Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Some thoughts: ALA Youth Media Awards

Well, if you're like me, I know what you were doing the morning of Monday, January 28, 2013: watching (either in person or online via live-stream) the ALA Youth Media Awards. This year, I tuned in online and it was just as exciting as being there in person last year (well, maybe not, but it was still pretty exciting). I have been avidly following reviews and buzz, reading Heavy Medal and Someday My Printz Will Come, and trying my own hand at predicting the winners. I did not fare well at all, prediction-wise, but I have some thoughts about the winners and I'd like to share them (and please share your thoughts as well!).

I don't really have opinions on all the awards - I don't have time to follow them all with the same level of rabidity. I think the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and Morris Award winners were no surprises - after the shortlists were announced, I think both categories had pretty clear frontrunners and those frontrunners took home the awards. I am of two minds about the overlap between the ENYA and the Sibert - it is fantastic that the three books that made both lists are so truly distinguished that they score multiple honors; however, there was no shortage of great non-fiction this last year and it would have been nice to see more diverse titles honored (I say this even with my depressing showing of non-fiction reading this year - I know there were a lot of great books out there that I didn't get to).

I was surprised that I had only read one of the Stonewall books: October Mourning, which was truly excellent. Given the buzz, I expected to see The Miseducation of Cameron Post on the list, but I will definitely be checking out the titles that were honored as soon as I can. I am so impressed with the honors bestowed on Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - I'd heard of the book but hadn't read it yet. I will definitely need to change that ASAP - except my library doesn't own a copy yet. I've been assured it's on order - I'll be stalking our catalog to put my name on the holds list.

I am not surprised to see Tamora Pierce win the Margaret A. Edwards Award - it seems like it's been a long time coming. Though I've never read her, I know she's done important work in the fantasy genre, especially with regards to female characters. I also know many people who grew up reading and loving those books - I just wasn't a fantasy reader in high school. I'll definitely check her out when I get a chance. I'm also not surprised to see Katherine Paterson win the Laura Ingalls Wilder. Personally, she's not my favorite author, but she has definitely made a lasting contribution to literature for young people.

Though I wasn't of the camp that believed Wonder would receive Newbery love, I thought it was a shoo-in for recognition from the Schneider Family Book Award. Perhaps the love for it has faded over the year since it was published? Regardless, I am definitely interested in checking out A Dog Called Homeless - I've seen it on our shelves and didn't know it dealt with the disability experience at all.

The Printz seemed to be a whole slew of surprises - and I'm ashamed that I've only read one of the Honor books. Once again, I really need our library to get a copy of Aristotle and Dante - I've already checked out In Darkness and Dodger to read as soon as I can. I love when there is a book that's completely out of left field - I mean, who had heard of The White Bicycle before? I'm pleased that Code Name Verity received an Honor - it is a truly excellent book. But I can't help but be a little sad that The Fault in Our Stars received no love (excepting the audio version's Odyssey Award win). I admire all the hard work the committee did and I trust their decision - it's just a book I love so much that I want it to get all the love.

I love, love, love that the Caldecott committee named five Honor books - the illustrations in picture books just keep getting more and more stunning and I love that the committee made it known. I am especially thrilled that Peter Brown received an Honor for Creepy Carrots! - his work continually amazes me. I also really loved Green and am not surprised to see its Honor. What I really love is that This is Not My Hat won the whole shebang - I think Klassen is doing really interesting things in picture book illustration and I love this book so very much.

Not a ton of surprise with the Newbery - I'd seen all the books in various discussions and I definitely cheered out loud when The One and Only Ivan won. It's a beautiful book with tremendous appeal - I can't wait to read it again and share it with kids. Personally, I'm surprised that Three Times Lucky honored - I don't remember being that impressed with it. I guess you never know!

What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: What We Saw at Night

What We Saw at Night
By Jacquelyn Mitchard
Published 2013 by Soho Teen

Allie Kim suffers from XP - xeroderma pigmentosum - a severe allergy to the sun that leaves her to live in the night world. Thankfully, she's not alone - her two best friends have XP as well, and the three of them have inhabited their nighttime world together. But things begin to seem a bit off with Juliet - and then Allie sees something disturbing one night, something that might possibly be murder. What's really going on here?

Well, I think my review could be summed up by simply repeating that last question: what's really going on here? I requested this title because it sounded like it had potential - I'm hoping that mystery is the next big thing in youth literature and the intrigue of XP definitely gave this one a twist. Unfortunately, this book did not work for me at all. Mainly this is because I can't answer the question I've asked twice - I have no idea what the heck is going on in this book. I don't know if it's a matter of poor execution or poor plot or both. But I'll try to take a closer look and see if I can find some answers.

Execution-wise: this book is not well-written. I'm struggling to remember whether I've read Mitchard before (edit: I've just looked - I read All We Know of Heaven and actually specifically mentioned that I thought it was well-written) but if I go by this book alone, I'd struggle to know how she is a successful author. Many, many times throughout the book (too many to count) the writing just didn't make sense - I found myself wondering if I'd somehow managed to skip a paragraph or a page or something but I never did. The writing is just disjointed and the narrative does not work well at all. I rolled my eyes at the melodrama that is Allie - and when I spend too much time rolling my eyes over a character, chances are the book is not going to be a win for me. I get that Allie and her friends live a very unique life and may experience a bit of arrested development, their exposure to the greater world being severely limited by their medical condition. But that makes me want to be sympathetic to them and it sort of feels like Mitchard is doing everything in her power to make Allie annoying so I won't feel any sympathy for her. She is a bit too much for me, I'm afraid. But is this poor writing simply due to a poor plot?

