Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Virals

Virals (Virals, book 1)
By Kathy Reichs, read by Cristin Millioti
Published 2010 by Penguin Audio

Tory Brennan is the niece of famous Temperance Brennan, a renowned anthropologist. She's also kind of a loner. She lives on an island with her dad, a scientist who she has only known for a short while, and a few other kids whose parents work at the same research facility. When Tory and her friends rescue a wolf-dog from the institute, they don't expect to get caught up in a scientific drama and murder mystery. Soon, the friends begin experiencing strange symptoms and start to wonder what exactly they've gotten themselves into...

I downloaded this audiobook just for giggles. Though I'm a big fan of the TV show Bones (based on Reichs' adult novels), I've never read any of the books. This, her first foray into young adult (and co-written with her son? I'm not sure, but he's listed on the Goodreads page for the book), seemed like an interesting place to start. On the whole, I enjoyed this book. It's fast-paced and exciting, with nearly every chapter ending on a cliffhanger of some sort, keeping readers engaged and pushing them to keep reading through the whole book (the audiobook worked the same, making me want to keep listening). Tory, the main character, is smart and nerdy and she embraces it, something that there really isn't enough of in young adult literature. Many of the Goodreads review describe this as sort of The Big Bang Theory crossed with Bones - and I don't think they're wrong. The book has the action and suspense of Bones as well as the mix of humor and science that can be found in both shows. While it's interesting that Tory is the only female in her group of friends, it seems a little unrealistic. Yes, many nerd girls find themselves the lone female in a pack of guys. But they don't usually characterize all other girls as dumb and evil, with ulterior motives or just out to make her look bad. Animosity between young women is something we certainly don't need more of in young adult books, even if it is a fair representation of reality. It just seemed out of character for Tory, who, after all, had spent the majority of her life with just her mom, to have such distaste for other girls and women. Additionally, she is a bit too angsty at the beginning of the book, but she seems to get better as the book progressed. I like that there isn't really a romance element to the story, though I imagine it might come as the series develops. There is a bit of flirting and crushes, but it's very minor and almost non-existent compared with all the other things happening. A lot of the book is completely far-fetched but I didn't have a hard time just going with it. This book will suck you up in the action and you might forget to be annoyed that these kids seem to be committing an awful lot of crimes. Overall, I think this is a high-octane thriller (teehee, I feel like a movie critic writing that phrase) that will definitely appeal to action, adventure and science fiction fans. Kids looking for kick-butt heroines should also enjoy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: Hereville

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite
By Barry Deutsch
Expected publication October 31, 2012 by Amulet Books

Intrepid Mirka, our Orthodox Jewish heroine, is back in a new adventure. When a familiar troll accidentally aims a meteor at the witch's house, Mirka warns the witch just in time. Unfortunately, the witch transforms the meteorite into something worse - an identical Mirka! With a new Mirka around who seems to be the better version, the real Mirka soon finds herself wishing for the meteorite back. Is there a way to restore order to Hereville?

I read and loved the first Hereville graphic novel last year - Mirka is a spunky heroine and I wanted to read more about her. Deutsch has delivered in this follow-up tale. What I like most about these series is that Mirka is really struggling to find a balance between what she truly wants and what her family wants from her. In this volume, Mirka is also trying to figure out who she is and if her talents are good enough. The transformed meteorite brings out these insecurities, as the meteorite seems to be better at being Mirka than Mirka herself. I still love that Deutsch has chosen the Orthodox Jewish community as the background for these stories - I feel like I learn something every time I read. My digital review copy was only rough sketches for the second half, but the story was still there and the sketches provided enough information for me to tell what was going on. It will certainly be even more exciting in full-color. I really love this trend of tremendous heroines in junior graphic novels - kids need to see more brave and smart and interesting girl characters. I really enjoyed this and once again find myself desperately hoping that there will be more Mirka adventures to come!

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: The Great Fire

The Great Fire
By Jim Murphy, read by Taylor Mali
Published 2003 by AudioGo

Even if you're not from Chicago and aren't a history buff, chances are still good that you've heard of the Great Fire of 1871. Most likely, you've also heard of Mrs. O'Leary and her cow, the supposed cause of the fire that devastated the city, leaving 100,000 residents homeless. Here is the story through the eyes of several survivors.

I like reading non-fiction, and I'd like to read more. I especially like reading juvenile and young adult non-fiction because it's usually filled with lesser-known tidbits (kids love trivia) and I always feel like I learn a surprising amount. Murphy is a very well-respected author of non-fiction for young people, winning a Newbery Honor with this title in 1996. I downloaded the audiobook on a whim, figuring it was a good way to get some more non-fiction into my rotation. My only problem with the format is true for all non-fiction I've listened to rather than read - I miss the pictures. I like having photographs and illustrations in my non-fiction books to give me a context for the story - they add to putting the story in a time and place. Aside from this format issue, though, I didn't find any faults with the book. Murphy has crafted a gripping account of a horrific tragedy, sure to get kids interested in history. This book has lots of appeal to readers of adventure and mystery novels as Murphy tells the story in a suspenseful way and slowly brings all the pieces together that created the perfect storm - all the elements that colluded to make this fire as devastating as it was. Reading this book makes me feel woefully unprepared to make a Newbery prediction - I've barely read any of the fiction that I think could be in contention and haven't even looked at the non-fiction. This would be a great work to recommend to kids who think they don't like non-fiction - the story is told so well.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Program: Star Wars Reads Day

In case you haven't heard, a bunch of publishers and Lucasfilm organized this massive nationwide event called Star Wars Reads Day. I signed up for it as soon as I heard about it, thinking this would be a great program for our library. I was not wrong.

Being one of the first libraries to sign up, I happily received an event kit in the mail, which included an activity booklet (also made available on the web), pins, bookmarks, origami paper, posters, and a couple of books for giveaways. Now, I don't want to sound greedy or snobby since I did get this stuff for free, but the fact of the matter is that there just wasn't enough of it. Even the bookmarks. Not enough for every kid who came to have one. We had never done an event on this scale, so we weren't sure what to expect, but even beforehand, I knew there wasn't enough for everyone. So we had to do a bit of strategic planning. Let me explain a little about how the program was going to work.

We decided that we wanted to make it an all-ages event, roughly separated into three ages groups: ages 0-8 with caregivers, 9-18, and 18+. Adult services made the decision to show the movie (Episode IV: A New Hope) and have trivia available upstairs. Tweens and teens would be in the children's program room and would feature more complicated crafts, trivia, and Xbox gaming. Activities for the youngest set would be set up in the children's department and would include simple crafts and games, as well as coloring sheets. We also transformed our meeting room into a photo op by covering a wall with Star Wars posters and providing a life-size cutout of Darth Vader, along with inflatable lightsabers, character masks (made of paper and laminated), and quote bubbles with some of the most famous sayings. Each area (aside from the photo op) also had raffles. We made four prize bags for each age group and did drawings every half hour (the program lasted for 2 hours, with the movie starting an hour before the program in case some families wanted to do both). As I mentioned, we'd never really done a one-shot event on this scale (we have a big Day of the Child - Day of the Book celebration but that's usually just for younger kids), so we weren't sure what was going to happen.

