Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Nobody's Secret

Nobody's Secret
By Michaela MacColl
Expected publication April 30, 2013 by Chronicle Books

Young Emily Dickinson meets a mysterious and handsome young man who she feels an instant connection with. Their flirtation is secret and playful, and "Mr. Nobody" refuses to divulge his true identity. Then, unthinkably, he shows up dead in the Dickinson family pond. Emily believes it her duty to uncover the truth behind his death, no matter what risks she'll have to take.

So, I've never read MacColl before, though I've been intrigued by the blurb for Prisoners in the Palace and have been meaning to get around to it. I requested this new title because I'm a fan of historical fiction, and I enjoy authors who take well-known characters or historical figures and play with them. I don't know terribly much about Emily Dickinson, but I thought it would be interesting to see how MacColl presents her. Unfortunately, this book is mostly just mediocre for me. I do love Emily's character - she's a spirited young woman who is willing to do unpopular and unladylike things in her pursuit of truth. However, my adoration of her spirit is tempered by the knowledge that she essentially became a hermit; it just seems a disappointing end for the young woman encountered in these pages. I enjoyed the mystery in this book - I like how Emily puzzled out the bits and pieces by persistence and determination. It's never terribly exciting, though, and I wonder if teen readers will be engaged enough in the story to follow it through to the end. I can see fans of Dickinson's poetry enjoying this take on the reclusive poet's life, though, of course, it is fictional. MacColl provides an author's note after the novel's conclusion to help readers sort the fact from fiction. Ultimately, I just didn't find this terribly compelling. A middle of the road read for me.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Program: Adventure Club

For our March edition of Adventure Club, we ventured a little out there - our coworkers were a bit worried about what we wanted to do. What was this crazy (but highly appealing to kids) idea? Grossology, of course! Here's what we did!

When the kids came in, we split them into two groups: team snot and team poop. We started the program off with some trivia. We decided to run the trivia in a manner with which we've had success in the past - each team is given a stack of cards with all the answers printed on them, so teams must search through their cards to find the correct answer to each question and bring it up to the questioner (my coworker in this case). There is always a no-running rule (difficult though it can be to enforce) and this gives everybody pretty much an equal shot at getting each question right, especially with trivia like this where we didn't expect them to know the answers beforehand. All trivia was based on facts found in the Grossology series of books, as well as a couple other random "gross stuff" books I found in our collection. Despite the fact that each team should have had an equal shot at discovering the correct answer, one team dominated the trivia. No prizes were awarded, just a round of applause.

Once we finished with trivia, we kept the kids split into two groups and got to work on making our gross take-homes - fake poop and fake snot. As expected, team poop started at the fake poop station and we switched the groups once everyone got a chance to finish up their disgusting creations. We had some complaints about the fake snot because it was the same recipe we had used in a recent science program AND Holidays at Hogwarts, but we never know if the same kids will show up to everything. Regardless, they all made their snot (which wasn't really as runny as snot) and poop (which was disturbingly realistic). Then everybody got the chance to decorate themselves with a fake wound. This would have gone better if we had fewer kids or more volunteers to help - many of them didn't really understand the concept of using a small piece of tissue to create a wound site, so we had a number of kids leaving with large wads of tissue paper about their person.

We had a prize drawing at the end of the program (they just threw their names in a bucket) for three gross fact books, one winner for each book, and then we sent the kids on their way. I was happy to see many parents wrinkling their noses at our gross creations as the kids left the program. We had an excellent number in attendance and everyone had a good time. We will definitely offer another gross program in the future!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Secret Agent Splat
By Rob Scotton!
Published 2012 by HarperCollins
Splat has discovered something amiss in his house - someone has messed with his ducks! Not to worry - Splat will simply use his Secret Agent skills to uncover the mysterious culprit. What do I really need to say about this book? I've been in love with Rob Scotton's books since Russell the Sheep (underappreciated, I think, and suffering in the shadow of the Splat books) and Splat is just as fabulous (and clearly more popular). I was so excited to see this one last year (yes, I'm writing a review a year later) because our summer reading club had a mystery theme and this would be perfect. This is a delightful book, so much fun.

Gideon and Otto
By Olivier Dunrea
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I don't have a ton to say about these books - they are incredibly short, perfect for toddlers, and simple. But they are exceedingly adorable. I don't like birds, but Dunrea's ducks and goslings are so sweet that even I can't resist them. Gideon introduces a little gosling who absolutely does not want to take a nap. Gideon and Otto showcases Gideon's best friend, Otto the octopus, and the adventures they enjoy together. I love these books, so simple and so sweet.

