Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: A Song for Bijou

A Song for Bijou
By Josh Farrar
Published 2013 by Walker Childrens

Alex goes to an all-boys school, limiting his contact with girls - which has been just fine with him. Until now. Because now, Alex has met Bijou - a Haitian girl who has recently relocated to the area - and he really wants to get to know her better.

I requested an e-galley of this pretty much based on the cover - it has a very sweet, Pixar-ish vibe that I couldn't resist. I don't generally read straight-up romances, but apparently, this is something I need to read more of - the tween girls at my library clamor for anything romantic and girly. This book is great because it tells the romance from both points of view - we don't often get the romance from a guy's point of view. It works extremely well here. I like this book because it's very realistic - it truthfully shows the painful awkwardness of a first crush, a first attempt at moving from friends to a relationship.

I like that Alex is pretty clueless for most of the book - he knows almost nothing about Bijou's culture and this causes some hiccups in their developing relationship. I thought Farrar did a great job portraying the Haitian culture - admittedly, I don't know terribly much about it myself, but his author's note provides some insights. I like that he made a conscious decision to have Bijou be from a middle-class family - having recently read In Darkness (review to come), I had some qualms about the portrayal of Haiti in that book.

This is not a perfect book, though - the secondary characters tend to blend together and the "bad guys" are pretty generic middle school mean kids. But, this is a sweet story with an innocent romance and a very appealing cover, so I imagine it will be relatively popular in my library.

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

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Alice in Zombieland

Alice in Zombieland (White Rabbit Chronicles, book one)
By Gena Showalter
Published 2012 by Harlequin Teen

Alice Bell has had an unusual life. Her father is paranoid about creatures that want to eat your soul, so he doesn't let the family leave the house after dark. For one night, Alice just wants to have a normal family, attending her little sister's dance recital. But that one attempt at normalcy will change Alice's life forever.

All right, here's the good - at least I wasn't stupid enough to think this was going to be Alice in Wonderland plus zombies. I mean, I read the blurb, so I knew it was a very different story than the title would have one believe. However, I'm a huge Alice fan, and also a huge zombie fan, so I figured I needed to check this book out. I wanted to see if it shared any connection with the Wonderland story and I also wanted to read a good zombie story. Unfortunately, I was disappointed all around. I mean, WHAT IS THIS BOOK? The story shares a rough framework with Alice in Wonderland - a girl named Alice falls down a rabbit hole (in this case, metaphorical) and is thrust into a new and strange world. Other than that, however, I have a hard time seeing why Showalter decided to make the connection between her book and Lewis Carroll's (and this is only book one of a series). To lure in unsuspecting readers? I just don't know. Whatever the reasoning, it just doesn't work. Okay, so this book lacked the Alice connection I was hoping for, but what about the zombies? Well, Showalter completely failed on that account, too. THESE ARE NOT ZOMBIES. Let me repeat that: THESE ARE NOT ZOMBIES. NOPE. NOT AT ALL. What we have here are ghosts, or spirits, or demons, or some other malevolent supernatural force. I don't have a problem with stories about other kind of paranormal baddies, but CALL THEM WHAT THEY ARE. Why did Showalter feel the need to call these creatures zombies when they are not? Once again, I feel like this is a case of trying to capitalize on something popular, whether or not it's what you actually have (retellings and zombies are both very popular right now).

In case that isn't enough to deter you from the book, what else do we have? Well, a completely annoying narrator, one of the worst cases of insta-love I've ever seen, an abusive and cruel love interest, and terrible writing. I mean, I feel like I spent so much time shaking my head and rolling my eyes while reading that I'm surprised I didn't get stuck that way. And yet, on Goodreads, this book has an average of 4-star rating. DID WE READ THE SAME BOOK, PEOPLE? Just, no. Not good. I don't think I'll be back for book two.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Program + review: beTWEEN the lines

For our January meeting, we deviated slightly from schedule, but I don't think it effected attendance very much. We normally meet the first Wednesday of the month, but the first Wednesday in January was January 2 - so we decided to postpone a week in case anyone was still off enjoying the school break. Other than this slight change in schedule, things worked pretty much as they always do. We spent about 40-45 minutes discussing our book, then we voted on our March title and handed out copies for next month. So, without further ado, our January title was:

The Candy Shop War
By Brandon Mull
Published 2007 by Shadow Mountain
Four friends find themselves in the midst of a battle of candy-creating magicians and struggle to figure out the right thing to do.

This was my first time reading Mull and I have mixed feelings about him. This book is long - over 400 pages - which is not really that long for a children's fantasy novel these days, but this one felt unnecessarily long. Bloated, even. It seemed repetitive at times and there were overly drawn out descriptions that I could have done without. Additionally, there didn't seem to be a ton of differentiation of characters - this is a story featuring four friends (three boys and a girl) and yet, for most of the time, they felt interchangeable. Occasionally, one would be described as having a special skill that the others lacked but, for the most part, they all seemed far too similar to be particularly interesting. While I like that the book offers some ambiguity in the way of who is the bad guy and who is the good guy, what I didn't enjoy was how easily the kids were swayed to one belief or the other. It was another unfortunate instance of "whoever is talking to me at the moment surely wouldn't lie and therefore I must believe everything they say." It definitely got annoying after a while. What the kids liked the most was, of course, the many different candies and the different kinds of power they could give you. It's definitely fun to imagine what you would do if you had a candy that made you weightless, or gave you super-speed. Ultimately, though, I don't think I'll be reading the sequel - I wasn't entertained enough to throw myself back in for another go-round. I'll give one of Mull's other series a try and hope to enjoy one of those more.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Dreams Around the World
By Takashi Owaki
Published 2012 by One Peace Books
I really, really enjoyed this book. Showcasing a variety of children from around the world, readers are introduced both to their every day lives and their dreams for the future. I loved seeing how the dream differed from child to child and how determined they all seemed to achieve these dreams. Love the variety of children represented and the photographs vividly bring each child to life. This is a great introduction to the similarities and differences of children around the world.

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse
By Frank Viva
Published 2012 by Toon Books
A young explorer and his companion, Mouse, set sail on an adventure to the bottom of the world. What will they find there? Join them and see. I really adored this book. It's incredibly cute and I absolutely adore the artistic style - it's retro but not outdated, very vivid and appealing I love that four choices are offered for each question - it adds a great level of interactivity to the book, making this suitable for one on one reading and, for the brave, a storytime crowd. Wonderful - looking forward to more from both Viva and Toon Books.

Step Gently Out
By Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder
Published 2012 by Candlewick
Right from the cover, you can tell this book is going to be special. And - wow. That is more than enough to say about this book, but I'll give you a little more. This is an amazing piece of work. The photos of various insects in close-up are breathtaking and inspiring - how do I do that?I love the simplicity and rhythm of the text. Kids will love this and it is a perfect book for sharing at storytime. There are nice endnotes with information about the insects seen in the photos, as well. Please check this book out!

Dillweed's Revenge
By Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Carson Ellis
Published 2010 by Harcourt Children's Books
I started my first big weeding project at work recently and came across this odd little book in our Junior Fiction section. It didn't have very good circulation numbers, so I picked it up and read through it. I can see why. First, picture books shelved in the chapter book section - personally, I hate this, but I can understand it - a book like this one might be traumatizing to a small child who comes across it in the picture book section. This book is very much like an Edward Gorey tale, with illustrations to match. I didn't particularly enjoy it, despite my love of Gorey. This just didn't quite work for me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: The Mysterious Howling

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, book one)
By Maryrose Wood, read by Katherine Kellgren
Published 2010 by Listening Library

Penelope Lumley is thrilled about her position as governess at Ashton Place, even if it is a more unusual family than she expected. You see, the Incorrigible children were found running wild at Ashton Place and have been adopted by the Lord and Lady of the house. Now it's up to Miss Lumley to keep them in line...

This book sounded right up my alley - I hoped it would be sort of like A Series of Unfortunate Events: unusual, funny, a little dark, and definitely mysterious. Well, it pretty much hits all those notes. I listened to the audio version and that was an excellent choice - narrated by the fantastic Katherine Kellgren, this was a pleasure to tune into. She does a fierce British accent and gives it her all when it comes to vocalizing the "words" of the Incorrigibles. It's sort of a hard book to categorize - Penelope, our heroine, is a teenager and we get most of the story from her point of view, but I definitely wouldn't call this a YA book (though it appears to have been nominated to YALSA'a Best Fiction for Young Adults list). Though the main focus of the book is Penelope's journey with the children, there are also a number of mysteries underfoot - making my initial comparison to A Series of Unfortunate Events rather apt. This story is definitely unusual - how often do you encounter tales of feral children in young people's literature? However, I think that's one of the things this book has going for it - there are not many books of its kind out there, and this one is well done. It is the perfect combination of funny and dark and I think there is a huge population of middle-grade readers who find this combination delightfully appealing (I would definitely have been one of them). There are a lot of mysteries left unanswered at the end of this volume - which is fantastic news because it means I get to revisit these characters again. I will definitely be picking up the rest of this series and recommending it to my readers of mysteries.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Starry River of the Sky

Starry River of the Sky
By Grace Lin
Published 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The moon is missing but Renli seems to be the only one who notices. He has escaped to the small Village of Clear Sky, where he hears a heartbreaking crying sound at night. Working as a helper at the inn, Renli watches the strange inhabitants of the town. Things get even stranger when a mysterious woman arrives. Will Renli be able to figure out where the moon has gone?