There is so much going on here and none of it is what I thought this book was going to be about. There is the exploration of friendships changing and perhaps dying as people grow up and change. An exploration of how a shift in one relationship can cause many seismic shifts in other relationships across the board. There is the exploration of a life so outside the realm of what most would consider normal, and how an otherwise typical teenager deals with this life. And then there is the mystery - the so-called murder that Allie spies one night. As with the narrative, this entire plot line felt disjointed and confusing - it made no sense to me. I felt like Allie was constantly searching in every conceivable direction for the answers and it irritated the crap out of me. The best part is that, though the murder happens relatively quickly in the book, the bulk of the investigation into it doesn't play out until maybe 3/4s of the way through, and even then seems secondary to everything else going on. The inclusion of Parkour really threw me - what does this have to do with anything? For a book published by a mystery/crime imprint, I expected more focus on the mystery.

In the end, this was just not a book I enjoyed and I have a difficult time figuring out who I'd recommend this book to.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Program + Review: beTWEEN the lines

Well, I definitely don't have much to say about December's installment of our tween book club. The kids seem to be coming pretty consistently now, which is nice. I did have a few new attendees in December - one regular book-clubber brought two of her friends, and another boy showed up. The group of friends made for a slightly more difficult group to control - they seemed more interested in just chatting with each other than in participating in the discussion. Actually, that's probably the most interesting thing to note about December's discussion: this is the book that I came up with the most discussion questions for and yet this was the book that the kids seemed to have a hard time with contributing. We soldiered through, but this was our shortest discussion to date. We finished up with voting for February and handing out copies of January's title.

Our December title was:
By Kathryn Erskine
Published 2010 by Philomel
Caitlin's life is black and white; anything in between is confusing. Her brother, Devon, used to help her figure out the in between stuff. But Devon is gone now. When Caitlin discovers that what she needs in closure, she begins a search for it the only way she knows how.

I don't have a lot to say about this book because it was a re-read for me. I found it just as effective on the second read. Caitlin is an easy character to understand and root for, and this unique portrayal of grieving is powerful and realistic. The kids really seemed to like the book; a couple told me that they had chosen to do school projects based on it. They liked the different perspective this story gave them, though none of them knew what Asperger's was. I found that very surprising - they knew about autism but not Asperger's. I do feel that this book tries to do too much - it wants to be about a school shooting, and it wants to be about a girl with Asperger's, and it wants to be about dealing with grief and healing. But, it's an excellent book, one I highly recommend.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Boot & Shoe
By Marla Frazee
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Children's Books
Boot and Shoe were born in the same litter. They eat out of the same dish and they do the same things every day. But Boot naps on the back porch while Shoe stakes out the front porch. This suits them fine, until a crazy squirrel comes along and stirs things up. I love the simplicity of the story and the illustrations here; it works perfectly and makes this book very appealing for young ones. This is a very sweet story about friends. My only complaint, if you will, is that the dogs look more like cats.

The Ant & the Grasshopper
By Rebecca and Ed Emberley
Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
Once again, the Emberleys are adapting traditional fables in their inimitable style. In this case, however, they are taking their adaptation even further. Once you start reading this book, you may realize that it doesn't have much in common with the traditional tale besides its name. In this version of the tale, the ant hears the sweet and sassy music played by the grasshopper and his friends and forgets her work to find the source. The illustrations are incredibly vibrant and feel imbued with the music. I love the bright colors and style, but it's not my favorite story.

The Three Ninja Pigs
By Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat
Published 2012 by Putnam Juvenile
Okay, it's pretty clear that I probably wouldn't have picked up this book if it hadn't been illustrated by Dan Santat. I just completely love his style - it's fun and evocative and really interesting. But, I might have given this a shot even with a different illustrator - I'm a fan of retellings and this one definitely takes the story in a different direction. The three pigs don't understand why the wolves won't just leave everybody alone, but they're not going to take it. So, each pig signs up for a different kind of martial arts that they plan on using the next time a wolf tries to bully someone. This is a fun new version of "The Three Little Pigs" that I think kids will enjoy.

Princess in Training
By Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Joe Berger
Published 2012 by Harcourt Children's Books
Who says princesses don't skateboard or karate chop? Well, Princess Viola's parents for one. So they send her to Camp Princess, where she will learn true princess things, like the royal wave and waltzing. When a dragon shows up at Camp Princess, though, Viola can't resist showing off her special skill set. This would be a fun book for a little princess who also likes more rough and tumble activities (which I think is a good percentage of little princesses). The illustrations are perfect for depicting Viola's sweet and spunky sides. It's a pretty basic story but definitely has kid appeal.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: Every Day

Every Day
By David Levithan
Published 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Every day, A wakes up in a new body. Will it be male or female? Happy or sad? In a relationship or single? A doesn't know - just a new body every day. So A has made some rules: don't get attached, try not to stick out, and don't interfere. But the rules go out the window the day A wakes up in Justin's body and meets his girlfriend, Rhiannon. A has found someone worth breaking the rules for.

Do I really need to explain why I wanted to read this book? I like Levithan, this book got tons of buzz before and after it was released, and that concept is insanely interesting. I wanted to read this book so much that I bought a hardcover copy and had it signed by Levithan at the Texas Book Festival before I read it. This is another book that made the shortlist of Pyrite contenders over at Someday My Printz Will Come, automatically bumping it up in my TBR queue.

So, what do I think of this one? I'm going to start by saying that I made a very conscious choice in that previous paragraph when I said I liked Levithan - I chose not to say I love him. I want to love him - I think he's publishing great books that meet teens where they are at - but for me, I haven't enjoyed all his books as much as I hoped to. So, when I heard people saying this was his best book yet, I had high hopes. Did they pan out? Yes - and no. While I really truly enjoyed this book, I did find some flaws.

I loved this book's concept and the deeper, more intense questions that concept left for Levithan and readers to explore. How can we truly know another person? A struggles with this, even when he (I'm sorry, I'm going to default to the masculine pronoun here) sees their lives "from the inside." But how much of each body's life is A really seeing? After all, he is only there for one day - and then he'll be in a new body. And while A talks often of "accessing" the body's memories and thoughts, there are a few instances where A believes he knows better than those accessed memories. It's very interesting, and something I think teens will really love to spend time thinking about.

