Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Stef Soto, Taco Queen

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres. Grades 4-7. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 2017. 166 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Tia Perla huffs and wheezes and always looks a little bit grubby, no matter how clean she actually is.

Tia Perla leaves anyone who comes near her smelling like jalapenos and cooking-oil.

Papa had pretty much promised to stop bringing Tia Perla to pick up Stef at Saint Scholastica School.

But there always she is. Tia Perla. The family's TACO TRUCK.

All Stef wants is to be a normal seventh grade girl. She doesn't want to be the weirdo riding home in the taco truck after school every day, especially when she overhears her former friend calling her the Taco Queen. All she wants is for her father to have a normal job so she can stop being the Taco Queen once and for all.

But when the city wants to make new rules about food trucks, strict rules that could put her father out of business and end his chef dreams forever, Stef will have to figure out a way to make peace with Tia Perla and just maybe save the day.

My thoughts:

This is such a cute story, perfect for fans of contemporary fiction and foodies. Stef's story read like a Disney Channel movie, and I mean that in a good way! It's a sweet tween read about dealing with friends and pressure at school and, yes, some unexpected adventures that take some creative thinking.

I love food trucks and I really liked the descriptions of Mr. Soto's culinary creations, too.

Put this on your watch list now!


Readers looking for more stories of Latinx families may enjoy Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel or Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez.

Foodies should definitely pick up Tara Dairman's All Four Stars series for adventures with another "culinary queen".

Saturday, November 26, 2016

#ReadHarder Challenge 2016

After discovering the amazing site Book Riot last year, I jumped in to participate in the Read Harder Challenge this year and it was so, so fun. It stretched me to pick up some books I had been meaning to get to, books I wouldn't have otherwise picked up, and to be thoughtful about some of my reading without giving up control of ALL of my reading this year. I took advantage of the ability to find books that matched more than one category, although at the end of the challenge I realized that for some categories I had read several books that would fit. 

Here's what I read for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge. I am already looking forward to next year's challenge!!!

Read a horror book: Pressure by Brian Keene (also: Bird Box by Josh Malerman, which I enjoyed more)

Read a collection of essays: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker        

Read a book out loud to someone else: Olivia by Ian Falconer (read to my husband, though I read books out loud at work pretty much every week at least)

Read a middle grade novel: It Ain't So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (also so, so many others this year)

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography): Jim Thorpe: Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac (also Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet and Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes and maybe more?)     

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama (also The Handmaid's Tale would fit here)  

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1980s)      

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes (won the 2013 Audie for the Fiction category)     

Read a book over 500 pages long: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (also Roots by Alex Haley and Well of Witches by J.A. White)

Read a book under 100 pages: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender: Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Love, Identity and So Much More by Janet Mock (also If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo and Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings) 

Read a book that is set in the Middle East: When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi 

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia: In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar (Philippines) 

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe (also Roots by Alex Haley and The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich and maybe more?)

Read the first book in a series by a person of color: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen (also The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich and Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes and maybe more?)

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (I liked both, but I think I liked the book better)

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes:  The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Read a food memoir: Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

Read a play: Fences by August Wilson

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness: When We Collided by Emery Lord (also History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera and Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Abby All Around the Interwebs

I know I haven't been here on this blog super frequently lately, but I have been working on some stuff around the internet, which I'd love for you to check out!

I'm in American Libraries, reminding librarians to think critically about providing holiday programming in your libraries. This is a conversation that has happened before and needs to keep happening! Never stop evaluating what you're offering and how it's really affecting your community.


In September, I had the honor of being a panelist for the SLJ/Permabound Webcast Better Together: Boosting Engagement by Pairing Fiction Series and Nonfiction. Click that link to view the webinar for free (you may have to still register for it).


