case as PC's parent was speaking English). OP (oblivious parent - try to keep up) was not exactly oblivious - OP also repeatedly told PC to sit down. But PC ignored OP as well - and OP just sat there, content to simply keep repeating "PC, you need to sit down for storytime." Just when I was about to ask OP to take PC out of the room (or at least into a stranglehold hug position), PC finally sat down. I don't think PC actually understood that this was what was desired and was simply sitting down after being tired of standing. This was an incredibly frustrating but valuable interaction for my last spring storytime. Yes, I am in charge during storytime - but that still does not make me your child's parent. Please don't let it get to the point where I need to ask you to leave because that's fun for no one involved.

Okay, now that's over with - the kids loved the flannel. I had them name each piece as we put it on the board.

Song: "Silly Dance Contest" by Jim Gill - I tried to be as silly as possible for our last spring hurrah.

Book: Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas - believe it or not, I had never really heard of Jan Thomas until late last year. This was my first time using one of her books in storytime and it was definitely a huge hit - the kids loved acting it out!

Closing: Wave Goodbye by Rob Reid - Still love it.

I got 4 hugs after storytime from enthusiastic attendees, which made the trouble with PC seem like a minor setback. And that was my bug family storytime! Any thoughts?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: The Wild Queen

The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary Queen of Scots (Young Royals, book 7)
By Carolyn Meyer
Expected publication June 19 by Harcourt Children's Books

Mary Stuart was sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband when she was just five. But she has never forgotten that she is Queen of Scots and deserves to be treated as such.

I can't even muster enough enthusiasm to provide you with a longer summary of the book. Also, while on the topic of summaries, I need to mention that the summary on the cover flap of the book (well, it was on the back of mine since I had a paperback ARC) as well as on Goodreads (the summaries are the same) is very misleading and, if you don't know the history that well, very spoiler-y. The summary is misleading because all the stuff it describes doesn't even happen until, like, 250 pages into the book, so if you're expecting to read about 18-year-old strong-willed Mary, you're going to be disappointed.

In fact, this book was disappointing for me in a number of ways. First, as I've already mentioned, is the summary. What this book claims to be about and what it's actually about are radically different things. This book starts when Mary is very young and, in my eyes, the majority of it takes place while she ages from 5 until about 16. Maybe this is a false impression, but I was a bit annoyed to discover that the event mentioned in the second line of the blurb doesn't occur until very far into the book.

This book was disappointing also because I really love historical fiction. And I did not love this book. Not at all. It was plodding and boring and I seriously felt like I'd been reading for an eternity. Last night, I was determined to finish the book. In fact, I have only 10 pages left. But I just couldn't do it. Because I knew those ten pages would take as long to read as it usually takes me to read 50 pages. This makes for an incredibly frustrating and unsatisfactory read.

Another reason for my disappointment: isn't Carolyn Meyer a popular and respected author of historical fiction? This is the first time I've read any of her books (and yes, this is technically the seventh in a series but they are all about different monarchs so don't need to be read in order) and I was almost horrified at what I discovered. Meyer writes this book almost exclusively by telling readers everything instead of showing. I can forgive this to a degree; in fact, it's not even something that I necessarily notice all that much. So, if I'm to the point where I'm noticing and it's having a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of the book, it must be pretty bad. Additionally, I worry about Meyer's opinion of her readers - it doesn't seem like she has a very high one. Nearly every time a character is mentioned, readers are treated to a reiteration of their titles, nickname, and how they are related to other characters. Yes, I am aware that medieval courts and royalty were quite confusing - pretty much everyone had the same names, after all. But I'm not a moron. And neither are your readers, Ms. Meyer. You should trust them enough to be able to keep the characters in the story straight for the 400 pages they spend with them.

