Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

I usually need a bit more substance in a picture book than cuteness for a full-length review here, but this book was so funny that I felt it deserved a spotlight.

In the Jingle Jangle Jungle, Moose, Lion, Zebra and Sheep find a great cave to hang out in on a cold, rainy day. Yes, there's a sheep in the jungle. Also a moose. They're playing cards, possibly a little poker judging by the sly grins on their faces, when they realize they're not alone...the cave actually belongs to a BEAR and he's quite unhappy about this noisy group of card-players. So out they go into the rain, leaving their cards behind. The animals decide that what cheers them up; stripes, antlers, and a mane, will surely cheer up the bear. Nope. But it sure does make him look silly! But with some extra information from Bear, Sheep realizes what's needed - a nice, fluffy pillow. Luckily, she's got just the thing.

If you've never encountered Nick Bland's illustrations before, you should know that he is the king of British cute. His animals are roly-poly, slick and colorful, little bundles of adorableness. Even the cranky bear is adorably cranky.

Verdict: There's a nice bounce to the rhyming text and this will definitely be a hit with toddlers and preschoolers, who will wait with bated breath to find out what's in the cave and roar with laughter when the animals deck bear out in their best attributes. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780545612692; US edition published July 2014 by Orchard; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's order list

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: My book of opposites by Britta Teckentrup

I adore Britta Teckentrup's colorful artwork and was delighted to find she had two new board books out with Tiger Tales; My book of opposites and My book of counting. I'm looking at Opposites today.

Each page has a contrasting pair of animals. The first spread is covered by an elephant, twining his truck through the word "Big" while a tiny bee buzzes next to the word "small." Monkeys and a butterfly are loud and quiet, a yak and a snake are hairy and smooth, a giraffe and iguana are tall and short, laid out vertically. A hippo holds the O of "Open" in his mouth, while a crocodile dangles "Closed" from his mouth by the d. Then the pictures get more fanciful with a car full of giraffes zipping "Fast" past a "slow" turtle. The book flips vertically again to show a stack up "High" with birds perched on it and a cat at the very top. Watching the rescue operation from below, is a "low" penguin. White and black feature cats, zebras, a polar bear, an owl and more, all including black, white, both, or gray. A lion who is "out" pensively looks over his shoulder at a car crammed full of cats who are "in". On the final page, a boat of dry animals contrasts with the wet animals in the water with "wet" and "dry" sprinkled all over the page.

Teckentrup's illustrations are as adorable and fresh as ever, with light touches of humor for older readers and parents and brightly colored animals and backgrounds for delighted toddlers to enjoy. The book is a large rectangle, 8.5 x 7 inches, which makes it easy to turn for the vertical pages.

Verdict: Perfect for one-on-one reading or toddler storytime. This is a fun and fresh opposites book that will be sure to be popular. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781589255869; Published 2014 by Tiger Tales; Purchased for the library

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Alan Marks

Of course, everyone's first response to this is going to be "ewwwww!" but if you can get past that, it's a beautifully written and illustrated book, just perfect for sharing with preschool and kindergarteners.

The text explains the three different types of dung beetles; dwellers, rollers, and tunnelers. It describes their physical makeup and habitats and how each of the different types uses dung as food, shelter, and to propagate their species. It also briefly references their place in Egyptian mythology and their importance to ecology. Back matter includes additional information and facts about dung beetles, a glossary, and bibliography.

My general preference for easy, read-aloud nonfiction is photographs, but I have to admit these illustrations are pretty good. They're done in watercolor and pencil so you don't get a really close-up, detailed look at the beetles and dung, but a nice overall impression, especially of their colors and habitat.

The book is laid out in my favorite format for read-aloud nonfiction - short, bold sentences, coupled with longer paragraphs of text in a smaller font. This makes the title ideal for reading aloud in storytime or for a beginning reader to tackle, with additional information to discuss and read with older kids.

Verdict: This is a well-written look at a neglected but fascinating beetle and a story that will be of interest in storytime to both children and adults. Get over any squeamish feelings you might have and enjoy reading this aloud as kids learn not only about the dung beetle, but about how every creature has a role to play. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781580895545; Published 2014 by Charlesbridge; Purchased for the library

Sunday, July 20, 2014

RA RA READ: Quick Reads: Books in Verse for Middle Grade

There aren't a lot of novels in verse for middle grade readers, and there aren't many of those at our library - it's not a really popular genre for that age group (arguable for any age group). However, if you get kids who like the format, want something that's a quick read, and match them up with a couple really good selections it works out well. These are several books in verse, which my library owns, that middle grade kids will enjoy:

Love that Dog; Hate that cat by Sharon Creech
The Dancing Pancake; Where I live by Eileen Spinelli
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg (first in a series)
Little Dog Lost by Marion Dane Bauer
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Saturday, July 19, 2014

This week at the library; or, Celebrating the chaos

What's going on - in my head and in the library
  • This grew out of a conversation I had with another staff member last week, as we were encouraging each other to make it through a really exhausting week, as well as some, well, negative things I've been hearing/reading about the mess, noise, and general craziness of summer at the library. Summer can be, and often is, frustrating, exhausting, annoying, and just plain messy. I can vent with the best of them about the craziness. I strongly advocate for children's staff to have seasonal help! I work with families and kids to learn appropriate library behavior. I can't tell you how many times I remind kids "use your library feet!" every day. But you know what? I also EMBRACE THE CRAZY MESS and this is why:
  • Why I do not get upset when families leave a mess in the play area. When I see toys everywhere I see the family with four kids under 8 trying to check out materials and get out before the baby has a meltdown. I see busy working families with only a little time to spend with their kids - and they chose to visit the library. I see families with no background of visiting the library, or any other public family space (not that there are any in our town) who maybe don't know "how things work" but they are spending time with their kids, teaching them early literacy skills by using our play area, even if they don't know it. And I see the next family to come in, see the messy play area, and use it as a lesson in cleaning up. I see toys left over or in the wrong place because a four year old was totally absorbed in matching the toys up with the pictures on the shelves and had to leave in a hurry. I see families using our services to the best benefit of their family and that is more important than the children's area being tidy.
  • Why I do not get upset when I hear noise. I hear little voices yelling "choo choo!" and I know another family has discovered the joys of imaginative play at our train table.  I see the mom who has just moved to our town and brought her three year old for their first visit ever to the library and was anxious that they were "too noisy" as he excitedly showed me his block towers - and I was able to reassure her that there was no such thing as too noisy in MY library! I see my families who have children with special needs tell me how welcome they feel and what a relief it is to have a place where they don't have to worry about being stared at or asked to leave if their child makes loud/strange noises. I see the middle school boys loudly telling their just arrived friend how he should sign up for summer reading so he can get FREE BOOKS. I see the little girls who are so thrilled at being allowed to walk across the street and visit the library by themselves that they just can't stop giggling. I am surrounding by excited kids who are loud, enthusiastic, and just can't wait to tell me about how much they love books, the library, and that really cool fact they just learned. The library is about learning - and learning is more than just what's in our books. Learning is exciting, fun, and NOISY.
  • Why I do not get upset when the shelves look like swarms of locusts attacked. Studies have repeatedly shown that kids are more invested in reading when they choose their own books. When kids choose their own books, the shelves are messy. They put things back in the wrong places, the books get pushed back, they slide off the shelves, they set things down and forget to put them in the basket. They get excited and pull everything off, they remember something else they wanted to look up and race to another shelf. Every book out of place, every disorganized shelf, is evidence that kids are exploring, reading, and discovering on their own. A messy shelf is a happy shelf!
When I see mess and chaos, when I hear noise, first I stop and think - what could be going on in the lives of my patrons that I don't know about, that I don't see? Secondly, I tell myself: You are having a successful summer. This is what a library should be; the thriving, growing heart of the community where families are safe and welcome and every child feels ownership and has the freedom to explore, learn, and grow.

What the kids are reading:
  • Tale of Despereaux (added another copy)
  • Monster High - I still have not brought myself to buy these
  • mysteries to read aloud to a six year old - I told them Brixton Brothers was probably a little too involved and suggested Encyclopedia Brown
  • books for a 1 1/2 year old - showed some of our new board books
  • Minecraft - two more requests for this. i did find a couple things coming out this fall that i have put on order
  • books about injuries (for a preschool child with a severe burn). I was stumped on this one - asked on my listservs for help.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain by Tom Angleberger

I had no idea of the history of this book. I just saw initial announcements and thought "hey, new series by Tom Angleberger!" Only later did I discover that it was actually his first published book and has now been reissued under his better-known name. I'm also not absolutely sure it's going to be a continuing series, which I will not tell my cataloger because we put the series on the spine! Oh nooooes!

At first, Lyle, Marilla, and Dave were a casual group of friends. However, when they realized they'd be the only kids who didn't have something to do on Christmas - Lyle's parents work at the Qwikpick, Dave is Jewish and Marilla's family are Jehovah's Witnesses - they decide they need to have a real adventure. A chance notice of an article in the paper and they decide on an outing to the soon-to-be-renovated sewage factory to see the poop fountain before it's removed. It's a journey full of unexpected surprises, much laughter, and horrible smells.

The story is narrated by protagonist Lyle Hertzog in the journalistic style that will be familiar to Angleberger fans now, but must have been quite confusing when this first came out, back before Wimpy Kid fever had hit. Lyle is honest, funny, and casual about the things that make up his quirky group of friends. He talks about his family's financial issues, how he feels about his wealthier friend's casual acceptance of money, and how their adventure changes their friendship.

Like Angleberger's later books, this is a surprisingly light and funny adventure with a lot going on beneath the surface. It doesn't hammer home the lessons, but uses the kids' realistic voices to not only give a voice to kids who are generally not portrayed in middle grade fiction but also to inspire a little deeper thought about what's going on in the lives of the kids around you. Unlike Amy Koss' The Not-So-Great-Depression, there are no fairy-tale, happy-ever-after endings; life goes on as usual (possibly just a little smellier than before). But there's laughter and friends and, as Lyle says, "now we're more than just kids who eat together or hang around together - we're The Qwickpick Adventure Society and nobody else at school can say that."

Verdict: A must-have for your collection. Not only will kids pick it up because of the author recognition, it's worth recommending on its own as a great story with just a little more. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781419704253; Originally published 2007, this edition published 2014 by Amulet/Abrams; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

From picture book to easy reader: A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle

I have something a little different today. I've been noticing a growing trend in publishers of taking classic and popular picture book series and reissuing them as easy readers. It started with Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious and now Jackie Urbanovic's Duck, Rob Scotton's Splat the Cat, Tad Hills' Rocket, and more have jumped on the bandwagon. Going back to the classics, authors whose classic picture books have been made into easy readers so far include Alexandra Day's Carl (which is especially weird since the original is wordless), Leo Lionni, and, of course, Eric Carle. So, today I'm looking at both the original picture book and the new easy reader edition.

If you're not familiar with the story, Hermit Crab grows too big for his shell. He quickly finds a new house, but it's plain and boring. One by one, he adds new friends to his shell - sea anemones, starfish, coral, a snail, sea urchins, a lanternfish, and he ends by building pebbles into a wall around his shell. Of course, by that time his perfect shell is too small. He's worried about all his friends, but then finds a smaller crab who is happy to move in and promises to take care of all his friends. Hermit Crab finds a bigger shell and sets off to new possibilities, thinking of all the things he can add to his shell. There is an introductory list of facts about hermit crabs and at the end there are facts about the different friends the hermit crab collected. Eric Carle's signature art is colorful and distinctive, the creatures are easily distinguished, but still have a definite representational quality.

The easy reader version is listed as a level two "super star reader" with "longer sentences, simple chapters, high-interest vocabulary words." The easy reader does not have the swirling paint of the endpages, or the introductory information on the hermit crab. The basic text is the same with only a few minor alterations. The facts at the end are kept as well.

The art is the same, but has been, of course, shrunk to fit into the easy reader. The text is rearranged to fit into the smaller format and some of the pictures are cut or in the case of the last picture, combined into a new page to fit the story. The pages don't have the glossy finish of the picture book, dimming the vibrant colors of the art.

I do feel that the text is generally more advanced than most beginning readers can handle with vocabulary including "debris," rearranged," and "possibilities." Then there's the specific names of the various creatures like anemones, etc. The art doesn't have the same impact once it's compacted into the smaller format and some details of the pictures are lost down the gutter of the book as well.

I can understand why publishers are going this route; with more kids being pressured to read at younger ages, the audience for the classic picture books with longer text is being lost and this is way to introduce them to a new generation as well as generate a new market for these properties. However, I can't help but feel it's a pity to give kids the watered-down version and I doubt that kids who have the higher reading ability necessary to tackle these books will really be interested in the subject matter. They do circulate briskly at my library, but I believe that most of that is parents choosing the titles, not kids.

Verdict: From an aesthetic and librarian perspective, I don't care for these. However, the majority of patrons enjoy them and since I frequently struggle just to keep the easy reader shelves stocked, let alone worry about quality, I will continue to purchase these and would generally advise most libraries to hop on the bandwagon and do the same.

Picture book
ISBN: 9780887080562; This edition published 1991 by Simon and Schuster; Purchased for the library (replacement for worn out copy)

Easy Reader
ISBN: 9781481409162; This edition published 2014 by Simon Spotlight; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Hide and Seek Harry at the beach by Kenny Harrison

One of the things I'm currently working on this year is bolstering my board book collection. To that end, I've purchased a lot of new board books. I'm very picky about this; so many board books I see are not developmentally appropriate for my board book audience. I really feel that the picture book and board book audience is younger than ever. As more parents get into the idea of reading to their babies and at the same time start pushing easy readers and chapter books on younger and younger kids, picture books have become limited to kids five and under while board books are for the very young toddlers. That's how it's going in my library anyways.

This is a really good example of a board book that's perfect for the young toddler. It's a very simple seek and find story. After a brief introductory sentence, each spread has a question asking where Harry the Hippo is hiding. The art is cheerful and colorful and Harry is hiding just enough to make a toddler look, but not enough that they can't find him. Older preschoolers will enjoy finding smaller details, like the crab that is in many (although not all) of the pictures. The text is bold and dark, drawing the eye to the letters.

This is a nicely designed book as well. It's a nice standard board book size - 7x7 inches - with a sturdy binding and thick pages. The publisher suggests it for ages 2-5, but, as I said earlier, the kids in my library are skewing younger and younger for picture books and board books. This would be fine for looking at with a baby, but 3 and older are unlikely to get much out of it. It's ideal for one to two-year olds though. Kids young enough to still enjoy peek-a-boo will like the open nature of the hide and seek and those a little older will enjoy finding Harry on their own.

Verdict: A perfect choice for a baby or toddler storytime or to enjoy with the average toddler under about age three. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780763666033; Published 2014 by Candlewick; Purchased for the library

Monday, July 14, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley

I've been waiting eagerly for the next volume to follow the gruesomely informative How They Croaked (which I somehow missed out on reviewing). This one tells the stories of fourteen famous people - and their famous failures.

  • Marco Polo, after a lifetime of diplomacy and surviving in the dangerous court of Kublai Khan, decided to try his hand at military strategy and failed so dismally he ended up in prison. 
  • Isabella of Castile, who proved she had the guts to rule her kingdom and her family - but started the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Montezuma II, who was a powerful (if feared) ruler, but failed to protect his empire from the Spanish invaders.
  • Ferdinand Magellan, who was a skilled navigator and sailor but his social skills were so awful his crew left him to die and he never completed his journey to the Spice Islands.
  • Anne Boleyn, who watched her older sister's example and thought she'd avoided the pitfalls and landed a king but ended up losing her head.
  • Isaac Newton, a brilliant scientist and mathematician, refused to collaborate with other scientists of the day and spent the latter half of his life secretly and illegally practicing alchemy. It probably killed him.
  • Benedict Arnold, whose arrogance and greed led to him becoming famous...for treachery.
  • Susan B. Anthony, who fought all her life for women to get the vote but died before her dream became a reality.
  • George Custer thought his luck would never run out - but it did, at the Battle of Little Bighorn where he got not only himself but his men killed. It wouldn't be the first time.
  • Thomas Alva Edison, so determined to prove he was right, he performed cruel experiments on dogs (not to mention all those places he burned down).
  • Vincent Van Gogh. Never sold a painting, was universally disliked, feared, and hated.
  • J. Bruce Ismay tried to get out from under his father's shadow and finally became famous - as the coward responsible for the construction of the Titanic and the deaths of thousands.
  • Joseph Jefferson "Shoeless Joe" Jackson thought he had it made with baseball, but a few mistakes and some scandals and he never played ball again.
  • Amelia Earhart believed her own press and made one final flight without preparation or training.
Each mini-biography ends with further information the person and events of their life, varied by the person. Some list other people involved in their failure, more context for events, further information, etc. The book also includes an introduction, a conclusion discussing how failure is a normal part of life, acknowledgements, sources, further reading, and an index. The black and white caricatures are ghoulish and lend a sly tone of humor to the outrageous anecdotes.

It can be hard to judge this type of book from an adult perspective. Of course, the sections are only brief overviews of the subjects' lives - I personally think Amelia Earhart and Benedict Arnold were much more complex than they're made out to be. But that's part of the layout - it's just a tantalizing glimpse into each person's life, hopefully enough to get kids interested in searching out more information so they can judge for themselves. I felt like I already knew most of the information presented, but again - adult perspective. Most of this information will be new to the kids reading it, unless they're big history buffs. Most of the biographies they've previously read will probably have focused on the personages triumphs and contributions, not their failures.

Verdict: This is a unique perspective and slice of life look at fourteen famous and very different people. It will require a fairly good reader to make it through, but the short sections and the additional information breakdowns at the end of the chapters will pull through readers who are daunted by the complete length of the book. It's a great layout and Bragg is a strong writer who brings the people to life in a humorous and down to earth way. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780802734884; Published 2014 by Walker/Bloomsbury; Purchased for the library

Sunday, July 13, 2014

RA RA READ: Big Bad Bullies

Bullying is a hot topic now. I'm not wholly convinced of the efficacy of using books as bibliotherapy, especially for younger kids, but it's a frequently requested topic so it helps to have something to refer parents to. For middle grade especially, I tried to pick books that treated the topic seriously and not in the Wimpy Kid vein.

Preschool and Elementary
  • Trudy Ludwig
  • Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  • Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney
  • Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore
  • Stand tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
  • Dixie and the big bully by Grace Gilman
  • EllRay Jakes (series) by Sally Warner
  • Invisible Inkling (series) by Emily Jenkins
  • Squish (series) by Jennifer Holm
Middle Grade
  • The Battle of Darcy Lane by Tara Altebrando
  • Max Quigley technically not a bully by James Roy
  • Kidnappers by Willo Davis Roberts
  • Warp speed by Lisa Yee
  • Girls against Girls by Bonnie Burton (nonfiction - parenting)
Middle School and Teen
  • Hate List by Jennifer Brown
  • Shattering Glass by Gail Giles
  • Bystander by James Preller
  • Some girls are by Courtney Summers
  • Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass by Meg Medina
  • Period 8 by Chris Crutcher