Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Butterfly Colors and Counting by Jerry Pallotta, illustrated by Shennen Bersani

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

The text has the numbers (both  numeral and text) and the color shown in the picture. A key on the back cover lists the butterflies shown.

The illustrations in this little board book (only ten pages!) are very realistic, so much so that I had to look twice to see if they were photos or drawings. Readers can both count and identify the colors of ten brilliantly drawn butterflies. The pages are a little thinner than a normal board book.

Verdict: This is a pretty but light offering. I keep taking it on and off my order list because I'm afraid the thin pages won't hold up to extensive checkouts though.

ISBN: 9781570918995; Published 2013 by Charlesbridge; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Little Baby Buttercup by Linda Ashman, illustrated by You Byun

Although I normally don't like yellow/orange/pink color schemes, I did love Byun's Dream Friends. I've also liked Linda Ashman's stories, especially as it looks, from her latest books, as though she is getting a really nice range of diversity in her illustrators. So I was delighted to get a review copy of this sweet and joyful picture book.

A pudgy little child, complete with Shirley Temple sun dress and lacy white shorts, celebrates a lovely summer day. She builds with blocks, explores outside with her mother, helps in the garden, visits the park, and has a treat while they wait for the rain to end. After a happy, busy day, they walk home in the golden glow of the sunset and settle down for a bedtime story and bed.

The toddler's day is not without incident; she has a fall and several messy incidents necessitate a new outfit. However, the overall flavor of this book is sunny, even when it's raining. A sunny smile, happy playing with a diverse group of friends in the park, lots of animal friends, lots of outdoor enjoyment and simple pleasures.

I love Byun's sunny art, even though the color scheme isn't normally my favorite, it just really works with her style. Everything is golden, pink and sunny, especially the walk home in the evening where everything, shiny from the recent rain, seems to glow from the page. The friendly dogs and bright splashes of color will catch the attention of toddlers while harried parents will appreciate a reminder of some of the joys of small children, even if they're not feeling them at the moment!

Verdict: This is just a really strong feel-good story. A diverse cast of children, including the protagonist, a joyful appreciation of everyday treats and trials, and a warm understanding of a toddler's joys. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780399167638; Published 2015 by Nancy Paulsen/Penguin; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, May 25, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Animal Stories: Heartwarming true tales from the animal kingdom by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple, illustrated by Jui Ishida

I'm generally not one for "heartwarming true tales" about animals, but this one drew me in and I actually enjoyed reading it.

The collection starts with a brief introduction talking about how important animals are in our lives and then the stories begin.

"The sled dog who helped save the children of Nome" is a really thoughtful, nuanced look at the story of Balto, explaining how many different teams were involved in the dangerous journey to bring medicine to Nome.

"Balanchine's Elephants" tells the story of a special ballet, created by a great choreographer, but danced by elephants! I really appreciated that the text explained the characters involved simply and clearly, without assuming prior knowledge.

"Simon: Ship's Cat First Class" was a new story to me, about a cat in World War II. He died before receiving the many commendations and medals he was to be awarded, but was well-known in England during and after the war.

"Keiko, the orca movie star" was the one that I felt the most doubtful about. It's about movement to free Keiko, original star of the Free Willy movements. Although it talks about Keiko's captivity not being beneficial, it's mostly in terms of how his pool was too small. He's illustrated with the drooping fin, but it's never mentioned. Although this is a historical story and the debate over keeping killer whales captive is a more contemporary issue, I felt it should have at least been mentioned.

"Daughter of Sunshine" jumps forward to a more contemporary story. In 1996 a little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at Brookfield Zoo and a gorilla picked him up, protected him from the other gorillas, and got him to a keeper. I had heard this story before, but somehow had never realized exactly where it had happened. I've been to Brookfield and those enclosures are high.

"Owen and Mzee: An Unlikely Pair" rehashes the now-famous story of an orphaned baby hippo and the tortoise he bonded with. The book then jumps way, way back into history with the story of "The Capitoline Geese", sacred geese who reputedly warned the Roman soldiers of attack during a siege. Then we're back to the present day with the story of "Hoover, the Talking Seal" an orphaned seal who could reputedly make human sounds.

A classic story, "Greyfriars Bobby" comes next, with a discussion of how much of the legend is true and how much is speculation. A modern story comes next, the story of conservation efforts by Lawrence Anthony, also known as "The Elephant Whisperer" and his bond with the elephants he saved. Back to another classic story, "Cher Ami, the pigeon hero" set in World War I.

A more scientific approach is used in the story of "Washoe, the hand-signing chimp" which discusses the different scientific theories about the extent to which animals can communicate with humans. Then back to the heartwarming in the viral story of "Christian the lion". A community comes together in "Saving the whales" a story of a pod of whales trapped under the ice in Alaska.

A series of famous animals show up in in the stories of "Seabiscuit, the people's horse", "Smokey, the firefighting bear", "Pale Male, Big-City Hawk", and "The Last of Lonesome George." The last story is an odd choice - it's a random story from 1998 about two pigs who escaped from a slaughterhouse in Britain, "The Tamworth Two."

Each story includes not just the basic facts but also a discussion of the historical context, broader perspectives on the story, and additional facts and similar stories. A map of the world, showing the different stories, a timeline, and a "cast of characters" briefly reviewing all the stories with thumbnail photographs are also included. Back matter concludes with an author's note about the family connections behind the writers, resources and further reading, index, and photo credits. While the bulk of the stories are set in the west, there are tales from around the world and they include local people in most of those - discussing the locals who saved Owen and Mzee despite their own tragedies, etc. However, of the few people pictured with the animals only a few, indistinct pictures show people of color. Part of this is that the stories with more close human involvement all feature white people, but there were several illustrations that could have featured more distinctly the non-white people and crowd scenes that could have been more diverse.

This is being promoted to an older audience, but I'd actually consider it a picture book collection. The book is formatted like a picture book with bold, attractive artwork. Each story is only about 6-10 pages long, with several of those being illustrations. While the stories are honest and present some controversial and sad stories, they don't emphasize the darker side of the stories and there's nothing inappropriate here.

Verdict: While I don't currently need any more animal stories for older readers, this would be an excellent collection to promote to parents who enjoy reading aloud longer stories to their kids, or for smaller kids to page through and pick out their favorites. There's a nice variety of stories and they are all told well with interesting details and age-appropriate information. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781426317255; Published 2014 by National Geographic; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, May 24, 2015

RA RA Read: Chapter books for Reading Aloud to Young Children

[updated with new titles!]

One of the frequently-asked questions at my desk is for chapter books to read aloud, usually to ages 4 to 6. This is a favorite question of mine; there are so many sweet chapter books that these special kids (when's the last time you met a kid who could sit still for a whole chapter?) will enjoy with their parents and I get the warm fuzzies thinking about the happy family memories they will be making. I find that older books tend to make better read-alouds, since they're often episodic in nature and don't have the more mature fantasy/action/adventure that's too complex or scary for younger kids. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments!

  • Sprout Street Neighbors by Anna Alter
    • This makes a good peaceful read-aloud with five short stories about some quirky neighbors.
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
    • This has never worked well as a beginning chapter, much to my dismay; the family-centric story, focused on everyday events, seems more suited to a picture book than a chapter book. Which makes it just right for a child who still loves picture books to listen to!
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
    • A classic about a family that is expanded with penguins. It makes a nice read-aloud that has held up surprisingly well over the years. Ignore the horrible movie.
  • Jenny and the cat club by Esther Averill
    • These are charming - and that's a good thing in this genre. They've been republished.
  • The wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
    • Oz books make great read-alouds because each chapter is nicely divided into a different adventure and there are all sorts of weird creatures and funny jokes for the adults. There are some mildly scary moments that may upset sensitive adults and some outdated/racist language that I would just skip over until the kids are older.
  • Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn
    • This is a big compilation of three books. The length makes it daunting for actual readers, but they are fine for reading aloud. Slightly twee perhaps, but not too bad.
  • A bear called Paddington by Michael Bond
    • There's been renewed interest in this classic bear because of the recent movie, but I've been recommending these for years. Each chapter is a new, funny adventure. They're sweet and silly with a scattering of black and white illustrations.
  • Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
    • Because of the length and copious illustration, a lot of people think of these chapter books as beginning chapter books, but they're actually quite complex. They do make hilarious read-alouds though, especially if your listener is old enough to appreciate the snarky humor.
  • The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth
    • Just imagine if your chicken hatched....a dinosaur! This delightful story includes excitement, humor, and dinosaurs all in a small-town, friendly atmosphere
  • Silver Street Farm by Nicola Davies
    • This story is about a group of friends who have an urban farm/rescue. It's got some line drawings, is fairly short, and includes lots of animals, which is always a positive.
  • Three tales of my father's dragon by Ruth Chrisman Gannett
    • This is one of my favorite go-to's for a read-aloud. This is actually a collection of three books, each one with short chapters, lots of black and white illustrations, and the perfect blend of action, humor, and repetitive detail for young listeners.
  • Princess in Black by Shannon Hale
    • The illustrations really sell this for younger kids as a read-aloud. And, of course, remember that both boys and girls will like this story of a princess who fights monsters! (not at all scary monsters, by the way)
  • Digby O'Day in the fast lane by Shirley Hughes
    • This is the first in a new series (I'll be posting a review one of these days). It's rather British, but a sweet, friendly story and great for the really young children, since it's copiously illustrated.
  • Rabbit Hill and Tough Winter by Robert Lawson
    • These classic stories are a little outdated in language, but they make good read-alouds for kids who like a good animal story
  • Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers
    • This one is a little older, but it's a nice blend of fantasy/adventure that's not too perilous and emphasizes child-like concerns - being brave, missing your parents, etc.
  • The Children of Noisy Village and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
    • These are both very different series, but I recommend both. Noisy Village is a family/rural story with simple, fun tales of life on the farm. Pippi Longstocking is anarchic and silly - if parents are ok with that, they will enjoy it along with their children.
  • Winnie the Pooh and The house at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
    • Yes, this list is rather heavy on the British. So, on the one hand this was one of my very favorite childhood read-alouds and it really only works as a read-aloud - by the time kids are able to read the books for themselves they've usually outgrown them. However, kids who have been raised on the Disneyfied pap known as Winnie the Pooh may have trouble picking up the very British humor. I leave this in here just for myself though.
  • Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
    • Younger kids won't pick up all the snarky humor of this, but parents will which makes it fun for all ages. I actually read these aloud to a friend as we drive places!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

This week at the library; or, The panic sets in

Finally, after the ill-fated magnets, I laminated labels
for the juvenile series shelf.
What's going on; in my head and at the library
  • I keep telling myself that this year, summer will be so much simpler. No big projects, no stress. HA. Apparently I can panic and stress with no reason. I am very talented.
  • Garden day was supposed to be when the homeschoolers got summer info and for people to come help out with planting the gardens. Well, it was freezing cold, I didn't have the dirt or plants, and only about 3 families showed up. We did get a lot of weeding done, with me and two other staff members, and talked about the future of the gardens and outdoor programming.
Some Projects Completed/In Progress This Week
  • Working on cleaning out storyroom closet
  • Shifting teen area
  • Working on finishing up summer planning and preparing for school visits
  • Signage for juvenile series
Ongoing and New Stealth Programs and Displays
What the kids are reading; A Selection
  • Minecraft
  • Train books for a four year old
  • Classics likely to be on high school AP English Literature
  • Appropriate movies for a three year old
  • "clean" reads for a middle grade student. I helped them find some of the titles they had on a list and then recommended Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles and Lois Lenski's historical novels.
  • Books for a child going into 2nd grade - recommended Branches and several other beginning chapter series.
  • Books for a preschooler with high language abilities, but who gets bored with readers and just wants to be read to. We went through a lot of possibilities, including the We Both Read series, Toon Books, and some other graphic novels.
  • Pixie sticks? I think? It's not a series we have. I went through pretty much every beginning fairy chapter book until she agreed to take Emily Rodda's Enter the Fairy Realm omnibus.
I moved the Maker Kits (more on that later) and then shifted
teen comics and graphic novels around the corner into
the empty space. More signage to come (I put up temporary strips
of paper saying "teen comics teen graphic novels)

I shifted all the manga down to fill in the one shelf range that
had held comics, shifted ALL the shelves to have more space
(forgetting to put the back bits in most of them but whatever)
moved the anime over and then had the space to shelve all the
teen audiobooks

I shifted all the nonfiction so it was more accessible and uniform,
then used the audiobook space to move over the magazines.
There's now an empty range at the end, to the right, next to the wall,
where we will be doing stealth programs/activities.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hamster Princess: Harriet the invincible by Ursula Vernon

I was incandescent when I got a galley of Ursula Vernon's newest series, Hamster Princess, and it fully lived up to all my hopes, of course. Ursula Vernon never disappoints.

"Once upon a time, in a distant land, there was a beautiful princess named Harriet Hamsterbone, who, as her name indicated, was a hamster." Thus begins the most riotous, hilarious, flip-all-your-preconceptions-on-their-head retellings of Sleeping Beauty I have ever read. When Harriet finds out about the curse the evil Ratshade has placed on her, that on her twelfth birthday she's doomed to fall into a long sleep until a prince kisses her, she realizes that means....she's invincible until her birthday arrives! She promptly sets out to do something with all that invincibility and even manages to break the curse! But there are unexpected aftereffects and now she really, really does need a prince. But will any prince be willing to help out Crazy Harriet Hamsterbone?

Like the long-running Dragonbreath series, this new series starter combines graphics with text. The illustrations are in dark blue and purples. they include some pages of panels and a plethora of spot illustrations, mostly of Harriet.

This series is just so much FUN. Kids and adults alike will giggle their way through and maybe even pause and think a little bit about preconceived ideas, although that's definitely not the point of the series, more of a byproduct.

Verdict: An absolute must-buy. These graphic blends are perfect for kids who desperately want to read comics and parents who desperately don't. Hand this one to fans of fractured fairy tales, previous fans of Dragonbreath, kids who like funny stories and adventure.

ISBN: 9780803739833; Published August 2015 by Dial/Penguin; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015; Preordered for the library

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Counting in the garden by Emily and Patrick Hruby

[This review has been edited and republished]

I saw the cover of this board book at ALA and it really grabbed my eye, but the book itself was disappointing. The idea of bright colors and geometric shapes was good, but the execution of the design is too complicated for a board book for small children. It gets very crowded and some of the more abstract shapes are hard to identify as the various plants and other garden things.

The book is a thick square, 9x9 inches, and has a lot of thick pages - it weighs almost a pound! I am a little doubtful about the binding of such a thick book holding up as well. It's from a small publisher and is more spendy than the average board book - about $10.

Verdict: I would have been more likely to purchase this as a concept book for preschool age kids, and when I did a little searching it looks like it is actually available as a hardcover, but as a board book it misses the mark. Toddlers and babies might enjoy the bright colors and geometrical shapes, but they are likely to have trouble identifying the objects and the weight of the board book is an issue, while the cost is more than most libraries will spend on a board book.

ISBN: 9781623260057; Published 2013 by Ammo; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Look! by Jeff Mack

I had reservations about this book when I read the description; I always think books that encourage reading vs. screens are sort of...well....silly. I mean, if you're not reading, you're not going to get the message and if you're reading it you're already reading so...but Jeff Mack is so funny and my library has loved everything he's done, so I gave it a chance and he came through for me!

With only two words, "look" and "out" you wouldn't expect much of a story but drama, friendship, action, hilarity and silliness ensue when a friendly gorilla tries to get a little boy to LOOK when the little boy just wants the gorilla OUT.

The gorilla isn't sure what these strange square things are, but they seem perfect for getting the little boy's attention. But the boy is glued to his screen. The gorilla's antics escalate until tragedy strikes and the boy sends the gorilla OUT! and looks sadly at his broken tv...but there is a book right there and it's open and...a friendship develops and together they LOOK.

The two characters are delightfully expressive throughout their interactions, but there's so much more to the art than just the characters. Each page has a different "bookish" background, from the classic library date stamp in the front of the book to faux leather bindings, crumpled pages, and those classic library bindings. The text changes fonts on every page, from collage letters to scribbled crayon, matching the mood of the scenes.

Verdict: This is a perfect book for storytime, but also for beginning readers to practice their visual as well as textual literacy. This is definitely going on the list I'm making of picture books for beginning readers. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780399162053; Published 2015 by Philomel/Penguin; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: I, Fly: The Buzz about flies and how awesome they are by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

I'm a big fan of nonfiction picture books that can be easily adapted to read aloud and that tackle unique animals or subjects, especially if they're gross. Kids love this stuff, even if it makes teachers and parents groan! This one hits all my requirements and although at first glance it might seem a little bit of a knock-off of Diary of a Fly, it's really its own unique book.

The titular fly zips into a classroom and is discouraged to find that all the kids are studying, yet again, butterflies. But flies are pretty cool too and he is going to tell his audience exactly why. Like butterflies, flies metamorphose. They have cool body parts that butterflies don't have, like halteres and a unique flight pattern and setae. Ok, yes, it is true that they throw up on their food, but only some of it! And yes, they do carry diseases, but they're not mosquitoes! In a humorous about face, Fly convinces the kids to study him instead of a butterfly...only to find out that this "being studied" thing isn't quite what he expected! Fly finishes up with talking about how flies fit into life all over the world and are used in scientific study.

Back matter includes a child-friendly glossary, bibliography that includes multiple websites, and acknowledgement of three experts. The illustrations are cheerful cartoons, mainly focusing on the fly and children in different settings, but they also do a good job of clearly setting out the fly's habitat and habits. The text is a little long to work as a straight read-aloud, but it would be fine if you pick and choose sections as you go through the book.

Verdict: This was a very funny and informative look at a fly, a creature that usually doesn't get much attention. It will get plenty of laughs and "that's so gross!" exclamations from your audience, while informing them about flies. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780805094695; Published 2015 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Leveling Easy Readers; or, How I make everybody happy

This question pops up on a lot of listservs and online groups, so I decided to write down what we do so I can just link back to a post.

Originally, we had all the easy readers arranged alphabetically by author. That was it. Parents were continually asking what level their child should be reading and this increased as the local school district added four year old kindergarten and extended Scholastic Reading Counts and Lexiles to all grades. Personally, I'm against leveling, in general. However, our collection is there for the patrons, not for me! So, I came up with a compromise. All the books with a "level 1" got a red sticker, "level 2" got a green sticker, and "level 3" got a blue sticker. If the publisher hadn't put a level on the book, I just guesstimated.

This satisfies parents who want to just point and say "you're only allowed to read the red sticker books" but it also satisfies my own resistance to leveling books and realistically gives kids quite a range of reading possibilities, since every publisher's leveling system varies so widely.

Last year I also added a nonfiction section to the easy readers and circulation continues to expand rapidly. My next easy reader project is a plan to make a resource list of titles (easy readers and picture books) with just a few simple words in bold type on each page. We get asked for that constantly, especially with the push for kids to read younger and younger.
The sign

Paperbacks on display

Stickered easy readers

Easy reader nonfiction