Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Fairest of All

Fairest of All (Whatever After, book 1)
By Sarah Mlynowski
Expected publication May 1, 2012 by Scholastic

Everything was fine for Abby until the mirror in her basement ate her. Well, not perfect - her parents had just made her move to a new place and she wasn't having much luck with new friends. But she could have dealt with it. Then, her brother was playing around an old mirror in their basement one night and the next thing they know, Abby and Jonah are in a forest. Soon, they come across a small cottage and a girl with lips red as blood, hair dark as night, and skin white as snow...

I have to start by saying that I really love the cover art for this book - I find it absolutely adorable and certain to appeal to girls in the targeted age range of the novel. As for the book itself, this is basically a new take on Snow White - Abby and her younger brother Jonah seem to fall into an alternate reality where Snow White's tale is actually happening right now. When the evil Queen shows up trying to tempt Snow with a poison apple, the brother and sister can't help but step in and stop Snow from eating it. But, uh-oh, this means Snow may never meet her prince. How will Abby and Jonah fix Snow's story? And how do they get back to their world? This is a very quick read and a fun little story if you're a fan of fairy tales. It's interesting to see a realistic and pleasant dynamic between the siblings - I always love seeing positive sibling relationships. I think Abby is a good heroine - she's very concerned with fairness and doing the right thing but often doesn't think things all the way through. She strikes me as very realistic - a good person but still flawed. Jonah is realistic as well - kind of a pain, but in an endearing way. I liked that Mlynowski tried to give the fairy-tale characters some personality - they are usually pretty flat in the originals. This is quite a charming little title and I'm sure it will be a hit. Can't wait to see what comes next in the series - there was a hint of darker and more complex things to come!

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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: A Greyhound of a Girl

A Greyhound of a Girl
By Roddy Doyle
Expected publication May 1, 2012 by Marion Lloyd

Doyle's latest novel for younger readers tells of the journey of four Irish women - one dead, one dying, one driving, and one just starting out.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from this novel - I've never read Doyle before, though he is a prolific writer, and I picked it up on a whim at Midwinter. It was a quick read, but I can't say I found it very engaging. I don't feel like I got to know the characters well enough to be invested in the story and I didn't find it all that interesting. I found Mary to be pretty annoying actually - always being "cheeky" and even when she's not, pretending it just the same. It's a short book so I don't expect an in-depth character analysis or anything, but maybe I should. I felt like all the characters here were flat. Additionally, not much is happening in this book. Mary's grandmother is in the hospital, dying. Mary and her mother go to visit her everyday. One day, walking home from school, Mary meets a woman named Tansey. Though she doesn't know it at first, Tansey is the ghost of her great-grandmother, who died when Emer (Mary's grandmother) was just three. She's come to be a mammy to Emer again as she gets ready to leave this world behind. I feel like this is supposed to be a novel of comfort for those dealing with grief, but I didn't find it so. No one actually seems to need all that much comfort and I don't think Tansey really provides very much of it. This book just didn't really do anything for me.

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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (13)

How Do You Hug a Porcupine?
By Laurie Isop, illustrated by Gwen Millward
Published 2011 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Porcupines seemed to be all the rage this spring, especially right before Valentine's Day. This is another cute porcupine story that showcases many different kinds of animal hugs, all while trying to answer the titular question. This was my introduction to Family Storytime as an official children's librarian and the kids seemed to enjoy it. The illustrations are sweet. A very cute book.

Utterly Lovely One
By Mary Murphy
Published 2012 by Candlewick Press
This is another sweet story that highlights different kinds of animals showing their affection. The illustrations are bright and bold in Murphy's signature style and I think this would be a great book to share at a baby or toddler storytime. One might need to practice saying the phrase "utterly lovely" beforehand, though.

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived
By Matt Tavares
Published 2012 by Candlewick Press
This is a suitable biography for kids of one of baseball's greats. Tavares' admiration for Williams is apparent throughout the book and should really strike a chord with readers (it certainly made me teary to be reminded of how wonderful a player Teddy Ballgame was). Tavares does gloss over the bad stuff about Williams until the author's note at the end, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. I think I'm happy that he put it in there at all, as we so often romanticize the deceased, especially to children. The illustrations are very nice and evocative of America's pastime and the era in which Williams played. I enjoyed this one.

The Woods
By Paul Hoppe
Published 2011 by Chronicle Books
This is a bedtime story that shows how each scary thing in the night is just misunderstood. The illustrations work well with the story and I think this will be a welcome addition to the cache of bedtime books out there. It's innovative and interesting. I'd like to try it out on a kid and see what they think of it.

I Don't Want to Be a Pea!
By Ann Bonwill, illustrated by Simon Rickerty
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
This book is totally adorable and I hope it's the start to a series about Hugo Hippo and Bella Bird. This reminds me a lot of the Elephant & Piggie Books, which is great. What makes this book even better is that their is actually a real-life basis for the friendship of Hugo and Bella - hippos and birds have a symbiotic relationship in real life. This book could certainly be used to introduce that concept to children. Bella does not want to be the pea to Hugo's princess at the Fairy Tale Dress-Up Party. Can the two ever agree on costumes? The illustrations are fun and there is a very sweet ending - this was a wonderful read for me.

Hans, My Hedgehog: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm
Adapted by Kate Coombs, illustrated by John Nickle
Published 2012 by Atheneum

This was interesting and the story seems familiar but I don't remember a hedgehog as the main character. Well, I guess technically, he is half hedgehog, half man. Hans grows up a misfit but when he helps some lost kings return to their kingdoms, he is promised the first thing they see when they enter their palaces. Will he really get these things? Is he destined to be half hedgehog forever? The illustrations are lovely and really the strong point for me with this one. The story itself felt a little too long and tedious, but it was interesting.

Baby Bear Sees Blue
By Ashley Wolff
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
This is a fantastic book for colors! Here is the story of baby bear's day as he explores the world around him and discovers a variety of colors. I love the illustrations and I think this would be great for storytime. It's striking and really wonderful.

Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published 2011 by Candlewick Press
I was really intrigued by this title when I spotted it on our "new books" cart because I think there can never be enough bedtime books. However, after reading, I'm a bit disappointed. This is far too long and complicated to be a lullaby/bedtime story, which I think was the idea. But, this book would be a great way to talk about how a day passes differently for children around the world - kids can learn how a typical day goes for a Tanzanian child. The illustrations are lush and absolutely beautiful. I think this is a wonderful addition to bookshelves, but too complex for a bedtime book.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recent Non-fiction

The President's Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems about the Presidents
By Susan Katz, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
I read about this one right before it showed up on the New Book cart and was instantly drawn to it. This book is fantastic! I love the use of poetry to provide interesting facts about our presidents. I very much want to use this book as part of a presidential/historical program. The poems are fun and give new details that kids will love to discover about people they probably think are boring (come on, don't kid yourself). There are brief notes and presidential quotes in the back. I think once this book is discovered by one kid, all his/her friends are soon going to know about it too.

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature
By Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld
Published 2012 by Candlewick Press
Recently, my colleagues and I have been having numerous discussions about non-fiction aimed at the very young. We are seeing more and more requests for books about non-fiction topics for younger and younger patrons (yes, these requests more often come from the parents). I don't think this is going to end any time soon, so I was pleased to discover this title among our new books. This is a book filled with simple yet interesting and descriptive poems about nature through the seasons. The illustrations are lovely and engaging. I think this book would really work during a program about nature for younger kids. My exact notes are "vibrant" and "appealing."

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Published 2011 by Abrams
This title recently won the Pura Belpre Illustrator Award so I was happy to stumble across it on the new book cart. This book is a fantastic picture book biography that introduces young readers to a very important artist. The first part gives a brief introduction to Rivera and his work, with illustrations in a style strikingly reminiscent of Rivera's. The second part imagines what Diego would paint if he were alive today, with side-by-side then and now comparisons. Back matter includes a bibliography, the inspiration behind the illustrations and a list of where you can find Rivera's work in real life. This is a really wonderful book.

Here Come the Girl Scouts!
By Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Published 2012 by Scholastic Press
I'm not gonna lie - I can't give an honest review of this book. Not because I know the author or anything, simply because when I saw this book, I totally freaked out. You see, I was a Girl Scout for my entire childhood (age 4-18) and I have a lot of great memories. This book is absolutely wonderful if you've ever been a Girl Scout - I got teary-eyed a number of times. Daisy's story is inspiring and fascinating. The illustrations here are very well-suited to the text. I love everything about this book - this is actually a picture book I would love to own, even though I have no children to share it with. I completely love this one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: Spirit's Princess

Spirit's Princess (Spirit's Princess, book 1)
By Esther Friesner
Expected publication April 24, 2012 by Random House Children's Books

Himiko is the beloved only daughter of the Matsu clan chieftain in ancient Japan. Her birth was marked by strange events, though no one will share the details with Himiko herself. Though her father would like to see her marry and lead a normal life befitting a princess, destiny may have a different future in mind for Himiko.

