Friday, July 31, 2015

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

I'm in two minds about this book. It's got quite a lot of enthusiastic praise, and I did enjoy reading it, but I'm not sure about the audience for it.

Dory is the baby of her family and everyone calls her Rascal. Her older siblings are so annoyed by her imagination, invisible friend, weird habits, and monsters that they make up a monster to try and scare her back. Unfortunately, the creation of Mrs. Gobble Gracker doesn't go quite like they expect and soon Dory is in a complete fantasmagory, blending her imagination and real life, pretending to be a dog, and trying to escape the wicked Mrs. Gobble Gracker.

The book is decorated throughout with pen sketches. They're a great complement to the story, showing the tousled, enthusiastic Dory and her exasperated older siblings as well as Dory's fantasy world.

This is completely realistic; I remember playing make believe games like this myself, listening to my younger siblings play them, and I occasionally see kids playing them at the library as well (not too often though - I don't know if it's the death of imagination or that I just don't see the kids that often). But I'm not sure who the audience for this would be. The younger elementary kids making up imaginative kids? I and my siblings were very imaginative, but I can't remember any of them actually wanting to read a book about imagination. Older siblings? But this has a very young feel and is narrated by Dory herself.

Verdict: I think the best audience for this is probably younger kids who are strong readers. It might make a fun read aloud as well, but it could be scary for an imaginative child who doesn't understand that Mrs. Gobble Gracker isn't real. Although I can't quite see an audience for this myself though, I trust those who have given it strong reviews so it's one I'd take a chance on.

ISBN: 9780803740884; Published 2014 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Small Readers: Welcome, Bao Bao by Gina Shaw

Pandas are one of those topics that seems to die out for a while and then revives as strongly as ever and I have hordes of small children, mostly girls for some reason, begging for ALL the panda books.

This nonfiction easy reader tells the story of two pandas in the Smithsonian's National Zoo and their cub, Bao Bao. The story begins by introducing the readers to the adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, and their endangered status. There is a discussion of how the pandas are cared for and then the exciting birth of a new baby panda in 2013. The rest of the book talks about Bao Bao's birth, naming ceremony, and first year.

The book includes a beginning note to parents and educators on the reading level. Level 4 is for a fluent reader, basically a child ready for or already reading chapters. There are also activities and discussion questions. There is a one page glossary at the back.

The book is liberally sprinkled with photographs of pandas as well as a key to the pandas' exhibit, pictures of the naming ceremony, and more.

I removed all the level 4 easy readers from my easy reader section a few years ago. The bulk of my audience looking for easy readers want more beginning titles and I found it confused everyone to have a sprinkling of books that were equivalent to what they'd find in the chapter books or nonfiction section. Now I include level 4 books in the juvenile nonfiction. I've had one person ask for level 4 and it was easy to show them the nonfiction series that were equivalent to that reading level. So, this title won't actually be put into the easy readers (unless my cataloger makes a mistake) but it will make a nice addition to the juvenile nonfiction.

My only caveat with this title is that, while most of the text is laid out on a white or plain background, a few pages have the text pasted over a photograph, making it difficult to decipher.

Verdict: Elementary age panda fans will be thrilled with this title. It's not too challenging, but isn't really a picture book or easy reader and there are lots of fun panda pictures. The text flows smoothly and there's a good mixture of simple and advanced vocabulary. It's available in both paperback and hardcover.

ISBN: 9780448482255; Published 2015 by Penguin Young Readers; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library for use as a prize; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Knit Together by Angela Dominguez

I liked Dominguez' other picture books, but none have really caught my eye and heart like this new title.

A little girl loves to draw, but even more than drawing she wishes she could knit, like Mom. She tries to learn, but without success. Then Mom has the perfect idea to combine both their artistic talents into one beautiful creation that they can both enjoy together.

Dominguez' art is colorful and heartfelt, with swirling colors and lines. I enjoy the way she captures the yarn and process of knitting with simple squiggles that nonetheless capture texture and color. The art speaks through the story, making only a few lines of text necessary on each page. The little girl, as narrator, is full of life and determination and when she can't achieve her goal, her mother gently finds a perfect solution.

Verdict: This would make a great storytime to prepare for Mother's Day (if you celebrate that in storytimes), as a gift for knitters, or to prepare kids for a collaborative art project. Even kids without experience in knitting will sympathize with struggling to learn a new skill and finding a to use the talents they have.

ISBN: 97803740990; Published 2015 by Dial/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Dirtmeister's Nitty Gritty Planet Earth by Steve Tomacek, illustrated by Fred Harper

The subtitle of this book is "All about rocks, minerals, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, & even dirt!" so you can tell right away there will be a lot of information packed into 128 pages.

After a quick introduction, the book plunges right into the information. The ten chapters each begin with a comic, featuring the Dirtmeister at a geology job, where he gets interrupted with a question about the earth from a kid. There are about five spreads per chapter, and each spread includes about one page of text, a handful of photographs and several other pieces of information ranging from experiments to "Dirtmeister Nuggets" which are factoids to short biographies of famous scientists and cartoons or maps.

Back matter includes a list of notes that relates the chapters to science curriculum, an index, and photo credits. I felt the cartoon illustrations were a bit over the top and tried too hard to be "kid-friendly" but they aren't so prolific that they take away from the information in the book and younger kids will probably enjoy them.

I felt a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information on such a wide variety of subjects crammed into this small book. Everything from plate tectonics to fossils, from earthquakes to diamonds. The experiments looked interesting, but tended to be a lot more simple than what I expected from the build up in the introduction. I certainly wouldn't recommend reading it straight through and I'm not even sure I'd recommend it to a kid who's interested in, say, rocks, since it's so wide-ranging and kids who are "interested" in something tend to have a rather narrow focus. However, it makes a great resource for earth science curriculum and I can see kids who enjoy compendiums of facts dipping in and enjoying it.

Verdict: This isn't my top pick for National Geographic's earth science offerings - kids are more likely to pick up the Everything series - but if you can't afford that entire series, this gives a little on a variety of subjects and would be a great resource for school and for kids to browse.

ISBN: 9781426319037; Published 2015 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 Edition of Putting my money where my mouth is

This is a running list of titles I have reviewed and also purchased for the library this year. I'm updating it roughly once a month, or when I think of it. This does not include titles that were review copies and were donated to the library, which is indicated in the review. For a complete list of new library materials, you can check out the library pinterest page!
Reviews coming soon (or sometime anyways) ((yes, I have a BIG backlist of reviews))
  • Jake Maddox: Gymnastics Jitters
  • Let it begin here! by Don Brown
  • The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham
  • Toto Trouble: Back to Crass by Thierry Coppee
  • On the wing by David Elliott
  • Cat Napped! by Leeza Hernandez
  • Midnight library by Kazuno Kohara
  • The Boulder Brothers: Meet Mo and Jo by Sarah Lynn
  • Lulu and the duck in the park by Hilary McKay
  • Horse Club by Patricia Murphy
  • Eat like a bear by April Pulley Sayre
  • Welcome Bao Bao by Gina Shaw

Saturday, July 25, 2015

This Week at the Library; or, Down the home stretch

I have a crock. My happiness is complete.
What's going on in my head and at the library
  • This is the point in summer where I'm like "yay reading have a sticker or two or three ha ha ha"
  • I had a sudden influx of boys Wednesday morning, so I put them to work moving shelves and taking down old posters (they sort of went with the "taking down" theme and now all the summer reading decorations are down, but...oh well). We have our literacy center now! Of course, then I had to shift all the easy readers....I need to keep a clean shirt at work!
  • I was still very stressed and so we moved more shelves. Well, my aides moved them but I derived therapeutic value....of course, now I have to update the Illustrated Shelving Guide. Oh well.
Ongoing and New Stealth Programs and Displays
  • A personal victory - one of my most reluctant and struggling readers took TWO books - I survived and Bloodlines.
  • Bloodlines for another reluctant/struggling reader!
  • Wordless picture books - Shadows by Lee wasn't quite what was wanted, but Umbrella by Schubert and Tree House by Tolman were "perfect"
  • Another request for Descendants (Isle of the Lost) - I really need to get this in soon!
  • Very enthusiastic Pokemon fan, parent requested Dragonball Z for a change of pace
  • My favorite request of the week was a small child who informed me "I am addicted to Chi's Sweet home do you have that series?" of course. AND the anime, which was very exciting.
  • One word title and Newbery - Boom and Graveyard Book
  • Popular Clone
  • Paw Patrol. I should break down and buy more copies of the movies. Ugh.

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary GrandPre

Sometimes a book has everything that you normally like, from an author you've enjoyed in the past to a fun plot and yet it just doesn' with you. That's what happened to me with this book.

Miss Drake is downcast about the death of her human pet, Amelia, even if she won't admit it to anyone. So she's not at all thrilled when Amelia's quirky great-niece (I think) Winnie shows up. Winnie gradually wins her way into Miss Drake's heart and both are able to not only become friends but handle some magical difficulties and grieve together for their respective losses.

Black and white illustrations spot the story, illuminating the magical creatures and feelings of the various characters. I am not a particular fan of Mary GrandPre, but many people enjoy her illustrations and they do fit well with this magical story.

So, why didn't I get into this? I can't really say. It's a short fantasy, which can be hard to find in this age of 400 page tomes. It's sweet without being saccharine, has lots of magical details and creatures, and Yep's world-building is impeccable. I was skeptical about how much time Winnie spends alone, without her mom knowing (or seeming to care) where she is. At one point, I was sure the story was going to twist and Winnie was going to turn out to be an orphan and Miss Drake would adopt her.

Verdict: I can't really say why I didn't get into this. It was just not what I was in the mood for reading I guess. Fans of Chris D'Lacey's dragon stories will absolutely love it though. If you have beginning chapter readers who like fantasy or families who like to read aloud together, this would be good for those as well.

ISBN: 9780385392280; Published 2015 by Crown Books/Random House; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Small Readers: Dino School: Meet Teddy Rex! by Bonnie Williams, illustrated by John Gordon

This easy reader hits the mark on several points for me.

Dino School welcomes a new pupil: Teddy Rex! Everyone is friendly and Teddy is excited about his new school, but he has a little problem. When he gets excited, he just can't help but ROAR and accidents ensue. But with a little friendly help from the teacher and fellow students, Teddy learns when it's ok to roar and when he needs to use an inside voice.

The cartoon pictures have a colored-pencil/crayon scribble look that makes them fun and very school-like. Dinosaur fans will enjoy the colorful, perky dinosaurs that fill the pages, even if they're not factually accurate.

I especially appreciate that the font used is large and bold and stands out clearly from the colorful background and figures.

This has an accessible and familiar storyline that kids can relate to, lively and bright pictures, and text that is a good fit for beginning readers. The plot in general has a younger feel, so I'd recommend it to beginning readers in kindergarten.

Verdict: Not necessarily a stand-out title, but a good, solid filler for the easy reader section. I'm only sorry that there's only two books in the series, since I can see it being popular along the lines of Biscuit.

ISBN: 9781442449961; Published 2012 by Simon Spotlight; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

I love Deborah Freedman's art but I have to admit I was skeptical when I started this story. I was sure it was going to turn into one of those "introvert realizes extrovert really cares and they'll be happier if they break out of their routine and be like their friend."

But it isn't at all! I should have trusted Freedman to have a twist up her paintbrush.

Mouse starts out writing and drawing her story but is interrupted by the irrepressible Frog, who adds kings and ice cream and craziness indiscriminately until the story is a huge mess. And Mouse is upset that Frog is not listening to her. After a quiet talk, Frog apologizes and cleans up the mess and lets Mouse tell her story - and Mouse lets Frog help out.

Both Mouse and Frog learn to compromise - Mouse lets Frog help, instead of doing it all by herself, and Frog learns not to take over without listening to her friend. Deborah Freedman's illustrations are, as always, amazing. They're delightfully meta, showing Mouse drawing the story with her pencil, then Frog's crazy antics in a wash of scribbles and colors, then the messy process of erasing. I also love that this captures the "writing" of a story through pictures, gently encouraging the idea of different kinds of storytelling.

Verdict: This is a fun, sweet story that also gently imparts a message about compromise and different personalities working together. It will work equally well in a storytime about friendship and as a springboard for a create-your-own-story project. A definite must for any picture book collection.

ISBN: 97806707849055; Published 2015 by Viking/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 20, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey

I've determined to finally tackle the biography section of my juvenile fiction next year, which means, of course, that I've been thinking about it on and off all this year. Biographies are hard. There are so many picture book biographies being released and yet they very rarely circulate. Middle grade readers do ask for biographies, but it's so difficult to strike a line between the same old dead white males who have been done a million times and names so obscure no one will ever look at them.

So I was quite pleased when I saw that National Geographic was releasing a new biography of Jane Goodall. Goodall is well-known, but not so much so that another biography is superfluous. She's a woman in the sciences, with a powerful legacy that adds diversity to the field.

The biography itself is well-written in a way that will attract the reader's attention without sensationalizing or sentimentalizing the subject. The book begins with her childhood, the all-important research in Gombe that changed her life and the way chimpanzees were researched, and her transition into a public figure and fight for conservation. The final chapter talks about the way Goodall's research and continued advocacy has changed not only the way animals are researched and studied, but also treatment of animals in labs. It discusses modern methods and technology, several of the groups she started or sponsored, and some of the people she has influenced, both young and old.

Extensive back matter includes information about chimpanzees, photographs and specifics about some of the chimps of Gombe, a time line of Jane Goodall's life, maps, organized resources to read more about Jane and her work, detailed notes and index, and an author's note. The book is laid out in a large chapter book format with plenty of photographs, quotations, and additional facts and interesting highlights of Jane Goodall's life and contemporaries. National Geographic is really good about putting their nonfiction into attractive formats and this is no exception.

From an adult perspective, it was interesting to read this after having read Primates, which gives a more nuanced view of Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas. This biography focused more on inspiring and informing the reader than discussing the more controversial aspects of Goodall's life and while I'm usually a little leary about biographies that gloss over issues, I thought this handled her life very well in a way that's accessible and appropriate for middle grade readers.

Verdict: Even if you're not currently updating your biography collection, this is a must-have for any juvenile biography section. Thoughtful, informative, and will interest a wide range of children as well as teens and adults. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781426315183; Published 2015 by National Geographic; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library; Purchased for the library