Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Death Cloud

Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes, book one)
By Andrew Lane, read by Dan Weyman
Published 2011 by Macmillan Young Listeners

How did Sherlock come to be the eccentric and brilliant detective we know him as? Well, maybe it begins here, the summer when he is fourteen and living with his estranged aunt and uncle. When two locals die with symptoms resembling the plague, Sherlock takes it upon himself to uncover the true cause of death, with help from his new American tutor, Amyus Crowe.

This series came recommended to me by a colleague and when I saw it available as a SYNC free download last summer, I took the plunge.

It's kind of an odd choice for me. I love historical fiction but I sometimes find mysteries a bit tedious. Additionally, I've never read an original Sherlock Holmes story, nor seen any of the film adaptations (aside from the one starring Robert Downey, Jr., and I hated that one) or the current BBC series that everyone I know is obsessed with. I remember vaguely hearing about these books when they first started coming out, but I didn't really have any interest in them.

That being said, I found it a rather enjoyable listen - more so than I expected it to be. Despite not being a particular Sherlock fan, I of course know something about him and I think Lane's fictional vision of him as a teenager is believable and in line with Sherlock as an adult. I think, perhaps, the thing I found most difficult to understand was the lack of parents. I think there was an explanation in the book (I listened quite a while ago), but it wasn't satisfactory for me.

I liked that this created an original mystery for Sherlock to solve but the bad guy felt a little mustache-twirly for me. I liked it well enough that I picked up the second a couple months later, but I'm not in any rush to finish the series.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: Panic

By Lauren Oliver
Expected publication March 4, 2014 by HarperCollins

Panic is a game - one played by seniors during the summer after they graduate. One that challenges them to do outrageous things, to prove themselves. One that has killed some of its players. This summer, Heather and Dodge will be playing - and it will change them forever.

I had really high hopes for this one. I've enjoyed Oliver's other books, though I still haven't read the final book in the Delirium series. This one also got plenty of early buzz, perhaps because it's her first YA since finishing the series. I saw a couple of people mentioning it on Twitter - that they'd read the ARC and really liked it. I was pleased to have access to the e-galley and read it eagerly. I was a bit disappointed.

What I like about this: contemporary realistic standalone. Yay! Not another fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian series. I am getting so worn out on series, y'all. In fact, I have started a spreadsheet to track the series in my library (since keeping current with them is a huge part of my job) and there are over 250 distinct series in the middle-grade section alone - that doesn't include early chapter books or teen series! That is a crazy high number! And there are new ones coming out everyday. So, I really liked the fact that this was a standalone title. I also appreciated that it's contemporary realistic fiction - yes, the idea of Panic might be a bit far-fetched, but it's not completely outside the realm of possibility. Just like the growth of series, there has also been an explosion of speculative fiction for young people, and it's nice to be reminded that there is more than that out there.

What else I liked: the alternating viewpoints, though, surprisingly, I found Heather the most interesting of the two main characters. I say surprisingly because, at first glance, it seems like Dodge has the more interesting story - in fact, Heather wasn't even planning on playing Panic when the book started. But I think this lead to more interesting character explorations throughout the course of the novel for Heather.

What I didn't like: predictable. Predictable. Predictable. I don't think anything about this really surprised me, except for maybe one aspect of the ending. Otherwise, everything that was supposed to be a major plot twist was, to me, incredibly obvious and unsurprising. Additionally, the writing felt a bit flat for me. I wanted it to be more suspenseful, more full of heightened emotions, than it actually felt to me.

All in all, an interesting read that I think will definitely appeal to teen readers, though perhaps a bit too predictable for discerning ones.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance readers copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Fortunately, the Milk

Fortunately, the Milk
By Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
Published 2013 by HarperCollins

What happens when a father goes out to buy milk one morning? In the hands of Neil Gaiman, something extraordinary.

When I discovered this book was coming out, I basically had a heart attack. Well, that might be an exaggeration. But, I do adore Neil Gaiman and absolutely loved the sound of it. I ordered it for my library and had my name on the holds list for it months in advance. I could not wait for it to arrive.

This book is absolutely a delight. I loved everything about it. It took me less than an hour to read from start to finish and I regretted that as soon as I put it down. Because this book is just so darn charming. It is fun and funny, full of adventure and heart and unbelievable things and, most importantly, milk. It is what I expected from a genius like Gaiman and so much more. It is begging to have a permanent spot of my shelf and I can't wait to read it aloud to my children someday. I'm not sure how much more I can say about this book. It's a perfect read in every way. The illustrations suit they story wonderfully. I love everything about this. Just go read it for yourself.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Program: Daycare storytime

For my second daycare storytime, what better theme than monsters? It was the month of October, after all. Here's what we did!

Book: Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Scott Magoon - this was a cute start to storytime. It tells of a little girl monster who doesn't quite fit in with the other monsters at her school. I'm not sure that the kids really got all the subtleties of it, but they loved the gross cards at the end.

Song: "Monster Boogie" by Laurie Berkner - I encouraged the kids to show me how they thought a monster would dance as we boogied around the room to this song.

Book: Creepy Carrots! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown - this is one of my favorite books, so I had to share it. It's great for being slightly scary but also a lot of fun. I love, love, love the illustrations in this book. The kids really liked this one.

Song: "Monster Mash" by Boris Pickett - what monster storytime would be complete without the "Monster Mash?" We did more dancing like monsters, and then I encouraged the kids to show me how they thought their parents or teachers would dance, which had some pretty hilarious results.

Book: Monster Needs a Costume by Paul Czajak, illustrated by Wendy Grieb - this is one of my new favorites because Monster is just so stinking cute! The kids and I talked about what costumes they would wear for Halloween and which costume they thought Monster should have chosen.

Craft: Monster masks - I used the craft I found from this blog to make monster masks with the kids. They loved putting lots of eyeballs on their monsters!

And that's what we did! What are your favorite monster books and activities?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Warning: Do Not Open This Book!
By Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
Published 2013 by Paula Wiseman Books
This is a fun, very interactive book that tells you right in the title that you should probably put the book down and slowly walk away. But, of course, the naturally curious child will find this impossible to do and will discover what's waiting inside the pages of this book. I liked it well enough, though not as much as other interactive picture books I've seen.

Little Cub
By Olivier Dunrea
Published 2012 by Philomel
I think I'd read anything by Dunrea, perhaps proven by the fact that I adore his series of books about adorable little birds (despite my fear of the flying creatures). So obviously, I was predisposed to enjoy this story, about an old bear who adopts a little cub and teaches him about the world. It's a very sweet parent-child story that I think would be great in a storytime about love and family. The illustrations are in Dunrea's classic style - they look like they walked straight out of a very elegant nursery.

The Pig on the Hill
By John Kelly
Published 2013 by Cameron + Company
Pig lives along on the top of the hill and he's quite happy with that. One morning, a very friendly duck moves in next door. After Duck hosts a loud party, Pig lets his displeasure be known and soon discovers Duck gone. It isn't long before Pig realizes he misses Duck. Will he ever come home? I know this story has been done about a million times before but I really liked this. It was fun and I think it used some interesting details that will appeal to kids. The illustrations are really vibrant and rewarding. I think it might be a little long for storytime, but maybe with a slightly older preschool or kindergarten crowd it would work.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, book one)
By James Dashner, read by Mark Deakins
Published 2009 by Random House Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Thomas wakes up in a very strange place with no memories but his first name. Surrounded by kids he doesn't know in a place with horrors that don't seem real, Thomas and the Gladers must find a way to survive. But everything changes when a girl - the first ever - arrives. And escape becomes the only option.

I might be one of the last avid YA readers to this party. I actually read Dashner's newest novel (The Eye of Minds) before I finished listening to this one. And I didn't love that one. I also don't love this one, but I did enjoy it.

This is a book I find very frustrating, and I'm sure that will be true until I finish the series. There are so many questions and unexplained pieces of this book. Additionally, right now, it seems really out there - as in, I can't imagine what kind of world this takes place in and what it all means. That being said, though, it's certainly interesting. Dashner has created a very unique world, one populated with horrors straight out of classic science fiction. I think this is probably the book's strength, though there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the world that Thomas and the Gladers inhabit. However, I found the made-up language to be a bit bothersome. I understand what Dashner is trying to do here but it just seemed a bit excessive.

I would have liked more character development, though I guess it would have been difficult in a novel where the main character can't remember anything. I would like to know more about the other boys in the Glade - I imagine some of this is forthcoming in the other books in the series.

The Maze Runner was another book that was frustrating to listen to. Much like The Hunger Games, which I also listened to instead of read, I quite frequently felt like I could be reading the book much faster than listening to it, a criticism shared by my boyfriend (who listened along with me). I will pick up book two in print, as I'm sure I can zip through it much more quickly.

Ultimately, the book is intriguing enough for me to want to know more. However, I haven't heard great things about the rest of the series, so we'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Series Review: Dork Diaries 1-6

Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries, book one)
By Rachel Renee Russell
Published 2009 by Aladdin

Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl (Dork Diaries, book two)
Published 2010 by Aladdin

Tales from a Not-So-Talented Pop Star (Dork Diaries, book three)
Published 2011 by Aladdin

Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess (Dork Diaries, book four)
Published 2012 by Aladdin

Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know-It-All (Dork Diaries, book five)
Published 2012 by Aladdin

Tales from a Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker (Dork Diaries, book six)
Published 2013 by Aladdin

Dork Diaries tells the story of Nikki Maxwell, who is starting at a new school and worries that she won't fit in. Each book features a new major drama for Nikki to deal with, as she struggles to balance her dorkiness (self-proclaimed) with fitting in, making friends, and meeting boys.