Quite some time ago, I read Friesner's first "Princess" story, Nobody's Princess, which imagines the childhood of Helen of Troy. I was drawn to it because I thought it was an interesting idea but, in the end, I was underwhelmed and wished it had covered Helen's entire life instead of breaking the story into two books. I picked up this newest "Princess" story at Midwinter and figured I'd give Friesner another shot. This time, the book appealed to me because it takes place in a time and culture that I know absolutely nothing about - ancient (according to the summary 3rd-century) Japan. Being completely ignorant of this time period and culture, I can't speak to the accuracy of any of the historical information that Friesner includes but, if reviews I've read are to be believed, almost nothing about this story is accurate. Like I said, I don't know anything about this history so I'm not going to spend any time on this in my review. The part I feel qualified to review is the story itself and, I have to admit, I'm underwhelmed. This is a pretty long book - over 400 pages - but not much is happening. It's a very flat plot with a lot of unnecessary scenes randomly inserted throughout the book. I can't imagine this going over well with it's intended audience. Additionally, I'm not entirely sure who the intended audience is supposed to be - her other titles have been geared toward teen readers, but Himiko starts this book very young and there is almost nothing in here that I would consider "teen content." Himiko does age quite a bit during the course of this novel (though the passage of time is not consistent and difficult to gauge), so I can see why that would drive this toward a teen audience. I don't imagine this book holding their interest, though. As I said, there are a lot of superfluous scenes throughout that add nothing to the story, though there isn't really a terribly interesting story to begin with. Himiko is supposed to be a great heroine, but I found myself underwhelmed by her as well. Too often, her strength is belittled by her constant need for approval from her male relatives - and perhaps this is tied into the culture in which the novel takes place - but it doesn't make her a very convincing princess. There are moments when it appears as if she's finally going to stand up for herself but usually, she ends up running away from the problem instead. Additionally, the cover for this is incredibly deceptive - it depicts Himiko as a fierce warrior woman when, as I said, she is often undermined by her own desire to appease her family. Overall, this book did not really work for me and I'm very disappointed.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: The Paradise Trap

The Paradise Trap
By Catherine Jinks
Expected publication April 24, 2012 by EgmontUSA

The vacation that his mom planned is not at all the vacation that Marcus gets thanks to a used trailer they buy that turns out to have a very evil past.

I've heard of Jinks' books before but never picked one up, though I have a couple of them on my to-read list. Her books seem to always be well-received, as they are often quite funny. So, that's basically what I expected when I started this one - a funny, sci-fi story. However, for me, this book was a little all over the place. It's very fast-paced and frenetic, to the point that it almost feels disorganized - a lot of information is thrown at us very quickly and readers are simply supposed to go along for the ride. I can imagine this works well for many kids, but as an older reader, I found it a bit disconcerting. Additionally, I didn't find anything all that funny, though, once again, I imagine there is quite a bit here that kids will laugh at. This is certainly an adventure story, but there are a few too many elements thrown in - a little of Greek mythology, a little of evil technology, and a little madcap family hijinks. There is a serious lack of characterization - though I mentioned that a lot of information is thrown at us at once, we never really get to know the characters all that well. As a result, I never really got all that invested in the story and, if it didn't have such short, readable chapters, I might have given up on it. The book is very readable - it's over 400 pages but they really fly by. I can see this appealing to kids looking for a different science fiction story, but it just wasn't a book I really enjoyed.

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

Review: Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Published 2011 by HarperCollins

Hmm...I don't know how to do special characters in here, so the main character's name is not going to be spelled properly. Just an FYI, I suppose - there should be an accent mark over the "a" in her name. Ha loves Saigon, even though things have grown increasingly difficult in her ten years there. But when her family moves to Alabama to flee the war, Ha finds herself longing to be back in Saigon more than anything.

This book has won a lot of honors recently, but it caught my eye even before that, since I have a particular fondness for novels in verse. I picked it up because I always want to read award-winning books and I figured this one would be a quick read that I could squeeze in among my many other books. This was indeed a quick read and a very well-written book as well. It's a bit of a hard topic for children, but I think it's very well-done. I think this book does a great job of getting kids to see through the eyes of a refugee child. I think Ha is a well-constructed character - she has a personality and she is endearing enough that I rooted for her. The first part of the book is, for me, the strongest - the language is very evocative and the picture painted through the poems is quite lovely. It made me feel like I knew the Saigon she was speaking of. However, once she gets to Alabama, it doesn't seem as clear - it feels like she could be in any state in America, not necessarily Alabama specifically. I think the members of Ha's family would be really interesting to read about as well - I would have liked more chances getting to know them better. Overall, I enjoyed this book and I think it's a book that could educate a lot of kids in an enjoyable way but I'm not sure if it's truly outstanding.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (12)

