Saturday, February 28, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

The Tooth Fairy Wars
By Kate Coombs, illustrated by Jake Parker
Published 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nathan has just lost his first tooth. Rather than surrender it to the tooth fairy, though, he'd like to hang on to it. Well, the Tooth Fairy is not okay with that plan. Thus begins the war. Who will win? My experience with tooth fairy books is small - I don't remember reading any as a kid and, not having children of my own, haven't seen much of a need to read them as an adult. This one is not your typical tooth fairy tale, so I wanted to check it out. It's an interesting story, but it ends pretty abruptly and some of the story will likely go over the heads of a preschool audience.

The Problem with Not Being Scared of Monsters
By Dan Richards, illustrated by Robert Neubecker
Published 2014 by Boyds Mills
 Hmm...I'm not remembering much about this one, though it seems like the story is right there in the title. I think it takes the notion of being afraid of monsters and turns it around. But obviously, there's nothing too spectacular about this one.

Baby Bedtime
By Mem Fox, illustrated by Emma Quay
Published 2014 by Beach Lane Books
This is a cute book, combining bedtime with declarations of baby love. The elephants are particularly adorable - the illustrations are perfect for a soothing bedtime story. I think this book would work really well in a baby or toddler bedtime storytime. It would also make a good baby shower gift, as it illuminates the love between a parent and child. A very sweet little book.

By Tracey Corderoy, illustrated by Tim Warnes
Published 2014 by Tiger Tales
A very curious rhino wants to know why. Why does toast make crumbs, why do dropped things smash, why. Even though I'm not a parent, this book rang true. I've seen many parents endlessly answer the questions why from their young children. I'm pretty sure I was one of those inquisitive children myself. I particularly enjoyed the questions that were obviously embarrassing to the little rhino's parents - I've witnessed quite a few of these interactions as well. I like the illustrations - they're bright and eye-catching. A cute and funny story.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: The Carnival at Bray

The Carnival at Bray
By Jessie Ann Foley
Published 2014 by Elephant Rock Productions, Inc.

When Maggie's mother remarries an Irishman, her life is uprooted to the Irish seaside village of Bray. Life gets even more chaotic when she falls in love and someone she cares about dies unexpectedly. Suddenly, Maggie embarks on a potentially reckless trip to Rome, embracing life over death.

As I imagine is true for a lot of people, I hadn't heard of this book before it was named a Morris Award finalist in December. I'm not sure it would have caught my eye otherwise, but I usually like to read the award winners (and finalists in the case of the Morris and Excellence in Non-fiction). My library didn't own a copy, so I requested it from another area library. It took a long time for my hold to come in, so I just got around to it on my last three-day weekend.

I'm not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I was into the setting - unlike other historical fiction set in the late 1980s/early 1990s, it felt vital that the book be set in this time. Kurt Cobain's life (and death) serve as an important backdrop to Maggie's story. Though Maggie's musical tastes are specific, her feelings about music are universal, particularly to teenagers. I can remember being a teen and how vital music felt to me, how a song I liked could feel as if it was truly written for me. I can remember belting out lyrics to these songs and feeling them in every fiber of my being. That feeling - it really shines in this novel. Additionally, I loved the Irish setting - surprisingly, about halfway through the novel, I realized that I've been to Bray. I think Foley captured it, and County Wicklow in general, quite perfectly.

I also thought the characters were strong - Maggie was genuine and, as I said before, many of her feelings are universal. I thought her struggles with her family were believable and heartbreaking - I completely understand her confusion of emotions surrounding her mother and her undeniable love for her uncle. I really liked Dan Sean as well, and the role his character played in Maggie's story. I found Eoin's character to be the least well-developed; it's easy to see why Maggie falls for him, but I didn't really feel like I got to know him.

So, this is all pretty positive. Why did I say I'm not sure how I feel about it? Well, because, despite all this stuff I liked, I just have an overall feeling of "meh" about the book. Maybe it's the timing of my reading it - I flew through it in a day and a half, without giving it much deep thought. Or maybe I was just a bit underwhelmed with the ending. I didn't love that, after fighting so hard to live life on her own terms and find her one person, Maggie chooses the more responsible path, at least initially. It just didn't feel like her character at that point in the novel.

Overall, having read the Printz winner and one of the Honor books, I'm not sure, for me, that this book stands up on that level.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Review: Blood of My Blood

Blood of My Blood (Jasper Dent, book three)
By Barry Lyga
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

WARNING: Spoilers are likely ahead. Read my reviews of books one and two.

Jazz, Connie, and Howie are all in extremely unfortunate positions. Will they be able to rise above their current circumstances and stop the monster that is Billy Dent from destroying everything they love? Or will Jazz cross over to the dark side once and for all?

This was one of the books I was saddest about missing during my year of no library books. Book two ended with a huge cliffhanger, so I was full of anticipation for book three. It's the first library book (outside of Cybils reading and audiobooks) that I picked up in 2015, though actually finding time for its nearly 500 pages was another task altogether. But, it did not disappoint.

I'm not sure what I can say about this series or about Lyga that I haven't said before. He is completely unafraid to push the envelope, to take a book in a direction you don't really want it to go, to make his readers feel uncomfortable. I liked the twists and complications that arose. I liked that this book did make me quite uncomfortable at times - I think it's important to push boundaries. I liked that this book didn't back down from the level that Lyga had reached in the first two.

However, this book was probably my least favorite of the trilogy. At times, it felt a bit long and repetitive. Yes, Jazz is still questioning who he is and how far he will go, but it starts to feel a bit much as some point. The same could be said of Howie - while I thoroughly enjoyed him in the previous volumes, I was a bit sick of his schtick about midway through this one. I also don't think this book made me ask as many questions as the first two. The previous entries had me thinking big thoughts about identity and genetics and nature vs. nurture. This one still touches upon those ideas, but seems to focus more on horrifying the reader than on actually asking those questions.

Overall, though, I was still quite pleased with this conclusion to the trilogy. I still think Lyga is a daring author who I'll happily read whenever he publishes something new. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Review: My Best Everything

My Best Everything
By Sarah Tomp
Expected publication March 3, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lulu has been waiting for her escape. She is finally going to get out of her small town and start a bigger life. When her daddy breaks the news that they can no longer afford to send her to college, Lulu is devastated. Until she comes up with a crazy, reckless plan that might save her. Or it might ruin her.

I was intrigued by this book because it touches upon a topic that is pretty unique in YA lit - moonshine. I'm not sure I would have known what that was a teenager, though I've no illusions that most teens do know. I thought it'd be interesting to read a book about moonshining that takes place in contemporary times.

