Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Beautiful Days

Beautiful Days (Bright Young Things, book 2)
By Anna Godbersen, read by Caitlin Davies
Published 2011 by Harper Audio

To see my review of book one, go here.

It's hard to believe that Cordelia and Letty have only been in New York a month; so much has happened to both girls that it seems like much longer. Now, Cordelia and Letty, along with new friend Astrid, are busy navigating the waters of high society in the city, while trying to achieve their dreams. And maybe looking for love while they're at it...

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I didn't think it was awesome or amazing, but I felt compelled to read the next book and find out what fate awaits these characters. So, when I saw the second audiobook available for download, I snatched it up. I definitely felt more interested in this one, perhaps because the plot is developing further and drawing closer to solving the mystery set up in book one - which is that one of these girls will be dead by 1930. I found myself zoning out less while listening to this one, which is definitely a good thing. I liked the slightly more complicated storylines developing and found myself more invested in the characters. I'm eager to see how things continue in the third book. Now, that's not to say that this is a perfect series - as with most young adult chick lit sort of books (which this is, just taking place in a different time period), the girls are not necessarily the strong young women one always hopes to encounter. Generally, these girls are valued because they're pretty and this book is no exception. Additionally, I sometimes have a hard time keeping them straight because they all seem to be described as looking exactly the same. It would be excellent if this book, and others like it, introduced some characters of color or some queer characters (the scene with Billie and Astrid not being a suitable substitute), but I think that's hoping for much more than I'm going to get. It would be fascinating to read a series set among an African-American community during this same time period. I may just have to seek one out. Though I find some elements of this series problematic, I also don't find those same elements that unusual. That being said, I still find myself enjoying the mystery of the series and wanting to know what happens next. I'm sure I'll be back for book three.

One additional note: I don't know why, but the narrator for this book is different than the narrator for book one and I must admit, I didn't enjoy this one as much. The narrator for book one, Emily Bauer, was bubbly with a sweet voice that suited the characters and the story. This narrator, Caitlin Davies, sounded very dreary and stoic for the majority of the time and it just didn't work for me. I wish they hadn't switched narrators.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Program: Unsolved Mysteries

I'm in the home stretch now for my Summer of Tween - just one program left! Then I get to start planning all the fantastic (not to be modest or anything) ideas I've been brewing in my head for fall! My penultimate program (thank you, Lemony Snicket) focused on Unsolved Mysteries. Here's what I did!

Only three stations this time and this program was heavily hands-on. I actually chose the theme specifically so I could do the crafts I chose and I don't even think the majority of the kids looked at the information I had set up on the tables to make the theme more prevalent. Anyway, our stations were:

Amelia Earhart - her disappearance is still unsolved and her story still captivates us. Unknowingly, I held my program on the 75th anniversary of the day they stopped searching for her. I put out a sheet with short biographical information about Amelia and her disappearance on the table, and the rest of the station was devoted to our craft: paper airplanes (OBVIOUSLY). Not to brag too much, but I am an excellent paper airplane builder. I chose 8 different models for the kids to try, ranging from very easy to pretty advanced. Of course, I set out books as well and the kids were free to try some of the other designs if they wanted; I just only guaranteed my abilities for the 8 models I'd built as examples. Many kids stayed at this station the majority of their time and a good percentage of them skipped over the easy models and went straight for the tough ones. Of course, this meant that my volunteers and I spent a good portion of the program "helping" the kids with the airplanes. Fine by me. They loved it. My first group actually didn't even try to fly them; they just seemed content to build them and then check out the other stations. The second group got a little out of hand with the flying of their planes, so I had to put an end to it. Next time, I will build in an opportunity to take our planes outside for test flights.

King Tut - there are many theories as to how King Tut really died and my informational sheet outlined some of them. The craft at this station was actually two-fold: decorating miniature sarcophagi and creating our own cartouche. I ordered a bunch of plain white small boxes (they sort of looked like matchboxes) and had half-sheets of construction paper for the kids to make their cartouche. I provided a hieroglyphic alphabet and made an example for them. They just decorated to their heart's content, though this was the least popular station of the program.

UFOs and Aliens - I have to admit I'm a skeptic, but I gathered a bunch of information on UFO sightings and alien encounters and put it together for the kids. Then I encouraged them to make their own UFOs. I had Styrofoam bowls to tape together and various craft supplies for the kids to decorate their spaceships with. This station was almost as popular as the paper airplanes and a number of kids were feverishly trying to finish their UFOs before I made them leave. Many of the kids made sure to include aliens on their spaceships.

I also put together some information on various other unsolved mysteries (Bigfoot, Stonehenge, Roanoke) and had a display of books out, but the kids didn't really bother with this bit. They were happy with the crafts and this was a relatively easy program to put together. I do recommend that you have people helping who are actually good at origami/paper airplanes - many kids needed help and my teens were not so great at it themselves. Overall, though, I think we had another successful program. One left and then a much-needed break!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (26)

No Bears
By Meg McKinlay, illustrated by Leila Rudge
Published 2011 by Walker Books
Just so you know, there are no bears in this story because Ruby is in charge and she does not like books with bears in them. Of course, anyone looking at the cover of this cute and funny book knows that Ruby just might be mistaken. This is a very fun book with many layers and references for kids to explore. They will love Ruby's attitude and enjoy identifying their favorite fairy tales throughout the story. Sweet illustrations and a very happy ending.

Bawk and Roll
By Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat
Published 2012 by Sterling Children's Books
You may have noticed that I have some favorite authors and illustrators - Santat has catapulted up my list since my first exposure to him - I just adore his style! This is a sequel to Chicken Dance, the tale of Elvis Poultry and his back-up chicks, Marge and Lola. I think I've read the first one, but it doesn't really matter - this is a fun tale of music and stage fright and chickens and the true meaning of friendship. The illustrations are fun and I think kids will get a laugh out of this.

The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas
By Tony Wilson, illustrated by Sue deGennaro
Published 2009 by Scholastic
This is a very fun retelling of "The Princess and the Pea" that I think kids will enjoy comparing to the original version. Prince Henrik needs to find a bride; his brother tells him he can discover a true princess if she's sensitive enough to sense a pea under a pile of mattresses. But after meeting his brother's wife, Henrik decides that she might be a little too sensitive. So he comes up with his own plan for finding the perfect wife for him. Very fun and a sweet story of finding your perfect match with gentle illustrations, I think this would be appreciated by a wide variety of readers.

By Mies van Hout
Published 2012 by Lemniscaat USA
A deceptively simple concept book, we learn about different emotions through a variety of fish. I was surprised by how much I liked this one - I generally find myself unimpressed with concept books (let's be honest, most of them are pretty much the same). But this one is very striking, both in its choice of emotions and its illustrations. Some of the different emotions may be too subtle for children to see the difference but this is a great book to try to teach those subtleties, as well as some synonyms. This is an excellent addition to concept books and I think it could even work in a storytime.