The Incredible Life of Balto
By Meghan McCarthy
Published 2011 by Alfred A Knopf
Another non-fiction picture book that caught my eye, this is the story of Balto, one of the dogs who rushed a serum to Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria epidemic in the 1920s. I might be the only twentysomething who doesn't remember seeing the Disney movie based on this story, but that didn't make the book any less appealing to me. This is a book that is sure to catch the attention of many children (they always seem to be fascinated by dogs) and it's a very well-done book as well. The illustrations are simple and work with the text well. Unlike other books on Balto, this explores his life after he became famous as well. There is a very detailed author's note at the end, as well as an extensive bibliography and a list of some suggested activities for furthering the book.

The Crossing
By Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Jim Madsen
Published 2011 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
This was not really a satisfying book for me. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous - they perfectly evoke the scenery that they are meant to capture but the text is sometimes difficult to find and lost among these illustrations.It's an intriguing story but this is definitely for a much older audience (I'm thinking grades 3 and up). I didn't really get that this was supposed to be the story of Lewis & Clark (I mean, I knew from reading the cover that this is what it was supposed to be but it doesn't really come across in the book itself). There is an author's note at the end to explain the story but I think this is probably going to fall flat for a lot of kids. I think, aside from the illustrations, its biggest strength is it provides a lot of unique sound words ("flit flit" of the salmons).

Waiting for the Biblioburro
By Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
Published 2011 by Tricycle Press
This is a good introduction for children to the differences among lifestyles for kids around the world. Hopefully, this book will make children appreciate their libraries and all the things they have access to that may not be true for other kids in the world. I like that the emphasis is made on the fact that Ana only has one book that belongs to her - this is something that maybe a lot of kids don't realize is true but is a reality for a lot of people. There is an author's note at the end that provides some background information on the inspiration behind the story. The illustrations suit the story well - they have a colorful Latino flair.

What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World
By Maya Ajmera
Published 2012 by Charlesbridge Publishing
This is a non-fiction picture book about other cultures for a younger crowd than most non-fiction. It provides beautiful photographs from a wide variety of countries and cultures with very simple text to accompany the stunning photos. There is a nice list of suggested activities at the end but this book really fails in that there is no back matter. This book could have been outstanding if only it had included some back matter, explaining the outfits readers have just seen and what each represents. In the end, the only information we're provided with is the name of the country where each outfit can be seen and a map so that we can locate these countries. I really wish the author had included more referential information at the end - it truly would have made this book great.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Supergirl Mixtapes

Supergirl Mixtapes
By Meagan Brothers
Expected publication April 24, 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.

Maria is finally getting what she has long wanted - the chance to live with her mother, who ran out on her and her father a long time ago. So Maria is escaping her life in small-town South Carolina and heading for New York City. But her dream may not work out to be exactly what she hoped for...

I remember reading and enjoying Brothers' previous novel, Debbie Harry Sings in French, so when I spotted this new one at Midwinter, I happily snapped up a copy. I'm not really sure what to say about it now that I've finished. This is an interesting book - there is something about it that keeps you reading. Maybe it's Maria and one's desire to know more about what brought her here. Maybe it's her mother and the incredible sadness one feels reading about this person and knowing she's going to disappoint you. The thing is, this is a book that deals with some heavy stuff - but, in my opinion, never actually deals with what. A lot of questions are left unanswered by the time you turn the final page and it feels a bit mystifying to realize this. I know I've expressed mixed emotions about books leaving me with questions - sometimes I hate it and sometimes it makes me love the book more. And I certainly don't want to suggest that all young adult novels should wrap everything up in a nice little bow. But to me, it seems a bit strange to leave so many questions at the end of a novel such as this. Readers never find out what exactly prompted Maria's move to New York, never learn more about her father and mother, never discover if Victoria could change her ways. Additionally, it seems as if there is a lot of less-than-okay behavior in this novel, exhibited by various characters of all ages, but no one is really discussing it. I understand that this is a reality for many teens, but something about it felt off. This is a book that focuses heavily on music without really discussing it or explaining why - and I think it suffers for that. A number of things felt unfinished. However, this was a book that I wanted to keep reading and whose pages flew by. I'm on the fence about it overall.

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl
By Ben Hatke
Published 2011 by First Second

When Zita finds a red button in a smoking crater, she does what any normal person would do - she pushes it. Little does Zita know that pushing this button will send her on an intergalactic journey to rescue her best friend and how many interesting characters she will meet along the way.

This is a current Bluebonnet nominee and a graphic novel, so I snatched it up recently for a quick read. This book is really, really fun. Zita is a wonderful heroine - she is full of punch and vigor, she is deeply loyal, she is curious and caring - she's your basic preteen girl. Her adventures are exciting and also full of valuable lessons, even if you don't ever find yourself travelling through space. This is a very quick read, with really interesting artwork and a well-developed storyline that begs for sequels. I can't wait to read Zita's next adventure! Really glad I picked this one up and sure to be a popular choice among the Bluebonnets.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Mister Death's Blue Eyed Girls

Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls
By Mary Downing Hahn
Expected publication April 17, 2012 by Clarion

Based on a true story, readers meet Nora, who is finishing her junior year of high school in 1955. She doesn't know it but her life is about to change forever - the last day of school, two girls she knows are murdered and it seems only pure luck that she did not meet the same fate. Nora will struggle with how to move on after this horrible crime.

I can't believe it, actually, but this is the first book of Hahn's that I've ever read. It's pretty amazing, because I love scary things and Hahn is definitely known for her spooky books for middle-grade readers. This new novel is a departure for her, in a way - though it could potentially still be described as a spooky book, it's based on an actual crime, tells a more personal story, and is geared toward a young adult audience. After finishing this title, I don't know why I never read Hahn before - though this book is for a different audience, I assume it's still indicative of her other titles. Hahn has crafted a dark and fascinating coming-of-age novel tied up with a mystery and a horrific crime. Though Nora is our main protagonist, Hahn has chosen to tell the story from a variety of perspectives and I think it works really well. The greatest chunk of page time is devoted to Nora's story and opinions, but I really enjoyed reading about things from other points of view. Nora is a good choice for the protagonist, though - she is not as closely connected to the crime as some of the other characters and she is already going through her own difficult times. The murders force her to take a closer look at some of the things she believes - does she really agree with the crowd and believe that Cheryl's ex-boyfriend is the murderer? Or does she follow her gut and think he's innocent? Can she still believe in a God that lets these two young women die? Nora's struggles are not dissimilar from the struggles of most teenagers - whether to choose the crowd over yourself, ideas about religion and what it all means, worries about the future and our families. Hahn creates a perfect historical novel, as well - the book takes place in 1955 and everything about it screams that decade. While there isn't actually much of a mystery here (the murderer narrates the prologue, so we know who it is all along), it's still an incredibly compelling story. I found myself itching to keep reading. I think this book will appeal to a wide variety of teens - those who like historical novels, those who want to read coming-of-age stories, and those who like unsettling tales.

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

Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, book 1)
By Patrick Ness, read by Nick Podehl
Published 2010 by Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

Todd Hewitt lives on New World, in Prentisstown with his caretakers, who took him in after his parents died. He is the last boy in town and is about to reach manhood when something completely unforeseen happens. You see, on New World, there is noise - the thoughts and feelings of every man and beast. But Todd finds a space of silence in the swamp and discovers something he's never seen in real life before - a girl. This will change his life forever.

I had heard a lot of praise for this book when it first came out and the premise of the series sounded really appealing to me, but of course I never managed to get around to it. I downloaded the audiobook not too long along but kept putting off listening to it - I felt a bit apprehensive about listening because I had heard the book was written in some kind of dialect and I wasn't sure how this would translate on audio. But another librarian I know listened to the book and had nothing but good things to say, so I decided to make it my next listen. I'm very glad I did. This was a great book to listen to. The narrator does a fantastic job of using his inflection to differentiate between a huge cast of characters, including good guys, bad guys, women, and a variety of animals. These characters are all really fascinating and the world that Ness creates is incredibly complex and interesting. I was totally pulled in from the very beginning and couldn't wait to find out what happened next. This book is full of suspense and intrigue and I can see why readers would flock to this story. I was right with Todd every step of the way, anxious to find out the secrets of New World. I loved Todd and Viola's developing relationship - I think it was executed perfectly. There is the appropriate amount of hesitation in the beginning and the slowly lessening apprehension that develops into true appreciation for each other. Amazingly, I didn't realize this book took place on another planet into maybe a third of the way through this book - I easily imagined this to be a ravaged and disturbing version of Earth. And that's something else that should be mentioned - this is a VERY disturbing book. I've noticed a couple of reviewers who consider this more appropriate for adult readers, but I think these reviewers are underestimating our teen readers. Yes, this book is full of disturbing things - torture, death, conspiracies, gore, etc. But I don't think it's ever more than a teen could handle. And ultimately, as I think I've said before, it's up to the teen to decide what s/he can or can't handle. Anyway, I really, really liked this book and can't wait to read the next one. I was incredibly upset by one particular event and I did get a bit annoyed with Aaron, but ultimately, I found this a very satisfying book to listen to.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (11)

One Love
Adapted by Cedella Marley, based on the song by Bob Marley, illustrated by Vanessa Newton
Published 2011 by Chronicle Books
This is a wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite songs (confession: I have a tattoo of some of the lyrics). I think the book represents the song's message beautifully and I really love the illustrations. I think this would be a great book to share in a storytime about love and perhaps you could even play the song for kids. I really like this one.

Hattie and the Wild Waves
By Barbara Cooney
Published 1993 by Puffin Books
Miss Rumphius is pretty much one of my favorite picture books ever so when I recently realized that I hadn't actually ever read this one, I immediately picked it up. My first thoughts were "this book is so wordy! Is this really for children?" I almost don't think it is, but at the same time, I think there is something about this book that would appeal to a precocious child. I love Cooney's art so much that I could probably forgive her anything, but this is an interesting story, just perhaps better suited for an older crowd.

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of the Macy's Parade
By Melissa Sweet
Published 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
This book caught my attention when it was first published but I didn't have a chance to pick it up until after it won the Sibert Award. My actual notes after reading this book being with "so brilliant". I completely adored this book; everything about it feels like fun. The illustrations are whimsical and evoke Sarg's work beautifully. The story is interesting and, if a kid discovers this book, I don't think they could be disappointed. Included at the end of the book is a nice author's note and bibliography. This is a book to treasure.

Cat Secrets
By Jef Czekaj
Published 2011 by Balzer + Bray
I want to have a cat storytime just so I can use this book - seriously, this book is basically written for the storytime setting. It's not really a story in that there isn't a plot to speak of, but it's a very cute and interactive book that I think kids would really love. I love this book and I need to recommend it to my friend Sarah if she doesn't already know about it (she's a cat fanatic).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Program: Family Storytime

My second foray into Family Storytime occurred on St. Patrick's Day; fittingly, our theme for the week was green. As I began to choose books for the session, I got increasingly frustrated - all the St. Patrick's Day or leprechaun books owned by our library were way too long for storytime. My session was taking place on St. Patrick's Day itself so I really wanted to include something relevant. Eventually, I came across something that worked. Here's what we did.

Opening: Welcome, reminders (no food, please participate, stay out of the blinds), and introduce our theme.

This would be the point where I complete forgot to do "Open Shut Them," but I did have it written in my plan.

Book: Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox - this is a classic but very fun. I was surprised by how much the kids really loved it.

Flannel: "Five Green and Speckled Frogs" - I had planned on finding a recording of this and including it but then I discovered we had a flannel version. I did end up singing the rhyme and, thankfully, some parents knew it as well and sang along.

Book: Green Wilma by Tedd Arnold - they seemed a little on the fence about this one, and I don't think they really got the ending but they did laugh at Wilma's desperate fly-catching antics.

Song: "The Hokey Pokey" - I showed them the book Croaky Pokey by Ethan Long and then told them we were going to stand up and get our wiggles out by doing the human version. This went much better than my failed attempts at "The Chicken Dance."

Book: Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley - I was surprised because they did not seem into this at all. I thought for sure this would be a hit but they seemed pretty ambivalent about it.

Song: "And the Green Grass Grows All Around" - allegedly, we have a flannel of this somewhere but I couldn't find it in the week and a half I spent preparing before storytime, so I just ended up singing the song, having the kids repeat after me, and miming the parts. They seemed to enjoy this.

Book: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown - I knew this was a risky choice because it's a little on the long side but I love it so much that I stubbornly included it anyway. They were not so into it in the first part but once they saw the garden starting to spread and explore, they seemed more interested.

Draw a story: "Draw a Leprechaun" - like I said, I really wanted to include something related to St. Patrick's in my storytime, so when I found this really simple drawing rhyme, I was sold. The kids absolutely loved it.

Goodbye rhyme: "Wave Goodbye" by Rob Reid - I'm making this my default goodbye rhyme. Everyone seems to really love it and I've gotten a good laugh at the "wave your derriere" part every time.

And that was my green family storytime! What would you have done?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Program: Chocolate Party

For my second spring break program this year, I decided to take a program I'd seen listed at a number of other libraries and have my own chocolate party for the tweens at my library. Plus, I love chocolate. As expected, it was very fun planning this program and I think the kids had a great time during the program (except for one minor snafu), so to me, this was a great success. Here's how my chocolate party went.

- When the kids came in, I gave them a chocolate word scramble, a recipe for fudge, and a blank answer sheet. The word scramble was just for them to work on while they waited for the program to start, the fudge recipe was theirs to take home and then blank answer sheet was for our first game.

- We played "Name That Candy Bar": using photos of candy bars cut in half (minus their wrappers, of course), the kids had to name as many as they could. A few kids complained that this was too hard and, admittedly, there were a couple of lesser-known candies in there (does anyone still eat Rollos?), but all in all they had fun trying to figure out what in the heck that candy bar was supposed to be. There were 12 in all; 3 kids ended up getting 8 correct (I tried to get them to pass their papers to the person next to them so they wouldn't be correcting their own, but this ended up mostly creating a confused mess of children, so I'd probably do that differently next time). I put their sheets in a bucket and draw one out to win a goodie bag (a giant Hershey's bar, two chocolate rubber ducks and a pair of chocolate bunny erasers).

- We then tested our chocolate knowledge with "Chocolate Trivia": I was a little worried that the kids wouldn't be that into this because I wasn't offering a prize for this portion. I wanted this part to be more informal, so I just had them raise their hands for which answer they thought was correct. There were some grumbles initially when I announced that there wouldn't be a prize but by the second question, they were completely into this. They actually seemed to enjoy learning some new things about chocolate, though it was hard to keep them quiet.

- Now it was time to get up for a bit and try our "Hershey Kiss Relay": if I had to pick one thing, this was probably the least successful. I thought this was a brilliant idea when I found it in another librarian's chocolate party plan: in teams, the kids had to race to unwrap Hershey's Kisses while wearing oven mitts. I split them up into 6 teams (another thing that proved to be unnecessarily confusing for them), got them to line up in front of the tables (where the Kisses were already set out for them), put on their mitts and then let them go. One team quickly pulled out in the lead, but they all struggled with it. Two boys got so frustrated that they were close to tears. I guess this game is better suited to teens (who might have an easier time laughing at themselves when they get frustrated). The winning team members each got a goodie bag with lots of Hershey's Kisses, rubber ducks and erasers.

- We sat back down and played "Chocolate Bingo": probably the easiest part of the program and the biggest hit. I gave them BINGO cards with chocolate-themed words and plain M&Ms for markers. We ended up playing two rounds and they probably would have played all day if I let them.

- The end arrived and it was time for the most important part: eating chocolate. I used white, milk, and dark chocolate chips. I portioned out spoonfuls in mini-candy liners and then passed one of each flavor out to the kids. Of course, they loved this part.

I said goodbye to them after that and asked them if they had fun; they all shouted "YES!" I felt a little bad releasing them into the library immediately after feeding them chocolate, but I think the program was a success!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Picture Book Saturday (10)

A My Name is Alice
By Jane Bayer, illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Published 1992 by Puffin Books
This one caught my eye on the shelves and I couldn't resist. The rhyme (or game) should be familiar to many children but this book provides excellent vocabulary in its choice of animals represented, as well as providing geographical information when we find out where they come from. The illustrations are classic Kellogg - fun and interesting with lots of details for kids to discover. This could be a great book to introduce some non-fiction about various animals or geography.

Fannie in the Kitchen
By Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Published 2001 by Atheneum
Non-fiction picture books - I cannot resist them. This one I discovered in the 600s. It details the story of Fannie Farmer and how she revolutionized cooking by introducing precise measurements and recipes. It's an easy read and a cute story with suitable illustrations. I enjoyed it because I'm a big fan of cooking and I think this will appeal to a certain population of kids.

Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo
By Ayun Halliday, illustrated by Dan Santat
Published 2009 by Hyperion Books
I've recently become enamored with Dan Santat's illustration style, so this one jumped out at me from the shelves one day. This is a book about butts - do I really have to say anymore to convince kids to read it? It's a fun book with witty text that is absolutely fabulous for vocabulary. We get interesting animals and a plethora of synonyms for your rear end. The illustrations are, of course, fantastic. I think this would be immensely enjoyed in a storytime if you can manage to keep the riotous laughter under control!

11 Experiments that Failed
By Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter
Published 2011 by Random House Children's Books
This is a cute story about trying new things and exploring. While the outcome of some of the experiments seems clear from the start, I think kids would have a good time with this book. They might even learn about the scientific process and be inspired to conduct some experiments of their own, though hopefully nothing too similar to the ones outlined here. This could be used in a storytime to introduce science and experimentation and could possibly pair with some non-fiction, though it might be a little too silly.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Program: Design a Duck

During spring break this year, I was tasked with coming up with two programs for tweens. They were supposed to be suitable for larger-than-average crowds and designed to appeal to the greatest number of kids. I confess, this first program was not exactly my idea. My boss was cruising around Oriental Trading one day, searching for supplies for other upcoming programs, when she stumbled upon plain, white rubber ducks. She immediately came to me and suggested we host a "design your own duck" program for the tweens. And voila! Instant programming.