If you subscribe to the free School Library Journal e-newsletter Be*Tween, you may have seen my Chapter Book Chat columns popping up on there over the past several months. It's been really fun to write and seek out amazing younger middle grade titles to share. If you're not subscribed, you're missing out, especially if you work with middle-graders. Here are the columns I've written for them:

In the spring, I wrote up a Field Notes column for Library Journal on running STEM programs for preschoolers: Preschool STEM Lab.

Catch me if you can! I've been all around the interwebs lately and I hope you find these pieces valuable!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Diversity Within ALSC Survey

Friends, the Diversity Within ALSC Task Force needs your help. In order to figure out what steps need to be taken to increase the diversity within our organization, they need to get a sense of what the current organization looks like.

I'm posting their message below. The survey literally takes only a few minutes. If you're a member of ASLC, have ever been a member of ALSC, or have thought about joining ALSC, please fill it out! 


The Diversity within ALSC Task Force is conducting a survey to gain a better understanding of the current ALSC membership as well as other youth services providers outside the membership.

The purpose of this survey is to discern where we stand with diversity within the children’s library services profession, and to determine barriers to joining ALSC. It is our hope that by discovering barriers we can work to break them down to create a more inclusive, diverse membership, and eventually, profession.

This survey is voluntary, confidential, and anonymous. No personally identifiable information is captured and all responses will be aggregated and summarized into a report.

We would like to compile as much information as possible, and we hope that you will consider participating in the survey.

Please feel free to share with colleagues in order to help us reach the greatest possible audience. The survey will be live until Tuesday, December 20th.

Link to survey:

Thank you,
Kendra Jones and Zareen Jaffery, on behalf of the Diversity within ALSC Task Force

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reading Wildly: Gentle Reads

This month for Reading Wildly, my staff and I read gentle reads. What do I mean by gentle reads? We classified this month in three ways:

  • Teen books that do not contain mature language and situations
  • Books for young readers who are reading way above their grade level
  • Christian fiction 
I believe the genre originally suggested for this month was Christian fiction and I expanded it a little bit to include some more options. We ended up sharing books from all three areas that we considered gentle fiction. Of course, you can never guarantee to anyone that a book is going to be absolutely free of anything that might offend - it's impossible to know every thing that could potentially offend someone. 

One thing I was proud of this month is that when we went to make our suggestion list for each other last month, we had a lot of ideas for children's books and very few ideas for teen books. Most of the books we all ended up sharing at this meeting were teen books. Without my asking them, staff gravitated towards the area where we had less experience. That's exactly the idea behind this program!

I'm going to post two separate lists here: one for teens and one for children reading above grade level. These lists contain not only the books we read, but also books that were suggested by my staff last month. I included all of these titles in our Evernote lists and I've encouraged staff to add to the lists as they read gentle fiction throughout the year. 

Here's what we read and suggested: 

Gentle Teen Reads (includes Christian fiction): 

Books for Younger Kids Reading Above Grade Level
What would you add to our lists of gentle reads? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Inquisitor's Tale, Or The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly. Grades 5-9. Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016. 384 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

Summary (from publisher):

1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints. 

My thoughts: 

I loved this book so hard that I didn't want it to end, which is super high praise from me because finishing books and starting new ones is one of my very favorite things. 

The format reads like The Canterbury Tales with different narrators at a medieval inn trading off and telling the story of three children who are on a mission and who may or may not be saints (complete with miracles). It's a diverse group of children - Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future; William, a half-African student with super strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers. And each diverse role is specifically chosen to explore their role during the Middle Ages. This book says a lot about modern times while being exclusively set in the 1200s.

So, in addition to being a rollicking adventure story with good doses of humor and occasional bloody violence, this is really a philosophy book. There's the question of morality - when you know something is right or wrong, where does that knowledge come from? There's the issue of hating people that are different than you are, even people you have never really met, and what that means and what can be done about it. 

But even though this book is totally thought-provoking and asks some hard questions that may get young readers to think about things that had never occurred to them before, it's still a rollicking adventure story.

Tons of thought and research have obviously gone into this book. Man, I love it!


For readers wanting more about the Middle Ages, try Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz or Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi. 

