Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: The Vanishing Season

The Vanishing Season
By Jodi Lynn Anderson
Expected publication July 1, 2014 by HarperTeen
Maggie and her family have just moved to Door County - right in time for girls to start showing up dead. Does Maggie know who's responsible? Does her new friend Pauline know?
I wanted to read this book because it sounded creepy and mysterious - right up my alley. Plus, I really enjoyed Anderson's Tiger Lily, and I was eager to try something else of hers.

This book is pretty hard to summarize because it is not really about what it says it is. Reading the blurb creates a certain expectation of what this book is going to give you. If you fall for that, you're probably going to be disappointed. You see, the blurb suggests that you're about to read a mystery, one about vanishing teen girls who later turn up dead. It also suggests that you may encounter a ghost while you're reading that mystery.

In the strictest sense of those words, I suppose the blurb is not wrong. But it is awfully misleading. This book is not about the vanishing girls at all. In fact, that mystery - the mystery that is described in the jacket copy - is never resolved. I'm serious. If that's going to bother you, you should probably go ahead and skip this book. Yes, Maggie and her new friends spend a fair bit of time worrying about the disappearing girls - who could be responsible? Are they in danger? But, really, the disappearances seem to be the impetus for a plot development in the story of what this book is actually about - which is the complicated friendship between Maggie and Pauline and Liam. This makes the book very frustrating. I expected a murder mystery - I got a contemplation of growing up and changing friendships.
And yes, there is occasionally a ghost in this book. However, the ghost pretty much disappears from the narrative for quite a long time during the main chunk of the book and, in addition, the ghost doesn't really add anything to the story. Yes, at the end of the book when the ghost's identity is revealed, it makes for an interesting twist to the story. But by this point, it just felt unnecessary.
I'm not saying I hated this book. It feels very mature and heady and engagingly written (albeit, rather slow-moving). The characters are quite lovely, though they frequently felt a bit far-fetched for me. Overall, this book just felt deceptive.

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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Program: American Girl Club

At the end of our first year of American Girl Club, we asked the girls in attendance which girls they'd like to see us cover the next year. We've pretty much stuck to their suggestions, though we've been less than enthusiastic about some of the girls they chose. Our January girl is probably the best example of this.

For January, we covered Caroline, a young girl during the War of 1812. I've been trying to familiarize myself with the stories before holding the programs, so I read 5 of the 6 Caroline books while we were planning our program. I can see why kids like them, but they were pretty torturous for me to read. Caroline's story, in particular, is disappointing because it moves so slowly. I skipped one book in the middle (because all our copies were out) and it really didn't seem like I missed anything. Anyway, here's what we did in the program.

We started, as always, with a short presentation on the time period. The War of 1812 is a particularly difficult one to explain because no one really won or lost and the girls didn't really seem to understand why anyone was fighting in the first place. We told them the "Star-Spangled Banner" had been written during the war and we tried to get them to sing along to it, but that wasn't terribly successful.

Since Caroline's father is a sailor and owns a shipyard and Caroline dreams of someday captaining her own ship, we taught the girls a very basic sailor's knot - the Flemish knot. We gave them each a short length of rope and showed them multiple times how to tie the knot. We explained that different knots are used for different purposes, particularly when sailing.

Our craft this time around was a simple decoder, which we found in a Caroline activity kit online. We created a coded message and the girls were to assemble their decoder and translate the message. Some of them struggled a bit, but of course we were around to offer help as needed.

Snacks have become a beloved tradition of our American Girl club and this time around we served them gingerbread bars. They went absolutely nuts for them, which is always good for my ego, and I had many a tiny girl clamoring for the recipe.

I am pleased that this program has continued to be a success and I'm glad that we get to teach the kids a little history with the dolls.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Little Frog's Tadpole Trouble
By Tatyana Feeney
Published 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
A new take on the "becoming an older sibling" tale, Little Frog learns he's about to get nine baby brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, they are really boring and take up all of Mommy and Daddy's time. With patience, Little Frog will learn how great it is to be part of a big family. It's cute for the content, but I probably wouldn't use it in storytime. The illustrations are fun, though.

Love Monster
By Rachel Bright
Published 2012 by HarperCollins Children's Books
This monster is the odd one out where he's from, so he goes off in search of his perfect love, the one who was made for him. It's a cute story, particularly nice for Valentine's Day. I think the illustrations are the best part - the monster just looks so squishable and lovable! I mean, look at that cover - just look at him!

Herman and Rosie
By Gus Gordon
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
This is a strange little book, one that I think will probably appeal to adults more than kids. I mean, yes, it's got the fun animals instead of people, but their interests are quite unusual, things that I think not many kids will be interested in. They are lonely with their unusual interests, though of course there will be a happy ending. I'm sure kids will find a sweet read simply because the two ultimately find each other, but some of the details will be lost on them I think, even starting with the book's cover, which evokes an LP.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: Jinx

Jinx (Jinx, book one)
By Sage Blackwood
Published 2013 by HarperCollins

Jinx knows you're not supposed to leave the path, but in his case, he didn't have much choice. That's how he finds himself in the home of a wizard. Jinx also knows that wizards are evil. But Simon feels a bit different. Soon, Jinx wants to know more, but will his curiosity be the undoing of him?

As I mentioned recently, I'm just now getting around to reviewing the titles I read during my stint as a round two Cybils judge. Jinx was another title for which I had pretty high expectations - everything I'd read around the internet praised it highly and it sounded like a really interesting middle-grade fantasy.

I am fully on board with that last bit - this is a really interesting premise for a fantasy. There is a forest magic that Jinx seems to be in tune with, which is apparently really unusual in his world. I think Blackwood does a phenomenal job of explaining and creating the world that Jinx inhabits. Additionally, Jinx is a really fun character, one that I think kids will really like and want to read about. And, despite the fact that Simon doesn't always treat Jinx as well as he should, he's another really interesting and compelling character.

That's another great thing about this book - it's not just about magic and growing up. It's about bigger issues and full of morally complex developments. This is a book that will probably make kids think and question, one that they may find it helpful to discuss with others. Blackwood is not pulling any punches, not dumbing anything down for readers, and I always appreciate that. There is, unfortunately, still a belief that anything not written for adults is lesser than, which is simply not true.

So, why am I not jubilantly declaring my love for this book? Well, it might be another case of the hype machine, but, while I mostly enjoyed the book, I found the pacing a bit uneven. The story dragged in parts, so I sometimes struggled with wanting to continue reading. I found that, overall, the book just didn't quite live up to the buildup I'd heard surrounding it.

That being said, though, I think kids will really enjoy it and I'm interested enough to read the next book.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review: Champion

Champion (Legend, book three)
By Marie Lu
Published 2013 by Putnam Juvenile

WARNING: This review will likely contain spoilers. To read my reviews of the first two books, follow the links: 1 and 2.

June and Day have struggled but finally seem to be attaining a small measure of peace. Of course, it doesn't last long, as a plague sweeps the Colonies and war seems to loom just over the horizon. Stopping these horrors may all come down to the two of them. But what will they have to sacrifice in order to save their world?

Quite frequently, it amuses me when I look back at past reviews of earlier books in series. This is one example, where I seemed mostly ambivalent about the first book in this series, which I read and reviewed back in 2011. I think the further I got away from the first book, the more I liked it, and I've looked forward to each subsequent book more. This third and final entry was no exception.

I think Lu has done a tremendous job with her worldbuilding - and this book gives us the chance to see more of that world, as June travels abroad in her attempts to stop a war. I think the future that Lu has imagined is incredibly creative and interesting. I'm not sure if I believe it could happen, but I'm still fascinated by it.

Additionally, I think Lu has created some wonderful characters. By this point, I really care about Day and June and I hope for their success and happiness. I feel connected to and concerned for them, which maybe means I care too much about fictional people, but that's who I am. Throughout the series, I have loved seeing events through both Day and June's eyes.

Like the others, this book also keeps a steady pace. Nothing feels rushed or drawn-out; it moves along steadily without feeling like I'm being yanked by the hand by someone moving much faster than me. It's clear to me that Lu has a lot of skills as an author and I'm already anticipating her next book.

Where this book suffers a bit for me is the ending. Maybe I did it a slight disservice by reading it around the same time I read Allegiant, which had an ending that I thought suited the character well. In contrast, I almost felt that the ending here did the series and the characters a disservice. Without giving much away, I completely understand how much people enjoy a happy ending, and I am certainly one of those people, too. But more important to me is that the ending stay true to the story and characters. For me, this ending didn't quite do that. But, of course, your mileage may vary.

Overall, I'm very pleased with this series and will continue to recommend it to teen readers. I look forward to what Lu comes up with next!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Release Day Review: A Hitch at the Fairmont

A Hitch at the Fairmont
By Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi
Expected publication June 24, 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Jack Fair is devastated by his mother's death - he's now a full orphan. To makes things worse, he is hastily taken to San Francisco by his Aunt Edith, a woman who clearly never intended to have kids. But when Aunt Edith goes missing, Jack enlists the help of the Fairmont Hotel's famous guest, Alfred Hitchcock, to solve the mystery.

I've discovered pretty recently that I'm rather a fan of mysteries, particularly those for middle-graders. I'm also quite a fan of books that reinvent celebrities or famous characters, so this book doubly caught my eye.

It starts our rather sad, though I suppose a lot of mysteries for kids do (and, really, could any be sadder than The Boxcar Children?), but it never feels hopeless. In fact, it's pretty easy to see that things are probably going to work out for intrepid Jack Fair. While I find it hard to believe that someone as famous as Hitchcock would have gotten involved in solving the boy's mystery, I can also see how it might have triggered his curiosity and he might have gotten swept away. Though I doubt there are many middle-grade readers (and by that I mean readers who are actually in the target age group) who are also Hitchcock fans, they may exist, and I think Averbeck does them a great service here. He's presented Hitchcock as a believable and entertaining character and suggested that parts of Jack's adventure may have inspired his later films. I liked that Averbeck used Hitchcock films as chapter titles; once again, it may be lost on many readers, but the author's note will make it clear.

My major qualm would be that Aunt Edith is too cartoony villainous - she doesn't really have any layers or depth that would suggest some ambiguity. In a book that's otherwise quite captivating, this is a bit of a disappointment, but one I'm willing to overlook in favor of the action-packed suspense that hurtles readers to the delightful conclusion.

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: Target Practice

Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space, book one)
By Mike Maihack
Published 2014 by Graphix

Just in time to avoid her coronation, Cleopatra (yes, that one) is zapped through space and time. She winds up in a galaxy where she is the subject of a prophecy, destined to save them from an evil ruler. Now, she must discover if she believes in herself as the foreseen one.