Some things we learned:
- when you have events going on for all ages, it's basically impossible to keep the age groups separated. The teen librarian and I had decided beforehand that one or the other of us would stand by the program room door and ask parents not to come in (so we could fit more kids in) and redirect those with younger children to the activities more suitable for them. That lasted about 5 minutes. I think it was a combination of sheer volume and the fact that many people just ignored us that led us to just allow anyone who wanted into the room.

- people will take everything you put out. Once we saw the hopelessness of trying to keep the age groups separate, we fully expected to run out of pool noodles to make lightsabers (our supervisor, who was running the activities for younger kids, had made balloon lightsabers for her age group). What we didn't expect was that even the three sample lightsabers we had made prior to the program would end up walking away (at least, briefly - they were later recovered). As I mentioned before, the giveaways we had received in our event kit were limited in quantity, so we had decided to give them as prizes for kids who played the Xbox gaming. Our mistake was in laying them out on the table near the Xbox without a vigilant guard. If you put something out on a table, people are going to assume it's there for the taking. We had enough between what we had been given and some extra bits we had made that we didn't run out, but we certainly didn't have any leftovers.

- volunteers are essential. We have quite a robust teen volunteering program here, which is excellent when it comes to large scale programs like this. I think we had 15 volunteers assisting, in addition to the three staff members (plus one to sit on the desk), and we definitely utilized them all. Most spent their time helping with the activities geared toward the younger crowd, but we had a couple assisting with the Xbox gaming. We could have used more in with the tweens and teens. One of the crafts we had put out was a pop-up Stormtrooper, something I thought was really cool, but that I didn't see anyone make because there was no one to explain how it worked and I didn't make copies of the instruction sheet. Some people did take it home, so maybe they'll figure it out on their own time, but it would have been beneficial to have a teen volunteer or two stationed at the craft table to help explain how exactly to make the project.

- surprises are awesome. Though we had received a variety of correspondence from the organizers of Star Wars Reads Day, we never received anything regarding costumed characters. We just assumed that we weren't getting any and, by that point, it seemed too late to try to contact the 501st or Rebel Legion to set up something on our own. So, imagine our surprise when a Stormtrooper from the 501st showed up to work our event! We were thrilled! He proved to be a very popular part of the event, and we would definitely want to include costumed characters again when we next run the program.

Here's a full run-down of the different activities we had for the program.

Ages 0-8:
- Yoda stick puppets
- Destroy the Death Star game (with paper Millenium Falcons or paper airplanes)
- Balloon lightsabers
- Character coloring sheets
- Star Wars scavenger hunt
- Raffle drawings

Ages 9-18:
- Fold your own Fortune Wookiee
- Pop-up stormtrooper card
- Trivia
- Puzzles
- Pool noodle lightsabers
- Xbox Kinect Star Wars gaming
- Raffle drawings

Ages 18+:
- Trivia
- Raffle drawings

All ages:
- Movie screening
- Photo opportunity

Over 300 people came to our program, so I'd say it was a huge success! We definitely plan on doing this type of program again and taking what we learned this time around into account. Did anyone else participate in Stars Wars Reads Day? What did you do?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (39)

The Magical Life of Mr. Renny
By Leo Timmers
Published 2012 by Gecko Press
This was a sweet little book about Mr. Renny, a painter who uncovers a magical gift. But Mr. Renny will soon learn about what's truly important in life. I love the illustrations in this one - they are vibrant and eye-catching and will definitely appeal to kids. I think the book has a good message and is very reminiscent of some traditional folk tales.

Cat Tale
By Michael Hall
Published 2012 by Greenwillow Books
I really loved My Heart is a Zoo so I was excited to see this new book from Hall. Personally, I didn't love it quite as much, though I think it's a great book. The illustrations are beautiful - I love Hall's style. And this is a fantastic book for language development with its target audience - highlighting homophones and homonyms in a fun and interesting story. But this book didn't make me go all cross-eyed with cute and cuddly like My Heart is a Zoo did. However, I think this would be a wonderful book to share one on one with a child as they learn about language.

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses
By Ian Falconer
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Everyone's favorite darling porcine heroine is back and she is having a bit of a crisis. It seems everyone wants to be a pink princess, but Olivia knows better. Maybe she still wants to be a princess, but there are many kinds out there. Just which one is right for her? I absolutely loved the first Olivia book (like many people, I think) and have always looked forward to the next installment of her adventures. I think this may be my new favorite. I just love everything about it - the illustrations are brilliant and intricate as always, the humor is spot-on (even for adults reading with their kids) and the message is great. Truly a wonderful new title.

I'm Bored
By Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
I like Michael Ian Black - I think he's funny (though my boyfriend would disagree) and he's produced some quality picture books. But I did not await this with the fervor my former supervisor did. In hindsight, maybe I should have. This is a delightful book that had me laughing out loud on nearly every page as a young girl tries to persuade a potato (yes, a potato) that being a kid is anything but boring. I think this would be a fabulous storytime book - the kids would love seeing the extremes to which the little girl goes to prove her point. And the illustrations are phenomenal - tons of white space (focusing almost exclusively on the characters) and a clear but subtle distinction between what is real and what is imaginary. I'll definitely be looking forward to the next Black book now.

Halloween Forest
By Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Shelley
Published 2012 by Holiday House
I will pick up just about any book about Halloween because I love scary things and monsters and it's my favorite holiday. Unfortunately, this book just wasn't that great. I'm writing this review a couple weeks after having read it and I can't recall all that much about it. It was just sort of a blah read. I feel like it was slightly more creepy than many Halloween picture books but not really creepy enough to satisfy my belief that children need to be exposed to scary things.

Trick or Treat
By Leo Landry
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Oliver the ghost waits all year for Halloween but this year he's in for a surprise. One of his invitations lands in the hands of two boys from down the street. Will they be scared away by Oliver's supernatural friends? This book is pretty much exactly what I was talking about - a completely non-scary Halloween tale for kids. It's a cute story about making friends with people who are very different than us and will definitely get children in the mood for the holiday. But it wasn't an outstanding book and left me wanting something scary.

Just Say Boo!
By Susan Hood, illustrated by Jed Henry
Published 2012 by HarperCollins
This was probably my favorite of the three Halloween books I read at the same time. It teaches a little bit of etiquette while also practicing Halloween vocabulary and getting kids excited for the fun of the holiday. Though it is another of the not-scary Halloween books for kids, it's so darn cute that I don't mind. The illustrations are sweet and this is sure to have kids shouting along. Very cute.

You Are My Miracle
By Maryann Cusimano Love, illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
Published 2005 by Philomel
I was not expecting to like this book. I expected it to be cheesy and eyeroll-inducing. I was wrong. This is a perfectly sweet little book about the love of a parent and child around Christmastime. I like that the author highlights different holiday activities to explain what the child means to their parent. It's very effective at showcasing the special relationship as well as evoking the holiday. This would make a lovely present for new parents.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Curveball

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip
By Jordan Sonnenblick
Published 2012 by Scholastic

When a bizarre baseball accident leaves Peter unable to pitch, he begins to wonder if there is life without baseball. So he throws himself into his photography class. Of course, it doesn't hurt that there's a very intriguing - and cute - girl in class with him...