Kali's Song
By Jeannette Winter
Published 2012 by Schwartz & Wade
I seem to remember this book making a bit of a splash when it first came out, so I was definitely interested in seeing what the fuss was about. I suppose I just didn't get this one. It tells the story of Kali, a young boy who lived many thousands of years ago, and his desire to make music. I guess this is a book to celebrate the differences and uniqueness of all of us, but I just didn't care for it terribly much.

Sleep Like a Tiger
By Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
My library didn't receive a copy of this book until after it won a Caldecott Honor so I was dying to get my hands on it and see for myself. I have to say - I do not like this book. Which is perfectly fine, since I also cannot stand Chris Raschka and everyone else thinks he's a genius. I do not like the text or the illustrations in this book - which is a bit surprising - usually I will enjoy at least some part of a picture book. But I found this text just blah and the illustrations weird. Definitely not my favorite.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: The Murmurings

The Murmurings
By Carly Anne West
Published 2013 by Simon Pulse

Sophie's life hasn't been the same since her sister went to the institute. Now, Nell is dead, and Sophie thinks there is more to the story than anyone has told her. Desperate to get to the bottom of the mystery, Sophie begins to wonder if maybe she is crazy - or if the sisters share a secret that is almost too strange to be true.

I requested the e-galley of this thinking I'd get a creepy, psychological thriller sort of story. I was disappointed. In fact, I'm not sure I have anything nice to say about this book. Everything about this book struck me as mediocre or worse - I had to force myself to keep reading through the tedium. Sophie is not a particularly interesting character, and I find something about her off-putting. It makes me completely unsympathetic to her struggles to uncover the truth about her sister's death. It's also interesting to note that the action is fairly well-paced throughout this book - something seems to happen in every chapter - and yet, the plot still felt like it was dragging. The romance is completely ridiculous. There is no sense that these two characters even know each other and suddenly they are in love? I get that they are allegedly bonding over their similarly tragic pasts, but it just doesn't read as a believable romance to me. Additionally, this is not a psychological thriller - this is a paranormal read. The secret that Sophie and her sister share is supernatural and, to be honest, just plain strange. You know, perhaps this book is best compared to a B-movie horror film - it's surprisingly in the vein of The Ring and those other creepy Asian horror films about ghosts and malevolent spirits. Unfortunately, this one is not all that creepy. I don't expect this to make a big splash with its intended audience, but there may be some appeal for readers who have exhausted all other paranormal romance-y type books.

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star (Shades of London, book one)
By Maureen Johnson
Published 2011 by Putnam Juvenile

Rory has somewhat mixed feelings about starting a new life in a London boarding school. Unfortunately, those feelings are not going to become clearer anytime soon. Almost as soon as Rory arrives, a series of murders, emulating those of Jack the Ripper, begins and Rory finds herself thrust into the center of the investigation. Will she be able to adjust to London life and can she escape the clutches of the Ripper copycat?

This is another one of those times when I admit what a terrible person I am - if you know me, you know I have a bit of a book addiction. This addiction was probably only made worse when I became a librarian and was certainly fed when I attended ALA Annual Conference for the first time. I mean, books! Everywhere! Advance copies! So, I definitely came home with more copies than it was humanly possible to read in a timely manner. I promise, I am doing my darnedest to work through all those books I have sitting on my shelves - this is one of them. I was so excited to receive a galley of this because it sounds right up my alley - I love a good mystery and Jack the Ripper is particularly fascinating and gruesome. Also, it's not hard to guess from the cover that there's going to be a bit of the supernatural in this novel - and there is. So, while I didn't get to this book before it was released, I was still thrilled to have a copy and get started when I finally got a chance.

What motivated me to finally read this one was the eminent release of the sequel, all the good reviews I'd heard of it, and YALSA's The Hub Reading Challenge. I was not led astray. I had only read one of Johnson's books before (13 Little Blue Envelopes) but I really enjoyed it and kept meaning to read more by her. This was an excellent choice for furthering my experiences with her as an author. If there is one thing that Johnson does exceptionally well, it's characters. I fell for Rory immediately - I mean, literally, page one and I was hooked. An excellent voice and an interesting background, Rory is a wonderful narrator. She is witty and astute and just plain fun - plus she's fierce and not opposed to some good snogging and mixed emotions. That is perhaps my favorite aspect of Rory's character - not the snogging, but the embracing of her mixed feelings. Rory does not feel compelled to declare herself fully happy or fully sad - she is just fine with the shades of grey in between. This murkiness of emotions really begins to show up in the teenage years and I love that Rory doesn't back away from the confusion.

But there is not just one thing Johnson does well - she does most everything well. The dialogue is snappy, hilarious, and incredibly (sometimes painfully) realistic. The atmosphere is pitch perfect - there is just the right mix of stereotypical London gloom and supernatural creepiness. Everything about this book sucked me in and kept me hurtling toward the final pages - and I wouldn't have it any other way. Very much looking forward to reading the sequel and more from Johnson in the future.