I have to give this book personal props for being the first 2015 YA contemporary release that wasn't about suicide that I've read this year. I don't know what I was thinking when I requested all those e-galleys of books dealing with suicide, but this was a bit of a relief. Of course, that doesn't mean that this book wasn't dealing with some hard-hitting topics. Lulu only gets into moonshine because she sees no other course of action. Her family does not have the money or resources to send her off to college and she does not have the desire to stay in her hometown. She sees her only option as a crazy money-making plan and it happens to involve some illegal liquor. Additionally, Lulu's love interest has some problems that are discussed throughout the book. So, there are certainly some issues being handled here.

The problem is that I'm not sure they're handled particularly well. A lot of it feels very surface-level, even the main issue of Lulu's family deciding she can't go to college. While it's clear that money is not the only reason for the change in plans, I don't feel like all the issues are dealt with to the depth that they deserve. Lulu's family life is quite complicated, but I don't feel like it's ever fully explored, not to an extent that I find satisfactory. As I mentioned, Lulu's love interest, Mason, also has a range of issues he's dealing with, but, for the most part, they don't feel fully portrayed either. The death of his former girlfriend is mentioned several times, but I don't think I ever really got a true sense of how Mason felt about it, or how he dealt with it, or how it really changed him. Yeah, Tomp does tell readers some of those answers, but they don't really feel true to me. And basically the entire story of Roni and Bucky - it feels way superficial and never handled fully.

Additionally, this book got a little heavy on the moonshine stuff. Yeah, it's interesting and, in all likelihood, it's something that readers won't have a ton of knowledge about. But it sometimes gets a bit technical and tiring, to the point where I often skimmed passages when Lulu was strategizing business plans or explaining how to handle the mash.

I was also not crazy about Lulu. I have sympathy for her; like I said, her family situation is complicated and she is heartbroken when her father tells her she can't plan on college anymore. But her actions made me shake my head in frustration so many times while reading. It's likely that this actually makes her a very realistic character - she is imperfect, rash, and selfish, lacking foresight and the thinking through of consequences. But she irritated me to no end. I also did not like the idea of the entire novel being a letter to Mason - it came across as awkward to me.

Overall, while I didn't personally love the book, I can see its appeal for certain readers and will recommend it to those readers.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review: The Box and the Dragonfly

The Box and the Dragonfly (Keepers, book one)
By Ted Sanders
Expected publication March 3, 2015 by HarperCollins

Horace knows that seeing a sign with his name on it is pretty unusual, but even he couldn't have imagined what seeing that sign would mean. Soon, Horace is introduced to a world he would never dream of, full of Keepers and unbelievable objects and incredible danger. Somehow, Horace knows this new world is where he belongs.

I think it's pretty obvious by this point that I'll read almost any kind of speculative fiction book - I'm basically a sucker for a fantastical adventure story. Even better if it's geared toward a middle grade or young adult audience. So, it was a no-brainer for me to download this e-galley.

This is definitely a unique book. I thought Sanders did a great job crafting a mythology that was unlike anything I'd read before, even if it was a bit complicated to understand initially. I really enjoyed the characters as well - Horace's inquiring mind is refreshing and Chloe's indomitable spirit is quite admirable (and also, as an adult, a bit worrying). These two shine more brightly than the other characters, but I thought they were all quite well-drawn. Dr. Jericho is beyond creepy, so keep that in mind when recommending this title. The only complaint I have about the characters is that Sanders never really gives physical descriptions of them, so they can be difficult to picture in my head. Young readers may not have the same problem, though. Additionally, regarding the adult characters, I was a little irritated about the revelation made by Horace's mom at the end. They had such a strong relationship that I didn't find it believable that she would wait until after all the action had occurred before having that conversation with him.

Sanders has also done a good job keeping the action going and the pace moving along. The explanations of what's going on and the society of Keepers never bog down the story or make it feel interrupted. It's a good thing that Sanders keeps the action coming because this book is long - the finished copy is listed at almost 550 pages. It's no secret that kids will devour books of this length or longer, but they better deliver adventure and action sequences that are completely engaging. It doesn't really feel like it's more than 500 pages long, but it is, so you may have to convince some of your readers that it's a worthwhile investment.

I appreciated the blend of fantasy and science - I thought Sanders handled that well and it definitely added another depth to the story.  This book also addresses a lot of interesting issues that will make kids think and question.

While there was a lot I enjoyed about this book, it never really knocked my socks off. I'm intrigued enough to pick up book two when it comes out, and I can definitely see recommending this to young readers.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: A Wicked Thing

A Wicked Thing (A Wicked Thing, book one)
By Rhiannon Thomas
Expected publication February 24, 2015 by HarperTeen

Everyone knows the tale of Sleeping Beauty. But Aurora is living it - she's just awoken after 100 years of cursed slumber. Everyone she knows is dead and the citizens of her land expect her to fix their broken lives. But how can she save them when she doesn't even know how to save herself?

I am a HUGE fan of fairy-tale retellings. HUGE fan. When I spotted this e-galley, I knew I wanted to check it out. I liked the angle of telling Sleeping Beauty's story after she awakes; I've read a few versions of that kind of story and I like the variety of directions it can go.

Unfortunately, I think the two words I'd use to describe this book are "unfinished" and "hopeless." This book feels completely unfinished, and not in the sense that it's only the first book in a series. That sense of incompleteness is there, of course, but it's more than that. It's throughout the whole book. I don't feel like Thomas ever gives readers a complete sense of any of the characters, including Aurora. Yes, I get it - she's lonely and confused, unsure who to trust and how to find happiness. But that's the only read I get on her. She mentions some things she used to enjoy - reading, the garden - and how those things aren't really the same for her anymore, but I don't feel like there's a complete picture of her character. Of course, if the main character is not fully developed, the secondary characters certainly aren't going to be either. It actually frustrated me quite a bit to continually read about Aurora not trusting various characters when there was really no sense of them being trustworthy or not. I also didn't like how the book is supposed to be about Aurora, but all she talks about are the men in her life - Rodric, Tristan, Finnegan, the king. UGH. It just got old after a while.

And, this book is hopeless largely because Aurora doesn't trust anyone. There aren't many suitable options, I'll give her that, but it doesn't make for a happy read. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone, but it really felt like giving up. Thomas frames it such that Aurora is finally making a decision for herself but, for me, it just didn't actually feel true. Oh, and the evil witch - so much potential, none of it achieved. Maybe to come in future volumes, but certainly a disappointment in this one.

Will I read the sequel? I'm not sure. When it has a release date and a blurb, I'll probably consider it and decide then. For now, I'll be cautious about recommending this to readers.

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Family Outdoor Fun

It was our unfortunate luck that the day of our Family Outdoor Fun program was met with less-than-pleasant weather. This meant that, the morning of, we scrambled a bit to adapt our plans for an afternoon of indoor fun instead. Unfortunately, with the weather, we didn't get the turnout we'd hoped for. Here's what we did.

Obstacle Course: participants had to jump over a hurdle, walk across a balance beam, jump another hurdle, crawl through a tunnel, jump a third hurdle, and then leap on the safe spots to complete the course. Several kids went through the course multiple times - I think our tunnel has been one of our best investments. Kids of all ages love it.

Ladybug toss: tossing games are always a big hit. We made this one with three buckets on a stepladder and the kids had ladybug beanbags that they attempted to throw into the buckets. The highest bucket was, of course, the most difficult.

Football toss: as we were indoors, the football toss became a bird toss. We hung a hula hoop from the ceiling and had teen volunteers spin the hoop as kids tried to toss a stuffed bird through it. Would have been more exciting outside.

Coloring sheets and puzzles: a last minute addition as we had to scrap several of our original plans due to space/logistics constraints. Coloring sheets are always a hit and it was a nice breather from the more active parts of the program.

Scavenger hunt: our original scavenger hunt consisted of items that could be found in nature around our library. When we moved the program inside, we adapted the scavenger hunt to fit with our usual template: photos of things (like birds and flowers) hidden around the children's department. We gave away gliders as a prize for finishing the hunt.

We had so many cool outdoor fun activities planned and just happened to hit upon bad weather on program day. We still had a few families show up, but we would have had many more if the weather had cooperated. Have you had to adapt a program at the last minute due to circumstances beyond your control?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

Penguin and Pumpkin
By Salina Yoon
Published 2014 by Walker Childrens
Oh, I love the Penguin books! They are some of my favorites for storytime because they are fun, charming, and feature bold, eye-catching illustrations. Yoon also smartly has crafted each penguin book around a common storytime theme - I can't say this is her overt intention, but it's worked out that way. So, for a fall storytime, you could choose this Penguin title. Penguin's little brother is too young to join the search for fall, so Penguin brings a surprise home for him. I didn't love this as much as the others, but it's still pretty adorable.

I Feel Five!
By Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
I've quite enjoyed Murguia's previous books, so I was excited to see a new title from her this past summer. In this one, a young boy is extremely excited to turn five. But when the day comes, he doesn't feel any different than he did the day before. Where is the big change he expected? I both liked and didn't like this book. I think what it does well is perhaps temper the overwhelming excitement young ones can feel approaching their birthday. However, the moment when the boy begins to feel five just strikes a bit of a sour note for me. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but this is not my favorite of Murguia's books.

Milo Is Not a Dog Today
By Kerstin Schoene and Nina Gunetsreiner
Published 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company
Look at that face! That face is the reason I love dogs! Milo likes to play pretend and today he is pretending that he is not a dog. Unfortunately, the other animals are not interested in playing with Milo. Will he find a friend who likes to pretend as much as he does? It's a fun and simple book, good for storytime. The pictures are a nice balance of realistic and cartoony, which I think has great kid appeal. That being said, it's a very basic story, but pretty cute. And, I can't resist that face!

The Monsterator
By Keith Graves
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
I'm always on the lookout for new Halloween and monster books because it's one of my favorite times of year. With this title, we are introduced to young Edgar, who finds typical Halloween costumes boring. When he stumbles upon a dusty old machine called a "Monsterator," how can he resist? Of course, there is a little twist, but everything works out in the end. The final pages of this book feature a simple version of the Monsterator, where readers can flip the pieces to create numerous monstrous combinations. Cute idea; unfortunately, it likely won't hold up in the library. But a fun story, with a great possibility for extension activities.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review: The Luck Uglies

The Luck Uglies (Luck Uglies, book one)
By Paul Durham
Published 2014 by HarperCollins

Even though everyone says they're extinct, Rye is pretty sure there's a Bog Noblin lurking around her village. When Rye's suspicions are proven correct, the town of Drowning is in upheaval. To make matters worse, the stuffy Earl Longchance refuses to do anything about it. Will the supposedly villainous and terribly secret Luck Uglies return to save the village? Or will Rye have to do it herself?

It's our winner!

Much like The Castle Behind Thorns, this was a book I had an e-galley of prior to its release. And, again, I read about half the book before my copy expired. Unlike The Castle Behind Thorns, though, this one I was eager to get back to, but couldn't find the time or justification to do so last year. I was thrilled to see it named a finalist in my category of the Cybils and couldn't wait to finish the story. (Of course, I started over from the beginning to make sure it got a fair shake.)

I really loved this one. In fact, it reminded me a lot of last year's Cybils winner, The Screaming Staircase. It's got action, danger, humor, great worldbuilding, and fun characters. I'm not sure it's quite up to the same level, but in terms of sheer enjoyment, it's pretty darn close.

I fell in love with this book right from the beginning - the characters are completely charming, the story is exciting, and it's just so much fun. I loved Rye and seeing her relationship with her family and I loved her friends as well. I did keep waiting for something dark or deep to be revealed regarding Quinn, which never really happened, so I feel like there was a bit of unfulfilled foreshadowing with his character (perhaps to come in a future book?). I appreciated Rye's pigheadedness - it felt extremely realistic, though as an adult, her decisions frequently made me cringe. I loved that she doesn't understand why she blushes around one of her best friend's brothers - it's so innocent and sweet. I absolutely adored Folly and her love of science and experimentation.

I thought the worldbuilding was nicely done as well. I was charmed by the village of Drowning and eager to know more of its history and residents. I loved the random bits of information we learn throughout the book (like about Nanny Crabtree's apples and her understanding with Lottie). I'm eager to find out even more about the Luck Uglies - they were just tantalizingly present in this volume, so I can't wait for the next one.

I appreciate that there is some dark stuff in here as well - Longchance is really not a nice guy and the scene where he threatens some rioters is pretty disturbing. Additionally, the inclusion of the link rats is a good one - I don't think many kids really think about stuff like this happening in what's otherwise a nice and normal place, but it certainly did and does and I don't think they need to be kept in the dark.

Though this is the first book in a series, the story in this volume is pretty well wrapped up, which I certainly appreciated. Of course, I enjoyed this one so much that I'll be anxious to get my hands on volume two. I highly recommend this for young fantasy fans!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: The Swallow

The Swallow
By Charis Cotter
Published 2014 by Tundra Books

Polly and Rose are lonely, though for different reasons. They never expect to find each other, but they do, discovering that their attics share a wall. But something is off, and when the girls find a gravestone with Rose's name on it, they are plunged into a mystery that they'll do anything to solve.