And that brings me to what I'll just say is my last disappointment - this book is over 400 pages long. I like big books (and I cannot lie, haha) and it's not especially uncommon for a historical fiction to be longer than, say, a contemporary novel - generally, there are just more details an author has to make their reader familiar with. But this book felt unnecessarily long - perhaps having to do with the reintroduction of characters every few pages. I have this thing about the passage of time in books - if it doesn't make sense, you're going to lose me. And this book's temporal structure makes no sense. As I said before, at least 250 pages are devoted to Mary's life up until about age 16, 17, or 18 (it's hard to tell as, actually, her age is not mentioned all that much). But then the next 100 pages or so span a period of 5-7 - it seems like a lot of events and details are left out. Actually, I think this time frame would probably have been the most interesting part of her story (and what the book is supposed to be about, if the blurb is to be trusted), so it was disappointing that this section felt rushed. And then, the last 20 or so pages are meant to cover decades. Let me repeat that: DECADES. And this is more of Mary's life that might have been interesting - this is the time she was imprisoned. Well, yes, maybe reading about her imprisonment wouldn't have been terribly exciting but, seriously, you're only going to give it a few pages? IT JUST DOESN'T WORK. Additionally, the book ends rather abruptly, with an epilogue tacked on the end that I assume is supposed to make us not feel ripped off for not getting the book we imagined we were. But, oh tiny epilogue, you are not enough to overcome the number of times I've used the word "disappointing" to describe this novel.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy. But I don't recommend it and, I'll say it one last time, I was incredibly disappointed.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (20)

In the Sea
By David Elliott, illustrated by Holly Meade
Published 2012 by Candlewick Press
Apparently, Elliott and Meade have written two other titles that are very similar to this one (I think I have seen one of the other ones before but haven't read it). This book gives simple poetry about various animals in the sea with colorful, evocative illustrations. I like the book and I think it will really appeal to kids but I wish there was some information at the end with facts about the animals shown throughout the book.

Jazz Age Josephine
By Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
So, I'm not entirely sure why this book is classified as an easy picture book instead of a biography (at least at one of the libraries I work at). It tells the story of Josephine Baker, noted African-American Jazz Age performer. I didn't really enjoy this book. The text is written in this odd style where some lines or parts of lines are repeated and it just didn't work for me. Additionally, the illustrations are not my cup of tea either. I think this book will appeal to some kids, but I don't know if it will reach its audience by being kept with the picture books instead of the biographies.

All About Grandmas
By Roni Schotter, illustrated by Janice Nadeau
Published 2012 by Dial
This is a delightful little book celebrating the special-ness that is the grandmother and her relationship with the grandchild. At the front of the book, the author includes a list of names for grandmother in a variety of languages, which I think is a very cute idea. Through rhyming text, we learn all about what grandmothers do, what they look like, what they wear, and how we should treat them. I think this would be great in a storytime about families, or just a wonderful book to share with your grandchild.

Question Boy Meets Little Miss Know-It-All
By Peter Catalanotto
Published 2012 by Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
This is an interesting little book: Question Boy goes through his day, asking every superhero he meets (like Garbage Man and Oilman) questions. They are all so overwhelmed by his consistent questioning that they run away. But then, Question Boy meets his match - Little Miss Know-It-All. She spouts off facts in an endless stream before Question Boy can get a question in. How will their showdown end? I think this is a good book for parents of inquisitive preschoolers but I'm not sure if kids will really enjoy it. An interesting title.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

As I think I've mentioned a time or two, I find myself very busy these days. So I'm not as on top of writing the blog entries as I should be. Here is what I did for my fish family storytime in April.

Welcome, introductions and reminders: No one cares at this point, but I do it anyway!

Opening: Open Shut Them - I'm getting a little tired of this one. Maybe I'll come up with something else before summer storytimes start.

Book: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen - our storytime theme was fish and I couldn't help but include one of my favorite picture books (maybe it shouldn't have surprised me to discover the author was a librarian!). I prepped the kids for this one by having them practice their "blubs" and then cued them during the story to help out the poor pout-pout fish. They loved this one and they were excellent at blubbing.

Flannel: Sea Life - this was a pretty basic flannel, sung to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus." It introduces a variety of sea life and a short description of their actions. The kids really enjoyed this one. I think it has an octopus, shark, clam, fish, and whale.

Book: I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean! by Kevin Sherry - perhaps I need to practice my "giant squid" voice because the kids didn't love this one as much at the beginning. They were incredibly excited when the squid got eaten by the whale, though, and loved his newest declaration.

Song: "Silly Dance Contest" by Jim Gill - this has become my default storytime song because it's fun and easy. The kids are getting used to it, I think, and really love trying to dance in slow-motion.

Book: Swim! Swim! by Lerch (James Proimos) - this is a very simple picture book about Lerch. He desperately wants to find a friend but isn't having much luck. The kids loved Lerch's attempts at making friends with the limited options he finds in his tank and especially loved the ending.

Book: Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet by Kelly DiPucchio - looking back, I probably shouldn't have used both of these last two books because they're really pretty similar (and this one is a little text-heavy). But, the kids were thrilled when they thought they had the end of this book figured out and they turned out to be wrong. Lots of giggling ensued.