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

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: What's Left of Me

What's Left of Me (Hybrid Chronicles, book one)
By Kat Zhang
Published 2012 by HarperCollins

Eva and Addie had a similar childhood to everyone else around them - two souls in one body, taking turns being in control as they grew. But then, they became different. One was supposed to fade away as the other took control. Why didn't they settle? As the whispers became louder and the looks more pointed, the girls constructed a false reality - Eva was gone now. Addie was in control. Now, the girls have discovered that there may be a way for Eva to have control again. Will they take the risk for the chance?

This book has a very intriguing premise - two souls are born into most bodies (actually, I'm not clear whether this is all, or just most) and, once the child grows older, the souls settle, leaving just one. However, in this case, the settling never happened - Eva and Addie are both still present, having carefully built a reality around the lie that only Addie remains. I'd heard good things about this book, as well, so I definitely wanted to check it out. First thing I really liked about this book - it's told from Eva's perspective. Eva is the soul who was supposed to have faded away, given up control to Addie (well, she has done that) and disappeared into the place where all those recessive souls go. This makes for a very interesting take on the story and I really appreciated having Eva's narrative. I also would have liked a dual narrative - many of the things that happen would have been interesting to read from Addie's perspective - though the girls share a body, their emotions and thoughts about the things that body experiences are not necessarily the same. When the girls are given a chance to let Eva learn how to regain control of their body, they seem to struggle. I like the exploration of the relationship between the two girls - once again, though they are sharing a body, they are distinct people, with a relationship that doesn't have an exact match in our world (perhaps most similar to twins?). This makes nearly everything about this book a unique experience. Something that would have been pretty mundane in a different YA book - the romance - becomes a completely different thing in this book. Because there are more than just two people directly involved in this romance - there are four. What does that mean for all the souls involved? This book asks a lot of interesting questions and I enjoyed thinking about them and considering my own answers. Plotwise, this is an adventure story, with the girls discovering that the things the government has always told them are probably lies (very typical sci-fi trope, but an effective one). I thought the pacing was excellent - the book never dragged for a moment and I didn't want to put it down. I'm not sure how I feel about this being the start to a series - I think this is a nice self-contained adventure in this novel, though I expect the sequel will explore more of what life could be like for Eva and Addie, as well as more discoveries about the deception of the government. Overall, I thought this was a really well-done debut novel and I'll pick up the sequel to see what Zhang does next.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Program: Sharpie Tie-Dye

This is going to be a very short recap because I'm pretty sure I might be the last youth librarian on the planet to run a Sharpie tie-dye program. I decided to do this as a tween program during spring break and it was quite a success. Over 30 kids came (and they all brought their own t-shirts!) and made some awesome Sharpie designs. For those who don't know, it's really simple: you take a plain white shirt, stretch part of it over a plastic cup or cardboard (depending on how much area you want to work with at one time, or what you have better access to), draw whatever design you want in Sharpie, and then drip rubbing alcohol over your design. The alcohol will cause the Sharpie ink to bleed and run, creating a tie-dye-like effect. It's simple and fun and low-cost, plus it's easy to accommodate a large number of kids at one time. I gave a quick demonstration at the start of the program and they all worked quietly and intently on their own for the next hour, only asking me for refills of the rubbing alcohol (we used dropper bottles for better control). They all had fun, and they came up with some great designs. Definitely a program I'd repeat in the future!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Take Your Mama to Work Today
By Amy Reichert, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Published 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Violet is off to work with mom today and she has some advice along the way. After all, she is an expert at working. This is a really cute story about what office life is like in the eyes of a child. I think it would be a great book to talk about what mom or dad does at work, though kids with stay-at-home parents might not get as much out of it. I absolutely love the illustrations - to the point where I actually looked in the front of the book to figure out how they were made (and wrote it down!). Lovely and adorable.

By I.C. Springman, illustrated by Brian Lies
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I love this one! Which might be surprising because I hate birds, but this story is just so darn awesome that I'll overlook it. This book is deceptive - it appears simply to be the story of a greedy magpie, but it actually asks some more complex questions. The text is sparse but the illustrations are gorgeous - I want Brian Lies to create art just for me. This would be a great book for dialogic, one-on-one reading.

The House at the End of Ladybug Lane
By Elise Primavera, illustrated by Valeria Docampo
Published 2012 by Robin Corey Books
Angelina comes from a family of neat freaks, but she is definitely not one herself. She loves to get dirty. She is not allowed to have a pet because, let's face it, pets are messy. But something unexpected happens after Angelina and her family move to Ladybug Lane - maybe they will find a solution they'll both be happy about. This is a very whimsical story, accompanied by suitable illustrations, but it's not entirely successful for me. It doesn't really have much of a compelling story; it all seems a bit random. I'm sure there are kids who would love it, just not me.