Chloe and the Lion
By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex
Published 2012 by Hyperion
Okay, so probably my one true children's book author/illustrator love is Adam Rex - he had me at Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and my adoration for him has just deepened (seriously, the amount of squealing and shouting that occurred when he tweeted me for the first time was probably completely absurd). I was absolutely dying to read this new picture book from him and collaborator Barnett - it's a picture book that grows out of the idea that the author and illustrator of the book don't agree on where the book should be going and the characters who are trapped in the middle. I'm happy to report that this book is an absolute delight - I actually wanted to run out and buy my own copy just so I could treasure it always. I laughed out loud a number of times and found the whole thing ridiculously charming. Now, if I ever meet Mr. Rex in real life, I'm sure I won't have anything clever or even intelligible to say, but I do adore his illustrations. This has made me really want to read the Brixton Brothers series, written by Barnett and illustrated by Rex. Completely in love with this title.

The Word Collector
By Sonja Wimmer
Published 2012 by Cuento de Luz
This is a good book for print awareness, as the words that Luna collects are in a variety of fonts and float all over the pages. However, this is a terrible book for younger readers as it's actually quite difficult to read the story, due to those words floating all over the pages. I don't really have much to say about this book otherwise - it's a simple story of Luna collecting her words and then the words running out, so she must release them all, which of course leads to more and more people discovering them. There are some beautiful words in this book, but I think it's too difficult to read to be thoroughly enjoyed.

East Dragon, West Dragon
By Robyn Eversole, illustrated by Scott Campbell
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I picked this one up and put it down before I actually read it all the way through (it's amazing that I would say that about a picture book; they usually take, at most, 15 minutes to read) - something about it just didn't appeal to me. I must admit that my initial feeling was correct - this book was not particularly interesting. Kids will pick it up simply because it's about dragons, but I think they might be disappointed. It does provide a nice lesson in compare and contrast, as well as teaching how legends are different in different parts of the world, but I don't think it will be what kids are expecting to find when they pick it up.

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
By Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published 2012 by Random House Children's Books
I'm sorry, y'all are probably sick of reading my reviews of non-fiction picture books but I just can't resist them. And this one is about PANDAS, perhaps the most adorable yet ultimately dangerous creature that exists (though I welcome challenges to this notion). This tells the story of Ruth Harkness, who takes up the quest of bringing a live panda to the United States after her husband dies. This book is full of information - did you know that even people in China thought pandas were just mythical creatures for a very long time? It's pretty amazing to read about all that Mrs. Harkness did to find the panda, especially since she was doing it in the 1930s. And I am convinced that Sweet can adapt her style to perfectly suit a story on any topic in the world - I'm amazed that this is the same illustrator as Balloons Over Broadway. Sweet has a true talent and this is a beautiful story that will surely appeal to many children - pandas continue to fascinate and confound us to this day.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Entwined

By Heather Dixon, read by Mandy Williams
Published 2011 by Random House Audio

Azalea is the oldest of twelve beautiful princesses who love to dance. But Azalea's life changes forever when her mother dies, leaving her feeling trapped, with only a mysterious magical realm her only chance of escape. At first, Azalea is enchanted by this underground world, and charmed by the mysterious Keeper. Soon, however, she begins to wonder if Keeper might have ulterior motives...

Ugh, this is another review that I really don't want to write. This book came on my radar when it was first published because I am a huge fan of fairy tale retellings (this being one of the "12 Dancing Princesses"), so when I saw the audiobook available for download, I snapped it up so I could get to reading it sooner. Unfortunately, this book did not work for me AT ALL. I'm not even sure I could give you a more complex plot summary than the one I managed to eke out up there because I was so dreadfully bored while listening to this. This is another one of those titles that I contemplated giving up on (which seems to be happening more frequently lately), but I stuck with it because I was desperately hoping it might get better. And there were a few moments where the humor injected into the otherwise dreary and plodding story made me giggle, always a pleasant surprise. But overall, this book reminded me of Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing, another young adult fantasy take on the "Dancing Princesses" tale, and that is not really a good thing. I found both books overly complicated and poorly paced, though Entwined does gain a bit of steam at the end. But the most I can say about either book is that it was boring - and that's never something you want to feel while reading. I understand that many people disagree with me about the Marillier book and I imagine the same is true for this one as well. This was a huge disappointment for me.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Such Wicked Intent

Such Wicked Intent (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, book 2)
By Kenneth Oppel
Expected publication August 21, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one. If you'd like to read my review of the first novel, go here.

The Frankenstein house is under a dark cloud. With the failing of the Elixir of Life and the subsequent death of Konrad, Victor, Elizabeth and Henry find themselves at a loss. But soon, the three friends discover something most unusual - a passage to the spirit world. And Konrad is there. Victor's quest to restore his brother to life knows no limits and when things take a dark turn, can he be made to stop in time?

I was absolutely thrilled to be able to get an ARC for this at Midwinter - the first book was my introduction to Oppel and I was completely blown away. The second book in his new series quickly became one of my most anticipated books of 2012. I don't know what I can say about this book that I didn't say about the first - it is just as wonderful and captivating. Victor is perhaps one of the most interesting character studies in YA literature and I think reading about him may make the Frankenstein story more accessible for today's teens (or maybe I'm just the only one who didn't like it in high school). Oppel is a master at keeping readers on their toes; many times while reading I thought I knew what direction the story would take, only to be proven wrong by Oppel's clever twisting of the plot. He just writes so smartly and lovely; I feel a need to go back and read everything he's ever written. Once again, I think the book really illuminates and expands the Frankenstein story, by delving deeper into Victor's background and the extraordinary circumstances that will eventually lead to the Frankenstein we know. Oppel also weaves in foreshadowing of events to come that the astute reader will enjoy stumbling upon. I love not just the idea of the spirit world as presented here, but also what it means to each character - for Victor, Henry, and Elizabeth all regard it differently. And, Oppel threw in a wonderful twist at the end that I thought fit the story perfectly. Again, I find myself eagerly anticipating the next book!

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: The Plant Hunters

The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth
By Anita Silvey
Published 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tropical illness, dangerous terrain, deadly animals - all the sorts of obstacles you might expect Indiana Jones to encounter. But the people in this book are adventurers of a different kind: they are on quests to discover and bring back plants. Yes, plants. Why would they risk their lives for such a seemingly ordinary thing? Find out!

This was among a bunch of advance reader's copies hanging out at my place of employment and it immediately caught my eye. For some reason, I find myself really drawn to children's non-fiction books lately and this, with its very appealing cover (even on the galley!), was no exception. However, I find it a bit difficult to do a proper review of this book, simply because of the way I read it. I didn't sit down and digest it all at once - I read it in occasional chunks over the course of a couple months. So, I find it difficult to remember much about the book. Still, I think it's great if for nothing else than that it introduces kids to an exciting new kind of adventurer, one who works in the name of science (well, also in the name of fame and glory, but mostly science...maybe). I had never heard of plant hunters before picking up this book and I was delighted to discover how much I didn't know (which sounds a bit strange, I know). This book is full of real photographs and artifacts from the hunters themselves and is told in an exciting, action-packed way. I think any kid that finds this book is sure to enjoy it.

Thanks to the publisher for providing one of my colleagues with an advance reader's copy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars
By Gary D. Schmidt, read by Joel Johnstone
Published 2007 by Scholastic

Holling Hoodhood is prepared for a rough seventh-grade year. He is convinced his teacher hates him and his father seems to be putting the weight of the entire future on Holling's shoulders as he talks about how Holling will someday inherit his architecture company. But it's 1967 and things are changing, especially for Holling.

I actually read Okay for Now at the end of last year because one of the librarians I worked with insisted it I read it immediately. Plus it was getting a lot of award buzz and I like to keep up with that. I really enjoyed it and when I realized it was the companion for this novel, I knew I wanted to read this book soon. I downloaded the audiobook and basically devoured it in a couple of days. My first thought upon finishing this book was, "Did Gary Schmidt have a really terrible father?" While Mr. Hoodhood is not nearly as horrible as Mr. Swieteck (from Okay for Now), neither man is going to be winning a "Father of the Year" award anytime soon. I know that family and gender dynamics were different in the 1960s but it just makes me wonder if Schmidt is writing his own experiences into the story. Of course, he probably isn't and he's just a very talented writer, using the terrible dads to help his main characters grow and learn. As I mentioned before, I tore through this audiobook - it was a very easy and enjoyable listen and flew by quickly. The book takes place over the course of an entire school year as Holling begins to discover who he is and who he might be. Holling was a very easy to relate to character who I really wanted to see succeed. Schmidt seems to have a knack for creating sympathetic young men (though, I've only read two of his books). I enjoyed listening to Holling's coming-of-age and I liked the historical aspect of the story - it does feel very much like it takes place in the 60s. There is just something extraordinarily well-done in Schmidt's novels - they feel authentic and engaging and I've enjoyed what I've read so far. I very much look forward to reading more by Schmidt. This book is highly recommended for fans of historical or realistic fiction, or kids looking for a funny book (there is a fair amount of humor in here).

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Hero

By Mike Lupica, read by Dan Bittner
Published 2012 by Penguin Audio

It starts just after his father, an American hero, dies - Zach Harriman begins to notice some strange changes. Like he's a lot stronger than he should be. And he can see and hear better. And a lot of people he's never met before suddenly seem very interested in him. When Zach finally learns the truth about his father, the changes begin to make sense...

I've been trying (here and there and with no real dedication thus far - too many books!) to read the Bluebonnet nominees (state book award here in Texas). When I saw the audiobook version of this title was available, I snatched it up (good thing because as soon as summer hit, all our Bluebonnets flew off the shelves). I've never read a Lupica book before - he usually writes sports fiction and, while I enjoy sports, I don't generally read fiction about them. The premise of this book sounded interesting to me, so I was happy to pick it up on my Bluebonnet mission (which I might never finish because some of them DO NOT interest me at all). I really wanted to like this book but, at most, I feel pretty ambivalent. In fact, it's been maybe two weeks since I finished listening to the book and I'm having a hard time remembering too much about it. Parts of the story are good - Zach's struggle to understand his new identity as well as integrate the new information about his father with what he remembers of him is interesting. And the action scenes are exciting and keep you on your toes - I never knew when the next one might pop up and how Zach would use his new abilities to get out of trouble. But, overall, this is not a book that's going to stick with me (obviously). It felt a bit uneven and not fully drawn out. Additionally, while I like heroes and villains who are not so clear-cut, the characters here almost felt a little too ambiguous to be meaningful in any way. I like superheroes; I just hoped for more from this book.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Program: Codes and Ciphers

The first program of July in my tween series was "Codes and Ciphers." Let me tell you, if I thought "Riddle Me This" was an easy, laid-back program, this was that times twenty. I don't even have that much to say about it because it was probably the most ridiculously simple yet still entertaining program I've done. Here's what I did.

I had four tables set up around the room with the afternoon's activities on them and one table with display books relevant to the topic. Of the four activity tables, one was different from the rest. The last table is where I set up the "craft" for the day: making cipher disks. Now, let me tell you, I don't think I'll EVER do that craft again. I went through 3 failed prototypes before the version I set upon the kiddos and even that one didn't work exactly as it should. The basic idea is two different size cardstock circles (one slightly larger than the other), each divided into 26 sections (my final version ended up having 27 sections). You poke a hole through the middles of the circles, write the alphabet along the edges, attach the two with a paper fastener, and voila! Cipher disk. Now you just spin the smaller circle around to create a new ciphered alphabet (i.e. line up "A" with "G" or what have you and it tells you how to replace all the other letters as well). It sounds like a simple thing but this caused the most frustration for me yet this summer. I wasn't satisfied with the final version because it is near impossible to poke a hole through the exact center of a small cardstock circle. If you don't get it in the exact center of both circles, the alphabets don't line up exactly, leading to cipher confusion. The kids didn't seem to complain about it, but it bothered me to no end.

The other three tables had messages in different kinds of codes and ciphers. Once decoded, the messages gave random trivia bits, but the kids didn't actually seem to care all that much about what they said; they just liked trying to decode them. The codes and ciphers I used were:

- the Caesar cipher: probably the oldest and simplest, this just involves shifting the letters of the alphabet a certain number of places to encode your message. For the program, I shifted 13 spots so "A" became "M".

- the keyword shift cipher: similar to the Caesar, this inserts a code word into the beginning of the ciphered alphabet. Our code word was stumped. So the alphabet looks like this:
You skip the letters used in the code word when filling in the rest of the alphabet.

- Morse code: this is pretty self-explanatory. I provided the Morse code alphabet and then the kids just had to find the letters to decode the message.

- the date shift cipher: to encode your message, write today's numerical date underneath it, repeating until you reach the end of your message.
722 1 2 722
Then, you move each letter the corresponding number of spaces, so the "L" would become "S", "I" would be "J", etc. To decode, you take the coded message, write the date underneath, and then shift each letter backwards that number of spaces.

- the Union Route cipher: this was probably the hardest one I put out for the kids because I first enciphered the message using the Caesar and then plugged it into the Union Route. The message appears as a block of letters:
A  B  C  D  E
F  G  H  I   J
K  L  M N O
P  Q  R  S  T
(The block might look different depending on how long your message is; you can add rows, but it should always have five columns.) The message is read by following this pattern: read up column 1, down column 2, up column 5, down column 4, and up column 3. So, for my program, the kids had to first follow the pattern and write out the message, then they had to use the Caesar cipher to decode what I'd written.

- the shopping list code: this is a tricky one if you don't know the secret. Your message is written into what looks like an ordinary shopping list. But, the number in front of each item tells you which letter you need to read the message. So, if your list starts with "4 tomatoes", your secret message begins with the letter "A".

- by the book: both parties must have the exact same edition of the same book (this was easy for me; I used one of our book club titles). The message is written in triplets of numbers (164-3-6); this is the key to decoding. The first number stands for the page number, the second for the line number, and the third for the word number. But, the code could be altered so the numbers stand for different things: paragraphs or letters, for example.

- Pigpen/Masonic cipher: apparently, the Freemasons came up with this to keep their rituals secret. It's a bit difficult to explain but the alphabet is written out in two 3x3 grids and two Xs. One grid and one X have dots in each space as well. Then the message is written using the symbol that corresponds to the space where the intended letter is found. You can see what it looks like here.

And that's it! I just let the kids work on decoding each message at their own pace, with plenty of help from my teen volunteers (and myself) when needed. They all worked diligently and quietly, some in groups and others individually. They probably could have stayed all afternoon if I had enough messages for them to decode! Have you tried a similar program?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (25)

The Great Sheep Shenanigans
By Peter Bently and Mei Matsuoka
Published 2012 by Andersen Press USA
A humorous retelling of "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing", kids are sure to delight in this picture book. With suitably adorable animals and a scheming wolf, this book charms its audience. With rhyming text for phonological awareness and some downright silly antics, children will love to see the wolf get what's coming to him in the end. Very fun.