Another thing I enjoyed - how romantic this book is. It is and it isn't a typical romance - after all, two people meet and feel a connection but can't be together for some reason. It's just that, in this case, the reason is extraordinary. Though the romance in this book is a case of insta-love, it didn't feel as hokey and unbelievable as those types of romance usually do. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint why this felt different - maybe it's just how strongly and deeply A feels for Rhiannon. Maybe it's partly because neither of them are crazy or scary. I don't know - but this book feels like a love letter to love and it's beautiful to read that. It's going to sound super lamesauce to say this, but it made me remember all the most amazing things about falling for someone and all the amazing and wonderful things about being with someone you love. BUT - even though I enjoyed the romance, it was problematic. A has rules for a reason and I find it a bit hard to believe that he would just throw them all out in his attempt to be with Rhiannon. Because what A is doing by continuing to see her, day after day, body after body, is essentially kidnapping that body for the day. A has no regard for what his host is supposed to be doing each day, choosing instead to seek out Rhiannon. It became uncomfortable for me, as a reader, to see this behavior continue.

Something else I found interesting: Nathan's story. I know we are supposed to be on A's side here, but I completely understand where Nathan is coming from and I think this is another really fascinating issue for readers to explore. I like that there are not a whole heap of answers when we get to the end. Is A a victim? Or something else?

Like many others, I, too, found A's experience in the fat body problematic. Though A does express discomfort with a host's situation at other points in the book, none of them seem to reach the same degree as when A is inhabiting a fat body. In a book that appears to be, at least on one level, about tolerance and love is love no matter what, this depiction is unacceptable. It does not, at all, jibe with A's until-then complete acceptance of the body he's inhabiting. There is a chapter before this where A is hosted by a drug addict, and A is uncomfortable, attempting to fight the body's overwhelming need for a hit. Yet even this is not portrayed with as much discomfort and disgust as when A inhabits the fat body. I just - I expected better from Levithan.

All right, I think I've rambled long enough. As this is most likely the last Printz-worthy contender I'll get to before the announcements, I'll go ahead and throw out a prediction. Though it's not my favorite book of the year, I'm hard-pressed to ignore Code Name Verity as one of the, if not the one, most distinguished books published for young adults this year. I think this gets the gold, hopefully with a number of Honor titles. This was an excellent year for YA fiction and I'm definitely eager to see the announcement.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Ask the Passengers

Ask the Passengers
By A.S. King
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Astrid Jones sends her love to the passengers of planes that fly overhead. But, in her own life, she sometimes has trouble with love. Like, she may be in love now. But with a girl. So is she gay? And does it matter?

Another book that has been on my radar for awhile (and even more so once it started racking up starred reviews), I had definitely been looking forward to reading this one. This is another title I bumped up in the reading list when it made the shortlist for the Pyrite over at Someday My Printz Will Come. This one I'm struggling with a bit more than I did with another recent Pyrite read, The Diviners. To be sure, this is a wonderful book. Astrid is an incredibly real and complex character and I loved reading her story. King is one of the best YA novelists writing today - her stories are affecting and real, stories that you lose yourself in and don't mind it one bit. As I've said many times previously, I welcome the addition of new books dealing with sexuality and coming to terms with the struggle that many teens face. This book is an absolutely beautiful exploration of that struggle - Astrid questions not only her sexuality but the whole of human experience throughout the novel. This book is about more than just coming out - it's about growing up and how it's okay to not have it all figured out by your eighteenth birthday.

So, what's my problem? In this case, I think the discussion over at Someday may have impacted my reading of Ask the Passengers. Over there, a number of folks pointed out that it's problematic in a book about sexuality to never have the identity of bisexual come up. While Astrid is struggling with her sexuality, no one, not even her pseudo-imaginary version of Socrates, suggests that Astrid doesn't have to be gay or straight, one or the other. To me, this is very troubling and I like to think I would have noticed and commented on this even if I hadn't seen it mentioned over on Someday first.

Unlike others in the Someday discussion, I didn't find the inclusion of the passenger stories disingenuous or detracting from the story. I've come to expect a step outside the box and a dose of magical realism from King - and I think the passenger stories are those things for this novel. Additionally, though this is a fantastic book, well-written and well executed on a number on levels, I'm just not sure that, for me, this is the most distinguished book of the year. Will I be sad if it wins? Definitely not. But I would be surprised. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I'd love to hear a persuasive argument in favor of this one.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: The Diviners

The Diviners (Diviners, book one)
By Libba Bray
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Evie's parents don't know what to do with her anymore in their small-town, so it's off to glamorous New York City and the care of her uncle Will. But Will is a bit of a strange one, running The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult. What no one knows is that Evie has a secret gift of her own - and she's not the only one. Around the city, others are hiding their strange talents, but not for long. When a series of occult-based murders hits the Big Apple, Evie and her uncle find themselves mired in the investigation. Can they catch the killer - or is Evie the next victim?

Okay, I'd been looking forward to this one ever since I found out about it - 1920s New York City, spunky heroine, creepy paranormal twist. I was thrilled when it started getting good reviews, and even more excited when it landed on the shortlist over at Someday My Printz Will Come. I've been keeping up with the award chatter over there and trying my best to read along (though I'm failing pretty miserably). So, when this book made the shortlist for the Pyrite, I bumped it up in my to-read queue and tackled it (did you know it's like 600 pages long??) over the Christmas holiday.

Good or bad, I'd already seen some of the discussion over at the blog regarding the issues people had with this title. I'd like to hope that it didn't color my own reading experience of the book (though, if I were reading for committee, I would have avoided keeping tabs on the discussion until after I'd finished my own reading of the book). Initially, I have to say: I thought this book was amazing. I'm definitely a hard-core Libba fan - the only thing I haven't read yet is Beauty Queens but someday soon, I promise! - and this book had, as I mentioned, no shortage of awesome things for me to love. Evie - I adore her! She is the epitome of a 1920s go-getter girl. I love, love, love the ensemble of the book as well. In addition to Evie, we get a host of other fantastic characters to follow along - Theta and her roommate, Jericho, Memphis, even Uncle Will. There is no shortage of awesome characters to enjoy.

