Sunday, March 31, 2013

Program: American Girl Club

For our February meeting of American Girl Club, we traveled back to the groovy 1970s to talk about Julie, one of the newer American Girls. The kids were all very excited for this one and the program happened to fall on a no-school day, so we had about double the regular attendance for the program. Here's what we did!

We started off with our usual presentation about the history and culture of the time period. We talked briefly about Nixon resigning, the end of the Vietnam War, the conservation movement, the rise of divorce and the passing of Title IX. We covered the popular culture, including the games, music, books and TV shows that were popular. And we wowed the kids when we revealed that my coworker was born in 1974 (the year that Julie's stories take place). They couldn't believe Miss A. was that old - but they kindly pointed out that Julie would in fact be older than her (she is 12 in 1974).

After our presentation, we got up to dance. Brave soul that I am, I offered to teach the kids the Hustle! Yes, I know - disco wasn't really popular until the late 1970s/early 1980s - but I stand by my assertion that you can't really dance to folk rock like Bob Dylan. So, we messed with the timeline a little and taught the Hustle anyway. I knew even before we found ourselves with a larger than normal crowd that it would be a spectacular disaster - we tried to teach the jitterbug for our Molly program and they were terrible at it! However, they still have fun learning - and probably more fun laughing at us trying to teach them. So, I showed them the steps, counting 8-counts, slowly and without music first. Then we walked through it all together once. Finally, it was time to put the music on and give it a try! They weren't as bad as I expected - I simplified some steps so there was no spinning and the dance moved a little slower. They loved doing the Travolta! We danced two full routines of the Hustle, then we popped on "Y.M.C.A." and did a little dancing to that before moving on to our last activities.

For the last part of the program, we split the room in half - half did one activity and half had a snack and then they switched. Our snack for this program was chocolate fondue - fondue being a big craze of the era. I brought in a small chocolate fountain I'd received for Christmas, melted up some morsels, and let the kids dip away. We provided marshmallows, bananas, and strawberries for dipping. I probably should have been more stringent about the dippers - we almost ran out because I let the kids have one of each. I was so frazzled by how poorly the chocolate fountain was working that I was pretty much picking my battles. We also almost ran out of chocolate. It we were to serve fondue again, I'd definitely just use a fondue pot.

We had two crafts for the girls to work on before or after they had their snack: fortune tellers (also known as cootie catchers in my day) and pet rocks. As I was manning the fondue station, I didn't get a great idea of how the crafts were going, but everyone seemed busy creating and decorating. I know we ran out of rocks and started using big shells instead for pets, though my coworker says that none of the kids actually made animals on their rocks/shells. They just love to decorate and if they're having fun, we pretty much just let them be.

When everyone had been fed and finished their crafty creations, the program was done. We all had fun and the kids left excited and happy. Our next meeting will be in April and we're all looking forward to it!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

My Special One and Only
By Joe Berger
Published 2012 by Dial
When Bridget loses a tooth, she gets a brand new coin. So she grabs up Captain Cat, her special one and only toy, and heads down to the toy store to spend that coin. In all the excitement and fun, Captain Cat gets lost. Can Bridget get him back? This is a cute story in the Knuffle Bunny vein, but this one is a little too long to work as well in storytime or with a younger audience. However, every child knows what it feels like to have a special toy, so there is appeal.

A is for Musk Ox
By Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers
Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
All right, I heard a lot about this book before I read it and wondered if it would truly be as awesome as everyone had said it was. The short answer: yes. This book is so much fun. Once again, it might be a tad too long for a younger storytime crowd, but it is a delightful read. What I love most about this is that you actually learn things about musk oxen as you read this book - how sneaky and wonderful! The illustrations are really appealing as well. This is a new favorite of mine!

I Have a Dream
By Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Published 2012 by Schwartz & Wade
It's been far too long since I've actually read the text of Mr. King's famous speech, so when I spied this on our new book cart, I immediately picked it up and read through it. This is a beautiful thing. Beautiful. King's speech, paired with the incredible artwork of Mr. Nelson, makes for a stunning and powerful picture book. I got goosebumps and the threat of tears just from reading through this. Please, see this one for yourself.

By Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long
Published 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
It is hard to resist the adorable little bat that graces the cover of this book. Open the pages and you will find a beautiful story with gorgeous illustrations to match. This tells the tale of Chiro, a young bat about to embark on his first solo adventure. The message in this one is strong and poignant and the illustrations by Long are just lovely. I want to frame them and hang them in my house. The only drawback for this is its length - too long for sharing in storytime, but lovely to share one on one.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Review: If the Shoe Fits

If the Shoe Fits (Whatever After, book two)
By Sarah Mlynowski
Published 2013 by Scholastic

Abby and Jonah discovered that they had a magic mirror in their basement, one that dropped them into Snow White's story. They are anxious to get back for a visit, but the mirror does not seem to be cooperating. Finally, it works - only they're not in Snow White's kingdom. They've ended up in Cinderella's story - and, just like before, things start to go wrong. Can Abby and Jonah set the story straight before time runs out?

This is the follow-up to last year's absolutely adorable Fairest of All. I quite liked the first title and was eager to see what would follow. I'm happy to report that the second book doesn't disappoint - it's just as charming and fun as the first. I still think these covers are absolutely perfect - they are especially appealing to girls of a certain age, which I think is just what Mlynowski was going for. The realistic sibling dynamic between Abby and Jonah is just as present here in book two as in the first, and their characters come across just as clearly. Once again, Mlynowski has given life to the familiar fairy tale characters; here, she changes the Cinderella story even more than she did with Snow White. In my review of the first, I noted a hint of something darker to come - I didn't get that same feeling from this one. Yes, there was still an indication that there were more secrets yet to be revealed but they didn't seem as dark as they did in the first. This is a quick and highly entertaining read and I'm looking forward to more additions to the series in the coming years. As a matter of fact, Fairest of All was chosen as a Bluebonnet title for 2013-2014 and I've already seen a number of girls clamoring for more of the series.

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review: Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy
By Ruta Sepetys
Published 2013 by Philomel Books

Josie Moraine is desperate for an escape - it isn't easy being the daughter of a notorious prostitute in New Orleans, the Big Easy. Things go from bad to worse when a well-to-do businessman winds up dead and Josie's mother is implicated in the crime. Can Josie build a life for herself out of the Easy?

Last year, I read and loved Between Shades of Gray, so when I heard Sepetys had a new novel coming out this year, I definitely perked up. I requested an e-galley pretty much as soon as it was available and read it the first chance I had. Once again, Sepetys has written a lyrical novel with a definite sense of time and place - New Orleans is a place I think you'd be hard-pressed to mistake for someplace else and Sepetys does a wonderful job of evoking the city - the oppressive heat nicely parallels the oppression Josie feels as her mother's daughter. Though I don't know terribly much about how 1950s New Orleans might differ from the New Orleans of today, I felt like Sepetys depicted it in a believable way. Part of what I think makes this novel particularly intriguing is that glimpse into an entirely different way of life - Josie's mother is a prostitute and Josie works in the mornings cleaning at a brothel. This is not just a naughty glimpse into a sordid lifestyle, though - Josie desperately wants to find a name for herself away from her mother and the madams that currently populate her life. I like Josie, and I think Sepetys has done a good job creating a number of different and interesting characters. I like that Josie is not the only one with difficult problems and she has to understand that other people's desire to leave the city may be just as fierce as her own.

Where this book falls shy for me is emotional impact - this did not hit me nearly as hard as Between Shades of Gray. This is a lovely story of Josie's coming-of-age and finding her own strength but I found myself sort of missing the point. The book felt a bit meandering in places, and a bit too drawn out. The conclusion seemed inevitable, so why did it take so long to get there? Unfortunately, this book is missing just a little something more. It doesn't quite live up to Sepetys's first novel, but is still a great example of setting done right.

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: In Darkness

In Darkness
By Nick Lake
Published 2012 by Bloomsbury Publishing

All Shorty knows right now is darkness - hospitalized after being the victim of gang violence, Shorty is now trapped after an earthquake. He wonders if he will be rescued, or if he will die as foretold - in darkness and in blood. Knowing he may not have time left, Shorty relives his life - and soon, he begins to have a strange experience, almost as if he's recalling another life, one lived hundreds of years before him.

Here is another installment of admitting to being a Bad Librarian - I don't think I ever would have read this book if it hadn't won the Printz. And I don't think I'd be sad I missed it. I remember seeing this book at Midwinter in 2012 and passing over it - the description just didn't really sound like my kind of book and the cover didn't really do anything for me either (yes, I admit it, sometimes I will judge a book by its cover). Then, the book came up in discussions over at Someday My Printz Will Come - but no one seemed to be rabidly promoting it as the potential Printz winner, so I just wrote it off as a book I didn't need to worry about squeezing in before the announcements. Of course, the Youth Media Awards were announced and this did, in fact, take home the shiny gold Printz award and then I felt a bit silly for not paying it much mind earlier. I was the first in our library to scoop it up (on announcement day) and dove in to see what I would find.

As I stated in the second line of this review, I would not have been sad to miss this book. It really wasn't my cup of tea at all. I feel terrible for saying that, seeing as how it won the shiny award and all, but I also realize that not everyone has to like the same things. What's important is that, even though I can't imagine a world in which I would have chosen this book as the Printz winner this year, I can recognize that it does have merit. For me, the strongest aspect of this book is the way it's told - Shorty has an authentic voice, gritty and complex. We discover the stories of his life in pieces, as he struggles to maintain his sense of self and sanity in the darkness of the hospital's rubble. As weird as it feels to say this, I loved learning about Haiti through Shorty's stories - I think this will be particularly eye-opening for teens. I do wonder about some of the things touched on over at Someday - how much of Haiti's present-day culture is still enshrouded in voodoo and zombies? I genuinely don't know the answer to that question but the way it's dealt with here seems a bit too "mystical other" for me. The reality depicted in this book is grim and I've no doubt that much of it is true - an author's note by Lake does a bit of explaining who and what comes from real life - but it doesn't do anything to showcase the other sides of Haiti that surely must exist. Additionally, the spiritual connection between Shorty and Toussaint did not work for me, despite the fact that I truly enjoyed reading both narratives separately. I understand that there is a heavy focus on religion and mysticism in this novel, but the connection between the two narratives just lacked something. As I mentioned, there is some discussion of the mystical aspects of the novel over at the Someday My Printz Will Come blog - head over there to see how much more eloquently they put it than I.

In the end, I'm not sure how to rate this book. Personally, it just wasn't for me, but I can appreciate its strengths and see how it will certainly be a moving and emotional read for others.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Program: Fancy Nancy Valentine's Tea

Yes, it's been over a month since Valentine's Day - I told you I'm doing too much programming to blog about it in a timely manner. Thankfully for you, this program would work just as well at any other time of the year (perhaps for Mother's Day, which isn't too far away?).

On a Saturday morning before Valentine's Day, we opened our program room doors to avid attendees for a Fancy Nancy Tea Party. The program lasted 90 minutes, meant to be more come-and-go but the majority of attendees stayed for the entire length of the program. Here's what we did!

Tea party: well, it wouldn't be a tea party program without a tea party, right? In the front of the room, we had cups for the girls to decorate. Then, they could fill a plate with hors d'oeuvres (fancy for mini marshmallows on toothpicks), fill their now fancy cup with pink lemonade and sit on our picnic blanket to listen to a story. One of our teen volunteers probably ended up reading the first Fancy Nancy 30 times over the course of the program - she was a real trooper! The kids loved having a break from the crafts to sit and hear a story and they absolutely devoured our snacks.

Valentine making: since Valentine's Day was right around the corner, we had three tables set up in the middle of the room with all sort of supplies for making valentines. This was pretty much self-directed; we had a volunteer monitoring the table and making sure everyone shared, but the kids mostly knew what to do. There were many pink and glittery valentines made. I had made a poster of "fancy words" if they needed some inspiration for their cards, but it wasn't placed close enough to the tables to be useful, something to think about for next time.

Butterfly hair clips: at this station, the kids decorated butterfly diecuts that were then made into hair clips. We have a butterfly finger puppet diecut, so the kids decorated their butterfly however they wanted (mostly with markers and crayons). To make it into a hairclip, we simply slid a bobby pin into the two finger slits and then they slid the whole thing into their hair. This was a very popular activity - even the boys who came to the program made these, though I don't think I saw any wearing them in their hair.

Faux cupcake decorating: my coworker (who I collaborated on the program with - she suggested the program and I eagerly jumped on board and helped brainstorm) created about 40 fake cupcakes from home repair supplies - unfortunately I can't remember what exactly she used, but I think she found the inspiration online. They come out looking just like real cupcakes, except they are all white. So the kids at the program used our extensive collection of washable paints to decorate them as fancy as they pleased. As we had a limited number of these, we originally advertised the program as limited to 40 children, however...

Sunglasses decorating: it became clear about two weeks before the program that we were going to have a lot more than 40 kids show up, so we scrambled to come up with alternate crafts to put out once the cupcakes ran out (they are adorable, but very time-consuming to make). Thankfully, I had a number of old pairs of sunglasses left over from a summer reading program. Since Fancy Nancy quite often wears a fancy pair of sunglasses, we put these out for the kids to decorate once all the cupcakes were gone. This meant we could accommodate more kids in the program and everyone still got to do a "big" craft. We did eventually run out of sunglasses as well, but we had no complaints!

Red carpet: our final station was right next to the entrance/exit: a red carpet and fancy background with dress-up props. This was, by far, the easiest and most popular part of the program. Nearly every kid that came to the program came in their fanciest outfit (which was obviously encouraged - my coworker and I came fancy, too!) and they loved the opportunity to show off and accessorize with our tiaras, boas, and beads. The parents seemed especially pleased with this part of the program.

This program was an insane success - advertised originally as limited to 40 children and their parents, we ended up seeing about 70 kids and parents, or about 140 people overall. It was a bit hectic at times, but there were no tears or complaints and many expressions of gratitude. When we do this program again, it might be more practical to offer it twice in the same day to try to limit the number of folks we see all at once. I think everyone present had fun, though, and we will definitely have more Fancy Nancy parties in the future!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Picture Book Saturday

Chloe, Instead
By Micah Player
Published 2012 by Chronicle Books
Molly has imagined that if she had a sister, she'd be just like her. However, when she gets a little sister, she winds up with Chloe. This is a fun exploration of sibling relationships and managing one's expectations. I like the style of this book - it's vibrant and I think it will speak well to kids. I think this book does a great job of depicting the various emotions older siblings might experience when they are joined by a new brother or sister.

Dragons Love Tacos
By Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
Published 2012 by Dial
I mean, I get this book but I don't really get it. It really is just about how much dragons love tacos - and I find it a bit strange. However, it's fun and entertaining. I think it would work really well in a storytime. It definitely has kid appeal. Being someone who doesn't really like tacos, I think part of the delight of this book was lost on me. But it's a strange but enjoyable read.

Grumpy Goat
By Brett Helquist
Published 2013 by HarperCollins
I love Helquist's illustrations - just so, so perfect for A Series of Unfortunate Events and many other things he's done. I really wanted to like this book, his newest picture book title, but I just didn't. I found myself thinking "hmmm..." as I read and when I got to the end. It's the story of a grumpy goat who goes to live on a farm with a bunch of friendly animals, whom he tries to drive away. Of course, there is a change of heart and everyone is happy in the end. I don't know; it just fell shy for me.

This Moose Belongs to Me
By Oliver Jeffers
Published 2012 by Philomel
Jeffers is a strange one for me - sometimes I love them, and sometimes they are just a bit too out there for my taste. This one falls somewhere in the middle for me. I like it, because it's about a boy and a moose and the boy's stubborn belief that the moose is his, despite the moose giving no indication of agreeing to this. But it's also very strange and I'm not sure that I understand it. Maybe I'm trying too hard to imbue meaning into picture books where there doesn't need to be any. Who knows? Either way, this was another strange one for me.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster
By Deborah Hopkinson
Published 2012 by Scholastic

In April 1912, the world's largest and nearly unsinkable ship, the Titanic, hit an iceberg and sank in the Atlantic Ocean while travelling from Europe to New York City. 100 years later, we are still fascinated by this disaster and eager to hear the stories of those who were there.

This book came out to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the sinking, which was also when I was planning a program to commemorate the event. Unfortunately, our library didn't get our copy prior to the program, so I didn't have a chance to read it. Then, in the fall, I saw it getting a lot of awards buzz and I kept meaning to pick it up. I didn't get to it prior to the Youth Media Awards but once it was announced as a contender in School Library Journal's Battle of the Books and I decided to participate in The Hub's 2013 Reading Challenge, I knew I had to bump it up my TBR list.

I'm glad I did. I wouldn't say that I have any particular interest in the Titanic disaster, although preparing for my program last April definitely led me deeper into the research than I had been before. It's fascinating that this disaster has continued to capture public interest for 100 years and doesn't show any signs of stopping. In one way, it's a bit disturbing - we are fascinated by this disaster that was not only preventable, but took the lives of far more people than it should have. In another way, I think it's honorable - our continued fascination ensures that these people will not be forgotten. Hopkinson does an excellent job telling the stories of the passengers and crew who sailed aboard the ship.