I adore graphic novels. I pulled this one out of my pile for the 48-Hour Book Challenge. Cleopatra is Egyptian, so she fit the diverse theme well. Plus, I knew this would be a quick read to add to my stack.

I wasn't wrong - I think it took my literally 15 minutes to read this book from start to finish. Of course, it's highly visual, maybe even more so than a typical graphic novel. There is not terribly much text throughout and I liked that about it. It doesn't feel sparse, just direct and to the point. There's no superfluous language or extra story - everything is relevant to the story at hand and nothing more. I thought Cleopatra was a great character - she reminded me a lot of Zita, which is definitely a good thing. She's spunky and stubborn and a gifted fighter. I'm definitely interested to see how the prophecy plays out in subsequent volumes - I am for sure coming back for more. The art is open and inviting and I think this will be a hit with kids.

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

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Program: Mad Science Monday

Last year, when trying to come up with ideas for our bimonthly Adventure Club program, I stumbled across a place to purchase owl pellets. While I didn't think it would be quite the right fit for that program, I saved the information, sure that I could do something with it in the future. As I began planning out my year in Mad Science Mondays, I knew that information was just what I needed.

So, for our January edition of Mad Science (yes, I really am that far behind in program write-ups), we explored the world of owls. I ordered a set of 30 owl pellets, which also came with tweezers and small wooden dowels for dissecting the pellets.

For the program, I prepared a short PowerPoint presentation to start with. I included general information about owls, as well as more specific information about the kinds of owls our pellets came from. I talked about what the pellet was and how it was created. I provided the kids with some tips of what to look for, both on the outside of the pellet and as they began dissecting it. As is typical, I'm not sure how much of the information sank in as I explained it to them, but I always like to provide it for the child who is listening carefully.

Once I finished the presentation, we got down to the business of dissection. I gave each child a plate on which to do their dissection, as well as a pair of gloves to prevent the icky factor. Each kid started with one pellet, though most ended up getting through two by program's end. They also each had a pair of tweezers and a wooden dowel. On the tables where we were doing our dissections, I also laid out sheets that showed the bones we were most likely to find within the pellets. I encouraged the kids to work slowly and carefully so as to preserve any bones they might find and to ask for help if they needed it.

The kids did think it was gross, but they loved trying to identify what bones from which animals they had found within their pellets. Most of the kids wanted to take their uncovered bones home, so I provided small baggies for them to show off their discoveries to their parents.

I didn't have quite the turnout I expected, particularly as I advertised exactly what we'd be doing at the program (in the fall, I had used just a general description for each program). I thought dissecting something kind of gross would be a draw for the kids, but maybe it was just a bad day. The kids who came had a good time and I did as well (can you believe I'd never done this as a child?).

Have you ever hosted a dissection at your library?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

The Crocodile and the Scorpion
By Rebecca and Ed Emberley
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
I really like the illustrations here - the Emberleys have done some other folktales in a similar style and I haven't enjoyed them that much. In this case, I think the illustrations are great - very bright colors, vivid and eye-catching. However, I can't even remember the story very well. I know it's a riff on a classic tale, but the story didn't really capture my attention and I don't think it would hold a storytime crowd's attention.

The Fort that Jack Built
By Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Brett Helquist
Published 2013 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
This is a simple twist on "The House That Jack Built" but it is so much fun. I'm in love with Helquist's illustrations - he's someone who I seek out everything he's illustrated and read it whenever I get a chance (as much as that doesn't make a ton of sense). They work really well here - detailed and delightful. This story also works really well as it takes a popular subject - forts, duh - and then twists a classic tale. You see, Jack has "borrowed" items from his family members to build his fort and they kind of want them back. So, we readers get to see Jack's fort slowly being taken apart. It's fun and I think this has tons of kid appeal.

Don't Push the Button!
By Bill Cotter
Published 2013 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
As long as they keep making interactive picture books that are actually fun and work with a crowd, I'll keep reading them in my storytimes. Because really? How can you not push the button???? Of course, pushing the button sets off a series of disasters. Can we get them all under control before the end of the book? Kids will love this!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: Girl in Reverse

Girl in Reverse
By Barbara Stuber
Published 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Lily thinks of Gone Mom frequently - she desperately needs to know her truth so she can know herself.  When her adoptive brother unknowingly discovers a box of possessions that came with Lily from the orphanage, he may have uncovered the key to solving the mystery of Gone Mom once and for all.

Another book I rescued from Mt. TBR for the 48-Hour Book Challenge, I'm pretty sure I only had a copy because an enthusiastic publisher handed me one at Midwinter. As Lily is Chinese, the book fit the diverse books challenge very well.

Unfortunately, this book just wasn't for me. I never connected with Lily, making it impossible for me to care all that much about whether or not she solved the mystery of her birth parents. Naturally, I had some curiosity about it (I can't imagine not knowing where I came from) but I just wasn't as invested as I should have been. I found the other details of the plot - the story of the archaeology and art, the racism that Lily was forced to endure every day, the nuns - much more interesting. What I liked best about Lily was the complicated relationship she had with her adoptive mother, though even that took too long to come to a head for me. For the diverse books angle, I think this one did a great job of exploring racism and the culture of fear that can exacerbate it. I'm pleased that Stuber highlighted that inaction when witnessing racism is just as damaging as saying the slurs yourself. Additionally, I thought the romance was unbelievable and extremely poorly developed - I wish it hadn't been included at all.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: She Is Not Invisible

She Is Not Invisible
By Marcus Sedgwick
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press

Laureth realizes that she has technically just kidnapped her little brother, but it was an emergency. Her dad is missing and her mother doesn't seem concerned so she realizes she must take drastic measures to make sure every member of her family is safe.

It took some convincing but I consider myself a fan of Sedgwick. Before I read him, I didn't think I'd enjoy him - none of his books really jumped out at me. But I picked one up because I thought I might meet him and I haven't really looked back since. I was thrilled to snag an ARC of his latest at ALA Midwinter. Though I didn't read it prior to publication, I pulled it out of my pile for the 48-Hour Book Challenge, as it fit the diversity theme quite nicely - Laureth is blind.

I really liked this book. I may have even loved it. I was instantly hooked on the story and compelled to keep reading as more details of Laureth's father's work emerged. This is a book about coincidence and whether or not it's as miraculous of a thing as we often think it to be. I loved the complexity of the arguments made in this book. I loved how brilliantly Sedgwick wove coincidence into his plot - you can't even fully comprehend it all until you reach the end of the story. If you are a person who does not enjoy plots that rely on coincidence, this is probably not the book for you. But really, those plot coincidences are there to prove a point and I think they succeed masterfully.

I enjoyed Laureth. The fact of her blindness is necessary for the plot development but I also loved the way she talked about being blind. It raised some questions that I might not have thought of otherwise, and I always appreciate when a book challenges my thinking.

I liked how Sedgwick developed the novel. It's rather slow-paced - not a ton of action really until the very end. However, I think he builds suspense brilliantly throughout the course of the book and not just around what might be happening to Laureth's father. There is the suspense of how far Laureth and her brother will make it in their quest, how Laureth will navigate a completely unfamiliar world without letting anyone know of her disability, and the suspense of Mr. Peak's research. I think it all works so well.

Admittedly, for all the complexity of the rest of the novel, the ending is a bit less so, but it doesn't diminish my enjoyment at all. I loved the how of the ending even if I didn't love the result. Anyone looking for a thought-provoking read should definitely pick this up.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: Nightingale's Nest

Nightingale's Nest
By Nikki Loftin
Published 2014 by Razorbill

Little John is helping his father with his business when he hears a beautiful song. Imagine his surprise when what he thinks is a bird turns out to be a little girl, one who grows attached to him almost immediately. Soon, though, Little John will find himself caught up in a situation that may be harmful to Gayle but will help his family. What decision will he make?

I pulled this one out of Mt. TBR for the recent 48-Hour Book Challenge. I chose it because our challenge theme was diverse books and Gayle is pictured on the cover with brown skin (and briefly described in the text this way as well). I also chose it because I knew it had received many positive reviews and had even been thrown around in early Newbery contender talks.

Sometimes I feel like I read different books than everyone else. This is one of those times. I won't deny that this book is well-written and that Loftin has done an admirable job of creating an interesting and complex story for middle-grader readers. But I didn't really find this book enjoyable at all. For me, it was a slow and boring read, one with which I never truly engaged or connected. I can't put my finger on exactly why this is, but this just wasn't a book for me. I found Little John to be kind of a pathetic character. I can understand his desire to try to solve all the problems that arise on his own, but there comes a point when this begins to just feel tiresome to me. If he had only talked to his parents about some of the occurrences of the novel, perhaps some tragedies could have been averted. Additionally, this is inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson story but I didn't get the fairy-tale vibe that I love. Perhaps this was just my personal expectations, but I was disappointed nevertheless.

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Program: Harry for the Holidays

In January 2013, our library hosted an extremely successful Harry Potter event. We took a school holiday in early January and created an afternoon of Potter-themed activities. We had excellent attendance across a range of ages and lots of positive feedback. Since the majority of the youth services staff consists of Harry Potter fans, there was no question we'd be hosting another event this January. Here's what we did this time around!

Diagon Alley giveaway - we created some awesome gift baskets with a variety of prizes, including Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, butterbeer, bookmarks, posters, and copies of some of the books. Everyone who attended our event could enter to win and our winners were thrilled with their prizes.

Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean Tasting Station - this was a very simple station, but I imagine it was highly amusing to watch (I was busy in a separate area throughout our entire event). We simply provided a selection of Bertie Bott's jelly beans for sampling. Of course, those brave enough to sample wouldn't know what flavor they were going to get - peach? ear wax? vomit? I would have loved to have seen reactions at this one!

Sorting Hat - once again, our sorting hat came to life to sort eager wizards into their houses. This time, I tried to go the extra step and wrote some short rhymes for each house, varying them slightly with each child. I'm not sure if all the kids really appreciated this little bit of extra work I put in, but I thought it added a slightly more authentic touch. Regardless, I love how excited they get hearing me shout their house assignment.

Transfiguration - this year, we decided to master the art of transfiguration. This was accomplished through face painting. I'm amazed at the lasting popularity of face painting and it was no exception here, even amid the many other activities we had to offer.

Dangerous Creatures Hunt - we run scavenger hunts fairly often in our children's department and they are so easy to do, it seems like a no-brainer for a big event such as this. Those who found all the dangerous creatures were rewarded with a tiny chocolate wizard's hat.

Crafts - this year, we offered House bracelets, Pygmy Puffs, and book hedgehogs. We did the book hedgehogs in the summer and they were very popular, so putting a Potter-y spin on them was easy enough. House bracelets were made with embroidery floss in House colors and a simple pattern. The Pygmy Puffs were oversized pompoms in a variety of colors with various wizarding accessories (wands, capes, hats, etc.). They were adorable and very easy to make!

Photo booth - we set up a very easy photo opportunity near our children's desk. We created a background with streamers in Gryffindor and Slytherin colors and provided a number of props - Mad Eye Moody's eye, House ties, owls, the Triwizard cup, and more. Photo booths have become a very popular and easy part of our large-scale events.

Quidditch - unfortunately, I can't provide a lot of information on how our Quidditch tryouts ran as I was otherwise engaged while they were held. From pictures, it certainly seems like all involved had a fabulous time trying their hand at the wizarding world's most popular sport.

Astronomy for Wizards - a simple astronomy lesson, focusing on stars and constellations that share names with people and places in the Harry Potter world. One of my coworkers had already created this lesson, so this was another pretty easy session to run.

Triwizard Tournament - this is where I spent the majority of the afternoon (after my duties as Sorting Hat were fulfilled, of course). This was my pet project, the thing I'd been talking about since our last Harry Potter event. I'd seen on a listserv someone mention that they had held a Triwizard Tournament as part of their Potter event and immediately, I thought that sounded awesome, particularly as we wanted to make this year's event even better than the first. I had big dreams for how amazing this tournament would be. In reality, it didn't quite live up to my expectations, but I think the kids still had fun with it. Our Tournament consisted of three trials, just like in the books. Champions would enter one at a time after depositing their names in the Goblet of Fire (though I had to speed things along pretty quick as the line to enter the Tournament grew rapidly). Champions were instructed to "follow the spiders" to each stage. Their first task was to defeat Aragog. Yes, I really did create a giant spider and his web and set it up in our library to menace children. I couldn't have done it without my coworkers, but it turned out pretty awesome, I think. Champions had to hit Aragog with the Draught of Living Death (as represented by mini-marshmallows) before moving on to stage two. Here, they had to match wits with a teacher (one of our teen volunteers, who got VERY into the part) by answering a trivia question. I am consistently surprised by how many kids show up to our program with little to no knowledge of the thing we are celebrating that day, and this event was no exception. Some of our champions couldn't answer any of the questions, so I had to institute a 'three chances then move on' rule, regardless of whether they answered a question right or not. The final stage was the successful casting of a Patronus charm, facing off against a Dementor. Yes, I also made a very creepy Dementor, who currently resides on my colleague's desk. I set the mood with lighting as well. Once again, I was surprised by the number of kids who didn't know how to cast the Patronus charm, but I helped them. Every kid who completed the Triwizard Tournament was rewarded with a Patronus - a small plastic creature painted silver and wrapped in Dementor wrappings. The kids loved seeing what their Patronus would be. So, as I said, I think the kids had a great time with it; I had just hoped for more theatricality, I guess.

Costumed staff - not an attraction, really, but I think it's important to note that all staff working the day of the program were costumed. It helped identify us as members of the library staff and also it adds a really fun and exciting element to the program. I dressed as Professor Trelawney and I was a big hit, if I do say so myself.

Once again, we had an extremely successful event but now we find ourselves wondering: where do we go from here? We took our first event to the extreme this year and we are all curious as to whether it's possible to top it next year. I guarantee we'll try, though.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Never Too Little to Love
By Jeanne Willis and Jan Fearnley
Published 2005 by Walker & Company
We got this adorable little book right before Valentine's Day, so you can see how I'm still wretchedly behind on my reviews. The tiny little mouse protagonist of this story is in love. Unfortunately, he is indeed tiny and his love is not. Will he ever find a way to get to his love? This is a very cute cumulative little story and a sweet read for Valentine's Day. The illustrations are charming as well.

Penguin in Love
By Salina Yoon
Published 2013 by Walker Childrens
Okay, I am in love. With Penguin. He is just too adorable! In this installment, Penguin becomes sweet on someone and they help others along the way. These stories are just so cute and kids really like them, so that's a bonus. I love the illustration style and the simplicity of the stories. I've seen some people say they were confused by the story in this one, but I think it works well. I can't wait for more adventures with Penguin.

Catching Kisses
By Amy Gibson, illustrated by Maria van Lieshout
Published 2013 by Feiwel & Friends
Can you tell that we got a bunch of love-themed picture books at the same time? Yes, we were indeed gearing up for Valentine's Day when I read through the new picture books at work. Many of them work any time of year in a love-centric storytime, though. This lovely story takes readers across the country, discovering the many ways kisses are shared. The language is quite beautiful, and I really appreciate the choices that Gibson made, some of them challenging for young readers, but I appreciate that. I really love the illustrations as well. The style is very interesting and appealing. Just a lovely book.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Don't You Forget About Me

Don't You Forget About Me
By Kate Karyus Quinn
Published 2014 by HarperTeen

Living in Gardnerville is a double-edged sword: no one ever gets sick, but every fourth year, madness sweeps the young people - and usually the body count is high. It's a fourth year, and Skylar is desperate to be reunited with her sister, Piper, who disappeared four years ago. It's not as simple as she hopes, though, because there's something very important Skylar has forgotten. And it might just be the secret to changing Garnderville forever.

I had really wanted to read Quinn's debut Another Little Piece but hadn't yet found time when I saw her new title pop up on Edelweiss. It sounded weird and creepy, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I think I was expecting more straight horror than I got. If The Waking Dark is YA's Stephen King, then I'd say Don't You Forget About Me is YA's Dean Koontz. Fair or not, I've always considered Dean Koontz to be the stranger, more paranormal brand of horror than Stephen King. This might be entirely dependent on which books by the two men I've read, and I certainly know that King does his share of paranormal horror as well. I expected horror and, while much of the action in this book is indeed horrifying, it's more strange and supernatural than I had set out for. That doesn't make this a bad book, just not quite what I had wanted. The story is compelling and I'm glad Quinn chose to tell it the way she did - alternating between the present and flashbacks throughout Sky's life. This slowly reveals pieces of the Gardnerville puzzle and, though I figured out the big twist rather early on, it's great for keeping readers engaged.

I did not particularly care for any of the characters here, but with this book that almost feels okay. This book is more about the strange happenings and the things people will do to preserve the life they believe they deserve. It's a complex little world that Quinn has created, only getting more complex as the book goes on, but I think it's an interesting one. Certainly not one I'd choose to live in, but a very unique world regardless. I'm not crazy about the ending either, as it felt a bit anticlimactic to me.

Overall, just not really the book I hoped. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: Picture Me Gone

Picture Me Gone
By Meg Rosoff
Published 2013 by Putnam Juvenile

Mila is pretty good at figuring things out. Maybe that's why she's accompanying her dad on his search for his best friend - a man he's known for many years who seems to have just walked out of his life one day. Will Mila find Matthew? Or is it too late?

This was another book that I had started in e-galley form and had to finish in print as my galley expired. This one in particular caught my eye because it was getting some buzz as a possible Printz contender (Rosoff having won a Printz already). Well, it didn't take home a Printz, but it was a finalist for the National Book Award, so I guess there was some merit to that contender talk after all.

This is the first book of Rosoff's that I've read, though I think I have a copy of There is No Dog sitting on one of my shelves (maybe I'll read it this year!). I've been meaning to read how i live now but just haven't found the time. I'm not sure that I'm thrilled with this book being my introduction to Rosoff's work.

That's not to say it's a bad book - it's a pretty quick read and I found Mila an interesting, if somewhat too precocious, character. However, I didn't really find the mystery all that mysterious. It seemed pretty clear to me early on what Matthew's deal was, though maybe that's at least partly because I'm an adult and I think the situation is much easier to read if you are an adult. It feels like the mystery is not really the point of this book. This book is about more than that. It's about the space where you are crossing out of childhood and realizing that your parents aren't perfect and being an adult is just about as messy and complicated as being a kid.

It's all fine and good with me if Rosoff wants to write a book like that, but I couldn't help but be disappointed. I went into this book expecting and wanting a mystery and this wasn't quite what I was looking for. This book certainly has its merits and I think will appeal to a certain population of middle school readers. The surface level writing is quite lovely as well. But, overall, I find myself a bit underwhelmed by this book. I'll have to give Rosoff another chance.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Under the Egg

Under the Egg
By Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Published 2014 by Dial

Theodora lives a bit of an unusual life, but she manages. When her grandfather dies unexpectedly, managing gets a big more complicated. However, with his final words, he may have left her a clue to something that could solve all her problems. Can Theo decipher the mystery?

I was delighted when Penguin announced a Young Readers Author Program, where they offer a new title each month and an author chat. So far, I've fallen a bit behind, but I'm still trying to read the titles when I can find a moment. Under the Egg is one of those titles, and I was thrilled to see it as the book had already caught my eye.

This tells the story of Theo and the mystery she attempts to solve following the death of her grandfather. She believes that he has given her a clue to locating a treasure, one that will keep her and her mother safe for years to come. Though this turns out to not quite be the case, what Theo uncovers is perhaps even more extraordinary. It's rather recently I've discovered my love of middle-grade mysteries and I am thrilled to see another author (aside from the lovely Blue Balliett and perhaps others I've yet to read) writing an art-related mystery for kids. I think one of the best qualities of a fiction book is its ability to inspire readers to learn more about a particular subject. Under the Egg did that for me. It's clear that Fitzgerald did her research and it made me want to delve into the topics and learn more for myself. It made me want to finally finish The Agony and the Ecstasy (a fictionalized biography of Michelangelo that I started years ago and then never picked back up) and learn more about the lives of Renaissance artists. It made me want to read about the Monuments Men (and I love that Fitzgerald incorporated this fascinating bit of history into this mystery). I hope that kids will be just as inspired as me to find out more about the many topics Fitzgerald touches upon in this book.

I also really enjoyed Theo, though I did find her a bit too unusual at times. Once again, my main complaint about the book would be the lack of outside involvement/concern regarding Theo's clearly unstable mother - how is no one aware of this problem? And why, when the police arrive towards the novel's conclusion, do they not notice her behavior and question it? I imagine it is likely that there are many children living in our country with mentally unstable parents and managing to keep it hidden, but maybe that truth is too difficult for me to want to acknowledge. I liked the friendship between Theo and Bodhi and I enjoyed that every secondary character had a part to play in solving the mystery.

I will be recommending this to readers in the mood for a mystery this summer and will be looking forward to what Fitzgerald writes next.

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

48HBC Update the Second and Final

I have about seven hours left in my official reading time. I'll probably stay up for another hour or two before calling it quits. I'll post my final stats tomorrow morning. UPDATE: I've just revisited MotherReader's site and see the finish line must be posted by 7 a.m. EST tomorrow. I like y'all, but not enough to get up early when I don't have to, so I'm calling it quits now.

Here's where I stand now:

Time spent reading: 14 hours, exactly! (this now includes my audio listening time, as I finished my audiobook)
Pages read: 1046 (also includes my audiobook)
Time spent socializing/visiting other blogs: 1 hour, 8 minutes
Books finished: 5

So, I actually finished all the books from my stack! Here's a short review on each, with longer ones to come in the future (I already mentioned Nightingale's Nest in my first update).

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick - Sedgwick was an author I never thought I'd enjoy but I read a random book of his a few years ago and have happily picked up a few more since then. This is his newest, a bit unusual for him, but I enjoyed it. This fits the diverse theme with a main character who is blind.

Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber - ehhh, I'm pretty sure I picked up the ARC of this on a whim (or because the publisher was really enthusiastic about it) but I just didn't enjoy it. In fact, I think this book probably slowed my reading down quite a bit, as it took me over 4 hours to read this one. This fits the diverse theme with a main character who is Chinese.

Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice (book one) by Mike Maihack - I should have read this one in between the other two; it would have been a nice breather. It only took me about 20 minutes to read this, but I thought it was cute. Reminded me of Zita the Spacegirl. This fits the diverse theme because Cleopatra is Egyptian.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler - this was the audiobook I was already listening to before the challenge started. I don't ever blog about adult books here, but I did enjoy this one. You can find my review on Goodreads in a couple days if you're interested. This one doesn't fit the diverse theme, really, though Zelda did have bipolar disorder.

I will probably read for another half hour or so before going to bed, but I'm okay not counting that time. Looking at my stats from last year, I read about 5 hours less but finished one more book. However, my page count was greater last year as well. I'm not surprised I didn't do as well; our summer reading kick-off and working all day after yesterday totally drained me. Hopefully next year it'll fall on a different weekend! Congrats to everyone who finished!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

48HBC - Update the First

I intended to write the first update last night before I collapsed from exhaustion, but the Blogger app just frustrates me and I didn't have enough energy to turn on my computer. So, I'm updating now.

I'm officially 29 hours into my 48 and my stats are pretty sad. Yesterday at work was indeed crazy - I didn't even sit down for four hours straight! And it was completely exhausting, so I didn't stay awake as late as I would have liked last night. Here is what I have managed:

Time spent reading: 3 hours, 3 minutes
Pages: 264
Time spent listening to audiobook: 2 hours, 5 minutes (and counting - I'm listening as I write this!)
Books completed: 1

I finished Nightingale's Nest yesterday. I'm not sure how I really feel about it. I'd heard such lofty praise, so my expectations were pretty high. I don't think the book really lived up to those expectations for me. I kept expecting something more. It was an interesting enough book, but not one I think is going to stick with me. It does fit the diverse theme - Gayle is pictured on the cover with brown skin and is briefly described likewise. I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on this one.

Hope everyone's reading is going well! Today I plan to buckle down and do nothing else but read! 

Program: Homemade for the Holidays

One of my most successful programs in 2012 (aside from summer programs) was one called Homemade for the Holidays, held in December. I showed a roomful of young patrons two crafts, one intended as a gift and the other as a decoration for their homes. With the success of that program, I wanted to repeat it in December 2013, with some new crafts.

I liked the format of one craft that could be used as a gift and one as decoration, so I chose my crafts with this in mind. I had many Styrofoam balls left over from another fall program, so I decided to use these again and let the kids make ornaments. I pretty much left the decoration and style up to them, but provided them with felt, jewels, glitter, and whatever other supplies I felt like digging out of the craft closet. They got very creative with this; I was very impressed.

For our gift-type craft, we made paper bead bracelets. I printed out some templates that the kids could trace to make their paper beads in different shapes. They liked this, though they struggled a bit with getting the proper amount of glue on their beads (you really don't need a lot and they always tend to squeeze out more than necessary). I had one young man determined to create his own shape for a bead - he wanted one that was short but fat. It turned into a small science experiment as he tried different patterns to see what kind of beads he could create.

I had a much smaller turnout compared to last year, but the kids who came had a good time.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

48HBC - It is time!

The weekend of the 48-Hour Book Challenge is upon us! I am getting a late start to the challenge so as to maximize my reading time on Sunday, the only day I am not working during the challenge. So, I'm officially kicking off at 7am Saturday morning.

As I mentioned, I'll be working all day today. We are having our big summer reading kick-off, so I don't imagine I'll get much reading done these first 8ish hours. But I have no plans after I am free from work, so hopefully I'll make up some time then!

Here is a peek at the books I hope to tackle this weekend. I have others if I finish with these, but, honestly, that doesn't seem too likely.
Nightingale's Nest, She Is Not Invisible, Girl in Reverse, Cleopatra in Space

Good luck fellow readers, and enjoy your diverse book choices!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Summer Experiment

The Summer Experiment
By Cathie Pelletier
Published 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Roberta is expecting another boring summer in Northern Maine when mysterious lights in the sky appear and change everything. Now, Roberta is determined to turn the story behind those lights into an award-winning science fair project, if only she can convince her best friend Marillee to help.

This book had a double appeal factor for me: middle grade (which I am always trying to read more of) and set in Maine (I'll read anything set in my home state). In this case, however, those appeal factors didn't hold up the rest of the book.

This book is very slow-moving and, though it's not terribly long (is it weird that I don't think nearly 300 pages is very long anymore?), I wonder how many kids will have the patience for it. It is also very clearly set in Maine - being from that lovely state, this book felt very familiar. It has a very Maine-style of storytelling and I'm not sure how well that will translate to kids in other parts of the country. Additionally, the plot is a bit all over the place. There is the story of the mysterious lights, the story of the antagonistic relationship between Roberta and her brother, the story of Marillee's feelings about her parents, the story of the science fair - it just feels a bit too much all in one book. Nothing ever feels fully developed and some of the stories just seem to peter out without much of a conclusion. Finally, I felt the ending both way too out of left field and way too convenient to really work for me. Readers who enjoy overly precocious narrators may find this one appealing, but it wasn't a favorite of mine.

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review: The Riverman

The Riverman (Riverman, book one)
By Aaron Starmer
Published 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

 Fiona has always been a bit strange. But Alastair, her neighbor, is about to discover she's even stranger than he could have imagined. You see, she's about to tell him a fantastical story about a hidden world she visits, one that's also in danger. And she's worried that the Riverman has found her in the real world as well.

Well, from looking at the Goodreads page for this book, it's clear I'm in the minority about it. What I cannot deny is that this book is complex, full of interesting ideas and things that will keep you guessing until the final page. However, I can't deny I have some quibbles with it.

This book is set in the 1980s. That setting is never made clear, however, and I think this will only confuse young readers. I had the vague notion that the action was taking place at some point in the past but it wasn't until more than halfway through the book when a character references paying $4000 for a laptop computer that I got a more definite sense of when this book is set (though were laptops even a thing in the 1980s?). Without any clear statement about the when of this book, I think it will just seem strange to young readers.

This leads to my main quibble with this book: I cannot think of who is the ideal reader for this book. It is a very strange book where fantasy and reality overlap and it's never made clear which version of events is the correct one. The fantasy world that Fiona describes is particularly peculiar and the complexities of emotions and situations that the characters are addressing throughout the novel seem a bit outside the realm of your average middle-grade reader. Far be it from me to declare that there is no perfect reader for this book; I just don't know that kid. I am going to have an extremely difficult time recommending this to young readers in my library but, as always, your mileage may vary.

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

May Check-In

It's that time again - time for the monthly recap. Here's what I read in May!

Middle-grade: 7

Teen: 13.5

Adult: 3

Picture books: 0

Library books: 5

Books owned: 18.5

You'll notice the reappearance of  a .5 - this month, I finished up a book I had started reading months ago. I didn't read any picture books this month because processing new ones has been a bit slow at my library (usually the only chance I get to read picture books). As you can see, I did much better with my goal of reading the books I own - and that's even with reading a book club book I had to check out from the library. I'm a little surprised that my library book number is so low this month. I thought I listened to more audiobooks than I did.

I can't believe it's already June! We are having our big summer kickoff party at the end of the week and then things will be going in full-force. I don't imagine I will get as much reading done, but I suppose we will see. I am planning to participate in MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge, though the astute will notice that it takes place the weekend of said summer kickoff party. I will probably not have as much time to read as I'd like, but I'm planning on putting together my TBR for the challenge this week. Join me?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Program: Preschool Dance Party

I have loved my job as Empress of All Things Tween/Middle-Grade, but I have also loved the occasions I've had to work with younger children (Fancy Nancy Tea Party, Bubble Day, etc.). So, when my new boss encouraged us all to do whatever kind of programming we wanted, regardless of which age group, I happily obliged. I have seen talk of preschool dance parties in librarian circles and have longed to host one of my own. When we took our storytime break in December, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Our storytime attendees are always incredibly grateful when we schedule a few programs for little ones during the breaks in our storytime schedule: January, May, August, and December. So, I scheduled our inaugural preschool dance party for a Friday morning in December and started planning.

Our dance party was exactly what it sounded like: one hour of shaking our booties to the beat. We started with a warm-up and I led the attendees through some basic stretches and then we got down to business. I tried to keep a good ratio of free dancing songs (dance any way you like) to structured dancing (songs that tell you what moves to make). We also mixed it up with a few shaker songs and a few dances with scarves. I ended up having to skip quite a few songs as the time flew by, even though I'd programmed my CD to exactly one hour. I did have to stop and explain some dance moves to kids between songs, and, of course, pass out and collect props like the shakers and scarves. We also provided a table with bottled water at the back of the room to keep everyone hydrated.

How did it go? It was a lot of fun! The kids had so much energy and they really got into the dancing. They, of course, loved the shaker songs, and I think it was a nice change of pace during the hour. My biggest complaint is that the heating/cooling system in our program room does not function well, so I was a sweaty mess by the end of the program, but, as long as the kids are having a good time, that's fine by me. We got a lot of compliments as parents left the program, so I think it was a success. I'll be hosting another in the spring!