This was the last of our Cybils finalists to make its way to me. My library's copy was checked out when the finalists were announced, so I had to wait for it to come in. Of all the finalists, this one was probably the most unexpected - I wasn't sure what was in store for me when I started this book.

I feel mostly ambivalent about this one. I liked its structure, something I seem to be noticing more and more in my reading. The chapters are very short and are split in perspective between the two main characters, so thinks move along quickly and readers are never waiting long between the two voices. However, I didn't really like either girl - they are both rather selfish and off-putting, at least in my eyes.

The setting is a bit unusual and I'm not sure if kids will really connect with it - it's historical, which doesn't exactly fly off the shelves, and set in Canada. Additionally, it's historical in a not terribly exciting way. No major world events occur to impact the central story, so the historical setting at times feel a bit unnecessary. It might be one of those instances where the story is set in the past to escape modern technology, but this is a ghost story, after all, so I'm not sure how much sense that actually makes. I wasn't expecting the multiple mysteries that pop up and I think, aside from leading the initial quest to discovering what's unusual about the girls, the Winnie story feels a bit superfluous. I spotted the twist probably 50-60 pages before its reveal and I don't think it will be difficult for careful readers to spot either. Additionally, I felt it a bit lacking in explanation - unlike other ghost stories, I had a hard time here with the "well, ghosts exist and some people can just see them" explanation.

All this to say, it's not a terrible book, but it wasn't quite what I hoped it would be. Just a little something missing. But, if you've got young readers who've exhausted their store of Mary Downing Hahn, they'd probably enjoy this one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: The Castle Behind Thorns

The Castle Behind Thorns
By Merrie Haskell
Published 2014 by Katherine Tegen Books

Sand doesn't know how he got into the sundered castle, but he knows he has to find a way out. It only becomes more true when a girl appears - and all signs point to the corpse that Sand had set to rights. Does Sand have some sort of magic? And can the two find their way out of the castle behinds the thorns?

Yay - another Cybils book to discuss! I actually had a digital galley of this one last year before its release. I read about 100 pages before it expired. The story hadn't really grabbed me, so I didn't bother picking it back up. Of course, when it was named a Cybils finalist, I had to pick it back up. I started from the beginning again.

This time, the story gripped me a bit more. Maybe it was simply the timing the first time around, but this time, I was completely engaged with Sand and Perrotte and their desire to solve the castle's mystery. I adored Sand and his methodical work of mending the castle. I appreciated that he struggled with the desire to just give up, wondering what the point could possibly be. I'm equally glad that he never actually gave up, that instead he began to plan for his survival. I loved his concern for Merlin and Perrotte and their survival, even though his relationship with Perrotte is fraught at first.

I liked the magic here, as well. I liked that it was revealed slowly and always with a slight sense of disbelief. I liked that all the pieces didn't fit together until just the right moment. I liked that this extended to the world outside of the castle as well - bits and pieces revealed slowly over the novel's course. The information was paced out perfectly. I was surprised to find myself loving the extreme subtlety of this as a fairy tale retelling - I mean, if you know your tales, it's obvious from the title. But this book doesn't just take that story and retell it from a new angle - it changes the story, and I think the book is stronger for that choice. I have to believe that all these things I loved about this book are due to Haskell's talent as a writer - at times, her language was beautiful. She captured sentiments so perfectly. I'm eager to try another of her books.

It gets maybe a little heavy-handed with the message at the end, but it's an important one, and an extremely difficult lesson to learn. I also found the bits of real history slightly jarring at times - since the setting was revealed slowly, this information sometimes felt a bit out of place. Similarly, I'm not sure how I feel about the saints. I like them and at the same time, I find them off-putting. I wonder how middle-grade readers will feel about them.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this one and will be happy to recommend it to the many young fantasy fans I meet at my library.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: Hunt for the Hydra

Hunt for the Hydra (Jupiter Pirates, book one)
By Jason Fry
Published 2013 by HarperCollins

Tycho and his siblings love each other, of course. But they also know that only one of them will be named captain of their starship, so they can get a little competitive. As they begin to uncover a space conspiracy, each sibling is eager to prove their worth.

Another of our Cybils finalists, I must admit I had little interest in this book prior to its being named. I don't think it's a secret at this point that I generally don't care for things set in space - rare is the book that proves the exception this. Unfortunately, this book was not one such title.

I found the whole thing rather flat. Fry does not do a great job developing much of anything in this story - the worldbuilding is lackluster and the characterizations are underwhelming. I didn't care about the characters or what happened to them. I'm not sure I could explain the differences between the three siblings outside of a few superficial elements: one is good at flying, one is good at communications, etc. I was especially irritated with the character of their grandfather - I think he is supposed to be a bit of comic relief, but he reads like a caricature in the worst way. I also found it really frustrating that the whole premise of the story is about which child will ultimately be named captain of the Shadow Comet and then nothing much is really done with this story. It's mentioned several times throughout the book but, of course, as this is the first in a series, no conclusion is reached. Along with that, for the majority of the book, their mother (who is the current captain and the one who will make the final decision) is barely present and they don't seem to interact much with her. I expected a bit more conflict in this area. Similarly, I was frustrated that the actual "hunt for the Hydra" (for which the book is named) doesn't even occur until more than halfway through the book. And, when it does finally happen, it's extremely anticlimactic - in fact, I don't think I'd even really call it a hunt.

I wanted to like this book - obviously, it was named a finalist for my category of the Cybils, so I figured it had to have some merit. Additionally, science fiction for middle-grade readers is pretty hard to come by and the young patrons of my library get a genre assignment every fall that includes science fiction, so finding something good to recommend would be helpful. But this book just did not work for me.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Greenglass House

Greenglass House
By Kate Milford
Published 2014 by Clarion Books

Milo is looking forward to a peaceful Christmas with his parents. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen this year. This year, a rash of unexpected guests at his family's inn will guarantee anything but a peaceful Christmas. But why exactly are they all here? Milo is determined to find out.

So, as you should know by now, this was one of the Cybils finalists in my category. This means that I finished the book back in January but was unable to post a review earlier. Now that we've announced our winner, I'm free to discuss the titles we considered.

Right from the start I was on board with this book. There is something about a wintertime mystery that just suits me. In fact, when I started, I really wished I had read this book on Christmas, snow outside, a big warm blanket around me. Milford does an excellent job of setting the scene - Milo's family inn is in a snowy countryside, isolated from any town. Though Nagspeake is, of course, fictional, I didn't have a difficult time imagining it or Greenglass House. I believe all of Milford's novels take place in Nagspeake; I'm eager to explore it more in the future.

I liked Milo from page one also. He reminded me a lot of myself - he likes things a certain way, he's pretty solitary, and he's obviously got a great relationship with his parents. I thought Milford did an excellent job of exploring Milo's conflicting feelings about being adopted and his family. I thought the use of the game to explore his identity was clever.

This book reminded me so much of The Westing Game, one of my favorite books of all time. Much like that book, the mystery here is pretty much note-perfect. Everything is there for a reason. It's complex and, for the most part, deals with issues that kids will have no experience with. But, that's precisely why I love both these books so much: neither author is afraid of writing a complicated book for kids, even if most of the characters are adults living adult lives and trying to solve adult problems. Like Raskin, Milford knows that you don't have to talk down to kids to write a book they'll enjoy.

The one stumbling block for me with this book is the twist. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but it felt a little too much of a convenient out. That said, I didn't exactly see it coming (I had my suspicions, though), but I wouldn't be surprised if clever readers did figure it out ahead of time.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one and will definitely recommend it to young readers.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Meet the Artist

If you've been reading my blog regularly (though my program recaps are not always so regular), you'll know about a continuing program I've offered for tweens, Meet the Artist. Each month, I introduce an artist through a Powerpoint presentation. This covers some biographical information as well as major artworks and usually lasts about ten minutes. Then, we spend the rest of the program (it's an hour-long program) creating our own art in the style of our featured artist. I ran this program over the 2013-14 school year, as well as during the summer months, with consistent attendance. Because of this, and because it's a relatively easy to manage program, I decided to continue in the fall, despite my duties shifting more to collection development and less on programming.

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but we had a pretty strange fall. A lot of our regularly successful programs saw attendance drops and it seemed like every item we owned was sitting on our shelves. While our circulation numbers don't support the latter part of that statement, our programming numbers, at least some of them, do support the former. One of the programs to fall victim to this unfortunate occurrence was my own Meet the Artist. Over the fall, I ran three sessions of the program with lackluster attendance for all. I covered Alberto Giacometti (sculpture), Wayne Thiebaud (modern art), and Georgia O'Keeffe (nature and landscapes). The O'Keeffe program had the best attendance, so it may have been an issue of name recognition. But, with a general decline in attendance among all tween programs, I decided not to continue Meet the Artist for the spring. I'm considering resurrecting it for the summer, when we can usually guarantee attendance.

I'm really sad to see this program go. I'm no artist, but I had a lot of fun with it. Have you had successful art programs at your library?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

First and foremost, it's Cybils Day!!! Head to their website to see all the winners! Don't forget, I served as a round two judge for the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category. Once again, I had a delightful time serving and I highly recommend the experience to other bloggers out there! Look for my reviews of our finalists in the coming weeks!

Cinderella Stories Around the World
By Cari Meister, illustrated by Valentina Belloni, Eva Montanari, and Polona Kosec
Published 2014 by Picture Window Books

Rapunzel Stories Around the World
By Cari Meister, illustrated by Colleen Madden, Eva Montanari, and Valentina Belloni
Published 2014 by Picture Window Books

Little Red Riding Hood Stories Around the World
By Jessica Gunderson, illustrated by Colleen Madden and Eva Montanari
Published 2014 by Picture Window Books

Snow White Stories Around the World
By Jessica Gunderson, illustrated by Colleen Madden, Eva Montanari, and Valentina Belloni
Published 2014 by Picture Window Books

So I am reviewing all these together because I read them all at the same time. Also, they're very similar, so I don't think I'd have much to say about each volume individually. Each volume presents readers with either three or four versions of a classic fairy tale. The tales chosen should all be very familiar to young readers, though the alternate versions presented in these books might not be. In addition, some of the alternate versions are darker and scarier than the versions children are likely familiar with so I'd say know your audience before handing these to more sensitive readers. I enjoyed the wide variety of cultures represented by the tales in this collection and the illustrations do a lovely job of stylistically representing the cultures as well. Each book provides a glossary at the end for unfamiliar words, as well as suggestions about using them with the Common Core Standards (which, I'm sorry, but that makes me roll my eyes). All in all, I think these are very sleek additions to our collection of fairy tales, but suggest them with some caution.

Monster Party!
By Annie Bach
Published 2014 by Sterling Children's Books
Monster is thrilled to be invited to a party. This book follows him as he gets ready for the party, then highlights all the fun he has there. Of course, he is sad when it ends, but something special awaits him at home. This is a very basic book - it follows a tidy sequence of events throughout a day, which may help kids understand that some things have an order to them. It rhymes, which usually makes it a good choice for storyimes. Plus, it features a monster, another good choice to storytime. The illustrations are very bright and work well with the simplicity of the story. Solid, but not outstanding.

A Library Book for Bear
By Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
The delightful duo of Bear and Mouse are back for another adventure. Bear is absolutely sure he has every book he could ever want right here in his home - what could he possibly need to go to the library for? But Mouse is determined. Will a visit to the library change stubborn Bear's mind? Being a librarian, it's hard not to love this book. I quite enjoyed the previous books featuring Bear and Mouse, so I'm not terribly surprised that I enjoyed this one as well. It has a clever sense of humor and absolute delight as Bear discovers things he couldn't have imagined without Mouse. I love the friendship between the two and I love how easily children will be able to relate. Very much recommended.

By Mies van Hout
Published 2014 by Lemniscaat USA
Man, I love van Hout's books. They are so, so simple, and yet so complicated at the same time. Van Hout uses just a few words to teach children complex concepts. The art is absolutely striking - I absolutely love the bright colors on the solid black backgrounds. It's just a gorgeous package. With this title, van Hout takes readers on the journey of a parent or caregiver - from the feelings of anticipation before arrival, to the bittersweet pride of letting a young one fly away. It's completely charming. I need to own all of van Hout's books!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Review: Incommunicado

By Randall Platt
Published 2014 by Sky Pony Press

Life in Sea Park, Oregon is pretty uneventful - until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Now, Jewels barely recognizes her neighbors. Most in danger is Tommy Kaye, the man Jewels views as a stand-in father and the wealthiest man in town. He also happens to be Japanese and being Japanese is bad news right now.

This galley showed up at work one day and, considering my affinity for historical fiction, I figured I'd give it a shot before passing it along. I didn't have many expectations - I'd never heard of the author and, like many fans of historical fiction, I've read my fair share of World War II fiction. However, this book takes the point of view of a young girl on the home front and examines the plight of Japanese-Americans during the War.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much I have to say beyond this. I really enjoyed this perspective on the war - the story of the interment of Japanese-Americans was not one that got a lot of attention during my years in school, though hopefully that has changed. I thought Jewels' voice was very realistic, though at times, this made the book unbelievably frustrating. I appreciated her struggles coming of age and learning that people are more complicated than they seem when you're a child. At times, her naive understanding of the complexities of human nature and war and politics were endearing - it's heartbreaking to see her learn these things in such a high-stakes situation.

