Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Numbers: What am I doing with them? or, We have goals and we're not afraid to use them

Because my garden makes me happy
I love planning. In fact, sometimes I like planning things more than actually doing them. I am sure I am not alone in this. However, this year I tried to...plan my planning, if that makes sense. I have goals from my evaluation in May, from discussions with my director and colleague about where we're going with programming in the fall, and finally I put together a department mission and goals.

Mission Statement
The mission of the Youth Services Department of the Matheson Memorial Library is to provide informational, educational, and recreational services, in a friendly and supportive setting, to all families, children, and caregivers of the Elkhorn community. These services are available through quality materials and programs offered by a friendly and knowledgeable staff in a comfortable and welcoming environment. The Youth Services Department serves as a family gathering place focused on educating, enriching, and entertaining the families, children, teens, and caregivers of the public.

Department Goals
  • Serve all age groups with a variety of programs.
  • Serve all families and caregivers with a broad programming schedule
  • Make the Youth Services Department a destination by offering a welcoming, fun, and enriching environment
2014/2015 Objectives
  • Offer programs for each time slot (morning, afternoon, early evening, late evening)
  • Offer a wider variety of programs for early childhood; active/movement programs and programs directed at smaller groups.
  • Offer a wider variety of school­-age programs, specifically for smaller groups, which will enable us to build relationships and encourage use of the collection
  • Revive middle school and teen programs, creating simple, sustainable programs that build on school­-age program participants 
  • Expand outreach to four year olds to build an audience for the preschool programming schedule.
How Will We Get There? Meeting Objectives
  • Alternate programs in time slots so we can offer more variety (monthly/bi­monthly instead of weekly)
  • Alternate programs ­storytime/dance program/art program etc. instead of the same program every week
  • Stagger programs ­ don’t start everything all at once, put in gaps when I know there will be heavy calls for outreach (end of October, end of April)
  • Start with one middle school program (reviving middle school madness) and creating a teen volunteer program
  • Implement a planning schedule to streamline marketing, budgeting and create better long­-term evaluation of programming and build word­-of­-mouth interest in programs
    • November (Thanksgiving) finalize plans for January-May
    • April (after big party) finalize plans for June-August
    • August finalize plans for September-December

Saturday, January 24, 2015

This week at the library; or, Winter or spring? I am very confused.

What's happening in my head and at the library
  • The weather is weird. Was it only last week school was closing due to extreme cold and now it's in the 30s and I hardly need my sweater!
  • I had two interviews, a staff meeting, and a deathly determination to finish the Neighborhoods this week. Y - Z I AM COMING FOR YOU.
  • THE NEIGHBORHOODS ARE FINISHED!! Of course, I still have to deal with the 50+ missing items, everything that was checked out to the youth/tech services and not discharged, 50 holds on items still checked out, signage, and the rest of the replacement order but the main work is done!
  • I went out to New Berlin on Friday morning to join another system's pre-summer reading thing (I have been told that it's NOT a conference and there are no free books, but there is Marge Loch-Wouters and that counts for me) and then I took off the afternoon and went to the zoo and shopping, which is why I'd worked 6 days last week.
  • As always, Marge was very reassuring and relaxing to listen to (although I probably seemed a little abstracted, especially when she mentioned my blog and I looked over my shoulder and was like "huh? me?" but I was listening, honest!) My main take-away was that I need to stop looking for the "perfect" summer reading program, which we can then do forever, world without end, amen. Instead, I need to think of what summer reading program will work well for us, right now, and possibly a few years into the future. What is something simple that can easily be changed and adapted as needed? Related to that, I need to stop trying to reassure staff who are not comfortable with change (or not the frequency of change in my department) by telling them this will be the last change, or I'm not going to change anything again or trying to justify, defend, or cajole. I'm going to practice saying "yes, I'm trying a new program. I think it will be really popular with the parents and kids for X reasons and not too difficult for the staff to pick up, especially since you're all so awesome!" (and I really don't mean that sarcastically - we do have a great staff who have dealt with a lot of difficult changes well)
  • I'm really tired and am now trying to figure out how to set up a schedule for my new employee that won't change every week, will still allow me to train them, and will also take into account the vacation I already put in for in February. It's really hard for me to take vacation, so I usually take long weekends.
Programs
What the kids are reading
  • Showed a parent the truck movies. We did not have the specific one she wanted, but there were plenty of others.
  • Spirited Away - new copies coming soon
  • Parent wanting books to help talk about sex/puberty with an 11 year old girl.
  • ATV books - I think I only have one. Need to update the sports section of race cars etc.
  • Found the missing Ira Sleeps Over for a parent needing it for homeschooling curriculum. Discussed why a grade school reader would/should be assigned picture books.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Griffin's Castle by Jenny Nimmo