This was an insanely simple program that I think the kids absolutely loved (actually, I think the staff may have enjoyed it even more than the kids). We simply ordered large quantities of the white rubber ducks, set out multi-colored sharpies, glue, fabric, feathers, stickers, and assorted other art supplies, and let the kids create their own designer ducks. Each kid made at least two; some made 3 or 4. In the weeks leading up to the program, we had distributed some ducks to staff members throughout the library and asked them to create some examples so kids could see that possibilities were basically endless. It was amazing to see just how different every one's ducks turned out to be. I crafted a Cheshire Duck and a Spiderduck (Cheshire Cat and Spiderman); we had a set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Ducks, a Duck Tape, a Mardi Gras duck, and even a Thing 1. We set our example ducks in a glass display case near the children's desk about a week before the program and I think this made a big impact on our final numbers.

The program ran incredibly well; each kid just did his or her own thing. They all behaved well and most stayed creating ducks until the very last minute. I didn't get to see all the ducks that were made but I did see a couple different versions of Thing 1, some more Teenage Mutant Ninja Ducks, a leprechaun duck (complete with pot of gold), Superduck, and even a zombie duck. This was an easy and very successful program that everyone had fun with. I would love to do it again!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie
By Julie Sternberg, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Published 2011 by Harry N. Abrams

This is one of the titles on the 2012-13 Bluebonnet List. When I found out it was written in verse, I couldn't resist picking it up for a quick read. Eleanor is devastated when her babysitter, Bibi, has to move away. It is the worst thing. And she absolutely does not want another sitter - Bibi has been her sitter her whole life. Will Eleanor be able to figure out how life works without Bibi?

This is a very short, quick, but very touching read. It's written in verse, in very short chapters, so this book should fly by for the majority of readers. But this book is also dealing with a bit of a tough topic in a very sensitive and sweet way. I don't know that I've seen too many books dealing with the babysitter/child relationship, even though most kids have babysitters in their lives. Eleanor's situation may be more unique than the typical scenario nowadays - I don't know if there are still kids who only have one babysitter their whole lives - but I think this book is incredibly easy to relate to. Ultimately, it's just a story about a friend having to move away and how that makes the person left behind feel. Eleanor is a spirited character and I think this book should appeal to many kids. I found it incredibly charming. The illustrations are a nice addition to the text, making it feel even more as if the book was written by Eleanor herself. Very sweet book.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Dying to Know You

Dying to Know You
By Aidan Chambers
Expected publication April 1, 2012 by Amulet Books

Karl is crazy about Fiorella but he doesn't know how to say it. So when she asks him to answer some questions about himself for her, he does the only thing he can think of - asks Fiorella's favorite author to help him. What follows is a bittersweet tale of love and self-identity.

I don't think this is going to be a very good review. I'm just putting that out here at the top so that nobody is fooled. I'm not sure why this author is familiar to me - I don't think I've read any of his books before, but the name rings a bell. Anyway, this was one of the random books I grabbed at Midwinter. I thought, from reading the blurb, that I'd be reading a comedy of some sort - guy desperate to get his relationship with out of reach girl to work enlists aid of favorite author, hijinks ensue - that sort of thing. This is definitely not that kind of book. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what kind of book this is. I don't know if I can make any sort of sensible review happen so here are the things I've thought about while reading/since finishing this book. Why is the book narrated by the writer? I can see that it's an interesting choice, especially for a young adult novel, but it sort of creates a disconnect from the teenagers who are allegedly the subject of the novel. I'm not sure how readers will take this narrative choice - it may be off-putting and alienating. The title - I don't get it. I mean, I don't think it would be weird for me to say that I expected someone to die. And there may have been some close calls, but by the end of the course, there is no actual death. So what's with the title? I don't love Karl or Fiorella - I understand the idea and why there's conflict. And Karl is a complicated character who I felt like I should have been rooting for, but I just wasn't really. I found him frustrating. And I found the relationship between Karl and the narrator frustrating as well. However, I won't deny that the book is very well-written. It reads beautifully. And I can't say that I didn't enjoy the book - I kept reading and didn't feel like I wanted to quit. But this was a weird book for me.

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