Monday, March 30, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the dead zone by Rebecca L. Johnson

I've only recently discovered Rebecca Johnson's nonfiction, but I'm already definitely a fan. Most recently I reviewed When Lunch Fights Back and today I'm looking at another unique look at animal life.

The introduction shows a beautiful swallow with a surprise - it's radioactive. How could this happen to an animal? Well...the first chapter explains the history of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, explaining both the scientific and historical context. The chapter ends with a section on the long-term effect on humans in the dead zone and the creation of the Exclusion Zone around the disaster.

The next three chapters condense an extremely complicated situation, a number of species and their different reactions to the radioactive sector, and the differing opinions and theories of two groups of scientists into an admirably concise and fascinating narrative. Are animals really thriving in the dead zone? Is the radioactive area changing them for the better or worse? Can radioactive sites be reclaimed? The final chapter reflects on the lessons learned from studying Chernobyl, the part nuclear disasters continue to play in our lives, and the resilience of the animals who continue to live in these areas.

Back matter includes an author's note (primarily acknowledgements), glossary, source notes, bibliography, further information (books, websites, and videos), and index. The book is an over-sized chapter book style, which I am very happy with since it is so difficult to get older kids to check out nonfiction that looks like picture books. It's a concise 64 pages, but packs a ton of text, photographs, sidebars, and additional information into those few pages.

Verdict: This is a well-written book an a unique and interesting subject. But, it's from Lerner's Twenty-First Century Books imprint which means it's OMG EXPENSIVE. It's really, really hard to justify spending $27 on a book. It's not something timeless like Lego building either, where it makes sense to shell out extra $$ for a strong binding. This is an ongoing research project into the effect of nuclear disasters and there will undoubtedly be new titles on this subject coming out a few years down the road. So, if your budget can cover it, highly recommended. If, like me, you have a smaller budget, sigh sadly as you take it off the order cart.

ISBN: 9781467711548; Published 2014 by Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner; Borrowed from another library in my consortium (with a bigger budget); Still holding on a backlist of ordering because I really, really loved it, but will probably not purchase.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

This week at the library; or, Why is hibernation not a thing?

Clean desk! Of course, now I'm going on vacation and can't
enjoy it...
What's going on in my head and at the library
  • One more week until Spring Break and vacation! For me anyways...cold. COLD. However, I did hear some really nice things from a teacher I work with and a parent said something really nice which I meant to write down but promptly forgot. But warm fuzzies!
  • Monday - lengthy staff meeting, then I had a second, unofficial staff meeting with my staff to plan out displays and pass on all the stuff from the staff meeting, then I gave the information desk a break, then I worked on stuff from the staff meeting (although not actually writing up the staff meeting minutes) while I was on the information desk in the evening. And I was the Easter Bunny for Tiny Tots.
  • Tuesday I got to be the Easter Bunny again - twice - for the toddlers, processed new books, wrote up the staff minutes, sent out copious emails regarding outreach, and tackled the missing list. It was a rather...well...things happened and I am dealing with them.
  • Wednesday - I worked through another cartful of easy readers and a bunch of other things. Nobody really showed up for storytime. Then I cleaned off my desk and went over the big projects my associate is going to do next week while I'm gone.
  • Thursday. still cold. so....cold....I....did stuff. Cleaned off my desk, worked at the information desk, and then egg painting.
  • Friday - I cleaned off my desk and my cart and finished going through the easy readers through the Rs and made a calendar for the Storyroom outside/evening events (like the Brownies meeting there) and then t-shirts.
Stealth Programs
What the kids are reading (a selection)
  • Wings of Fire book 7 - coming out in June, I promised to place a hold for the patron
  • Notebook of Doom - all 5 books were out but I got the 6th book that had just come in off my desk and they were very excited
  • Bailey School Kids
  • Monster be good by Natalie Marshall (don't have it, but put it on hold)
  • Aladdin - my one copy of this has checked out over 300 times. I've seen previews that it's being released again, but no definite dates.
  • Lilo and Stitch 2 - the soundtrack. Very unavailable, but I was able to figure out the song they wanted was on that soundtrack.
  • Princess Sofia books
  • Superhero books for a six year old
  • Lego easy readers, which were all on my cart (and I, apparently, need new ones)
  • Sharks - everything in the Neighborhoods was out, so I gave them some from the juvenile nonfiction
  • a little girl picked Tokyo Mew Mew and her dad was like "what IS this?" I figured out she just wanted something pretty and gave her Tinkerbell comics instead, which would be easier to read.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Digby O'Day in the fast lane by Shirley Hughes, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy

Sometimes you just need something light and British.

Digby O'Day loves his car, even if it is a bit old and prone to mishaps. One day, he and his best friend Percy are out for a drive when a particularly bad mishap nearly lands them in the soup! Fortunately, a helpful family saves the day (unlike that nasty Lou Ella in her bright pink convertible). Shortly afterwards, a big race is announced and Digby is excited to enter. However, things go wrong quite soon and he finds himself trailing behind everyone. Does he have a chance to win? And will he take winning over helping out his friends?

The artwork is most of the appeal of this sweet but rather meandering story. It has a breezy 50s feeling with the butlerine Digby, fashion-plate Lou Ella, and sleek, cheerful cars. The illustrations are in shades of black and brown, highlighted with red and pink.

This is a very slight story, very British with its cozy characters and bits of slang, and it is rather meandering. Just like Digby O'Day's race. But it's rather relaxing all the same. I enjoyed reading the cute little character bios, and the simple message that nice guys don't necessarily finish last, while very pat, is comforting and makes for a satisfying ending.

This also includes character bios, quizzes, fun writing and drawing prompts, and is the first in a new series.

Verdict: This is a perfect book to hand to really young, strong readers. They need something more challenging than easy readers, but they're not really developmentally ready to handle the plots of the more usual beginning chapter series. It would also make an adorable read-aloud for preschoolers.

ISBN: 9780763673697; Published 2014 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's backlist

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thrive Thursday: School-Age Program Round-Up

Post your links to school-age programs in the comments and I'll round them up. Git along little dogies!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Small Readers: Amelia Bedelia Chalks one up by Herman Parish, illustrated by Lynne Avril

I have a really hard time accepting the new incarnation of Amelia Bedelia as a child. I've always felt that a large part of the humor of her literalism disappears when she's a child, since kids make mistakes about words quite often normally. If I was going to like one, however, it would probably be this one.

On a glum winter day, Amelia's mother says, sadly, that she is feeling blue. Amelia is confused, but suggests her mother has a playdate to cheer herself up. Her mom agrees and their neighbor comes over to watch Amelia and her friend Rose while Amelia's mother goes out. As she leaves, she says "chalk up another gray day" which gives Amelia an idea. With the help of her friend Rose and a growing crowd of passers-by, they create a beautiful explosion of colors with all her mother's favorite things.

There wasn't as much of the mistaken words theme in this one, which is part of the reason I liked it. I Can Read's level ones have quite a significant amount of text, compared to other publishers, and this flows smoothly and would be quite good for the average first grade reader. What really sells this for me is the lovely illustrations. They fit nicely in amongst the text, without distracting from the words, and are full of friendly color and light, starting with the dull gray winter day and then blooming into an explosion of color.

Verdict: This is similar enough to the Fancy Nancy easy readers that you can just go with those, if your budget is limited, but if you have the money this would make a nice additional purchase. Especially if you live somewhere with lots of gray winter days!

ISBN: 9780062334220; Published 2014 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the easy reader backlist

Monday, March 23, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Who was here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks by Mia Posada

I put my name in for this title at Lerner's Free Book Friday because it looked interesting and I always want more books that will get kids outdoors and interested in nature (which, when you think about how much I dislike going outdoors is kind of ironic).

When the book arrived, I first realized that I actually knew the author's work - she did The Long, Long Journey which is amazing. And when I read the book I realized that it was amazing and I can't wait to use it in storytime!

Each page has a rhyming narrative of clues and then the repeated question, "Who was here?" The following spread reveals the answer and gives a brief paragraph of information about the animal. Animals include a bear, wolf and moose, kangaroo, hippo and egret, beaver, camel and snake, and jaguar. There is a page of information on how you can learn to read tracks yourself, a couple websites, and four books suitable for the same age range as this one for further reading. The clues and answers are simple enough to read with preschoolers, while the additional information will be great for discussions with kindergarten and slightly older children.

Posada's illustrations are reminiscent of Steve Jenkins' colorful ripped paper collages, but have richer backgrounds and a more realistic, natural look in my opinion. I especially liked that the text was carefully colored to stand out from the background, changing from light to dark as the background changes. The clue pages show not only the footprints in the mud, sand, or other ground but also a sampling of foliage around them. The solution page shows the animal in a typical activity with the background expanded to include more of its habitat.

Verdict: This is the perfect book for science-based storytimes at any time of the year and I look forward to using it with my outreach visits. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781467718714; Published 2014 by Milbrook/Lerner; Won in Free Book Friday; Donated to the library

Saturday, March 21, 2015

This week at the library; or, Is it spring at last?

Awesome sign-up srp prizes!
What's going on, in my head and at the library
  • Yes, it's spring, even though it's still freezing. The ways I can tell it's spring: I'm sick. The middle schoolers are bouncing off the walls. My car needs new brakes. I was doing really well keeping my dishes done (a New Year's resolution) and then got derailed and now there are dishes in my sink that date back to the Dr. Seuss party.
  • I had a sudden urge to spring clean and cleaned out a lot of junk in my summer reading closet and office - mostly by dumping it on Jess. I forgot again to check the count so I'm still not sure how many people came to the art show - 50? 100? probably something around there.
  • I should have worked a half day on Friday, but I stayed home miserably sick. I did do the dishes though...Saturday was busy but I made it through. The week did not end well, but I am trying to focus on the positive.
Stealth Programs
What the kids are reading; a selection
  • Biography of Stevie Wonder - we only had an adult one
  • Drama (one of my three copies needs to be replaced)
  • Chuggington books (we don't own any)
  • Flat Stanley (we have paperback chapters but only 1 easy reader)
  • 2 people asked for Where's Waldo and both times they were all checked out.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes

I have a backlist of illustrators to choose from for my We Explore Favorite Artists programs and Beth Krommes was near the top of the newer illustrators I wanted to try. However, when I was picking people for this year's programs, I was worried that she didn't have enough of a backlist of titles, especially those I could use with toddlers and young preschoolers. However, with this new title, I need worry no longer.

White's poetic text takes the reader through a rainy day on the farm, from growing storm clouds to pouring rain, from a celebration of muddy delights to the peaceful bath and bedtime as night arrives. Simple couplets explore the sound of the rain and the storm.

Krommes' artwork is a visual feast, with so much to offer for a discussion in programming. Her distinctive scratch-art style, of course, makes scratch-art projects a must. Hidden details in the pictures; the girl and dog under the covers during the thunder, little ducks in a pond almost hiding in the gutter of the book, and details in the landscape views are perfect for a toddler audience to interact with the story. For older children, discussions of how Krommes uses her scratch-art style to create shadows and movement, light and dark in the images, will flow naturally from the story.

I had our We Explore Favorite Artist Beth Krommes session last week and this book was a big hit. It's already garnered starred reviews and I expect to see it show up on award lists at some point as well.

Verdict: Even if you're not planning a program around this book, it's a must-have to add to your titles for toddlers. Beautiful art and lovely text combine to offer a simple, reassuring story of the beauty of a summer storm. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781442412675; Published 2014 by Beach Lane/Simon and Schuster; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Small Readers: Okay, Andy! by Maxwell Eaton III

I was skeptical when, several years ago, I first encountered Eaton's deadpan stories with their lumpy, broadly drawn illustrations. I quickly became a fan, however, especially when I saw how much kids giggled over them. When his graphic novel series, Beaver Brothers came out, I was hooked. So I was quite thrilled to see that he's back with a new easy reader series.

It would be easy to call these "the new Elephant and Piggie" and compare them to Willems, but they're a completely different animal. Heh.

The book opens with bright yellow endpapers, patterned with a stick, leaves, stone, turtle, acorn, and cattail. The title page gives the reader the first hint that Andy and Preston's relationship isn't the typical odd fellow friendship, showing the alligator holding the....let's call him a groundhog...up to his mouth. The first chapter, "Rabbit Games", introduces Andy (the alligator) and Preston (the other one). Andy is dreaming of a tasty rabbit dish, when Preston shows up, ready to play with his best friend! They're playing with a rabbit! So much fun! Andy, resigned to the situation, decides that Preston might as well be useful, but the game doesn't end up the way he expects! In chapter two, "Okay Andy" Preston is cheerfully collecting things to add to his acorn and keeps asking Andy if it's okay for him to have them. When Andy loses his footing, his stick, and his temper, will things be okay? Maybe, maybe not. The third and last chapter, "ZZZ" hints that Preston just might not be the friendly but clueless type. Andy just wants to sleep, but Preston wants to play a guessing game! This is the funniest chapter and kids will giggle helplessly as the exhausted Andy guesses all the wrong things for Preston's sound...and they both get a big surprise!

Maxwell Eaton's art has a distinctive, handmade style with big blocks of color and thick, hand-drawn lines. You might expect the dot eyes and lines to create characters that lack expression, but they are wonderfully expressive. Andy's exasperated friendship, Preston's enthusiasm, and Eaton's deadpan humor shine through every part of the art.

The text is simple, in some chapters consisted of only a few words, but this is one that will build children's visual as well as textual literacy, encouraging them to look for clues in the pictures, combine those with the text, and figure out what's going on beyond just the surface of the text. They will also be encouraged to read facial and physical expressions.

Verdict: No surprise that this was the 2014 Cybils winner! Funny and a great mix of text and art, perfect for a beginning reader with a little experience. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781609053505; Published 2014 by Blue Apple; Purchased for the library

Monday, March 16, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Why'd They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History by Sarah Albee

A few years ago I went to a museum exhibit of Impressionist art, with the fashion of the time period to accompany it. It was amazing, but I drove my friends nuts. While they were oohing and aahing over the amazing clothes, I was wondering how long servants had to spend ironing those millions of pleats. So, when Sarah Albee first announced that she was writing a book on fashion, I knew I was going to love it. She has a genius for looking into the small, practical aspects of history and relating them to the bigger events.

The book opens with a foreword by Tim Gunn and an introduction by Sarah Albee, explaining how the book is arranged and a general overview of how fashion and history are intertwined.

The main body of the book is divided into time periods, beginning with "The Ancient World", which includes Egyptian fashion, silk, Celts, and how fashion affected the Roman world. "The Middle Ages" focuses on Europe and the cost and expense of clothing, but also talks about how the Crusades affected European industry and includes snippets of information about Japanese styles. "The Age of Exploration" expands fashion across the globe, including dyes and their effect on the economy. "The Renaissance" focuses on the extravagant European styles, including poisonous make up (which isn't as historical as you might think!). "The Age of Reason" contrasts the clothing styles of the wealthy versus the poor, what colonists wore and how it related to the beginnings of revolution and how clothes were (or weren't) laundered. "Revolutionary Times" explains the importance of beaver pelts in the colonial economy and the growing use of cotton and its effect on the politics and economy of India and the American colonies. "Marching Toward Modernity" covers the mid-1700s to the early 1900s and includes a wide range of information about changes in children's fashions, military fashions, and the growing importance of the cotton and textile industry. "The Industrial Revolution" takes this information and digs deeper, talking about the rapid changes in the world that were affected by the fashion industry and in turn made major changes in fashion from more freedom for women's clothing to labor conditions in sweatshops. There's also a fascinating section on how the discovery of synthetic dyes made a drastic change in clothing styles and their economic and class significance. There are also sections on swimwear, athletic wear, fads in women's hats that affected wildlife, and more. The final chapter "World at War" takes readers through the radical changes in the world during the two world wars and the how the political and economic changes were reflected in clothing.

Final sections encourage thinking about how our clothing choices today reflect our world, from mass-produced clothing in third-world countries to wearing fur. Back matter includes a time line, final notes from the author, bibliography, further reading and resources, index, and credits for the extensive illustrations and photographs that fill the book.

Sarah Albee's great skill is in making history come alive and showing how the sometimes distant and unreal events like wars and politics, affected everyday people; not to mention how everyday people and events affected larger events. Of course kids have always wondered exactly how you went to the bathroom in one of those giant hoop skirts or how a knight in armor went to the bathroom (the answer...well, would you stop in the middle of battle to take all your armor off so you could go....)- but did they ever stop to think about how people fastened their clothes with no buttons, zippers or Velcro? Or how the cotton they might see growing in the fields or wear every day had a major effect on world events? It might even start some kids thinking about where their clothes come from and how they can make more informed choices.

Verdict: Copious photographs and a constant stream of interesting, weird, and gross facts will keep kids' interest, even if they aren't history or fashion fans, and by the end of the book they'll not only be amused, they'll also have learned some subtle lessons about how the small choices we make affect the world around us. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781426319198; Published 2015 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library