Sunday, October 11, 2015

Suggested Cybils Nominations

These are books I've read, reviewed, or purchased over the past year that I think are strong contenders for Cybils in their various categories. It can be hard to remember what you read 12 months ago, so I hope this jogs some memories! I cannot guarantee eligibility or appropriate category - this is just a rough list of suggestions.

Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • I, Fly by Bridget Heos
  • Big red kangaroo by Claire Saxby
  • When the earth shakes by Simon Winchester
  • Octopuses by Pringle
  • Bee Dance by Rick Chrustowski
Fiction Picture Books
Easy Readers/Early Chapters
Graphic Novels
  • Hans Christian Andersen's Red Shoes and other tales by Metaphrog
  • Courtney Crumrin Tales of a Warlock 9781620100196 
  • Batgirl of Burnside 9781401253325 
  • Race for boatlantis 9780547865638 
  • Tokyo Ghoul 1 9781421580364 
Young Adult Nonfiction
  • Battle of the Bulge by Rick Atkinson 9781627791137
  • Three more words by Ashley Rhode-Courter 9781481415576 
  • Just add water by Clay Marzo 9780544256217 
Young Adult Speculative Fiction
  • Mark of the thief by Jennifer Nielsen 9780545561549 
  • Battlesaurus rampage at waterloo 9780374300753

Friday, October 9, 2015

Read Scary: Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes and Other Tales by Metaphrog

These are technically Christmas stories, but the fashion for sad/creepy holiday stories is mostly gone, so I'm considering these for the month of Halloween.

This is a collection of three stories, two traditional tales from Hans Christian Andersen and one original tale.

"The Red Shoes" is one of Andersen's most religious and dark tales. In the original, an orphan girl named Karen becomes obsessed with a pair of red shoes. She wears them to church and neglects the kindly lady as she is dying to dance. Then her shoes force her to dance until she finally begs an executioner to cut off her feet. Even then she is still prideful and thus refused entrance to church. Finally, as she lets go of her pride she is rewarded when the church comes to her, her heart breaks from joy, and she dies.

In Metaphrog's retelling, Karen is an innocent orphan who loves to dance and is tricked into wearing the shoes. Once they are on, the demonic seller activates their power and she is immediately possessed. Her aunt saves her and removes the shoes, but Karen can't stop thinking about them. Finally, when her aunt is ill, she puts them on - but once again they take control of her. She dances into church and sees her aunt's funeral, then begs the executioner to cut off her feet. She never dances again, but the shoes, with her feet inside them, dance on.

The second story is a short original, "The Glass Case." A boy becomes fascinated by a doll in a museum, even though the other kids taunt him. When he returns to visit Molly, he's not surprised when she talks to him. He gradually wishes he could escape his abusive father and live forever with Molly....and gets his wish.

The final story is the familiar tale of "The Little Match Girl." It stays close to the original story line, just simplifying the the story to fit into the graphic retelling.

"The Red Shoes" is the creepiest of the three tales; they are more melancholy than scary, having a dark undertone to each story that keeps and extends the black humor of Andersen's tales. There's just enough creepy to put make a little chill go down your spine and enough sad to give you the sniffles.

According to the publicity release, Metaphrog is two artists, Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers. They're apparently quite well-known, although I haven't encountered them before (not surprising, since it appears they don't usually do children's books). Their art has a delicate line that reminds me of Charles Vess, but their faces are unique, almost doll-like, adding to the creepy feel of the stories. "The Red Shoes" is illustrated in hues of green and blue, which darken almost to black as the shoes triumph and Karen neglects her dying aunt. Karen's red hair and the red shoes are given a subdued reddish hue, that is very creepy. "The Glass Case" is in sepia tones, which give it a feel of an old story or urban legend, but brights to yellows and light greens, which emphasize the child-like, creepy doll aspect. It seems like it should make it light and cheerful...but it doesn't. Dum dum DUM. "The Little Match Girl" is in sepia as well, but has a grayer tinge, emphasizing the older historical period and the gray winter days.

Verdict: These aren't super creepy and I think most middle grade kids could handle them, but my middle grade audience generally prefers graphic novels that feature more of the adventure/fantasy and not so much the short stories. This would probably click with teens who are fans of Neil Gaiman, Ted Naifeh, or Holly Black though. I'm not sure exactly where I'd put it in my library, but I think it would have an audience.

ISBN: 9781629912837; Published October 2015 by Papercutz; Galley provided by publisher

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Read Scary: Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Seven Orange Pumpkins by Stephen Savage

I realized after I looked at this that I had never read the original picture book. I usually try to get the original book to compare how it works as a picture book and as a board book, but Stephen Savage's illustration style seems so clearly suited to a board book setting that I didn't bother this time around.

The story begins with seven pumpkins on a spooky night. One by one they disappear, turning into various Halloween icons or being carried off. An owl swoops off with a large black outline clutched in his claws, pirate skeletons carry off their pumpkin loot in a bag, a witch tosses one into a pot. The last gets turned into a glowing jack-o-lantern to wish readers a happy Halloween.

Savage's clear, modern design makes this a fun I spy exercise as readers look for the glowing eyes and large black shape of the pumpkins camouflaged amongst the silhouettes. Bright bursts of color, purple, orange, green, fill the backgrounds making the bold black illustrations stand out. The book is a sturdy, 7x7 square.

But is it too scary? Scary is....awfully subjective. In the space of less than an hour I had a parent ask for scary stories for their five year old, who had watched Poltergeist, and another parent reject the exact same stories for their nine year old as "too scary." Which one was right? Well, both. Every kid has a different threshold for scary and the caregiver is generally the best person to know what's right for their child. So, if your toddler will be scared by some classic Halloween iconography, or Halloween isn't a big deal for your family, this isn't the book for you. If you go all out for Halloween and your toddler loves dancing skeletons, swooping owls, and a glowing jack-o-lantern popping out at the end, this is perfect for you.

Verdict: A great addition to your Halloween collection, but I'd break my rule for once and not put this in with the general board books as parents will want to know they're getting a very definite Halloween counting book.

ISBN: 9780803741386; Board book edition published 2015 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bike on, Bear! by Cynthea Liu, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Bear is talented at everything - except riding a bike. No matter how hard he tries, he just can't get the knack. His family and friends try to help him, but nothing works and worst of all, a brand-new park opens only for bike riding! This is serious but his mom has the perfect advice; visit the library! With a set of definitive instructions, plenty of determination, and support from his friends, will he finally reach his goal or will it take an emergency for all his practice to come together?

Litten's art is friendly and comforting, if not particularly unique. The spreads range from small spot art on white backgrounds to full page illustrations with textured and colorful backgrounds. The main thing that kept me from really enjoying the art was that I felt Bear was too small in relation to the pictures and while it did give a good feeling of how frustrated he felt by being unable to ride like his friends, being left out etc. it made the story feel disconnected and unfocused since the eye isn't naturally drawn to Bear, you have to look for him.

Despite my reservations, which are mostly just my personal reactions to an art style that isn't my favorite (it's very reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers whom I don't much care for) this is a light and cozy story that most parents and kids will enjoy. It's not an ideal storytime choice, because of the length of text and the smaller pictures, but it's a perfectly acceptable addition to a library collection.

Verdict: Kids struggling with skills like tying shoes, skipping, or even riding a bike will take some comfort from this story and parents will also appreciate Bear's supportive friends and patient determination. There aren't a lot of picture books about biking that younger kids will enjoy and this fills that niche nicely.

ISBN: 9781481405065; Published June 2015 by Simon and Schuster; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, October 5, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Sand Swimmers: The secret life of Australia's Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver

When I started reading this book, I was confused, skeptical, unsure. But it dragged me in and by the time I reached the end, I had to go back and read it again. It's a unique blend of nonfiction and artistic style that I've never seen before.

The art, informational text, excerpts from historical documents, and inset small panels flow across the page, taking readers down into the seemingly arid desert that is secretly full of life. The book contrasts the life of the desert and the animals and Aboriginal people who lived there for thousands of years with the view of the European settlers who found it a deadly and dead wasteland. Some pictures are like a puzzle, looking for the camouflaged animals a game. Others show the plants and animals in different groupings or habitats. Many illustrations and examples take a quote from European explorers such as Charles Sturt, talking about how lifeless the desert was, and then show the many different plants and animals they missed.

The art varies from sketches to stylized woodcuts, to full paintings. There's a fascinating variety in the styles used that move the reader easily between different perspectives and time periods.

Verdict: While Australian desert wildlife isn't something rural Wisconsin kids have probably ever thought much about, besides kangaroos, this is an amazing way to present not only the wildlife but the history of an area. It would be really interesting to go through it with elementary-aged kids and then work on creating similar projects for other areas they're interested in, or local areas. It's different but really cool. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763667610; Published 1999 in Australia; Published 2015 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Saturday, October 3, 2015

This week at the library; or, I'm not at the library!

I took a vacation. So far as I know, the library has not collapsed into ruin without me. Ms. Pattie ran storytimes, my aide and an associate borrowed from the adult department ran Lego Club, and the staff were warned that there was no school on Friday.

I blogged my week off over at my personal blog, if you want to really see exactly how obsessive I am.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye

Before all the fractured fairy tale movies and other retellings, there was The Ordinary Princess. This is from the 1980s and has been reprinted several times, with progressively worse covers, but I am lucky enough to have the original cover.

This is an original fairytale in the style of Eleanor Farjeon and Milne, who wrote what are usually called "fairy stories" that might or might not have contained actual fairies. Princess Amethyst Alexandra Aurelia Anne was the seventh daughter of a fairy tale king and queen but received an unusual gift at her christening; "You shall be ordinary!" says the Fairy Crustacea. And ordinary Amy is. She has a snub nose, cries, and is no more a golden-haired, romantic princess than the maids of the castle. So it's easy for her to switch places with one Clorinda and retreat to the forest where she enjoys a happy life. But one day she meets a boy named Perry...

I think, if reprinted with the original or a good cover, this fairy tale would find an audience. It has just a little romance, a lot of humor, and pokes gentle fun at fairy tale tropes without being crude or raucous. It's still a fairy story with magical creatures, floating dresses, and royalty. It's also a sweet fantasy with animals, a truly delicious and unique fairy godmother, and an ordinary heroine who is anything but ordinary.

Verdict: I can't recommend you purchase this now, the only in print cover is awful, however, it's worth looking for a used copy to enjoy for yourself.

ISBN: 0153046120; Published 1984 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; From my personal library

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Small Readers: Sofia Martinez, Picture Perfect by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith

A friend put me on to this series and I absolutely loved it! I've always been sad that I couldn't get any kids to get into Jules' Zapato Power series. I'm not sure why - the covers are a little bland maybe. But Sofia Martinez, oh I can booktalk this one!

Sofia is the youngest of the three Martinez sisters. Everyone says she and her sisters, Luisa and Elena look alike. But Sofia wants to look different! A family get-together gives her an idea and in her next school picture Sofia will definitely stand out of the crowd!

The pictures are colorful and attractive. Sofia is an enthusiastic, bouncy little girl whose personality shines through both the words and pictures. The art picks up the changing emotions of the simple story and gives the reader glimpses into Sofia's warm and busy family.

The text is intermediate, what I'd call a level 2 or 3 in my library, perfect for kindergarten up through 2nd grade. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text in bright pink. The meaning is easy to pick out from the context, but there's also a helpful glossary in the back. Several discussion questions are also included.

I've been looking for more realistic easy readers and Sofia's Latina identity is just the icing on top of the cupcake. Kids will empathize with her dilemma and giggle over her solution. The text is smoothly written and the Spanish integrated so that it won't disrupt the reading experience, whether or not kids know what the words mean. Sassy pictures and a depiction of a caring, happy family round out a very nice start to a new easy reader series.

Verdict: Picture Window only offers paperback or library binding, but the $15 price tag is quite reasonable and definitely worth it to add a little diversity and a fun new series to your easy reader section. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781479857738; Published 2015 by Picture Window/Capstone; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On the Wing by David Elliott, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

I'm generally not a fan of poetry books *pauses while friends throw things at me* but poetic picture books can really work, if they bridge the gap between those who are uncertain/reluctant to check out poetry and the almost constant circulation of our picture books. David Elliott's picture books of short poems have always done very well for us. I've used selections in storytime, in displays, and they check out quite a lot.

When I borrowed this new one, I was at first confused that they'd switched to a new illustrator. Then I remembered that the illustrator for the previous three books in this series, Holly Meade, passed away several years ago. I was interested to see how the new illustrator, Becca Stadtlander, would measure up.

So, this follows the same format as the previous titles which explored animals in the sea, on the farm, and in the wild. Each spread or page features a different bird and a clever, majestic, or funny poem about them. I love that Elliott doesn't dumb down the language and uses such rich vocabulary as "conflagration" with ease. My favorite poem, personally, is "The Wandering Albatross" which has a lovely, haunting rhythm. Some of the poems are just a few lines, making them perfect for introducing very young children to both poetry and birds.

The new illustrator has a very different style from Meade's rough, colorful woodcuts, but it is a lovely combination with Elliott's poetry and fits the theme of birds beautifully. The delicate paintings capture the grace and loveliness of the birds as easily as their more quirky features and habits. From the sweeping majesty of the condor soaring far above the landscape to a flock of feisty sparrows, each bird is delicately and lovingly drawn with personality and verve.

Verdict: If, like me, you only purchase a few poetry books each year, make sure to include this continuation of a popular series on your list. The new illustrator was an excellent choice to continue the legacy of Elliott and Meade and take the series in a new direction. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780763653248; Published 2014 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Monday, September 28, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen

This book sounded really cool, but I wanted to look at it first. However, it took quite a while before I was able to get my hands on it! It is, indeed, quite lovely.

There isn't so much a story in the book as an exhortation to start small and plant a few native prairie plants. If you plant just a few things, more may follow, along with native animals, until the prairie is reborn.

Back matter includes an explanation of the history and destruction of the great prairies, how to start your own mini prairie and research native plants, and more information on the various plant and animal species mentioned in the book. There is also some additional information on endangered vs extinct and some further resources.

The lovely, delicate illustrations perfectly capture the beauty of small details in the prairie so lovingly described. Birds, flowers, snakes, insects, the tiny creatures grown and expand until they sweep across the page in a flurry of life and motion.

Verdict: This isn't likely to work well in a storytime, as there isn't really a story, more a list of species. If you're looking for a story about reviving a wild meadow, try Meadowview Street by Henry Cole. However, it's a lovely, lovely book and would be a perfect complement to a class project or research into native plants.

ISBN: 9780816679805; Published 2014 by University of Minnesota Press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium