Sunday, November 30, 2014

Summer Program Recap Bonanza: Preschool Programs!

I promise you, I'm not the only person who did programming at my library this summer - but these posts are really making me realize just how many programs I did run! I can't believe how much we did this summer! Anyway, my latest round of recaps focuses on the programs I did aimed at preschoolers and early elementary kids.

Make Your Own Band: I started seeing a lot of pins on Pinterest for easy homemade musical instruments and thought, "hmm, that would be a fun program." I was right! Over 100 patrons came to make enough instruments to start their own bands. We made tambourines (small paper plates, pipe cleaners, bells), maracas (toilet paper tubes, beans), castanets (cardboard, buttons), pellet drums (plates, dowels, yarn, pony beads), and kazoos (craft sticks, straws, rubber bands). It was noisy fun!

Thomas the Tank Engine: holy cats, this program was insane! Over 200 people showed up! We hit our program room fire code capacity in the first 20 minutes, so I had to spend most of the program at the door, making sure people didn't try to crowd in until other families left. I expected a big program, but I also expected people to stagger their arrival a bit more - the program was an unstructured hour long. Everything could be done at their own pace and when they finished what they wanted, they were free to go. Unfortunately, no matter how much we advertise it, the majority of patrons still tend to arrive right at the program start time. Anyway, I made train tracks on the floor of the department leading to the program room door (which was time-consuming! but also gave people a place to line up). Parents loved the little extra touch of this. We had train scene pictures (using train die-cut shapes and crayons), coloring sheets, puzzles (simple pictures of Thomas characters cut into squares), Thomas face masks (silver dessert plates, craft sticks, circle punches, markers), pin the number on Thomas (yes, I made a giant drawing of Thomas and the kids had to stick his number in the right spot), coal toss (the coal was made out of tinfoil and black tissue paper and the kids tossed it into cardboard boxes decorated to look like train cars), and a scavenger hunt (with train whistles as prizes). This program was a huge hit and we will definitely repeat it in the future, hopefully with a slightly more manageable number of attendees.

Royal Prep with Sofia the First: we initially planned a princess party for this summer, but, with the growing popularity of Sofia the First, we decided to take advantage of that and focus it around her. I think this was the first program I cosplayed for this summer - I wore an old prom dress and tiara and was a princess. Once again, we had over 200 attendees for coloring sheets, scavenger hunt, crown decorating (we have a princess crown die-cut), amulet necklaces (like the one Sofia wears), pin the amulet on Sofia (we bought a ready-made version of this), story corner with a princess (that was me!), and practice your poise (walking across a beam while balancing a book on their head). Our poor planning meant that this program happened the same day as our Teen Anime Con, so we were crazy busy all day long! But we had many happy princesses by the end of the program!

Color and Create: after some of our crazier programs, this one was more relaxed but just as fun. We wanted something low-key that celebrated the simple pleasure of coloring - still one of my favorite stress relievers! But, we wanted to offer a bit more than just coloring, so we included tracing (by far, the biggest hit of the program - all we did was tape down some easy to trace pictures of popular characters and provided them with tracing paper), coloring sheets (once again, we utilized popular characters - superheroes, princesses, etc.), scratch art fish ornaments (so simple and so pretty), and mazes and puzzles (very simple ones).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: when possible, we like to coordinate our programming with upcoming movies or big book releases, so when I found out about the new TMNT movie being released this summer, I put a program on the calendar. It was a lot of fun to plan and the kids who came had a really great time showing off their ninja skills. We had a pizza toss (frisbees made to look like pizzas and we tossed them into Michelangelo's mouth!), decorated shells (Chinet plates and arm loops made of yarn - really easy, though a bit pricey because of the plates, but I wore mine the whole party and received many compliments), ran through Splinter's Training Course (they had to crawl through a tunnel, roll around in the radioactive ooze, grab a katana, and strike their fiercest ninja pose), decorated shurikens (yes - my lovely coworkers and I folded many, many paper shurikens prior to the program), colored (you may notice a pattern - it is always a popular station to take a break at), and hunted for turtles throughout the Children's Department.

Shark Week Celebration!: every summer when Shark Week rolls around, we think to ourselves "why didn't we plan a shark program??" Well, I wasn't letting that happen this year - I put it on my calendar during Shark Week 2013 so I wouldn't forget (though I realized why we haven't done one before - Shark Week inconveniently falls at the beginning of August, right as we are winding down our programming). This was one of the program that kids seemed most excited about during school visits and we had a great turnout. It included Shark Week bookmarks to color (a slightly different change from just coloring sheets), scavenger hunt, shark hats (made out of party hats and paper shark fins and teeth), shark jaws (once again using the Chinet plates to make an awesome set of jaws), shark feeding (I made a life-size shark with his mouth open for the kids to feed fish or to have their picture taken with), shark trivia board (a simple board with shark-themed questions on slips of paper that, when lifted, revealed the answers), and a live shark cam (I simply projected it on to the big screen during the program). We had a lot of happy children at this one.

Those were my preschool programs of the summer! Questions? Let me know!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Big Bad Bubble
By Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Published 2014 by Clarion Books
The team behind Dragons Love Tacos strikes again, this time bringing us the true story of what happens when bubbles pop. Though I didn't love this one as much as their previous books, I still enjoyed it. The monsters are cute and the book works really well as a read-aloud - lots of opportunities for fun with it. A lot of fun. These guys are quickly becoming some of my favorites for storytime books.

The Adventures of Beekle
By Dan Santat
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Santat is one of my favorite illustrators and I'd heard nothing but praise for this book so I was definitely looking forward to it. This is a great book with endless appeal for kids - it's all about imagination and friendship and setting out to do the impossible. It's lovely to look at and heartwarming to read. The pictures are gorgeous as usual and the story is touching and charming. It is definitely a book to be enjoyed over and over again. So delightful - how does Santat keep doing it?

