Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Mine by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Patrice Barton

[This review was previously published and has been edited]

I purchased this as a picture book, but when I received a review copy of it in board book format, I thought it was even more brilliant!

There are only two words in the whole book, "mine" and "woof". Just for the record, the word "mine" is used nine and a half times and "woof" appears once.

The story is told through Barton's soft but brilliant color illustrations. The plump, rosy-cheeked toddler featured on the front cover is introduced to a baby and a stack of toys, with a dog in the background. Naturally, her first response is to scoop them all up, one by one, saying "mine!" before the baby can get any. Unfortunately, there's just a few too many toys and as the toddler frantically tries to collect them all, the baby and dog join in the game with enthusiasm and toys go flying. The two children quickly discover a much better game they can play together - dumping the toys in the dog's water dish. Spontaneous sharing ensues and grows until the final "mines" are for new friends.

The gradual sharing between the children is realistic, if a little overly positive. They don't play together at any point, but they are aware of each other and eventually work out a game they both participate in, as children of that age are capable of doing. I kind of wonder where the moms were while the kids were dumping toys in the dog's water dish, but that's all part of the fun. It reminds me of Barbro Lindgren's Sam books (or Max, if you're going for the original Swedish).

Verdict: I think this one works really well as a board book, maybe even better than a picture book. There are lots of different things to identify in the pictures and parents will appreciate the humor in the story.

ISBN: 9780375863462; Published August 2012 (board book edition) by Alfred Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library; Picture book previously purchased for the library

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Famous Phonies by Brianna Dumont

It's always a little difficult for me to judge "things about history you never knew" types of books because I've read so many of them - I'm no longer sure what is or isn't commonly known! Judging by my conversations with middle schoolers though, pretty much any history is news to them. Anyways.

The author's note and introduction explains that this isn't about debunking history; it's about looking at the real people and events behind the legends. Each chapter focuses on a different historical character, first introducing their legendary significance and then explaining the reality behind the legend.

The historical figures covered are Confucius, George Washington, Pythagoras, Hiawatha, Gilgamesh, Major William Martin, William Shakespeare, Pope Joan, Homer, Prester John, Huangdi, and The Turk.

Confucius really existed, but he was far from the wise sage his followers portrayed him as. George Washington was a more complex and human figure than his legend suggests. Pythagoras, like Confucius, has his legend built by followers long after his death. Hiawatha (not the one you're thinking of) may not have existed at all. Gilgamesh may or may not have existed at all but his legend is certainly larger than life. Major William Martin, a corpse that played a large part in WWII was a complete fabrication from beginning to end. William Shakespeare, well, you know the controversy about him. To Bacon or not to Bacon, that is the question...Pope Joan was a legend that grew out of all proportion - or did it? Homer never existed except in the imagination. Prester John may have been based on a real king, but quickly became a mythical figure with surprising staying power in the medieval world. Huangdi, the Chinese emperor reputed to have invented, well, pretty much everything, never existed. The Turk was a famous automaton, capable of independent thought and action....and also a complete fake.

Asides defining language or adding humor are sprinkled throughout the book as well as additional facts. Back matter includes sources and notes from the author.

This was interesting and the writing definitely caught and held my attention. I think kids would enjoy the snarky tone and humor and would be interested to learn about the different historical figures. However, there were some major flaws in the book that would keep it from being a library purchase for me. The people selected seem really random until you look back at the subtitle, "Legends, Fakes, and Frauds who Changed History." The problem is that the historical context is really not emphasized throughout the book and the chapters don't tie together well. The majority of the historical figures are from ancient history and didn't exist at all, but then you throw in George Washington, William Martin who wasn't really a person but a military maneuver, and The Turk, a machine. They aren't presented in chronological or geographical order either. Only in the last chapter on The Turk did I feel like the historical impact of the figures was really explained, but then the book ended abruptly without drawing conclusions from the figures presented.

The asides, which at first seemed to be an in-text glossary, but then turned out to be something else, really distracted me from the text. Some of them define things already defined in the text, some of them add additional facts, some of them just seem to be humor footnotes to the story. While I enjoyed the humorous tone of the text, I think it went too far and it was difficult to tell the difference between the historical fact and legend. In the section on Pope Joan, a brief sentence is all the clue you get that she's a legend and then the story hops into how and why her legend persisted, leaving me confused at the end as to whether or not she really did exist.

Verdict: I found the writing interesting and the concept had promise, but (and I say this knowing nothing of the publishing industry besides they magically produce books) I think the book would have benefited from a better editor and layout. I wouldn't purchase this to promote as a book about history, but as a book of interesting stories about people it would be a perfectly acceptable additional purchase.

ISBN: 9781629146454; Published October 2014 by Sky Pony Press; ARC provided by author

Saturday, December 13, 2014

This week at the library; or, It's not over yet

What's happening in my head and at the library
  • This would normally be my last week of programs, but I still have a ton of outreach visits and a gingerbread storytime that I'm hearing a lot of interest in next week, so....yeah, it's not over yet.
  • Started the week with either the remnants of a cold or the sinus infection that never ends, it just keeps coming back. I had intended to get a lot of work - reviewing, cooking, and misc. stuff done last weekend but I mostly just slept and felt sorry for myself.
  • No time for that this week though! On top of still working on neighborhoods (determined to make it to the S's this week!) I had programs, newsletters and publicity to write for next year that needs to go out now, scheduling and planning for the position that's posting next week, and just general madness. I powered through although coming back after Friday was really, really hard.
  • Saturday was awesome, once I got into it - we have a new partnership with the local dance studio, after a slow start lots of people showed up, and it was a quick clean-up.

What the kids are reading:
  • Calvin and Hobbes - suggested Mal and Chad
  • PAWS - Mysteries for a 5 year old, suggested Mystery by Eaton
  • PAWS - sports books (directed to sports in Neighborhoods)
  • PAWS - sparkly reads - went through a couple and she decided on Dotty by Perl
  • Books on ancient Egypt (and we discussed which LOTR book to read first)
  • duct tape crafts (I keep meaning to buy some for the teen area but haven't yet)
  • Lexile around 600 - really wanted something shorter/easier, but nothing came up at the right level. I gave her Julie Bowe's My Last Best Friend and suggested a couple other shorter things.
  • Otis books - found them hiding in the back
  • Berenstain Bears - really need to add more to this tub
  • "the mythology book you recommended to me last time" no luck on that one...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Andrew Arnold

Aidan used to think his parents' space-themed motel was pretty cool. But now that he's getting older he wishes they could live somewhere else - and that it wasn't so much work! Even the weird stuff, like the strange new girl, Dru, and his friend Louis' obsession with aliens isn't much fun anymore. But when there's a series of strange and frightening occurrences around the latest space launch, Aidan finds himself launched into a shocking adventure and more in tune with aliens than he ever thought he'd be.

This is a pretty straight-forward, old-fashioned, aliens-among-us, scifi adventure. There's not a lot of character development or introspection and the twist at the end felt forced and didn't really make sense. I'm not really a fan of science fiction and it took me, well, let's just say it's a good thing I had this checked out on my work card which has no due dates...

However, I'm not sorry I bought this for the library and I definitely recommend it. Why? Because it's so hard to find simple, plot-driven, short books for the middle grade age group. Bonus points that it's science fiction (even hard to find, despite how much kids love a good alien adventure) and the touch of diversity with Louis' prosthetic leg and Dru's alien origins.

Verdict: This won't win any awards but kids will thoroughly enjoy it and will be pleased to find a fun story about aliens that's not daunting in length or text. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781596438354; Published 2014 by Roaring Brook Press; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A book of changing seasons by Il Sung Na

[This review was previously published and has been edited.]

This is the board book version of the previously released picture book. Board book versions are a toss-up - sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I think this one works really well.

The board book cuts down the cover illustration and removes the end papers, and compresses each full spread down into the 5x5 board book.

Il Sung Na's simple but lovely text makes an excellent read-aloud for young children, with just one or two short sentences on each page. In case you haven't read the picture book, it's basically a list of what different animals do in the winter, "Some gather extra food for winter, While some travel find things to eat." and etc. It ends with a joyous welcome to spring as the rabbit, which appears in every page, changes to brown.

The illustrations are even more entrancing. Although they are delicately detailed, they are also colorful and exciting and don't lose much of their detail by being compressed into a smaller form. The patterns in the background of the art, both splotches of color and spiraling shapes, will especially catch the eye of older toddlers.

Verdict: I can see many toddlers enjoying listening to and touching this book and I would recommend having both the picture book and board book. This was an excellent choice for board book format.

ISBN: 9780307977908; Board book edition published January 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by publisher; Added to the library

Monday, December 8, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: Sequoia by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor

This isn't exactly nonfiction, but it's something I'd consider nonfiction enough for reading aloud.

Told from the point of the sequoia itself, Tony Johnston's gentle poetry takes the reader through the days, seasons and years of the tree from first morning light, from hot summers to crackling fire and quiet winter. The animals on and around the trees are mentioned and the tree's place in the ecosystem gently woven into the poetry.

Minor's lush oil paintings capture the majestic beauty of the sequoia and its surroundings. I'm in awe of how carefully he captured the sheer scale of the trees, shifting the perspective to show different aspects of the massive tree. Some of my favorite pictures are the ones that incorporate wildlife. In one, a single branch stretches against the green of the tree and the hazy green of the surrounding forest and sweeping out of it is a stunning blue jay, flying towards the glowing sun. In another, a woodpecker takes up almost the whole of the spread, only the straight trunk and swoop of branches overhead against the empty sky and an eagle in the distance give an impression of great height.

Back matter includes "Some notes on Sequoias" including a few drawings of the trees and a map of their range. There is also a brief bibliography.

Verdict: While this isn't going to be for everyone; the poetry is too slow-paced for a really good read-aloud, especially to younger kids, it would make a nice supplement to a tree storytime by reading selections and it's a truly lovely book.

ISBN: 9781596437272; Published 2014 by Roaring Brook; Review copy provided by the publisher for Cybils

Saturday, December 6, 2014

This week at the library; or, The End Draweth Near

This is our new I Spy aquarium, made by a volunteer.
The last one had been up since summer. This one has
fewer things in it, but there is a list that they can look for
and mark off - and I can add to it.
What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • This is always the time of year when I am at that delicate point between "I have a ton of time let's plan All The Things for next year" and "OMG Programs Start Next Week and Nothing Is Planned". I've got more programs in December this year, so it's a bit augmented.
  • Also, I'm only in the Ks in neighborhoods. But I am grimly determined to FINISH by the end of the year, even though my replacement cart for next year is reaching gargantuan proportions and I'm feeling stretched very thin. By Friday, I made it to the Ms! I passed the halfway mark!
What the kids are reading
  • Books about Japan
  • Historical fiction about Vikings (I didn't have anything that didn't include fantasy and that was short enough to read in two days or tonight - there was a disagreement about when the assignment was due - so I gave them Snow Treasure)
  • Paws request - historical fiction picture book. I showed them the new Long Ago section in the neighborhoods and they took a Little House picture book
  • Paws request - a book about a kid who has magic - I gave them Magic thief
  • "a good book", liked Hunger Games and was carrying War Dogs so I gave her Winter Horses
  • school assignment 7th grade, liked Hunger Games and wanted to read Fault in our stars - gave her Last Princess, Always War, Sektion 40, Before I Die, and Before I Fall
  • Forensics - storytelling. I gave her Little House chapter books for both "party" and "stories about Wisconsin" and Each Kindness for "injustice" and Scary Stories to Read in the Dark for "stories to tell around a campfire.
  • Rescue princesses - I just bought these and they are all checked out. I suggested Never Girls instead.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bad Dog Flash by Ruth Paul

This is a simple but sweet story. Sometimes it's nice to have a simple, fun picture book that's not ground-breaking or unique or award-winning - just a nice, solid story with friendly illustrations.

Simple couplets tell the story of puppy Flash who just keeps getting into trouble. "Sniff shoes. Lick shoes. Gnaw shoes. More shoes! Uh-oh...your shoes? Bad dog, Flash." Each mishap ends with a "Bad dog" for poor Flash until he finally does something right.

Ruth Paul's illustrations have a cozy, fuzzy feel that I usually associate with British picture books (she's from New Zealand, so I suppose was inspired by many British titles). Flash is an adorably naughty puppy with faint pink spots on his cheeks and a sprinkle of speckles across the pages showing the trail of dirt and destruction he leaves behind.

Verdict: A light and fun story. Great for toddler and preschool storytimes, when the kids will enjoy chorusing "Bad dog, Flash" and finding the puppy's naughty behavior on each page.

ISBN: 9781492610531; Published 2014 by Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Who's hiding by Sebastien Braun

This review was previously published. I have rewritten and edited it.

This is a classic and adorable board book. The 8 pages of text are each a simple question, asking the reader who's hiding under a leaf, behind a bush, etc. When you lift the flap, the name of the animal is shown in bold print.

The illustrations are a little more simplistic than Braun's picture book titles, but perfect for this audience. Smiling babies, with a range of skin colors and genders, happily peer behind and into the various items. The pictures are drawn so a large portion of the animal can be seen, giving a clear hint on where to look. The flaps are thick and sturdy, but the attaching paper "hinge" could use reinforcement. The book is about 6x6 inches square.

Verdict: I don't usually do lift the flap board books (or any books) but these appear to be quite sturdy and easy to reinforce if necessary. I think the white backgrounds might get dirty faster than I like, but this is really cute and so nicely designed to appeal to a toddler that it's worth it.

ISBN: 9780763659325; Published 2011 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for my library

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins

When I read this, I realized that THIS is what I wanted Sky Caves to be. This isn't really fair, since they're about very different archaeological discoveries, but the topics are roughly the same - an archaeological discovery with major historical impact. This book, however, drew me in from the start and held my attention to the very end.

The introduction explains how the author first encountered "Lady Dai" and her treasures and got the inspiration to write this book.

Each chapter is introduced by a fictional recreation of an aspect of Lady Dai's life which then segues into a discussion of that aspect of the discoveries made in the tomb. So, a brief glimpse of Lady Dai caring for silkworms opens the chapter on the silk books that were discovered in the tomb. The chapters not only discuss the archaeological discoveries, they talk about their historical impact and the context of the time period. So the chapter on silk books not only talks about how the discovery of these books greatly added to knowledge of the time period and how very little from that time has survived, it also talks about the value of silk and the the subjects of the books.

Drawings, photographs, and artists' impressions fill the book, all with thorough captions. The book concludes with a reflection on the people of the time period and a brief history of the Qin and Han dynasties. There is also a time line, map, glossary, author's note (including a note about the "imagined scenes"), sources of quotations, bibliography, and index.

Verdict: While this is a challenging book, a strong reader will be drawn into the story by the excellent layout and strong writing. Even if you don't have much interest in Asia or archeology at your library, I'd still give this a chance. It's not only a fascinating look into an amazing archaeological discovery and a great introduction to a history that most American kids don't know, it's also a great introduction to excellent writing and research. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9781580893701; Published 2014 by Charlesbridge; Borrowed from another library in my consortium