The setting: 1920s New York City - is there a place more glamorized in our collective minds? Everything about Bray's writing screams with the glitz and romance of the era. This is where I worried the discussion over at Someday would most impact me - a number of people have felt that Bray's overly specific descriptions and abundance of slang bog down the story and feel slightly ridiculous. I shouldn't have worried. For me, what Bray does here doesn't feel any different than any other historical fiction novel - being overly specific helps introduce readers to products, fashions, and slang that they are most likely unfamiliar with. There is A LOT of slang in the book, but it really helps evoke the time period and bring flavor to the characters and setting.

The paranormal: this may be my favorite aspect of the book. I absolutely love when something is presented so completely and wonderfully in a novel that I begin to wonder if it's true or not. Bray does that here, with her storylines about an end-of-the-world cult and Naughty John. I wanted to go do some research of my own when I finished reading. Bray enrobes seemingly every word of this story with a creepy hint of the supernatural and it works wonderfully. For maybe the first time in my life, I was unsettled by a fictional bad guy. Naughty John is the real deal, y'all.

The writing: is there anything Bray can't do? There are so many threads in this story, so much imagery, and in my opinion, it all works wonderfully. I have always loved Bray's writing, so there's no real surprise here.

I think I've gushed long enough. I adored this book and am on absolute tenterhooks for the next installment. Head over to the Someday blog for some different perspectives. Personally, in terms of Printz potential, despite my adoration for the book, I'm not sure it measures up. It's a great field for the Printz this year and I think The Diviners suffers a little from first-in-a-series syndrome. Regardless, I thought this was a fantastic read, highly recommended for everyone.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Program: Wimpy Kid Party

You'd be hard-pressed to find a kid that wasn't anticipating the release of the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. In my quest to capitalize on these highly anticipated series releases with programming, we held a Wimpy Kid party the Saturday after the release date. We ran for the program for two hours and broke it up into two main parts: the first hour featured a variety of activities the kids could move between at their own pace, while the second hour started with trivia and included another activity (for the kids to work on after they were eliminated from the trivia competition). When kids arrived, they all received name tags printed on lined notebook paper with a Wimpy Kid drawing (my colleague and I had made our name tags from the "Wimp Yourself" website).

For the first hour, the stations we had set up were:

- Scavenger hunt: we do these all the time at the library because they are easy and the kids love them. For the Wimpy Kid version, we printed out pictures of different Wimpy Kid characters and placed them around the library for kids to find. When they found them all, they received a homemade cheese touch necklace. These necklaces were a prized possession for the kids who attended the program.

- Create your own journal: there would be no Diary of a Wimpy Kid is Greg Heffley's mother had not given him a journal as a present, so we encouraged the kids to follow in Greg's footsteps and create their own journals. We had half sheets of construction paper in all the colors of the Wimpy Kid books and lined notebook paper for the kids to hole punch and tie together with yarn. We also set out a number of art supplies so the kids could decorate their journals. They spent a lot of time at this station. On a separate table, we provided some writing prompts for the kids to get started writing in their journals, though I think most kids that grabbed these prompts took them home for later use.

- Puzzle table: you know, maybe it's lame of me, but I like word games and puzzles, like word searches and crossword puzzles. I like them for programs because they cost essentially nothing and the kids often seem to enjoy them as much as crafts or projects that cost significantly more. This was no exception. I printed out a bunch of Wimpy Kid word searches and crossword puzzles, as well as some black and white posters (which I figured the kids could color in and take home for their rooms). The kids worked diligently on the puzzles and many of them turned them over, attempting to draw their best versions of Greg Heffley himself.

- The Cheese Touch game: we played this like "Hot Potato," with a moldy cheese shaped beanbag that the kids passed around the circle to the music until it stopped playing. We played rounds until we had a winner, who received a package of cheese and cracker sandwiches. We played this game like a billion times in the first hour and the kids probably could have played all day.

For the second hour, we started with trivia. Since we couldn't find any cheap prizes to get in bulk, we decided we didn't want to have trivia teams, which is how we usually run trivia for programs. With that out, we figured our best option was a spelling bee style trivia contest. We made the whole thing optional, of course; nobody had to participate in trivia if they didn't want to. For the kids that did, we had them line up single-file. I asked the child at the front of the line the first question. If they got it right, they moved to the back of the line; if they got it wrong, I asked the next person in line the question. If they got it right, the first kid was eliminated and the second kid moved to the back of the line. We continued asking questions until we had a winner, who won a set of practical jokes. We did have some kids upset when they got eliminated from the whole contest after getting just one question wrong, so perhaps a trivia sheet with the most right answers winning would have been a better option. However, we did provide another activity for kids who didn't want to participate in the trivia or for after they were eliminated: draw your own comic. We drew some examples for the kids to get a sense of comic strip layout, but other than that, we let them create whatever kind of comic they wanted. I was running the trivia, so I didn't get a chance to see many of the comic creations, but I'm sure they were far better than mine!

And that was our Wimpy Kid Party! Have you had a Wimpy Kid program? What activities did you include?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Oh No! Not Again!: (Or, How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or At Least My History Grade)
By Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat
Published 2012 by Hyperion
Well, it's official - this girl is too smart for her own good. In her first adventure, she built a robot that almost destroyed the world. This time around, she builds a time machine. Why? Well, to fix history so that she doesn't get that A- on her test. Santat is one of my favorite illustrators and I had enjoyed the first book, so I quickly picked up this one. I liked it even better than the previous title. It's a great book for sharing because there is a lot to pore over and discuss. This would be a great title to share with elementary school kids - they will definitely appreciate the humor.

By Tom Lichtenheld
Published 2011 by Henry Holt and Co.
This is basically the cutest book you will ever encounter. It's the cutest book about a cloud, the cutest book about weather, and the cutest book about being little. If you're little, you get cute nicknames and everyone thinks you're adorable (it's true, ask the nearest toddler). But what if you want to do something only big clouds (or people) can do? A change of place opens up new possibilities for Cloudette. I loved the humor sprinkled throughout, the gentle illustrations, and the lovely little message. I think children will really connect with Cloudette. This is definitely a new favorite of mine.

Cock-a-Doodle Dance!
By Christine Fagan-Tricarico, illustrated by Rich Deas
Published 2012 by Feiwel & Friends
Life is gloomy and boring on this farm, but Rooster is about to change all that. To break everyone out of their chore rut, Rooster gets them all dancing. But then chores are getting done. Will they find a balance? I appreciate what this book is trying to do, but I'm not sure it really works. The rhythm is off throughout the text and some of the vocabulary, while new and interesting, makes you stumble as you read. I also don't really enjoy the story itself. But the pictures are eye-catching and I'm sure there is an audience for this book; it just wasn't me.

Bedtime is Canceled
By Cece Meng, illustrated by Aurelie Neyret
Published 2012 by Clarion Books
It started with a note - just a simple note between siblings. Maggie and her brother thought of it, hoping it would fool their parents. Well, not exactly - but something even bigger happens. Soon, the news has spread worldwide: BEDTIME IS CANCELED. This would be a fun book for a pajama storytime. Kids will relate to not wanting to go to bed and will think the ensuing chaos is silly and entertaining. I liked it. The illustrations are very appealing as well. I'd definitely like to try this out on a storytime crowd.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: Teeth

By Hannah Moskowitz
Published 2013 by Simon Pulse

Rudy knows he shouldn't resent his brother. After all, it's not his fault that he's sick and the family moves to a remote island in a last effort to make him healthy. But it still sucks for Rudy. Will things change for him when he meets a pair of mysterious island-dwellers, one who never leaves her house and one who is half-fish?

The story I read was not the story I expected. Hannah Moskowitz is one of those authors whose name I've heard frequently and whose stories sounded like they'd be really interesting. In my typical fashion, I hadn't yet gotten around to actually reading any of her books. So, when her newest title popped up on Edelweiss, I requested it. However, as initially stated, the book I read was not what I had expected. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just, you know, unexpected. But the story I read was fascinating. I love, love, loved the exploration of sibling relationships in this book, not just through Rudy and his brother, but through Teeth and his complicated family. I loved the mystical side of the story - the magic fish that only a handful of fishermen know how to catch but the consumption of which can cure any ailment. I enjoyed the complexity of this story - it's not just about Rudy. It's not just about dealing with a sick family member. It's not just about having your life uprooted. It's not just about mythical fish. It's not just about a half-fish, half-boy. It's about all these things. It's also about finding the person who understands you best. It's about figuring out how unfair life is and what you're going to do about it. It's about figuring out how complicated life is and what you're going to do about it. The story is compelling, the characters are gritty, and the action is heartbreaking. This book was not what I expected, but it was incredibly well-done. Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Non-fiction

A few quick reviews of some recent juvenile non-fiction; which I feel is easier to review in a group instead of individually.

Stay: The True Story of 10 Dogs
By Michaela Muntean, photographs by K.C. Bailey and Steven Kazmierski
Published 2012 by Scholastic
Well, this one came across our new book cart and it's awfully hard for me to resist a book about dogs (especially considering how much I'd like to have one). This tells the story of Luciano Anastasini, a man who lives for the circus. After he has an accident and can no longer perform, he adopts a number of unwanted dogs. Working with them all individually, Anastasini sees performer potential in each and decides to create a new act with the dogs. He continues to adopt unwanted dogs and incorporates them into the act whenever he can. The photos are really vibrant and the story is told simply but not too simply. This will really appeal to kids who love animals. I think this also is great for showcasing that each dog has its own special abilities and, instead of writing them off like other people have done, Anastasini takes the time to get to know each one and incorporate that ability into the act.

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story
By Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So
Published 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Anyone who knows me might be a bit surprised that I bothered to pick up this title. I am not a big fan of birds. However, I'm not opposed to them as long as they keep a distance - so reading a book about them is pretty much okay. The story of Alex intrigued me, even though I quickly realized that I didn't even know the whole story. Apparently, before Irene Pepperberg and Alex, most scientists believed that, because of the size of their brains, birds were not worth studying. Pepperberg believed this view to be incorrect and, by studying Alex, proved that birds were much more intelligent than previously believed. This book has great kid appeal and will be very popular with young non-fiction readers.

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John "Appleseed" Chapman
By Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
Published 2012 by Greenwillow Books
There is no shortage of biographies on Johnny Appleseed, particularly of the picture book variety. However, Codell and Perkins have taken a distinct approach with this biography and have given readers a wonderful new portrait of John Chapman. As I've stated many times before, I love picture book biographies because the information is presented concisely, usually in the most interesting way possible, and I always learn something I hadn't known before. In this case, Codell highlights Chapman's life through the five tenets he tried to live by: use what you have, share what you have, respect nature, try to make peace where there is war, and you can reach your destination by taking small steps. All of this adds up to a great message for kids that is encouraging without being overwhelmingly preachy. The illustrations highlight the folksy, Americana nature of the legend surrounding Chapman and work beautifully with his story. I learned a lot of things I didn't know and loved hearing how likely it is that all apples we eat today are descended from the seeds Chapman planted. Really excellent biography.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator

Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator
By Josh Berk, read by Jim Meskimen
Published 2012 by Listening Library

Guy doesn't really have any interests. Well, besides breasts, but he can't really pursue that one. However, when his friend Anoop convinces him to join the forensics club as a way to meet girls, Guy figures he'll give it a try. Maybe then he WILL be able to pursue his main interest. But when a real dead body shows up, Guy and company must take their forensics skills to the next level and figure out what happened.

So I unintentionally listened to both of Josh Berk's books pretty much back-to-back. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it was just a lot of teenage guy narration in a short period of time. The problem now, however, is that it's been at least a month since I finished this (the second of the two I read) and I'm having a hard time keeping the details between the two books distinct. Well, I suppose that's not exactly true. The main characters of the two books are not necessarily all that similar: Hamburger Halpin is overweight, deaf, and nerdy. Guy Langman is still dealing with the death of his father and also nerdy. But, both find themselves as amateur sleuths when they encounter unexpected death. Additionally, the narrative voices of the two boys are not all that different from each other. I suppose that is the real reason why I'm having some trouble keeping the two books distinct in my mind. The mysterious death investigations also seem to run in much the same way - both boys enlist the help of their friends and the Internet in their attempts to solve the "crimes." Despite these similarities, I wouldn't necessarily call it a flaw that the two boys' narratives sound alike - in both cases, they read as very true accounts of the inner workings of the mind of a teenage guy. There are a number of laugh-out-loud moments in both books, though I think I remember laughing more with this one. The secondary characters don't really stand out as much in this one, though, and I thought the red herring was a bit too obvious here. However, the great thing about both of these books is that they feel genuine in their narration. They combine humor with mystery and I think it's a really successful combination. Any teens looking for a laugh (especially boys) should give these books a shot.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Program: Dreamcatchers

To celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November, I decided to offer a make your own dreamcatcher program. A while back, another librarian had donated her supplies from a program she had done a number of years back, so I already had everything I'd need for running the program. I thought about making a handout or simple presentation about dreamcatchers but decided instead to just talk about them a little bit while we were making them.

This program was a success, I think, but also very frustrating. I wasn't sure how many kids to expect since I was holding it the day before Thanksgiving (kids get that entire week off from school here). I had about ten kids show up, so I was pleasantly surprised. However, maybe one or two of the kids were actually the right age for the program (advertised for ages 9-12, as nearly all my programs are). This is what led to the frustration. It was just me in the room for the first part of the program (we later roped a teen volunteer who happened to be here into helping) and most of the kids seemed unable to understand the instructions on how to create their dreamcatchers. I had a large scale hoop and rope to demonstrate what they were supposed to be doing, so I explained and also showed them. They did not get it. So, every kid was asking for individual help. That's fine, but not how I expected the program to go. The program was geared at 9-12 year-olds because they are more able to do this kind of intricate craft without as much individual attention. That's why I chose it. So, I was a bit flustered trying to meet the attention demands of all the kids I had in the room while trying to maintain control over the group as a whole. I also had one girl with a bit too much energy, who was irritating the other kids present by flinging her string and hair (her own hair) around and into their workspaces.

Completely my own fault, but I didn't practice enough making a dreamcatcher beforehand so I had to make up some MacGuyver-esque knots and such to keep everything in one piece. The kids really enjoyed choosing what beads and feathers to decorate their dreamcatchers with, though there were some arguments about differences in materials. They also really liked hearing the story of dreamcatchers; one girl had come to the program specifically because she'd been having nightmares and hoped the dreamcatcher would help.

All in all, it wasn't a bad program and I'd like to try it again (I still have leftover supplies!) but I'd like to practice more making dreamcatchers before trying to teach the kids.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

I don't think I'm going to keep track of the numbers this year, as I don't think I'll be reviewing as many picture books as I did this past year. But I will always post the picture book reviews on Saturdays, so keep your eyes open for them!

Lovabye Dragon
By Barbara Joose, illustrated by Randy Cecil
Published 2012 by Candlewick
A lonely dragon wishes for a girl; a lonely girl hopes for a dragon. Will the two find each other? This is a cute little story about finding the perfect friend with softly sweet illustrations. I didn't love the story as much as other dragon tales I've read, but it would be nice in a love and friendship storytime.

This is Not My Hat
By Jon Klassen
Published 2012 by Candlewick
The hat is back. This was one of the most anticipated picture book of this year, and it's not hard to see why. I love Klassen's simple story and simple illustration style. I actually enjoyed this one much more than I Want My Hat Back, but I think kids will love them both. I can see this being a great storytime book and a great book to share one on one.

Find a Cow Now!
By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Published 2012 by Holiday House
I cannot be impartial about this book because it's about an Australian cattle dog - the breed we used to have. This brings back fond memories of being herded by him around our small house. In this book, the dog is restless in the city and embarks on a trip to the country to find something to herd. The kids will like this one as Dog mistakes a number of different animals for cows.

Go, Go Grapes!: A Fruit Chant
By April Pulley Sayre
Published 2012 by Beach Lane Books
I really enjoyed using Sayre's Rah Rah Radishes! in a fruits and veggies themed storytime last year, so I was excited to see the fruit version come across our new book cart. These books are awesome because they are filled with photographs of actual fruit and vegetables, in all their brilliant colors. They include lesser-known foods as well, and it's fun seeing if kids have eaten any of these. It also makes for great vocabulary. I don't know what Sayre will do next but I hope she continues in this vein!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: 33 Minutes

33 Minutes
By Todd Hasak-Lowy
Published 2013 by Aladdin

Morgan Sturtz and Sam Lewis used to be best friends. "Used to be" because Morgan is about to kick Sam's butt - in 33 minutes. How will Sam make it through the dread and anticipation of the next half hour? And is there any way he can avoid getting his butt kicked?

I requested this one on NetGalley as part of my efforts to read more tween books in 2013. It sounded like something that would appeal to tween boys especially - the main character knows he's going to be forced into a fight with his former best friend at recess and there isn't much he can do to get out of it. I wanted to see how the issue of male friendship would be handled in this book, especially as compared to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. I've made no secret (well, maybe not here, but in real life) of the fact that I think Greg is a terrible friend and I hate the way he treats Rowley. Seeing as how this book deals directly with how male friendships can evolve over time, I was very interested. I liked how readers initially don't know why Sam and Morgan aren't friends anymore. We are told the story from Sam's point of view and he seems less than eager to relieve all the details of their friendship's fallout. But we do get bits and pieces leading up to the whole story. I think Hasak-Lowy does a fantastic job of charting a friendship over the years, especially the very tricky years from being kids (age 6 or so) to becoming teens (I think the kids are 13 in the book, though I don't remember if it's mentioned specifically). Though it might not appear that way at first, this is a difficult period of life - popularity becomes a bigger and bigger issue at school and how one attains popular status comes through very different means as you get to the upper end of this range. The descriptions of Sam and Morgan's drifting apart are incredibly realistic, almost painfully so. Similarly, Sam's confusion and sadness about the current state of their friendship is genuine and heartbreaking. I liked how the whole book takes place over the course of those titular 33 minutes - it gives the novel a nice pacing and frame. And, perhaps my favorite thing about the book is the ending. I don't want to give it away, but I think Hasak-Lowy has given us the most truthful ending possible and it really makes the book feel that much more plausible and accurate. The book does have its funny bits and I think kids will pick it up based on the title alone.

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review: The Darkest Minds

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds, book one)
By Alexandra Bracken
Published 2012 by Disney Hyperion

On her tenth birthday, Ruby woke up different. So different that her parents called the police and she was taken to a government rehabilitation camp. She survived the mysterious disease that targeted children, but now Ruby is dangerous. She's developed abilities that she doesn't know how to control. Six years later, Ruby needs to escape. How? Will she survive?

I was really excited when I first heard about this book - it seemed to be getting a lot of buzz and I thought it was an interesting concept. First, a disease kills a majority of the child population. Second, the remaining children develop psychic abilities that are awesome and beyond their control. Third, chaos reigns. Then, I saw the cover. I like the simple yet fiery feel to it. I think it's graphically appealing. Finally, I heard other YA authors saying good things about it. So, I was excited.

Unfortunately, for me, this book didn't really live up to my excitement level. This book is long - just under 500 pages - and it felt even longer. The first two-thirds (at least) of this book just dragged - I didn't find enough action, I didn't care enough about the characters, I wondered when it was going to end. Part of my problem with connecting with the characters, particularly Ruby, stems from, I think, the way the story is told. We hear quite a bit about Ruby as a ten-year-old, and then briefly (well, maybe not so briefly) cover the six years she's been living at the camp. The majority of the narrative is Ruby as a 16-year-old, with flashbacks of the accident that sent her to camp sprinkled throughout. I really enjoyed this slow reveal of what happened to land Ruby in this terrible place. But, though Ruby is supposed to be 16 throughout the majority of the narrative, she doesn't read as a 16-year-old to me. I understand that Ruby may be experiencing a bit of arrested development; after all, she has not been living a normal childhood during her adolescent years. But I don't know that this justification is actually given anywhere in the book and her voice feels too inauthentic without it.

Things get better when Ruby meets a new group of companions. I really enjoyed these characters - Chubs, Liam, and Zu - and the action picks up significantly as they band together in search of the mythic East River refuge. I thought the twist with the camp's leader was a bit too obvious, but I really enjoyed the ending (though I think it frustrated many other readers). I've just discovered that this is the first book in a series and it seems a bit unnecessary - I thought the story was ended nicely here and I don't remember having too many questions that I felt needed to be answered. I imagine the other books in the series will focus more on the government and what they're trying to do, as well as probably resolve that frustrating (for some) ending. Will I be back for the sequel? Not sure; we'll see where I'm at next December, when it's currently scheduled for release.

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: Gingersnap

By Patricia Reilly Giff
Expected publication January 8, 2013 by Wendy Lamb Books

Jayna and Rob are all that's left of their family. But with WWII taking Rob overseas, Jayna is left in the care of their landlady. Before he left, Rob told Jayna a secret: they might have more family, a grandmother, in Brooklyn. When a telegraph arrives with devastating news, Jayna sets out to discover if he's right.

Giff is a pretty prolific author but I'm not sure I've ever read her before. So when I saw her newest title available on Edelweiss, I requested a copy. I liked the historical aspect and the possible supernatural twist (Jayna is guided by a ghostly voice), plus I figured I was overdue on giving Giff a try. I have mixed feelings about this book now that I've finished. I really liked the setting - will anyone ever get tired of WWII settings? I liked the relationship between Jayna and Rob - it was evident that they loved each other and had a great relationship. Though it might be a bit overdone, I liked the use of food as a motif - Jayna makes soup to match her moods, Rob is a great cook and they've talked of opening a restaurant someday, and they both think their grandmother owns a bakery in Brooklyn. What makes this slightly different is how World War II has impacted the availability of certain foods - Jayna's recipes are included throughout the book and they show the bareness of cupboards during the war. I liked Jayna's determination to set out on her own and find that bakery in Brooklyn. What I didn't like as much was the ghostly guide and the discovery of who runs the bakery. Maybe I was reading too quickly, but the reveal of the baker's identity didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Additionally, I felt like, though the idea of it was partly what appealed to me initially, the ghost felt out of place and didn't really work as a plot device for me. Overall, this was a quick and interesting historical read, but not my favorite. I'd definitely like to try some of Giff's other books and see what I think.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Program: Adventure Club

Oh, I feel like this program was so long ago - and it was. Our last meeting of Adventure Club was in November (and we have another one coming up this month). I guess only posting about my programming once a week has put me pretty far behind! Anyway, as a reminder, Adventure Club is one of our new bimonthly programs, geared towards ages 7-12, with a new theme every meeting. Our first meeting focused on pirates; November's theme was Space. Here's what we did!

Build your own rocket ship: I've found that some of the most successful bits of my programs have been simply putting out craft and art supplies and encouraging the kids to make something. To fit our space theme, we had them build rocket ships. We provided toilet paper tubes as the body of the ships and then had various colors of paper, glitter glue and paint, and assorted other materials available for use. We also had aluminum foil for a more genuine metallic look.

Constellation keyrings: yes, I admit - these were leftovers from our Rick Riordan program, where they were not terribly popular. We had constellation cards for the kids to cut out and hole punch. They threaded them onto a keychain and voila! Constellations at your hand. They are the perfect size for flashlights and definitely seemed more popular this time around.

Planispheres and star clocks: these are really cool (personally, I think the planisphere is way cooler than the star clock, but that's just me). Both of these are paper crafts you can make and then hold up to the sky and they will tell you different things. By lining the star clock up with the constellations, you can find out what time it is. By selecting the month and day on the planisphere, you can find out what constellations you should be able to see in the sky. The kids thought these were really cool, though some had some trouble putting them together.