By Antoinette Portis
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
Though I'm not so keen on birds, I can appreciate this book. One day, a little bird decides to sing a different song - that's right, birds don't always have to say, "tweet." This is another book to celebrate our differences, the small things that make us unique, the choices we make to become our own person. But, where this book really shines is in the nonsense. It is a perfect book for storytime because the kids will delight in hearing you read the nonsense song of the little bird. The illustrations are simple yet appealing. Just some silly fun that will definitely delight young readers.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review: Spellbound

Spellbound (Books of Elsewhere, book two)
By Jacqueline West, read by Lexy Fridell
Published 2011 by Penguin Audio

To read my review of book one, go here.

Now that Olive has figured out some of the secrets of the old McMartin house, she's eager to learn more. But it soon seems that Olive may be in deep over her head.

It's funny for me to go back and read my review of book one because I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as I remembered being. This seems to happen to me with alarming frequency - looking back on a series I've begun, I'll remember the first book more fondly than I actually felt about it upon finishing it. After reading the first book in print some time ago, I downloaded the audio version of book two in my (admittedly poor) attempts to finish up some series I've begun.

I loved the chance to visit these characters again, and perhaps the characters are the reason I remember book one so pleasantly. Olive is a great heroine, though she struggles quite a bit in this book. I still loved reading about her and spending time with her and her friends. I love that the cats play an even bigger role in this book - they are absolutely delightful personalities and, as much as I claim to hate talking animal fantasy, I adore these guys. Oh, and I absolutely loved the introduction of Rutherford! I think the narrator's voicing of him may have been the main reason I loved him so much - it was absolutely perfect. In fact, I thought the narrator was all-around excellent - a nice variety of voices for characters, and all believable.

Similarly, I appreciated that book two continued with the dark tone of book one - some kids are looking to be legitimately creeped out (I was definitely one of those kids), so they really appreciate a darker fantasy such as this one. I am a firm believer that kids can handle much more than we give them credit for, so why not get dark and creepy? If it's too much for a kid, chances are they'll recognize that and put the book down.

So, in the end, I really enjoyed this book and am definitely looking forward to reading the rest of the series soon. I'll definitely be recommending this series to young fantasy fans!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Review: The Finisher

The Finisher
By David Baldacci
Published 2014 by Scholastic

No one has ever left Wormwood - at least, no one has ever left and survived. But Vega Jane sees something disturbing one night and soon, she's discovering that there may be more to Wormwood than anyone knows. In fact, there may be a way out. Can Vega Jane solve the mystery once and for all?

So, Baldacci is a big deal in the adult publishing world - I'm not really a suspense reader, so I've never read him. But I'm always interested when adult authors make the leap into publishing for kids and teens, particularly when they diverge from their typical genre, as Baldacci does here. Is it really a good book? Or did the name attached sell itself?

In this case, I think it's the latter. I had several problems with this book and most of them I think come from Baldacci's lack of understanding about writing for kids and fantasy in general. This book is riddled with nonsense words - words that are either made up or familiar words that are given new meanings in the context of the story. This wouldn't necessarily bother me - in fact, much good fantasy includes its own language. In this case, though, the nonsense words are simply standing in for regular words, thus rendering them completely unnecessary. Does it really make sense to say a sliver when you mean a minute? Session when you mean a year? It just comes off as silly. It reads as if Baldacci thought, "well, I'm writing a fantasy, I better make up some words!" Nonsense I tell you.

Additionally, this book is bloated. It's around 500 pages and it feels every bit of that. Once again, it feels like Baldacci thought to himself, "well, Harry Potter was long and successful, so I better write lots of pages." Once again, I'm perfectly okay with a long book IF THE STORY CALLS FOR IT. Unfortunately, many these 500 pages felt like added weight to drag the story out more and give the book more heft.

Vega, too, felt torn from a manual on creating a successful fantasy novel - orphan (well, close enough), outsider (seriously, where are all the females in this world? How are babies being born??), gifted, blah, blah, blah. I just didn't care. I didn't care about her or any of the other characters. The plot never really grabbed me either - it may have been interesting, but it gets lost in all that clunky and absurd language that Baldacci is using. Finally, the book has an open ending. It seems there may be sequels in the works, which just adds to my disappointment. I won't be be back for future installments.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: Absolutely Truly

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery
By Heather Vogel Frederick
Published 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Truly Lovejoy's life is facing a major change. Her father, injured in Afghanistan, has decided to move the family halfway across the country to his hometown - Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire. For Truly, who had finally felt like her life was settling down, this move couldn't be more frustrating. Add to that the worries about her father (who hasn't been the same since his injury), the possibility that they will lose the family business (the bookstore is struggling financially), and a mystery that cries out to be solved and Truly is in for some big changes.

I downloaded this e-galley because I thought it sounded cute - a small-town mystery, a family experiencing some crisis, and set in New England. I had never read a book by the author before but I've seen her stuff around and it all sounds pretty cute. I figured this was as good a time as any to check her out.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I appreciate books with realistic and complicated family relationships. I think that may have been one of my favorite aspects of this novel - the Lovejoys are a large, loving, and complex family unit. Frederick does an excellent job depicting the family fallout of a parent injured in a combat situation - Truly's father is clearly not the same person he was before the explosion and the family is learning how to accommodate his changes. The love among the family members is abundant and apparent and heartwarming. Truly has a great relationship with both her parents as well as with her brothers and sisters. It's not always easy being a part of the Lovejoy clan but they always make it work.

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the setting. Being from New England myself (though not New Hampshire specifically), I thought Frederick did a great job evoking the small-town feel that permeates much of New England and makes it such a tourist destination. No, every town is not picturesque and idyllic, but a lot of them are. Frederick did a great job showcasing the charm of a small-town - the interesting characters you'll find (for better or worse since usually it's impossible to keep a secret in a small town), the unique history, and the beauty of nature that can frequently be found. Pumpkin Falls is not a real town, but it reminded me very much of many small towns I've visited throughout New England - and definitely made me homesick for the place I come from.

I thought the mystery was really well-done also. It was interesting, full of literary elements, and I definitely couldn't wait to see it solved. It's not a super-complicated mystery and an astute reader may be able to solve at least part of the mystery before the characters do. But I found it very charming (which I would say about the book as a whole as well) and I'm looking forward to what Frederick might do in the next installment (because, yes, this is first in a series).

One little thing to mention: the ARC I read seemed to have a slight factual error. I don't have it in front of me anymore, so I can't quote exactly, but it was in reference to time zones. My reading of it implied that the difference between Eastern and Central time zone was two hours, when in fact it is only one hour. I may have misread or it may have been corrected in the final version, but I thought I should mention it.

Overall, I found this a lovely read, perfect for winter and charming as all get out with realistic relationships and a fun mystery. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review: Grasshopper Jungle

Grasshopper Jungle
By Andrew Smith
Published 2014 by Dutton Juvenile

Austin's life is about to get seriously weird. People in his hometown are somehow turning into giant praying mantises that want to do nothing but eat and mate. But his regular life doesn't just end because the world is going crazy - he's still trying to figure out his sexual orientation but now he has to also worry about escaping the giant praying mantises. Can he figure out a way to save himself - and maybe the world?

I heard about this book a lot before its release and was pleased to snag an ARC at Midwinter. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to read the book before its release date, but I read it over the summer and was blown away.

I've complained a handful of times about books I just don't get (I'm looking at you, Daniel Kraus). I imagine, for some people, this will be that kind of book. For me, though, definitely not. This book is probably one of the best books I read this year and I'm only sad that I can't recommend it highly enough.

This book is absolute insanity - it's about a mish-mash of things, many completely out of this world. It's the inside of a teenage boy's head right out there for everyone to see. It's the end of the world and the chaos that means. It's a B-movie with giant praying mantises and an homage to Porky's. It is probably the weirdest thing most people will read in any given year, but it also absolutely amazing. As usual, it's much more difficult for me to articulate my thoughts when I just full-out love a book than when I don't, so this review will probably not be terribly helpful to anyone.

Perhaps this book was suited to me because I love B-movies. I'm not so crazy about horny teenage boys (in fact, I didn't love Smith's Winger at least partly because of that), but this book is just brilliant. It's extraordinarily well-written - Smith zings from one topic to the next with only the most tangential connections, yet it never feels forced or confusing or pretentious. It just works. Amid all the craziness that is this novel, there are also some tender moments and some regular teenage confusion. It's a balance of the completely weird and the completely normal and I think Smith executes it perfectly (I actually was tempted to swear right there because that's how perfect I think it is). This book is unlike anything else out there right now and it's just good. Really, really flipping good. I loved the characters, I loved the crazy, I loved the mundane, I loved the randomness, I loved the ending. I just loved it.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy, which I will treasure for always now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Like Water on Stone

Like Water on Stone
By Dana Walrath
Published 2014 by Delacorte Press

The Ottoman Empire is falling and Shahen and his family are caught in the rubble. When the plan to eliminate all Armenians is set in motion, can Shahen's family find a way to survive?

I requested this e-galley because I'm a big fan of historical fiction and of novels in verse. I was particularly interested because the story is set in a time and place of which I don't know much. I expect the same will be true for many readers in the target audience. 

I think the verse worked very well for this story. Often, I find myself thinking that true when the subject is a particularly terrible one - in this case, the genocide of a people. Telling such a horrific story in verse often allows readers some small breaks from the terribleness while at the same time using the fewest amount of words to capture a perhaps unimaginable horror. I think Walrath and her choice of narrators makes this even more effective. She includes two older children who are aware of the horrific events surrounding them (one more than the other) and the youngest child who can't comprehend exactly what is happening or why. And, above them all is the eagle, who can see all the events with even more perspective than the children. The eagle's narrative lends a bit of magical realism to the story and, at first, I was a bit unsure about it. By the novel's end, however, I was very glad for his voice's inclusion in the story.

Walrath also did an excellent job with her research. Every bit of this story (save the eagle's narrative voice) feels true and authentic. At times, it was easy to imagine that I was reading a true story of three children in the Armenian genocide. Walrath evokes the landscape vividly - I've never traveled to that part of the world, but Walrath's choice descriptions made it easy to picture the children's journey. Like many good historical fiction books, this one left me wanting to learn more about the period in which it was set. I'm saddened by the fact that I knew almost nothing about the Armenian genocide and, though it won't be pleasant reading, I think it's important to learn something.

My main complaint simply comes from reading the e-galley version - this made it difficult to refer back to the list of characters, so occasionally while reading, I would have a hard time remembering which character was which. With a print version of the book, this problem wouldn't exist, so it's a relatively minor complaint.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Summer Program Recap Bonanza: Teen Edition

I decided to try my hand at a few more teen events over the summer, so here's what I did!

DFTBA: with the early summer release of The Fault in Our Stars movie, I knew we needed to have a John Green event. My colleague and I were on the same page and decided to collaborate for this one. All in all, it was a pretty simple program. I made a playlist of Vlogbrothers' videos to watch during the program. We printed out some Green-inspired bookmarks, as well as a Nerdfighter Mad Libs. Our crafts were bracelets (we used letter beads to spell out things like "DFTBA" and "Okay?"), nerdfighter notebooks, and tiny book charms. Overall, it was pretty low-key but fun, though I expected a slightly larger attendance.

Rube Goldberg Machines: so this program was a complete experiment on my part. We'd never really done anything like it and I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a program that I got in my head and just couldn't get out. I'm sure most of you reading this are familiar with Rube Goldberg and his amazing machines but, in case you're not, check out this video.
I actually showed that video and a couple others at the beginning of the program for anyone who wasn't familiar with the concept (though I was pretty sure if they were showing up to the program, they kind of knew what they were in for). They sorted themselves into small groups and I explained the basic rules (no open flames, etc.). Their goal was to move a ping-pong ball into a cup in at least 4 separate reactions. I had piles of recyclable materials for them to work with and they had about 90 minutes to create. I had about 15 teens show up and they had a great time. They definitely learned a thing or two about trial and error!

Henna: we've done this program multiple times in the years I've worked at the library and it's always a big hit. We require a signed permission slip and we just called the next attendee to the front in the order they arrived. We had some mandala coloring sheets for them to work on while they waited and we listened to Bollywood music. We are very lucky to have a coworker who is always willing to make the henna and then work the program for us and she even brought her mother this time around. We will keep doing this program as long as it's popular! A funny little side story: I debated having the henna done myself this year because letting it dry is a bit of a pain during a regular work day. When the program was over, I was talked into it, but I put it on my left hand, figuring it would be less intrusive as it dried (I'm right-handed). Little did I know that my boyfriend would propose a few weeks later, just as the henna was fading and looking pretty ragged. Needless to say, I didn't have some great first engagement ring photos.

Mini-Weapons: this was one of our combined tween and teen programs of the summer and definitely a popular one. We had four different mini-weapons that the kids could make out of basic supplies and then at the end, we staged a tiny battle with marshmallows. All of the weapons came from the book Mini-Weapons of Mass Destruction. We made crossbows, Viking catapults, throwing stars, and slingshots. We had lots of attendees and they made their own arsenals quite happily.

Anime Con: another program that we've been talking about for a while and finally decided to take the plunge with, this summer we hosted our first Teen Anime Con. It was a big success and we will definitely be making it an annual event, with a few changes for next year. But, this year's event included registration and opening trivia (since we held the con during regular library operating hours, we had the teens register and get a name badge to mark them as attendees. This is also when they signed up for the cosplay contest and we had some trivia going as we allowed for latecomers, then we went over the logistics and rules of how the con would run), anime pictionary (prizes were pieces of Hi-Chew and I tried to assist teens if they drew a card they weren't familiar with), Naruto headbands (really easy craft and very popular), what would you do for Pocky? (Minute-to-Win-It style games with Pocky as the prize - I didn't see for myself but apparently they were quite rabid about the Pocky), make your own tail (a pretty easy but time-consuming craft to make simple cosplay tails out of cheap yarn), learn a J-Pop Dance (we did a very simple dance, but this was easily the least popular session), Cosplay 101 panel (one of my coworkers talked about the basics of cosplaying and answered questions the teens had about the best materials and tips and tricks), drawing workshop with local anime artist (we are very lucky to have a local artist that we've worked with in the past to come and give an hour-long lesson on best techniques for drawing anime), fanart gallery (attendees could display the art they created during their workshop or bring in already created art), anime bingo (more candy as prizes and surprisingly popular), and a cosplay contest (we awarded prizes in several different categories and attendees voted for their favorites in each). The con lasted three hours and was crazy from start to finish. We had about 75 attendees and they all had a fantastic time - most of them wanted it to last longer! I think staff had a great time as well - I know I had fun. I cosplayed as Mei from My Neighbor Totoro (disappointingly, most of the kids didn't recognize me) and am already starting to plan what I'll be next year!

Interactive Movie: I love going to interactive movie events and I wanted to see how something like that would fare at the library. So, we scheduled an interactive showing of Labyrinth - yes, the 80s movie starring David Bowie. We had about a dozen teens show up and I'm happy to say they loved it! They thought the movie was great and they loved the interactive bits. We decorated masks for the masquerade, danced David Bowie puppets for "Magic Dance," ate peaches along with Sarah, blew bubbles, used balloons as substitute Fiery heads, sat on Whoopee cushions in the Bog of Eternal Stench, and popped noisemakers for the party at the end. It was much fun and I loved that the teens actually enjoyed the cheese-fest that is this movie.

Mythbusters: this is a program that both my coworker and I had seen discussed all over the Internet and had talked about doing in years past but never actually got around to it. This year, we decided it was probably past time to put it on the calendar. I'll admit, it was actually more difficult to plan than we anticipated and probably one of the programs I felt the least enthusiastic about this summer. We showed several clips of the show in addition to a handful of activities. The myths we tested were: Pop Rocks and soda taken together will burst your stomach (busted - obviously), you can't separate two phone books that have been layered together (confirmed - several of them tried), and you can hold a balloon over open flame without popping it (confirmed - if you fill the balloon with water first). We also had the teens taste test several different foods with name brand and generic product to see if they could taste the difference. I think our attendees had a good time but my coworker and I just felt a bit frazzled, I think.

Cookie Decorating War: exactly what it sounds like, but we always have multiple categories they can try for and the kids vote on their favorites.

Shrinky Dinks: another perpetually popular program and one that is easy and inexpensive. We'll be keeping this on the calendar for years to come.

So, those were the programs I did for teens this summer! Any questions or comments about a specific program? Leave it in the comments!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Tesla's Attic

Tesla's Attic (The Accelerati Trilogy, book one)
By Neal Shusterman and Eric Elfman
Published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion

After a terrible tragedy, Nick and his family move into an old house they've inherited. Of course, it's just their luck that the attic is full of strange old junk. So, they have a garage sale. But Nick soon discovers that the strange old junk is something more - that it may have strange powers and may have once belonged to the great inventor, Nikola Tesla.

Ooh boy, this is the problem with being far behind on reviews - it's been six months since I read this one and I've having trouble recalling all the details. I remember that I was initially excited because it was Neal Shusterman and science fiction for middle grade readers. I'm a big fan of Shusterman's Unwind series and I was excited to see what he would do for the younger set.

Turns out, I had reason to be excited. This book is a fast-paced, exciting adventure that will keep readers on the edge of their seat the whole way through. While some parts of it felt clunky (the way Nick's friendships develop sticks out in my mind), on the whole, the book reads like one action-packed mystery. I think my favorite part was discovering the different properties the various devices had - I loved finding out their secrets and imagining what I would do with them. I also really loved the scene towards the end of the book when one of the characters knows that a tragedy is about to occur. This character wants to stop the tragedy, but when arriving on the scene, it's almost impossible to discern which of the potential catastrophes will turn into the foreseen tragedy. It's a really fascinating piece of writing there and it works incredibly well.

Like many of the middle-grade books I've read more recently, this book taps into the hunger for STEM-focused reads and I think it does it well. I admit that my knowledge of science is terribly limited, but this book definitely had me interested in Tesla and his experiments.

Of course, this is only the first book in a series, so many questions still linger after you reach the final page. I think kids will be eager to get their hands on book two - I know I'm waiting!

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: A Long, Long Sleep

A Long, Long Sleep
By Anna Sheehan, read by Angela Dawe

Published 2011 by Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

Rosalinda has been asleep for a long time before she is unexpectedly awoken by a kiss. And the world in which Rose awakens is markedly different from the one she remembers. No one seems to understand just what Rose is going through, instead looking to her as the heir of an empire. But when things turn dangerous, just who can Rose trust in this unfamiliar world?

Once again, this review is coming at quite a remove from my actual reading (or in this case, listening) of the book. And once again, I find many of the details a bit hazy.

I downloaded this one because it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I'm a sucker for a retelling, particularly when it goes in a completely unexpected direction. This, a science fiction version, was exactly that. It's not a perfect book - Rose is quite frustrating as a heroine and the ending certainly left something to be desired - but it was pretty enjoyable as I listened. What I think this book did best was capture the incredible struggle Rose faces after she is woken. She must process that the world she knows has been gone for over sixty years - everyone she cared about is long gone and she is expected to take her place as the rightful heir to an international empire. As Rose begins to uncover more of her past, it's heartbreaking to discover why she was asleep for so long. I really loved the relationship she developed with Otto. She struggles to relate to people her age and this friendship is clearly a good thing for her.

The pacing of the book is not quite as strong, however - I sometimes lost focus while I listened because it just didn't keep me engaged the entire time. And, as I mentioned, Rose is often quite frustrating. Sure, as the book goes on, we begin to understand her a little more and it helps explain why she might be frustrating, but that doesn't change the fact that she can be a pain to sympathize with. The ending is also not my favorite. Goodreads (for better or worse the website I use most frequently when it comes to books) lists a sequel entitled No Life But This with an expected publication of December 2014. However, in the comments section, the author quite bluntly states that this is probably not accurate because the process of bringing a sequel to light appears to have not gone smoothly. I'd be interested in seeing what a sequel would look like, but I suppose it's the waiting game for now.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: Scowler

By Daniel Kraus, read by Kirby Heyborne
Published 2013 by Listening Library

Ry and his family are still struggling. Marvin, their abusive father and husband, is locked up for now, but things are still not easy for them. Then a meteorite falls, bringing with it big change - and danger. Will Ry be able to protect his family? Or, deep down, does he share some evil with his father?

So. I've come to this review. You know, I write down books as I read them so I remember to go back and review them later (I really need to be better about reviewing immediately after finishing). When I saw that it was time to review this one, I rolled my eyes and contemplated skipping it. Because I don't want to write this review. It feels like admitting a major failure as a human being, because many people I respect absolutely love Daniel Kraus' books. And I do not.

I listened to Rotters after it won the Odyssey award and it didn't go well. I wasn't very surprised when this book won the Odyssey as well. Never one to write off an author after just one go, I decided to give this one a shot as well. Daniel Kraus and I are just not meant to be.

You know, it makes me feel terrible that I really did not enjoy these books, like I'm just not smart enough or paying enough attention to "get" them. I mean, I don't think that's actually true, but I feel like I must be missing something essential, since it seems pretty much everyone else has been blown away by Kraus and his writing.

Once again, I felt like Kraus was trying really hard to write a deep, complicated, philosophical, poetic book about something horrific and disturbing. As a whole, this book doesn't have quite as much disturbing imagery as the first, but it does feature a few very particular, very grotesque scenes. Most of the other less-than-positive reviews I've read have focused on the gore - those reviewers seem quite disturbed by it. If only I could explain my distaste for these books that easily. But I was raised on a steady diet of horror - I watched Jason and Freddy from a young age and grew into the horror of Hostel and Saw in later years. I wrote a thesis about horror films. I continually seek out new horror novels, hoping to find something that actually scares me. I'm not disturbed by gore. Kraus and I should be made for each other. But we're just not, and I don't know how else to say it.

Yet again, the audio production is pretty brilliant. Heyborne is enchanting as a narrator here, perfectly embodying the weirdness that runs through this novel. It's easy to see why this won the Odyssey. Unfortunately, I just can't get behind this book, and I don't think I'll be giving Kraus another try.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Summer Program Recap Bonanza: Family Events

Yes, I am still woefully behind on pretty much everything - book reviews and program recaps. So, I'm going to try to lump some programs together and recap them quickly!

Summer Reading Kick-Off Carnival: for the first time, we decided to do a big kick-off event for our summer reading program. We hit the schools hard in the last few weeks to do some serious promotion and scheduled our carnival for the day after school ended, making it easier to remember. To say it was a success would be an understatement. We had over 500 people come to the carnival! It was crazy, hot, and tiring, but we'll definitely be doing it again next summer! What we did: football toss (with a sticker prize), glitter tattoos (OMG so popular!), summer reading club sign-up (in an attempt to make things easier on families, we convinced our adult services department to let us sign parents up at the same table as their kids), visit from the fire department (they came late and left early, but everyone was excited to see the fire truck), petting zoo (always have animals if you can!), duck pond (rubber ducks with numbers on the bottom for prizes), free Italian ice (thank you, Rita's!), therapy dogs (yes, more animals), free books (we gave a book to every child in attendance!), a simple craft (decorating a treat bag for their prizes using stamps), and sidewalk chalk (for creating artwork). PHEW! I'm tired just looking at that list! It was chaotic and we could not have done it without the full cooperation of our department and our teen volunteers!

Life-Sized Candyland: halfway through the summer, I apparently decided that we hadn't been crazy enough, so we held another gigantic program, once again utilizing our full department and our wonderful teen volunteers. Over 300 people came to visit our life-sized version of Candyland. Staff participated by costuming themselves as the beloved characters and manning stations inspired by each one. When families arrived, they checked in at our desk and received a gingerbread man (he would be stamped at each station) and a goodie bag (for all the treats they'd get while playing). They also drew their first card to see what station to start with (my ultimately pitiful attempt to prevent congestion at any one station). Each station had a set of oversize cards with pictures of the other stations on them. In my vision, this would make the "game" move much more quickly than if everyone followed the same order. However, my vision did not account for more than 300 players, so it didn't work out quite that way. The stations we had were: Queen Frostine (decorating a wand and receiving a sticker - and yes, I know she's a princess in the new version but she'll always be a queen to me!), Lord Licorice (tossing a giant licorice stick through a hoop and winning a miniature piece of licorice), Duchess of Swirl (balancing oversized pompoms on an ice cream cone and winning an ice cream pencil), Princess Lolly (putting together a simple puzzle and winning a lollipop from our lollipop tree), and Queen Candy (completing an obstacle course and winning a candy bar). Once again, it was chaotic and hot and tiring, but we got a ton of compliments on the program, so I imagine it'll make an appearance again in the future!

If you'd like more information, let me know in the comments!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

The Most Magnificent Thing
By Ashley Spires
Published 2014 by Kids Can Press
I love Ashley Spires, so no big surprise that I loved this book as well. A girl and her dog set out to make the most magnificent thing ever. She knows exactly what it will look like and how it will work. All she has to do is make it. This turns out to be much more difficult than anticipated. This book is just lovely with vocabulary and showcases a great lesson on persevering in spite of difficulties. This book also shows the importance of creativity and how, sometimes, setting a project aside and coming back to it later can make a world of difference. Delightful.

100 Snowmen
By Jennifer Arena, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
Published 2013 by Two Lions
For the parents who clamor for counting books that go higher than 10, we present this title! A sly introduction to math (that parents will likely have to help their young ones with), this book introduces 100 snowmen in various numerical groups - 3 snowmen here, 4 over there, etc. They are all having fun with wintry activities and a story could be told through the illustrations alone. I'm not sure I'd share this in a story time but this is a pleasant way to introduce math to young ones. I mean, you can tell it's going to be fun by looking at that guy on the cover - he's having a good time!

The Monkey Goes Bananas
By C.P. Bloom, illustrated by Peter Raymundo
Published 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
A great book for pre-readers who want an interesting story. A monkey spies a banana and wants it, but how can he get to it with that shark in the way? The monkey has some ideas, but will they work? With few words and bright illustrations, this book is great for young kids who crave the storytelling but can't quite read it themselves. The illustrations are reminiscent of children's cartoons, so definitely will catch the eye of young patrons. They will be invested until the last page - will the monkey get the banana??

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: The Clockwork Scarab

The Clockwork Scarab (Stoker & Holmes, book one)
By Colleen Gleason
Published 2013 by Chronicle Books

Evaline Stoker (sister of Bram) and Mina Holmes (niece of Sherlock) are about to meet - and it's not under the best of circumstances. Society girls have gone missing and, unfortunately, with their pedigrees, Evaline and Mina are the best girls to put on the case. Can they uncover the secret of the mysterious scarab, their only clue?

This book was getting a hard push at ALA Annual last summer and I was disappointed that I didn't make it to the booth in time to snag a copy. I was approved for a digital copy, but it expired before I finished the book, so I had to wait for it to be available at my library before finally finishing it, early into the new year.

This book is just plain fun and it kept me entertained the entire time I was reading. As I've mentioned before, I like books that play with well-known characters, so I liked what Gleason did here, introducing young female versions of Sherlock Holmes and Bram Stoker (not that Stoker is a character, but I think you know what I mean). I'm also a fan of historical fiction, so this book had that going for it as well. The writing is nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done quite nicely. I really liked the characterization of the two girls, though I wasn't thrilled at their initial rivalry (why do girls always have to be in competition?!). There is still more that could be done with the characters, though I imagine that's a good thing since this is supposed to be the first book in a series. I felt them distinct enough to support the dual narration, which is also a good thing.

It's largely plot-driven, which occasionally is exactly what I crave, and I think worked well here. The mystery is involving and intriguing enough (though the random time traveler was a bit of an unexpected element) to keep me engaged the whole way through. I imagine the time traveler might be there to play a bigger role in future volumes (ha, no pun intended), but he was the major element in this book that felt out of place.

Overall, an enjoyable read, published for adults but with lots of teen appeal. I'll be back for book two.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: The Walled City

The Walled City
By Ryan Graudin
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Jin keeps her gender a secret - it's safer that way in the Walled City. She must pass as a boy in order to search for her sister, Mei Yee, who was sold by their father. Dai keeps his true identity a secret, too - for him, it's a matter of life or death. But Dai's time in the Walled City is running out. With the help of Jin, can he get what he needs and find a way out? And can Jin use Dai to help find her sister?

I thought the premise of this sounded very interesting - multiple POVs, a walled slum, and a thriller novel. It certainly had my attention. Though I didn't quite get to it before its release date, I sped through it the few days after.

What's interesting is that, though I liked this book (I gave it four stars on my Goodreads), I'm not sure how much I have to say about it. I'll try, but this may be a relatively short review.

For starters, as I said, I'm usually a fan of multiple perspectives in a novel. I like that they provide a variety of insights into the plot happenings and the more characters' heads I can get into, the better. I think Graudin did a great job choosing her narrators - they are all unique characters with very different perspectives on the Walled City and their places within it. I think Jin was my favorite, though - she's a tough kid (though sometimes a bit too unbelievably so), smart and determined. I appreciated that she was using Dai just as much as he was using her. I liked Dai's voice as well, though I felt it took a little too long to explain the source of his self-hatred and the circumstances surrounding his arrival in the Walled City. And, while I thought Mei Yee's perspective was perhaps the most interesting of the three, I did wonder if including her as a narrator undermined some of the novel's suspense.

Similarly, Graudin does an excellent job of bringing the Walled City to life, sometimes disturbingly so. Telling potential readers about the setting will make this a pretty easy sell for dystopian fans. I was both impressed and unsettled to read the author's note at the end, wherein she explains that the Walled City is based on a place that actually existed in Hong Kong. I think this will be new information to many readers, and may inspire them to learn more about the world and find out how a place like this could actually exist. Similarly, I think Graudin does a nice job of handling the notion of human trafficking here, another issue that teens should be aware of.

What I didn't like much was the romance. It comes out of nowhere, happens instantly, and feels completely inappropriate. It's hard not to root for it considering the dire circumstances the characters are in, but it felt manipulative and really out of line with the rest of the book. These teens have bigger things to worry about than falling in love right now.

Overall, I thought this was well-done, and will definitely appeal to dystopian fans even though it's a contemporary thriller.

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Release Day Review: Running Out of Night

Running Out of Night
By Sharon Lovejoy
Expected publication November 11, 2014 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Girl does not have a great life. She's never known a mother's love and her pa mistreats her. Things only get more complicated when Zenobia, a runaway slave, shows up at her doorstep. But Zenobia gives her the push she needs, and Girl joins her on her escape. Will they both find the freedom they desire?

I requested the e-galley of this because it's historical fiction and middle-grade. I thought it sounded interesting. Though I read quite a bit of historical fiction, I tend to focus on the same time periods again and again and the Civil War era is generally not one of them. As such, I'd not read a story quite like this.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I really enjoyed this particular story. While I think there are some things that Lovejoy did well, other things just didn't work for me. Let's start with what I thought worked. Lovejoy has done a solid job creating a unique and believable narrator in Girl (who later becomes Lark). Though at first she is resigned to her fate, readers see her grow over the course of the novel and become a stronger girl, one who is not afraid to rise to a challenge and seek out a better life for herself. The dialect will likely be challenging to young readers but it adds to the authenticity of Lark's story. Unfortunately, though numerous other characters appear throughout the book, none are developed particularly well, not even Zenobia (with whom Lark spends quite a bit of time).

Another thing I think Lovely has done well is the setting - it feels historically accurate, though, as I said, I don't read a lot from this time period. I think it's both a strength and a weakness of this novel that the girls never actually make it out of the state they begin in - it lends more depth to the setting, but it also makes it feel like readers followed their journey without reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

But, what really didn't work for me was the plot. Perhaps I am getting too old for repetition, but this book felt tedious. It was a series of the girls running, then getting into trouble, then running, then getting into more trouble. Over and over again. I get that this might actually be accurate as to how difficult trying to escape the slave trade would have been, but it might for a less than enjoyable reading experience. In addition, it frequently felt like Lovejoy had Lark make a not-so-smart decision just so the trouble/escape pattern could repeat again. The longer this book went on, the more eye-rolling I did.

As I mentioned, the book ends with Zenobia and Lark still in Virginia. Because of all the backtracking and capturing and escaping they do, they never even make it out of the state. I can see this being a frustrating conclusion for readers - there is no real indication that they've actually escaped their fates (and, considering how it's gone so far, in all likelihood, they get captured again immediately after the book's ending).

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
By Cat Winters
Published 2013 by Amulet

The nation is in the grip of a Spanish influenza pandemic and Mary Shelley Black is suffering. Not from the flu, exactly, but she's been sent to live with her aunt, leaving her to fret over her father's well-being (he's been imprisoned) and her sweetheart's safety (he's off fighting in the Great War). Amid all the bleakness, Mary sees people desperate for hope, taking their changes with the burgeoning business of spirit photography. When Mary reluctantly poses for one of these photos herself, she begins to question whether it's really a hoax - or if she truly felt the touch of a spirit.

When I first heard about this book, I knew it sounded like a book for me. I love historical fiction, and I have a particular fascination with the period surrounding World War I. Additionally, I love creepy things and the focus on spirit photography was a little bonus for me. I was pleased when this title was announced for the Morris Award shortlist and I happily read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy.

On the one hand, I thought Winters did a great job creating the atmosphere of this book - it feels just awful, much as I expect America in 1918 would have felt. Everyone is full of paranoia and worry and sadness and death is everyone - overseas in the war and on the home front with the flu. I think Winters nails the time period perfectly. Disturbing as it was, I really liked the times when Mary visited the recovering soldiers - it captured the desperation and tragedy of the times so perfectly. All of the details Winters included helped set the tone as well - the home remedies, the notion of spirit photography. I thought the second half of the book was strong as well, as the mystery deepens and begins to tie together all the pieces.

But that's the book's main failing for me. The first half is a bit scattered - a lot of setting the scene (which is necessary, yes, and well-done, but feels a bit haphazard) and buildup to the second half and the revelations it entails. If the whole book was as good as the second half, I'd have liked it a lot better. As it stands, it was a bit hard for me to really get pulled into Mary's story through the first part of the book. I'll be interested to see what Winters does next.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Program: Grow Your Own Hedgehog

You've probably seen it by now, the series of pictures of a green striped hedgehog with grass growing out of his back for spikes. I spotted it on Pinterest and knew I wanted to make it into a program. I had a lot of success last year with a terrarium program on Earth Day, so I planned on making this hedgehog program an Earth Day event.

The problem with that adorable and enticing picture is that no instructions are given. Granted, the photos look pretty straightforward, but I still had to go through a slight trial and error period to figure it out exactly. The secret is in the grass seed!

The program was pretty simple - kids brought their own sock (or socks, or I had a limited number of extras) and I provided everything else. Really, the everything else wasn't much, simply potting soil and grass seed. But, after my first attempt didn't sprout, I discovered that the kind of grass seed used is important. I think I started with Bermuda grass - no luck. Then my supervisor suggest rye grass and huzzah! We were in business! The rest is a piece of cake: scoop potting soil into the sock, make it hedgehog-shaped, then very carefully sprinkle grass seed between the sock and the top of the potting soil, pressing the seed in slightly. Then, it's just a matter of keeping your hedgehog watered and soon he'll have lovely grass spikes. We, of course, made faces for our hedgehogs as well, using buttons and googly eyes. This was another very simple and very successful program! I aimed it at tweens, but with assistance, younger children would certainly enjoy this as well.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

The Short Giraffe
By Neil Flory and Mark Cleary
Published 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Perhaps what I love about this book is simply the giraffe's silly smile - it makes him that much more endearing. This is a simple story of a giraffe who wants to be in the picture with his significantly taller friends. He tries many different things to make himself tall enough to appear in the shot, but nothing seems to be quite right. It takes an even smaller friend to suggest a solution that actually works for everyone. This is a nice introduction to cooperation and problem-solving for kids. The illustrations are amusing and goofy but definitely appealing. A sweet story.

A Gift for Mama
By Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Allison Jay
Published 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Oskar sets out to find the perfect gift for his mama. Throughout his day, he trades each new perfect gift for something even more perfect. What gift will he finally end up giving to his mama? This is a pretty simply but cute story. I love Jay's illustrations - I love the way they look fresh and worn at the same time. I think they suit this story particularly well. Not my favorite, but a cute enough tale.

The Mermaid and the Shoe
By K.G. Campbell
Published 2014 by Kids Can Press
I admit I was a bit hesitant about this book - I know many people love Campbell's style but the ethereal feel and colors are just not my particular cup of tea. However, this is a lovely story of an inquisitive young mermaid who discovers a shoe and begins a quest to discern the purpose of the shoe. It's really quite a charming story and, admittedly, the illustration style works really well for this underwater tale. This book definitely won me over and is sure to charm readers for some time to come.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review: Space Case

Space Case
By Stuart Gibbs
Published 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Dash knows he's supposed to feel lucky - after all, he's one of only a handful of kids currently living on the moon. But the truth is, the moon is kind of boring. Dash is about to get a cure for his boredom when one of the scientists turns up dead - and Dash thinks he was murdered. Can he solve the mystery and make sure the murderer gets evicted from the moon?

I downloaded this e-galley because I'm still trying to read more middle-grade and because Gibbs is a pretty popular author at my library. I'd never read a book by him before, so I was curious to see what the fuss was about. I figured his newest was as good a place to start as any.

I can certainly see why kids would find this appealing. Gibbs definitely has a talent for capturing an authentic tween voice - Dash definitely felt like a realistic character, as did his friends. It's interesting when you think about it - this book is actually mostly populated by adult characters (scientists researching and living on the moon) but it's quite clearly a book for kids. I mean, it is narrated by one of the few kids present, but everything about this book feels just right for middle-grade readers. The tone is perfect for this age group - a great blend of suspense and humor. I get the feeling that this is true of Gibbs' other books as well, so it's not hard to see why he's a popular author.

The mystery itself was well-done - it kept me guessing for the majority of the book. Gibbs manages to introduce enough suspects to make you question which one actually did it without making it feel like too many red herrings. I thought the why behind the mystery was particularly well-done and definitely could invite some interesting discussion.

My main quibble with the book was the little twist at the end. In the context of the story, I can see how it works, but I personally didn't care for it. Overall, though, I think this is going to be another hit from Gibbs. I look forward to checking out his other titles in the future.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: The Dumbest Idea Ever!

The Dumbest Idea Ever!
By Jimmy Gownley
Published 2014 by GRAPHIX

What if your dumbest idea actually ended up changing your life forever? When a series of events keeps Jimmy out of school for an extended time, he has an idea. But it's basically the dumbest idea ever, so he shouldn't do it. Right? Or should he?

I received an ARC of this at ALA Midwinter and wanted to give it a go - I love graphic novels and I don't fit enough of them into my reading. And, bonus for me, this is actually a graphic memoir - something I definitely enjoy.

I went into this pretty much blind. I think I vaguely recognized Gownley's name, but I'd never actually read anything by him. I think, even without prior knowledge, it's pretty easy to figure out what Jimmy thought the "dumbest idea ever" was when he was a kid, but it's fun to read about all the same. This is a great book for kids who love graphic novels - they can read about how Jimmy was basically an average kid who liked comics - and he turned that love of comics into something more. They can learn that with practice and determination, anything is within their reach. It's a lovely message without being too preachy - something that kids are apt to sniff out right away. It's told well - I was engaged the whole way through - and, though Jimmy ages into high school during the course of the book, there's nothing objectionable for younger readers. The art is lovely as well and I think this is a great readalike for your readers who've read every Telgemeier twenty times.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

October Check-In

It's time again for my monthly round-up! Here's what I read this month:

Middle-grade: 6

Teen: 5

Adult: 4

Picture books: 0

Library books: 6

Books owned: 9

For some reason, this was a pretty slow month for me. My parents have been visiting for the last week, so that accounts for a bit of it, but not all. I know I have not had as much free time for reading on my days off because I am furiously trying to plan a wedding (seriously impacting my reading time!). But every day that goes by without my physical TBR piles shrinking is disheartening. Here's hoping I can make some major progress before year's end, though I imagine that wedding planning will continue to impact my reading time. Wish me luck - in both endeavors!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

By Elys Dolan
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
This book is hilarious - weasels plotting world dominance. For me, the illustrations are what makes the book - they are full of details, perfect for exploring with a little one. They include many clever jokes and tell an even bigger story than the text alone. This one is definitely a lot of fun and I think it has lots of kid appeal. Definitely recommended!

Going Places
By Peter and Paul Reynolds
Published 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I cannot resist a Peter Reynolds book - it is a fact. But there is good reason for my lack of resistance - they are usually fantastic. This book is no exception. What I love about his books are that they have a message but they don't feel didactic - the message flows naturally from the story being told. And the stories are always interesting, ones that are relevant to the lives of children. This book shows that we all have worthwhile ideas and contributions and perhaps it can be a good thing to color outside the lines. The illustrations are lovely, as always. A definite treat.

Slinky Malinki Catflaps
By Lynley Dodd
Published 2000 by Puffin Books
This book tells the story of a cat who slips through the catflap and into the nightlife. I'd have to try this out with a child before giving a proper rating or review, but I didn't really care for it with my initial read. I think it was supposed to be amusing with a catchy rhythm but it just didn't work that way for me. Also, do cats really act like this at night or is it just a myth that's been perpetuated over the years? Might work better for children than for me.