Monday, October 24, 2016

Audiobook Review: Ghost

Ghost by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockard. Grades 5-7. Atheneum, 2016. 3 hours, 29 minutes. (192 pages.) Audiobook provided by my local library.


Castle Crenshaw calls himself Ghost and he knows he can run fast. Unfortunately, he knows this because of a terrible night when his dad got drunk and violent and running fast was the only way to get away. Life hasn't been super kind to Ghost - the kids at school make fun of him because he's poor, and he carries around the weight of his father's betrayal.
One day, Ghost stumbles onto a local track team practicing near his neighborhood and starts to watch. Those kids think they're so fast, but Ghost knows he can leave them in the dust. And when he shows off for those kids, Coach is watching him and invites him to join the track team.

Ghost has never done anything like that before. And he's never had a strong guy in his life to show him the ropes. Suddenly, Ghost is learning what it's like to be on a team, to have a Coach who really cares about him, to work at something and get better and feel proud. To stay on the track team, Ghost will have to steer clear of what his mom calls "altercations", which is not going to be easy. When kids start running their mouths and saying stuff about him, Ghost can't keep calm, he has to fight back. But he'll have to really watch it to keep doing what he loves. And then Ghost makes a decision. A bad decision. A decision that could cost him his track star dreams. Will Ghost lose the best thing that has ever happened to him?

If you like realistic stories, especially if you're into sports, pick up Ghost. 

My thoughts:

Oh man, you guys. THIS VOICE!!! Jason Reynolds is a master of voice and dialogue. His characters jump off the page with their realness. I could completely and totally believe that Ghost was a real kid who was sitting down and telling me the story of his life. If you have readers who enjoy strong, well-written voice (me, me, me!), push this book into their hands.

The narration of the audiobook absolutely heightens the story, too. Guy Lockard brings out every ounce of humor and tension in the story. His fully voiced performance did justice to the strong voices of the characters in the book. The words and voice of Coach, a taxi-driving curmudgeon with a heart of gold, are still stuck in my head, weeks after listening to this audiobook.

This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and I'm expecting to see some more shiny stickers on it, come awards season.


After I finished this audiobook, I immediately picked up Jason Reynolds's and Guy Lockard's other middle grade audiobook out this year, As Brave as You, which is also really good. Again, I think audio is the way to go with this title and Guy Lockard gives a masterful, fully-voiced performance.

For readers who love Ghost's strong voice, I would suggest other books with strongly-voiced characters: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander or Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage,

For readers who like the storyline of a kid dealing with Circumstances in the city, I would suggest Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth or Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri.

For readers looking for more sports stories, I would suggest The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (yes, again, I love this book!), Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabar, or Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reading Wildly: Thriller/Suspense

Last year, I was working the Teen Desk when a girl who was CRAZY about the author April Henry came in looking for books. Of course, all of April Henry's books were checked out and she was asking if we had anything similar. And I was stumped. Nothing came to mind that I had read or even really heard of except The Face on the Milk Carton, which kids were reading when *I* was a kid.

That's a long story to say that I requested this genre for one of our Reading Wildly months this year. Of course, I helped my patron with the help of sources like Novelist, but it definitely identified a gap in my knowledge.

This month, we read "thrillers" and I learned after Becky Spratford's RA workshops at my library that what we were actually reading about would be considered suspense novels.

Here's what we read:
For the most part, this genre wasn't a huge favorite with my staff, although I had one who got really into it and found several books that she enjoyed. 

Next month, we're going the complete opposite way and we're going to be reading gentle books. I suggested three ways that staff could take this genre: 
  • Christian fiction - definitely something that gets requested in our fairly conservative community
  • Gentle teen reads - books from the teen area that don't contain mature language and content
  • Children's books for kids who are reading way above grade level (say, a first grader reading at a fourth or fifth grade level)
So, we'll see what we end up with next month! When I passed around the paper for staff suggestions for this genre, we were very lacking in gentle options for teens.

What are your favorite gentle reads for teens? 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Dinosaurs

This morning we had dinosaur storytime! This one was a HUGE hit, of course. Dinosaurs are always a crowd-pleaser. One of my little guys even unknowingly wore an awesome dinosaur shirt. I had done a dinosaur Preschool Lab a few years ago, but this storytime was not specifically a STEM program (although we shared a lot of science information!). Here's what we did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Bones, Bones, Dinosaur Bones by Byron Barton. We talked about dinosaur bones and how scientists find them and put them in museums.

Song: Ten Big Dinosaurs
(Tune: Ten Little Indians)

1 big, 2 big, 3 big dinosaurs,
4 big, 5 big, 6 big dinosaurs,
7 big, 8 big, 9 big dinosaurs,
Ten big dinosaurs!

They all lived a long, long time ago.
They all lived a long, long time ago.
They all lived a long, long time ago.
Now there are no more.

I really like this song because it's catchy and easy for kids and parents to learn and it reinforces the knowledge that dinosaurs lived a long time ago and they don't live anymore. It's also good practice for counting. 

Source: KidSparkz

Book: Dinosaur Bones by Bob Barner. We talked about bones and felt some bones in our bodies (the front of your legs and your wrists are great places to demonstrate feeling your bones). Our bones help us move and the dinosaurs' bones helped them move, too. This book has a simple, rhyming text that teaches that dinosaurs were more than just dusty bones in a museum. They actually used their bones, just like we use our bones. Each page has additional info in smaller type that you can read if you have an older or more experienced group. 

Song: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes. I could tell we needed a little wiggle break and this is my go-to. To stretch it out a little bit, I always ask kids to identify their body parts first: Where is your head? Where are your toes? etc. And then after we do the song, we repeat it fast and SUPERFAST (and you can do it slowly, as well, if you need more movement). 

Felt Song: Dino Laid an Egg
Tune: This Old Man

Di-no-saur, she laid one.
She laid one egg, then was done. 

Chorus: Oh-oh, dino eggs,
She lays them one by one.
She lays eggs until she’s done. 

Di-no-saur, she laid two.
She laid two eggs, that were blue. Chorus
Di-no-saur, she laid three.
She laid three eggs, by a tree.Chorus
Di-no-saur, she laid four
She laid four eggs, not one more. Chorus
Di-no-saur, She laid five,
She laid five that hatched ALIVE! Chorus

I like this song because it introduces the information that dinosaurs laid eggs that hatched into baby dinosaurs. I asked Ms. T to make me a felt set for this story so we had a visual to go with it. 

Book: Ten Terrible Dinosaurs by Paul Strickland. This one was just a silly story with dinosaurs in it, but it also introduces some great vocabulary ("elated", "weary"). Whenever I come to a word that kids probably don't know, I define it for them if I can do so easily. Reading books with preschoolers is a great way to expose them to new words and knowing lots of words makes it easier to learn to read when it's time. 

Felt Activity: Dinosaurs. I passed out the felt dinosaurs and asked kids to bring them up and put them on the board when I called the dinosaur they had. I did use the names for the dinosaurs, but also described them and showed an example, so the kids didn't need to know the names of the dinosaurs, but they were exposed to those words. 

Play Stations: 

I got out the blocks (we always use blocks) and our dinosaur toys from our Toddler Time toys. 

I discovered that we have this really cool felt set of dinosaurs, so I put that out on the felt board. It is so old that I have no idea where it came from, my apologies! 

And we practiced fine motor skills with clothespin stegosaurus. This article recently was shared around on Facebook: Losing Our Grip: More Students Entering School Without Fine Motor Skills. Using clothespins in play is a great way to improve hand strength and build fine motor skills. These cardboard dinosaurs are very simple and cheap, but I had a handful of kids working with me quite a bit, putting the clothespins on and taking them off. You can use these for a game using a die to tell how many spikes to put on. Or you can just free play with them like we did. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Firefighters

Our Preschool Explorers is back for the fall and my first storytime of the season was about firefighters. A couple of summers ago, we did a firefighter storytime and invited the local fire department to come down, which was really fun. They were super happy to do it, so don't hesitate to reach out. This time around was a more casual affair since it was just part of our normal storytime schedule.

Here's what I did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Dan Santat (Bloomsbury, 2012). This brightly illustrated book shows a team of firefighters responding to a local house fire and sprinkles Spanish words in with the text. Before I started, I went over two Spanish words that happen a lot in the text: bomberos (firefighters) and fuego (fire). I wanted to share this one because it's a great adventure story and I wanted to include some diversity in my storytime. A lot of firefighter books are along the same lines as this one: the process of firefighters responding to a call, so why not choose a diverse book?

Song: Hurry, Hurry, Drive the Fire Truck

This is a great action song to get everyone up and moving a little bit. I also love that we use our imagination. After reading a book about firefighters putting out a fire, we used our imagination to pretend that we were putting out a fire. Since a kitty gets rescued in Fire! Fuego! Brave Bomberos, we added that to the end of our song, climbing the ladder one more time and then holding out our arms for the kitty cat.

Book: A Visit to the Fire Station by B.A. Hoena (Pebble Plus, 2004). I love Pebble Plus books for adding nonfiction to preschool storytime. The large trim size and clear, colorful photos make this series nice for sharing with groups, while the easy text is straightforward enough to share with young children. I chose this one because I wanted to include a book with real photos.

Action Rhyme: Five Brave Firefighters

Five brave firefighters (stand up, hold up five fingers)
Sleeping in a row (hold hands against cheek like sleeping)
Ring goes the bell (librarian rings bell)
And down one goes! (sink to the ground)

Source: adapted from Storytime with Miss Tara and Friends

Book: Fire Truck by Peter Sis (Greenwillow Books, 1998). I have a soft spot for Peter Sis, since I did my illustrator project on him way back in library school. This imaginative story is illustrated almost exclusively in black and white and red. Young Matt loves fire trucks so much that he turns into one and races around his house having adventures until he smells some pancakes and goes to have his breakfast. Again, a lot of firefighter books are pretty similar, so I chose this one because it's something a little different.

Felt Action: Build a fire station. We have a felt set of "things you'd see at a fire station", which includes fire trucks, fire fighters, ladders, fire extinguishers, etc. I passed those out and had the kids bring up their piece when I called it. I almost always do an activity like this to end storytime if I have a set that fits my theme because it's good practice for kids to listen and follow instructions. Plus, having them approach the felt board gets them used to approaching an adult who's not their parent (school readiness!). And also most of them are fascinated with the felt board and love to interact with it. :)

Play Stations:

I didn't have anything that specifically related to firefighters today, so I just put out blocks, cars & trucks, our color boxes, and let them manipulate the fire station stuff on the felt board.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet. Grades 4-8. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2016. 160 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

You guys. Melissa Sweet is my GIRL. And she has outdone herself this time.


Do any of you know a certain spider named Charlotte?

What about a mouse named Stuart? Or a swan named Louis? If you know any of these classic children's book characters, you have author E.B. White to thank.

E.B. White (his actual first name is Elwyn) grew up loving words and loving nature and animals. Ever since he was a young boy, Elwyn wrote and wrote and wrote. He wrote poems and articles. He wrote a guidebook to his family's favorite vacation spot at the lake. And yes, he wrote books. He wrote books that are now beloved and read by millions of children.

This biography of E.B. White tells about his childhood and his path to becoming a famous writer. My favorite thing about this book are the beautiful illustrations. I like how the author and illustrator weaves together photographs, diary pages, and bits of Elwyn's writing with her own original illustrations. I love the colors she uses to bring Elwyn to life in the pages of this book.

If you are a writer or if you are a reader who loves books like Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little, pick up this book.

My thoughts:

This book is just a beauty. It feels like a beautiful scrapbook of E.B. White's life. Newspaper clippings, letters, photos, illustrations done in Sweet's signature mixed media style. The rainbow of colors and the care that Sweet takes to depict nature scenes emphasize Elwyn's love of nature and animals.

I don't know what else to say except that this is a book for the writers out there. It's a love letter to writing and to a man whose life was devoted to writing in many different forms.


Readers may be interested in other books about writers and wordsmiths that Melissa Sweet has illustrated: A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams and The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus, both written by Jen Bryant.

Readers who are writers may also be interested in these beautifully-crafted memoirs, which celebrate the beauty and craft of writing:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson

Or readers who are writers might enjoy books about the craft of writing like Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reading Wildly: Nonfiction

Hey! It's been awhile since I posted about our Reading Wildly meetings! Part of that is because SUMMER (we don't usually have time to sit down and have meetings during summer) and part of that is because we've been short-staffed and going crazy for the past couple of months. We've done several months of Reader's Choice and share-with-each-other-when-you-can.

But now it's September and we're back! We met last week to share nonfiction titles and to talk a little bit about Becky Spratford's Call to Action: Get Out There and Read Something You Are "Afraid" Of. This felt like the perfect piece to get us back in our groove of Reading Wildly meetings because this is exactly what we try to do with Reading Wildly every month. When we choose our genres for the year, I ask my staff to think about what books they do Not normally gravitate to, what genres or topics they get asked about that make them nervous.

If you are thinking about ways to improve your own reader's advisory skills or  about working with your staff to improve your team's skills, read that post above. It is definitely a call to action that deserves an answer!

And while you're at it, I want you to think about helping a patron with a reader's advisory question about any genre and what your reaction would be if that patron said "Great, which of these books feature people of color?" And then tell me that you don't think librarians should need to read diversely.

Ahem. Nonfiction.

Here are the books that were shared this month:

I am really super excited about October because we will be welcoming the wonderful RA librarian and trainer Becky Spratford to our library to hold some RA workshops for our Staff Day. And also we will be reading thrillers. This is in direct response to some teens who were looking for April Henry readalikes and I came up empty from my own personal experience. I'll be filling that void this month!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Some Light

Light at the End of the Tunnel 2 by Rebecca Swift

I think maybe I've come out of my tunnel. 

I wrote previously about being overwhelmed, first on the ALSC Blog back in December and more recently here this summer

I almost hate to say it because it feels like I'm going to jinx something, but these past couple of weeks I have been feeling better. I had honestly been wondering if I was ever going to wake up without dreading going to work. 

And then one morning.... I did. 

I woke up actually optimistic and excited to go to the library and do the job that, yes, I still love. 

A big part of that is that we are finally back to full staff (our new normal of full staff, that is). We filled a part-time position that had been vacant almost four months due to Circumstances. And I think what was really weighing me down was the Not Knowing. 

I am a planner. I like to know what's going to happen. I like to be able to think about the months ahead and know that we're going to be able to handle what's coming. Now that we're at the staffing level we're going to be at for the foreseeable future, I finally feel like we can begin to move forward. 

I've also accepted our new level of programming (much less than what we could previously offer). And as we train up our new staff person, we'll see where we're able to go from here. 

I don't know what the future holds. But I know that for now I am feeling okay, which is much better than I have felt for the past several months. And I'm just going to hold on to that and do the job I love. (And maybe blog a little more frequently...)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Grades 5-9). Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016. 400 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


(This booktalk is adapted from the publisher's copy on GoodReads. It said exactly what I wanted to say but more concisely and I think it makes a great booktalk!)

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave the youngest baby in the town as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest, hoping that will protect their village from her evils. But what they don't know is that the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise swamp monster Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon named Fyrian.

Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, feeding the babies starlight on the journey.

But one year, Xan mistakenly feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, Luna, as her own. To keep Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her.

When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule, but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her, even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she has always known.

If you like magical fantasy stories with unforgettable characters, stories that are sometimes serious and sometimes funny - the Perfectly Tiny Dragon in this story is hilarious - pick up this book.

My thoughts:

I had been hearing major buzz about this book and it was for good reason. This book is awesome. It has that feel of a classic fantasy story about witches and forests and magic, but it's also a fresh approach that interweaves science and critical thinking and legend and being kept down by The Man. 

It's a review cliche to say that it's a story about the power of stories, but IT IS and this book approaches the power of stories in a way that's new to me. There's a lot of power here in WHO is telling the stories and the tale gives us a macro view of that while the characters are very much only seeing what's in front of them.
The writing is rich and dark and complicated, but not in a way that bogs down the story. In a way that begs for a reread.

I am sure that the Newbery Committee will be taking a close look at this one.


Readers who like a rich, epic fantasy story might also enjoy Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire. I think the tone of these books is similar and Xan reminded me a little bit of Baba Yaga.

Readers who enjoy the dark forest setting and the strong female characters might enjoy West of the Moon by Margi Preus, which is not fantasy but is based in fairy tales and features a feisty young heroine.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Series I Love: All Four Stars

I am NOT a big series reader. As a youth services librarian, I usually feel like reading the first book in a series is good enough. I get to know what the book is like and who I would hand it to. No need to read the rest of the books when there are so many more first books to read. Plus, it's hard for me to keep track of characters and plots for months or a year while waiting for the next book to come out.

So it's a special series that grabs my attention enough that I keep reading subsequent books. There are a few, and I want to write about them. I wrote about The Thickety a few months ago and today I want to make sure you know about:

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
Gr. 4-7. Putnam. Review copies provided by publisher.


Gladys Gatsby loves to cook. It's her favorite hobby. She loves trying out new recipes, watching cooking shows, reading cookbooks... Unfortunately, Gladys has an incident with a creme brulee blowtorch, accidentally burning down her kitchen curtains and her parents ban her from the kitchen. Gladys isn't sure what to do with herself after that happens. Imagine if your parents banned you from video games or playing basketball or whatever it is you like to do in your spare time. 

When Gladys’s new teacher assigns them an essay about their future, Gladys pours her soul into her essay about becoming a restaurant critic, winning the class contest and the chance to submit her essay to the New York newspaper offering 500 dollars to the winner. But when Gladys’s essay arrives at the newspaper office, a tired intern mistakes it for a job application and sends it to the Dining Section. At first, when Gladys is contacted by the food editor about writing a review for the paper, she’s convinced it’s a prank. But it’s not a prank. And Gladys has a chance at her dream job… if only she can figure out a way to get into the city and eat at this restaurant and take notes to review it without her parents finding out.

This is a book for anyone who appreciates loves reading about - or eating! - good food!

Books in the series: 

1. All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (2014). 288 pages. 

2. The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman (2015). 336 pages. 

3. Stars So Sweet by Tara Dairman (July 2016). 278 pages. 

Why I Love Them:

I am a person who loves watching cooking shows and reading foodie memoirs and such. I like to try my hand in the kitchen every now and then. This series, with its blend of humor and middle grade adventure and foodie descriptions is right up my alley. 

Gladys is a likeably flawed character; she's a girl very much trying to find her way in the world. Because she spends a lot of time by herself in the kitchen, she doesn't have very many friends. She is a smart girl with a sophisticated palette and doesn't feel like she has a ton in common with most of her peers. But she tries. And it's rewarding to read about a plucky young girl following her dream and figuring out a way to make this job happen. 

This is a sweet, fun series that is just delightful to pick up and each new story is like visiting with my friend again. 

Check out other Series I Love:  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How our Walk-Around Log has Changed Desk Time

What is your job when you're working the public service desk?

That seems like an obvious question. Your job on the public service desk is to serve the public. But I know that it gets a little more complicated when you have a ton of tasks to get done and very little off-desk time to do it. Between customers, you'll often find your librarians completing other work.

I wanted something more for our desks. As a former Barnes & Noble bookseller, it was drilled into me to put the book in the customer's hand and I always walk customers back to the shelf. I always told my staff that they're not tied to the desk; I want them to be up and walking around.

Enter the walk-around log:

And yes, here's a link to a similar file I created for a walk around log. Feel free to download and edit to fit your needs.

Confession time: our walk-around log originated as a way to deal with some security issues we were having in our building. We exist in an old, sprawling building, and we cannot see everything in our Teen Room or our Children's Room from the desks.

So I created a log for each desk and made it a requirement of my staff to do a lap of the room at least hourly while they are on desk. I know how easy it is to get involved with a project you're doing on desk, particularly during those periods when we may go a few hours between patrons, and tune out to what is going on around you. That's not good customer service and that's not keeping the library secure.

When you take a few minutes to walk around your department:

  • You know who's in there. You know if there's someone back in the stacks. If you're paying attention, you become aware of any potential problems hopefully before they become actual problems. 
  • Patrons know you're there. They know that you see them. If it's a situation where they were thinking of doing something inappropriate, they may now rethink because they know you're not just zoned in on your computer screen. 
  • You can make sure your space is welcoming. You can make sure there are pencils, you can pick up the blocks, you can check the battery charge on the iPad stations, you can refill displays. You can take a few seconds to spruce up your room. 
  • (This is an important one!) You can offer help to folks who might not ask for it. Based on my years of customer service, I can tell you that there are some people who will not ask for help. But if you approach people proactively, often they do actually have a question. Or if they think of one they will be more likely to approach you or seek you out. It doesn't have to be pushy. When I do my laps, I try to approach everyone browsing in the department and say something like "Is there anything I can help you find today? No? Well, if you have any questions, you just let me know."
  • You're being healthy! It's healthy to get up and move periodically! Get that blood flowing! Get your steps in! 
Keeping up with our walk-around logs did help solve the security issues we were facing. It's also increased the number of reference questions we're answering. It also gives us a place to record any little notes we want to make, if there are any issues going on that I need to know about or future desk staff need to be aware of. 

I started out with consumable paper logs that I collected each morning to make sure my staff were remembering to do it. They did great and once I was confident that this was part of our new desk routine, I laminated a log for each desk and provided sharp point dry-erase markers to keep our logs. 

This is something that has worked well for us. What do you do to ensure your staff is providing good customer service at your public desks?