But, at other times, this made her a complicated character to enjoy. Many of the decisions she made obviously came from a place of love and misguided understanding, but they were still terrible decisions. And this didn't just happen with Jewels. I had a really hard time believing that her brother, a character who is repeatedly described as a genius, would make some of the decisions he makes. Similarly, I had a hard time accepting that Tommy Kaye would go along with Jewels' plan. Additionally, Jewels' mother, who basically comes off as a functioning alcoholic, later quits drinking  rather abruptly - it didn't seem likely to me, particularly considering the difficult situation she was now finding herself in.

Overall, an interesting perspective, but not the best historical fiction has to offer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: Tomboy

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
By Liz Prince
Published 2014 by Zest Books

Liz never really fit in - she wasn't a girly girl and she wasn't one of the guys. She was somewhere in between. But being a misfit growing up is not easy.

Guys, I have a problem with resisting book temptation. This book, for instance. I was in the middle of, I kid you not, five other books when I spotted it sitting on our graphic novel shelf and thought, "well, it won't take me that long to read..." Where is my self-control??

I wasn't wrong - I finished this in about two hours. I've been interested since I first heard of it, particularly as more and more attention is drawn to the horrors of growing up female. That's what I liked best about this book - Prince doesn't shy away from explicitly depicting the bull crap double standards our society has for young women. I probably never would have described myself as a tomboy growing up, but I definitely was a misfit. As a young woman, it's not hard to be aware of all the bull crap society throws at you but, as a young woman, you've been taught to feel that there's nothing you can do about it. I loved the moment in Prince's book when an adult friend says something along the lines of "are you sure it's girls you hate? Or is it society's notion of what a girl is?" That line is so hard to distinguish as a young woman because, among the rest, part of the bull crap girls are taught is to hate other girls. As I said, I wouldn't have described myself as a tomboy, but that doesn't mean I didn't know how much easier I'd have it if I were a boy. In fact, I can remember wishing to be a boy, despite my lack of tomboy tendencies, because I knew I and my feelings would be accepted more readily if I were a boy.

I appreciated the casualness of Prince's book - the art has a casual quality to it that makes it more accessible, I think, and the story feels like listening to a new friend talk about their life growing up. I did think it ended rather abruptly, but I also wouldn't have wanted to read forever, so I guess it makes sense. Definitely glad I checked this one out - now back to my other books!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes

My Heart and Other Black Holes
By Jasmine Warga
Expected publication February 10, 2015 by Balzer + Bray

Aysel is planning her death - she just can't live like this anymore. But she's not sure she can go through with it alone. So, she finds a partner, Roman. But the more time they spend together, the less sure Aysel is about their plan. Will she change her mind? And, if she does, can she change Roman's, too?

If I had known that every YA contemporary 2015 novel I would read in the first two months of this year would deal with suicide and mental illness, I probably wouldn't have requested this ARC. I'm not sure I can really give this book a fair shake; I'm a little burnt-out on books about suicide right now. That's not to say that these books aren't important; in fact, I think the abundance of these books is part of a larger movement to talk more openly about mental illness in general and that's a great thing. But, personally, I'm not sure I can handle another one of these books anytime soon.

I'm not sure I'll be able to give this book a fair shake. I guess, for me, of all the suicide novels I've read lately, this is one of the more forgettable ones. I actually finished it just a couple days ago and am having trouble remembering many of the details. But my major problem with this book is actually the ending. I get that the story is supposed to be sweet, that readers are supposed to root for the romance, and believe in the healing power of love. But it's a dangerous message to be sending to teens, especially coupled with Roman's indignant refusal to talk to someone professionally. I'd love to believe that love really does heal, but I know it's just not true. And it's not okay for a novel for teenagers to posit that all it takes is falling in love and one person truly understanding you to make your sadness go away.

But, once again, maybe this book just comes on the heels of too many others like it. This book has received a number of positive reviews elsewhere, so take that for what it's worth. This book just wasn't for me.

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

ETA: The brilliant and much more eloquent Kelly at Stacked discusses this very topic here. Head on over and join the conversation.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Picture Book Saturday

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)
By Peter Brown
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
So, I love Peter Brown. When I met him a few years ago, I was actually impressed with myself that I was able to hold a normal conversation with him. As you can imagine, this means I'm constantly anticipating his next book. This one was a bit of a let-down for me. It has some of the charm of his earlier books, and definitely his signature style, but I wonder if the story is one that won't resonate with children as deeply as his previous titles. To me, this is a book that will certainly appeal to adult readers, particularly to teachers or those in similar professions. It may do well with elementary readers, but I think it will be a bit lost on preschoolers. It's fun and, as always, the illustrations are genius. Not my favorite, but I'll continue to anticipate each new Brown book.

A Perfect Place for Ted
By Leila Rudge
Published 2014 by Candlewick Press
Ted is an adorable little dog in a sweater at the pet store. Unfortunately, he keeps being left behind - no one chooses Ted. So, Ted decides to take matters into his own hands. Kids will enjoy his adventures as he tries to figure out which place will be best for him and, though the ending is predictable, it's also sweet, guaranteed to charm the preschool audience. The illustrations are soft and lovely, making this a quiet kind of story. This will definitely please young readers as well.

A New Friend for Marmalade
By Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Heath McKenzie
Published 2014 by Little Simon
I thought the previous book about Marmalade and his people was absolutely charming, so I was pleased to see a new adventure for the friends. In this book, a new boy arrives in the neighborhood. Ella and Maddy, Marmalade's human friends, are not so keen on this new boy, but Marmalade doesn't seem to mind him much. But when Marmalade gets into some trouble, who will help him out? I love the illustrations - they look a bit like a coloring book that someone has started on but then walked away from (I mean this in a good way). I think the message is cute as well and would work in a storytime about friendship. Very sweet.

More and More
By Emma Dodd
Published 2014 by Templar Books
I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. I think a lot of Dodd's books fall into the same category - a sweet tale about love - and this is no exception. In this version, a monkey learns that a parent's love only grows more and more with each passing day. It's very sweet and the illustrations are perfect for very young readers, but it's nothing terribly unique. If you like one Dodd book, chances are you'll like them all. I like them, so I liked this one. As a bonus, this one has some gold sparkles on the pages, adding a bit of glimmer to the story.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Review: The Truth About Twinkie Pie

The Truth About Twinkie Pie
By Kat Yeh
Published 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Galileo Galilei Barnes is ready for a new start. So, when she and her big sister move to a new town, GiGi comes up with a new Recipe for Success - starting with picking a new name. Life is more complicated than following a recipe, though, and it isn't long before GiGi's world is turned upside down and she has to uncover the truth.