Constellation matching game: we had initially planned to do another scavenger hunt like we had done for our first Adventure Club but upon further thought decided to do something a little different. We kept it contained in the program room (the pirate scavenger hunt had been throughout the Children's Library) and did a matching game instead. We created constellations out of star stickers on black construction paper and hung them on one wall, labeled with a letter. Then we gave the kids a sheet with illustrations depicting each of the constellations labeled with numbers (a drawing of Pegasus, for example). The kids had to match the two versions of the constellations. They each received a packet of glow-in-the-dark stars for matching them all correctly. The kids really liked this one.

Straw rockets: what we expected to be the most popular part of the program turned out to be the least popular (or maybe the kids just ran out of time - they got very invested in building their rocket ships). So, straw rockets are exactly what they sound like: rockets made out of paper that fit over a straw so you propel them by blowing through the straw. You can alter the nose of the rocket to see how that changes the path and distance of the rocket's flight. Like I said, we didn't see too many kids making these, but I think they could definitely be popular in a separate program about flight. Maybe I will try them again over the summer, in combination with paper airplanes.

At the end of the program, we did some prize drawings. We had a set of glow-in-the-dark planets, astronaut ice cream, and a book about space. And that was our second meeting of Adventure Club! Everyone had a great time and I think they all learned different things about space, too. Can't wait for our next meeting!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking Ahead...

What would the new year be without a desire to desperately look ahead in the world of books? I mean, who am I kidding? I start looking forward to the next year's titles in August. Here are some of my most anticipated reads of 2013!

Series books:

- UnSouled by Neal Shusterman: I can't wait to see how he ties all the threads together and what scary and important topics are tackled here. (Expected publication October 15, 2013)

- Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan: I want more Kami. And more Lynburn boys. (Expected publication August 29, 2013)

- Game by Barry Lyga: what happened to Jasper Dent's mother? Who is watching him? (Expected publication April 23, 2013)

- Untitled (Raven Cycle, book 2) by Maggie Stiefvater: this has already proven to be one hell of a ride. Where will it go next? (Expected publication September 2013)

- Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo: more of the Darkling, more of the Grisha, more of the magic - excited! (Expected publication June 4, 2013)

- Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan: what will happen with Waverly, Kieran, and Seth? What is the fate of their ships? I'm excited for the conclusion of this sci-fi trilogy. (Expected publication June 4, 2013)

- Of Witches and Wind by Shelby Bach: while it wasn't my favorite book of the year, Of Giants and Ice was an enjoyable fairy tale book. I look forward to the sequel. (Expected publication July 2013)

- The House of Hades by Rick Riordan: I'm not sure I enjoyed The Mark of Athena as much as I wanted to, but I'm still dying to know how the prophecy will play out. Also, Hades is in the title - I expect dark things. (Expected publication October 2013)

- Prodigy by Marie Lu: how will Day and June's relationship develop? What other secrets and lies will they uncover? (Expected publication January 29, 2013)

- Fragments by Dan Wells: I thought Kira was a fantastic heroine and Partials an excellent start to a new science fiction series. I'm definitely wanting to know what will happen next. (Expected publication February 23, 2013)

- Untitled (Lorien Legacies, book 4) by Pittacus Lore: YOU GUYS. I thought there were only supposed to be three books! Curse you! Now I must wait to discover how the battle between the Loric and Setrakus Ra plays out. (Expected publication August 2013)

Standalones / New series:

- Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli: a new Spinelli! Need I say more? (Expected publication January 8, 2013)

- Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool: I really enjoyed Moon Over Manifest and this sounds like another fascinating historical tale. I'm excited to see how Vanderpool has developed. (Expected publication January 8, 2013)

- Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger: I haven't yet read the Parasol Protectorate series (I KNOW) but I'm still interested in seeing how Carriger does with YA. (Expected publication February 2013)

- The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen: I am woefully behind on my Sarah Dessen reading. Here's hoping I get a chance to catch up in 2013! (Expected publication June 4, 2013)

- Loki's Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr: I love mythology and I love Norse mythology in particular, so I'm really excited for this new middle-grade series from Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr (who appear to be pulling J.K. Rowling's with their names for this book). (Expected publication May 7, 2013)

- The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: I know - it's not tween or YA. BUT IT'S NEIL GAIMAN YOU GUYS. This book sounds like it's maybe going to mess with my head. YES PLEASE. (Expected publication June 18, 2013)

- Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Levithan: Levithan is pretty much an auto-read for me (though Every Day is taunting me from the bookshelves, calling READ ME NOW) and this new one sounds like it could be great. I don't understand how Levithan does it all guys. Be honest: does he have a time-turner???? (Expected publication May 7, 2013)

- The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett: The main character of this book IS A NIGHTMARE. I hope this is as awesome as it sounds. (Expected publication March 5, 2013)

- Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys: I was completely blown away by Between Shades of Gray and, though this sounds quite different, I have faith that this new novel from Sepetys will be just as wonderfully written. (Expected publication February 13, 2013)

- Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle: the cover of this book makes me hope it will be like My Most Excellent Year. Please do not tease me cover - please contain a book that lives up to you. (Expected publication February 5, 2013)

All right, this is getting long. I'm sure I've missed something (do you know how many awesome-sounding tween and teen books are coming out every day??). I can't wait to see what will surprise me this year.

2013 is going to be a busy year for me, so be forewarned. Postings may be slightly less frequent, but I will try to stick with Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. Also, Picture Book Saturday may be sporadic as I'm no longer holding storytimes and may not see as many picture books as I did this year. And, I have accepted an appointment on the Fabulous Films for Young Adults Committee. This should not effect the content of my blog (as I don't currently review films) but it may impact the frequency of my blogging as I learn to juggle the committee work with my full-time job, personal time, and blogging responsibilities. So, it will be a busy year, but I'm sure I will fill it with books as best I can!