Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December Check-In

It's time for the final check-in of the year! Here's what I read this month:

Early-chapter: 0

Middle-grade: 1

Teen: 6

Adult: 4

Picture books: 6

Library books: 10

Books owned: 7

This was definitely a slow month for me, reading-wise. What I've discovered over the last year is really interesting: the more days off I have, the less reading I get done. Like this month - I had several days off for the holidays and I don't think I picked up a book on any of those days. It seems like I get more reading done when I'm busier. Is that unusual? It feels it to me. If you read my post yesterday, you've already seen all my final numbers. As I mentioned in that post, I'm going to try to continue clearing out the books I've accumulated during the coming year, but we'll see how I do. I'm looking forward to 2015. What are your reading goals?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year in Review, Part Three

Librarian of Snark's Favorite YA Books of 2014

(in alphabetical order)

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

For more of the YA I read this year, check out my 'teen' and 'young adult' tags. I managed 90.5 YA novels this year, which is about 30 less than last year. As I said, my stats overall seem to be down quite a bit, which I'm not terribly surprised by. For the Printz, my money is on I'll Give You the Sun - I still think about this book every day.

My overall stats:
- 350.5 books total (119 picture books, 3 early chapter books, 83 middle grade, 90.5 young adult, and 55 adult books): about 80 less than last year
- 76,543 pages read: about 14,000 less than last year, so I definitely did not do as much reading
- 5 5-star reads, 106 4-star reads, 124 3-star reads, 44 2-star reads, and 2 1-star reads (I know these numbers don't add up - I have not added all picture books to my Goodreads account)
- in terms of my personal goal to read more books I owned: 204 library books (keep in mind that all the picture books and audiobooks came from the library) and 146.5 books I owned. I could have done better, particularly when I look at the piles of books still living in my house, so I'm keeping this goal (slightly modified) for next year

Taking a look back at my most anticipated reads, I read half of the series books I anticipated, though one did get pushed to 2015, and half of the standalones/new series books, though one of them has also been pushed to at least 2015. So, the no-library-book rule had something of an effect on whether or not I finished my anticipated reads.

I imagine next year my stats will be even worse. I'm serving again as a second-round judge for the Cybils in the Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction category (which I'm very excited about!) and I'm also getting married (even more excited about that!). I imagine the wedding planning will take a bit of a toll on the number of books I read next year. As I mentioned above, I still have piles of books in my house, so I'm going to continue focusing on reading the books I own next year. I'm making some exceptions to try to finish series I've let fall by the wayside, particularly those that are now complete, and I won't be sticking to my rules as strictly this time around. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I'm trying to catch up on reviewing before the end of the year, but I think what I don't finish before then, I won't worry about. I'd like to start fresh next year and try to be better about reviewing in real time. I hope this will give me more time to interact with the blogging community as a whole as well - wish me luck! How did 2014 go for you?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Year in Review, Part Two

Librarian of Snark's Favorite Middle-Grade Books of 2014

(in alphabetical order)

Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson

Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown

Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty! by Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Once again, this is just a sample of what I've read this year. I am still slightly behind in my reviews - something I'm desperately trying to rectify before year's end (though I may just give myself permission to start fresh in the new year and leave some things - GASP - unreviewed). According to my stats, I read 83 middle-grade books this year, almost twenty less than last year. I think all my stats are going to be lower this year, just a feeling I have. Several of the books on my favorites list have been mentioned in Newbery conversations, but I'm not sure any of them are a lock. Additionally, I've once again failed to read some of the most buzzed-about contenders, so my chances of predicting the winner are pretty slim. I'd say, of what I've read, Boys of Blur has the best shot, but we'll see. What were your favorite middle-grade titles this year? Any Newbery predictions from you?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year in Review, Part One

My favorite time of year - looking back at what I've read and reminding myself of the excellent books I discovered!

Librarian of Snark's Favorite Picture Books of 2014

(in alphabetical order)

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

Bear Sees Colors by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

Big Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salieri

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Naked! by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans

The World According to Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Notable Non-fiction Picture Books

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash by G. Neri, illustrated by A.G. Ford

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

This year, I actually kept my own stats instead of relying solely on Goodreads, particularly since I haven't been inputting picture books as I read them over on that site. So, according to my stats, I read 119 picture books, about 30 less than last year. I'm a bit surprised by this number - I thought for sure I was slacking in my picture book reading. I haven't kept my Picture Book Saturday posts as consistent this year, but check those out for more of what I read.

I don't really have any predictions for Caldecott - in general, I feel that's my weakest award as I don't know much about art and illustration. For the books listed above, I think nearly all the non-fiction titles have a better shot at Caldecott than the fiction picture books that were my favorites. I'd love to see that happen!

What were your favorites this year? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Really Final MG Reviews

Here are the final books I read and will review this year. I also participated in a MOOC about Laura Ingalls Wilder and read the first four Little House books: Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek. It was really interesting to revisit the series as an adult - there were a lot of details I didn't remember and some that I did. I'm hoping to find time to take part two of the course in the spring and finish the series.

My Brother's Shadow
By Tom Avery

Published 2014 by Schwartz & Wade
This was another ARC that showed up at my library, so once again, I decided to give it a read to have a better time recommending it. I knew going in that it was going to be a depressing read and I wasn't wrong - this is the story of a girl dealing with the grief over her brother's suicide. I'm of two minds about this book - I think it tells an important story. As someone who's dealt with the loss of a sibling, I appreciate seeing this story in books for all ages. But the storyline with the new boy at school never really gelled for me. I never got a real understanding of whether the boy was real or not. Well-written but I wasn't blown away.

Meet the Bigfeet (Yeti Files, book one)
By Kevin Sherry
Published 2014 by Scholastic Press
Okay, this one is definitely not middle-grade; this is, in fact, the one early chapter book I read this year. I couldn't resist picking this one up. I knew it would only take me a short time to read and Sherry has written some awesomely fun picture books so I wanted to see how he'd do with a longer format. The answer is fair. It's a cute idea and probably kids will like it, but it wasn't as funny as I hoped and got a bit tedious. The illustrations are great but the story just isn't terribly exciting. A disappointment.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee
By Barry Jonsberg
Published 2014 by Chronicle Books
This was another ARC that showed up at my library that I decided to give a try. This was another sad story - Candice's family has basically fallen apart since the death of her baby sister. In addition, Candice is "quirky," which means that normal interactions don't ever quite go smoothly. But Candice is determined to fix her family's problems. I liked the style of this book - it's told as a writing assignment that Candice has for class - and I liked some of the secondary plots quite a bit. But, I felt like Candice's "quirks" (the autism spectrum is mentioned but dismissed) were being played for laughs and it just didn't sit well with me. Also, the family situation is extremely dire - how had no professional gotten involved? I wanted to like it more than I ultimately did. 

And that's the end of my books to review this year. If I finish any additional books between now and January 1, I'll try to review them but no promises!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Final MG Reviews

With the end of the year looming ever closer, I've decided to just pop out a bunch of very short reviews for the last books I read that I haven't yet reviewed here. Today I give you the last batch of middle-grade titles for 2014.

The Graham Cracker Plot
By Shelley Tougas
Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press
This ARC showed up at my library a few months ago so I decided to give it a go. Daisy is convinced that her father has been wrongfully convicted of a crime and she hatches a plan to break him out. It's a story full of hijinks and mishaps but I didn't love it. Often, it felt like it was trying too hard to be cute, funny, or charming and not really succeeding. Additionally, much of the novel is worrisome. I have a hard time accepting that Daisy's mother and grandmother would keep so much vital information from Daisy - I believe it could happen, but it makes my heart sad to think of. I did appreciate that this was a story of poverty and social services and an incarcerated parent - things you don't often see in middle-grade novels. But, overall, I thought it could have been stronger.

One Came Home
By Amy Timberlake, read by Tara Sands
Published 2014 by Listening Library
This book got a lot of positive attention last year and I've wanted to read it ever since. I love historical fiction and I quite enjoy a good mystery, so this was definitely up my alley. I listened to the audio version and the narrator was great. Her accents were spot-on and her pacing was great. I thought the mystery was really interesting, though it ended much as I expected. Georgie is a great narrator - smart and spunky. I loved her character and her voice. This was a fun book - I'm looking forward to more from Timberlake.

The Iron Trial (Magisterium, book one)
By Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Published 2014 by Scholastic Press
This was one of the fall's most talked-about releases, a collaboration between two best-selling authors. I'm all for fantasy, so that was my main interest in picking this one up. Unfortunately, the packaging of the ARC sort of ruined this one for me. The text itself was introduced by a letter from the authors, explaining their intentions for the series. What that meant was flat-out stating the major twist in book one. Word to the wise: DON'T DO THIS. Of course, not everyone reads introductory material, and this was only on the ARC, but it's still just a bad idea. As for the story itself, it's interesting enough, though the pacing is uneven, dragging at times. It seemed to take a long time to get to the climax of the book, even though the book is about 300 pages long. I'll probably check out book two, but this isn't the best middle-grade fantasy I've read lately.

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'Keeffe
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Published 2011 by Chronicle Books
I read this one in preparation for an art program focusing on O'Keeffe. It's a very quick read, highlighting the important events in O'Keeffe's live and those that led to her development as an artist. There is a nice variety of her artwork included, highlighting much more than just the florals she became famous for. I learned quite a bit that I didn't know and I enjoyed it.

El Deafo
By Cece Bell
Published 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
Another highly anticipated fall release, I breezed through an ARC of this that showed up at my library. I wasn't surprised when, shortly after, it was named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and I certainly won't be surprised if it receives more award attention in the coming months. This is a brilliant graphic novel about Bell's childhood and living with hearing loss. It's engaging and well-written, and the characters are illustrated as bunnies, which definitely has kid appeal. It's important for kids to read about life experiences that may be different from their own, but Bell's story also has universality to it. Every kid will relate in some way to the struggle to fit in and make friends. It's a funny and touching story, one I really loved.

The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus, book five)
By Rick Riordan
Published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
While there aren't really any surprises in this final volume in the series, I still couldn't wait to read it. Maybe I'm just growing slightly tired of Riordan's style, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as I hoped I would. As a conclusion to the series, I think it works well (though I think it's no secret by now that Riordan's next series will likely include appearances by some of this gang as well). However, more so than in previous volumes, I noticed gaps of time going by with no action and no explanation. Also, I realize Riordan wanted to give other characters fair narrative time, but I really missed having Percy's POV here. After all, he is the character readers have known the longest, and likely the one they will miss the most. It felt strange to end the series without hearing it in Percy's words. Finally, maybe this makes me a weirdo but I was disappointed with the lack of death here. I think this just proves how divergent this series and the Harry Potter series are - the latter grew older and darker alongside its characters and while this series does to a certain extent, the stakes were never really as high.

All right, this is getting a little long, so I think I'll finish up the rest of my reviews in another post tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Final YA Reviews

The end is nigh - the end of the year, that is. I find myself with one week left in 2014 and several books read but not yet reviewed. Because I feel like a terrible person if I don't review a book I've read, I'm going to finish up 2014 with a bunch of very, very, VERY short reviews of the last books left to review.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
By Matthew Quick, read by Noah Galvin
Published 2013 by Hachette Audio
I remember really wanting to read this book when it was first released but not finding the time. So I downloaded the audio version this year and listened this fall. Wow - I wish I hadn't waited. This book is an emotional punch in the gut - and it's so good. Leonard's story is heartbreaking and so important. I loved the details Quick gave us throughout the story, and the variety of the relationships that are important to Leonard. I loved the slow reveal of pertinent information over the novel's course. What I didn't love so much: Leonard's practice adult days (I'm sorry, but stalking is stalking) and the letters from the future (very difficult to contextualize at first). Overall, though, this book - along with the surprisingly gutwrenching Boy 21 - has definitely made me a Quick fan.

All Our Yesterdays
By Cristin Terrill, read by Meredith Mitchell
Published 2014 by Tantor Media
It took me quite a while to finish this one - the audiobook was a road trip book, one I only listened to when my fiance and I were taking extended drives. It means we got big chunks done, but it also means if we didn't finish it in one trip, it was probably going to be a while before we did. Despite that, though, I was able to dive back into the story fairly easily. I'm usually time-travel averse; typically, time travel books make my head hurt. This one did to an extent, but not so much I couldn't cope. I liked the alternating narratives - it gave the story more depth. I think my favorite thing about this book was how it focused so heavily on the actual science of time travel. I did not love the romance aspect of this one, but I thought it was a successfully action-packed sci-fi novel.

By Scott Westerfeld
Published 2014 by Simon Pulse
I was super-pumped when I heard about a new Westerfeld book - the Leviathan trilogy is one of my favorites and the Uglies will always hold a special place for me. And this book sounded so bad-ass: the story of a young adult author who has just sold her manuscript alongside the actual manuscript. And while I still think Westerfeld can write one hell of a story, this one just didn't really do it for me. I didn't really care for either main character and I didn't find the Lizzie story engaging at all - I actually thought it was pretty weak and underdeveloped. My fiance liked it much more than me, so your mileage may vary. I still think Westerfeld is brilliant, but this one just wasn't my speed.

A Matter of Days
By Amber Kizer, read by Alex McKenna
Published 2013 by Listening Library
I'm always up for a pandemic aftermath story or a survival story, so I was definitely ready for this one. Nadia and her younger brother are left orphaned and alone in a strange new world after a virus kills the majority of the population. They set out across the country to their grandfather's compound, believing that he and their uncle will still be alive when they get there. Of course, it's not that simple, as they run into trouble along the way. I liked this one. It's a great survival story and it moves quickly; it kept me engaged the entire time. It was great to listen to while running - I became so absorbed in the story that I didn't notice the miles flying by. I did find the narrator a teensy bit annoying at times, but I enjoyed the story and appreciated that it came to a conclusion in one book.

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, book one)
By Marie Lu
Published 2014 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
I was awaiting this book from the minute I knew of its existence. I really enjoyed Lu's previous trilogy and was excited to see what she would do next. This book is very different from her previous series - it's darker and fantastical. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding here - a strength from her previous books as well. It reminded me a bit of the X-Men, though the gifts here come after a terrible blood fever. I really enjoyed the characters as well - all of the Young Elites were fascinating. I liked the development of the relationships between Adelina and the Elites. My enthusiasm waned a bit with several completely unsurprising plot developments - Teren, Enzo, and Violetta. However, I really loved  the ending, so I'm definitely looking forward to book two.

Undivided (Unwind Dystology, book four)
By Neal Shusterman
Published 2014 by Simon & Schuster
I couldn't wait for this fourth and final book of the series to arrive. The Unwind series is one of the most innovative, dark, and thought-provoking series in YA - it deserves a greater readership than I think it's gotten. But I had my hesitancy regarding this book - what more could Shusterman do? I thought every facet of the issues in these books had already been explored. I was wrong. I spent the majority of this book just impressed and in awe of Shusterman's talents as a writer. This book, like the others, utilizes multiple POVs - and not just of familiar characters. I was amazed by his ability to constantly insert new POVs as the story required them without it ever feeling overwhelming or haphazard. I loved the development of the stories and I thought the ending was wonderful. This series is astounding and everyone should be reading it. I can't wait for his next book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Vivian Apple at the End of the World (Vivian Apple, book one)
By Katie Coyle
Expected publication January 6, 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers

In Vivian's world, the Church of America rules all. The Believers, which includes her parents, power society and await the Rapture. And then, unbelievably, on the day of the predicted Rapture, thousands of Believers actually disappear - including Vivian's parents. What does it mean? Is the apocalypse really right around the corner? Or can something else explain the disappearance of all those people?

This book was on my radar for a long time. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sort of stuff, but I almost never read anything that deals with religion. I was intrigued by this one from the first I heard of it and was happy to see it on NetGalley.

From the start, I thought Coyle did a great job showing readers Vivian's version of America. There were a few paragraphs that felt a little too explain-y to feel natural, but overall, I thought Coyle showed us the different parts of the new world as necessary to the flow of the story. I loved that Coyle started this story with the supposed Rapture - and the fact of people actually disappearing. It's not something I've seen very often in mainstream fiction (all that comes to mind for me is Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers), and I found it very fascinating.

To that end, I thought Coyle also did an excellent job with Vivian. Her reactions to this strange world she finds herself in seem genuine and believable. I'm an adult and I have a hard time imagining what I would do in such a situation, so I completely understood the moments when Vivian feels like it might be easier to just give up. When her grandparents come for her, I found it very believable that she would crave the life of a teenager again, leaving the adults to worry about how to make this new version of the world work. But I also found her desire to find out the truth very believable. Though I think the motivation behind her cross-country road trip is a bit flimsy, I can understand her need to grasp onto something that might suggest the Rapture is not what it seems. I liked Harp's character as well - and I appreciated the honesty of the relationship between the two girls, particularly towards the end of the story. I liked Peter well enough also, though I found the relationship between Vivian and Peter a bit too convenient for my tastes. Perhaps my favorite character was Edie, and I wish she had played a bigger role in the story.

That being said, there are some weaknesses. The lack of a global connection makes the believability of the story as a whole weaker. There is no mention of the world outside the United States, which has converted to this extreme religion on a massive scale - something that would not go unnoticed by the rest of the world. So where are they? While it may be believable that a teenager like Vivian would not be watching the news or have any particular sense of global awareness, it made it more difficult for me to fully believe.

Additionally, the ending was a whole mess of hard to swallow. I don't want to spoil anything, but the truth behind the Rapture just fell completely flat for me - yes, I could buy it in part, but the full explanation was a bit too messy. Vivian's family situation also gets all kinds of crazy at the end and it felt like Coyle just crammed a bit too much in to really work.

This is the first book in a series, apparently. I'll likely check out book two (which appears to be scheduled for a September 2015 release), but with a bit more hesitancy than I picked up this first one.

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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, book three)
By Laini Taylor
Published 2014 by Little, Brown and Company

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

Karou now finds herself head of a chimaera army. All she wants to do with her power is find a way to peace. The only way to achieve her goal is if Akiva can convince the angels they want the same thing. Will the two find a way to stop a war between the angels and the demons? Will they find a way to live together?

When I decided that I wouldn't check out any library books this year, this book topped the list of books I'd be most sad about not reading the instant they became available. If you've been following the blog this year, you may have noticed that I fudged my no-library-books rule a bit here and there and this book became one of my exceptions. My fiance read the series and, when I checked book three out for him, I read it as well. I couldn't help myself!

I was so pleased with this book, for so many reasons. I've said it before but I'll continue to shout it: Taylor is an absolutely beautiful writer. Her way with words is completely captivating. When I'm reading one of her books, I don't want to do anything else. I find myself completely immersed in the world she's created and, as I've said before, unable to believe that these characters aren't real. What I really appreciated with this book was how easy Taylor made it to jump back into the world - it had been about 18 months between the publications of book two and three and even longer for me between my reading of the two, but I fell back into the lives of Karou, Akiva, and everyone else quite easily and happily.

Aside from Taylor's writing, her characters are another thing to love about this series. Akiva and Karou are simply meant to be and I loved reading the arc of their relationship throughout the three books. I love how complicated and how simple it is. And the rest of the characters - they are real, they are unique, they are essential to the story. My particular favorites: Mik and Zuzana (I mean, OF COURSE), and Ziri and Liraz. But everyone, really. This story would not be as lovely without all the secondary characters to provide even more depth to the story.

This volume sees the introduction of a completely new storyline. This, I imagine, is the dividing line for many readers, where people either love or hate its inclusion and, by extension, this book. Though I was unsure about it at first, I grew more and more intrigued with it and, by the end, I was just impressed that Taylor managed to introduce a new story so seamlessly into the one she'd been building for two volumes already. Additionally, this new story helps leave the path open for more books in this world - the ending is quite open to the possibility of the series continuing, though, if I had my druthers, Taylor will focus on some of those lovely secondary characters (not that I wouldn't keep reading about Akiva and Karou, but I like to think they deserve a bit of private time now).

My main complaint about this volume was I got a Return of the King feeling about 100 pages from the end - that is, it felt like I was reading the end of the book, only I knew that wasn't true because I could see I still had many pages left. It wasn't quite as bad as the multiple false endings in Return of the King but it still irked me just a bit.

Overall, this series is absolutely one of my favorites, one I hope to reread in the future, when I can luxuriate in all three books, perhaps during one long weekend. I'll continue to recommend this series to teen fantasy lovers and await to see what Taylor will come up with next.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

Puddle Pug
By Kim Norman, illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi
Published 2014 by Sterling Children's Books
So my coworker has a bit of an obsession with pugs. She's also the one who orders the picture books. As a result, we receive every picture book featuring a pug in our library. Which isn't always a bad thing, as with this book. This book is very adorable. It features a pug who cannot resist a puddle. He is looking for the most perfect puddle and finally finds it. Unfortunately, it's occupied. Can the current occupant and the pug reach a compromise? The illustrations are probably what makes this book for me, so sweet and so realistic. A very fun book that will certainly be a hit with kids.

A Catfish Tale
By Whitney Stewart, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais
Published 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company
This is a retelling of the classic tale of "The Fisherman and His Wife." Stewart's version is set on the bayou and features its distinctive flavor. I feel pretty ambivalent about this book. The tale is not one of my favorites and I think Cajun/Creole is hard to do well so it's mostly just okay for me. I do like the illustrations quite a bit. They are the right amount of vibrant and soft and they have a bit of a retro flair, which I always enjoy. An interesting take on the tale.

Rules of Summer
By Shaun Tan
Published 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Add Shaun Tan to the list of authors I just don't get. I mean, I understand that his books are not what they seem, that they are full of layers and symbolism and deeper meanings. But I don't ever get them. This book is no exception. It's full of striking imagery as it tells the tale of two brothers and their rules for summer. But it's not as straightforward as you might initially imagine. It's complex and I have a hard time believing that children are really going to get this book. But, maybe they're smarter than I am and will see what I don't. I think Shaun Tan just isn't an author for me.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Capsule Reviews

Once again, I find myself with a handful of books to review that I don't have terribly much to say about. Add the fact that I'm trying to clear out my backlog of reviews before the end of the year and you have another set of capsule reviews!

Saving Lucas Biggs
By Marisa de los Santos and David Teague
Published 2014 by HarperCollins

Time travel books usually make my head hurt if I think about them too much, but I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. I thought the writing was quite good - the descriptions were lovely and the storytelling flowed very naturally. There is a lot happening in this book, but I never got lost or confused. The book moves at a good pace, flashing back and forth in time in a way that makes sense and propels the story along. I think this is also a great book for discussion, touching upon many topics and issues that are thought-provoking.

Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society, book two)
By Ally Carter, read by Angela Dawe

Published 2011 by Brilliance Audio

I read the first book in this series last spring and have been anxious to get back to it. Since I was trying to adhere to my no library books rule this year, I downloaded the audio version and gave it a listen. Once again, I discovered that I probably shouldn't switch versions partway through - I had a harder time recalling what happened in the first book then I think I would have otherwise. But, once I remembered what had happened, I enjoyed this as much as the first. I love the characters, and I liked the mystery even better in this one. I'm looking forward to picking up the rest of the series eventually, though I'll probably go back to print.

Cruel Beauty
By Rosamund Hodge, read by Elizabeth Knowelden
Published 2014 by Harper Audio

I am always game for a fairy tale retelling, so I downloaded this audiobook, despite a less-than-positive review from a friend. Ultimately, I mostly agreed with her. I thought the mythology was a bit much, which is probably a first for me. It seemed like Hodge tried to cram too many different stories into one book and it just didn't work for me. Additionally, I don't think Nyx's motivations for falling in love with both men were ever explained well and it just didn't work for me. I don't think the worldbuilding was strong enough, either - I never had a true sense of how Nyx's world worked. I was also pretty disappointed in the ending. Hodge has another fairy tale-inspired book coming out next year; I'll probably give it a shot, but I don't have high hopes.

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor (Frank Einstein, book one)
By Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs
Published 2014 by Amulet Books

An ARC of this showed up at the library, so I figured I'd give it a read to have a better sense for recommending it to kids. Unfortunately, Scieszka's books don't really circulate that well in our library, so I'm not sure how much success this book will see. I thought it was cute and definitely has great kid appeal - a science theme (which is very in right now) and a lot of humor, plus liberal illustrations. Unfortunately, it wasn't really as funny as I expected it to be and I found most of the illustrations distracting rather than enhancing. I also thought the plot was mostly pretty boring and Frank was actually a pretty obnoxious character. I don't think I'll be reading book two, but I hope some kids find and enjoy this story.

Twelve Kinds of Ice
By Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Published 2012 by HMH Books for Young Readers

When this book first came out, several people mentioned it in the same breath as the Newbery Award. I was definitely intrigued. Despite its short length, I didn't pick it up until recently - unfortunately as I was weeding it from our collection. It is a lovely book, one that speaks particularly to me as a native New Englander (though one that doesn't particularly enjoy winter). I loved how evocative Obed's prose was and I can see why people discussed this for the Newbery - every word is chosen with absolute precision, adding up to a beautiful and enchanting whole. The illustrations are lovely as well. Unfortunately, this is a book with limited appeal to children; I can see it perhaps being picked up by fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder - it has that same sense of nostalgia. It's a book I enjoyed, but one that didn't see much success with my patrons.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review: Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty!

Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty!
By Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Published 2014 by Schwartz & Wade

Madeleine desperately wants to save money for college but, big surprise, her hippie parents are broke. So, when they unexpectedly inherit a sweets shoppe in England, the family sets sail. Never one to miss an adventure, Mrs. Bunny comes along for the trip, dragging Mr. Bunny with her.

Okay, confession: I was looking forward to this book so much that I broke my resolution for the year so I could read it. Yes, I checked it out from the library. I just couldn't resist! I had unexpectedly loved the first book so much that it simply felt too unfair to deprive myself of the sure-to-be-delightful sequel!

Like I said, I was completely taken aback by how much I enjoyed the first book. Talking animals are most decidedly not my thing but there was something oddly charming about Mr. and Mrs. Bunny and their human friends that I completely fell for. Perhaps my enthusiasm for this book was too great, though - for I didn't love it as much as the first. Maybe the oddball charm of the first is something best experienced for the first time - after all, by the second time, you're expecting it, aren't you? Don't get me wrong, I still adored this book, just not quite as much as the first.

I think my disappointment came from the humans storyline. In the first book, Madeleine's parents are missing and she sets out to rescue them, with the help of the intrepid detective Bunnys. In this book, the story of Madeleine and her parents just felt weaker. I found myself eagerly anticipating the next chapter with the Bunnys and their quest for titles and royalty and fame and not caring quite so much about Madeleine and her parents. Perhaps it's partly because her parents have been set up as pretty neglectful people. Perhaps it's just that I adore the Bunnys so. Whatever the reason, I didn't find this book quite as strong as the first.

Regardless, I still enjoyed the book tremendously. It's quite amusing and definitely appealing for the oddball in me. I will be on the lookout for further adventures with the Bunnys!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: A Snicker of Magic

A Snicker of Magic
By Natalie Lloyd
Published 2014 by Scholastic

Felicity hopes that moving to Midnight Gulch will mean good things for her family. She longs to know a place she can call home: her mother was born to wander and Felicity has had to tag along. Felicity sees words everywhere and the words she sees in Midnight Gulch give her hope. But she'll have to figure out how to return the magic to the town and heal her mother's broken heart.

This book got tons of buzz at the beginning of the year and I was pleased to score an ARC at ALA Midwinter. Unfortunately, I didn't find the time to read it prior to publication, though I did read it soon after. This book is still generating some buzz - it's been thrown around as a potential Newbery contender, something that I had heard even before the book was published. All of this made me very interested in reading it.

Here's what I think: I found the book charming, which surprised me a little. It's a very particular kind of book: quirky, with playful language and a spunky heroine. This has been hit or miss for me in the past, so I wasn't sure what to expect this time around. For the most part, I thought Felicity was a great character. I enjoyed reading about her and getting to know her, as well as the other members of her family. There were quite a lot of characters, though, and it did get a bit much at times.

Where I think the book will be most divisive is the language - Felicity has a very unique way of seeing and describing the world. For me, the unique language worked. It really helped to create and maintain the magical atmosphere that I think Lloyd was going for. However, I can easily see other readers being irritated with the language and prose throughout. It's interesting because it worked well for me in this book but a different book (that I've yet to review) also featured very unique language and it didn't work for me at all.

The plot also goes a little out of control for a bit and the ending is a bit convenient, but I don't think these things will matter to kids. In fact, looking at the circulation in my library, this book has barely been on the shelves since we got it - kids are definitely interested in this one. Overall, I thought this was a lovely read, mostly because of the endearing characters and the message about the power of words. I'll be happy to recommend this to readers in the future.

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: More Than This

More Than This
By Patrick Ness
Published 2013 by Candlewick Press

Seth drowned. He knows this, he remembers it. And yet, he's alive. Or is he? He's someplace, someplace that seems familiar, but just a little off. Where is he? And what does it mean?

Patrick Ness is one of my favorite writers. If you haven't read the Chaos Walking series, please do it. It will destroy you, but it's so, so worth it. In fact, everything of Ness' that I've read will pretty much destroy you, with this book perhaps being the exception. I made a friend with one of the Candlewick reps at ALA Midwinter in 2013 and she let me know that Ness had a new book publishing that year and they'd have ARCs at Annual and he'd be there, so it was one of the first things to go on my agenda as I planned my Annual conference in 2013.

As you can imagine, this means that I wanted to love this book. I had a signed ARC from one of my favorite authors for a book I'd been anticipating for months. And I liked it. But I didn't love it.

Writing this review at such a remove from reading the book itself is not great for me because I'm finding it more difficult to remember why I felt mostly ambivalent about this book. But I shall try. I think my problems actually started with Seth - I never really connected with him. Yes, his emotions are there on the page but, unlike with other Ness characters, I felt them at a distance. I think I became more interested in the book after the introduction of the other characters - Tomasz and Regine. I felt them more fully than Seth, which is not what I think Ness intended.

Maybe this book was just not the book for me. It's very philosophical and cerebral, more so than most of what I read. While I certainly relish a book that makes me think, sometimes I find that challenge frustrating. I think that's what happened here. Ness has created this story to ask some very big and complicated questions, which is fine and good, but what I really wanted was a great story. I feel almost like the story took a backseat to the ponderings and questioning that Ness is encouraging readers to engage in.

I've talked about ambiguous endings in the past and my opinion of them is pretty ambiguous - sometimes I love them, sometimes I don't. This was a situation when I wanted a more definitive answer. Once again, I completely understand that the not knowing is precisely what Ness was going for, but it's not what I, as the reader, wanted from the book.

I can definitely see this book having its legions of fans and, perhaps, actual young-adult me would have enjoyed this more than grown-up me did. Regardless, Ness is one of the most brilliant authors writing today, so I'll keep eagerly anticipating whatever he decides to do next and treasuring my signed copy of my least favorite of his books because I still think he's that bloody brilliant.

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
By Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright , read by Katherine Kellgren and Robin Sachs
Published 2012 by Listening Library

Skilley longs for the comfort of a roof over his head and the ease of meals provided for him, so when he hears that Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is in need of a mouser, he presents himself for the job. In order to keep his secret, though, Skilley soon finds himself in cahoots with a resident mouse.

Like many of my audiobook downloads, this came about mostly through a whim, though I'm getting to the point where I'll listen to pretty much anything read by Katherine Kellgren.

This book reminded me quite a bit of A Nest for Celeste - it features a historical figure that may or may not be familiar to most kids (in this case, Charles Dickens), but tells that person's story secondary to the story of an animal in their world. If the enduring popularity of Ben and Me by Robert Lawson is any indication, this is a pretty good formula for finding an audience of kid readers. I think maybe part of this is the greater freedom an author might feel when writing an animal character. We don't REALLY know what animals would be like if they could talk, and we don't know everything about how they interact in our world, so there's a little more room to play, to create something outlandish and particular that might not work if that character were human. The characters in this book were fun to read about, and I think they definitely have kid appeal.

Perhaps the best thing about this book for me was the language. I've adored some of Deedy's picture books, so I expected that this would be pleasant, but the language really shines, perhaps particularly so in the audio version. Then again, everything probably sounds lovely in Kellgren's voice, but I really think the turns of phrase in this novel are excellent.

Listening to the audio version, I missed out the illustrations by Barry Moser, but I assume they're quite lovely. Overall, I found this a delightful historical fiction tale that will definitely appeal to animal lovers.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

By Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Redpath Ohi
Published 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
I mean, do I really have to review this book? Kids are going to think this is absolutely hilarious. In fact, I find it hard to imagine reading this book in storytime. I don't think I'd be able to get through a single page without the kids cracking up. That being said, this book is a lot of fun and definitely has tons of kid appeal. Has anyone shared this in storytime? I'd love to hear how it went!

By Sandra J. Howatt, illustrated by Joyce Wan
Published 2014 by Beach Lane Books
This is a perfectly simple and sweet book to share at bedtime. Different animals are shown in their habitats settling down for the night. The rhythm is gentle and lulling and the illustrations will definitely make you sleepy. They are soft and lovely. I really appreciated the vocabulary used in this book - it's a little beyond what you see in a typical bedtime book. This book is just a delight - soothing and beautiful. Definitely one to share and a great gift for frazzled parents looking for something to help their kids to sleep.

Monster Needs His Sleep
By Paul Czajak, illustrated by Wendy Grieb
Published 2014 by Scarletta Kids
I absolutely adored the first adventure with Monster so I was thrilled to see him return for this title. I snatched it up as soon as I spotted it arrive at the library and read it instantly. Monster is a little bit afraid of the dark but if he never goes to bed, then he never has to worry. Of course, as you and I know, Monster needs his sleep and he won't be able to avoid bedtime forever. Will Monster get to bed without being afraid? I don't think this was as good as Monster's first book, but it's still a cute story with an even cuter monster star. I'll look forward to another outing with Monster.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Ruins

Ruins (Partials, book three)
By Dan Wells
Published 2014 by Balzer + Bray

WARNING: There may be spoilers ahead. Read my reviews of books one and two.

Kira is doing everything in her power to prevent a war from destroying what little is left of civilization. Unfortunately, with every day that passes, it seems like doing her best is not enough. Kira is going to seize her last chance and hope that people will listen to her - or she'll die trying.

I've been singing the praises of this series since I read an ARC of book one, so I was desperate to see how it all would end. Though the final book was released in my year of no library books, I made an exception - my fiance was reading the series and, if we could both finish the book in one checkout period, I'd be allowed to read it. I know, I know - it's cheating and trust me, I felt guilty. But I also needed to know how this series would end!

In short, I loved the ending. Everything that I had loved about the series was still there and still on point in book three. I thought Wells wrapped everything up in a believable fashion, if a bit too tidy for a dystopian series. Kira is still the kick-butt heroine I fell in love with in book one. The multiple storylines that started in book two continue here, and continue to help the novel keep up a relentless pace. Once again, I found myself turning the pages as quickly as I could, eager to know what would happen. I can understand that some readers don't enjoy this kind of storytelling - the ping-ponging between different sets of characters and narratives. Personally, I love it. It keeps me from getting bored with the minutiae of any one storyline and forces me to remember all the characters, not just one or two. And again, Wells manages to balance the action with more thoughtful scenes that encourage readers to question and think. Though the actual ending was mostly unsurprising, I enjoyed it. I liked how Wells wrapped up the storylines.

As a whole, I think this series is brilliant, and I love recommending it to readers. I will definitely continue to do so and I will wait to see what Wells has is store for readers next.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Series review: Big Nate

Big Nate in a Class by Himself (book one)
By Lincoln Peirce
Published 2010 by HarperCollins

Big Nate Strikes Again (book two)
Published 2010 by HarperCollins

Big Nate on a Roll (book three)
Published 2011 by HarperCollins

Big Nate Goes for Broke (book four)
Published 2012 by HarperCollins

Big Nate Flips Out (book five)
Published 2013 by HarperCollins

Big Nate in the Zone (book six)
Published 2014 by HarperCollins

Nate doesn't try to be a difficult kid - trouble just always seems to find him! Follow the trials and tribulations as he tries to navigate sixth grade and faces off repeatedly against his arch-nemesis Gina.

You may have noticed this about me: when I plan a program, I like to prepare. So, when my coworker and I decided we would focus on Big Nate for one of our Adventure Club programs, I did what I do - I read all the books.

To be fair, though this may sound crazy, these books are insanely quick reads - perhaps an hour, hour and fifteen minutes per book. This is partly due to their heavily illustrated nature and partly due to just how well they flow. Unlike many of the books I read to prepare for programs (I'm looking at you, Dork Diaries and American Girl), I actually enjoyed the Big Nate books. They are amusing and fun, and, like I said, extremely quick reads. I can see why they appeal to so many kids. Much like Greg Heffley, I'm not sure Nate should be anyone's role model (he isn't always the kindest or most thoughtful person), but I'm also not sure that kids are looking for that when they're reading.

I don't really have much more to say about these books. They are what they are - entertaining and funny, written in a way to engage reluctant readers and voracious readers alike. I think they'll continue to be popular for some time to come, and I might even pick up book seven for myself.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Insanity

By Susan Vaught
Published 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens

Never, Kentucky is not just a small town. It's a crossways, where the dead and the living can interact. It's not the safest place to be. But Forest is stuck here, at least for now, working at Lincoln Hospital. Things take a strange turn one night and Forest is about to uncover her past, one she never could have imagined.

As I've said before, I'll try pretty much anything at least once, and I'm always on the lookout for creepy reads. I was happy to receive a galley of this, as it looked like it might by unsettling enough for my tastes. However, I didn't really care for this book.

It's told in distinct sections, each from a new point of view. The stories are all connected, though the transition from the first to the second was quite abrupt (it was much smoother with the other sections). I never really connected with any of the characters and it seemed that the narrative switched just at the point I was getting used to each new voice. For me, the plot was just a mess, with a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure, and only the presence of all of them together makes them unique. Additionally, I found the pacing very uneven. I had a hard time getting into this book, but later, there were parts that flew by. I know Vaught was going for a creepy atmosphere, what with the nearly abandoned hospital setting and all, but mostly, the vibe just came off weird to me. As much as I wanted to enjoy this book, it just wasn't for me. However, fans of Daniel Kraus and other complex, literary horror will probably enjoy this one.

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Release Day Review: Now That You're Here

Now That You're Here (Duplexity, part one)
By Amy K. Nichols
Expected publication December 9, 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Danny was on the run when a strange explosion rocked him. The next thing he knows, he's waking up in a classroom, looking at Eevee - but not the Eevee he knows. Is it possible that Danny has jumped universes? Eevee will stop at nothing to solve the mystery and help Danny figure out what happened to him.

I think I downloaded this galley on a whim - most science fiction I can take or leave. But parallel universes seem to be popping up more, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I feel pretty ambivalent about this one.

I liked the alternating narratives. Both Danny and Eevee were interesting characters with unique perspectives (though Eevee's name never stopped bothering me). I liked the basic storyline as well - parallel universes make my head hurt but are nevertheless interesting. But I had issues with the book as well. I feel like a lot of things could have been more fully developed - the first chapter is set in Danny's real universe and I don't have a real sense of what's going on there. Danny explains some of the differences to Eevee during the course of the novel, but I still don't feel like his world is fleshed out enough. Similarly, though I liked both characters well enough, I felt like they could have been developed more as well. The romance that inevitably develops between them feels false as well. It seemed to undermine Eevee's character, too - previously, she was a smart and driven girl who loved nerdy things. After Danny arrived, she worried only about how he felt about her, what he was doing, and how he was changing her. I did not love that aspect of the novel.

Pretty much what you'd expect to happen in the end does, leaving the set-up for the sequel. I can pretty much figure out exactly what's going to happen in book two. I'm not sure if I'll be back for it. This one was a quick read and held my interest the whole time, but it wasn't amazing. I'll probably pick up book two, but I don't think I'll be waiting on tenterhooks for it.

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: Suspicion

By Alexandra Monir
Expected publication December 9, 2014 by Delacorte Press

Imogen's life was changed forever when her parents died in a tragic fire. Now, her life is about to change even more as she learns of the deaths of her grandfather and cousin. Their deaths mean that Imogen is the new Duchess of Rockford - and she'll have to move to their English estate immediately. But something strange is happening at Rockford Manor and Imogen's life is in danger. Can she solve the mystery before it's too late?

Looking back at the Goodreads description of this book, I think I probably downloaded the galley because it's supposed to be a modern-day retelling of Rebecca - admittedly, not my favorite book, but enough to have me intrigued. Unfortunately, I think this book falls far short of reaching du Maurier's level.

Pretty much everything about this book just feels amateur - the characters are not fully fleshed out and neither is the plot or setting. The writing is very basic and the romance suffers from a case of insta-love. The magic is flat-out ridiculous and the ending is completely unbelievable. Despite this, I imagine there are readers who will enjoy this book - I just wasn't one of them. Let me try to take it piece by piece.

The characters: so bland and stereotypical. Ruggedly handsome long-lost crush. Excitable little sister. Overly concerned parents. Imposing maid. Sophisticated and beautiful cousin. And slightly naive, still-grieving teenager. I just didn't care about any of them - they could have come from any old story. Nothing made them special or unique or interesting.

The same could be said about the plot - it feels very run-of-the-mill. A series of mysterious deaths thrusts a teenager into a world she is ill-prepared for. But, she longs to solve the mysteries behind those deaths, not caring about the risky situation she may be putting herself in. Everything plays out as you would expect it to - so much so, that I suspected most things to be red herrings because it just seemed silly that this would actually be the plot.

For all the time Monir spends describing the setting, I still don't find it very interesting. It reads like any other countryside manor - which I guess is probably pretty true to life but doesn't make for a particularly interesting setting. The part that I found most interesting - the Maze and surrounding gardens - was the part that Monir spent the least time describing.

The writing itself is incredibly basic and mostly descriptions and dialogue. Nothing to write home about and definitely some of the weaker writing I've seen in recent YA novels. I don't need every book to be filled with beautiful prose (a la Stiefvater and Taylor) but generally, I'd like it to be more than just functional.

The romance: just UGH. I mean, technically, it's not insta-love: the characters grew up together. But it still feels like it. All the bits where other boys showed interest in Imogen and she couldn't understand why she wasn't interested in them, too? Just BLERGH. No thank you.

The magic here is eyeroll-inducing. When it was first mentioned, I almost thought it was a joke. The way it's described and the fact that everyone just sort of accepts it made me cringe. It's one thing for a world to exist where magic is an accepted part of the world - but the setting that Monir has described does not indicate that kind of world, making the appearance of magic here a bit jarring.

The ending stretches the limits of credibility. It just doesn't make sense, to the point of being laughable.

Just overall, the book did not work for me. That being said, there are readers out there who will likely be able to ignore the flaws I've found and enjoy the mystery. But I won't be recommending this one.

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Summer Program Recap Bonanza: Tween Programs!

I think I might finally be at the end of recapping my summer programs! Huzzah! The last programs I'll recap are those I did just for kids ages 9-12 (how we define tweens at my library).

Blinkybugs: my boss and I collaborated on the program, knowing that we wanted to take advantage of the science theme for summer reading and try to host several science-themed programs. She had done this program before and said it would be a piece of cake - all we needed to do was set a limit, order kits, and help the kids assemble them. If only it had been that easy! Turns out the kits were unavailable to order and buying all the parts piecemeal was going to be too costly. We began to scramble - what could we do that would be similar but not so expensive? We decided upon bristlebots - tiny robots made from the heads of toothbrushes. My coworker had also made these before, though I hadn't. We thought it would be simple enough. Well, we encountered trouble again, ordering the motors we needed online - and then they shipped from Asia, very close to our program date. Finding the right kind of toothbrush also turned out to be a challenge - the first ones we got didn't work, and neither did the second set. Finally, we found some and we were set. But how would we make the program last? Turns out that building the tiny robots with a roomful of tweens took slightly more time than anticipated. As they finished, we set up a little race course for them and they took turns racing each other. We also put down a big sheet of blank paper and paint and had them use their robots to paint designs on the paper. We still finished the program a bit early, but the kids had fun. So, despite the setbacks, the program was a success.

Homemade Candy: last year, I hosted a VERY successful candy science program. I didn't want to do an exact repeat this year, but I knew something similar would be a hit, so with the help of Pinterest, I came upon this program. It ended up being a bit more complicated than I expected, but the kids had a lot of fun and a lot of sugar. What we ended up making included: candy bars (each child received a plain Hershey's bar, which we then melted in the microwave. Next, they added the mix-ins (chocolate chips, caramel bits, sunflower seeds, coconut, etc.) they wanted, then poured it onto wax paper to set), candy buttons (a personal favorite of mine - I used this recipe and had the base pre-mixed; they added the flavoring they wanted and squeezed the buttons onto wax paper), mints (I never fell in love with the final texture of these, but had the supplies, so we went for it anyway), and rock candy (oh, rock candy - my greatest failure; I made several test batches with varying degrees of success but finally got one to work before the program. However, rock candy takes a long time, so I spent many hours boiling sugar and water and filling jars - which the kids had added flavoring and coloring to - only for none of the jars to set! As expected, most of the kids didn't come back for their candy, but I bought some store-bought pieces for those who did - never again rock candy!). The kids didn't seem to care about the actual success of each piece of candy - they were just there for the sugar! This program hit capacity, so definitely a big success!

World Records: inspired by Bryce Don't Play, I wanted to host my own record-breaking program. In one area, I posted life-size versions of the world's largest hand and foot, as well as a sheet marked with the heights of the world's tallest and shortest people, as well as the tallest dog. Not a big exciting station, but some kids couldn't believe how big the hand and foot were and measured their own against it. Some of the records we actually tried to beat were: sorting a deck of cards (they had to sort them by suit and arrange them low to high - some of the kids really wanted to beat this record!), solving a Rubik's cube (I think only one kid even tried this), most socks put on one foot in 60 seconds (holy cats, they loved trying this one!), sorting M&Ms with chopsticks (they had to separate the colors using chopsticks - some were definitely more skilled at this than others), and cup stacking (at the end of the program, I showed them the video of the world record holder and they were stunned into silence). It was one of my more low-key programs, but I think the kids who came had a good time.

One Direction Party: man, I worried about this program so much before it happened. It seemed that 1D wasn't as popular as they had been the summer before. But their tour was visiting Dallas at the end of this summer, so I took a shot. I'd say it was mildly successful - I had a group of girls attend who had never heard of the band, as well as a brother with very little interest. Overall, actually, most of the kids who came were not superfans like I expected, making the second half of the program a bit less successful than I wanted it to be. For the first half, we made 1D paper dolls (cut out of construction paper, with photos of the boys' faces to glue on and markers to make clothes) and filled in the lyrics (I left out some of the words from their songs and the kids had to try to fill in the blanks). I also had giant sheets of paper up with a few survey questions (favorite band member, favorite song, etc.) - Harry won, of course. For the second part of the program, we had some 1D Jeopardy - which was a complete bust. One girl knew all the answers and everyone else knew none. I probably should have just called it quits as soon as this became obvious, but I am a bit stubborn. After the trivia was over and prizes awarded, I put some videos up on the big screen and we danced and sang along. I think most of the kids had a good time; I just wish I'd had more actual fans in attendance.

Meet the Artist: I've posted about this program several times in the past. This was the first year I decided to continue the program over the summer. I had about the same attendance as during the school year prior. For our July meeting, we learned about Louise Nevelson and made assemblage art. The kids had a lot of fun with this and made some very cool pieces.

T-Shirt Art: I finished up the summer with a very easy and well-attended program. I offered Sharpie tie-dye (which we've done several times before and is always popular) and bleach pen art (my first time trying this one). Once again, the program was a success, though the bleach pens were in high demand and sharing was not a mastered skill. It was a good choice for the final program of the summer - easy and stress-free!

And that's it! I've finally finished recounting all my summer programs! Looking back, I can't believe how much I did - and I'm only a fraction of our department! We really busted our butts this summer to host a variety of programs for all ages and we were definitely successful! I can only look forward to next summer with a mix of excitement and trepidation - what will we come up with??

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Picture Book Saturday

How to Cheer Up Dad
By Fred Koehler
Published 2014 by Dial
Little Jumbo's dad is having a bad day. Little Jumbo doesn't know why, but he comes up with a plan to cheer him up. It's a very cute story that parents will relate to quite easily. Little Jumbo does not acknowledge that it's his actions that have soured his dad's mood and, of course, this is often true with small children. It might work a little better if, by the end of the story, Little Jumbo learned this, but it's still pretty cute. I liked the simplicity of the illustrations as well and I think kids will find them appealing.

This is a Moose
By Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Published 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I was drawn to the gloriously posed moose on the cover of this book. Right from the front, he suggests that this story is going to be some fun and he's not wrong. This is a tongue-in-cheek little tale of a director who wants to make a serious movie about a moose but his moose star has other ideas. This is a very funny tale that is sure to have kids laughing like mad about the antics of the moose and his relatives. It only gets funnier as the story goes on, with a big surprise at the end. The illustrations are bold and eye-catching and this is definitely going to be a hit with the storytime crowd.

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep
By Barney Saltzberg
Published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
Chengdu is a panda who cannot fall asleep. Everyone else is comfortable and sleeping, but not Chengdu. He has to find just the perfect spot and he finally does. Of course, when he does, it means someone else is no longer sleeping. This is a story that kids (and their parents) will definitely relate to but with some fun twists that readers will enjoy. The illustrations are adorable and suit the story very well. My only complaint is with the fold-out pages - they are not going to hold up in the library very long. But a sweet story all the same.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Capsule Reviews

So, sometimes I read a book and I feel obligated to review it (this is my own thing - no one is forcing me) but I don't really have terribly much to say about it. Because I'm trying to review everything I read, I sometimes put these reviews off and then I get to where I am now - months and months behind in my reviewing. I've decided to give myself permission to write quick reviews of books like these - books which I may have enjoyed but that I don't think warrant an entire post to themselves.

Under Wildwood (Wildwood Chronicles, book two)
By Colin Meloy, read by the author

Published 2012 by Balzer + Bray

I was enthusiastic about the first book in this series so I decided to download the audio version of book two in an attempt to make progress with series begun but not completed. Never again will I switch formats in the middle of a series. This book did not work at all for me in audio - there was too much happening and it was all happening very slowly. My interest waned pretty extensively over the course of listening and, as a result, I'm pretty sure I'll need to reread this book before I pick up the final book in the trilogy. I'm still not sure that marketing this as a children's book is really the best thing for it - not only is it hefty but the vocabulary is likely to be challenging to middle-grade readers (unlike, say, the Heroes of Olympus series which may clock in with just as many pages but much simpler vocabulary - if you don't count trying to pronounce all the Greek and Roman words).

The Magician (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, book two)
By Michael Scott, read by Erik Singer
Published 2008 by Listening Library

Hmm, maybe it's just series books that I find I don't have as much to say about? Regardless, my fiance and I listened to this book on a road trip, just as we did with book one. I had mixed feelings about the first book but I like to finish what I start, so we went ahead with book two. I felt pretty much the same about Josh and Sophie as I did in the first book, with the addition of it being pretty obvious where the series is going to go from here. The reason I keep returning to these books is the mythology - Scott has done a wonderful job of embracing a wide and varied world of mythology that I find endlessly interesting. I keep reading in hopes of discovering more new mythology. I liked the new characters introduced in this volume, and I thought the separation of Nicholas and Perenell made the storyline a bit more dynamic. Once again, we've downloaded the next book - we'll see when we find time for it!

By Sally Murphy, illustrated by Rhian Nest James
Published 2012 by Candlewick

I'm a sucker for a verse novel, so I quickly read this one on a slow night at work. I was a bit let down by the book. I understand it's difficult to write a story such as this - a young boy's best friend is diagnosed with cancer. How do you write something that is true but not hopeless or maudlin? I guess my complaint is that this book mostly felt superficial. While I understood intellectually that John was having a tough time dealing with Dom's diagnosis, it didn't come off authentically on the page. I think I just hoped for more from this one.