For readers wanting more of Gidwitz's blend of humor, adventure, and bloody violence, try his Grimm trilogy, starting with A Tale Dark and Grimm

For readers wanting a thought-provoking philosophy book wrapped up in an adventure story, try ????? I have no idea, as this is pretty unique in my experience. Suggestions?!?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Video Booktalks!

In previous years, we've been able to visit our local schools frequently for booktalks, but since our staffing level was cut we've had to rethink our approach. For the past several months, my staff members have been hard at work on creating video booktalks and we were able to send out links to our first batch this week!

Here's the full playlist if you want to check them out:

We decided to make separate videos for each age group that we would typically booktalk to. So for this first round, we have videos for 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th/6th grade, and 7th/8th grade. We made five videos total, each under 15 minutes long. Each video features five great books that kids and teachers can check out from our library. This is patterned after our monthly class visits where we would spend about 15 minutes per group and feature 5-6 titles each time.

We started getting organized several weeks before we planned to send them out. I asked my staff to sign up with titles that they would like to booktalk for whichever grades. Once everyone had a chance to submit titles, I went through and narrowed each list down to five titles, making sure to keep a balance between formats, genres, and to include diverse titles.

Then we all recorded the videos for our assigned books. We used our flip camera propped up on a book truck and the microphone on the flip camera was sufficient. I asked everyone to record a brief intro, which we showed at the very beginning of each video, and I recorded a brief ending message to encourage kids to stop by and check out these books from the library.

We recorded each booktalk as a separate video and then two of my staff members edited them together, so we were able to repeat some of the books for multiple videos without a whole lot of extra work. For example, Funny Bones appears in both our second grade video and our third grade video. This is helpful, too, if we ever wanted to put together booktalk videos on a certain genre. We could edit all our our scary booktalks into one video, for example.

To edit the videos, my staff members used Filmora, a video editing software that we purchased. The music in the intro comes from Filmora's library of music. The software allowed us to insert images and the titles of the books. There's a lot more it can do; we're excited to play around with it more.

Once the videos were edited, we uploaded them to our library's YouTube channel and sent out the link to our teachers. I sent the videos to each of the teachers we had been visiting with regular booktalks and gave them first shot at sharing the videos and requesting the books. Then a couple of days later, I sent out the video links to staff at each of our elementary and middle schools and asked our Marketing person to put them on our website and Facebook page, as well.

We're still waiting to see what the overall response will be, but so far they've each been viewed a couple dozen times. The real test will be to see if the books get checked out!

We're planning on sending out another round of booktalk videos before Winter Break and there are a few things we'll do differently:

1. After speaking with our Marketing person, he volunteered to film the next round with the library's HD camera, which may provide a better and more consistent quality of video. We also may look at purchasing an external microphone for better and more consistent sound.

2. We recorded this round in our teen office with the blank wood wall background, but I'd love to look into recording videos in our teen and children's rooms so that kids can see the areas of the library they'd be using.

3. We talked about making our presentations a little more uniform - each starting the same way, maybe making our intros more consistent.

4. We talked about adding a title screen with the season and grade on it to differentiate once we have a more extensive library of videos.

I'm not sure if it will be possible to offer these videos monthly at some point. We're going to start out attempting them quarterly and see what the response is. Compared to the hours and hours we spent driving to and visiting schools, repeating booktalks over and over to reach all the classes at a school, this is MUCH less time-consuming. I think we'll get better at it (recording videos, editing, etc.) as we get more experience, so it's possible it will take even less time as we continue.

So the question will be: are the videos decently effective at reaching our teachers and students? And time will just have to tell on that one. We'll keep an eye on how many times the videos are viewed and how the books check out, plus consider any feedback we get from teachers. Ideally, I'd love to also be able to visit the schools in person at least once a year and that might give our videos more impact. We'll see!

Have you ever recorded video booktalks? What tips and tricks do you have to share? Or what questions do you have about how we did ours?

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.