I Wish I Could...Dance!
By Tiziana Bendall-Brunello, illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello
Published 2011 by QEB Publishing
I really don't think this book is all that wonderful, but I couldn't resist mentioning it. Little Penguin sees an advertisement for a dance at the zoo and he can't wait to attend! He asks the different animals to teach him their dances but Little Penguin is just not good at any of them. When the dance finally rolls around, what will Little Penguin do? Why, he'll dance his own way - breakdancing! Did you hear me?  A BREAKDANCING PENGUIN. That is all.

The High Street
By Alice Melvin
Published 2011 by Tate Publishing
This book caught my eye because it's a taller, slimmer picture book than most. It tells of Sally's adventures on the High Street as she runs errands. I like the layout - each building front opens up to show the inside. This is a great book for one-on-one reading - you can discuss the different things found in each store and talk about which would be your favorite to visit or a variety of other things. A very simply story but with lots of potential for exploration.

We March
By Shane W. Evans
Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
Another stunning picture book from Evans - this time telling the story of the March on Washington in 1963. Evans does a fantastic job of making the story simple enough for even the youngest readers to understand while not dumbing it down to the point of meaninglessness. His illustrations are striking yet again, and the result is a moving and powerful story that should find a place with other titles of African-American history. Evans is truly an author/illustrator to watch.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: Pieces of Georgia

Pieces of Georgia
By Jennifer Bryant
Published 2006 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Georgia is an artist, like her mother. But Georgia's mother has died and her art makes her father uncomfortable. A few days after her 13th birthday, Georgia receives a strange gift - a year's free admission to the Brandywine River Museum - and soon, her life begins to change.

As I've mentioned before, I've read nearly all of Bryant's novels (actually, I think having completed this one will mean I've read all her novels in verse). Bryant uses the verse so effectively with the stories she chooses to tell and this was no exception. Georgia is a complicated and interesting character, a girl who I couldn't help but root for and empathize with. She has dreams but she is afraid of them. Bryant does an exceptional job of perfectly capturing the complicated emotions that young teens are just becoming aware of. Her prose is evocative and perfectly descriptive - this is a book about, among other things, art, and Bryant spends a great deal of time describing works of art, drawings, sketches, and paintings. Her prose choices made it very easy for me to imagine the pictures she described. I think the story about Georgia discovering art and her mother would have been strong enough on its own, though there is an additional story line about Georgia's best friend. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel but, as I said, I think the book would have been fine without it as well. Bryant has done a fantastic job of mastering the novel in verse format and I'll continue to read any that she writes, as well as recommend them to my readers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

It's time for another edition of family storytime!

Welcome, introductions and reminders - this week we talked about clothing and getting dressed!

Opening: Open Shut Them - at least they seem to like the "apart, together" part quite a bit.

Book: Zoe Gets Ready by Bethanie Deeney Murguia - this is a new book that just recently came through processing and was immediately set aside for storytime this week. Saturdays are the only days that Zoe gets to decide what to wear and she takes it very seriously. She thinks about what kind of day it will be because, after all, she needs to dress accordingly. The kids loved the end of this one and the illustrations are very sweet.

Song: "Bluegrass Jamboree" by Hap Palmer - I had a dad participate! He was dancing along and I was very pleased! Parents for Saturday morning storytimes have not seemed as willing to participate and it makes me sad, but I had a pretty good crowd this time around.

Book: Ducks Don't Wear Socks by John Nedwidek, illustrated by Lee White - I had never seen this book before planning for storytime and we even have a professional copy. I really need to work on my voices - all the ones I do just make me throat sore and I really needed a duck voice for this story to be even better. However, the kids loved seeing what crazy thing Duck would wear next.

Big Book: Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett - this is one of my favorite books of all-time so of course I was going to share it during storytime. I was thrilled that we had a big book version and the kids actually all went "ooooh" like they were watching fireworks when I pulled out the book. They loved it!

Song: "What are You Wearing?" by Hap Palmer - I had thought of doing the simple "If You're Wearing Red Today..." for storytime but then I found this song and thought it was just more fun. The aforementioned dad actually accused his kids of cheating when they did the actions for articles of clothing that they weren't wearing, but most kids just did everything even if they weren't wearing a sweater or a dress or whatever.

Book: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems - another one of my favorite books, I worried it might be a little too long for storytime but actually it worked pretty well. The kids seemed very involved in the story and thought the mole rats were funny.

Book: Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Ben Cort - I really wanted to do Aliens Love Underpants but all our copies were checked out, so I subbed this one instead. Really, I just needed an underpants book because kids think they're hilarious. They laughed a lot during this one.

Closing: Wave Goodbye by Rob Reid - how do I still not have this memorized? Librarian fail, but I am working on it, I promise!

And that was my clothing storytime! What books would you choose?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Ringside, 1925

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial
By Jennifer Fisher Bryant
Published 2008 by Random House Children's Books

It's 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee and the residents of town are about to be witness to one of the most notorious trials of the century - the Scopes trial. This novel in verse explores how the unfolding events affect a number of townspeople.

I had already read two of Bryant's books when I picked this one up, once again reading verse novels because they are guaranteed to be quick reads. I have really enjoyed Bryant's other work so I was eager to read this one. It did not disappoint. Bryant tackles a sensitive topic with interesting and well-written poetry and populates her novel with a variety of fascinating characters, each with their own distinct voice. I loved reading about all of them and seeing how the trial affected each - from the subtle to the more extreme. The book was, indeed, a quick read, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying. This is a slice of life novel on early 20th-century America, but it still feels timely. I found a few passages particularly powerful and meaningful; I think Bryant captures the struggle to understand those with beliefs different than our own quite well. I really enjoyed this one; I hope she continues to write.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: Between You & Me

Between You & Me
By Marisa Calin
Expected publication August 7, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA

WARNING: There may be spoilers ahead.

Phyre feels an almost instant connection with her new theater teacher, Mia. As the school year passes, Phyre begins to keep things from you and you worry about this new glitch in your friendship. Told in screenplay format with the reader being addressed as "you," Phyre's best friend, this book studies the intensity of relationships.

My boss brought this galley back from the Texas Library Association conference and I picked it up, intrigued by the format and narration. I wasn't really sure what to expect (and I'll be honest, I totally rolled my eyes at the idea of someone legitimately named "Phyre"), but I figured I'd give it a shot to see how the story played out and because GLBT lit is always welcome. The book is compelling, most likely due to how the story is told. It feels immediate and involving because the reader is part of the story - often, Phyre is speaking directly to you. However, the story didn't really grip me like I expected it to. I had a hard time believing Phyre's own thoughts and feelings about the situation - it seemed obvious that she was grossly misreading everything and, to me, even a melodramatic and passionate high school student would likely not be as mistaken about the nature of their relationship as Phyre was. While the format of the novel makes it more immediate and engaging, I don't feel as though I really know the characters. There is not very much background information given abour Phyre or her best friend, just bits and pieces that are recounted throughout the story. This made it a little bit difficult to get as involved in the story as I could have. Additionally, I found it all very predictable. From the moment Mia arrives, it's easy to see what Phyre is going to think of her and what "you" are going to think of her. It's also abundantly clear that the relationship between Phyre and "you" is much more ambiguous than initially indicated. Finally, the copy on the back of my ARC made the ending sound far more dramatic than it actually plays out. Overall, this is not a bad read, but it could have been stronger and I don't find it as focused on the GLBT aspect as I would have imagined.

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: The Eternal Ones

The Eternal Ones (Eternal Ones, book 1)
By Kirsten Miller, read by Emma Galvin
Published 2010 by Penguin Audio

Haven Moore has started having the visions again - the ones of a handsome young man named Ethan, a life in New York, and a fiery tragedy. But most people in her small Southern town just believe she's crazy. Haven knows there is more to the story, so she sets out for New York and the famous Iain Morrow, who looks uncannily like the Ethan of her visions. What she finds there will rock her world forever.

Okay, so I keep a list of books I need to review for the blog (because I don't usually have time to blog about a book as soon as I finish it). I keep them in the order that I read them, which makes it easier for me to manage my Goodreads account. When I saw that this title was next on the list for review, my first thought was, "Ugh, I really don't want to write that review." So I put it off for a little while. But I need to get it done eventually, so perhaps I should just suck it up and get it over with. I don't want to write this review because this book made me mad. And I'm frustrated about this because, at first, I was enjoying it. This book starts off interestingly enough - I appreciated the small town vibe that Miller successfully creates and the premise is different enough to hold my interest (reincarnation, eternal love, etc.). But all too soon, this book goes off the rails. There isn't a nice way to say this but Haven is the dumbest protagonist I have read in recent history. She may be the dumbest protagonist I've ever read; I just can't remember all of them. But I would go so far as to say that she is worse than Bella Swan - and that, my friends, is saying something. Haven has no self-confidence and shrinks in the presence of anyone she perceives to have more authority than her - which is basically everyone. I suppose I could understand this, given her background and all, but it doesn't make it any less annoying. However, the real character trait that I couldn't forgive here is her incredible, incredible (yes, it bears repeating) naivete. Haven seems to function under the premise that "whoever I'm talking to is the most trustworthy person I know" because, seriously, she will believe everything anyone tells her as long as she is talking to them at that moment in time. And if the next person she talks to says something that contradicts the information she has just received from the last person she talked to, she will readily believe the new information must be true, with no questions or qualms. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY?!?! Not only does that not make any sense (she is not characterized as having any mental or emotional impairment), but it kinda makes me hate her. That being said, I stuck with the book until the bitter end, if only to see how much more ridiculous it could get. I feel curious enough to pick up the next book, but I'm certainly not in any rush (and, honestly, may never actually get around to it). I don't recommend this book.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Of Giants and Ice

Of Giants and Ice (The Ever Afters, book 1)
By Shelby Bach
Expected publication July 24, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Rory knows about not fitting in: her parents are two of the most famous people on the planet and she's had to move a number of times. But when she's invited to attend the Ever After School, she finally learns that there is something very special about her: she has a destiny as a Character. With her new friends Lena and Chase (well, Chase is more of a frenemy), Rory will have to learn what being a Character means and discover the dark secrets of the Snow Queen.

I feel like I say the same things over and over on this here blog: mostly because I read a lot of books that are similar. And I read all these similarly themed books because they are things that I like. So I'll repeat myself again and say that I love fairy tales and retellings. That means I was pretty excited for this book, though it sounded quite similar to Storybound. My feelings for this book are a bit less than enthusiastic. For me, this was a very slow read. I feel like Bach gets mired down in details that don't necessarily all help to drive the plot forward (although maybe they will be important in later volumes - this being the start of a series, of course). I had a hard time connecting with Rory, but I think kids might find it easier. She is all too frequently the new kid and she is shy, so she has a hard time making friends. Her parents are divorced and there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with in terms of that problem. And, ultimately, she wants to feel like she's special because of who she is, not who her parents are. These are all things that I think middle-grade readers can easily connect with. The action takes some time to get going, though. After an initial battle with a dragon, there is a very long "research" and exposition phase of the novel before we get back to the Tales and the excitement they involve. I wonder if kids will have patience for this because that section without action really seemed to drag for me. However, once Rory and company get back to the Tales, the book moves forward at a much more engaging pace and the ending certainly has me wanting to read the next installment. Overall, I think the book could have been trimmed more for a better balance of exposition and plot, but it's still an enjoyable read with a definite cliffhanger ending.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (24)

How to Babysit a Grandpa
By Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish
Published 2012 by Random House Children's Books
This is another excellent book celebrating family and the different ways we spend time with them. This is sure to appeal to kids as it's written as an instruction manual for taking care of one's grandfather. The illustrations are vibrant and fun and the book itself is very humorous. I enjoyed this immensely.

Crocodile Tears
By Alex Beard
Published 2012 by Abrams
This is a very different sort of folktale - Black Rhino wants to know why Crocodile is crying so he sets off to find the answer. Each animal he asks believes Crocodile weeps because soon he may no longer be able to see them, as each animal is endangered. The truth of Crocodile's tears is, of course, much simpler than that. I found this book very unique in its environmental message. I'm not sure how appealing it is to children, though - it's quite wordy and I'm not sure they'll get the point.

Boy + Bot
By Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Published 2012 by Random House Children's Books
One day, a boy and a robot meet. They have fun together. But when Bot accidentally gets switched off, Boy begins to worry. He must find a way to fix his new friend! This is a very sweet story about friendship that I think will greatly appeal to children - most kids think robots are basically the coolest things ever. Additionally, I think Yaccarino has an incredibly child-friendly style and these illustrations perfectly suit the story. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie
By Laurie A. Jacobs, illustrated by Anne Jewett
Published 2012 by Flashlight Press
Yet another sweet story about family and how we enjoy them - this time we meet Grandma Tillie and all the sides to her personality that she lets shine whenever she babysits. Kids will love this one - what crazy thing will Grandma Tillie be next? Kids will also enjoy seeing how their grandma compares to Tillie and will recognize that each part of Grandma Tillie has a time and a place, especially the Grandma Tillie we see at bedtime. Fun illustrations complete the story.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review: Pearl Verses the World

Pearl Verses the World
By Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter
Published 2011 by Candlewick

Pearl likes to write poetry, even though she doesn't believe it needs to rhyme (much to her teacher's dismay). Pearl also likes that her family is made of three - her grandmother, mother and herself. But now, there are times when Pearl's grandmother doesn't seem to recognize her and her mother always seems worn out and tired. Pearl might soon need her poetry more than ever.

I've said it before: I'm a sucker for a verse novel. I picked a few up recently simply because I knew they'd be quick reads (I have a serious book problem - I get books, I want more books - ALL THE TIME). I think I'd heard a bit about this one before, so I was happy to take a little time and read it. Despite its small size, this is a book with some power, telling the story of Pearl and her beloved grandmother's terrible illness and eventual death. Pearl uses her poetry to express herself and find her voice, though she may clash heads with her stubborn English teacher. The novel tells a relatively straightforward story, but it's written beautifully and simply. I think this book would be a great comfort to kids who've experienced the death or illness of a loved one and may offer ideas for channelling one's grief. I thought Pearl was a delightful narrator, with just the right amount of spunk. This is a short but engaging read that I'm glad to have picked up. Also, the double meaning in that title: that's clever right there.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly
By Susan Dennard
Expected publication July 24, 2012 by HarperTeen

Eleanor is of the Philadelphia Fitts, which means a lot to her mother but practically means very little to her. After all, their money is almost gone, her father has been dead for a number of years, and now it appears as though her beloved brother is missing. But that's not the biggest problem facing the Philadelphia Fitts (though, in 1876, an eligible daughter could certainly bring some wealth to the family by marrying a suitably rich young man) - no, the biggest problem would be the Dead, as in "rising from their graves and walking amongst the living" dead.

I may or may not have mentioned it before, but I am a zombie fanatic (is that even a real thing?). If you tell me there are zombies in it, I'm probably going to read it, regardless of any other details. So, when I read the blurb for this one at Midwinter, I basically stopped after the mention of zombies and put a copy in my tote bag. I am also a fan of historical fiction, so the addition of zombies could only make it better, right? Well, not exactly.

I just want to get it out of the way: this does not read like a historical fiction novel. There is very little to really indicate that this is taking place in 1876 - I mean, aside from the Exhibition taking place in Philadelphia. Sure, there are some details that fit the time period: the myriad descriptions of Eleanor's outfits, her surprise at meeting a Chinese woman, her mother's obsession with the Fitt societal standing, etc. But for all the details, it doesn't really add up to a sense or evocation of that particular time period. To me, this book could easily have been taking place in any number of time periods, or locations for that matter. So, the book is not solidly grounded in a sense of time or place - does that make it any less enjoyable?

Happily, the answer is, more or less, no. I found this book surprising and funny, with a touch of melodrama that seemed just right for the story. Eleanor may not act consistently like a 19th-century young lady, but she makes for a pretty impassioned heroine who is very easy to believe in. I lament that the Dead are not really the focus of the book, but they make several gruesome appearances, enough to mostly satisfy the promise of zombies. Thankfully, the Spirit-Hunters, who take up most of the Dead's page time, are a very fascinating group that I was eager to know more about. Dennard has created an interesting history for this group and I'm excited to read their further adventures. The romantic entanglements here are in no way surprising or unexpected, but I still found them sweet. Overall, this was an enjoyable book and apparently the first in a series, so I'll be looking forward to the next and hoping it has more zombies!

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, book 2)
By Patrick Ness, read by Angela Dawe and Nick Podehl
Published 2010 by Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

WARNING: There may be spoilers for book one this review. If you'd like to read my review of the first title, go here.

Todd and Viola have made it out of the forest, but they don't find the safe town they imagined. Instead, it seems the danger has followed them and soon, they find themselves torn apart by Mayor Prentiss. Soon, Viola's other ships will land, and this fact launches the start of a war between The Ask and The Answer. Can Todd and Viola save each other again?

OMG, these books. These are DIFFICULT books. I just want to say that again. There are a lot of horrible/trigger-y things going on and these books are intense and unrelenting. However, I wouldn't change them at all. Much of my praise for the first book is carried over to this second entry, though I will admit I had a hard time getting into it at first. I almost think these books need to be all read together, in a binge weekend so that one can stay completely absorbed in this incredible and disturbing landscape. I should have started the third as soon as I finished the second, but I didn't, so it will probably be the same slow start for me as this was. But I digress. In this second entry, Ness tears our two main characters apart, forcing us to watch them struggle independently while trying desperately to be reunited. I really liked the chance to hear Viola's own voice this time around - she obviously has a very different perspective on things than Todd and provides an excellent contrast to him. Additionally, Ness continues to provide greater background information in this book, now relating the story of the Answer, a resistance movement mostly composed of women. I liked the parallel storylines that develop between the re-emergence of the Answer and Mayor Prentiss' response, the Ask. Additionally, Ness continues to develop his characters in complex ways - both Todd and Viola spend a good deal of the novel in angst, torn on what decisions to make and how best to survive with as much of themselves in tact. This book is easily as complicated and twisting as the first and I think this is one of the strongest series I've read recently. Once again, the audio version was incredibly well-done, both narrators easily able to populate the strange and horrible world that Ness has created. I absolutely cannot wait to read (well, listen to) the final book in the series; I think Ness is an incredibly gifted author and I look forward to future books from him.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: Spark

Spark (Sky Chasers, book 2)
By Amy Kathleen Ryan
Expected publication July 17, 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin

WARNING: This is the second book in a series; as a result, there will be spoilers for book one. If you'd like to read my review of the first book, go here.

Kieran, Waverly and Seth's lives are radically different because of the experiences they've undergone aboard the Empyrean - in fact, things will never be the same among the three of them. But that doesn't stop them from having a common goal: catch up to the New Horizon and rescue their parents. But, you know what they say about the best laid plans...

So, if you read my previous review, you'll know that, while I enjoyed the first book, I didn't feel overwhelmed with desire to read the second. However, while I was at Midwinter, I went to a publisher preview and they mentioned that the second book (this one) would be coming out this summer. And I became excited and overwhelmed with desire to read it NOW. Sadly, they did not have any ARCs at the booth (I stopped by after the preview), but a lovely representative (I can't remember her name) took my information and promised to send me a copy if she could. And she did! I was thrilled when the book arrived in my mailbox.

I think the first book was one that stuck with me long after reading, so, even though I didn't feel compelled to read the second immediately after finishing the first, I remembered how much I enjoyed it and was excited to discover the second would be out not terribly long after. I started the book with great anticipation: would I be as excited the whole way through?

I have to admit that this started much more slowly for me. I didn't become completely engrossed. And that stayed pretty much the same the whole way through. This book is no less exciting than the first novel but, I guess, it lost some of its magic for me. Don't get me wrong: this is still a very complex and interesting read, with a well-developed and unqiue backstory and characters that are complex, frustrating and lovable. But, for me, the compulsion to keep reading just wasn't there. I wanted to be completely sucked into the battle between the Empyrean and the New Horizon but I just wasn't. I will definitely still plan on reading the next book because I just have to know how this dreadful situation is going to be resolved. And I do enjoy the direction that Ryan has taken some of the characters, creating deeper storylines with more difficult emotions and actions. But for other characters, I didn't totally believe in the path she had chosen for them.

Overall, this was a decent read, but not as strong as the first entry in the series. I hope things pick up in the next book, but I still think this is a great series to recommend to sci-fi fans.

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: The Serpent's Shadow

The Serpent's Shadow (Kane Chronicles, book 3)
By Rick Riordan
Published 2012 by Hyperion Books for Children

WARNING: There may be spoilers for the first two books in this review. To see my reviews of the previous volumes, go here and here.

Carter and Sadie Kane have finally reached their destiny. They have just a few short days to stop Apophis from devouring the world and ending life as they know it. Of course, they also have to deal with magic-wielding toddlers and some very confusing love lives. Nothing is going to be easy for the Kane siblings...

I think that this series has gotten better with each book. I stated in one of my earlier reviews that I think Riordan's strong suit is characterization and I stand by that. Even though there is a seemingly relentless pace and insane amount of action in this third (and allegedly final) volume of the series, Riordan is still able to provide deeper characterizations throughout the book. I also mentioned that I felt satisfied knowing there would only be three titles in this series. Well, after finishing this book, that isn't true anymore. I feel connected to these characters and I want to go on more adventures with them. I want to spend more time listening to Sadie gripe about her romantic woes and to Carter struggling to find his place as a leader. Additionally, this book left a lot of loose ends. It would be very, very easy for Riordan to return to this series, perhaps launching a spin-off, as he did for Percy Jackson. While some plot developments were very easy to spot ahead of time (I'm thinking mainly of Walt here), Riordan's strong characters and engrossing action kept me involved, no matter how much I figured out early. I am thrilled that Riordan has found success by producing the books he does - books that introduce sympathetic characters with complex emotions and situations, that teach mythology in an exciting and action-packed way, and that connect with readers in very visceral ways. I can easily see myself eagerly awaiting each new book that Riordan writes and I am not ashamed to admit that. I sincerely hope that he revisits the world of Egyptian mythology in the future; these characters have become some of my favorites.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Program: Detective Training

Welcome to the third installment of my Tween Summer Program series. As I mentioned in previous posts, I tried to make my programming match the Summer Reading Club there. So, what better way to "Get a Clue" than by hosting some detective training?

My library has done similar detective/CSI type programming a lot, and some of it relatively recently. I had to try to think of a way to make it new and interesting, especially since some of the kids coming to my program would probably have attended those other programs. I had thought about doing a murder mystery in the library and looked into some of the kits you can purchase as well as some things other libraries had done. So I decided to combine the two - solve a mystery in the library by using forensic evidence!

I thought murder was a bit extreme, so our mystery was theft - specifically, the theft of the summer reading prizes! I asked (okay, strong-armed) the entire children's department into being suspects of the crime. I gathered all my evidence beforehand (because, let's face it, I can't have the entire children's department stop what they're doing to participate in my program) and set up stations for the kids to work through.

The first station provided short suspect bios (with embarassing photos of staff) and their alibis. Kids were encouraged to stop at this table first, both to pick up a handy sheet to keep track of their clues and to familiarize themselves with the suspects. Then they were free to move about the other stations in any order they chose.

I had a station set up with fingerprint evidence and handwriting analysis - a ransom note was left on the scene. For each piece of evidence, I presented what had been found at the scene and then a sample from each suspect. The kids were supposed to compare the samples with the evidence found and decide who they suspected left each piece of evidence.

The next station was bite mark evidence. A chocolate bar had been found with some bite marks left in it, so, once again, kids compared these to the samples I had gathered from the staff (I simply had them bite into two triangular pieces of styrofoam, which left behind an impression of their teeth). I also put out more pieces of styrofoam for the kids to try making their own bite impressions but very few of them tried it.

The next station held mystery evidence bags. These were sealed paper bags, each containing a mystery item found near the scene of the crime. The kids could only use their sense of touch to determine what the items were and then had to use their deductive powers to figure out which item had a connection to a suspect.

The last station didn't really have anything to do with the crime; I just wanted an excuse to make fake blood. So I did. I put it in little dropper bottles (like contact lens solution) and then set up a table where the kids could try dropping the blood from different heights or onto different surfaces (I put out pieces of cardboard, and the table was covered in butcher paper) to see the difference in spatter. Surprisingly, this was not a popular station and the fake blood did not seem to react differently in any of the conditions I tried (which may be why it wasn't very popular).

So, seeing that the kids were not that interested in the fake blood and seemed to be moving fairly quickly through the other stations (the one that took the longest had the evidence bags), I had to think on my feet. Luckily, when I am brainstorming about a program, I usually end up fnding more ideas than I think I can feasible use in a 45-minute/hour long program. It had to be something that didn't require any additional supplies and should still be relevant to the program. Voila! The observation game! I roped two of my teen volunteers and explained to them how it worked and then put them in charge of explaining it to the kids. It's a very simple game - kids work in pairs and take turns altering aspects of their appearance while their partner's back is turned. Then, their partner has to try to determine what has changed. The first group of kids got really into this - they played a number of times and came up with some very sneaky changes to try to stump their partners. The second group didn't seem as interested and most of them spread out on the floor, working on the mystery word search I had put out, or the handwriting quiz, or reading the books I had set on display.

When the program ended, I called all the kids together and had them vote (by a show of hands) on the guilty party. They did pretty well - I think it was relatively easy since one suspect had two pieces of incriminating evidence and two other suspects each had one - but some of them remained stumped. Those who deduced correctly rejoiced loudly, of course, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

What would you have done differently?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (23)

Zoo Ah-Choooo
By Peter Mandel, illustrated by Elwood Smith
Published 2012 by Holiday House
This would be a fun storytime book - one typical day at the zoo turns riotous when a sneeze is passed around from animal to animal. The kids would have a blast acting out the different animal sneezes and would love the ending as well - is it going to start all over again with a yawn (which is contagious as well)? Definitely would be a popular interactive title.

I'll Save You Bobo!
By Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I confess, I know that everyone loved the first book, but I haven't read it. I picked this one up because it was awaiting processing on the "New Book" cart. It's a cute little story, but I don't really get all the fuss. I think I'm actually on Earl's side. Does that make me a bad guy?

African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways
By Avis Harley, photographs by Deborah Noyes
Published 2009 by Candlewick Press
I wasn't actually that excited about picking up this book and intended to just skim through it, but it actually managed to catch my eye on the first page. The poems are interesting and the photos are gorgeous. It's full of great vocabulary and includes excellent back matter on both creating acrostics and the animals described in the poems. This was a surprising favorite for me.

At the Boardwalk
By Kelly Ramsdell Fineman, illustrated by Monica Armino
Published 2012 by Tiger Tales Books
Another book that I planned on skimming through, this ended up making me feel the kind of nostalgia you can only feel for places you've never really been. Though we have a "pier" in Maine and I went often as a child, it wasn't really like the boardwalk you think of when you hear that word. This book makes me wish I'd grown up on the ocean side with a real boardwalk that has all the kinds of things mentioned in this book. I like the illustrations, too - they are fun and evoke the spirit of that mythical (at least for me) boardwalk.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: The Sky Is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere
By Jandy Nelson, read by Julia Whelan
Published 2010 by Brilliance Audio

Lennie doesn't know how to be the star of her own life. For the first 17 years, she has lived as the "companion pony" to her brilliant and amazing sister, Bailey. Now, though, Bailey is dead and Lennie has to learn what it really means to be Lennie without Bailey. And when Lennie finds herself in the middle of a love triangle involving hot new-to-town Joe and Toby, Bailey's boyfriend, finding herself gets even more complicated.

This book has been on my radar because I don't think there is enough written about sibling loss, fiction or non-fiction. Having dealt with this particular brand of grief, I can tell you that it is unlike any other kind. Reading the synopsis of this book certainly brought it to my attention, but of course, I didn't have time to read it when it was new. I listened to the audiobook recently and was very much looking forward to it. However, after finishing it and reading some reviews, I'm a little sad I missed the print version - most of the reviews I've read have called it a gorgeous package and I can imagine it might be. However, listening instead of reading didn't dilute all the pleasure associated with this novel - this is still an absolutely gorgeous and engaging read. Nelson's prose is luminous and beautiful and basically every cheesy word I can think of. Her characters are also wonderful - realistic and raw, heartbreaking and joyful. The story is told in such a believable and interesting way - the inclusion of Lennie's notes is perfect, a perfect expression of her grief. And the love triangle is also a very realistic and beautifully rendered plot point - I found myself as confused as Lennie, trying to sort out her feelings as well as my own for both the boys that filled different parts of her broken soul. At times, Lennie frustrated me to no end, making choices that I didn't agree with and saying things that I didn't think she should say. But that is part of the beauty of this novel - I was right there in it, completely absorbed while I listened. I loved pretty much everything about this book - although, there were a number of times during the audio version when the narrator whispered and it was very difficult to hear. But, overall, this book is highly recommended, to all fans of contemporary realistic fiction and those looking for grief stories similar to their own.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: Holding On to Zoe

Holding On to Zoe
By George Ella Lyon
Expected publication July 17, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Everyone tells her that there is no baby, that Jules had an ectopic pregnancy. But can't they all see that Zoe is right here? Jules cares for Zoe and works to make a new life for the two of them, but there is something just at the edge of her understanding that doesn't feel right.

This was a book I picked up on a whim at ALA - it sounded psychological and complicated so I figured I'd give it a shot. This is a quick read - a little under 200 pages - so I didn't have to worry about spending a lot of time with the book. Beyond that, however, this book was underwhelming. I kept expecting it to surprise me at any moment, but it just never did. There isn't a whole lot I can talk about without spoiling the book for anyone who might want to read it, but I expected more. I can think of a number of more affecting books about similar topics that I would recommend more readily than this one. It was not nearly as compelling or as psychologically complex as I expected. Since I don't want to ruin it for anyone, I can't think of much more to say. I will add that I think this is a horrible cover - it gives the completely wrong impression about the book. To me, this cover reads like some sort of sci-fi novel, which this book is definitely not. Overall, this was not the book I hoped it would be.

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: The Loners

The Loners (Quarantine, book 1)
By Lex Thomas
Expected publication July 10, 2012 by EgmontUSA

David Thorpe was considering skipping the first day of school this year until he remembered that it was his younger brother's first day of high school. But before the day is over, David will wish he had stayed home. An explosion rocks McKinley High and before David's own eyes, a teacher dies. Soon, all the teachers will be dead and the students will be trapped inside, quarantined.

So, I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. It's very much riding the wave of dystopian YA fiction. But, then I read the author bio, where I discovered this is a pen name for two people, both of whom love B-horror films, much like me. I mean, I guess I should have figured it out sooner, considering how absolutely low-budget horror flick this premise is - the majority of the book takes place a year after the explosion. A year in which the kids have been quarantined and left to fend for themselves, relying on biweekly food drops from the government and anxiously awaiting their personal "graduation day": the day the virus leaves their body and they must be escorted to the outside before the other kids infect them and they die (like all the adults at the school did in the initial aftermath of the explosion). I mean, really? The government completely abandons like 1,000 teenagers to fend for themselves for over a year? It doesn't seem very likely. However, if one can just accept the completely ludicrous premise, this book is actually quite good. I don't necessarily think it's entering unfamiliar territory - left to their own devices, the high school cliques become gangs that fight each other, often to the death, over food and supplies. The teens engage in all sorts of behavior traditionally frowned upon - one kid begins to make moonshine and soon they are all imbibing on occasion, some other kids take refuge in the chemicals of the science labs, and a good percentage of the kids are having sex (one gang, after all, is The Sluts). I don't really think this is a new or revolutionary concept. However, this book goes to some dark places and I find that admirable. Some of the stuff in this book is just plain disturbing, yet the authors never shy away from depicting the horrors this situation hath wrought. Additionally, this book is about more than just the dystopic society the kids find themselves unfortunate members of - in fact, the most compelling part of this book for me was the relationship between David and Will. I know I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again - the sibling relationship is rife with material for authors to mine. I was eager to see how the relationship between the brothers would survive this unbelievable circumstance they found themselves a part of and, in this, the authors don't disappoint. I had not realized this book was the first in a series when I picked it up, but it certainly ends on a cliffhanger, so I expect I'll be picking up the next book, if only to see how dark this world will continue to be. This book will definitely by enjoyed by fans of dystopian lit.

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

See? I'm getting better about it! My second family storytime of the summer is below.

Welcome, introductions and reminders - this week we were talking about farms and farm animals, guaranteed fun at a storytime.

Opening: Open Shut Them - this rhyme is slowly becoming the bane of my existence. Anyone have suggestions for a replacement?

Book: Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier - I had never seen this book before so I was happy to discover it when looking over the books staff had pulled for storytimes this week. This is an extremely enjoyable story about a cow who loves nothing more than lying in wait to scare the mail carrier. I thought this book was fun and funny, but the kids didn't seem to like it as much. It might work better one on one, when you can talk about all of Millie's hiding places together.

Song: "Old McDonald" - well, this was an experiment for me and not a very successful one. I decided to sing a cappella, which is fine, though my voice is horrible. But I had wanted the kids to be able to give some input on the animals. Then I decided that would be too chaotic, so I thought I'd pull out some puppets and have the kids guess which animal was coming next before I pulled them out. It made the rhythm of the song strange and we only had four suitable farm animal puppets, so I would definitely figure out something better for next time.

Book: Pigs to the Rescue by John Himmelman - another one I wasn't familiar with until I started looking for more interesting farm books in preparation for storytime. The kids seemed to like this one better; I had them tell me what the pigs were doing on each spread that said, "PIGS TO THE RESCUE!" This book is actually sort of a sequel to Chickens to the Rescue but I had already picked a chicken book (which I didn't end up using), so I went with the pig one. Very fun book.

Flannel: Oh Dear by Rod Campbell - this is a simple but fun flannel about a little boy who is sent to gather eggs on his grandmother's farm. But he searches in all the wrong places. It's fun to have the kids guess what kind of animal lives in each different enclosure. I also had them make the corresponding noises after we lifted the flap to discover what animal lived there. Beforehand, I had wondered what noise a bunny makes and my boss advised me to just ask the kids and see what they said. The loudest answer was "Hop! Hop!" I suppose that works.

Song: "Bluegrass Jamboree" by Hap Palmer - like I said, I wanted to switch it up from Jim McGill for a little while and they definitely needed to get some wiggles out by this point in the storytime. This seems to be an equally popular active song and dance, so I'll be keeping this one for a while. Plus, I thought it went especially well with this week's theme.

Book: Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton - originally, I had wanted to end with this one because it's really more of a bedtime story than a farm story but then I changed my mind (again). I still wanted to include this one, though, because I have long loved it and think it gets overshadowed by Splat the Cat (not that there is anything wrong with Splat - I'm a big fan, too). I had the kids help me count the sheep at the end.

Book: Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas - once again, I couldn't help but incorporate a Jan Thomas book into storytime, because this one has cows and a chicken. The only problem I've encountered with these books is that, if I use the actual book, the kids crowd around to try to see the pages instead of staying where they are and just doing the actions. But they of course love getting up and acting out the motions, so maybe I'll figure out some alternative.

Closing: "Wave Goodbye" by Rob Reid - I think the waving of derrieres is getting overshadowed by the belly-waving, but it's still fun for all involved.

And that was farm family storytime! What would you do differently?