I had been eagerly awaiting this book since I first heard of its existence back in March, when Grace Lin visited our library and talked about her work, including this new one. Then, the book started to get significant Newbery buzz, being lauded as stronger than her Newbery Honor title, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Needless to say, I put my name on the holds list at the library as soon as I could. My reaction to this book feels similar to the reaction I had reading Wonderstruck: this book is just as wonderful and beautiful and has just as compelling a story as the first but a bit of the magic is gone. The connection between Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky is greater than that between Selznick's novels. Starry River is a companion novel to Where the Mountain, sharing a narrative style as well as some characters. I found that the legends Lin shared in this story were even more interesting than those in the first title and I thought the narrative came together as a whole even better. However, a bit of the joy of discovering a unique and magical book such as this is missing here because it's not the first of its kind. That does not make it a bad book - this is one of my favorite reads of 2012, despite my tardy review, and I would be thrilled to see this book honored with awards as Where the Mountain was. It just doesn't feel quite as new and refreshing as the first did, simply because it isn't the first. However, Grace Lin is a beautiful storyteller and artist. I have loved all of her work and look forward to everything she writes. I think these books are wonderful reads for kids - they learn the stories of a different culture, they are funny and enjoyable, with interesting characters and great adventures. Please read Grace Lin if you haven't yet!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Little White Duck

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China
By Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez
Published 2012 by Graphic Universe

The world Da Qin has known is changing rapidly. Her country's beloved leader, Chairman Mao, has died and things will now be very different for Da Qin and her little sister, Xiao Qin. Through a series of vignettes, Da Qin shows readers how things changed for her family.

I'm a big fan of graphic novels and I especially enjoy non-fiction graphic novels - it's really interesting to me to see how true material will translate into the sequential art format. I was especially curious about non-fiction for children - what would a non-fiction graphic novel for a younger audience look like? This book has been receiving a number of positive reviews and even some Newbery buzz, so I definitely wanted to check it out. When it came across our new book cart, I quickly picked it up and devoured it.

I like that Liu has chosen to present her memoir as a series of vignettes - I can't stand when a book doesn't have chapters and the vignette set up mirrors the idea of chapters in a less intrusive way than actual chapters would. I also enjoyed that this focused on a very small period of Liu's life - kids will more easily relate to her childhood because that's all they see here. It gives the memoir a narrow focus that feels natural; we are not learning her whole life story, just her childhood, a period of great change. It will be easy for kids to compare and contrast Liu's childhood with their own as it is rendered so clearly and sharply. I'm willing to admit that I know very little about Asian history, so it was fascinating for me to read about all the changes China was going through this time period. Seeing them through the lens of Liu's childhood made it very easy to see how jarring these changes must have been to China's citizens. The artwork complements Liu's story nicely; I like the heavy black outlines and the softer, muted colors used. It hearkens very much to both nature and the military and works exceptionally well with Liu's story. Overall, I thought this was a wonderfully done graphic memoir. I hope kids pick it up.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Program: Holidays at Hogwarts

Our January big ticket event was an afternoon of Harry Potter themed activities. It was one of our most successful programs since I've been working at the library and we got some great feedback on it. It was a big undertaking but it was also a lot of fun. Here's what we did!

We had activities going on in 4 different parts of the library throughout the three hours that we ran the program. In our Children's Program Room, we had three scheduled events: the Sorting Hat ceremony, Astronomy for Wizards class, and Potions/Herbology class. For the Sorting Hat, attendees could come anytime in the first 45 minutes of the program and be sorted by our own Sorting Hat. We built the hat ourselves in the weeks leading up to the program and (sorry to ruin the magic) outfitted it with a walkie-talkie so that it would actually speak. I, as the voice of the sorting hat, hid in our puppet closet and doled out House assignments to all interested attendees. I think I sorted about 50 people, including some of our teen volunteers and a few parents. I tried to address all the kids by name - my coworker asked each child their name before they put the hat on - but some of them were too difficult for me to hear. I don't think anyone was fooled by the talking hat, but everyone thought it was very cool and fun. They loved finding out what House they'd be sorted into - many had expressed their desired assignment as they approached the hat. I took their wishes into account, but not everyone got exactly what they wanted - we would have had an overwhelming number of Gryffindors if I did that. The Sorting Hat retired after 45 minutes and I moved on to helping with other parts of the program.

Next in the Program Room was Astronomy for Wizards, led by my coworker. Her husband is a physicist and used to be in charge of a planetarium, presenting a similar lesson a number of times before to various school groups. The lesson was very fun and informative - kids learned about stars and constellations that shared their names with characters or beings from the series. Attendees were split into four groups and were asked to guess the answers throughout the lesson, earning points for their group. The group with the most points at the end of class won a prize - Mallowsweet Seeds from Professor Longbottom. About 75 people attended Astronomy class.

Last up in the Program Room was a combined Potions and Herbology lesson. The kids used their potion-making skills to create some Bubotuber pus. I wasn't present for this lesson so I can't say exactly how it went, but I know we have over 90 attendees, leading to a little bit of chaos at the start (my coworker had not planned for quite so many kids). So, there was some waiting and downtime during the lesson but everything worked out in the end. The kids were very enthusiastic about this class.

In the Children's Department, we had a Care of Magical Creatures Scavenger Hunt for the entire three hours (though definitely not as many people were participating by hour three. It ran like our typical scavenger hunts do: we posted pictures throughout the department and gave kids a key to what they were looking for. Our twist this time was that we used pictures of various magical creatures from the series and we gave the kids a Marauder's Map with their names as a key. Once they completed the hunt, they could choose either a bookmark or a handmade button as a prize. The buttons were very popular - we had 12 designs to choose from I think and only a handful left at the end of the day.

In the Auditorium, we showed a movie. Honestly, we didn't expect too many people to attend - we started it with an hour left in the program, and attending meant skipping Potions class, but about 20 people sat down to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

In our Meeting Room, we had continuous activities for the entire length of the program. Kids were free to pick and choose which activities they wanted to participate in and come and go as they pleased. We offered a wand-making station (by far the most popular), rune decorating, fold your own patronus, O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, and a photo op. This room was probably the most crowded during the first part of the afternoon - not everyone wanted to be sorted and even those that did headed here afterwards.

We also held prize drawings on every hour - raffle winners received a basket full of Harry Potter goodies.

Overall, this was an incredibly fun and successful event, one that we will definitely plan on having again!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
By Mo Willems
Published 2012 by Balzer + Bray
One of the rare picture books that I eagerly awaited, I ended up waiting far too long for this one (due to some collection development craziness at my library, but that's a whole other issue). I'm sad I had to wait so long because this book is fantastic. I'm pretty convinced that Willems can do anything and it will be amazing, so I'm not surprised that this book had me laughing out loud from page one. Though I suspect this might be more for adults than for kids, there is still plenty in here for kids to love. I love the little details for observant readers - the first two-page spread of the kitchen is my favorite in the whole book. Don't wait to read this one!

A Rock is Lively
By Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long
Published 2012 by Chronicle Books
Though they've done a few titles in this vein previously, this is my first experience with Aston and Long's unique take on non-fiction. It won't be my last. I love the simplicity paired with a good amount of information. The illustrations are beautiful, which certainly doesn't hurt. I may be a bit biased as I used to always slog home rocks whenever I went on any sort of outdoor excursion, but I think Aston and Long make rocks exciting even for those who've never felt a particular calling to geology. The beauty of the language and the illustrations make this a definite new favorite for me.

Dog Breath
By Carolyn Beck, illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Published 2011 by Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Sigh - this book with its incredibly appealing front cover is going to be traumatic for some kids. You see, this is not just a book about a sweet dog and all the silly and loving things he's done. This book is about that dog because he's passed away. Though it's never actually stated in the text, it is implied and I think will be jarring for kids who just expected to read a story about how dogs really are man's best friend. That being said, this book is a very sweet tribute to canines and there is certainly a place for it. I just hope parents realize the sensitive subject when they pick this one up.

Bea at Ballet
By Rachel Isadora
Published 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Two Isadora books in a short time period - what an unexpected delight! I don't really remember reading Isadora before but I had to pick this one up - my coworker has a delightful toddler named Bea who could easily be a stand-in for the little girl in this book (though the real Bea doesn't take ballet - yet). This is a very simple and charming book about a young girl starting ballet. It's very lovely in its simplicity and will definitely be a hit with all young ballerinas.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Cybils are Here!

Just a quick post this morning to highlight the newly announced Cybils winners. For more information about the Cybils, go here. All other links go to my reviews.

Book Apps: Dragon Brush by Small Planet Digital

Fiction Picture Books: A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead

Nonfiction Picture Books: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Easy Readers: A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse by Frank Viva (review forthcoming)

Early Chapter Books: Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Ann James

Poetry: BookSpeak! Poems about Books by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josie Bisallion

Middle Grade Graphic Novel: Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado

Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Middle Grade Fiction: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Young Adult Nonfiction: Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Young Adult Graphic Novel: Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Young Adult Fiction: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

What do you think? I'm looking forward to reading the ones I missed - I'm number one on the waitlist for both Bomb and Seraphina and can't wait to get my hands on them! I'm thrilled to see Me and Earl and the Dying Girl get some love. How many have you read? Thanks to all the Cybils judges for their hard work!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: Doomed

By Tracy Deebs
Published 2013 by Walker Childrens

Despite her unusual name, Pandora is pretty much a typical teenager. That all changes on her 17th birthday, when the father she has not heard from in many years emails her and changes the world. Because, unknown to Pandora, he has used her to unleash a computer virus on the world that will shut down everything - communications, electricity, water, everything. And it's up to Pandora to figure out how to undo her father's heinous act.

All right, so. I really wanted to like this book. Admittedly, I'm not much of a gamer and I'm pretty borderline about sci-fi (sometimes I love it, sometimes I don't), but the premise of this book sounded pretty unique. I liked the added layer of the absent father who uses his daughter's curiosity to trigger the global disaster he's set up. However, nothing about this book was well-executed. I rarely ever quote in my reviews but this line shows up at the end and it should give you an idea of what we're dealing with: "the hair that should have tipped me off to who he really was long ago." Okay, I don't have my copy in front of me at the moment so I might be paraphrasing a bit, but REALLY? Your hair is the key to your personality? Fascinating. Beyond the poor prose (it's not really always that bad but it sure isn't anything fancy), there are the ridiculous characters. Pandora - ugh. I just, I can't even. She is pretty lackluster and unremarkable, except for her incredibly obnoxious fear of the dark and rabid insecurity. I think her phobia is supposed to make me feel bad for her or relate to her better, but I found the idea of it so ridiculous that it didn't work that way for me. She is super insecure about everything - often blaming herself for the terrible thing her father has done. She spends a lot of time worrying about her feelings for the two boys she's with instead of focusing on how to stop the terror. And the boys, Eli and Theo - even more ridiculousness. They are stepbrothers so obviously they don't really get along/are in hyper competition with each other about everything, including, of course, Pandora. They are both apparently mentally unstable, which seems to make them excellent companions on this journey to save the world. They seem to have an infinite store of knowledge and skills, each new one making itself apparent at the exact moment that they need that particular info/skill to complete another part of their quest. Neither boy's character is developed much beyond the mental instability and set of skills, so not much more to say there. The game itself is not as central to the plot as one would assume from reading the blurb - they spend maybe 50 pages total playing the virtual game and the rest of the 400+ pages chasing around Pandora's father in the real world. And it becomes clear pretty early on what Pandora's father's agenda was for creating this virus and unleashing it - but then we are beaten over the head with this agenda for the rest of the book. It's tedious and annoying. Overall, this book fails more than it succeeds.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital review copy, provided via Netgalley.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Destiny, Rewritten

Destiny, Rewritten
By Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Expected publication February 19, 2013 by Katharine Tegen Books

Emily Elizabeth Davis was named for a poet. She's heard the story probably a million times - her mother was inspired to name her after Emily Dickinson, and she believes that Emily's destiny is to be a famous poet as well. Emily herself is not so sure - poetry seems a little fussy. She might like romance novels better. But what she's most concerned about is knowing who her father is - is it her destiny to find him again?

I requested an e-galley of this title on my quest to read more tween books. I liked the cover art (judge me, it's okay) and I thought the book could be an interesting exploration of what destiny might mean to an 11-year-old. What I mostly feel after finishing this book is underwhelmed. Let me talk about the good first. Emily has a very distinct voice - I love her fixation on romance novels and I can almost hear her rolling her eyes at her mother's pontifications on destiny. I appreciated her earnest quest to discover what destiny really means - do we control it ourselves? Is it all planned for us ahead of time? These are questions that many people struggle with and, as a tween, may be among the most serious things you think about. I like that she consulted a variety of experts in her quest and how she was willing to take chances in an attempt to change her destiny. I like the happily ever after ending (really? who doesn't?) and how a series of seeming coincidences lead to it. What I feel underwhelmed with is the story as a whole - maybe I just don't get it because I'm not a mother, but I found Emily's mom a bit unreasonable about revealing the identity of her father. She was a bit too out there for me. The short chapters are good for keeping the story moving along, but they also felt a bit too short at times. A lot of the dialogue felt too forced and the writing didn't quite flow for me. Overall, everything just felt a bit too stilted for this book to really work for me. Is it appealing to kids? I think so - tweens are often just starting to ask the big questions about things like destiny and who they will turn out to be. But, for me, it just didn't quite grab me.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Program: Homemade for the Holidays

How is it February and I'm just writing about programs that happened in December? It seems that now I'm doing so much programming and only blogging about it once a week that I've fallen very far behind schedule. Maybe I'll have to re-evaluate my blogging schedule. Anyway, the tween program for December was called "Homemade for the Holidays." I decided to offer two crafts - one that could be given as a gift and one that was more for decorating the home. In hindsight, I probably should have just stuck to one, as we ended up feeling a bit rushed to get through both projects in an hour. But, this was one of my best attended programs, so I'm still happy. Our two craft projects were both things I'd found on Pinterest: a t-shirt scarf, and a 3-D paper snowflake.

The kids (okay, girls) brought their own t-shirts and I walked them step-by-step through the process of cutting and stretching to make a new scarf out of an old, unwanted t-shirt. The directions I followed are here. It's ridiculously simple to do and a lot of fun - the pulling and stretching of the pieces was a good time for all. It comes out looking pretty cool. It only took me about twenty minutes to make when I created an example beforehand, which is part of the reason I thought I should do more than one craft. Slowly but surely I'm learning that just because it only takes me twenty minutes doesn't mean it's going to go as quickly for the kids. Some of the girls had no problems, but there are always kids that struggle or are perfectionists (we had a lot of those this time around). Since I hadn't anticipated such a large group, it was, at times, a bit difficult to keep an eye on everyone and make sure they understood the directions. I roped in a couple of our regular teen volunteers to help out, but there were still a few mistakes. One girl had thought to bring some extra t-shirts, so we lucked out there. I took the girls step by step through the process, explaining and visually demonstrating each step at the front of the room, then walking around to make sure everyone understood. In the end, I think they all thought the craft was very easy and looked cool and many of them were trying to decide what to do with their scraps.

For the home decor craft, I wanted to do these 3-D paper snowflakes. They look amazingly cool and incredibly complicated but are actually really simple and quick to make. However, since the t-shirt craft had taken a bit longer than expected, we were rushing a little to get this one finished. The girls were confused with the instructions at first, though I explained and demonstrated them in the same way I did for the t-shirt project. However, a few girls caught on quickly and helped explain to their tablemates, and I walked around helping, as did my volunteers. They were all very impressed with how easy this was to make and how cool it looked when finished.

In the end, everyone walked away with two projects and new knowledge. They were all happy and excited and I made sure to plug my January program, so hopefully some of them will come back. I did have some adults interested in the program, so we mentioned that to our adult services department. I think easy crafting is very popular right now (I mean, obviously) so I'd definitely like to do more programs like this in the future. Which programs are most popular for the tweens at your library?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Zoo Girl
By Rebecca Elliott
Published 2012 by Lion UK
This has a bit of dark beginning, with the titular girl an orphan all alone in the world. But it moves on to happier things, with simple text and lovely illustrations. I liked the simplicity of the story, though it might be a bit jarring for young readers, especially with the gloomy start. I think it's a cute book, but you definitely have to know your audience when sharing this one.

There Was a Tree
By Rachel Isadora
Published 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books
A new picture book version of a favorite children's song, I adored this book. I quite enjoy the song (though I know it as "The Green Grass Grows All Around") and I loved seeing it in picture book form. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful - Isadora has transported the song to Africa and the illustrations evoke the African countryside perfectly. The colors are just lovely to look at and the style is simple but lush. Isadora has transformed the text slightly, making it into a rebus. I think this is really well done, and I like the additional layer it adds to the text.

Creature Count: A Prehistoric Rhyme
By Brenda Huante, illustrated by Vincent Nguyen
Published 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Very cute and sure to be very popular, this simple picture book combines counting with dinosaurs in a rhyming text. This would be perfect in storytime, though some of the pronunciations would be tricky (and there is no helpful guide at the end). If this were trying a little harder, this could be considered a non-fiction book as well, but a note at the end points out that the creatures depicted didn't all live during the same time periods, despite being shown alongside each other. However, kids will likely not notice this (though some dinosaur fanatics will be eager to point that out) and will definitely enjoy the pictures and rhythm of this book.

Bailey at the Museum
By Harry Bliss
Published 2012 by Scholastic
This is an adorable story of Bailey, who accompanies his class to the Museum of Natural History. He's very excited about it. I liked the simple joy depicted through Bailey as he does what many schoolchildren love to do - go on a field trip! Though maybe museums weren't always at the top of everyone's list, there is usually something for everyone there. I liked the little friendship that develops between Bailey and the museum security guard. This is just a sweet little book.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: The Mark of Athena

The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, book three)
By Rick Riordan
Published 2012 by Hyperion

WARNING: There will be spoilers for the first two books in the series. To read my reviews of those titles, go here and here.

With a prophecy hanging over her head, Annabeth is a bit of a nervous wreck. She's about to be reunited with her boyfriend (who she hasn't seen in many months) - that is, if she can get her ship past the Romans, who are poised for battle. In addition, she carries a gift from her mother that feels more like a burden than a delightful present. Will Annabeth - along with the other demigods - be able to find and close the Doors of Death?

I, like many others, had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of this title (perhaps not as much as my boyfriend, who has a literary crush on Annabeth). The more time passes, the more this new series grows on me. As I've said in my first two reviews, this is due in large part to the deeper complexity of the plot in this series. There are multiple prophecies being explored throughout this series, as well as two entire sets of mythology to mine for characters and stories, leading to a richer world. I do, in fact, like Annabeth as a character and was excited to see her as one of the narrators of this story. Once again, Riordan has a great sense for compelling the story along, as this is his longest book yet and the pages just flew by as I read. However, on the whole, I don't think this is executed as well as his previous titles. I'm pretty sure that, as a series, The Kane Chronicles is my favorite, but I've enjoyed all of his books. With this one, for the first time, I felt a sense of ridiculous. The book is told in alternating narratives: four characters take turns telling the story. But, this time I noticed a lot of "meanwhile, back at the ranch..." type storytelling and it just seemed a little tedious. I suppose this has actually been going on throughout this whole series (and actually, probably occurs in the Kane Chronicles as well) but this was the first time I noticed it. I feel like I rolled my eyes at the beginning of every new narrator's section.

That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the book - like I said, it's fast-paced, complex and exciting. And, maybe this is a weird sentiment, but these characters feel comfortable. Percy and Annabeth have now been characters in eight books, more than Harry and Ron and Hermoine, though they've been more or less present throughout the two series. But there is something about reading these characters that just feels comfortable, despite the fact that their lives are usually in mortal peril. I love seeing the characters and their relationships with each other develop over the course of the series. I like discovering the new twists and turns that they will have to navigate in order to achieve their destinies. I love that I still continue to learn new things with every book I read.

So, though I may have felt a little less enthusiastic about the telling of this story than the others, I still love these stories and hope Riordan continues to create new ones.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Hokey Pokey

Hokey Pokey
By Jerry Spinelli
Published 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

It all starts when the girl steals Jack's beloved bike, Scramjet, and soon nothing in Hokey Pokey seems quite the same. At least for Jack. As he begins to see things differently, he wonders what it means for his time left in Hokey Pokey and what exactly he should do about it.

All right, for the most part, I love Jerry Spinelli - I adored Maniac Magee when I was younger (keep meaning to revisit it - someday!) and have loved most of the novels of his I've read since then. It sort of amazes me that he's still writing books, though I don't know why it should. I was delighted last year to discover Jake and Lily, which I thought was a great portrait of siblings. So, I was once again excited to find out he was publishing another new book this year. I have to admit, I'm not sure what to say about this one, though. You see, this is a very interesting book, not what I've come to expect from Spinelli and, while I appreciate the trying of new things, I was not enjoying this book at all when I started. As a matter of fact, I found the book rather tedious for probably the first half. Then I decided to just let my expectations go and read, see what I would discover. I won't say I loved the book after that point, but it was definitely easier to read once I stopped fighting against its uniqueness. I don't want to give it all away but I have to say this - what changed this book for me was the ending. You see, dear reader, this ending sucker-punched me. It brought the whole book together for me, changed the way I thought about it all, and made me want to turn right back to page one and read it again, this time knowing the secret. This book is, amazingly enough, already getting Newbery buzz (yes, the awards were just announced last week - we're talking about the ones that'll be announced in 2014) and I will be very interested to see this one being discussed around the awards blogs. I have a feeling it'll be a very black or white book - you'll either love it or hate it. For me, the ending clinched it - I'll never doubt Spinelli again.

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

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: Hero

By Perry Moore, read by Michael Urie
Published 2011 by Brilliance Audio

Thom gets that his father is suffering. That's part of the reason why he doesn't confide in him about his special powers. Or that he's joining the League, an organization of superheroes that shunned his father. The worst secret of all is that Thom is gay, and he doesn't know how to figure out who he truly wants to be.

This book came highly recommended from a few friends. I don't really read a lot of superhero-type books but I'm willing to try pretty much anything. I was interested to see how the intersection of two secret identities would play out in the novel and which would be the more difficult for Thom to come out about/come to terms with. Unsurprisingly, Thom struggles about equally with both aspects of his emerging identity and the two pieces seem to interact in unexpected ways.I liked the slow reveal of Thom's history - we know something big happened to his father but not what. As the pieces are revealed, Thom's struggles make even more and more sense. I loved Thom's ragtag band of up-and-coming superheroes. Though it's cliche for us to be presented with a band of underdogs to root for, there's a reason it's a cliche - it's genuinely a great feeling to get behind the underdogs. I love that they had some real but also some ridiculous powers and I liked that Thom worried he wouldn't be much good in a fight because his ability is healing instead of something defensive. Despite this being a book about superheroes, Thom's feelings of being overwhelmed by his struggles are incredibly realistic. I felt like the divide between Thom and his father was also realistic and very well-done. I did think that the truths of Uberman and the Dark Hero were a bit obvious, but with so much else going on in the story, I suppose it didn't seem that poorly executed. My main issue comes from the format. While I had no problem with Urie as a reader, I felt that the book dragged in audio form. Though this is a superhero book, the action is very spread out, so I found a number of sections dragged while listening. It was a disappointing experience. However, as a whole, I thought the book dealt with the twin secret identities very well and is an impressive addition to superhero books.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Program: American Girl Club

For our second installment of American Girl Club, we chose a doll with a unique holiday celebration, as we were holding the program in December, close to a number of holidays. We chose Kirsten, pioneer girl and Swedish immigrant. Here's what we did for the program!

As before, we started the program with a short historical and cultural presentation. Kirsten's story takes place in 1854, as her family immigrates to Minnesota from Sweden, enduring the long Atlantic crossing and the solitude of prairie life. We explained to the kids (we had boys this time!) that the pioneers lived isolated lives. Towns were often many miles away, so pioneers would save and reuse as much as they could to get them through the year. Doctors were often very busy and far away, so we explained some of the herbs that pioneers used to create their own remedies for various illnesses. We talked briefly about bees - Kirsten's family keeps honeybees in the books - and how important they are to our crops. Then we discussed Kirsten's Swedish heritage and some of the traditions and festivals she would have celebrated.

Then we moved on to our first hands-on activity: making butter! Surprisingly, I don't remember ever doing this as a child myself, but I definitely remember hearing about it, as well as seeing it around the web as a fun Kirsten/pioneer activity. I tested it out about a month before the program, to make sure it actually worked and wouldn't take the entire program. A small amount of heavy cream in a glass baby food jar and constant shaking. After about 10 minutes, I had a solid mass of butter and some buttermilk. Yay! It was a go for the program. Of course, nothing ever works exactly the way you test it when you're programming for kids. Part of it was my fault - I filled some of the jars too full of cream, not leaving enough room for the agitation. Another part was the kids - they probably weren't shaking constantly or as briskly as they should have been. We worried about this ahead of time - would the kids complain about having to shake constantly for ten minutes? To preemptively combat this, we showed two videos while they were shaking: one of a St. Lucia's Day procession and one briefly introducing Kirsten's story. I don't know that the videos were actually necessary - the kids didn't complain about shaking their jars. They seemed to be starting mini competitions among themselves - who could shake fastest, whose would turn to butter first. I think we were more concerned than the kids were - we didn't plan on the butter making to take up so much of the program time. Once we started to get some actual butter, we passed out homemade St. Lucia rolls (I made them the day before the program) and the kids spread their butter on the rolls. As we (the adults and teen volunteers in the room) frantically continued to shaking jars for some kids, they moved on to the final activity.

For the last part of the program, we made yarn dolls, another common pioneer activity. We wrapped the bodies around cardboard pieces ahead of time to make the process move a little quicker. The kids were responsible for cutting and segmenting the head, hair, arms, and legs of the dolls. Since the butter making took longer than expected, this part of the program was a bit rushed, but we stayed to help the last few kids finish up.

Overall, everyone seemed to have a great time at the program. A few girls even commented that they had more fun with this one than the Molly program. I certainly had a good time. I'm looking forward to our next American Girl Club!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

By Jef Czekaj
Published 2012 by Balzer + Bray
I like Czekaj's books because they often let the reader in on a sly trick or a silly joke. In this case, if you've ever played the game "Telephone," you pretty much know that things are going to go poorly once the message starts being passed around the farmyard. This would be a great storytime read-aloud, if only because it would be so difficult to do so and kids would find your struggles hilarious. The illustrations are simple and complement the story well.

Zorro Gets an Outfit
By Carter Goodrich
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Zorro and Mister Bud do pretty much everything together and are treated the same way. Until the unspeakable happens - Zorro receives a cape and hood that he is forced to wear. He is humiliated - even the neighborhood cat makes fun of him as the dogs walk through town together. But will another pooch's outfit change Zorro's mind? Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is Zorro himself. He is rendered so adorably in the illustrations, with the most expressive little doggie face imaginable. I love the story here and think kids would really enjoy this one.

Georgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O'Keeffe Painted What She Pleased
By Amy Novesky, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Published 2012 by Harcourt Children's Books
Sometimes I wonder how authors get inspired to write picture books about such specific moments in history. This book is a perfect example, recounting the time when renowned artist Georgia O'Keeffe was commissioned by The Hawaiian Pineapple Company to create paintings for them. The company sent O'Keeffe to live in Hawaii and take inspiration from what she found there but apparently crossed the line when they tried to dictate exactly what O'Keeffe's paintings should contain. This is an absolutely gorgeous book, wonderfully capturing the spirit of O'Keeffe, as well as her lush and beautiful artwork. Morales' illustrations are simply divine. Kids will appreciate O'Keeffe's stubbornness and her desire to paint what spoke to her. An author's note, illustrator's note, and map are included, though a bibliography lists only one source.

What to Do If an Elephant Stands On Your Foot
By Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Published 2012 by Dial
Y'all - I will praise Peter Reynolds' illustrations until the day I die, so you know why I had to read this one. This is a circular story, similar to Laura Joffe Numeroff's If You Give... series, as well as an interactive story, much like Jan Thomas' books. This book is just begging to be read aloud at storytime - kids will love reacting to the various jungle situations in which the main character ends up. I love that the illustrations set the scene in a simple way - basically I just want Peter Reynolds to illustrate my life. I cannot wait to try this book out on a group of preschoolers and see their reactions.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Review: The Lions of Little Rock

The Lions of Little Rock
By Kristin Levine
Published 2012 by Putnam Juvenile

Marlee is shy - she doesn't like speaking to people she doesn't know. As a result, she doesn't have many friends. When a new girl, Liz, comes along, she's brave and not afraid to say what she thinks. Marlee likes her almost instantly. But, almost before she knows it, Liz is gone, replaced by rumors that she is a Negro girl, passing as white. Marlee doesn't want to lose her best friend so soon after finding her - she'll face down integration and danger if that's what it takes to keep Liz in her life.

This book was getting quite a bit of buzz when I picked up a copy at ALA Midwinter, though I didn't get around to reading it until the fall. However, once I read it, I found the buzz well-deserved. This is an evocative, honest, and, at times, brutal depiction of an oft-neglected historical period: the time after the Little Rock Nine integrated. I love that Levine felt that this was the story to tell. Many historical fiction books dealing with Civil Rights seem to focus on the time period up to integration or a number of years after. Levine sets her story in Arkansas one year after integration has occurred - segregationists are scrambling to find a way to stop integration from happening and emotions are running at an all-time high. I like that Levine gives us different ways to see what's happening - Marlee's friendship with Liz is the main narrative focus, but we also hear about Marlee's sister and a number of other high schoolers being sent away to attend school elsewhere. Marlee's parents (who are teachers) find their every move scrutinized and their careers in jeopardy with increasing frequency. And, while this is a story about the big issue of integration and treating your fellow humans with compassion and understanding, this is also a story about Marlee growing up and finding her own voice. I thought Levine did a wonderful job of balancing the global (the issue of integration) with the local (Marlee's coming of age). It all flows together nicely and I didn't feel like one story took away from the other. I love that there are times when Marlee makes decisions that negatively impact Liz and her family. Marlee simply wants to be a good friend but, as a white child, she does not see things from the same perspective as Liz and her family. The books feels impeccably researched - there is a tremendous sense of place and time in the novel, making me want to learn more about our nation's ongoing struggle with civil rights. I love that, even outside the big message of the story, there is a significant message about the importance of speaking up and being heard. I think this is a truly wonderful book and will definitely be recommending it highly.

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