That's not a terribly good summary (I seem to be getting worse at those), as this book is about much more than what I've described there. But ignore my summary and focus on this: Sonnenblick has become one of my go-to authors for smart, funny, realistic, and emotional reads, particularly for teen boys. I was so excited to snag a copy of this book at ALA - I'd read two other Sonnenblick novels (and a third since then) and absolutely loved them. His books really tap into the adolescent brain. Sonnenblick chooses interesting and appealing storylines to hook his readers and then delivers them fantastic, easy-to-relate-to characters and an emotional punch. This is a sports book, but also not a sports book. It's about growing up, figuring out your identity (especially in high school), struggling through changing relationships and family. For me, the strongest aspect of any Sonnenblick novel is his ability to create characters I care about, characters I'd want to be friends with. Curveball is no exception. From Peter to his grandfather to A.J. to Angelika, these are characters who I actually believe in, the kind that make me sad to remember that this is a book and these people aren't real. I love that Sonnenblick is able to strike a perfect balance between regular growing up issues and tougher stuff - in this case, Grampa's Alzheimer's. Many teens are dealing with these tougher issues and will appreciate seeing their own experiences in books they might actually enjoy. I think Sonnenblick is a fantastic author and will eagerly anticipate anything he writes.

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity
By Elizabeth Wein
Published 2012 by Hyperion

When a British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, one girl must find a way to make sure that the mission isn't lost for both girls aboard. Verity will do whatever it takes to make sure the cause survives.

That's not a terribly good plot summary, so maybe you want to go read someone else's before I continue. Or, more likely, if you're reading this, you don't need a plot summary, because this has quickly become one of the most buzzed-about books of 2012. It is because of this that I ultimately ended up approaching this book with a bit of trepidation. I was thrilled to snag an ARC at Midwinter because it was already getting quite a bit of buzz among the publisher booths. As it happens, I never got a chance to get started reading until my vacation (have I mentioned that I want to read ALL THE BOOKS?). By this point, the buzz surrounding the book had grown exponentially and I now began to worry - would this by my next The Hunger Games? Well...

It kinda was. After all the tremendously wonderful things I'd been hearing about this book, it was going to be rather difficult for it to actually live up to them all. However, I thought Wein had come up with a truly fascinating premise and I was still looking forward to reading. Told mostly as the written confession of Verity, this is a gripping narrative about two young girls who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances in war-torn Europe. I loved the use of this narrative device and I thought Verity was a fantastic narrator. She was complex and yet easy to relate to, passionate and completely distraught over her situation (well, who wouldn't be?). But, I also had a really hard time getting into this book - the first part got a bit bogged down in technical details of the war and how the two young women came to be aboard that plane. Yes, I understand that these are the sorts of things Verity would actually be writing in a confession, but it made it a bit harder for me to connect to the characters and the story. And that's unfortunate, because reviews had me believing that this book would tear out my insides and wreck me emotionally. Yes, I got a bit teary, but not nearly to the point I expected or as much as I have been during other recent reads. And, as most of the reviews have been purposefully vague (because the less you know about the story, the more effective it is), I was completely caught off-guard by a turn the story takes in the last third or so. This isn't always necessarily a bad thing but, in this instance, I felt like the story didn't work as well for me anymore.

Don't get me wrong - this is still a very well-written and clever book with powerful themes of friendship and loyalty and a gripping historical fiction about World War II. But, all I expected from this book, it just didn't quite deliver.

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: The Bronte Sisters

The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne
By Catherine Reef
Expected publication October 23, 2012 by Clarion Books

Some of the most well-known and beloved authors of all time, the Bronte sisters lived brilliant but tragically short lives. Get to know the women and discover the stories behind their famous works.

I wouldn't say I'm a particular fan of the Brontes - I think the only book I've read was Jane Eyre and that was many, many years ago. I requested an e-galley of this title because I like reading non-fiction, especially that geared toward a youth audience. I was interested to see how this title would appeal to young adult readers. I don't know how many young adults read non-fiction for pleasure (I know I certainly didn't), but I think this would be a great choice for those that do. Since I'm not all that much of a Bronte enthusiast, I was pretty clueless about their lives. Reef provides a detailed and evocative portrait of not just the sisters, but the entire Bronte family. I think even those who are Bronte fanatics will find something new or interesting in this biography. I loved hearing the stories behind their novels - the Bronte women were more progressive than I might have thought. I was also surprised to learn of their beloved brother, Branwell, and the tragedy of his life. The inclusion of photos, paintings, and letters helped put context on some bits of the biography. I think, most importantly, reading this biography made me very much want to read the novels of the Bronte sisters. If it has that effect on all readers, then I think this book has done a wonderful thing. I really enjoyed this.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: Come August, Come Freedom

Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, the Gallows, and the Black General Gabriel
By Gigi Amateau
Published 2012 by Candlewick

In post-Revolutionary Virginia, there lives a man, named Gabriel. Gabriel is a slave. But he is also an educated man, one who believes that no man can truly own another. As Gabriel grows and continues to learn, he becomes more dangerous in the eyes of the slave owners. Does Gabriel have the power and knowledge to organize the slaves and start a rebellion?

This book caught my eye a few months ago because of its cover and synopsis. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and this sounding like a particularly fascinating story. I wanted to read more and discover how much of it was true. While I think this is an interesting and important story to tell, I'm not 100% behind the telling of it. One of my main interests in reading the book was to hear the story and then discover what actually happened and what the author had used her poetic license for. Unfortunately, there is no helpful author's note at the end of the book. A quick search leads me to her website, where she has posted her research notes on the story. I'm glad she has posted them somewhere for readers to discover, but I think they would be most useful included at the end of the novel. The opening chapter sets the tone for this book and I think it's beautifully done. Amateau has presented the heartbreaking reality of slavery simply. However, after this first chapter, the pacing is a bit uneven. If you've been following my reviews, you know that I have a thing about the passage of time in novels. This was another case where it didn't make sense to me. I often had a hard time telling exactly how much time had passed and, thus, couldn't really get a feel for the age of the main character. At times, I felt like he wasn't accurately portrayed for his age, but it was hard to follow how old he would be throughout the various episodes of the book. On the whole, however, I felt the characterization throughout was strong and believable. I loved seeing the relationship between Nanny and Gabriel develop, grown out of their mutual desires for freedom and each other. I also loved the author's use of historical documents in the text - they make the story feel that much more realistic. Overall, I thought this was a well-done book, bringing attention to a little-known historical incident in a moving way.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Program + Review: beTWEEN the lines

My last post regarding my beloved book club for tweens posed some questions about how to get more kids coming to the program. Maybe the secret is simply in the books chosen. Our October meeting was tied as our most successful (in terms of attendance numbers) to date - five kids showed up, including two boys. I didn't really do anything differently in terms of publicizing the club, though I may have gotten the information on our website earlier than in months past. So, I'm inclined to believe that the number of attendees has more to do with the title we picked rather than the publicity options utilized. The title in question: Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander.

Due to my ascension to full-time status a mere two days before our meeting and the change in responsibilities that accompanied, I was a bit under-prepared for our meeting. I still had a list of discussion questions (actually, it was quite an extensive list) but I hadn't prepared an extension activity. I usually like to do some sort of craft or extender for the last fifteen minutes of our meeting. I batted around a few ideas for this book, but couldn't come up with anything I really liked that I thought feasible in the limited amount of time I had before our meeting. So, we spent nearly the whole house in discussion. The girls talked much more than the boys, which I think is true of most situations with mixed company, but everyone seemed to enjoy the discussion and everyone definitely liked the book. We spent our last few minutes voting on our December title (we are voting two months out) and signing out copies of our November book. All the kids took a copy, so hopefully they will all return for our next meeting!

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, book 1)
By Suzanne Collins
Published 2005 by Scholastic

Gregor is sad to be stuck at home watching over his baby sister instead of at summer camp, but he understands it's just the way things work now. So, when little Boots disappears down a vent in their laundry room, Gregor has no choice but to follow. What they discover will lead them on a thrilling and life-threatening adventure and may hold the key to their father's mysterious disappearance.

I've been wanting to read this one for a while, having heard good things about it and knowing it was popular with kids. So it was partly for selfish reasons that I chose the title for our October book club. I'm certainly glad I did now, as it proved a popular choice. However, my experience with the book was less than ideal. I was frazzled and stressed, frantically trying to get the book read in time for our meeting and I found it much slower reading than I had anticipated (I think that when I get stressed about reading, it slows me down, which is the reason I get stressed in the first place - VICIOUS CYCLE!). That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the book - I actually really loved the Underland and all the characters. Gregor is a reluctant yet thoughtful hero and Boots is much more than just a burden that Gregor has to bear on his journey. I liked that Collins used creatures typical of the underground - these creatures are not usually thought of as ones you'd like to be around or read about, but they are humanized here. The pacing was good, though, as I said, it felt like a slower read than I expected. The twists and turns of their adventure were exciting and kept me interested in the book. I also liked that Collins didn't shy away from the dangers inherent in questing. We've been recommending this series to kids whose parents don't want them reading The Hunger Games yet and I actually think it's a suitable readalike, now that I've read both series. I definitely want to pick up the next book and see what other adventures are in store for Gregor.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (38)

Apple Cake: A Recipe for Love
By Julie Paschkis
Published 2012 by Harcourt Children's Books
This is a cute little story about Ida, who loves books so much that nothing can distract her from them. Not even the attentions of Alfonso, who harbors an affection for her. He does everything he can think of to attract her eye but nothing works. Nothing until the apple cake, perhaps? This is a sweet story about love but, for me, the strength lies in the illustrations. They are whimsical and lovely, brightly colored, detailed and magical. Just a lovely little book.

Sky Color
By Peter H. Reynolds
Published 2012 by Candlewick
I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again - I'm a complete fangirl for Peter Reynolds. I've loved everything of his and I eagerly anticipate his new books, always wishing there were more of them. This book finishes up his "Creatrilogy," which includes the beloved The Dot and Ish. Here, Marisol knows she is a painter and is beyond thrilled when her class is tasked with making a mural for the library. But as she tries to paint the sky, she begins to wonder, "exactly what color is it?" While I didn't find this book as delightful as the first two in the trilogy, this is still a lovely story about art and believing in yourself.

Pig Has a Plan
By Ethan Long
Published 2012 by Holiday House
Pig wants nothing more than to take a nap, but it's just a little too noisy in the barnyard. But, Pig has a plan. What is Pig's plan? I've beginning to consider myself quite the fan of Long - his books are simple and humorous, with plenty of kid appeal and bold illustrations. I've yet to find one that I didn't really enjoy and the sort-of surprise ending is sure to work for audiences. Lots of storytime possibilities with this one!

Ten Tiny Toes
By Todd Tarpley, illustrated by Marc Brown
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
This is a very sweet and lovely book about the arrival of ten tiny toes (on baby's feet, of course) and how special and wonderful they are. We follow these toes (and the baby) as they go to accomplish many things. This is more of a book for parents, and would make a lovely gift for those expecting. Marc Brown's illustrations work very well for this story - they are the right amount of soft and sophisticated.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Review: Cleopatra's Moon

Cleopatra's Moon
By Vicky Alvear Shecter, read by Kirsten Potter
Published 2011 by Oasis Audio

Cleopatra Selene is the only daughter of Queen Cleopatra and General Marcus Antonius. She is beloved by the people of Egypt and by her family. She desires nothing more than to be as wonderful and adored a queen as her mother. But everything changes for Cleopatra Selene when the Roman ruler Octavianus launches a war, throwing her world into turmoil. Can Cleopatra Selene recover the destiny she has always believed is hers?

I downloaded this audiobook on a whim, after seeing it offered as a free download from Sync this summer. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and I don't know all that much about ancient history (in fact, I didn't even really know that Cleopatra had a daughter) so I figured I'd give this book a shot. I think this was a really strong audiobook - the narrator had a lovely voice and it worked perfectly for the character. I did find the interstitial music a bit unnecessary, but at least it was nice to listen to. As for the book itself, I enjoyed it. Shecter paints a believable portrait of both Egyptian and Roman culture of the time. Even though I didn't know Cleopatra Selene existed prior to reading this book, I found she had a strong narrative voice and a very interesting story to tell. Since I've already admitted my historical ignorance about the subject, I thought it seemed accurate. I don't know for sure, but Selene was a decent heroine to read about and seemed realistic. I did read through some of the reviews on Goodreads, which seem to be pretty black or white. A few complain about the portrayal of Romans as "too realistic" - as in this book doesn't really shy away from discussion of sexuality, something that was more fluid to the Romans and also very much a part of everyday life. I think it's healthy for young adult novels to discuss sexuality, especially when it is relevant to depicting a time or place as accurately as possible. A few others were turned off by the romance in the story, but I assume it's at least partially based in history. Additionally, it was a lovely relationship, so shouldn't we be happy about that? For me, the strongest aspect of this book was the truly evocative sense of time and place created by Shecter. This was a really engaging book to listen to, and I'm very glad I downloaded it. I'd recommend this to fans of other lush historical fictions, such as those by Anna Godbersen or those by Carolyn Meyer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Guys Read: Funny Business

Guys Read: Funny Business
Edited by Jon Scieszka, read by Michael Boatman, Kate DiCamillo, John Keating, Jon Scieszka, and Bronson Pinchot
Published 2010 by HarperAudio

From the man who brought you Time Warp Trio, Guys Read is a new collection of short stories by guys' favorite authors. This volume, the first in the library, collects their most gut-busting stories, sure to make you roll on the floor with laughter.

I downloaded this audiobook recently, just because I've always been curious about this (and the other) Guys Read title(s). Plus, some authors that I really enjoy are featured in these anthologies, so why wouldn't I give it a shot? As with any collection, I enjoyed some stories more than others, but I think this book definitely has appeal across the board. There is a little bit of something for everyone and the stories are actually funny. "Funny" books are, for me, the hardest kinds for which to do reader's advisory, because humor is so subjective. But with a collection like this, it's pretty much a sure thing that at least one story is going to get your reader cracking up and most likely, it'll be more than one. Favorites for me were the stories by Adam Rex, Jack Gantos, David Lubar, and David Yoo. I am eager to check out the rest of the Guys Read library and definitely will plan on recommending this to my readers looking for funny books. The audio version is nicely done, with the narrators taking turns for the various stories. It makes it easy to distinguish one from the other and all the narrators selected are quite good.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas
By Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Expected publication October 15, 2012 by Lee & Low Books

Odilia and her sisters make a startling discovery one typical summer day - a dead man in the river. Soon, the spirited hermanitas are on a quest to return the man to his duty, encountering a variety of perilous supernatural beings along the way.

That isn't a very good description of this book (I seem to be hit or miss with these) - it makes it sound more paranormal than the book actually is. In truth, this is a retelling of The Odyssey with a strong influence of traditional Mexican and Aztec legends and myths. I received this egalley as an attendee at School Library Journal's SummerTeen celebration and figured I'd give it a shot. McCall's first novel, Under the Mesquite, was an award-winner and, though I haven't read it yet, I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to check her out. I have to admit, this book was not my cup of tea. I can see where this book might have appeal for readers - Odilia's difficulties dealing with her sisters and the hardships her family has faced are easy to relate to and understand for many teen readers. Additionally, the quest to do the right thing will be appealing to many. Unfortunately, for me, this book just fell short. I did not enjoy any of the characters - I felt they were all cartoonish, immature, and unsympathetic. I thought much of the action was convoluted and ridiculous - and yes, I realize this is sort of like a fable but I just didn't buy into it here. I was increasingly annoyed and frustrated by the girls throughout the course of the book - they just seemed to be making unrealistic and, to be frank, idiotic decisions. I did enjoy the inclusion of La Llorona, especially in a new and interesting way - but it wasn't enough to make me enjoy the book. Normally, I'm a big fan of retellings, and I actually really love The Odyssey but, in this case, the connection wasn't strong enough for me to fully embrace this as a retelling. I seem to be in the minority opinion, looking at other early reviews, so I'd love to hear others weigh in. But this was a disappointment for me.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

Alas, this will be my last storytime post, at least for some time. As of October 1st, my position as Empress of Tween was officially made full-time, leading me to resign from my second part-time position. This means I will no longer be leading storytimes, though that may change in the future. So, here was my last family storytime.

Welcome, introductions and reminders

Opening rhyme: "My Hands" - I still really like this rhyme. I think I would have kept it for a while and I'll use it again if I start doing storytimes again in the future.

Book: Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Lauren Stringer - our theme this week was houses and homes, so I thought it'd be nice to start with a story that includes many different kinds of homes. I really liked this simple rhyming text that introduces readers to a wide variety of animal homes. The pictures are lovely as well. I had the kids name the different kinds of animals on each page.

Song: "The Tempo Marches On" by Jim Gill - here's the deal, I didn't like any of our flannel options and I couldn't find a relevant song for the theme, so I just decided we'd do two different activity songs. I should probably use more music in my storytimes anyway. The kids really liked this one and I am sorely out of shape as I was winded afterwards.

Book: Where To, Little Wombat? by Charles Fuge - I liked this one because it featured animals and their homes that children might be less familiar with and I always like showing them something new. Little Wombat decides he is bored with his home so he visits his friends and tries living with them. Needless to say, it doesn't go according to plan. The book is silly but has a suitably sweet ending and the pictures of wombats, koalas, and emus are adorable.

Big Book: The Napping House by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood - I absolutely adore this book. And I think the illustrations translate especially well to the big book format. The mostly blue color palette is soothing and dreamy, perfect for the cumulative story of the house where everyone is sleeping. However, I don't think I paced it properly and I think, because of that, the kids didn't enjoy it as much as they might have.

Song: "Silly Dance Contest" by Jim Gill - the Hap Palmer CD was still MIA, so I once again stuck with old favorite. The kids were especially good about making silly faces this time around.

Book: Goldilocks and the Three Martians by Stu Smith, illustrated by Michael Garland - I chose this book because the other preschool and family storytimes during the week had performed the Goldilocks puppet show and I wanted to carry that theme over to our Saturday morning storytime. I chose this version over the more traditional because I tend to prefer silly over straightforward. And, this one had a lovely ending, perfect for wrapping up our whole storytime.

Closing: "Wave Goodbye" by Rob Reid - alas, I lapsed and forgot one of my body parts to wave during my final recitation of our closing. No one ever minds, but I wish I just had it memorized already. We said goodbye and were on our way.

And that was my houses and homes family storytime! What would you do?

Program: Mythological Worlds

So, I'm full of ideas, like many children's librarians out there. One of my other new ideas for fall was to try hosting a bigger (in scope, time, and hopefully attendance) program once a month on a Saturday for my tweens, possibly collaborating with our teen librarian when it made sense. I liked the idea of tying the program into a book or series that is popular and I noticed that a few different series had new titles coming out this fall, so I decided to host the events around the release dates. With The Mark of Athena releasing in early October, I decided our September program should focus on Rick Riordan (I wanted to include all his series for kids since they are all equally popular). Thus, our Mythological Worlds program was born! I collaborated with our teen librarian and one of our library specialists to get this program going. We split the program up into two distinct portions, each taking an hour. Here's what we did!

For the first hour, we had stations set up around the room and kids could move among them in any order they liked, spending as much time as they wanted at each.

Parentage discovery - one of the big deals in the Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus series is discovering who your godly parent is. So, when kids first arrived at the program, they could spin a wheel to discover their heritage. We had four Greek gods, four Roman gods, and four Egyptian gods. The kids seemed to really like this one, even if they didn't always get who they had hoped for (most of them wanted Poseidon, no surprise).

Name tags - after discovering their mythological heritage, most kids moved on to making name tags. There were three options and kids could do just one to correspond with their parentage or all three if they felt like it. For their Camp Half-Blood name tags, they wrote their name (actually, a lot of them wrote their godly parent's name) in Ancient Greek. For Camp Jupiter name tags, we provided a list of typical names from Ancient Rome and their meanings; kids just chose which one they liked best. For their Fifty-First Nome name tags (yes, the nome of Dallas is actually mentioned in the series and is the 51st, though the library isn't technically in Dallas), kids wrote out their names in hieroglyphs.

Shield-making -  no ancient warrior would be complete without a shield. Though they don't play a big role in the Kane Chronicles, a shield can always come in handy, right? The teen librarian and I made samples to inspire the kids, but I knew they wouldn't actually need any inspiration. Give these tweens a craft project and they will knock your socks off. The kids painted pretty much anything you can think of on their shields - abstract designs, their names, the names of their patron god, hieroglyphs - I even saw a Cerberus and a Pegasus! This was everyone's favorite part of the first hour of the program.

Puzzles - I have been surprised in the past with the popularity of good old pen-and-paper puzzles in my programs, so I figured it was a good idea to include them in this one, especially as you can download many different kinds from the web (diligent searching here). This was the least popular element of this program, though - we had so much other cool stuff going on that I wasn't surprised.

Constellation key rings - I started panicking the first week of September, thinking that we didn't have enough planned for the program (oh, how wrong I was...) and I'd seen this idea on Pinterest and thought it was really cool. Seeing as how a number of constellations are named after gods and figures from mythology, I thought it would work here. We re-worked a free template found online and printed the constellations out on cardstock. Then we provided hole punches and key rings for kids to make their own set. I didn't really notice how many kids came to this station but there was one very enthusiastic girl who thanked me multiple times for including this "really cool!" project.

Rune-making - since we knew we wanted to include all three Rick Riordan series, this seemed like an easy way to fit the Egyptians into the program. Each tween received a fair amount of clay and leather cord and then they could make pretty much whatever they want. We had some Roman, Greek and Egyptian symbols at the table for ideas but, once again, the kids did anything and everything you can think of. The cord was in case they wanted to make bracelets, which many of them did.

For the second hour, we pushed the tables to the edges of the room and gathered all the kids together in the middle for competitive games and prizes.

Trivia - trivia is a fun element to pretty much any tween or teen program, but tweens especially love showing off how much they know. We broke the kids up into four teams of roughly ten each for our trivia game. Each team was provided with a set of answer cards - all four sets contained the exact same cards. The kids would have to work together as a team to find the correct answer card and bring it to our teen librarian (who was reading the questions) before any other team. The first team with the correct answer card earned five points, incorrect answers incurred a five point loss. The kids got really into this and we made sure to move the teen librarian around the room so that no one team was situated closer to her than the others for an unfair amount of time. It was a close game but we determined a winner - all team members received a free Rick Riordan book (we had some from each series for them to choose from).

Lightning bolt toss - we love to give out prizes, so we came up with this idea for an individual competition. We had three targets - the Minotaur, a cobra, and a Gorgon (taped onto trash cans). In groups of three, the kids stepped up to the line and tossed their lightning bolts (glow sticks) at the targets. They had to get it in the trash can or get it to stay lying across the opening for it to count. The kid in each round who got the most in (they each had three lightning bolts) was the winner - ties were played as shoot-outs. We had 10 rounds and 10 winners; each winner received a glow-in-the-dark trident (which was a surprisingly popular prize).

And that was our Mythological Worlds program! We had about 70 kids show up, so I'd say it was a success!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (37)

My First Ghost
By Maggie Miller and Michael Leviton, illustrated by Stephanie Buscema
Published 2012 by Hyperion
Okay, I completely love this book! It comes with a ghost, and is the right blend of spooky, funny, and sweet. It reads like a vintage educational video and the illustrations evoke that feeling very nicely. I don't know what else to say - I just love everything about this book. I can definitely see it being popular with kids, especially those who like monsters and Halloween and scary stuff (not that this is a Halloween book, necessarily). I just completely adored this and will definitely be buying copies to share.

Going Ape!
By Eduardo Bustos, illustrated by Lucho Rodriguez
Published 2012 by Tundra Books
With so many different species of ape in the world, what kid couldn't use a short introduction to some of the most interesting and unusual? Short text and lovely, compelling and simple illustrations make this a definite winner for early non-fiction. I think this book is incredibly effective in introducing young readers to the variety of apes and would be a wonderful addition to storytimes.

Nothing Ever Happens at the South Pole!
By Stan and Jan Berenstain, illustrated by Mike Berenstain
Published 2012 by Harper
A bored little penguin bemoans the fact that the South Pole is so tragically boring. He goes off in search of excitement and adventure and finds...? You'll have to read it to find out! I was pleasantly surprised to discover this book on our New Books cart - I didn't actually know that the Berenstains did anything other than bears! I think kids would really appreciate this book, and it would work well in a winter storytime. Very cute.

Ballerina Rosie
By Sarah Ferguson, illustrated by Diane Goode
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Rosie loves to dance, more than anything. And she absolutely wants to be a prima ballerina. But when she enrolls in dance school, she can't seem to dance as wonderfully as she does at home. Will Rosie figure out a way to be the ballerina she knows she is at heart? This is an incredibly charming book, sure to be very popular with little girls who love ballerinas and dancing. The illustrations are my favorite part - they are sweet and lovely and beautifully represent the joy and art of dancing. There is also a great message about perseverance. I was completely charmed by this book.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: Keeping Safe the Stars

Keeping Safe the Stars
By Sheila O'Connor
Expected publication October 11, 2012 by Dutton Juvenile

The Stars have always been independent and self-reliant with oldest sibling Pride (or Kathleen to strangers) leading the way. But when their grandfather Old Finn gets sick, Pride begins to worry that they might need help. Will the Stars find a way to keep themselves safe and together?

Being the new Legendary Empress of Tween, I need to read more middle-grade novels. I mean, I already read quite a few (and definitely more than my colleagues) but, more often, I find myself gravitating to young adult. But, since I'll be doing the tween collection development and my colleagues will generally refer these reader's advisory questions to me, I'll be making a concerted effort to read more middle-grade novels. The blurb for this caught my eye. The book has already received two starred reviews, moving it even more into my sights. I have sort of mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it's quite a moving and charming story, especially when one focuses on the relationships between the three siblings. They relate to each other and the outside world in very realistic ways. Though at first it wasn't clear that Baby was a boy, each Star has their own distinct personality and way of looking at the world. All three are tested when Old Finn takes ill and they are left to their own devices. While I didn't completely fall in love with Pride, I thought she was an excellent choice of narrator and one to whom tweens will easily relate. Similarly, I enjoyed the backstory O'Connor gave the family - a commune childhood, deceased parents, a stubborn and passionate grandfather. However, I didn't find the book completely without fault. Though I haven't yet read it, I've seen some of the discussion around Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker and I feel like the issue of suspension of disbelief that some people are having with that title was at play for me in this book. I had a really hard time believing that the course of events as plotted in the novel would play out as it did, with no intervention from the secondary characters. Additionally, the book takes place in 1972, but I don't really see this as essential to the story. Yes, it makes the children's commune lifestyle more believable and gives Old Finn, as well as many of the other adults in the story, something bigger than their own lives to focus on. It just doesn't seem to add much to the novel. Overall, the story has its charms, but its biggest strength is the hard-headed and loving family at its center.

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

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
By Ransom Riggs
Published 2011 by Quirk

What if the crazy stories about monsters that Jacob's grandfather told him are actually true? After the strange and tragic death of his grandfather, Jacob is left with the man's mysterious final words and the problem of everyone thinking he's crazy. When the final words lead Jacob to a remote island off the coast of Wales, nothing can stop his compulsion to go there and find the truth for himself. And what Jacob finds can't be unfound...

Excuse my melodramatic summary there, ahem. Anyway, I was so excited to read this book. It was being pimped hardcore at ALA Annual last year and I kept meaning and meaning to read it and just didn't get around to it (STORY OF MY LIFE). Finally, this summer, I picked it up I hate to say it but I'm disappointed. Most people who I've heard talk about this book seem to really love it. And, like I said, I was really excited to read it. It sounded like a really interesting story and I loved the idea of these vintage photographs being paired with the story. But it just didn't really work for me. In fact, I've put off writing this review because I don't feel like I have that much to say about it. I liked the photos and the amount of creepy and weird they added to the story. And I liked the idea of the story. I just didn't find myself all that interested in it as written. I didn't find myself particularly attached to Jacob and didn't really care if he figured it all out. Additionally, I know this book has some really unbelievable bits to it (being fantasy and all) but some things just bugged me. Jacob, who has been basically declared insane, is completely left to his own devices on the island. I mean, he literally disappears all day and his dad just kind of shrugs and worries about his own stuff. I found that a bit tough to believe. Maybe if they were the most uncaring parents in the universe, but I didn't really get that vibe either. I liked the peculiar children and learning about each of them, and I especially liked their relationships with each other and, near the end, their relationship with Jacob. But too often, I found myself bored with the book and wishing it was over already. This was a real disappointment for me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Days of Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, book 2)
By Laini Taylor
Expected publication November 6, 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

WARNING: There will be spoilers for book one. If you'd like to read my review of that title, click here.

Beautiful and mysterious Karou has finally unlocked the secret of who and what she is but has only made things more complicated. Akiva mourns and wonders if there will ever be a way to the world of peace he has long desired. And fiery Zuzana is determined to find her friend, no matter what unbelievable things she will be made to believe along the way.

That's not a terribly good summary there but, chances are, if you're reading this, you know what the book is about. In fact, chances are pretty good that you've been desperately awaiting the publication of this book, the follow-up to one of my favorite books of 2011, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I had resigned myself to waiting until publication day (well, actually, the book's arrival in my library) before reading this book. But then, I attended School Library Journal's SummerTeen celebration in early August and discovered the publisher was giving away digital galleys. I'm not ashamed to admit it was one of the first things I sought out. I truly adored the first book and couldn't wait to read the second, sure that it would be just as wonderful and imaginative as the first. I wasn't wrong. Days of Blood and Starlight is just as lovely and spirited as I expected it to be. I couldn't stop reading and despaired the moments I couldn't spend reading the book (you know, when I was working and sleeping). I was absolutely thrilled to spend more time with the strange and fascinating characters Taylor has crafted and I loved the narrative structure of this book, letting readers spend time among a variety of the characters. Taylor continues to hone and flesh out the world she built in the first novel. Her beautiful prose is once again present and - this may be a weird way of saying it - convincing. I mean, she writes in such a way that I have a hard time believing that angels are not about to wage war with demons, presumably starting somewhere over Prague or Morocco. The world she has created is just so vivid and unique but mixed with enough realism that I am completely absorbed by it. I don't want to go into the plot too much because I think that would spoil the paced revelations of the novel. Suffice it to say that this book reads like a perfect middle novel in a trilogy. There are questions from the first book answered, new questions posed, and enough action and resolution to not feel like this is just filler before the conclusion. Of course, the book does end on a thrilling note that will leave readers (including me) once again desperate for the next book. This book was a fantastic read and easily one of my favorite reads so far this year.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Displacement

By Thalia Chaltas
Published 2011 by Viking Juvenile

Vera has an MIA mother and a dead sister, so who can blame her for running away? But making it on her own raises more questions than she expected and soon, Vera finds herself in the middle of some complicated situations.

Apparently, I have put myself on a quest to read all the novels in verse. So, I recently checked this one off my list. Verse novels work well for me because they are pretty much guaranteed quick reads and they give me a nice break between longer novels. However, just because they are quicker reads doesn't mean they are easier - some of the best verse novels I've read deal with incredibly difficult and challenging issues. Displacement is no exception. Vera is dealing with a lot of stuff - her beloved sister has recently died, her mother is constantly searching for an escape from her problems, and Vera feels terrible about her older sister bearing the burden of these two things. So she runs away, figuring she'll make life easier for everyone that way. But running away turns out to be more complicated than she expected. Vera finds that running away doesn't actually make the problems go away, as much as she wished it did. And it can even create more problems, especially if you find yourself keeping the sort of company that Vera finds. Like I said, this book is a quick read, but Vera is a well-developed character. She starts to question herself as things get increasingly difficult and surreal. Though I find it a bit unbelievable that Vera manages to run away, find an abandoned house and a job without anyone calling the police or her sister reporting her missing, the book feels surreal enough that it could be a possibility. I do seem to unintentionally be building a retinue of books dealing with grief - perhaps it's because it's something you never get over and I'm interested in seeing how it's tackled in literature for young people. Regardless, this book is a decent read, if a bit uneven and not quite as strong as I'd hoped.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
By Katherine Marsh
Expected publication October 9, 2012 by Hyperion

Is one's fate written in the stars? Or do we have control over our own destinies? Jepp longs to know the truth. He has left his home of Astraveld with a promise of a better life at the royal court, only to find himself humiliated and captive as one of the court dwarfs. Unable to believe that this is the fate meant for him, Jepp will risk everything in search of a greater destiny.

I read Katherine Marsh's first book while I was working as a bookseller and had sort of mixed feelings about it. I thought the concept was interesting, but I didn't feel like it fully succeeded. I knew she had written a sequel to that title but, as I found the idea of a sequel unnecessary, I never picked it up. This, her newest novel, came to my attention a few months ago, when I spotted it on a blog I read as a title to keep an eye out for. When I spotted this title on NetGalley in August, I eagerly requested it and was happy to be approved. I'm a big fan of historical fiction and I thought Marsh chose a very interesting story to tell - that of a court dwarf in the late 16th-century. I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this one, too, having now completed it. While I think the story is executed beautifully, featuring fascinating characters and great atmospheric details, I have a hard time figuring out the audience for this book. It's marketed as a young adult title, but nothing about it really feels like a young adult novel. I sort of feel about this one the way I felt about Wildwood, and, more recently, Summer and Bird - the characters may be the age of your target audience but the book doesn't necessarily feel like a book for that age group. Yes, Jepp is a young adult through this novel, but he doesn't talk or act like one. Granted, part of this lies in the fact that this is historical fiction and young adults would be quite different in the 16th-century than they are nowadays. But, I think this book could just as easily have been marketed to adults and found an audience there. That being said, I don't think this is a negative for the book. I wonder how many teens will pick it up - do many young adults read historical fiction? Those who pick it up won't be disappointed - as I said, this book is brimming with good stuff and reads like an exciting fairy tale. I just hope this book finds its way into those readers' hands.

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Published 2011 by Philomel Books

Lina is, at heart, an artist. In fact, she is thinking about her art the night the NKVD storm into her house and take her, her mother, and her brother away. She does not know where her father is. Enduring a long and miserable train ride, Lina and her family find themselves exiled to a work camp. Can Lina's art be the key to her family's survival?

This book generated a ton of buzz when it was published and has been on my radar ever since. It got glowing reviews from other librarians I knew who had read it and is now on this year's Lone Star reading list. My goal is to read all the Lone Star titles this year (this makes 6 of 20 so far), so I found some time to pick this up recently. This book had me from page one. I found myself quickly immersed in Lina's world, hoping and struggling alongside her. Sepetys does an excellent job of describing that world - I felt the misery of the train ride and the despair of those who were forced to take it. I felt the chill of the Siberian air and the unease of the people at the work camp. I really felt this book - it had me in tears a few times. This is a truly gripping and emotional story and I'm pleased to see it on the Lone Star list. Short chapters provide an excellent pace to the novel - they propel readers along, building suspense and a bit of apprehension - what horrors are to come for Lina and her family? I'm happy and dismayed that this book taught me something I didn't know - happy to have had my eyes opened to the horrors endured by the people of the Baltic nations at the hands of Stalin and dismayed that I didn't already know about this. Lina has a strong voice and her art is a beautiful way to cling to hope through the difficult journey she undergoes. This book is an excellent study in humanity and the horrors of war - there are certainly a number of "shades of gray" throughout the book. I completely, completely loved this book and it will definitely be one that sticks with me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Program: Cupcake Wars

My first one-off program of the school year was Cupcake Wars. Honestly, I couldn't give you a very good reason as to why I chose this one - I thought the allure of free food and a little competition would bring in some good numbers. Here's what we did.

I only planned on making 48 cupcakes because that's a lot of cupcakes for one person to make, especially considering I have one cupcake tin. This meant that I could have no more than 48 kids attend the program, to ensure that everyone got a cupcake to decorate. If I had less than that (which is what I expected), I'd play it by ear as to how many cupcakes kids could decorate. Since I had originally only planned on having the kids decorate one cupcake and I didn't think that would fill 45 minutes, I started the program with a 15-minute planning period. I had the tables set up with markers and blank cupcake templates so that the kids could plan out what they wanted their cupcakes to look like. This allowed them to visualize their design (their goal was something Willy Wonka would enjoy, since we were celebrating Roald Dahl month) as well as allow for a few mistakes - there would be no do-overs once they got to the real cupcakes.