Animals are Sleeping
By Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Gary R. Phillips
Published 2008 by Sylvan Dell Publishing
This is an absolutely lovely bedtime book that highlights how different animals go to sleep in their habitats. There is an excellent variety of animals featured here and the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous - bold and beautiful. The thing that surprised me most (I suppose maybe because I'm not terribly familiar with this publisher) was the extra material at the back of the book - tons of suggestions to further explore some of the things covered in the book. Great!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Claws

By Mike and Rachel Grinti
Published 2012 by Chicken House

Emma's sister is missing and her parents have spent all their money trying to find her. They've done everything they can - and now they're going to consult the crags. Her family has moved to a trailer park on the edge of the forest, where very few humans go. When Emma is approached by Jack, a clever and ruthless cat who assures Emma that he can help her find Helena, what choice does she have but to listen to him?

One of my coworkers received an ARC of this title and read it and loved it - she's been talking about it for months. So, I recently strong-armed her into loaning me her copy (she's very careful with her books - just like me!) so I could see what all her fuss was about. I have to start by saying, as I always do, that I'm not a huge fan of talking animal fantasy novels. So, I approached this with slight trepidation. However, it should also be said that I'm willing to read pretty much anything, just to give it a try.

I feel pretty ambivalent about this book overall - it had some interesting elements but it also had a lot of stuff that just didn't work for me. It's a short and quick read, but it felt incomplete and rushed - we don't really know how long Helena's been missing, or where anyone thinks she's gone, or even if they think she left of her own accord. We are just thrown into the story after Emma's parents have exhausted seemingly every avenue in the search for their older daughter.

Additionally, the characterization feels hasty - Emma reads, overall, as a pretty bland character and I had a difficult time sympathizing with her at any point in the story. Jack, the cat, reads like a typical smarmy sidekick who we are never really sure we should trust but we kinda just go along with anyway. Emma's parents are basically non-existent and I didn't really feel like Emma cared all that much about finding her sister except so that her parents would stop wasting their time (that's what it read as to me).

There is a lack of place in this novel - I had no idea where the story was supposed to be taking place. Yes, I get that it's a fantasy version of our world but where in our world? The authors kept making reference to Emma's Vietnamese heritage which at one point made me think the story was taking place in Vietnam - only to go on to state that her grandparents had fled the country with her parents during the war. I wish the Grintis had done something more with Emma's heritage - incorporated Vietnamese mythological creatures perhaps, something other than just mentioning that she was Vietnamese a number of times. I was particularly unimpressed with the ending - it felt even more hasty than the rest of the book.

Actually, when I look over my review, I guess I'm not so ambivalent - I don't have much to recommend for this novel, but I'm sure there are a number of avid animal fantasy readers who would enjoy its unique take on cat mythology.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: Vessel

By Sarah Beth Durst
Published 2012 by Margaret K. McElderry

Liyana has lived her entire life knowing her purpose - one day, her soul will depart and her body will be inhabited by her clan's goddess. Their goddess will then use the body to live amongst her people, spreading her magic and ensuring their survival. But, when they perform the ceremony, Liyana's goddess doesn't come. She doesn't understand - she did everything right! Outcast by her people, Liyana is bereft and alone - until Korbyn comes along. Korbyn, the trickster god, inhabiting his vessel, who spins a tale of imprisoned gods and goddesses that seems too crazy to be true. But is it? Liyana will do anything to discover the truth.

I was so thrilled to hear about this book - Sarah Beth Durst has been one of my favorite authors since I read Into the Wild about 4 years ago. I've loved everything of hers I've read thus far (though I still need to read two of her other books) and this one sounded absolutely fantastic. Additionally, it was getting good reviews and was being discussed as one of the best fantasy novels of the year. Naturally, that just made me even more eager to read it. So, I put it on hold as soon as I could at the library and greedily read as fast as I could when it came in. This book was not a disappointment. This book was everything I love about Durst's writing - beautiful phrases and lyrical descriptions, a fascinating and credible new world, and a strong, determined heroine who is not without her own struggles. I don't even know how to properly gush about this book - I'm just in awe of the creativity and craft that went into writing it. As a side note, I absolutely love this cover - it is so gorgeous and, I think, accurately depicts Liyana. I loved that the world in this book has a distinct Asian/Middle Eastern vibe - it makes it stand out from the plethora of fantasy based in a European or Western world. Many reviews I've seen have described a lack of characterization but I didn't feel that while I was reading. To me, each vessel had a distinct personality, and I enjoyed Liyana's character as well. Her dedication to her goddess is impressive and inspiring, but I found it even more interesting when she began to question her feelings for Korbyn and what Bayla's taking over her body would really mean. I loved the whole mythos behind the story and I loved Korbyn - I really enjoy trickster gods in my mythology stories. I loved discovering the legends and tales of the people and I thought the realization that Korbyn and the other gods come to was beautiful and very well-done. It gave the story a new depth. At times, the story was a bit repetitive as Korbyn and Liyana trek to the different clans to gather the other vessels, and I thought the romance, while very sweet and interesting, became a little too run-of-the-mill at the end. Overall, though, this was a beautiful book that I truly loved. Sarah Beth Durst continues to impress me!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Poison

By Bridget Zinn
Published 2013 by Disney Hyperion

Kyra is the Master Potioner of her Kingdom - nothing to snark at as she's only 16. But she's also a fugitive - she tried to kill the princess, her former best friend. Kyra is the only one who knows why she tried to kill Ariana, but she knows it has to happen. Can Kyra find a way to save the kingdom?

Okay, I requested this one in e-galley because it has a great fantasy blurb, plus there is mention of an adorable pig. That's hard to resist - how often do you get an adorable pig in fantasy novels (and this one doesn't talk!)? From almost the moment I started reading this one, I had a smile plastered on my face. This is an incredibly charming, imaginative and fun fantasy tale that left me feeling lighthearted and happy. How do I count this novel's charms? Let's try.

First, Kyra - oh, what a great heroine! She is smart - incredibly smart - and supremely talented, funny and sarcastic, self-sufficient and loyal. She is a fantastic character. I loved hearing her story piece by piece as she reminisces over the past that has led her to being on the run for attempted murder. I loved all the little quirks that define Kyra as a unique character - her distaste for witches, her unusual friendship with Ariana, her overwhelming desire to be the most successful Potioner in the land. Kyra is an easy character to root for and I was completely smitten.

Second, the other characters - Fred! Oh, Fred! I love his charming aloofness, his sense of humor, and his relentless teasing of Kyra. Ariana - another backstory I love, she is no run-of-the-mill princess and it explains the relationship between Kyra and Ariana perfectly. Arlo - ew, what a slimy bad guy. Though I feel we didn't really get the whole story with Arlo, he was a suitably sleazy villain.

Third, the world - I love that Zinn's world supports both science (in the form of Potioners) and magic (with witches and assorted other magical creatures). I love Rosie (she's the adorable pig I mentioned) and Fred's dog, Langley - even the animals are bursting with personality in this book. I love that Kyra absolutely does not want to be responsible for Rosie in the beginning, but, of course, who wouldn't be won over by an enchanted pig?

In case you can't tell, I adored this book for its sweetness and charm. Though Kyra and other characters are all 16 or older, there is nothing objectionable in this book, making this a great read for fantasy-loving tweens and teens. I definitely recommend this one and was saddened to hear of Zinn's passing, knowing that it likely means not many, if any, more books from her. To read more about the author and how to help spread the word of this lovely novel, check here.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Program + review: beTWEEN the lines

I was a bit worried about turn-out for our March book club - the books had not arrived by the February meeting, so I worried that even my regular kids would forget to come and pick them up after they arrived or forget about the meeting. I guess I worried for nothing - only one of my regular attendees didn't show up. However, half of the kids had to leave early, so we ended up having a very abbreviated discussion. We voted on our May title and I handed out copies of our April book after our discussion and we adjourned after about 40 minutes (our meetings are normally an hour long). Anyway, on to the review!

A Tale Dark & Grimm
By Adam Gidwitz
Published 2011 by Puffin
You think you know the story of Hansel and Gretel, but you're wrong. You only know part of the story. It's a good thing our narrator is here to fill in the rest...

Confession: I offered this as one of the choices for the kids because I wanted to read it and I was pretty sure they would pick it. They did, unanimously, so it became our March book club selection. What I thought about it: I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. On the surface, this really seemed like a book made for me - snarky narrator, retelling of fairy-tales, horror and blood and guts. And it's not that I didn't like this book - it was a quick read, and I chuckled a few times and I thought Gidwitz did a great job of making the stories the perfect blend of horror and humor. I just felt slightly underwhelmed overall. Still, I'm looking forward to reading the companion book and seeing if I like it any better.

What the kids thought: I found it really interesting hearing the kids' opinions of this one. Overwhelmingly, they thought it was really scary, and gross, and one of them was put off by the "bad language" in the story (one of the stories actually takes place in Hell). At the same time that they were scared, they also all claimed to like the book, so I guess it's true that we're interested in what scares us. I asked if any of them would read the companion book, but they had a hard time understanding what exactly a "companion book" meant (they were fixated on the idea of a sequel). They didn't seem opposed to reading more, though.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners
By Judy Sierra, illustrated by Tim Bowers
Published 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
This is the kind of "lessons" book that I like to see - it teaches its lesson without being boring or preachy. I mean, most kids love dinosaurs, so why not use them to teach kids manners? The book is told in a fun way, perfect for storytime, with bright and interesting illustrations. Kids can shout out the answers to each etiquette situation and have fun with this one. Really charming.

My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius
By Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Barroux
Published 2011 by Blue Apple Books
This was our community read book for the youngest audience, so I saw a lot of this book over the last few months. It's a cute story about a boy who loves to paint and show off his work to his dog, Louie. Then Louie tries creating a masterpiece of his own. It's just a fun story about art and works well with the storytime crowd.

The House of 12 Bunnies
By Caroline Stills & Sarcia Stills-Blott, illustrated by Judith Rossell
Published 2012 by Holiday House
This is a cute book about a mother bunny who has lost something and is looking for it as the house prepares for bedtime. What is she missing? Will she find it? This story would work best one-on-one, as there is plenty to see and talk about on every page spread. It's a good opportunity to practice counting, as well. Very cute illustrations - perfect for the target age group.

Wolf Won't Bite!
By Emily Gravett
Published 2011 by MacMillan Children's Books
I'm a big fan of Emily Gravett's books - she always does something really unique and interesting with them, and they often work fantastically for practicing early literacy skills. In this one, Gravett offers a different take on the three little pigs story, where the pigs are absolutely certain that the wolf won't really bite. Are they right? Kids will love the suspense as the read about the pigs' antics and discover if the title is true.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: In Search of Goliathus Hercules

In Search of Goliathus Hercules
By Jennifer Angus
Published 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company

Henri Bell has been sent to live with his great-aunt as his mother searches the globe for his missing father. Here, he makes a most unusual discovery - he can talk to insects. Henri will use this gift to take the circus world by storm and will set upon a quest to find the mythical Goliathus Hercules, allegedly a giant beetle found deep in the jungle. During his quest, Henri will uncover the truth about his father's disappearance and undergo a startling transformation of his own.

This was another e-galley I requested in my attempts to read more middle-grade. I am not huge on animal fantasy books - talking animals are definitely not my thing. But I thought it was interesting that this book is set around 1890 (though I've neglected to mention that in my summary up there) and I liked the idea of a quest for a possibly non-existent giant bug. I'm not completely sure how I feel about this one. It is long - about 350 pages or so - and it's not always terribly exciting reading. In many places, readers are faced with excessive description, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes just not interesting. For such a long book, there is a surprising lack of characterization - readers will spend about 350 pages with Henri but I don't feel like we know him all that well by the end of it. Certainly, we will have seen that Henri has changed over the course of those 300+ pages but without a definite idea of his character beforehand, I had a hard time sympathizing with the plights he undergoes throughout the novel's course.

Maybe I am obtuse, but I completely missed the vague references in the blurbs I've seen to Henri's own "transformation," so this element of the book completely took me by surprise when it started happening in the story. Additionally, I didn't really understand the point of it - in my mind, there was no reason for Henri to undergo his transformation. It didn't add anything to his story or message; in fact, to me, it seemed a bit of a cop-out. I may have liked the story better if Henri remained as he was initially, with emotional development as his biggest transformation. I'm not sure who the audience for this book is - I'm monitoring its circulation status in our library, so we'll see.

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review: Taken

Taken (Taken, book one)
By Erin Bowman

Expected publication April 16, 2013 by HarperTeen

Welcome to Claysoot, where boys disappear on their 18th birthdays. But is that the whole story? Gray Weathersby begins to have some doubts after his brother is Heisted and he finds a mysterious last note from his deceased mother. Can Gray uncover the truth behind the Heist and solve the mysteries of his own life as well?

In general, I'm kind of a sucker for a good hook - all boys disappear when they turn 18? Yup, I'm in. Additionally, I'll give pretty much anything a shot if it sounds even remotely interesting. So I end up with a lot of books on my to-read list that, woefully, I will probably never actually end up reading. However, this one popped up available in egalley form on Edelweiss, so I requested and happily was granted access. This was a quick and fast-paced read - it's been a long time since I've taken the time to just sit down and read and actually finish a book in one sitting, but such was the case with Taken (well, I had read about 60 pages beforehand, but I finished the bulk of it in one sitting). This is not a perfect book - a great deal of the story sounds very familiar. Secret government, powerful person not giving citizens the whole story, hero's past not being exactly what it first appeared, love triangle - you get the idea. However, the book is pretty gripping - even though I've read this story (or something VERY similar before), I want to know what happens next in THIS version. Bowman keeps the action moving in short and exciting chapters, though this was another book where the passage of time seemed weird (one day could take a whole chapter while a few months might pass in one sentence). The love triangle was incredibly predictable, but I liked the angle added by the societal constructs Bowman has set up (in Claysoot, young people are Slated to each other - monogamy does not exist and teen pregnancy is encouraged to keep increasing the population, especially as young males stop existing in the community once they reach adulthood). Gray is a suitably interesting protagonist, despite his ridiculous name. This book will definitely find an audience with teens looking for the next dystopian, touch of romance read.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town
By Kimberly Willis Holt, read by Will Patton
Published 2006 by Listening Library

Not much happens in Toby's small Texas town until the fateful summer that Zachary Beaver comes to town. Zachary's appearance will be just one thing in a summer full of changes for Toby.

I picked up this audio on a whim, in the mood for a Texas story. I like reading books that take place where I live or have lived - it's fun to see what I recognize or what seems familiar. It takes place in a fictional Texas town during the Vietnam War, but I saw similarities with the Texas of today throughout the story. Unfortunately, though, I just didn't really get into this book and I'm hard-pressed to remember much about it. I know I liked some bits of it - I remember yelling at the audio while I was driving a couple times (yes, sometimes I talk back to my books) - but overall, this didn't leave much of an impression on me. It's a pretty standard coming of age story, though it does have some unusual elements to it (the appearance of the obese Zachary Beaver being a bit atypical). Toby's journey through adolescence, though, is not all that unusual. In terms of the audio version, I liked the reader well enough - he had quite a strong Southern accent, which was at times a bit grating but worked for the story. He spoke a little slowly for my taste, though that's pretty typical of Southern folks as well. All in all, I found this a pretty unremarkable book - interesting, as the book won the National Book Award.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Program: Friendship Bracelets

So, I may have mentioned this before, but I am not the best at coming up with catchy names for my programs; thus, my February tween program was simply called Friendship Bracelets.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the program, except I should have done a better job of promoting it - only a handful of kids showed up. However, I did have one boy (I expected none) and they loved learning how to make the bracelets. I taught them a basic friendship bracelet - you can find the tutorial for the fishtail pattern we made on Pinterest. As expected, only one girl had any experience making bracelets before, so they definitely needed a lot of one-on-one help. For the most part, though, once they got started, the kids did fine on their own. Everyone left with one bracelet and most people had two (or the start of a second).

I'd definitely like to try this program again - maybe I'd have better success in December, when people are looking for a fast homemade gift? Or maybe it just wasn't a good day for a program? I never can tell with these things. Regardless, this was a simple and low-stress program that I think has potential - I've just got to figure out how to maximize it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

By Birgitta Sif
Published 2012 by Candlewick Press
I really like this book - it's simple and quiet but fun and sweet. It tells the story of Oliver, a little boy who is a bit unique and doesn't quite fit in - but it suits him just fine. I like that this book doesn't make it seem like there is anything wrong with Oliver because he is quirky - he just likes what he likes. When he starts to feel a bit lonely for human company, he begins to explore. I love the illustrations here as well, and the wealth of detail to be found. Very sweet.

Penguin and Pinecone
By Salina Yoon
Published 2012 by Walker Childrens
Penguin is sure he has found a new best friend when he discovers Pinecone. But he is reminded that pinecones belong in the forest. What will Penguin do? I mean, do I really have to say more than "aw, look how cute!"? This book is adorable and a lovely little tale of friendship. Very sweet - I think it would actually be a great Valentine's Day read.

Pug and Doug
By Steve Breen
Published 2013 by Dial
Pug and Doug are best friends. They like a lot of the same things - doughnuts, secret handshakes, etc. But they also like some different things. A misunderstanding leads the friends to hurt feelings and they must find a way to make it right. This is a sweet story about friendship that would be great for kids who are just learning how to make friends and about what makes a good friend. This is another one that is too long for storytime, but a sweet story nonetheless.

The Perfect Hug
By Joanna Walsh, illustrated by Judi Abbot
Published 2012 by Paula Wiseman Books
This is a lovely companion to The Biggest Kiss. Different kinds of hugs are explored, accompanied by completely adorable animal illustrations. All along we are on a quest to discover the perfect hug and we find it in the end. The rhymes are occasionally off and clunky, but the illustrations are just so dang cute that you kind of ignore it. Definitely would be great in a Valentine's Day storytime.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Drama

By Raina Telgemeier
Published 2012 by GRAPHIX

Callie loves the theater - not being on stage (she can't sing), but creating the scene. She's the set designer for her middle school and she is determined to bring a Broadway caliber set to the production of Moon Over Mississippi. But, of course, the action onstage is not the only drama around...

I really enjoyed Smile, Telgemeier's graphic autobiography of dental mishaps, and had heard great things about her latest. I didn't get around to it until I picked it up for YALSA's The Hub Reading Challenge, Drama having been awarded a Stonewall Honor. I was glad to have an excuse to move this book to the top of my TBR pile. As a graphic novel, it's a quick read, but that doesn't mean it's all light and fluffy. I liked the pacing of the story and I think it definitely deserves its Stonewall Honor - we don't see a ton of books about diverse sexualities for the middle-grade audience and I think it's important that when we find a good one, we recognize it. I thought Telgemeier handled the GLBT issues well - and I love that the story unfolds against the drama department backdrop. I was a huge theater geek in middle and high school and so much of this story resonated with me. I like that she includes a character who could be identified as questioning - this is even rarer than the other identities in tween fiction (or even teen fiction for that matter). I love Telgemeier's artistic style. The colors are so vivid and the characters leap off the pages. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will continue to anticipate her future works!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: Bully Bait

Bully Bait (The Odd Squad, book one)
By Michael Fry
Published 2013 by Disney Press

Nick doesn't really mind getting shoved into his locker - it's pretty roomy in there, actually - except when it gives him zombie butt. It seems the only solution to zombie butt is stopping the bully from cramming him into the locker - but how? Is it really possible that Safety Patrol will be the answer?

Publishers everywhere are still trying to recreate the success of Diary of a Wimpy Kid - this is one of the latest attempts. I think there is a real push (and need) for middle school fiction; in our area, this seems to be our biggest age group. Additionally, with the topic of bullying being pretty much everywhere nowadays (and middle school being a tragically difficult time in most kids' lives), there is definitely a need for kids to see more of these experiences in fiction. Bully Bait, the first book in a new series, is another example of "diary" type fiction. It's not written necessarily in diary format, but the story is told in first person, short chapters, with black and white illustrations throughout. I don't know that I've mentioned it here but over at my Goodreads account, I've admitted that the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books have been getting on my nerves. What it boils down to for me is that Greg is not a nice person and an even worse friend and I just can't stand it - it seems to be played off as Greg just not knowing any better. It doesn't fly with me. So, whenever I look at readalikes for that series, it often isn't hard for me to like a character more than Greg.

Is this a suitable readalike for Wimpy Kid? Yes - it explores the awkward relationships kids have in middle school - with themselves, with other kids, and with adults (parents and other adults). It tackles the subject of bullying in a humorous way and brings to light that many bullies are dealing with problems of their own, some that make them pick on other kids to make themselves feel better. It highlights the slippery slope between bully and bullied - the main character here experiences both throughout the book. I love the wise but random advice Mr. Dupree gives Nick and his fellow Safety Patrollers. Though the construct of the Safety Patrol itself seems a bit too convenient, it gives Nick a chance to find other misfits and see if there might be a group for him somewhere.

Do I think kids will like this? Yes - I will definitely be pushing this one this summer.

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

Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Sin-Eater's Confession

The Sin-Eater's Confession
By Ilsa J. Bick
Published 2013 by Carolrhoda Books

Merit, Wisconsin is a small town, and you know how small towns are. Small towns are not always the best places for people like Jimmy - rumors get started and spread and spread and then, tragedy. Because now Jimmy's dead and Ben is wondering what he saw and if he can trust himself.

This was an e-galley I requested on more of a whim - I've not read anything by Bick before (though I have a copy of Ashes waiting on my shelves at home) and I hadn't heard too much about it. The author's note at the end indicates that this was actually the first YA novel Bick sold, so I'm not sure if this one languished in edits or if this is a reprint or what the story is, since it's been released after four other YA novels by Bick. Regardless, I'm a bit disappointed that this is my first Bick experience - I didn't love it.

I wanted to enjoy this book - I figured I was getting an important GLBT story with a possibly unreliable narrator. It sounded like a really intriguing combination. Unfortunately, this book just didn't really work for me. Here's what I did like: this novel is compelling enough that I kept reading. It's not really a quick read, but I wanted to know what really happened the night Jimmy died - would Ben ever figure it out? What would he do with the information he did have? Definitely questions to which you want the answers. Similarly, Ben makes for a very interesting narrator - does he actually remember what he saw that night? Is he telling the truth, even to himself? What exactly was his relationship with Jimmy? There are A LOT of questions in this book.

Here's what I didn't like: there are not a lot of answers. I don't want to give away spoilers but, suffice to say, you will be left wondering what exactly the truth is about many of those questions you asked yourself while reading. Like I said, this is not a quick read - it's compelling, but only to an extent. I can definitely see other readers giving up along the way. Additionally, I figured this was going to be an important GLBT story, but it didn't really work that way for me. There is a lot of rumor throughout the book regarding the sexuality of the characters but not a lot of fact. A lot of the book is spent in Ben denying that he is gay, repeatedly claiming that he didn't feel that way about Jimmy. It all just seems a This just didn't really work for me.

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