Even though we know how it ends, this book keeps suspense throughout, with excellent pacing, and great placement of additional informational boxes (those that break-out from the main narrative). The chapters are told in short snapshots of different sections of the boat, or the different classes, or just the different people on board. It keeps the action flowing nicely as we read the different experiences of the same event. Hopkinson has clearly done a significant amount of research - I spent a lot of time poring over books just to prepare for my program and I still learned things I hadn't known while reading this book. It's written in a pretty straightforward manner - a tale this engrossing and adventurous doesn't really require a lot of frills. Hopkinson does a great job of letting the survivors speak for themselves where applicable and I thought she handled some of the controversies well, too (the Californian, for instance, or J. Bruce Ismay's survival) - not much judgment, leaving it mostly for the readers to form their own opinions.

I loved looking over the back matter - author's note, short capsules on the people featured in the book, tables, and bibliographies. I thought this was an excellently researched book that is highly readable and sure to fascinate kids and teens for years to come. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: Shadow Breakers

Shadow Breakers (Shadow Runners, book one)
By Daniel Blythe
Published 2013 by Chicken House

Miranda is not happy about her new home - it's a boring seaside town where nothing happens, far from all the memories of her father. But then, something very strange and evil happens and Miranda finds herself in the middle. With a group of classmates, Miranda discovers the truth about her new boring seaside town - and maybe about herself as well.

I requested an e-galley of this a few months back, trying to keep on top of my goal of reading more tween fiction. This one sounded like it had potential - a creepy small town with unexplainable happenings? A slightly jaded heroine? Unfortunately, potential was about all this book had. I really wanted to like it. Really, really. But I just didn't. I struggled to keep reading it. The pacing was off, the dialogue was incredibly simplistic and the transitions and plotting were just clunky. A lot of things just struck me as too unbelievable - and I'm not even talking about the supernatural stuff. The relationships between Miranda and her schoolmates did not develop in a realistic way - when Miranda is told by a boy that he likes her, it was too far-fetched for me. He doesn't even know her! I like the idea of how this book is set up - times and places are given throughout chapters to locate each bit of the story - but it seems completely unnecessary in actuality. I really did not like Miranda either, making it incredibly difficult for me to root for this book. She just doesn't strike me as a pleasant person - in fact, no one in this book seems like the kind of person I'd want to hang out with. Additionally, the twist at the end is not all that surprising. This book had potential but it just didn't pan out. A disappointing read and I don't think I'll invest in this series.

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World
By Sy Montgomery
Published 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Temple Grandin always knew she was different - she was sensitive to noise and texture, and she found it difficult to express herself in words. A diagnosis would come - autism - but Temple would already be on her way to leading an extraordinary life - one that has inspired many and changed even more.

There is just not enough time in one year to read all the wonderful literature that is published for kids - never mind trying to keep up all the good stuff published for people of all ages. This book is an example of one of 2012's publications that fell through the cracks for me. I kept meaning to pick it up, as it was mentioned on a number of blogs with Newbery buzz but alas, too many books and too little time. However, when I saw it named as a contender in this year's Battle of the Books, I knew I couldn't delay any longer. Happily, this is a rather quick read, so I snuck it in over a couple lunch breaks.

As much as I say I enjoy nonfiction, and especially that written for a younger audience, I don't keep up with it as rabidly as I do with fiction. I guess that's probably to do with the fact that my interest in nonfiction is much more limited. I'm willing to read pretty much any kind of fiction, though, of course, I have my favorites. But with nonfiction, I'm much less adventurous. I tend to stick with what I know or only those topics I'm overwhelmingly interested in. Thankfully, though, when a book is well-done, I'll be able to read and enjoy it no matter what the topic. Such is the case with Temple Grandin.

That's not to say I had no interest - obviously, I've heard of Grandin and know a bit about the pioneering work she's done. Additionally, autism spectrum disorders affect increasingly more people, so it never hurts to learn more about this topic as well. Montgomery has presented a well-rounded portrait of Grandin, covering her childhood, her schooling, and her work as an adult. The text flows nicely, including logical breaks to read sidebars. The pictures are chosen well to highlight the text. Overall, it's a very readable book about a truly fascinating individual.

The only thing I question is how exactly Montgomery got all of her information. There is quite a large bibliography, but it's clear from the text that she also talked to many people Grandin has known throughout her life and presumably, Montgomery also interviewed Grandin herself. None of this is made fully clear anywhere in the book. I would have liked some source notes that reference these presumed interviews somewhere.

As I said, however, this is a very well-done book about a person with whom kids should be familiar. I'm anxious to see how this book will fare in the Battle!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Program + review: beTWEEN the lines

Our February meeting brought our biggest attendance yet. I still wonder what leads to the fluctuations in attendance - is it just that some are busy those particular days? Or is it that some titles hold greater appeal than others? In any case, we had good numbers for our February meeting and a great discussion - I think we actually stayed mainly on topic this time! I served cupcakes as a snack, since our meeting was right before one of our attender's birthdays (which she mentioned at the January meeting). They devoured them - these kids are serious eating machines. Let me get onto the review and try to mention some things we discussed in particular.

Among the Hidden (Shadow Children, book one)
By Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published 1998 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Luke understands why he has to live a hidden life - he's not supposed to exist. His parents disobeyed the government's Population Police and had him - a third child. So, he knows that no one outside his family can ever see him. That doesn't mean he's happy about it, though. So, when one day, Luke spies a face in a house he knows already has two children, he begins to wonder - are there more kids like him out there? And how can he meet them?

I've been meaning to read this book since basically forever, and I love that the kids chose it for our book club (since it's actually older than they are!). I'm glad I finally got the chance to read it, having started Haddix's newest series last year. This is a short book, but it raises a lot of interesting questions. The kids and I talked about whether the government in this book has anything in common with our government, and I introduced China's one-child policy to them. We talked about how we would feel if we weren't allowed outside or if the government forced us all to be vegetarians. We talked about whether Jen was brave or stupid and whether her stepfather was a hero or a villain. We discussed what choices we would have made if we were in Luke's position. One of the things I found most interesting was that the kids thought the story took place in the past - Haddix never defines a setting. When I suggested that maybe it took place in the future, they thought that was unlikely. Just a very interesting observation that I hadn't expected. All the kids were eager to continue reading the series - in fact, one had already finished the second book as well.

We finished up book club by voting on April's title and then we had a bit of a snafu. Our copies of the March title didn't get ordered in time to be there for book club. This means I didn't have copies to hand out. Thankfully, the library owned two copies that were available, so I pulled those to give out to a couple of the kids. They all clamored to be the one to take home a copy that day, so I drew names from a hat. Then I had the other kids write down their parent's email addresses so I could let them know when the copies I ordered arrived (which they did just a few days later). It will be interesting to see if this effects how many kids show up in March - I hope not, because we've got a great book to discuss!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Picture Book Saturday: Non-fiction

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
By Robert Byrd
Published 2012 by Dial
Ugh, I absolutely hate the cover of this book - sorry, I just had to say it. Anyway, what I do love is the layout of this book - each two-page spread is wonderfully arranged and reading flows naturally. I love the interplay between the text and the illustrations. I also love the endpapers, covered with Franklin's proverbs. This biography reminds one of how inspiring Franklin is - that man would simply set his mind to something and figure out a way to accomplish it. Additionally, this book has a great bibliography. Though there are a lot of biographies of Franklin for young people, I'm pleased to see and recommend this one.

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman
By Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ty Templeton
Published 2012 by Charlesbridge Publishing
I LOVE THIS BOOK! I am not even really a comics person (I've dabbled, but not really delved into all the old school), but I am fascinated with the history of comic books and the people who created them and the cultures in which they were created. This book feeds my curiosity and does so in an appealing and fascinating way. I love, love, love the style that Nobleman and Templeton chose for this book (well, I don't know who chose it really, but it works so beautifully). I love that I knew nothing about Bill Finger but definitely feel inspired to learn more. I love the author's note and the obvious passion that Nobleman has for getting Finger the recognition he deserves. This book is brilliant and will definitely appeal to comics fans.

My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden's Childhood Journey
By Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published 2011 by Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
This picture book biography of Bearden, an African-American artist and musician, didn't really work for me. I love being introduced to people I'm not familiar with and this was no exception - I'd never heard of Bearden, but I think his life is presented quite well here and I do enjoy the illustrations. However, I'm not a fan of the text - it rhymes but it just didn't work for me. I think sometimes rhyming can age a book down, but I don't think this book really has appeal for a younger audience. I don't know - this just wasn't my cup of tea.

Over and Under the Snow
By Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Published 2011 by Chronicle Books
Ooh, I love this book! This is picture book non-fiction for the storytime crowd, and I definitely want to use this in a winter storytime (maybe when I move back to a land that actually has a winter). Simple but beautiful, this book tells the story of winter by showing readers what animals are awake over the snow and what world is hiding under the snow. It doesn't feel overly heavy with information; instead readers learn just by engaging with the story. There is great back matter, though, for the readers who want more of the facts. This is simply a lovely book - non-fiction at its best.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Review: Marco Impossible

Marco Impossible
By Hannah Moskowitz
Expected publication March 19, 2013 by Roaring Brook Press

Stephen knows that he's pretty much just Marco's sidekick - but he's mostly been okay with that. Now, though, Marco is planning their biggest heist yet - breaking into prom to declare his love for the super-cute Benji - and Stephen is not so sure it's the best plan. Can they make this their best heist ever? Or will the threats that have followed Marco be too much for them to face?

I read my first book by Moskowitz quite recently, the lovely Teeth. I quite enjoyed it, so when I saw that Moskowitz had a middle-grade novel coming out, I immediately requested an e-galley. Marco Impossible was not as unexpected as Teeth had been, but it was no less compelling. Once again, I think the strongest aspect of Moskowitz's story is the examination of relationships. Though she doesn't focus as heavily on sibling relationships as in Teeth, they are touched upon again here, and they are once again examined clearly and realistically. Instead, the relationship that is focused on most heavily in Marco Impossible is the evolving relationship between best friends. Stephen and Marco have been best friends for years but with the intrusion of middle school and crushes and all that, their relationship is not as steady as it once was. The story is told from Stephen's point of view and I think it works well - we see his relationship with Marco just through his eyes, but astute readers will pick up on Marco's feelings about their friendship easily. I love that Marco and Stephen have remained friends for all these years, despite their differences and through all their crazy heists and cases.

This book also deals with some heavy issues - Marco is gay and is harassed at school, with Stephen also receiving the brunt of the bullying. Throughout the book, there is discussion of hate crimes around their town and Stephen worries that Marco could soon be a victim of something much worse than locker vandalizing. I like that Moskowitz doesn't shy away from depicting the violence of these kinds of crimes - there are not a ton of books for GLBT tweens, but they need to be just as aware of the issues as teenagers.

Overall, I think this is a well-done book, with great exploration of the difficulties that friendships go through in middle school. Additionally, it deals well with GLBT issues. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of Moskowitz's books.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review: Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, book one)
By Gail Carriger
Published 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Sophronia Temminnick doesn't mean to be a bother - it just so happens that the things she enjoys tend to be a bit bothersome. So, she's not terribly surprised when she's packed off to a finishing school - a bit miffed, but not surprised. She IS surprised, though, when the finishing school turns out to be, well, not your typical finishing school - for starters, this one has a vampire on staff.

Despite my best intentions, I've not yet read Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series - it sounds like it would definitely be right up my alley, but I just haven't found the time. However, when I heard she was releasing a YA debut, I couldn't resist requesting an e-galley. I was delighted when I was approved and couldn't wait to dive in.

I can now definitely say that Carriger's book are my kind of fun. This book is SO MUCH FUN. I love, love, love Sophronia - oh, she is such a little firecracker! Carriger has done a great job with her, creating a heroine who I can get solidly behind in every way. I want to hang out with Sophronia, though I know it would only get me into trouble - it would be the best sort of trouble imaginable. I love that Sophronia is not afraid to try anything. She certainly doesn't adhere to the decorum of her time, but that makes her all the more lovable. She is witty and charming and I like that she doesn't necessarily know how delightful she is.

That being said, the weight of this book is carried on Sophronia's shoulders - without her, I'm not sure I would love it quite so much. I love the idea of Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality - the girls are not being "finished" in the traditional sense of the word. I think the melding of traditional finishing and espionage is wonderfully done - I just want to know more about it! I want to hear more of their lessons, and I want to know what exactly is up with Mademoiselle Geraldine - is she truly clueless or just the most expert at subterfuge? I found the plot with the prototype almost unnecessary - yes, it drove Sophronia throughout the book, but really, she could have been looking for anything as the mystery surrounding the prototype wasn't fully fleshed out either (at least, I didn't feel as if it was). I did enjoy the peek at class relations - Sophronia's relationship with Soap was very appealing, and I'd like to know more about the supernatural creatures as well.

Basically, what it boils down to is that I really enjoyed this book and am only complaining because I want more! I will definitely be eagerly awaiting book two and I foresee this book flying off the shelves at the library!

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Delirium

Delirium (Delirium, book one)
By Lauren Oliver, read by Sara Drew
Published 2011 by Listening Library

Love has officially been declared an illness, but these days, there is a cure. Lena is shortly going to receive the cure and then live a happy life, free from worry and craziness. But then, things start unraveling for Lena and she discovers that what she thought she knew about love and its cure is a lie.

This is another of the young adult dystopia series that I meant to read and got lost in the shuffle because there are seriously just so many of them that I can't keep up. But, the audio version was available for download from my library, so I happily loaded it onto my iPod and got listening. This has one of the more unusual premises of the recent rash of dystopia - love has been declared a disease and the cure is mandatory at the age of 18. Our heroine is, of course, about to reach this age and be cured but she meets a boy. It couldn't be simple, right? Otherwise we'd have no story. I'm not sure if the idea of love being the most deadly disease is ridiculous or brilliant - let's go for a little of both. Lena, our narrator, is in turns infuriating and compelling. I wanted so badly for her to discover the truth about her family and about love (because even if it is a deadly disease, it's pretty darn awesome, too) but I also wanted to punch her in the face a number of times. She seems wishy-washy too often - if I'm going to root for a heroine as a total kick-butt woman, I want her to know what she wants and to go for it, no waffling. In the end, I think Lena proved herself as stronger than the average heroine and it was hard not to root for her. I liked that Oliver prefaced each chapter with snippets from historical documents of this world; it made the society and their beliefs that much more convincing. Additionally, Oliver is a skilled writer; she has a beautiful way with words and it's lovely to read (or listen to, in my case). I also enjoyed that she didn't focus exclusively on romantic love - Lena spends a good chunk of the book seeking out the truth about her mother, trying to understand the type of love between a parent and a child. What I found endlessly distracting, and this is totally my own thing, is that this book is set in Maine. Not terribly many books are set in Maine (I'm originally from there, you see), so when it's mentioned, I take note. This seems to be a case where the book is set in Maine because it's as close to "the wild" as you can get while maintaining some semblance of civilization. But, as a Mainer, this book read as if Portland were the only big city in Maine (which may or may not be true) and everything else was backwoods creepy wilderness. I just found it bothersome.

As far as the audio goes, Drew is a very pleasant narrator - though I think I've mentioned before that she sounds an awful lot like Mandy Moore. I like the sound of her voice and I thought she carried the emotional bits off quite well. I really believed her as Lena - she inhabited the character well. Will I pick up the second book? Yes, I've got to discover what other truths the government is hiding and just what Lena will do now.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Program: Tween Art

Have I mentioned before that I'm not terribly good at marketing my programs? I mean, I can make a mean poster but when it comes to coming up with a clever name, sometimes I struggle. This program would be one of those instances. (Stay tuned - some programs get even worse!) However, the terrible name didn't deter the kids who came to my tween art program, which turned into a bit of a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) program.

Our community wide book for this year was Okay for Now and we were focusing on art and the impact it can have on your life. My program came just a few days after our big kick-off program, so I definitely wanted to do an art theme. Choosing what specifically to do wasn't terribly difficult either - Dale Chihuly had just finished an installation at the Dallas Arboretum, so where better to look for inspiration? In this program, we were going to do our best Chihuly impersonations.

To get the program started, I showed the kids a short presentation. I told them the basics of Chihuly and showed them examples of all his different kinds of art, focusing mostly on his glasswork, though. After the presentation, I explained the two different projects to the kids, both mostly inspired by Chihuly's Seaforms series. Everyone had the option to do one or both and they could do as many as time allowed.

Project number one was coffee filter art. The kids could color the coffee filters any way they desired, experimenting with colors and shapes. Then we formed them into bowls (by rubber banding them around cups) and hit them with spray starch so they would hold their form. Only a couple of the kids chose to do this project, which I expected once I planned project number two.

Project number two was melted plastic cups. I discovered this one on Pinterest and couldn't wait to try it out. I had 9oz. plastic cups which the kids colored with Sharpies. Then we popped them, one at a time, into the library's toaster oven and the kids decided when they wanted to pull them out (they were choosing which shape they wanted to leave their art in, essentially). This was the hands-down winner of the two projects, with most kids making at least three different pieces.