After the planning period was over, it was time for the real cupcakes. Since I had fewer than 10 kids, I decided to give them each three cupcakes, with the stipulation that they could only submit their one favorite for judging. More than three cupcakes seemed too much for a half hour. Before the program, I had mixed up vanilla frosting with a variety of food coloring to make some beautiful frosting colors (I was pretty impressed with the colors I was able to create). I also had chocolate frosting in case anyone wanted it. Library staff had raided their pantries and donated their surplus and unused sprinkles, icing pens, and sanding sugar. I also had mini marshmallows, dry spaghetti (in case someone wanted to build a structure), and a variety of small candies like Nerds, Bottle Caps, and Laffy Taffy. I have been consistently impressed with the creativity of the kids who show up at my programs, so I was expecting them to do great things with the supplies at hand. Kids had about 30 minutes, maybe a little longer, to decorate their cupcakes.

When time was up, each tween chose their favorite design and submitted it to our esteemed judging panel. I recruited library staff to serve as judges - our teen librarian, one of the adult librarians, and the library director. They took their job very seriously and spent about 10 minutes deliberating before choosing a winner and a runner-up. The winner received a gift certificate to a local cupcake shop and a free book (from my stash of ARCs) and the runner-up took home a free book as well.

Some thoughts on the program: this was probably one of the quietest programs our department has ever seen, especially for a program with the word "war" in the title. From the minute they sat down, these kids were completely focused on the task at hand. They took every stage of the program as seriously as the next and were meticulous. Each kid worked diligently during the planning and when it was finally time for the real cupcakes, many took their time looking over all the available supplies before deciding which colors and candies they wanted to utilize. They were so focused and creative - it was awesome to see. I thought the promise of free cupcakes would bring a bigger number of kids to the program, but I guess you never know. Holding programs on Wednesdays afterschool maybe isn't the best time - it's the middle of the week and kids have homework and other activities to worry about. I'll have to try and see if changing programming days or times would attract more kids. Overall, though, the kids who came had a good time and really showcased their creativity. Not a bad start to the school-year programming!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (36)

The Insomniacs
By Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts
Published 2012 by Putnam Juvenile
I remember hearing about this picture book way back in January at ALA Midwinter, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing it for myself. Unfortunately, the book didn't quite live up to my expectations. The illustrations are lovely and I definitely think the Brothers Hilts are people to keep your eyes on. But the story itself didn't really strike me. I suppose, looking back on it, I like it more than I did when I first read it. I think it would be an enjoyable bedtime story but might prove problematic with getting kids to actually sleep (it is about a family who likes to stay up all night, after all).

Guinea Pig Party
By Holly Surplice
Published 2012 by Nosy Crow
I'm not particularly enthralled by guinea pigs but the ones on the cover are just so stinking cute that I had to pick this book up and find out what a guinea pig party looks like. The answer - ADORABLE. This is a concept book that practices counting sweet little guinea pigs as they celebrate - maybe a little too much. I definitely wouldn't mind going to a guinea pig party if it was as sweet and fun as this one!

Bang! Boom! Roar! A Busy Crew of Dinosaurs
By Nate Evans and Stephanie Gwyn Brown, illustrated by Christopher Santoro
Published 2012 by Harper
Unfortunately, this book came in just after we finished out construction theme storytimes, which was a real shame. This is definitely a kid-friendly and appealing book and would have been a huge hit at construction storytime. After all, it combines construction with dinosaurs - two things little kids (perhaps especially little boys) love. And, not only does this combine those two wonderful and popular subjects, but this book is also an alphabet book! Absolutely wonderful! I really liked this one with its vibrant and entertaining illustrations and the excellent vocabulary it will introduce.

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
By Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall
Published 2012 by Eerdmans Books
This is a beautiful and inspiring picture book biography of the artist Henri Rousseau. I admit that, though the name sounded familiar, I couldn't place him within the art world. But that didn't detract from my enjoyment of this lovely book. Kids learn that Henri wanted to be an artist even though he had never learned and no one had ever told him he was any good and he was already in his forties (which, to kids, will be exceptionally old). But Henri wanted to try anyway, so he entered an art exhibit. Henri's perseverance is a great lesson for kids who are scared to try new things. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. This is a wonderful new biography for young readers.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: Best Shot in the West

Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love
By Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack, Jr., illustrated by Randy DuBurke
Published 2012 by Chronicle Books

Based on his memoirs, this new graphic novel tells the tale of Nat Love, also known as Deadwood Dick, the most famous African-American cowboy in the Old West.

This came through on a new book cart recently and I picked it up, thinking I'd just flip through to get a feel for it. However, once I started it, I couldn't put it down. I was completely engrossed in Nat Love's life story - vividly told here in graphic novel format. I'm surprised that I'd never really heard of Love before this book - though I guess I was never really much of a cowboy fan. There was just something about this book that grabbed me and pulled me in. It's told relatively straightforwardly - Love runs into an old acquaintance while working aboard a train and this acquaintance encourages him to write down his story as he knows someone who might be interested in publishing. Apparently, this is based in fact, as Love did go on to record his adventures and publish his memoirs, on which this book is based. This has basically everything a kid is looking for in a graphic novel or a history book - action, adventure, drama, gunfights, and someone who's really interesting to read about. I think this is a wonderful addition to the world of graphic novels and I wouldn't be surprised to see it make some reading lists.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: The White Darkness

The White Darkness
By Geraldine McCaughrean
Published 2007 by HarperCollins

Sym has been in love with a dead man her whole life. Raised on a steady diet of Antarctica propaganda, she's fallen for Titus Oates, one of the men who attempted the pole but never made it back. Now, her beloved uncle has arranged a trip for two to the Ice; it sounds like a dream come true. However, how will Sym handle the trip when things go horribly awry?

So, this book won the Printz award in 2008 and has obviously been on my radar. I picked it up recently because it kept catching my eye when I walked the shelves. I was intrigued by the setting, as well. I'm going to start by saying this book went very slowly for me. I'm not sure why, but I didn't find it to be quite the gripping and suspenseful read I expected. It took quite some time for me to get interested in the story and I found Sym a rather pathetic narrator. Of course, as the story goes on and more details are revealed, her character makes a bit more sense, but I still found her difficult to deal with for much of the book. I guess I just found all the characters here rather odd and nonsensical - like if these people actually existed and I met them, I would probably eye them apprehensively. Is it because that they're all odd that none of them notices the oddness of the others? I just found it a bit incomprehensible that no one sees any red flags during the book. That being said, I liked how the trip to Antarctica played out. Of course it wasn't going to be all hunky-dory, exactly what Sym expected. The slow reveal of the exact brand of crazy was really well-done. Additionally, I liked that this slow reveal added more details to Sym's backstory and helped explain her Arctic obsession. McCaughrean does a great job of evoking the Arctic - not that I ever wanted to previously but I definitely would be terrified of a trip to Antarctica now. This book is absolutely imbued with terror - I couldn't imagine being in these circumstances. Overall, I liked this book much better in the end than I did for the first portion, but I'm still put off by the strangeness of the characters. Perhaps it's meant to add to the strangeness of the setting - perhaps everything seems unreal in the Arctic.