Closing: Wave Goodbye by Rob Reid - the giggles over shaking their booties just get to me every time.

And that was my fish family storytime!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: White Cat

White Cat (Curse Workers, book 1)
By Holly Black, read by Jesse Eisenberg
Published 2010 by Listening Library

Cassel comes from a family of workers, but doesn't have the touch himself. What he does have is a disturbing secret: he murdered his best friend three years ago. But when Cassel awakes one night on his school's roof after sleepwalking and dreaming of a message from a white cat, everything Cassel has believed about his life is thrown in the air.

I have to start by admitting how hesitant I was to read this, despite all the wonderful things I'd heard about the series. I'd only read one Holly Black novel before and it did not go over well with me. I felt underwhelmed about it in general and annoyed at some aspects in particular. So, I had my doubts about this one. However, I'm almost never willing to write an author off after just one try and this series has been incredibly well-received, so I downloaded the audiobook and listened while I commuted. And let me start by saying, I am elated that I did.

Let me get one little bit of unpleasantness out of the way. I have previously acknowledged my trepidation about famous narrators of audiobooks. I was pleasantly surprised by Teri Hatcher's narration of The Search for Wondla and I quite enjoy Eisenberg as an actor so I was willing to give it a shot. And, I think, in normal circumstances, he did a fine job of reading the audiobook. However, Cassel is described as, essentially, half-black and half-Indian (I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't quote exactly). I'm sorry, but I can't listen to Eisenberg's voice and get that picture in my head. There is some discussion of race in the novel and during this bit, I found Eisenberg's casting as narrator a bit distracting. But this is my only qualm about the book.

For, dear readers, this book is fantastic. It is edge-of-your-seat action-packed with magic and crazy crime drama. It's filled with characters who are shifty and downright double-crossers, who make no apologies for their behavior, and who absolutely would con the pants off of you, if given the chance. Black has created a fascinating alternate universe with details I truly want to explore. Additionally, she has peopled this world with realistic characters that I want to get to know better. I was completely hooked almost as soon as this book started and, though I was able to guess the big reveal before it was revealed, this did not deter from my enjoyment of the book at all. In fact, I think it made me even more interested in listening, dying to know how every detail would play out. Like other reviews I've seen, I can't help but compare this book to All These Things I've Done and make this book the clear winner in a head-to-head match-up: this book keeps the crime drama boiling under the surface, creating an atmosphere that is dark and full of mistrust. This is one of the few new series books where I actually can't wait to get my hands on the sequels. Bravo, Ms. Black. You've won me over.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars

For Darkness Shows the Stars
By Diana Peterfreund
Expected publication June 12, 2012 by Balzer + Bray

Elliot North has always known what her future holds - four years ago, she denied her heart and remained on her father's land, overseeing the farm and the people who rely on it for their livelihood. But Elliot also has a secret, one that would shame her Luddite ancestors and makes Elliot confused about who she really is. When the boy she once loved (has loved, over the four years he has been gone) returns, carrying a new name and fortune, Elliot's world is thrown in turmoil. Soon, she will discover that he holds a secret as well. Will she protect the boy who has captured her heart? Or will she remain true to her family's ways?

This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year - I've read Peterfreund's killer unicorn series and really enjoyed it and early reviews of this all seemed pretty positive. Additionally, the premise of it sounded very intriguing - a post-apocalyptic sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. However, I knew that this was on many people's most anticipated lists this year and so I did not expect to find an ARC at Midwinter. I was beyond thrilled when I did manage to get one and couldn't wait to get started reading. Despite how awesome the premise sounded, I was a bit worried before getting started on the book. I can't recall ever reading Persuasion and, if I did, it was surely at least ten years ago. I wondered if this would hinder my enjoyment of this new version of the story. I'm happy to report that it didn't. Sure, it might have been nice to see the parallels and know just exactly how different Peterfreund has made the story, but this way, everything was a surprise to me. I never knew what to expect. Additionally, Persuasion is, at least I believe it is, one of Austen's lesser-known works, so the bits and pieces of it are not ingrained in our cultural memory (the way, say, Pride & Prejudice with the dashing Mr. Darcy has been). This kept me on my toes while reading as I never knew what might happen next. I actually find myself wanting to read Persuasion now so I can compare the two and see just how far Peterfreund's imagination ranged.

Aside from the inevitable Austen discussion, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Peterfreund has imagined a very unique apocalypse, brought on by humanity's desperate and ever-increasing hunger for bigger and better technology and the never-ceasing war between religion and science. Thankfully (at least in my opinion), she never gets political, despite presenting a sensitive issue. The most political we get, really, is watching Elliot's internal struggle between her beliefs and her hopes and dreams. On that note, I found Peterfreund's characters spectacular as well, though here she perhaps had a direct helping hand from Austen. I believed in Elliot's voice and felt tortured and confused along with her, as well as frustrated and helpless and strong and defiant. I loved the alternating chapters that featured the correspondence of Elliot and Kai in their youth - it helped reveal the backstory in pieces, building the reader's knowledge at a gradual yet satisfying pace. Though the setting is strange and unfamiliar, I don't think readers will have any difficulties relating to Elliot and her emotions - her desire to know what else might be out there, her struggles with her religion, her confusion over who she is expected to be and whether that aligns with who she wants to be. The universal emotions are sure to appeal to readers of all kinds of fiction. Additionally, this is not a "hard sci-fi" - I believe after the wave of dystopian fiction (or perhaps concurrently, as who knows when that wave will die out) "soft sci-fi" may be the next trend. As someone who doesn't like my sci-fi to feature spaceships or terribly difficult science (I'd rather just read a science book if I want to know), I'm all for this trend developing. Some of my surprise favorite reads of 2011 were these kinds of books. But I'm going on a tangent here. What I'm trying to say is that I think this book has broader appeal than perhaps some of the "hard sci-fi" and I truly enjoyed it. I fell in love with the characters and the setting, and the book kept me in suspense the whole way through, as I longed to know what would happen (and even what had happened). I think this is a fantastic new novel from Peterfreund and I imagine it will be a great success.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour
By Morgan Matson, read by Suzy Jackson
Published 2011 by Brilliance Audio

Amy Curry is having a really tough time dealing with life since her father died. Now, her mother is expecting her to drive the family car across the country from California to Connecticut, their new home. Only Amy doesn't drive anymore. So good ole Mom has enlisted family friend Roger Sullivan to make the trip with her. But almost as soon as they begin, their trip takes an unexpected detour...

I just have to start this review by saying: damn you, contemporary YA. Damn you. Let me explain. I completely loved this book. I was practically giddy while reading it. This is a beautifully written story of damaged characters finding a way to heal by choosing their own paths, perhaps for the first time in their lives. I was completely charmed by the characters and in love with the idea of this road trip (I've travelled a lot via car). So, I had no problems with this book initially. And, let me clarify, I still don't have a problem with this book. But the reason I am attempting to damn it is because of the romance. Here's the thing: I think there is a severe lack of books that deal in cross-sex relationships among teenagers that aren't romantic in nature, especially where both kids are attracted to members of the opposite sex. I was excited because I thought, perhaps, this book could be one of those rare teenage novels that has two opposite sex main characters who don't end up dating, whose friendship is enough to propel the story. I mean, it's not like I didn't expect the romance to happen, so I'm not damning the book for including it. What makes me mad about it is that the book is so utterly charming and the characters so completely lovable that I couldn't help myself from rooting for the romance to happen. Don't get me wrong - none of this is bad. This book is every bit a success and I truly loved it. But I'm frustrated with the evasive presence of romance and this author's ability to make me crave the predictable outcome. Still, I really enjoyed this book. It was a pleasure to listen to and I will definitely be recommending it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (19)

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
By Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Published 2006 by Jump at the Sun
This book is so beautiful - I don't know how Nelson continually creates such amazing illustrations. The story is a very simple biography of Harriet Tubman and describes the calling she felt, from God, to escape from slavery and lead her people out of their own slavery bonds. Everything about this book is beautiful - the simple yet exquisite text and the gorgeous illustrations. This is an incredibly appealing book for all people and should be featured prominently when focusing on Tubman or African-Americans. Highly recommended.

Those Rebels, John and Tom
By Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Published 2012 by Scholastic
This is another recent non-fiction picture book about John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but this title doesn't focus as much on their friendship as the other book did. This book mainly focuses on how opposite they were - it's basically John on one page and Tom on the other, highlighting their opposition. This book seemed longer and wordier than the other title. But I found this book interesting as well - I just don't think it has as much appeal as the other (Worst of Friends). I like the illustration style, though - I think it's very unique.