How this program accidentally turned into a STEAM program: once the first few kids colored and melted their cups, they started to wonder aloud what would happen if they did this or that. Hearing this, I enthusiastically shouted, "well, let's try it!" We turned the cups on every side we could (opening up, opening down, onto its side). We experimented with making cuts in the cup, as well as removing entire sections of the cup prior to heating. We stacked a number of cups on top of each other to see what would happen as they heated (most surprising discovery: the cups did not melt together - you could still pull them into separate pieces once they cooled off). Anything the kids wanted to try, we did. It turned out to be great fun for all of us and I only worried a little bit about unforeseen consequences of these experiments (thankfully, there were none).

Have any of your programs evolved as you were holding them?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does My Shirts
By Gennifer Choldenko, read by Kirby Heyborne
Published 2009 by Listening Library

Moose Flanagan did not want to move to Alcatraz - are you crazy? Who in their right mind wants to live on an island with the worst criminals in the country? But Moose is 13 and doesn't really have a lot of say in where his family moves. After all, it's 1935, jobs are hard to come by and Moose's dad has just landed one on Alcatraz. So, off they go. Add to this the fact that Moose's sister Natalie needs to go a special school, Moose is a little bit smitten with the warden's daughter, and, oh yeah, those cons all over the place, and you have a recipe for a very interesting book.

This book has been on my radar since it first came out and I was working in the children's section of an indie bookstore. As per usual, I never got around to reading it. So, when I recently weeded the library's copy of the audio version, I figured I'd take it first and give it a listen. Plus, it's read by Kirby Heyborne, who won an Odyssey award for doing Rotters, an audiobook I did not enjoy, so I wanted to give him a second shot. I listened to this during my commute to and from work and found it a pretty enjoyable listen, for the most part. I thought Moose's voice was very authentic - I have to use my imagination there since I've never been a 13-year-old boy in the 1930s living on Alcatraz - but it felt believable to me. As a matter of fact, I loved all the characters, even Piper, who I actually hated. That probably doesn't make a lot of sense but what I'm getting at is that Choldenko has crafted some really neat characters that I actually want to read about, even when they drive me bonkers like Piper did. Piper may be a bit too over the top for my liking, but on the whole, I thought Choldenko did a great job with characterization.

Setting is another strong suit here - who wouldn't want to read about a kid growing up on Alcatraz? I mean, there's your hook for selling this book to kids - imagine living among the most dangerous criminals in the country. BAM! Every kid who heard you say that wants to read this book. I'm a huge fan of historical fiction and it's clear that Choldenko has done extensive research (which is highlighted by the author's note at the end of the novel). Here is another aspect of the book with a high believability factor.

Plotwise, this is where the book falls down a little for me. This is a great book - funny and emotional and exciting and you learn something, too! But it's not a perfect book. What didn't work so well for me is that I felt this book wasn't sure what it wanted to be - an adventure story about a kid growing up in Al Capone's shadow or a historical story about growing up with an autistic sister (Natalie's condition would likely be diagnosed as autism these days). There is no rule that says it has to be one or the other and not both, but, for me, I think either of these stories separately might have been stronger than the both of them together. They didn't fit together as well as I would have hoped, and that makes this book fall just a bit short for me.

Don't get me wrong - I still really liked this book (I even went on to listen to the second) and will gladly suggest this to kids looking for a good historical fiction or funny book.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bluebonnet 2013-2014

It's already time to start reading the new Bluebonnet list. The winner for 2012-2013 will be voted on shortly and kids will start snatching up the books for next year. I'm excited about this list, partially because there are a number of titles I've already read: Giants Beware!, The One and Only Ivan, Laugh with the Moon, Fairest of All, Wonder, and Balloons Over Broadway. That still leaves me with 14 titles to read before they are never on the shelves at the library, so when the new copies started to arrive on our new book cart, I snatched the opportunity to read some of the shorter ones while I could.

Coral Reefs
By Jason Chin
Published 2011 by Roaring Brook Press
Right from the cover you can tell that this isn't going to be a typical picture book or a typical non-fiction book. Instead, this brilliantly combines the two to create something new and dynamic and completely fascinating. While visiting the library, a girl discovers a very unusual book, one that will take her into the world of coral reefs and teach her amazing things about these unique ecosystems. This book maintains a story while also relating a significant amount of information and joining it all with beautiful illustrations. I think kids will really enjoy this one.

Looking at Lincoln
By Maira Kalman
Published 2012 by Nancy Paulsen Books
A coincidental encounter with a Lincoln look-alike inspires our young narrator to embark on a fact-finding mission about our sixteenth President. This is an interesting new combination of picture book and biography - it's pretty much a straight narrative account of Abraham Lincoln's life, but with the addition of a child narrator. Lincoln is one of the first major historical figures that children will hear about and rightfully so. This new book is a welcome addition to the already large body of literature covering his life. It's peppered with the kind of little-known facts that young readers love to discover and filled with a striking visual style.

Jangles: A Big Fish Story
By David Shannon
Published 2012 by Blue Sky Press
A boy fishing alone encounters the biggest trout he's ever seen and is shocked when the fish takes him on an underwater adventure. I had zero interest in reading this book prior to its naming to the Bluebonnet list. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I don't particularly enjoy David Shannon's books all that much. They've never appealed to me and I've only picked up a couple to read as a result. I'm glad I read this one because, while I still didn't completely love the story or the illustration style, the colors of the book and what the story teaches readers are worth discovering. I liked what this book has to say about storytelling and embellishment, and I enjoyed the palette Shannon chose for his illustrations. I'm not sure how this will grab readers only familiar with Shannon's David books, but we'll soon see.

That's it for 2013-2014 Bluebonnets this time. Look for more reviews of other titles as the year progresses.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: Splintered

By A.G. Howard
Published 2013 by Amulet Books

Alyssa hears the whispering of insects and plants - a curse that has haunted the women in her family back to Alice Liddell. Yes - THAT Alice. But when her mother's mental health is even further endangered, Alyssa sets out to discover the truth about the curse and Alice and Wonderland - and don't they always say truth is stranger than fiction?