Another ARC that showed up at my library, I put this in a pile to-read because of the cover - yes, really. I mean, who could resist it? I breezed through this book over just a few days and I quite enjoyed it.

To begin with, I thought GiGi was a very authentic voice - I believed her and I wanted everything to work out just the way she wanted. That doesn't mean she's perfect - there were a few times when I couldn't help but shake my head at her stubbornness or her lack of forethought. But these instances only served to make her more realistic. Similarly, I thought the other characters rang true as well. I did wonder how likely it would be that the boy she physically ran into on the first day of school would be nice and befriend her, but considering Trip's character, it felt true enough for him.

This book is set up well. The chapters are short but not too short, so the pages flew by. Interspersed throughout are the recipes that GiGi and DiDi make - and they actually sound pretty good! There is a great mix of humor and heart in this story. I laughed out loud several times and teared up once. This book is what I might call Southern-flavored; it's got enough of a Southern touch that you know it's there but it's not overwhelming.

I was actually surprised by the mystery, which is good. I didn't see the reveal coming. I was not terribly thrilled with GiGi's reaction; however, it was probably a pretty accurate one. I can only imagine. The ending is, of course, a happy one but it's not too saccharine as to be irritating. At times, it did feel that there was a bit too much crammed into the one book and it felt like the book wasn't sure which story was actually the focus. But overall, I can see this being popular with fans of Wendy Mass or Lisa Papademetriou.

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Review: Seeker

Seeker (Seeker, book one)
By Arwen Elys Dalton
Expected publication February 10, 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Quin has been training for years to fulfill her destiny and become a Seeker. Finally, the night of her oath has arrived. But Quin is about to discover that the noble purpose she believed in is a lie and the life she was expecting is not what she's going to get.

I'd hear a bit of buzz about this book and it sounded like something I'd be into (I've discovered exactly how much speculative fiction I read). When I spotted the e-galley available, I downloaded away.

Y'all, I wanted to like this book. I had high hopes for it. It sounded like it had potential to be a really interesting story, though not an unfamiliar one - a girl who's believed in a noble destiny instead discovers she'll be an assassin. But I just can't like this book. Flat out, it's a mess.

I would say at least 50% of the fun of fantasy and speculative fiction, at least for most people, is the world-building. Discovering the complex and unique setting the author has created, learning the rules and quirks of that world - that's part of the joy of this kind of story. And that's why this book is a complete failure. There is almost zero world-building here, and I have a hard time understanding just how Dalton got away with this. I have no sense of exactly when and where this story takes place - sure, you can tell me Scotland or Hong Kong, but is is the Scotland or Hong Kong that exists at this moment in the real world? I couldn't tell you, because apparently Dalton doesn't care to have you know. The entire premise of the book remains unexplained - readers are provided with only the barest of information about the Seekers and the Dreads and what those terms mean. I don't know why they work together. I don't know if there still exists the many different houses of Seekers or if they've died out save the two we're reading about. I know nothing because Dalton tells me nothing.

The characters are flat and uninteresting and the love triangle is, I'm sorry, just a bit icky. I would say this book is probably 75-80% dialogue and action scenes which doesn't strike me as the marks of a good writer. I managed to finish it because it reads pretty quickly, but I have zero interest in coming back for the second installment and I'm not likely to recommend this to readers.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

ALA Youth Media Awards

If you are a fan of literature for young people (and I must assume you are; otherwise, I'm not sure what you're doing here), yesterday was a big day for you. It was for me. I, like many fans of young people's lit, tuned into the live webstream of the announcement of this year's Youth Media Awards, the most prestigious awards for children's literature in our country. For the last few years, I've shared my thoughts on the outcome of the awards and I'd like to again this year. Once again, I may not cover every award; for a complete list of the awards and winners, please go here.

Alex Awards: 0/10 read - another year with nothing read, which once again surprises me. I feel like I read a significant amount of adult books last year, but I guess not the ones with teen appeal. I do have a copy of Everything I Never Told You languishing in my TBR pile, so hopefully I can get to that one soon.

Schneider Family Book Awards: 0/3 read - I'll just say it now: I did not have a good showing on the awards this year, which will become clear as I go on in this recap. I had never even heard of the picture book winner, but have been wanting to read Rain Reign, particularly after a coworker raved about it. I was vaguely aware of Girls Like Us; I'll try to find time for that as well.

Stonewall Book Awards: 1/4 read (I'll Give You the Sun) - I was surprised that I'd only read one of the books here, but thrilled at which one it was. I'm incredibly impressed that a picture book won overall; I'll definitely have to keep my eyes peeled for that one.

Coretta Scott King John Steptoe Award for New Talent: 0/1 read - I've heard nothing but good things about Jason Reynolds; I'll look forward to discovering his work now.

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award: 1/3 read - I read the winner, Firebird, though I haven't reviewed it yet. I did enjoy it well enough. I've seen Josephine around but haven't picked it up and Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a book we've discussed several times at my library (deciding whether or not it's right for our collection).

Coretta Scott King Book Award: 0/4 read - another poor showing for me with this category, though I knew going into it that I'd fail on several accounts for not picking up Brown Girl Dreaming ahead of time. All the Honor titles are on my to-read list as well.

William C. Morris Award: 0/5 read - I love that they announce the shortlist for this award ahead of time, but my attempts to not check out library books inhibited my reading of these titles (also, my library only owns one of them). I've been on a waiting list for the winner since the beginning of January, so I'll be happy once I finally get to check it out.

Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award: 1/5 read (The Port Chicago 50- having only read one of the shortlisted titles, I didn't have a prediction here, though I probably would have been hard-pressed to bet against Sheinkin. I'm very surprised by the winner (Popular), but it sounds like fun. I put my name on the wait list for it.

Michael L. Printz Award: 2/5 read (I'll Give You the Sun, Grasshopper Jungle) - though I could have done better reading-wise, I am so thrilled with my absolute two favorite reads from last year winning that I don't actually care all that much. I'm impressed with myself for actually predicting the winner and am ridiculously happy that Grasshopper Jungle - a book I've raved about to no end - received an Honor. I have one of the other Honors sitting next to me bed, waiting for me to stop being distracted by other books. I'm eager to start it now.

Pura Belpre Award for Illustration: 1/4 read (Little Roja Riding Hood) - the one title from this list I've read arrived at our library earlier this month and I read through it. I actually didn't care for it at all, so I was incredibly surprised by its inclusion here. I was surprised I hadn't heard of Green is a Chile Pepper; I recently read Round is a Tortilla and loved it, so I'm excited about a book of colors from the same team. And Separate is Never Equal was named a Bluebonnet book for the coming year, so I'll be trying to squeeze that one in when I can.

Pura Belpre Award for Text: 0/2 read - I'm just happy that I ordered the winner for our library and impressed that it has circulated well, considering its weight (both content and physical).

Odyssey Award: 0/4 read - I did read the print version of one of the Honor titles, though of course that doesn't count for this award. I'm not surprised that Five, Six, Seven, Nate! received an Honor. I was excited to see The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place - this book sounds made for me, and I love a good audio, so I'll be hunting that down.

Mildred L. Batchelder Award: 0/3 read - once again, the winner was a title I saw reviewed a few times and considered ordering for the library but never did. We do have Hidden on the shelves, and it's caught my eye every time I've passed it, so I'm sure I'll be picking it up soon.

Robert F. Sibert Medal: 2/6 read (The Right Word, Neighborhood Sharks) - so happy for The Right Word, which I loved. I haven't reviewed the titles I've read, but I really liked them both. I'm not surprised by any of the other Honor titles either.

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award: 1/3 read (You Are Not Small) - is there a year when Mo Willems puts out an Elephant & Piggie book and doesn't at least receive an Honor? Trust me, I'm not complaining. Surprisingly, though, his book is not the one I've read - You Are Not Small is, though I haven't reviewed it. I was surprised to see it here, as I generally consider this award to be for readers and I would consider that book a picture book, but I'm not extremely familiar with this awards policies, so what do I know?

Randolph Caldecott Medal: 3/7 read (The Adventures of Beekle, The Right Word, The Noisy Paint Box) - holy cats you guys, Dan Santat just won a Caldecott!!!!! He has been one of my favorite illustrators for many years now and this book is absolutely charming. I hadn't expected his name to show up but I was beyond thrilled when it did. I had predicted we'd see several non-fiction picture books among the winners, including The Right Word, so good on me. Though I haven't read it, I, like most, was surprised by This One Summer's inclusion among the Honors, so I'm eager to read it for myself and see what the fuss is about!

John Newbery Medal: 1/3 read (El Deafo) - this announcement was one surprise after another, starting with only two Honor books. It's hard to believe that more weren't honored, simply because I want to promote as many awesome books as possible. But, don't be put off by the short review I gave El Deafo - I wanted to cry when it was announced. I'm so happy for this book and so pleased the committee recognized this brilliant graphic novel. Another surprised was, of course, Brown Girl Dreaming winning the Honor and not the gold, but I've heard many good things about The Crossover and haven't read either, so I can't really make a judgment there. I didn't make much of a prediction for Newbery this year.

General thoughts: what an amazing slew of books to be honored! I am so impressed and proud of all the committee members and the work they did. While I can't speak to any committee's intentions, it certainly seems like the We Need Diverse Books campaign was heard, loud and clear, and is reflected among the winners. I am so, so delighted by this and hope that the good will of this year's committees will carry forth into the future. I'm looking forward to picking up the titles I missed from this year's winners and, as always, looking ahead to next year!

Monday, February 2, 2015

January Check-In

It's the first check-in of a new year! Here's the breakdown of what I read this month:

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 10

Teen: 10

Adult: 4

Picture books: 9

Library books: 19

Books owned: 14

I'd say I had a pretty productive reading month this January! I, of course, was busy reading all the finalists for my Cybils category - look for reviews of those after our winner is announced on Valentine's Day. I also managed to squeeze in an impressive number of other books - check out my previous posts this month for a closer look at the titles I read. One of my goals for this year is to be better at reviewing as I read and this month, I definitely succeeded at that. I've reviewed everything I read this month (adult titles over at my Goodreads account), with the exception of picture books (I'm still behind on my reviews of those). I'm also trying to be better about what digital ARCs I download or request - I really want to clear out some of the physical copies I've got in our house. So far, I think this reading year is off to a good start!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Fall Program Recap: Low-Key Programs

I mentioned in a previous post that our job duties were restructured just prior to the start of the 14-15 school year. It meant that I wasn't doing as much programming. It also meant that most of the programming I did choose to do became very low-key and easy to manage. Here's a little recap of the low maintenance programs I chose for the fall.

Lego Family Fun Day: I think we've been offering this program for a year now and it is the very definition of low-key. We set out our LEGOs and let families build together. Attendance dropped quite a bit in the fall. As I've mentioned before, we had a bit of a weird fall, so I'm not sure if it's that or something else. I've decided to try something just a bit different in the spring; we'll see if it changes our attendance numbers.

Mario Kart Tournament: one of our teen volunteers requested this program, something I'd already thought about doing for a few years. It wasn't quite as successful as I'd hoped - though we had a significant number of teens in the room, several of them had no interest in playing. That is fine; I like them hanging out and having fun at the library, and we had set out board games that they played instead. However, it made the tournament a bit uneventful and we had a winner quite quickly. Also, our winner did not seem as thrilled about winning the beautiful Golden Hubcap as I'd hoped. I think we're going to try this program again in the summer and aim it at a slightly younger audience (both ideas will probably end up making the program insane). We'll see how it goes!

Pumpkin Decorating: I think this is the third year I've offered this program. It's always well-attended, and I like how thoughtful the tweens are when it comes to their decorating; they really want to get their pumpkin just right. After last year's slightly inappropriate showing of Hocus Pocus, I erred on the side of caution and showed It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which several of the kids had not seen. I know my boss talked about offering a family version this year; I think that's a great idea as well and I know other libraries have had success with that.

Throwback Thursday: this was a new monthly program for teens that I decided to try out. I'm sure you're aware of #tbt on social media; I thought I'd try to be somewhat relevant and base a program around this idea. It's pretty simple - I pick two old (read: older than the teens) movies, they vote on the one they want to watch, and we throw it on. I provide snacks and coloring sheets and crayons, usually related to our movies. They're allowed to chat and color (I find it relaxing) and there are very basic rules: no talking about school, be polite, and don't make a mess. I've had pretty good attendance so far, and several kids have told me it's their favorite program to attend. A couple times I've offered a very simple craft (by which I mean one aimed at preschoolers) and they haven't been as interested in that. So far, we've watched Beetlejuice, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's been a lot of fun, and an extremely easy program!

What low-key programs does your library offer?