One Cool Friend
By Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small
Published 2012 by Dial
Elliot is a very serious young man. So, naturally, he politely accepts his father's invitation to the aquarium. And here he discovers the perfect pet for him - a prim and proper penguin. This is a fun story about a unique young boy finding the perfect new friend. I think kids will love seeing how hard Elliot works to make his house suitable for his new friend and will also enjoy how Elliot pulls most of this off without his father's notice. I love the illustrations - the style is very vivid and bold. Kids will especially delight in the ending and will want to explore the book to see what they may have missed. A very fun new story.

Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo?
By Carlyn Beccia
Published 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Preparing for a circus-themed storytime, I came across this title. While it won't work for my storytime, I found this book very interesting. It presents a circus-themed alphabet, but includes along the bottom of each page information about real-life circus performers or little-known pieces of information about the circus itself (did you know the phrase "hold your horses" originated when circuses came through towns and criers warned townspeople to hold their horses from the excitement?). I think any kid interested in the circus would love to see this book and find out about the performers. I liked this one.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: All These Things I've Done

All These Things I've Done (Birthright, book 1)
By Gabrielle Zevin, read by Ilyana Kadushin
Published 2011 by Macmillan Audio

In the year 2083, New York is a very different place. Caffeine and chocolate are illegal, paper is in short supply, and water is rationed. Anya Balanchine, daughter of a notorious crime boss (who is now deceased), finds her world turned upside-down when she is caught up in a scandal. She must figure out who is behind it all in order to keep surviving and protecting her siblings.

Ugh. So, I have basically no time to write this blog, meaning that I don't end up posting things sometimes until months after they've happened or I've read them. This is definitely a review I wish I'd written right after finishing the book. However, this book was so disappointing that I'm still pretty fired up about it. Let's start with expectations: for this book, very high. I mean, in what crazy world would chocolate be illegal? I was definitely interested to discover this world that Zevin had created. Plus, daughter of a crime boss, accused on poisoning her jerk of a boyfriend? Also sounds really cool. So, I downloaded the audiobook when I saw it was available from the library and listened to it with high hopes.

The book starts out okay - I'm into figuring out what is going on in this world, as well as trying to understand the crime family workings. But it loses hope real fast. There is not really a good explanation for why the world is like this now and how everything became so corrupted. I can overlook some shoddy world-building if I'm interested enough in the story and, in this case, I was willing to let it slide. Additionally, the crime family and corruption aspect becomes secondary to Anya's personal drama, which is pretty disappointing. But then, something began happening that I just couldn't abide. I will say that I did listen to the entire book because I was curious enough to find out what would happen, so I guess the book has that going for it. But the thing I couldn't abide is kind of a really big deal, especially in a young adult book. And, I know I'm not the only person to notice this because I've seen some other reviews mention it.

Here's the thing: this is probably the worst case of slut-shaming I've seen in recent young adult literature. Anya is a self-admitted good girl. That's fine; that's your choice. But when every mention of sex before marriage is almost immediately followed by some reference to hell or damnation, I'm no longer willing to let it just be your choice. Now, in a book that is geared toward an audience full of young women who are already taught by nearly every outlet to be ashamed of their own sexuality, you're introducing another book with a heroine who believes she should be punished if she feels desire and believes that she will deserve that punishment. This is not okay. This makes a book that, though it has its other problems, could have been a decently engaging read into a book that I'm really angry about.

I'm incredibly disappointed with this book. It had a promising premise and beginning but soon derailed into territory that I couldn't stand.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Laugh with the Moon

Laugh with the Moon
By Shana Burg
Expected publication June 12, 2012 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Clare is not having a good time. Her mother has been dead for less than a year and now her father is packing her up and taking her with him all the way to the "warm heart of Africa" - Malawi. Clare feels trapped and alone in her new "home" but as she reluctantly begins to make friends, can Clare change her mind?

This was another book I picked up on a whim at Midwinter - with my job as Goddess of All Things Tween, I've been on the lookout for more middle-grade/tween novels. This one caught my eye because of its unique setting - Malawi, Africa, a place I know basically nothing about. And that is one of the things that I think this book does very well - there is no mistaking that this book is set in Malawi, from the language to the customs to the vivid descriptions of the setting. Burg has painted a realistic and fascinating portrait of the warm heart of Africa (as Malawi is apparently known) and the people who reside there. Though I find Clare a bit of a letdown as far as protagonists go, I enjoyed meeting the people of her new village. My problems with Clare are hard to define and unsatisfactory - I felt like I should relate much more to her, because I understand the place of grief she is coming from in this novel (as I have experienced a similar loss), but there was just something about her that kept me from truly connecting to her. That being said, it's not hard for me to imagine children relating easily to her story, as well as being interested in finding out how she is going to handle this very different new phase of her life. At times, I felt the action of the book was a bit stilted and the tragedy that strikes about halfway through seemed more of a ploy than a genuine necessity (I think the same things could have been accomplished through a different set of events in the book). Overall, though, I found this to be a quick and engaging read. I enjoyed watching Clare grow and learning a bit about Malawi in the process.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Picture Book Non-fiction

Once again, I thought I'd review some non-fiction picture books I've read recently. Perhaps I should make this separate from Picture Book Saturday permanently (I have reviewed some non-fiction on those posts). I'll have to think about it.

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing, All-Brother Baseball Team
By Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I think I've mentioned my love of baseball before, so when I saw this book on our new book cart, I couldn't resist giving it a quick read. For the true baseball fan (which includes a lot of children), this is a fascinating look at a little-known fact of baseball: before the modern era of baseball, there were a number of teams comprised solely, or at least mostly, of brothers. This book tells the story of the Acerra family, 12 brothers who played together for the longest length of time of any all-brother ball team. This was a fun and uplifting story filled with baseball trivia. The illustrations are very evocative of the time period as well. I enjoyed this one.

Dream Something Big: The Story of the Watts Towers
By Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Susan L. Roth
Published 2011 by Dial
I picked this up just for the heck of it and I have to admit that I didn't really enjoy it all that much. I'm unfamiliar with the Watts Towers, so that might have something to do with it. The story of the man who built the towers is told through the eyes of a young neighbor. I just didn't find much in the story to engage me - I never got all that interested. I like the illustrations; they have a childlike quality that it appealing here. And I appreciate the back matter - further information about the artist, bibliography, and instructions on how to build your own towers. I think this could be incorporated into a program for the grade-school crowd.

The Beetle Book
By Steve Jenkins
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Some bizarre fascination compelled me to pull this book off the shelf and read through it, though I felt creeped out and icky the whole time. I am definitely not a bug person and the beetles in this book were no exception. However, Jenkins is basically a master of juvenile non-fiction and his books are always a welcome addition to the collection. Here, Jenkins focuses on beetles, a high-interest subject for a lot of kids. As always, I learned a few things I didn't know (some beetles can sense fire from like 20 miles away, and there is a beetle species called the longicorn that had a huge antenna and looks like a unicorn beetle). I love his illustrations and there is plenty of back matter. Full of facts, this is a great new book.

Bird Talk: What Birds are Saying and Why
By Lita Judge
Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
Another thing I've admitted here on the blog is my terror of birds. So it was with a mix of trepidation and determination that I approached this book (perhaps I was trying to "know my enemy"). What I discovered is an excellent book about the variety of communications among birds and what they all mean. This is a great book to teach about adaptations and evolution, as well as about many different kinds of birds. The illustrations are large and bold and the text is informative and entertaining as well. This would be a great book for any kid interested in our winged friends.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review: Monument 14

Monument 14
By Emmy Laybourne
Expected publication June 5, 2012 by Feiwel & Friends

Fourteen kids end up trapped in a superstore while the world outside falls apart. How will they survive? What has happened beyond the walls of the store? Who will they become?

I picked this up at Midwinter because I'm basically always in the mood for apocalyptic/survivalist stories and this one sounded promising. What I liked about it: quick read. The action basically never stops in this book, which makes the chapters and pages fly by. A diverse group of characters - well, they mostly fit into stereotypical molds but I liked that it wasn't strictly popular kids forced to interact with nerds. I also thought the addition of elementary school children made this a more interesting and complex survival story than if it just happened to be a bus full of teenagers trying to survive in the Greenway. The series of disasters that leads to the 14 being trapped - a combination of natural and man-made and mostly pretty ridiculous, Laybourne makes them interesting enough for me to believe they could actually occur in this sequence and lead to the dire situation our characters find themselves in.

Some things I have hesitations about: increasingly disturbing plot changes. There is a lot of heavy stuff happening in the pages of this novel and I don't know if it's really dealt with in a way that makes it accessible for teens. I found myself horrified by some of what happens, so it makes me hesitant to thrust this into teen hands. Additionally, there are some weird things happening to the characters that just seem out of place - specifically I'm thinking of Jake. I don't want to give anything away, but this whole storyline just didn't seem to fit here. I guess I understand what, perhaps, Laybourne was trying to do, but it didn't really work for me. Also, there were times when I just didn't connect with the main character - some of his thought paths just seemed unrealistic and wrong in this situation.

Overall, I did enjoy seeing where this novel would go, though I'm a bit put off by what was, to me, quite an abrupt ending. This is an interesting debut and could certainly find an audience. Fans of survival stories are likely to gravitate toward this one.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Program: Aboard the Titanic

When I realized that this year would be the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I definitely wanted to do a program related to the tragedy for my tweens. I wasn't entirely sure what I could do that wouldn't be too upsetting or wouldn't minimize the tragedy too much. I knew one thing that I definitely wanted to do - create a sort of passport or ticket for the kids with information about a real passenger on the ship. I thought this would help personalize the tragedy and make it more relevant to them today, 100 years later. From that baby idea, I scoured the internet and tried to find some ideas. Here's what I ended up doing.

I had originally anticipated a lot more kids coming to the program than the number that actually showed up, so I planned on splitting them into groups and running activities concurrently. However, when I realized it was a small group, I decided to just keep them all together and move from each activity to the next as a group. I started by asking them what the knew about the Titanic. Lots of little hands went up and they especially relished the chance to show off their "expertise." Then I explained to them that I was going to give them passenger tickets and asked them to please not turn the pages (there were 4 pages total) until I told them to. The first page contained the actual invitation to sail on the ship that passengers in 1912 saw and a small scale drawing of the liner. We headed to our first activity station: shuffleboard.

I wanted to give kids an idea of what sorts of activities the passengers might have engaged in to pass the time during their transatlantic trip. I chose shuffleboard because I figured it was easier to explain than a card game and also still relatively popular a pastime. It is very difficult to explain a game to someone who has never played it before (I also had trouble with this when I was working on my take-home packet for the program, which I'll talk about later). But, after some initial struggles, the kids got the gist of it. We didn't keep score (mostly because they were all really terrible and barely scored any points) but the kids didn't even seem to notice; they just practiced trying to get the puck across the line. We played for about 10 minutes and then moved on to our next station. The kids turned the pages in their tickets and saw a photo of their passenger, as well as a brief biography on them.

Here's where I subjected the kids to morse code. What I didn't expect: one kid absolutely did not understand this and really, really struggled. To the point where he was the only child still working and the rest were ready to move on. Thankfully, I had some teen volunteers who could stay at that station and try to help him figure it out (I had given the kids a message in morse code and provided the morse code alphabet). I think part of the problem was that with morse code, it's sometimes difficult to tell where each letter and each word ends (I think this is what the child was having the most trouble with). On the whole, though, they seemed to like trying to decode the message and proudly handed me their completed telegraphs. I explained a little more information about morse code while they were working and they all seemed very interested. We worked on this for about 10-15 minutes and then moved on to our final station. The kids turned the pages in their tickets again, this time reading about what their passenger was doing the night of the sinking.

Our last station was a water station. I didn't really have a solid plan for this, but I think the kids ended up really enjoying this part. I made a couple of icebergs beforehand (by filling balloons with water and freezing them); they hadn't actually frozen completely (despite being in the freezer for approximately 36 hours) but they worked well enough. I used an empty ice cube tray to talk about the compartments that were compromised by the iceberg and the demonstrate how the sinking happened. Then, the kids got to put their fingers in the water to get an idea of how cold it was (obviously my water was not as cold the Atlantic that night). They loved challenging themselves to see how long they could keep them in the water, though I did make sure nobody overdid it. They turned the final pages in their tickets and read about the fate of their passenger (most lived but a few died - those kids were very disappointed).

Our final activity was to watch about 15 minutes of the documentary "Ghosts of the Abyss". I wanted them to get an idea of what the Titanic looked like now. They were all fascinated by this. We talked briefly about whether or not we believed people should take things from the wreckage site (general consensus seemed to be no) and then I sent them on their way, though not before a number of them begged to take extra passenger tickets home for various family members. I gave them each a packet with some more information: a list of books about the Titanic, a list of adventure/survival books, more morse code practice (and a copy of the alphabet), and more information on other pastimes enjoyed by passengers aboard the ship, including whist and patience. I had also set up a table of all the books about the ship that were available at the time; a good majority of them were checked out.

Overall, I think the kids enjoyed the program, but I felt lackluster about it. I'm not really sure why. I guess part of it was that I expected a bigger turnout; lots of kids are fascinated by the Titanic so I expected to have bigger numbers. Additionally, I felt like after all my planning, I really didn't have that much to do. Part of it is that the passenger tickets took a long time to create and the majority of my planning time. So, I think there are some things that I would do differently next time around but overall, the kids seemed to have fun.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (18)

The Little Pea
By Eric Battut
Published 2011 by Sky Pony Press
This is another terribly cute story from Battut. This time, we have a little pea who has different dreams for himself than just your run-of-the-mill peadom. It's funny and sweet and I think will really appeal to kids. Once again, my only complaint is that the pictures are so tiny! It's difficult to see what little pea looks like, which is unfortunate because he is embellishing his appearance throughout the book. This has a fun ending. Very enjoyable story. Does Battut only work in miniature? Must investigate.

The Easter Bunny's Assistant
By Jan Thomas
Published 2012 by HarperCollins
So basically every children's librarian blog I read declares an undying love for Jan Thomas and her books. I'd never really known about them until a few months ago when I started my new job. One of her books popped up on our new cart and the teen librarian fawned over it and explained how much she loved her books. A similar thing happened with this one: I picked it up to read and my supervisor hovered over my shoulder. She actually couldn't resist reading it aloud as I was reading it to myself. Anyway, I've learned to love Thomas and this book is no exception. It's funny and endlessly appealing to kids. This would work wonderfully in a storytime about Easter. Or bunnies. Or skunks.

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass
By Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster
This is basically what it says it is: the story of Frederick Douglass as a young boy. Once again, picture books teaching me things I didn't know (or in this case, perhaps I knew but had forgotten): Douglass was born a slave and escaped on the Underground Railroad before becoming to author and speaker we know him as today. Interesting and very well-done, this book is a little long, so would be suited for the elementary audience. I'm not sure how helpful it is as a biography (say if a child needed to do a report), but for an interested kid wanting to know more about Douglass before he became respected and well-known, this would be a good choice. The illustrations are nice and match the text in style.

Vivaldi and the Invisible Orchestra
By Stephan Costanza
Published 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
Did you know there are sonnets that accompany Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"? Nope, I had no clue. So the intent of this book was a little lost on me. But basically, what we're getting is the story behind these sonnets. Other things I didn't know: Vivaldi wrote for an orchestra made primarily of orphan girls. This story decides that one of these orphans was the author of the sonnets and explains how she loves working for Vivaldi and how thrilled she is when he incorporates her words into his music. An interesting notion but how many kids know who Vivaldi is? Or care? The illustrations are bright and dreamy. I just don't know who might go looking for this one.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review: Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy, book 1)
By Leigh Bardugo
Expected publication June 5, 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.

Alina has grown up an orphan in war-torn Ravka, alongside her best friend (and secret crush) Mal. Now that they are older, Mal has proven himself as an extremely skilled tracker, while Alina has resigned herself to mapmaking (though she's not particularly good at it), all the while admiring and resenting the Grisha. But when the two find their lives in peril while attempting to cross the Fold, Alina discovers a hidden talent that will change them both forever.

To be honest, I didn't really want to pick up this book at Midwinter. I had heard nothing about it and the blurb didn't really grab me when I read over it. But, the publisher was really pushing it and I am always pleased to find publishers who tell you what they genuinely think could be a hit from their upcoming titles. So I ended up taking home a copy. It seems like buzz has built since then and it was recently reviewed on one of my favorite blogs (seriously you guys? just go read them) so I actually found myself pretty excited to read it. From the first page, I could tell this was going to be a quick read, and it definitely was - the pages just flew by as I became more and more absorbed in the story. It is not the most wonderful story I've read this year, but I was completely engrossed in the world Bardugo has created. I think this is a very unique setting - Russian-inspired and full of fascinating magic. I wanted to know more about the world and the Grisha and the Fold and the stag - everything was genuinely captivating. Alina is, at times, an annoying heroine - she is incredibly insecure and doubtful and is very conscious of her appearance (specifically how it doesn't measure up to everyone around her). However, I think this is tied very closely to a major plot point, so, at least to me, it all made sense in the end and wasn't just a nuisance. I liked her friendship with Mal and her conflicting feelings surrounding him, as well as the romance that is introduced throughout the story. I did get a bit bored with the familiar cattiness and tough-yet-really-looking-out-for-her teachers when Alina was undergoing her Grisha training. I did find Genya to be a refreshing piece of the training puzzle, though. By far, one of my favorite things about this book was the character of the Darkling - this is how you create a complex villain. I must admit that I was essentially right there with Alina in terms of my thoughts about the Darkling, so I found this character especially intriguing at the end. Overall, I think this is a solidly entertaining book, worth a look from your fantasy fans. I'm definitely looking forward to book 2!

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.