Eleven-year old Dinah isn't very hopeful about her feckless mother's newest venture; moving them into an abandoned and condemned old house at the behest of her newest boyfriend, Gomer. However, she slowly becomes invested in the vast, ancient house, especially when she discovers the animals along the wall come to life and protect her.

Or are they holding her prisoner? As the year wanes and Christmas approaches, Dinah sinks deeper and deeper into her fantasy world, trying to create the happy family she desperately wants but deep inside knows is impossible. In the end, not even her new friends can save her; only Dinah's determination and spirit give her a chance to break away from the past and find a family for herself.

I always feel that Nimmo's work is somehow under-plotted - like there is a whole extra storyline I'm missing out on. However, her books are nonetheless enjoyable for all that. This is pure neglected-child-wish-fulfillment fantasy. Be sure to pull out the tissues as Dinah desperately tries to create a Christmas for a family that exists only in her imagination. There's just enough magic to add the spooky touch that Nimmo's work always has, and, of course, bits of history and Welsh culture sprinkled throughout as well. The ending is satisfying, if a little abrupt.

Verdict: This is out of print and, honestly, it's not so amazing that I'd take the trouble to track it down, but if you already have a copy in your library or run across one in a donation pile, be sure to recommend it to kids looking for a tear-jerker, holiday fantasy with a happy ending.

ISBN: 9780439025546; Published 2007 by Orchard/Scholastic; I think I bought it at Half-Price Books? Donated to the library

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Read, Read, Read said the Baby: Big Girl Panties by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Valeria Petrone

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

An enthusiastic little girl delights in her panties - all colors, patterns, and decorations. Only big girls can wear panties and she's definitely a big girl, no more diapers for her! Just like moms, grandmas, and aunties, she loves to wear her big girl panties.

Petrone's pictures are simple and cheerful, just right for a board book. Each spread focuses on the little girl of the cover with her Pippi-like hair, waltzing about in her red shirt and a marvelous variety of panties.

This isn't really a potty training book, just a cheerful paean to the joy of fancy underwear and being a big girl. Some parents might be a little concerned about how freely the girl shows off her new acquisitions.

Verdict: Cute, brightly colored, and cheerful. Not a necessary purchase, but a fun addition to the board book collection. Ours was so popular it fell apart and I had to replace it!

ISBN: 9780307931528; Published 2012 by Robin Corey Books/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library (later purchased a replacement)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: The Iridescence of Birds: A book about Henri Matisse by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Was it an anniversary of Matisse recently? It feels like I've seen a lot of Matisse books coming out. So, normally I am not a fan of any picture book biographies, at all, ever. However, the art looked pretty and I knew staff, if not patrons, would want to see any book by Patricia MacLachlan.

The story is told a little differently than the usual picture book biography. It starts out "If you were a boy named Henry Matisse who lived in a deary town in northern France..." and then talks about how you would long for color and light, love the art that your mother created and shared with you, and eventually begin to experiment with art yourself and grow up to be a great artist; Henri Matisse.

Notes from the author and illustrator talk about how they came to create the text, where artists' ideas come from, and how the illustrator created the illustrations which suggest Matisse's paintings. There is also a brief list of books for reading more about Matisse.

I really wanted to like this one. MacLachlan's text is, as always, beautiful and Hooper's illustrations show a fun new talent (I believe this is her first picture book). Instead, I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed throughout the book. The only picture book biographies that, in my opinion, work well are those which can be easily read as a picture book to a child with no previous knowledge of or interest in the subject. This one almost, almost works that way. It would be a great book to introduce a young child to the beautiful colors, shapes, and art in the world around you. Until you get to the final pages which mimic some of Matisse's famous artwork, including La Danse, carefully edited to cut off the upper bodies facing the viewer and only show their backs.

Verdict: This book won't introduce a young child to the actual art of Matisse, since it does not include any of his actual art. Parents are likely to be annoyed by having to explain why all the dancing ladies are naked. Without the context of knowing who Matisse is (or understanding the concept of "famous artist" the story doesn't hold together well. Older kids, assuming you can find any willing to read a picture book or interested in Matisse, will turn up their nose at the "cute" illustrations, obviously aimed at younger readers. There's no audience for this at my library and I wish these two had collaborated on a picture book actually intended for children.

ISBN: 9781596439481; Published 2014 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Budget Numbers, Circulation Numbers, Programming Numbers, I Haz Them ALL (part 3)

The Statistics Octopus
It's a Thing
In the past, I've used the circulation numbers to divide up the money for the coming year. This year is going to be...different. I am spending a big chunk on replacements, as the final part of the Neighborhoods project. I will be spending a lot on easy readers and nonfiction, as those areas are next on the list. I gave a larger chunk to our cataloger, who purchases YA (partly because I messed up the budget last year and she lost money). Juvenile will be mainly keeping up with series.

I also have some additional numbers this year, since I decided to track size of collection, as well as circulation, to see how weeding was affecting the collection size. As far as I have been able to figure out, the library's collection was not weeded in its first 100 years of existence, prior to major budget issues, and a big staff turnover. We have a lot of back weeding to do now and I have been weeding diligently over the past 6 years. However, we also have to maintain collection size. I'm a slash and burn weeder (-:) and need to make sure I don't get out of hand. So, these numbers will help me see which areas are getting low.

(if you are anal enough to check my math, total circulation won't match the numbers because it includes holds from other libraries)

Total Circulation: 120,934
Increase from 2013: 3,787

Circulation by area
  • Juvenile audiobooks: 582
    • Increase of 58. I requested additional funds to purchase more audiobooks this year.
  • Book + CD (easy): 208
    • Increase of 26. I purchased a chunk of these at the end of the year and not all are cataloged yet, as we're waiting for the bags they go in.
  • Juvenile Blu-Ray: 1283
    • Increase of 467. I still don't think these are popular enough to devote a significant amount of budget. I try to get the feature films in the double packs, which we separate.
  • Board Books: 4513
    • Increase of 443. I would like to do a major overhaul of this section and replace all the tired and worn books, but I think that will have to be a project for 2016.
  • Juvenile CDs: 412
    • I would actually estimate this circulation at about 800. In June, our cataloger set up a separate location for the CDs. Until then, their circulation was included in with dvds. We had hoped that would separate out the historic stats as well, but it didn't. So this is starting from June.
  • Children's (DVDs): 27,474
    • Increase of 350. Are dvds a thing of the past or have we just reached maximum circ? I would guess the latter.
  • Easy (readers): 9700
    • Increase of 790. My next project in collection development is to sort out the nonfiction in the easy readers, give them to my poor, long-suffering cataloger to recatalog and relabel, and fill in series. I'm also planning to replace a lot of very, very grungy-looking titles. However, my purchasing here is finite since the easy reader shelves are almost full.
  • Juvenile Fiction: 14120
    • This section is confusing because this year I combined juvenile graphics and a large portion of the series into juvenile fiction and then made a separate location for new juvenile. Last year the combined juvenile sections circulated a total of 20,989. The combined total this year was 19,114. So this section was actually down 1875. It took a while for people to find where the series and graphic novels had moved to, the series especially are no longer right out in front by the easy readers. I added better signage during the summer and that helped, but it will just take people a while to find things I think. I tried magnetic labels on shelves, but they keep falling off - I think maybe laminated characters and sticking them to the shelves might be better. I also bought less in this area due to spending on replacements and Neighborhoods and that's not going to change next year so this section may just move a little slower for a while. I have to remind myself that it's ok if circulation drops in one area for a while, since it's up overall. You can't give everything an absolutely optimal spot.
  • New Juvenile Fiction: 2100
  • Juvenile Series: 2894
  • Juvenile Holiday: 1491
    • Increase of 228
  • Juvenile Magazines: 224
    • Dropped 127. The circulation time for magazines was changed to one week and I think this had a negative impact on circ. However, I had nothing to do with that change. Out of my hands!
  • Juvenile Nonfiction: 8990
    • Down by 225. Not unexpected as I did not buy a lot here and moved a lot of very popular titles to the picture book neighborhoods.
  • Oversized: 62
    • Up by 8. I'm still getting rid of this collection - it's really just the Star Wars books.
  • Parenting: 191
    • Down by 198. That's because I moved all the potty training books to the neighborhoods.
  • Picture Books: 27,214
    • Increase of 4885. A portion of that is the concept books that were moved in (about 1,000 in circ) and the easy nonfiction added. A small portion is also the number that were checked out to the youth services card during the process. I'd say that at least 3,000 is increase though!
  • Spanish: 237
    • Down by 165. There's no real way to predict this collection - just depends what family is teaching their kids Spanish or if kids happen upon it or....something.
  • Circulating Toys: 639
    • Increased by 257. I added a lot of new toys and it paid off.
  • Video Games: 2975
    • Increased by 463. I added PS3 and XBOX360 this year. We're running out of space for this collection - might want to increase the limit to 4 or 5, at least for Wii games, but that could be confusing.
  • Young Adult Magazines: 272
    • Up by 9. Meh. This is really a browsing, not a circulating collection.
  • Young Adult Graphic Novels: 1925
    • This was down by 587, very disappointing. However, I got behind in a lot of manga series and I think this is something you have to buy pretty constantly - the teens don't re-read manga as much as some other collections, especially if you have a small collection. Moving the teen area downstairs may have affected this as well - it brought more readers to check out fiction, but I think a lot of the teens who browsed manga are gone. This year I'm going to preorder all the new releases in the popular series.
  • Young Adult Fiction: 5714
    • Increase of 572. Our cataloger took over this collection this year and she made some good choices, also moving it downstairs meant more adults found the collection.
Collection size
Overall, our collection increased by 1,136 to a total collection size of 22,817

Picture books increased by 405 for a total collection of 4,491. This is really amazing, considering how many I weeded due to condition for which the replacements have not yet arrived. I also pulled a lot over from the nonfiction section and purchased heavily in this area as well. I plan to use these numbers to justify the two shelves of books I want to discard as I finish Neighborhoods.

Easy readers are slated to be next on the weeding/replacement list. They increased by 119 for a total collection of 1,165 which is almost at full capacity for our shelves.

Board books increased by 74 for a collection of 566. I'm very proud of my board book collection, which parents love, but it needs refreshing.

Juvenile fiction is confusing because of the way the collections were moved around. Series dropped 524 to a total of 597, the graphic novel location was completely removed and a new juvenile fiction section added, which currently has 182 but fluctuates since this collection is added to the general juvenile fiction location. This location increased by 572 to a total of 3843, which is basically adding the juvenile series. I also weeded the juvenile fiction. So, total juvenile fiction collections are at 4,622 which is an increase of 230.

Juvenile nonfiction dropped 121 to only 5,459. I did not buy much in this area this year and moved several hundred titles to the Neighborhoods. I plan to buy extensively here, possibly this year, but more likely next year.

Media: I was surprised that our juvenile dvds were down 14 for a total collection of 1,837. We've been having some space issues and I bought a ton but I also deleted second copies and I guess we lost more than I thought due to theft/damage. We added 13 more bluray for a total collection of 92, but most patrons don't have bluray players and I only buy them for feature films. I only added 5 juvenile audiobooks, bringing the collection up to 230. I'd like to add more but we have a space issue. I did purchase more book & cd combos, but the numbers only show us going up 4 to 59 because we are waiting for the bags to put them in. I added the separate location for juvenile music cds this year, so I don't have previous numbers to compare. We have 219 and no more space!

I added 7 toys to increase the collection to 54. I thought I'd added more than that, but then remembered that I'd weeded some of the really ancient stuff that predated me.

The video game collection increased by 76 to 213. This was hugely popular when we started it and still circulates well, but I am indecisive now as to whether I should start buying the (very expensive) new game formats, increase the checkout limits from 2 or...?

Young adult graphics only increased by 84 to a total collection of 718, which is probably why the circulation dropped, among other reasons.

Our holiday collection dropped by 4 to 645, which is about right - I would like to add a few more Valentines, Halloween and Thanksgiving books but 700 is the limit for what I can store on the holiday shelves I think.

Oversized dropped 32 to 71 - I am in the process of getting rid of this collection completely.

I was surprised parenting only dropped 1, to 109, even though I moved all the potty books. But I added a handful as well. I plan to increase this collection but it's not a high priority.

I added 3 Spanish books and we have 251 now. This whole collection needs to be relabeled but it's a low priority.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

This week at the library; or, Let's program!


What's happening in my head and at the library
  • Monday - still finishing Neighborhoods. I was going to be done with this by the end of December, but, well...I'm in the Ws! I'm nearly there! Also I pulled books for the bigger remote collections for my new outreach groups. 5 baskets is a lot more complicated than 2! and the rest of my supplies came in - my desk is a total disaster area. I also did a quick tour/explanation of the catalog/history of the library for some cub scouts that showed up.
  • Tuesday - Back on the children's desk! I spent a lot of time working on sorting through the youth services associate position applications. I was worried that we had a really small applicant pool, but a lot of applications came in right before the deadline yesterday and we had several people who looked good. I stayed until 5:30 to have time to make the final decisions on interviews/rejections/possibles to set aside as backup before I left.
  • Wednesday - First Winter Wigglers and two outreach programs. I wasn't sure how this would work - the schools are outside town at the opposite ends (yes, I know our town is only about 4 miles long at the extreme edges, but still) so the first one is at 1:30, finish at 2, and I told the second group I'd be there next, probably 2:15 (time for hauling all my books and such and the heavily slushed streets in town). I got there only a minute or two late and it went very well - a bit long actually, so I didn't get back until just after 3. I called to schedule interviews, hauled some tables out for the Friends book sale, dealt with a number of things that had accumulated (although you couldn't tell from my desk) and left at 4:40. Pretty close to 4:30, when I had planned to leave!
  • Thursday - I got through a bunch of stuff on my Neighborhoods cart (not all Neighborhoods, but the accumulated detritus around it) and then went on the information desk early so my poor director could make a trip to the dentist )-: then, after lunch, I opened new book boxes and unpacked my year's worth of manga order! I ordered all the year's manga at once - filled in series that were neglected last year and preordered all the new volumes. I hope. Our winter book and bake sale is in session, so I crammed Lego Club into the smaller half the community room. I had originally thought I'd have to put it in the Storyroom but that's really not ideal as it's a very small space for the attendance we get and a lot of our attendance comes from people walking by the community room. Not to mention Legos on the floor where we have baby storytime! This was also the first session I did with the new times - I extended after school clubs to 5:30. This means that it's a two hour program and also that I have to have absolute trust in my aide to clean up as I leave at 5:30. I had almost 40 people, which was really good, we all fit comfortably into the small room, I got some absolutely perfect publicity shots of different ages and genders working together, and I left at 5:40! One of the highlights of the evening was a kindergartener who had asked me if he could play with the Legos earlier this week and I said no - those are only for looking you have to come to Lego Club to play with them. His mom said he's been asking and asking all week! Another family said they wanted to get out of the house and the kids picked the Elkhorn library to visit and they were really happy when they found Lego Club was going.
  • Friday - Back out to my new outreach venue for three more storytimes; this went very well, although there is an adjustment to doing storytimes for a class of 23 four year olds as opposed to 12 or 13! Then I met with the director and adult services librarian to discuss scheduling the information desk (conclusion: we do not have enough staff and I cannot do regular shifts b/c of outreach and varying programs. I don't want them anyways! I've got to staff the children's desk sometime!) then grabbed some lunch, then two interviews. I had time to finish a couple things before I left at 5. Pattie did We Explore Science, again in half the community room, while I was gone. I'm working Saturday but I wanted to take a half day next week instead so I came back to work this Friday.
  • Saturday - It was Saturday. It was the last day of the book and bake sale. It was busy.
Programs
What the kids are reading
  • Bilingual books - a mom said her boys had really liked the Spanish Cinderella they got from my Cinderella display and wanted more books like that.
  • Helped a kid pick a book he'd like from his reading list - No More Dead Dogs
  • A "classic" for a homeschooled teen - recommended Dickens, Twain, or Verne.
  • Yolen dinosaur books - need to finish neighborhoods!
  • How to play the piano, specifically with letters on the keys
  • Horse picture books
  • Peppa Pig books (we don't have any)
  • Chuggington books (we don't have any)
  • Amelia Bedelia
  • easy readers - a little girl wanted a picture book but her grandmother thought she should be only getting books she could read. I showed her some picture books that she could easily read and she was happy.
  • a very shy boy visiting his grandma wanted Rocket books (turned out to be Tad Hills' Rocket so we found those) and we looked at a couple other things as well.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Erstwhile: Untold Tales from the Brothers Grimm 1 and 2 by Gina Biggs, Louisa Roy, Elle Skinner

I discovered these as a webcomic earlier in 2014. I noticed that they had a collection in a book but I was perfectly happy reading them online. Then I saw that the second collection was coming out, with one of my most favorite fairy tales, Snow White and Rose Red. I knew I had to have them and I might as well get both...so I did! I also bought a set for a friend.

[SPOILERS]

Each of these tales stays pretty close to the original - the added dimensions come from the art, the expressions of the characters, and the diversity pictured.

"Maid Maleen" is adapted by Gina Biggs and illustrated by Louisa Roy. A young girl refuses to marry according to her father's wishes, having fallen in love with another prince. Furious, she is shut up in a tower for seven years, during which time her country is devastated. When she and her maid escape, they end up as scullery maids in her beloved prince's kingdom, where he is about to marry another princess - who is hideously ugly. She threatens Maid Maleen to help in her disguise but in the end Maleen has her prince and the false princess is suffers her own punishment. Yes, her head is chopped off. Roy's art is soft with lots of pastel and earth colors. I especially loved how she actually ages her protagonist from an innocent little girl to a determined and experienced woman.

"The Bird, the Mouse, and the Sausage" adapted by Gina Biggs and illustrated by Elle Skinner. This is one of the quirkier of Grimm's tales. The titular characters have a happy life, each with a different duty - the bird gathers firewood, the mouse hauls water, and the sausage seasons the stew. When the bird becomes unhappy with his lot and demands they change jobs, they all end up dead. (I didn't say it was a happy story). Skinner's art has more of what I would think of as a children's illustrative quality, with broad lines, rich backgrounds, and less expressive faces.

"The Little Shroud" adapted and illustrated by Gina Biggs. This is one of the short, quasi-religious Grimm tales. A woman is devastated at her child's death, more so when his ghost appears, weeping to her every night. Finally, the ghost tells her it cannot rest in its shroud until she stops weeping and she manages to contain her grief. This is one that definitely makes more sense in the context of the tumultuous society and constant wars of the time period - with a high rate of infant mortality, parents had to accept death and move on to survive. Biggs' art is my favorite of the three with vivid colors, strong lines, and expressive faces. This story features a dark-skinned mother and child.

"The Farmer's Clever Daughter" adapted and illustrated by Gina Biggs. A farmer's clever daughter attracts the notice of the king and eventually marries him; but things don't go smoothly and he banishes her. However, she's more than a match for the king and cleverly manages to keep her beloved king and better the lot of the villagers as well. An author's note says this is the story that inspired the Erstwhile project and the first story that they did. This is one that really depends on the artwork. Just reading the story, yes, the farmer's daughter is clever and beats the king at every turn, but to modern sensibilities the king is a pretty nasty character and it's hard to understand why she would be in love with him. With Biggs' romantic, lush artwork, we see a determined and upbeat girl who falls for a king who's got a good heart, but is immature and isolated from his people and makes hasty decisions. And he really, really doesn't understand her - he spends a lot of the story with a bewildered, what-have-I-gotten-myself-into? expression. Once he realizes his wife truly loves him and stops feeling threatened by her being smarter than him, the story ends, there is a happy ending for all.

"The Old Man and His Grandson" adapted by Gina Biggs, illustrated by Louisa Roy. This is a brief didactic tale; an unpleasant couple isolate their aging father because of his inability to eat tidily at the table. When they find their son making a trough for when they are old, they are repentant and restore their father to a place at the table. The art is all in pale tans and browns and has a light, sketchy feel.

"A Tale with a Riddle" adapted and illustrated by Gina Biggs. Three women are turned into flowers, but a clever husband regains his wife. This is one of those tales that's rather fragmented - why were they turned into flowers? Why was one allowed to go home? What happened to the other two women? It has lots of gorgeous, swirling, colorful art though and features a dark-skinned couple triumphing over evil magic with cleverness.

"The Sweet Porridge" adapted and illustrated by Gina Biggs. This is one of the "magic table gone wrong" stories - a starving mother and daughter are given a magic porridge bowl, but when the mother forgets the right words the whole town is swamped with porridge. The art really makes this story, featuring a romantically slender mother and daughter who end the story plump and obviously happy and well-fed, after their hilarious adventure.

"All Fur" adapted by Gina Biggs, illustrated by Elle Skinner. A king, inconsolable after the death of his wife, decides to take his daughter as his wife instead, as she is the only one as beautiful as his deceased wife. She tries to get out of it by demanding beautiful dresses and then a cloak made of pieces of fur from every animal, but eventually flees. Working as a scullery maid, she escapes to the royal ball in her dresses for a brief time and catches the eye of the prince. He eventually figures out her identity and they are married and live happily every after. Skinner's art adds a rich dimension to the story, following the king's mental and physical deterioration and the princess' determined flight and return to society. Her dresses glow softly in the muted colors and lines of the artwork and the story features a prince with darker skin and hair.

The story ends with a gallery of fairy tales characters from Cinderella to Little One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes.

The second volume, which I was eagerly looking forward to, although I'd seen all the stories online already, did not disappoint.

It opens with one of my favorite stories that I read as a child, "Brother and Sister" adapted by Gina Biggs and illustrated by Elle Skinner. It's a variation on Hansel and Gretel sort of - a brother and sister escape from an evil stepmother and her nasty daughter (she has a missing eye with gruesome blood trickling from under her eyepatch) but the brother is transformed into a white deer by the stepmother's evil magic. The deer-brother is hunted by the king and his party who then track down the sister. The king, who is absolutely adorable, marries the daughter - but the evil stepmother sneaks in and kills her after the birth of her first child. Her ghost returns and the king frees her from the spell and the stepmother and her daughter are horribly killed - which frees the brother from the spell. This has brighter colors than in Skinner's other artwork, like a vividly green forest and the ominous bloody red of the stepsister's eyepatch. The brother and sister have light brown skin and the king looks like an adorable boy scout with his hunting dress and neat spectacles.

"Iron Hans" adapted by Gina Biggs and illustrated by Louisa Roy veers a little away from the original story, although not as much as Trina Schart Hyman's version (which I also love). A young boy disobeys his father and frees a wild man, who then takes him into the woods to avoid his father's anger. The boy is supposed to guard a magical spring but fails in his duty. However, Iron Hans does not forsake him but sponsors him to go out into the world, where he works as a gardener, falls in love with the princess, and after he saves the kingdom and wins her heart he and Iron Hans are both restored. Roy's slick, glistening art is the perfect medium to add a mischievous, sly dimension to the characters. Iron Hans is wickedly humorous, both in his enchanted and real forms, and the interactions between the princess and gardener's boy become funnier and more tender than in the original story, where one wonders why the prince would marry such a haughty and unpleasant princess.

"Doctor Know-it-All" adapted and illustrated by Gina Biggs is done in a very different style than her other work. It's one of the short tales and features a man who wants to be a doctor and ends up wealthy through a series of lucky coincidences and clever wordplay. The art is grainy and colored in sepia and red tones, making it look like an old silent film or newspaper cartoon strip.

"The Three Lazy Ones" adapted and illustrated by Elle Skinner is another short, quirky tale. A king offers his kingdom to whichever of his sons is the laziest and it is won by the youngest son. The ironic twist at the end shows the proclamation being read to an exasperated populace, laboring in the fields.

"The Worn Out Dancing Shoes" adapted and illustrated by Louisa Roy is a version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. I really didn't care for this one - Roy's artwork is fine and the tale told in all its quirky, odd glory, but it ends on an odd note with the nasty oldest princess married - and ignored - by the soldier.

However, this is followed by my absolute favorite story, "Snow White and Rose Red" adapted and illustrated by Gina Biggs. If you're not familiar with the story, two girls live with their mother, deep in the forest. Snow White is gentle and kind and blond, Rose Red is energetic and lively and has red hair (in the original story it's black) but they are sisters and love each other dearly. When a bear comes to their house for shelter in the winter, he becomes their dearest friend and they are sorry to see him return to the forest come spring. While he is gone, they three times save a nasty little dwarf until finally the dwarf is attacked and killed by a bear...who turns out to be an enchanted prince. Snow White marries him and Rose Red his brother and they will never be parted. I just love everything about this story. The warmth and love of the small family unit, the inseparable sisters, the romantic, happily-ever-after ending. Biggs' colorful, romantic art makes it even better, adding a meeting with Rose Red and her prince and confidences from Snow White to her bear as they grow closer until the enchantment is broken.

The book ends with an odd, tragic little story "Death of the Little Hen" adapted and illustrated by Elle Skinner. A rooster's beloved hen is choked to death and, on the way to her funeral, he gathers animals. They try to cross a stream and eventually fall in and drown, all except the rooster who stays with his hen's grave until only his skeleton is left. The glowing, almost neon art gives a surreal feel to what is definitely a surreal story.

Gorgeous. So, what does this mean for a library? Who is the audience? Well, although fairy tales are generally considered for children, the gruesome ends of the villains and the short, quirky stories that often deal with death don't give this a children's book feel to me. On the other hand, while many adults enjoy fairy tales, it's hard to picture them checking this out in my library at least. I'd say this is most likely to find an audience among teens who will appreciate the art and stories.

However, getting your hands on it is liable to be an issue. It is available only directly from the authors, via Strawberry Comics. If you purchase both volumes together, it's $39. They are hardbound and feel like really strong, excellent bindings, but I am generally reluctant to purchase expensive graphic novels because of how easily the pages seem to disintegrate, even in what looks like a strong volume. It's also very difficult for me to purchase outside my vendor and I have to have a strong justification for doing so. There's not a lot of interest in fairy tales among my teens right now, although a few years ago they were really into them.

Verdict: Although I happily expended money to purchase these for myself and a friend, I can't justify the purchase for the library at this time. However, if you have fairy tale fans and a more flexible budget and purchasing system, I heartily recommend this. And don't forget to purchase a set for yourself and support the authors in creating more beautiful comics with strong female characters and a diverse cast!

Vol. 1
ISBN: 9780985619503; Published 2012 by Strawberry Comics
Vol. 2
ISBN: 9780985619565; Published 2014 by Strawberry Comics
Purchased for my personal library

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli, art by Peskimo

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

This sounded cool and it is, but I'd never put it in the library. It's an alphabet book, each spread featuring a different letter. The comparisons are fairly normal, "A is for apple/E is for elephant" etc.

What's unusual is the design. It's only sort of a board book. The pages are thick but not quite board book thick. Each spread has clues on one side, the image of the item on the other, and in between a die cut letter that you turn and that's incorporated into the illustration. The art is cute, if not particularly memorable and has lots of clean lines and simple shapes.

If you count it up though, that's 26 spreads, way, way more than a normal board book. Also, when I looked at the copy I borrowed, even though it's a new title, some of the letters are already bent and there was wear on the spine (which is almost 3 inches thick) that makes me think it won't last long.

Verdict: Cool, but unless you plan to replace it frequently or don't care that it falls apart within a few months, I wouldn't purchase it for circulation in the library.

ISBN: 9781419709364; Published 2013 by Abrams; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Monday, January 12, 2015

Nonfiction Monday: Welcome to the Museum: Animalium by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom

Oh, did this book bring back memories. When I was a kid, we loved perusing animal encyclopedias. All that knowledge! The pictures!

This is that same experience, updated for the modern child. The book is supposed to be like visiting a museum - but it's waaay more interesting (sorry all my museum friends).

The preface gives a brief explanation of biodiversity and then after the table of contents (or "galleries") you are welcomed to the animalium and invited to browse this museum in a book. An elaborate family tree shows all the animals and more that are covered in the book and is followed by a brief explanation of evolution.

Then, it's time to enter the galleries. Each gallery focuses on a different type of animal; invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The opening spread features a sepia-toned illustration of various creatures on the left and the title page with a list of the gallery contents on the right. The gallery itself introduces the animal family, then features various creatures with detailed, vividly illustrated plates. It ends by introducing a habitat.

The book ends with an extensive index and a list of generic online sources to learn more about the creatures introduced. Physically, be aware that this is a large book. It's 15 inches high and almost a foot wide. The binding appears sturdy, but if you don't have a good shelving solution for oversized titles that might not last long.

The illustrations look exactly like the encyclopedic plates I remember from my childhood with an old-fashioned, static feel and yet they are vividly life-like and exquisitely detailed. However, the real contemporary feel comes from the text. In a bold, readable font and cut into friendly, bite-sized chunks, it informs and guides without overwhelming the reader.

Verdict: This is an intriguing start to what promises to be a beautiful and fascinating series. This will capture the attention of children old enough to read and absorb the text and young enough to enjoy the pictures. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780763675080; Published 2014 by Big Picture Press/Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the nonfiction backlist to order