In the fall, I signed up to host a Dork Do-Gooder event at my library (my write-up for that program is clearly long overdue). Since I think it helps to have at least some knowledge of the topic you're presenting and since I knew these would be fairly quick reads, I read all six of the books that had been published immediately prior to my program. I should have just given up after one.

I did not enjoy these books at all. My enjoyment of the equally popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has waned as the series has continued but these Dork Diaries? I hated them right from the beginning. They are patently ridiculous, full of melodrama, and a lot of very convenient misunderstandings that keep the plots moving along. I didn't enjoy any of the characters - in fact, I'm pretty sure I was rooting against Nikki most of the time, simply because she was so annoying. As I mentioned, nearly all the drama and plot developments hinge on coincidences and misunderstandings. I just found the whole thing to be an exercise in tedium and eye-rolling. But, they are insanely popular with kids, so I guess I just have to grin and bear it. I wouldn't recommend them, though.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: Fates

By Lanie Bross
Published 2014 by Delacorte Press

Corinthe is a fallen Fate. She would do anything to return to her happy and peaceful life in Pyralis Terra. Now, her mentor, Miranda, has told her she has only one final task before she can return him. But the task soon begins to feel impossible to Corinthe. She is supposed to kill a boy, Lucas - but how can she when she might be falling in love with him?

I requested an e-galley of this book because I think fate is a really interesting concept and the Fates fascinate me as well. So I figured I'd give this book a shot. I'm kind of sorry that I did. This book is just not good. I think maybe the most positive thing I can say about it is that at least I finished it and at least it's a pretty quick read.

I had a hard time with this book. Mainly, I found it boring. I didn't care about any of the characters, even the two main characters. I don't remember ever finding out why Corinthe was exiled and I guess I don't really care. But, without that knowledge (maybe it's in there and I just don't remember because everything about this was so forgettable), it's really difficult to care about how badly Corinthe wants to go home and what she's willing to do. The rules of the world Bross has created don't make a ton of sense to me and seem overly complex for no reason. Additionally, it seems that she's created some of the rules just so that she can break them to make a more "compelling" story.

At least partly because I didn't care about the characters but also partly because it was just plain ridiculous, the romance really didn't work here, either. They barely speak to each other before they realize how deeply in love with each other they are - enough so that they will break all those aforementioned rules to try to help and save each other and stay together. The ending felt particularly overwhelmed with melodrama and I may have strained my eyes from rolling them so much while reading it. Adding to my disappointment is the knowledge that this is the first book in a series, one which I definitely won't be reading.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Program: Dork Do-Gooder Day

This past fall, I discovered the Dork Do-Gooder campaign. Knowing the popularity of the series and always looking for programming to capitalize on such things, I seized the opportunity for my library to participate. We received a campaign kit, which included a cardboard standee to promote the campaign and our celebration in October (I told you I was behind on program write-ups). It also included 30 sign-up sheets and the promise of another package close to the end of the campaign with prizes for participants and activity suggestions for the celebration party.

All 30 of our sign-up sheets went out in September (when we started the campaign, though it technically started in August). In case the name is not explicit enough for you, the idea behind the campaign was to encourage kids to engage in "do-gooder" behavior, like Nikki Maxwell from the Dork Diaries books. Participants were to complete five do-gooder activities and return the form, signed by themselves and a parent, at our celebration in October. I also read all of the books that had been published up until that point for ideas for our party, at least partly because I had a hard time finding information on Dork Diaries programming.

True to their word, another package arrived at the end of September with prizes for participants: pins, stickers, and pencils, as well as a reproducible certificate and a small pamphlet with party ideas. I was extremely disappointed with the suggestions for activities and ultimately, decided not to use any of them, instead using ideas I had gained from reading through the books.

The day of our party arrived and we had an extremely disappointing turnout. Since all of our sign-up sheets had been taken and we can't keep any of the books on the shelves, I expected quite a crowd. Maybe it was a bad day of the week or maybe it doesn't create quite the same fervor as series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Whatever the reason, our party ended up being much more low-key than expected.

The activities I decided on came straight from the books. I bought 2-inch Styrofoam balls and broke 50 weeded CDs into pieces. I wanted attendees to glue the broken CD pieces onto the balls to create miniature disco balls. I provided colored jewels and sequins to add some color. The kids didn't really seem interested in doing it the way I envisioned. Most of them ended up jabbing the CD pieces into the Styrofoam, creating a much more dangerous version of the disco ball than I had intended (the CD pieces were sharp in some places).

I also created a trivia sheet with questions that I came up with myself while reading the books (and maybe the only reason I persisted in reading them). I'm not even sure that any of the girls who came to the program had read more than one of the books, if they'd read any. A couple of them tried the trivia sheets but none finished it.

The most popular activity was the fake tattoo station I set up. In one of the books, Nikki, who is a good artist, sells fake tattoos as a fundraiser for the school library. I dubbed myself the tattoo artist for the program (probably not the best choice, as my art skills are extremely limited). Thankfully, most of the girls requested pretty generic tattoos: peace signs, hearts, etc. One girl requested a flamingo - amazingly, I did a decent job if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, no pictures of the lovely flamingo, as I don't feel right posting pictures of young patrons on my personal blog.

At the end of the hour I'd allotted, I did a drawing for copies of some of the books that had been donated. I gave everyone their prizes for participating and I did have some stragglers turn in their forms a few days after the program. Those participants got prizes as well.

Overall, not my best program in terms of attendance, though I thought I did a good job of coming up with some creative ideas for the program itself. Did anyone host a more successful Dork Do-Gooder celebration?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Before we get down to our regularly scheduled business, do you know what yesterday was? Well, Valentine's Day, of course, but that also means it was Cybils Day! In case you missed it, go here to find the winners. I participated as a second round judge in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, and I'm very excited about our winner. Look for my reviews of all our finalists in the coming months!

I Am Cat
By Jackie Morris
Published 2013 by Frances Lincoln Children's Books
I really wanted to like this one, with the big orange kitty face on the cover, but I just didn't. I don't know. It was a little more cerebral and out there than I like my picture books to be. I have a really hard time imagining an audience of children enjoying this one as well. The illustrations are exquisitely lovely, but I just didn't like the story very much.

Musk Ox Counts
By Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
Yay! Musk Ox is back and this time, he's taking on counting! I love Musk Ox so much because he is just like a four-year-old. He wants things to be all about him and he wants them a certain way and he's not afraid to let you know. I love that this book has an interactive element to it, making it instantly more appealing for a young audience. It's a hard book for a storytime crowd because there is a lot going on, but it's just so much fun. Love it!

You Were the First
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Oh, this book is so sweet. This is the perfect book to share with your oldest child just before or after you add a new child to the family. This will remind that child that they will always be special because they were the first. It's just such a sweet book and the illustrations are perfectly suited - they are lovely and soft and they just feel so well-matched to the text. A beautiful book.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: Midwinterblood

By Marcus Sedgwick
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press

Interconnected stories tell the tale of Blessed Island and two people who find themselves drawn there - and to each other.

I am kicking myself for not having this review up before the Youth Media Awards. As you probably know by now, this book took the top honor for YA fiction, winning the Printz Award. I am really wishing I wrote this review before that happened. Maybe this seems like a strange thing to wish, but I'm a bit worried that the award might color my view of the book a bit. I'm hoping not. Let's see.

Let me get one thing out of the way first and it's my biggest hesitation regarding this book. This is a very literary novel and, much like The Kingdom of Little Wounds, I found myself wondering what makes this a YA book. Ultimately, I suppose, we must rely on the word of the publisher, who I imagine relies on the author, to make those decisions. I had a really hard time with that when it came to The Kingdom of Little Wounds and less so with this book, perhaps because this book doesn't contain quite as much content as the former. However, there are very few typical elements of a YA novel present in this book. Throughout the seven interlinked stories, the characters are rarely teenaged. More often, they are adults or children. That doesn't mean it can't be a book for teens; it just makes it a little less likely in my opinion.

However, this is pretty much my only qualm with this book (and I really even hate to call it that because it makes it sound so negative). The book is, as expected, excellently written. This is, I believe, only my second Sedgwick novel, but I was so wonderfully surprised by the first that I had high expectations for this one. I wasn't disappointed. Sedgwick has such a way with words, I'm pretty sure he could make me interested in any kind of story. I loved that he chose to tell this story through a series of short stories instead of a straightforward narrative. I actually really enjoy short stories so this was an exciting choice. To me, it adds a great deal of depth to the story, allowing Sedgwick to include recurring elements in a way that feels natural. I think everything ties together extremely well in the end, and I absolutely loved the conclusion of this book.

I am completely unsurprised that this won the Printz award. It was one of my favorite books last year and I clearly need to read all of Sedgwick's backlist.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Black Helicopters

Black Helicopters
By Blythe Woolston
Published 2013 by Candlewick Press

Valkyrie knows that she can only trust her da and her big brother - everyone else is in league with them. They killed her mother after all. Now that her da's gone, Valkyrie knows she must do something. And that's why she ends up with this bomb strapped to her chest.

I picked this one up because I'd heard talk of it as a Printz contender. Everyone I'd seen talk about it had good things to say, so I was definitely intrigued. It is a short book - less than 200 pages - but there is a lot here. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I can do a decent review having only read it once.

So, that's my first point in this review: read this book. And read it more than once. There are so many layers and pieces in this book that you're sure to miss something with just one reading. I've already admitted that I haven't done a second reading, so, I suppose, take this review with a grain of salt.

This is an intense and dark novel. It will be a hard one for many people to read. It's also a brilliant novel and should be widely read - I think it's a good thing to read challenging books. This is also a book that feels very relevant and topical, without being didactic or boring. This book lets readers get inside the mind of someone raised in a very particular way, someone who has been taught to view the world, society, and the government through a very particular lens. It's fascinating and horrifying. And you can't put it down.

This book is incredibly well-written and, once again, I find myself disappointed that I hadn't read anything by Woolston before this. She's been on my radar since her first novel was a Morris finalist but I hadn't picked anything up yet. This was obviously a mistake on my part. Her writing is polished and taut. She's created a terrifying atmosphere and sense of suspense here. Everything works together so well. The alternating narratives - between past and present - work incredibly well drawing out the story. Just absolutely stunning writing and construction.

Valley is an incredibly interesting character as well. She will make people question themselves. How much of what I know/believe is a product of what I've been taught? Am I truly thinking for myself? Making my own decisions? It's uncomfortable and yet difficult to resist.

This book is a stunner, one of the best I read last year. I highly recommend it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Odette's Secrets

Odette's Secrets
By Maryann Macdonald
Published 2013 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Odette lives with her parents in Paris but when her father is sent to a Nazi work camp, her mother sends her to the French countryside, hoping to keep her safe.

Yet another of the novels in verse I binged on in the fall, I expected that I'd like this one quite a bit. It combines two of my favorite things - novels in verse and historical fiction. No surprise, then, I did really enjoy this one. I really enjoyed that this is based on the life of a real person, and I think that will appeal to kids as well. I'm very happy that this is on the Bluebonnet list for 2014-15 because it will bring a much larger audience to this book than it might have had otherwise. I think the poetry really works well here. It makes this a very quick and engaging read. I found Odette easy to cheer for and very likable. I like the inclusion of photographs of the real Odette as well - this will make it even easier for kids to understand and relate to her life.

This book is also a good World War II book for kids who are a bit more sensitive. While some scary things do happen and of course it's never easy reading about war, this has less of the scary or brutal things that other World War II titles have. I very much enjoyed this book and think it's a great choice for the Bluebonnet list.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Program: Star Wars Reads Day

Wow. I am so behind on program write-ups. How does this happen? I really need to get better about just sitting down and doing them immediately following a program. I am a bad blogger.

Anyway, this was the second year our library participated in Star Wars Reads Day, held the first Saturday in October. We certainly learned some things from last year, so our major change was to have the activities for older kids in the upstairs program room and the activities for younger kids in our Children's Program Room. Since my main focus is still on the tween age group (though we are all trying to do a greater variety of programming), I headed upstairs with our teen librarian. Here's what we had for the older kids.

Cubees: these are easy crafts on the part of staff, but require a lot of focus and patience from the kids. We printed out a bunch of different Star Wars characters and pre-cut all the slits ahead of time. That way, the kids would just need to cut out the characters and piece it together. They were very popular and we ran out of some characters rather quickly.

Action figures: by which I mean decorate your own Star Wars peg doll. But it sounds cooler if you say action figure, so let's just go with that. We bought a bunch of small wooden peg dolls and set out lots of supplies for the kids to decorate with. The aforementioned teen librarian made some excellent examples, including an Ewok and Princess Leia, which many kids attempted to copy.

Character heads: that sounds a bit gruesome, doesn't it? I don't know what else to call this craft. We had a number of small wooden blocks left over from our Minecraft program that we needed to repurpose, so my colleague came up with the idea of decorating them as various Star Wars characters heads and attaching magnets to the back. She made a lovely Boba Fett example, which I got to take home for my Fett-obsessed boyfriend. Once again, her examples were so good that everyone tried to copy them.

Gaming: we set up our Xbox Kinect with a Star Wars game in the front of the room and the kids took turns practicing their Jedi skills. This worked much better than last year, when we had a number of kids who were too little to even register on the Kinect sensor trying to play. Everyone did well taking turns, too.

Lightsaber practice: we taped off a small corner in the back of the room and set out some homemade lightsabers and balloons for practice sessions. The idea was for the kids to keep the balloons in the air, but, of course, they tried to battle each other with the lightsabers. We stopped them. Not as popular as the lightsaber making we did last year, but that was chaos that we wanted to avoid this time around.

And that was our Star Wars Reads Day. We also had giveaways, thanks to the lovely publishers involved, and, as I mentioned, a whole different set of activities for younger kids in another part of the library. What did you do for SWRD?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Hello My Name is Ruby
By Philip C. Stead
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
I am not really a big fan of birds but I gave this one a shot because it's Stead (also he seems to have written a few books about birds or maybe I'm remembering wrong?). It is a cute enough read and a relatively simple story, but I think he's done better work. I didn't really feel terribly interested in finishing it, which is saying something for a picture book. I'd recommend one of his other titles instead.

Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish
By Kate Messner, illustrated by Andy Rash
Published 2013 by Chronicle Books
This is a pretty cute book about dealing with bullies. Ernest the sea monster is excited about the new fish starting in his class - until he meets him. See, the new fish is kinda bossy and not very nice. Bullying is a very hot button issue right now, so we've seen a lot of books dealing with this topic. This one is a pretty good entry - it doesn't feel too heavy-handed and it's told in a way that will be easy for younger kids to understand. The illustrations are a lot of fun as well.

Chamelia and the New Kid in Class
By Ethan Long
Published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Chamelia likes being the center of attention, so imagine how she feels when a new kid comes to class and begins to steal her spotlight. I think the illustrations in this one are really eye-catching, but I didn't enjoy the story. Chamelia was a bit too bratty for me to empathize with her feelings. I suppose it has an all right ending, as Chamelia learns that she should celebrate other people's good qualities instead of trying to outdo them, but I still didn't particularly like this one.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Bright Before Sunrise

Bright Before Sunrise
By Tiffany Schmidt
Expected publication February 18, 2014 by Walker Childrens

Jonah is not happy with his life. His mom left his dad and had a new baby with his athletic trainer. And they made him move to a new town, away from his friends and his girlfriend. The last thing he needs is it-girl Brighton trying to be his friend. He just needs to make it through the year and get out of town. But Brighton can't stand Jonah hating her for no reason and she's determined to change her mind. Will one eventful night change their lives?

I spotted this one on NetGalley and requested it because I'd heard good things about Schmidt last year (Send Me a Sign, her debut, came out in 2012). I saw this one mentioned over on Stacked so it was already on my radar.

What I liked about this book most was the character of Brighton. I liked that she struggles with how she feels and the expectations from other people about how she should feel. Her father passed away five years ago, and it seems most people think she should be over it by now, but she's not. Having lost my brother a number of years ago, I could very easily relate to this aspect of Brighton. Yes, it does get easier with time, but I'm not sure you ever really get over it. Losing someone close to you, particularly when you don't expect it or when you feel like it was far before their time, changes who you are. Similarly, Brighton is nice, something else that everyone expects of her. One of her main struggles throughout the book is figuring out if she actually wants to be that person all the time, or if she tries to be because she feels like she should. I think Schmidt handled this exploration really well.

I felt that Jonah's character was a bit less well-developed. I thought his story was interesting, particularly the guilt he felt over his parent's divorce, but perhaps his story seems a bit less unique for me.

I liked the idea of these two being thrown together for a very unusual and eventful night, though the path that put them together was full of conveniences and seemed just a bit unlikely. Similarly, though I am all for the romance, theirs was definitely too unbelievable for me.

Overall, I think Brighton is the highlight of this novel, but readers looking for a slightly off-the-wall contemporary romance won't be disappointed.

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: The Secret Box

The Secret Box
By Whitaker Ringwald
Expected publication February 25, 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books

Jax Malone receives a very special and secret birthday present on her 12th birthday - so secret, in fact, that her mother doesn't want her to have it. You see, it's from her estranged great-aunt Juniper, someone who Jax has never even heard of before. But that present belongs to Jax and she'll stop at nothing to get her hands on it.

I downloaded the egalley of this because I thought it sounded like a fun mystery adventure tween novel. Sadly, I was disappointed.

I really wanted to like this one because it sounded like so much fun, and it sounded like it had lots of kid appeal. Unfortunately, the book just wasn't very good. I found Jax to be an annoying protagonist - she's very selfish and almost bullies her cousin into doing what she wants. Her obsession with the present seems a bit much, though maybe I just don't remember what it's like to be 12 very well. I spent a good deal of the book wishing that Ethan would stand up for himself.

Additionally, the action seemed very convenient and underwhelming. Once again, maybe I have the wrong idea in my mind, but I was very surprised that their parents would let them travel to Washington, D.C. without adult supervision (Ethan's older brother hardly seems like proper supervision). I found it even more unlikely that the kids wouldn't alert the authorities when they were harassed and their car broken into on their way.

I was disappointed in the reveal of the contents of the box as well. I think it's an interesting idea, but it lacked something for me. The ending seems to leave enough unanswered questions that there could be a sequel, but I'm hoping there won't be. If there is, it's not likely that I'll be picking it up.

Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance readers copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Monday, February 3, 2014

ALA Midwinter/Youth Media Awards 2014 Recap

The last weekend in January brought me to Philadelphia, for ALA's Midwinter conference. If you've ever been to Midwinter, then you know it's not quite as exciting as Annual. Yes, there is nearly as much going on, but most of it is committee meetings (many of which are closed) and council sessions. As such, I don't have a whole lot to say about the conference but I'll highlight a couple things.

There are not a great many sessions taking place during Midwinter, so much of what I did was attend publisher previews. Some were better done than others (some people, surprisingly, didn't sell their houses books very well). I like going to these previews because, even though I am obsessive about knowing what books are coming out ahead of time, it's nice to hear how the publishers plan on marketing it and seeing the first print runs - it gives you a great idea of what books they're really pushing to be big hits. I went to previews for children's and adult divisions. I saw A LOT of debut novels coming this year, so it seems that more publishers are getting in the quest for the next big thing. I found a lot of titles I'm looking forward to reading but, with this being the year of no library books, it'll probably be a while before I get to many of them.

However, I will get to some of them because, as usual, I couldn't resist the siren call of free books. I didn't think I was taking as many as usual until it came time to send them home. Now I'm wondering where I'm going to put them all in my already heavily book-laden apartment. The year of reading books I own needs to seriously get underway.

If you're curious about what movies I've been watching over the past year, this list will give you some idea. My main reason for attending Midwinter was to finalize our choices for Fabulous Films for Young Adults. I'm pleased with our results, and really happy that I served on this committee. I'm looking forward to future committee work with ALA.

I really wanted to drop in on the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen feedback session; alas, it was during my committee deliberations so I couldn't. However, I hear they record the session, so I'm hoping to find time in the next few weeks to watch it.

What I'd really like to talk about are the Youth Media Awards. I love watching them. It's so exciting to see what titles are going to be honored this year. I was disappointed to find myself in the overflow room, which lacked a little bit of the atmosphere as the ballroom where the awards were being announced. So, how did I do this year when it comes to the awards?

Alex Awards: 0/10 read - abysmal showing here, particularly considering I read more adult titles this year than in years past. I do have copies of two of the winners at home, so I plan to read them sometime this year.

Schneider Family Book Awards: 2/3 read (A Splash of Red, Rose Under Fire) - disappointed to have not read the Middle Grades book, but happy that our library owns it. It is already on my to-read list.

Stonewall Book Awards: 1/5 read (Two Boys Kissing) - another poor showing for me here, particularly since I usually try so hard to find GLBT books for young people. I have heard of all the titles except Branded by the Pink Triangle and am really kicking myself for not reading Better Nate Than Ever last year!

Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent: 0/1 read - I remember seeing this book come in at our library and thinking it looked really interesting but I neglected to read it. Maybe I'll sneak it in while I'm sitting on the desk someday soon.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award: 2/2 read - huzzah! I loved Nelson Mandela (I pretty much think Kadir Nelson can do no wrong) and I didn't review Knock Knock (mostly because I didn't feel I had much to say about it other than it was sad).

Coretta Scott King Book Award: 0/4 read - terrible showing for me. I've been wanting to read March but our library doesn't own it and I might be the only person on the planet who wasn't dying to read P.S. Be Eleven the minute it came out. Hopefully I'll find time to check these titles out soon.

William C. Morris Award: 4/5 read (Charm & Strange, Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, Sex & Violence) - Sex & Violence was the only title I'd read before the shortlist was announced in December and I spent most of my December reading the other titles, except for the one my library doesn't own. I thought Sex & Violence would be the winner; look for reviews of the other finalists coming soon.

Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award: 3/5 read (Imprisoned, Courage Has No Color, The Nazi Hunters) - I predicted Imprisoned but I thought all the titles I'd read were equally strong, so wasn't surprised to see the winner. In the week after the announcements, I also finished The President Has Been Shot! Once again, look for reviews of these titles coming soon.

Michael L. Printz Award: 4/5 read (Eleanor & Park, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, Navigating Early, Midwinterblood) - yay! I was so impressed with myself for having read four of the five titles before the announcement! I find this list maybe the most interesting of all the awards announced, as it includes two titles that read very upper teen/adult and one very young teen/middle grade (at least to me). I am kicking myself for not having my review of Midwinterblood done before the awards - look for that soon.

Pura Belpre Award for Illustration: 1/5 read (Maria Had a Little Llama) - the one title from this list I read had just come into our library maybe a week before I left for Midwinter and I couldn't resist picking it up. We have two of the other titles in the library, so I'll try to sneak them during desk hours.

Pura Belpre Award for Text: 0/4 read - I'm happy that I'd heard of all the titles but disappointed that I hadn't read any. I'm a big fan of Margarita Engle's and sad that I missed this title of hers. I think my library only owns one of the four books; hopefully that will change soon.

Odyssey Award: 0/5 read - I just ordered the new Matilda audio right before the announcements, so I'm looking forward to that coming in and listening to it. I listened to Daniel Kraus's earlier novel, Rotters, and didn't love it, so I've been hesitant on checking out his newest. However, the audio sounds incredibly creepy - they played a clip for us during the announcements - so maybe I'll give it a shot.

Mildred L. Batchelder Award: 0/4 read - I think I saw one review for Mister Orange and considered ordering it for the library but didn't. Maybe I'll do so now. I don't think we own any of the other titles either.

Robert F. Sibert Medal: 1/5 read (A Splash of Red) - very disappointing, as this is a personal favorite award of mine. I love nonfiction picture books, so I'm sad that I hadn't read more of these. My library owns all of the Honor books but not the winner, so I'll try to check out the ones I missed.

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award: 3/4 read (Ball, A Big Guy Took My Ball, Penny and Her Marble) - my coworker just read The Watermelon Seed in storytime, so I'll have to check it out soon (it's one of her new favorite books). I was thrilled to see Ball on this list - I loved it so much!

Randolph Caldecott Medal: 3/4 read (Journey, Flora and the Flamingo, Mr. Wuffles) - so apparently huge shame on me for not picking up Locomotive before the awards ceremony. Thrilled for Flora - I adored that one. Reviews of the other titles are forthcoming.

John Newbery Medal: 2/5 read (The Year of Billy Miller, Flora & Ulysses) - also kicking myself for not keeping up on my Newbery reading this past year. I have a copy of Doll Bones at home, so I'll hopefully read that one soon. I had really wanted to read One Came Home based on the word of Betsy Bird, so that's already at the top of the to-read pile. Paperboy was the surprise here - we didn't have it, but I've ordered a copy. So happy about The Year of Billy Miller - one of my favorites from last year. I haven't reviewed Flora & Ulysses yet, so that's coming soon, but I was a bit disappointed in it.

You can find more information about all the awards and titles here. Don't forget to check out the other award lists by YALSA and ALSC!

January Round-Up

So I thought since I set an actual goal for myself this year (to read the books I own instead of books from the library), I'd do some sort of checking in on myself over the year and see how I'm keeping up.

I'll readily admit - January was a terrible month for me in terms of this goal. I'm serving as a round 2 judge for the Cybils in the Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category and that really hindered my reading this month. I don't mean hindered in a negative sense, but I did not own any of the finalists and had only read one prior to the announcement, so I had to check them out from the library.

Additionally, a lot of books I had put on hold in December came in for me in January (I stopped placing holds on library books the last week of December, but allowed myself that I would read the current holds when they came in). So, my tallies are:

Middle-grade: 10

Teen: 10

Adult: 2

Picture books: 14

Library books: 32

Books owned: 4

I am counting digital galleys as books I own, though technically, of course, that's not accurate. Also, to clarify, what I read in January is not necessarily reflected in what I reviewed in January. There is some overlap but, as I've mentioned before, I'm far behind on reviewing, so most of my reviews this month are not from books I read this month. As you can see, not a great month for me, but I'm hoping to do better in February - if I can avoid getting sucked into reading the Youth Media Award winners that I haven't already read.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Naughty Kitty
By Adam Stower
Published 2012 by Templar Books
Like Silly Doggy, I love the silliness and adorableness that is this book. Absolutely perfect for a storytime crowd, I just find this book toothachingly sweet - in a good way. The illustrations are so charming and the humor is spot on for the preschool crowd. Charming - a winner for me.

Secret Pizza Party
By Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Published 2013 by Dial
Another picture book that all of my colleagues and I fell in love with. This book has the perfect amount of oddball humor and just works so well that it's impossible to not enjoy. This definitely has high appeal for preschoolers and early elementary age kids (and, apparently, twenty to thirtysomething adults) - it's got the right blend of silly and sophisticated humor. Illustrations suit the story perfectly - I just love this one. Oh, and I just now noticed that the title is written in slices of pizza - even more perfect!

By Michael Slack
Published 2013 by Henry Holt and Co.
I feel like this was an interesting idea, just executed a bit boringly. Honestly, I'm not sure why there hasn't been a book like this already, but perhaps my lack of enthusiasm for this one speaks to the reason. I wanted to like it because the elephant is just so earnest, but overall, I was underwhelmed. Maybe I don't do enough toddler storytimes to see the appeal of this one.