So, I am what you might call an Alice junkie - I love anything and everything Wonderland-related (pretty much) and I will read anything even tangentially connected to the Alice story (case in point: the dreadful Alice in Zombieland). I was thrilled to spot the e-galley of this on NetGalley and instantly requested it. The first reviews I saw were generally positive (I skimmed - I didn't want to ruin the book for myself) so I was cautiously optimistic when I got started.

Despite some initial eye-rolling (of course she's in love with her best friend and he doesn't know it - and of course she is uniquely beautiful and different), I thought this was incredibly well-done. As others have noted, this is not really a retelling of the Alice story. Howard uses Carroll's Wonderland as the starting point for, perhaps, an even weirder and more inventive story. I loved the creepy, unsettling, and crazy world that Howard has created - the prose is incredibly descriptive, making readers feel like they are experiencing this strange new Wonderland right alongside Alyssa.

In that same vein, Howard has taken Carroll's characters to new extremes - the bad guys are even more sinister than in Carroll's version and Alyssa is a bad-ass 21st-century version of Alice. These changes in characters and world-building lead to a number of twists and turns in the story and I always enjoy it when a book surprises me. I loved the journey that Alyssa took throughout this book - it is compelling and disturbing. This book will creep you out and draw you in all at the same time.

I found the romance with Jeb a bit too typical; however, the romance with Morpheus added a much greater depth to the story and I wish it had been explored even a bit more.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will be interested to see what Ms. Howard does next. Give this to teens who like their fairy tales with a side of darkness.

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

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Program: Adventure Club

Our January edition of Adventure Club highlighted Medieval Times! We focused on knights and defending one's castle from dragons or other invaders. Here's what we did!

As usual, we set up the program room in stations: first by the door was the opportunity to enter your name into a prize drawing, as well as a packet of puzzles and word searches related to our theme.

In the middle of the room, we made our own dragons. This was very simple craft: toilet paper rolls wrapped in white paper and a dragon pattern printed out on more white paper. The kids colored their dragons as they wanted (they nearly all had green dragons, which surprised me - they're usually very creative and out of the box), then cut out the pieces and assembled them by following my coworker's instructions.

Along one wall, we had a station for designing your family crest. We had pre-cut crest shapes and provided posters with common symbols found on medieval crests and what they stood for. We also gave the meaning of different colors. This was the least popular table of the program, but there were a couple kids who studied the posters very carefully and took their crest designs incredibly seriously.

Along another side wall, we had our catapult construction station. We built catapults out of rubber bands and popsicle sticks (well, craft sticks, to be precise), with bottle caps as ammunition holders. Closely situated to the catapult construction station was the catapult practice lane, where kids could test their catapults and make changes as they saw fit. These combined stations prompted some experimentation as kids tried to discover the right number of craft sticks to use to maximize the catapult firing distance. Many kids set up their dragons along the practice lane and attempted to destroy them using their catapults and their ammo (mini-marshmallows, of course). Not many people were successful, but they tried as many different things as they could.

We didn't have as many attendees this time around - not sure if it was just a bad day or they weren't as interested in the topic (but, I mean, catapults!). But the ones who came had fun. I'm looking forward to our future Adventure Club meetings - we have one left before we take a break for the summer. Do you have any topics that you think would make excellent editions of Adventure Club?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Review: Cinders & Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphires (At Somerton, book one)
By Leila Rasheed
Published 2013 by Disney-Hyperion

Rose Cliffe is a lady's maid for the first time and she has a rather unusual mistress. Lady Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal and believes desperately in a woman's right to an education. Returned to their ancestral home amid scandal, Ada's family is trying to repair their reputation. But Ada's desires may clash with what's best for her family. What will she choose?

So, this is being marketed as the perfect read for Downton Abbey fans. Having not seen the series (yes, I know, I am the only one of my coworkers who doesn't watch it), I can't really tell you how it compares. What I can tell you is that this is a pretty weak entry in the historical fiction genre.

I love historical fiction - I'm not particular about time period, as long as the writing is evocative and immersing. I want to feel like I'm really there. This is the first area in which Rasheed falls down - yes, it is clear this book takes place in an earlier time period but it quite often doesn't seem that relevant to the story. While there is a storyline about Ada being unable to attend Oxford because she should be getting married, this book does not necessarily bring to life the time and place in which it's set. It sort of felt like Rasheed chose this to, first, capitalize on the rampant success of Downton and, second, to cram the most scandal into one novel (not difficult to do in a more conservative era).

The next fault I find with this book lies in the characters - they are simply uninteresting and undeveloped. I don't care that Ada can't go to Oxford - she bores me. All the characters seem to fit into overdone stereotypes - Rose, the beautiful but shy maid, Ada, the strong-willed and conflicted young lady, Charlotte, the scheming and witchy stepsister, Sebastian, the handsome stepbrother with a big secret - it's just all so run of the mill.

Perhaps the biggest failing grows out of this lack of characterization - the romance. Ada's desire leads her, in the first 10 pages or so, to fall instantly in love with a young Indian man who also believes that women have a right to an education. Of course, Ada cannot be with him as he is below her station, so she spends the following 300 pages trying to decide if she should forget him to save her family's prestige or follow her heart and marry him anyway. THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW EACH OTHER. This is actually a running trend in the novel - every character falls instantly in love with the object of their desire, despite the fact that none of them seem to actually know each other. Can we please stop having this be a thing?

Some notes on reading this in ARC form: there were no markings to delineate changes in narrative, leading me to often be confused about what I was reading. It would switch quickly from a scene with Ada to a scene with Rose to a scene with Stella (and so on) with no clear indication that this had happened. It made it a pain to keep everything straight. Additionally, there were a number of instances when character names were transposed, leading to even greater confusion as they were all so bland in the first place.

This may have its fans (especially judging by other reviews) but I won't be back for book two.

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