Friday, November 27, 2015

Lulu and the hamster in the night by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

Lulu just gets better and better. My favorite used to be Lulu and the cat in the bag but I think this is my new favorite.

Lulu, who loves pets and is allowed to have as many as she wants as long as she takes care of them, acquires a hamster from a classmate who has been treating it with indifference and is planning to abandon it. Under her care, Ratty begins to be more friendly and settle down in his new home. But then Lulu and her cousin and best friend Mellie are invited to spend the night at Nan's house. This would be great news, but Nan does NOT like pets in general and most definitely not rodents. Lulu and Mellie decide to take Ratty along anyways, but things quickly go wrong and there's a big disturbance in the night. What will Lulu and Mellie do and how will Nan react?

I love Lulu. In each book she seems to be maturing a little, but she maintains her enthusiastic love of animals. McKay's turns of phrase are charming as well "They followed after Lulu in a prowly golden parade." was one of my favorite images. I laughed myself silly over Mellie and Lulu's exchanges about the penguin show.

Verdict: Sweet, comforting, and full of animals, not to mention a diverse set of protagonists. This is perfect for fans of Critter Club who are ready to move on to something a little more challenging.

ISBN: 9780807548240; Published 2015 by Albert Whitman; Purchased for the library

Lulu and the duck in the park by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

I reviewed two of the Lulu books for Cybils, but never read the first book. As I was selecting titles for my book club and was looking for books that would meet the kids' interests and feature more diverse characters and this popped into my head immediately.

In Lulu's first story, we learn that she is known all around town for her love of animals. But her animals get her into trouble because her teacher most definitely does not like animals. When Lulu tries to show her how amazing animals are, she almost loses her class their treasured guinea pig! Now her cousin and best friend AND the whole class is mad at her! But there's no time to think about that, because the class is going on their weekly walk through the park and there are ducks to see...but then tragedy strikes. Lulu manages to rescue an egg, but what will happen when it's not an egg anymore? Will her teacher really take their guinea pig away if she discovers it?

Lamont's sweet black and white illustrations show Lulu and her cousin Mellie and their class, noisy, exuberant, and interested in everything around them. There are plenty of cute, fuzzy animals pictured as well. The text is a step up from a very beginning chapter, but still comes in just over 100 pages and at a level the average 2nd grader could easily read.

Lulu isn't quite as idealistic in this first book as she is in the later ones I read; she gets into trouble and has little spats with her cousin. Overall though, this is a feel-good book for any reader who will enjoy Lulu's love of animals and the funny trouble she gets into.

Verdict: This series has been quite popular and I'm sure my book club members who like animal stories will enjoy this, if they haven't already read it. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780807548080; Published 2012 by Albert Whitman; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Small Readers: Ling and Ting, Twice as Silly by Grace Lin

I enjoyed the previous Ling & Ting book, but then somehow forgot about the series. Cybils brought it back to my attention and I remembered how fun it was.

As the title says, this is all about being silly. Ling and Ting get up to all sorts of silly tricks and jokes from planting cupcakes to a silly plan to get an apple or even writing a silly story. Lin's art is simple but sweet. The slightly bumpy lines give it a homemade feeling that's very attractive.

These follow a classic easy reader format. Simple, short sentences with a surprise at the end of each brief story. The text is a level 2 or 3, depending on what system/publisher you're looking at and I'd say is just right for an intermediate easy reader.

What I really like about these books, besides the humor and general fun, is how the girls' culture is seamlessly part of the story. The clothing and backgrounds make me think the story is set in an older time period, maybe 1950s or 1960s, and it's like someone went back in history and wrote a book about the kids that were always there but nobody noticed. Their culture as Chinese-Americans is included in little things, like painting toys red for luck, but they don't celebrate specific holidays to show their ethnicity (a tired device as far as I'm concerned). The focus of the story is on the humor and how the girls are the same and different as twins.

Verdict: While I mostly focus on purchasing easy readers for younger readers at the very beginning of learning to read, I do have a smaller number of classic and carefully selected easy readers for those who are more at an intermediate stage. Ling & Ting is a series that fits in well and I definitely recommend them.

ISBN: 9780316184021; Published 2014 by Little Brown and Company; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lulu's Party by Kit Chase

I am so pleased to see that another Playtime with Friends book has come out. I'm usually not much of a "cute" person, but I really liked Oliver's Tree and was excited to see what happens to the next featured friend.

Lulu is feeling a little dismal and lonely on a rainy day and decides to invite her friends over for a party and a special surprise. But the treat gets ruined! Is her party ruined too? Fortunately, Lulu has some good friends who can think of a special treat that they can all share together.

Kit Chase's art has a sweet, British feel to it. It reminds me of Ernest Shepard, handmade stuffed animals, and cozy tea parties.

This isn't a ground-shaking book and it's unlikely to win awards. It's just a simple, sweet story that families will enjoy reading again and again and is likely to become a small child's favorite story. The gentle, hopeful story will resonate with kids who understand about small disappointments looming large and the happy denouement as her friends come up with a solution and they all head outside for a circus party will have them begging for another reading.

Verdict: This would make a lovely addition to a book list on resiliency, if your school district focuses on that. Otherwise, it's the perfect story to cuddle up with on a rainy day.

ISBN: 9780399257018; Published 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, November 23, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: What's up in the Amazon Rainforest by Ginjer Clarke

I really wanted to like this book - I'm in the market for more chapter-book-like nonfiction and Ginjer Clarke has done some very serviceable nonfiction series before. However, there were some layout decisions and other elements that made me take this off the list, for my library at least.

The rainforest and general terms and concepts are covered in the introduction, then the book is divided into sections covering the Amazon river and the different levels of the rainforest. There are chapters on the native peoples of the Amazon, different products and medicines we get from the rainforest, and how readers can participate in conserving the rainforest. Back matter includes a brief bibliography, lengthy index, and fold-out map.

The book is a small paperback size, 140 pages. I like the glossary included directly into the pages and the many photographs and additional information breaking up the text. However, there were a couple things that annoyed me. First, the book is formatted like a journal, complete with water stains, highlighting, and areas on maps and photographs are circled by what looks like red marker. I don't know about other libraries, but this type of book in my library inspires an endless stream of kids to the desk "Ms. Jennifer, someone WROTE in this book!" and those who don't join that stream are busily scribbling on the book themselves, since "someone wrote on it already."

I found several typos; one on page 27 "One night, a water lily blooms a giant white flower that smells like pineapple." and some turns of phrase that I just didn't appreciate, like the anaconda's "fangs" on page 32. Now, it's true that all snakes have teeth of some kind, but I think it would have been better to explain how the anaconda's fangs are used, rather than inadvertently joining in with the "all snakes are venomous and will attack you" sensationalist view. Again on page 40, when talking about piranhas, it labels them "deadly" and mentions that the native people tell stories about them attacking humans, but it's my understanding that piranhas do not attack large prey and only eat humans and other large mammals if they are dead or dying. I'm skeptical about the claim of poison dart frogs having the "strongest poison in the world!" on page 93. Maybe, maybe not, but there's no source to prove it either way.

Verdict: So, basically, I liked the idea of the book and the chapter book size, but the journalistic details bothered me and I found myself reading skeptically the information included. It would probably be fine as an introduction for kids who just want to read about the rainforest, but I can't quite bring myself to recommend it.

ISBN: 9780448481036; Published 2015 by Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, November 22, 2015

RA RA Read: I survived...reading all the I Survived books

I first heard about I Survived from the kids a few years ago when it was added to our school's Battle of the Books list. It's grown in popularity until it's now nearly as popular as Wimpy Kid and other perennial favorites, at least in my library. Thanks to some suggestions from Storytime Underground and my own mental files, I've compiled a list of titles to suggest when kids survive their initial bout of reading and clamor for more.

There are currently twelve I Survived books, with more being published approximately every six months. Fans will first want to check out the accompanying I Survived: True Stories series. The second title was just published and they are the true stories behind the stories, if you know what I mean.
  • Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
  • Shark Attacks of 1916
  • Hurricane Katrina, 2005
  • Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941
  • San Francisco Earthquake, 1906
  • Attacks of September 11th, 2001
  • Battle of Gettysburg, 1866
  • Japanese Tsunami, 2011
  • Nazi Invasion, 1944
  • Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79
  • Great Chicago Fire, 1871
  • Joplin Tornado, 2011
  • Hindenburg Disaster, 1937 (coming in 2016)

Top Secret Files series by Stephanie Bearce from Prufrock Press is a higher reading level, but will definitely attract kids who like the historical and short story aspect. Each book contains short anecdotes, historical facts, and other information. There are titles ranging from wars to the wild west and gangsters of the 1920s.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales are awesome. That being said, you will have to do some booktalking as they're a different format than I Survived. They are graphic novels with dense text and illustrations, highlighting different historical moments. The series starts with One Dead Spy, but my personal favorite is Big Bad Ironclad. There are also more contemporary stories, like Treaties, Trenches, Blood and Muda powerful, but grim retelling of World War I. Get kids hooked, and they'll be fans but they'll need to be fairly strong readers.

Capstone has a great series that are not only good read-alikes for kids who are into Choose Your Own Adventures-style books, but also will grab the I Survived fan crowd. Can You Survive....? takes different historical events (like the Titanic) and general disasters (like being lost in the jungle or shipwrecked) and walks kids through choices to see if they can survive. They include nonfiction information as well. (Capstone also has some other series but I haven't included those because my library doesn't own any.)

Another series to try is DK Adventures. These are rather bland stories, but what makes them really popular with kids is the great variety in subjects and the inclusion of nonfiction elements. They range from underwater expeditions to exploding volcanoes to Star Wars. Kids who like real-life stories with nonfiction will enjoy these. Here's a sample, Horse Club.

Back to the straight-up adventures with historical aspects, Gordon Korman has several adventure series. There's one about the Titanic, Island, etc. What I love about these is that they're split into 3-4 volumes so kids don't feel intimidated by a huge book or by a lengthy series. Korman is a great writer and kids love his fast-paced adventures.

Finally, in the survival/adventure genre without historical aspects, I recommend

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This week at the library; or, I am thankful for vacation

What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • This was a crazy week. Not as crazy as some, but I am definitely ready for the weekend and some time off over the holiday. I thought last week was crazy.....
  • Practically the first thing that happened on Monday was I accidentally deleted my master calendar for the entire year. Yes. I did this. I can't believe it either.
  • Then I tried to put books on hold for our next Bookaneers meeting and was frustrated that no other libraries seem to purchase the books I want. Why aren't they buying National Geographic pre-readers in bulk??
  • I made it through 5 storytimes on Tuesday, although I lost my voice near the end and got a miserable headache.
  • If only I had the money someone previously expended on library-bound biographies of celebrities from the 90s....
  • I did a very abbreviated form of Winter Wigglers on Wednesday, then, my car being unavailable, prevailed upon my associate to drive us over to discuss a new remote collection for a group of middle school and high school students (I guess they're remedial or something? Not really sure, but I'm friends with the teacher and many of the kids and they don't have any books!)
  • Embossing went really well on Thursday. Got my aides started on shifting the juvenile shelves and may owe one in particular chocolate, as apparently some of the shelves don't fit when moved and I had sort of forgotten that...
  • Friday happened and then it snowed.
Some projects completed/in progress this week
  • Finished weeding and making replacement carts for oversize titles (one of them SMELLED. *shudder*)
  • Started fiddling around with weeding 000-300s. I'm going to update Bible stories next year and there are a lot of things in that section that didn't get updated/weeded when I did neighborhoods - I only did the 398s and 623s really thoroughly (book by book I mean).
  • I made an agenda for our meeting next week. Things are getting real.
  • Emailed a high school teacher with an idea for a new circulating collection, then popped over to talk to her about it. I think it's going to happen!
  • Turned in the paperwork for my mini grant. I won't be able to actually circulate the materials until later - many of them need books or containers and I have to wait until late in December/early January to have the budget to finish them.
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • Bone (really need to move the poster closer to the books)
  • TIM defender of earth and Enormous Egg recommended for a patron I know checking out Raising Rufus
  • Sports bios (this will be updated with new books soon! except I can't find anything recent on Michael Jordan )-:)
  • The most reluctant reader I have ever met has become hooked on Jake Maddox. SCORE!
  • lexiles for a 5th grader, reading suggestions for a reluctant 3rd grader. looks like i'll be getting some more book club attendees!
  • more lexiles. apparently everyone needs points to turn in now.
  • Helped a patron find pictures and information about the state of Virginia. I think for a homework project? I should get the rest of that Arcadia series.
  • Wimpy kid
  • I survived
  • Dear dumb diaries
  • Treasure hunters
  • easy readers like easy DK readers
  • non-princess books for grandpa to read to his little princess-lover (-:)
  • easy books about trees
  • and a personal recommendation of Georgette Heyer

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jake Maddox: Gymnastics jitters by Margaret Gurevich, illustrated by Katie Wood

At my first book club for 1st - 3rd grade, I asked all the kids what they were interested in. One of the reasons I did that was my plan to introduce them to more books that were centered around their interests. One mentioned gymnastics, so I found a Jake Maddox sports story and took it home to read first so I could booktalk it.

"Jake Maddox" is a pen name that includes a number of different authors writing sports stories. Rather like Carolyn Keene or Franklin Dixon. The Jake Maddox sports series feature a wide variety of sports at an easy reading level, featuring both boys and girls and with a quite decent rate of diverse characters as well.

This particular title features gymnastics team captain Dana and her teammates in a lesson on good sportsmanship. They have just one a trophy and are nervous about their next opponents, the Superiors. Supposedly, they play dirty and will do anything to win. They have some little spats but after a talk with their coach the Raiders, led by Dana, take the high road. After a practice where everything goes wrong, their coach gives them the day off. When they come back and compete in the meet, things go great, the Superiors are nowhere to be seen (some of them sabotaged the equipment) and their team wins the gold.

The black and white line drawings show a diverse cast of girls, although all have similar body types and sparkle. No, I don't know how they got a black and white picture to convey glitter, but they did. Back matter includes a brief glossary, discussion questions, writing prompts, and some gymnastics facts.

This 65-page beginning chapter book is not great literature. The story is a little choppy and the girls are interchangeable, the ending is rather trite and predictable. But that doesn't matter. When I'm selecting beginning chapters, I look for a readable text, engaging storyline, subjects that interest kids, and, if I can find it, at least some diversity. This book may not be as beautifully written or illustrated as some beginning chapter books, but kids at this age need a wide selection to pique their reading interest and this adds to that variety.

Verdict: This isn't what most people would think of as a typical book club book, but I'm focusing on letting the kids pick books that interest them. This meets the needs of both my book club readers and my library patrons as well. I'd still love to see better-written beginning chapter books featuring diverse kids, both girls and boys, playing sports, but until then I'm perfectly happy handing this out. I recommend that every library have at least some of the Jake Maddox titles.

ISBN: 9781434239082; Published 2012 by Capstone; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Small Readers: Don't throw it to Mo! by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks

I had somewhat divisive feelings about this book. Mo loves sports, especially football. He's the smallest on the team and mostly sits on the bench, but he keeps practicing even when the opposing team says mean things. Then Coach Steve has an idea to use Mo's small size to help the team and Mo sticks to the plan and wins the game!

Ricks' illustrations are bright and cheerful. Both Mo and the coach have dark skin and Mo's team has a variety of skin colors, although they're all bigger than Mo. This is a Penguin Level 2, so the text is brief and simple with short sentences and simple, repetitive dialogue.

It's great to see more easy readers with kids of color, and more easy readers featuring kids in everyday situations (rather than the never-ending stream of oddball animal friends). There aren't many sports-based easy readers and I can see this one flying off the shelf. However, I'm doubtful about the realism of the story. I know pretty much nothing about sports, but I can't quite believe that they'd stick one tiny kid on a team where everyone else is twice his size. I've never heard of training kids to catch footballs by smearing butter on them. And the "underdog wins the big game" is an awfully tired trope. However, as I said, I know nothing about sports and classic tropes are still around for a reason - people like them.

Verdict: Although I'm a little doubtful about the realism of this, it's a stand-out for the diversity, sports, and everyday kids. I can't think of anything else out there that's similar so this is a definite must for your easy reader collection.

ISBN: 9780670016310; Published 2015 by Penguin Young Readers; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What forest knows by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by August Hall

I've loved Lyon's other beautifully poetic picture books, and this seasonal title would be a perfect fit for my library, but I have one quibble that makes me hesitate.

Starting with the endpapers, which feature a stark winter landscape, shadowed by a few trees with a squirrel and rabbit in the foreground, the story begins with a forest in winter. The reader catches brief glimpses of a child and dog exploring the winter landscape. Slowly winter fades "Forest knows buds - soft life pushing through hard wood" and spring and the birds arrive. Animals begin to appear and light and green cover everything, but summer is all too brief. Fall arrives and the animals begin to return to their dens, leaves fall and finally winter arrives again.

I love the poetic language, which is brief and lovely. In general, I like the pictures, but the second to last spread, which slaps a close-up of the dog's face across the whole book is just...jarring. It doesn't fit in at all with the restrained, natural feel of the rest of the story and art. Some of the collage items interposed across the other pictures felt odd too, but I could see them fitting in with the art upon repeated perusals. I just can't take the cartoony dog's face. Or creepy, depending upon how you feel about staring black eyes.

Verdict: I'd love to have this for the beautiful seasonal poetry and the art on the whole, but I will probably pass as there are a lot of season books out there and that weird page just messes it up for me. If I was going to use it in storytime, I'd just skip that page probably.

ISBN: 9781442467750; Published 2015 by Simon and Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium