Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hello, September

Goodbye, August. Hello, September.

Next week, our regular programming starts back up. It's been a nice "break", but I'll be glad to get back into my storytime routine and see the kids again!

While patrons see the month of August as a break time, we youth librarians know that it's really a time for getting planning and projects done. Here are some of the tasks I accomplished this August:

  • Okay, I did take a week of vacation in early August, my first extended time off since before my Newbery meetings in February. 
  • I planned the fall session of baby storytime, including selecting, pulling, and labeling books, finding new rhymes and songs, and putting together all of the handouts. 
  • I scheduled approximately eleven billion booktalking visits for the fall semester. 
  • I learned that no, we would not be getting an additional part time person to help us cover and I would have to patch the schedule together as best I could to staff two desks now and all of this additional programming that we're doing. 
  • I met with all my staff to touch base about their annual goals (and, in the case of my new teen people, set them). 
  • I weeded the first third of the 500s, which is slow going because you have to look pretty carefully at that science info to make sure you're providing kids with accurate and current information. 
  • I held two staff meetings - our regular department meeting, which included a debrief of the Summer Reading Club and was the first time we were all meeting together as the Youth Services Department, and our monthly Reading Wildly meeting. 
  • I scheduled, arranged coverage for, or attended two staff training workshops - one on teen development (since we're now the Youth Services Department, which includes teens!) and one on reference interviews/skills/resources. 
  • I presented a keynote speech and a breakout session at this year's CYPD Conference. 
In addition to all of these work accomplishments, the Fiance and I bought a house this August! So, we have been painting, painting, painting, and starting to sort through all our stuff in preparation for a move. Exciting!!!

So, next week, it's back to routine. It's back to baby storytime, afterschool visits, and lots of booktalking (although I took pains this year to spread the booktalking load a little more evenly, so it's not going to be quite as intense this year). I'm ready!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. Grades 9+ September 2015, Candlewick Press. 464 pages. Reviewed from egalley provided by publisher.

Book Talk:

Did you know that the USSR had the highest citizen deaths during World War II of any nation in the world? 27 million Soviet citizens died during WWII, making the Soviet death toll higher than the total deaths of ALL OTHER NATIONS COMBINED.

Over a million of those deaths were due to the Siege of Leningrad. Leningrad was the second largest city in Russia and the seat of the Communist Party before WWII started. When the Nazis attacked Russia, they blockaded Leningrad, cutting off supply lines and continually bombing the city. Rather than sending troops in to attack the city, their strategy was to wait it out and let the people of Leningrad slowly starve to death.

The Siege lasted 872 days, the longest siege in modern history.

And when people had no food, no fuel, no electricity, no way out, and the temperature was sometimes 40 below zero... music was one of the things that kept them alive, that gave them a reason to live.

Shostakovich lived through terrible times - the Great Purge of Russia when Stalin could have you executed at a whim - and he wrote music that spoke to the people. Could a symphony be enough to save a city from complete destruction?

If you are a person who believes in the power of art to change lives OR if you are fascinated by World War II and are looking for something that's different from other books you've read about it, pick up this book.

My thoughts: Holy cats, you guys. THIS BOOK.

It was recommended to me by once of my 2015 Newbery Committee colleagues and I am SO GLAD she did because I might not have picked it up and then I would be missing out.

This book is a masterpiece. There, I said it.

It's at once a fascinating biography, a testament to the power of music, and a riveting WWII story. I just want to talk about the horrors of WWII Leningrad all the time (which makes me really fun at parties). But seriously, there was so much to this story that I didn't know.

The one negative GoodReads review that I read of this title claimed that there would be no audience for this book. I agree that it's an ambitious book and one that might be intimidating to teens, who may not know who Shostakovich was (I kind of didn't) or what the Siege of Leningrad was (I definitely didn't). And that's where a good librarian comes in. Hand this to your performing arts kids. The recurring theme about the power of music to give life meaning and to keep people going will speak to these kids. Hand this to your kids who are fascinated with military history and WWII. This may be a WWII story that they don't know much about.



As I was reading, I kept thinking about The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, which may appeal to kids who are interested in reading more about Russian history.

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin is ostensibly a middle-grade novel, but I actually think it's maybe best suited to kids who have an understanding about Russia and Communism. It's a poignant look inside the pervasive fear that the Communist regime inspired in Soviet citizens.

This might be a good choice for teens who devoured Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys and want to know more about the Russian society that could enact such atrocities.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon. Grades 3-6. Dial Books, August 2015. 247 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Princess Harriet is not what you might think of as your typical princess. She is great at checkers and fractions and loves riding her quail Mumfrey and dreams of slaying dragons. Her deportment teacher tries to get her to act more "like a princess", but when he tried to make her walk around with a book on her head (for posture), he was found in the library with a book stuffed in his mouth and Harriet was grounded for a month.

But Harriet doesn't know about the curse that was placed on her at her christening. When she's ten years old, Harriets parents decide it's time to tell her about the curse. They sit her down and tell her about her christening when the wicked god-fairy Ratshade showed up and put a curse on the princess: when she is 12 years old, she will prick her finger on a hamster wheel and fall into a deep sleep.

But to her parents' surprise, Harriet is actually pretty thrilled about the curse! Since the curse won't happen until she's 12, Harriet knows the curse will have to keep her alive until then - curses are strong magic! She's invincible! So, Harriet sets off for the life she's always wanted: adventures, dragon slaying, hunting down ogres... But what will happen when Harriet turns 12? Can she find a way to escape the curse for good?

My thoughts:

This is a super cute and funny fractured fairy tale that is going straight into my booktalking roster for this school year. The graphic novel / prose hybrid will be very appealing to kids and the nonstop action makes this book quite a page-turner. Harriet is a kick-butt princess who is continually bucking the mold and taking offense when people tell her that she's not "princessly". She is a princess, so anything she does must be something a princess does!

In that way, I really appreciate the understated feminism in this title. Harriet never apologizes for being brash and physically active and brave. She doesn't keep it a secret. It's part of who she is and anyone who has a problem with it is not worth Harriet's time. The reader's not hit over the head with "Harriet's doing things that aren't typically what a princess DOES!" because there is no such thing as a "typical princess"; everyone is different and Harriet's just being Harriet.


This book is Babymouse meets Whatever After and will appeal to fans of either series.

For another book on ladies who don't lay down and accept their fairy tale fates, check out Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale.

And readers who enjoyed the kick-butt princess of The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale will also love Harriet's adventures.

Readers looking for more fractures fairy tales might enjoy Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine or the tales of E.D. Baker.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. Grades 8+. Balzer + Bray, September 2015. 384 pages. Reviewed from e-galley.


High school sophomore Willowdean Dickson has never had a problem with being fat. Despite occasional criticism from her mom, a former beauty queen, Willowdean has always been confident about her body, her right to wear a bathing suit ("her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body"*).

But when she starts working at the local burger joint Harpy's, she meets Bo, a dreamy Catholic school boy on whom she forms an instant crush. When it seems like Bo actually likes her back, Willowdean is suddenly filled with doubt - about her body and herself.

She's also still a little shaken about the death of her aunt Lucy, another woman of size whom Willowdean had always looked up to. As her mom starts sorting through Lucy's things, Willowdean discovers a blank application for the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant and discovers that her aunt had dreamed of competing. As Willowdean contemplates this, she wonders what else Lucy didn't do because she let her size hold her back.

So she decides to do one thing that the fat and ugly girls in her town have never dared to do: enter the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant.

* Quoted from publisher summary

My thoughts:

You guys. This book. THIS BOOK.

This book is the book I want all fat girls to read. No, actually, I want all girls to read it. NO, actually I want EVERYBODY to read this book.

This is an engaging story with a realistic, humorous voice and it's a body-positive story without being message-y. It's so easy to get fat girl books wrong, but this one gets it right. Willowdean is funny and sassy, but also occasionally vulnerable. She has some great things to say about being confident about your body, but she also has times when she doesn't love everything about her body, which makes her a realistic character.

Plus, it's just a fun story, a little campy at times with its Dolly-Parton-singing drag queens and all the pomp of the pageant world. It's a really enjoyable read.


My next-favorite fat girl book is Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught, which is another fat girl book done right but VERY different in tone.

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Euhlberg also touches on the pageant scene as a plain girl deals with being overshadowed by her younger sister on the pageant scene.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bayou Magic

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Grades 4-6. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 2015. 239 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


Every summer, Maddy's Grandmere invites one of the grandchildren to spend the summer with her in the Bon Temps bayou. Maddy's older sisters have not been excited about this, telling Maddy that their grandmere is a witch, that it's boring in the bayou with no TV or electricity. But Maddy feels differently. Although she's a little intimidated to spend the summer so far from her home in New Orleans, she feels a connection with Grandmere as soon as she arrives.

As Maddy explores the bayou and learns about the legends of her ancestors, she comes to realize that she has a second home here and a special role to play. But as Maddy's dreams turn dark, dripping with oil, she fears that something bad is coming to the bayou and she can only hope that she will be brave enough to stop it.

My thoughts:

This book is a love letter to the Louisiana bayou. Vivid sensory details bring the flora, fauna, and folk of the Bon Temps bayou to life for the reader. You can taste the jambalaya and moon pies, you can hear the frogs calling, you can see the fireflies dancing through the trees. A strong environmental message comes through, urging young people to come forth as stewards of our world.

The book's a bit loosely plotted and I found myself wondering where it was going at times, but I enjoyed the ride. Maddy's role in the Bon Temps community is revealed as the story unfolds and her relationships with her Grandmere and with a neighbor boy Bear develop. This is a strong story about knowing your roots and embracing where you come from and your role in the greater world.


Readers who enjoy the strong bayou setting may also enjoy The Time of the Fireflies or The Healing Spell by Kimberly Griffiths Little.

Armchair travelers who enjoy reading luscious descriptions of places may also like The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Readers who like reading about Maddy's journey to get to know a little-known family member and figure out where she fits in with her family might also enjoy The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods.

And readers captivated by the mermaid mythology may enjoy Ingo by Helen Dunmore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Sound of Life and Everything

The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer. Grades 5-8. G.P. Putnam's Sons, May 2015. 262 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


In 1950s California, Ella Mae's family is still dealing with their grief over losing Ella Mae's brother Daniel and cousin Robby in the war. When Ella Mae's Aunt Mildred responds to an ad in the paper claiming that scientists can bring Robby back if she has a sample of his DNA (which she does - the blood on his dog tags), Ella Mae thinks she's crazy. Crazier still is what happens next. It wasn't Robby's blood on the dog tags, but the blood of a Japanese soldier. When Takuma is brought back to life, lost and alone in this strange land, Ella Mae's mother ends up taking him in. But anti-Japanese sentiment runs strong in this small California town and it won't be an easy ride for anyone.

My thoughts:

This is a strange and beautiful little book. At first, I kept trying to wrap my head around what was happening, but eventually I just had to let go and enjoy the ride. This book combines a historical setting and characters and a science fiction premise in a really interesting way that harkened to classic science fiction stories like Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

The small community of St. Jude, California (a fictional town) is still reeling from the war. Families are mourning their losses and anti-Japanese sentiment is strong. Imagine if a Japanese soldier was plunked down in the middle of this community. In addition to dealing with racism and battle scars, the townspeople must grapple with the fact of Takuma's "unnatural" origin. He was born a person and died and then was brought back to life in a lab.

Ella Mae quickly dismisses all of these issues as she gets to know Takuma and comes to care about him. Her older brother died in the war and Takuma is not only a brother figure, but he's someone who desperately needs her help. She's determined to teach him English so that he can express himself and maybe bond with others in the community.

I think this is a story that's going to stick with me and I'm going to be thinking about it for a long time.


This one was billed as a good read for fans of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and I think that's a good comparison.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Reading Wildly: Nonfiction

Woohoo! Welcome back to Reading Wildly! We had a nice little break over the summer because it is basically impossible for us to get together and meet while summer craziness is going on. Now, the kids are back in school, we are scheduling tons of booktalks, and it's time to pick up with our monthly reader's advisory training. 

Our topic this month was Nonfiction, and before we started sharing our booktalks, I asked for a show of hands who found themselves regularly reaching for nonfiction when it's not assigned as their RW topic. I had a few who seek out nonfiction (including myself), but the majority of my staff do not feel that they gravitate towards nonfiction. 

I have found that a lot of people have that disinclination. I don't know if it's just that they expect the books to be dry and boring or if the larger format of children's nonfiction is not as amenable to carrying a book around with you, or something else. But I am here to tell you that if you are avoiding children's and YA nonfiction, you are MISSING OUT BIG TIME!!!!!!

(Also, I was once like you. I set a goal to read two nonfiction books a month and I found some great titles that I loved and I have been loving it ever since!)

Ahem. When you get right down to it, nonfiction is an important part of offering a balanced booktalking selection and advising readers who prefer to read true stories. We shared some great titles this month, and I hope you will pick up a couple of them and give them a try! Here's what we read: 

We didn't discuss an article this month because SUMMER, but I had selected one, so I passed it out as optional reading: The Dazzling World of Nonfiction by Donalyn Miller (Educational Leadership, November 2013). 

For our meeting in September, we will be discussing contemporary, realistic fiction and the article One Tough Cookie by Carey E. Hagan (The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2011). 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Yes, Children's Librarians Can Read Grown-Up Books, Too

It is so easy (SO EASY!) to get wrapped up in all the reading that we need to do for our jobs. Children's librarians read through hundreds of picture books looking for the perfect storytime picks. On our off time, we're reading the newest chapter books, fiction, and nonfiction to get ready for booktalking, book discussions, and reader's advisory.

And I know there are only so many hours in the day. And I know that reading kids' books is fun and we do it because we love it.

But, it's okay (and good for us!) to take a step away from work and pick up a read that's just fun or interesting for us as adult readers. I have had the pleasure of reading some really great "grown-up books" this summer while we took a break from booktalking. I've found myself gravitating towards adult books over the past few weeks, which is probably also a blow back from last year's commitment to Newbery reading. And I wanted to share a few that I have really enjoyed this year.

I love to peruse Book Riot to keep up on what's being published for adults (they cover YA and middle grade occasionally, too, but this site is a gold mine for finding out about new adult books!). Most of my recommendations come from there, as well as from friends and the folks in my book club. I love audiobooks, and sometimes adult books can motivate me to work out more frequently since they're longer and require more of a commitment to listen all the way through.

Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey (Doubleday, 2015). This memoir of a British woman who developed a sudden extreme sensitivity to all forms of light gripped me and wouldn't let go. I kept picturing what my life would be like if that happened to me - to have to live periods of weeks or months in the pitch dark, to have to depend on my family and friends to make my life liveable, to be (ironically) too sick to travel to visit the doctors that could possibly help... This book reminded me of two memoirs I'd read and enjoyed previously: Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

The Martian by Andy Weir (Crown, 2014). Of course, you have probably seen this one around since the movie is coming out this fall. To me, it stands up to the hype. This was a book that, as I was reading it, I kept turning to The Fiance and telling him bits and pieces of it until he demanded that I stop until he could read it, too. It's a rip-roaring science fiction adventure story with plenty of actual science and a great voice (I am a sucker for a great voice).

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming (Dey Street Books, 2014). Ahh, you see a trend here. I am a big fan of memoirs, and celebrity memoirs are my guilty pleasure. This one was an especially appealing audiobook (read by Alan Cumming) and a great blend of fluffy celebrity tidbits and a more serious storyline about Cumming's journey to uncover secrets about his family.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery (Atria Books, 2015). I have read some of Sy Montgomery's science books for kids and I really like her writing. This book details her experiences getting to know and love the octopus. It's a great choice for anyone who likes nature and science writing.

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney (Ballantine Books, 2014). I listened to the audiobook of this title right when I really needed a motivating walking book and this definitely fit the bill. The entire story takes place over 24 hours as sous chef Michael Gibney gives readers the inside scoop to the restaurant scene. Listening to this book was like watching an episode of Top Chef.

An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay (Grove Press, 2014). This is a book that starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the riveting conclusion. While visiting her wealthy family in Haiti, Mireille is kidnapped and brutally abused. This book is about what happens to her and what happens after. How does a strong woman cope with being broken and trying to put the pieces back together? This is definitely a heavy read, but an important and redeeming one.

What great adult books have YOU read lately? I'd love more suggestions!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mother Goose on the Loose Kickstarter

Friends, Mother Goose on the Loose needs our help to create these amazing home kits! Please consider backing their Kickstarter campaign to make these kits a reality!

I LOVE Mother Goose on the Loose.

When I was just starting in my current job, our amazing Indiana State Library Youth Services Consultant brought Betsy Diamant-Cohen to several locations throughout the state to provide her Mother Goose on the Loose training to youth services librarians.

At the time, my library had never offered a consistent baby storytime. We had tried once or twice, but none of us felt confident about it. I had offered a baby storytime at my previous library, but again, I did not feel super confident about it. I didn't know what to DO for babies at storytime. I didn't know how to talk to parents. The babies didn't appear to be listening, they wouldn't sit still, I got through all the materials I'd planned in like 10 minutes and then what were we supposed to do?

The Mother Goose on the Loose program gave me a structure to work with. In our training, Betsy demonstrated an entire program, having us participate like parents would. She shared planning materials and tons of resources with us.

Truly, I believe that our Mother Goose on the Loose training made me a better librarian. It gave me the confidence to try. We started offering weekly Mother Goose on the Loose storytime in 2010 and it's one of our most popular programs. Would I have probably stumbled into a successful baby storytime eventually? Sure. But because of Mother Goose on the Loose, baby storytime is one of my very favorite things.

Mother Goose on the Loose has also transformed the lives of our patrons. I see them blossom as they come back every week for storytime. I see them start to sing along with our songs, I see their confidence grow as they pull Humpty Dumpty off the board.

I know MANY of my Mother Goosers (as I call them) would LOVE to have one of these take-home kits. Parents already report to me that they play at Mother Goose on the Loose at home, but I know that it would be difficult to purchase the appropriate materials for home use (often the bells, scarves, etc. come in sets of 12 or so, which would be overkill!). This would give them the appropriate materials to really make this early literacy program part of their daily routines.

PLUS, what a great baby gift this would make!!!! If nothing else, think of all your friends who have babies or might have babies. Pair this kit with a schedule of their local library's baby storytimes for a truly awesome baby gift.

But first, we have to make it happen! Please consider donating to the Mother Goose on the Loose Kickstarter Campaign.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Enchanted Air

Enchanted Air: A Memoir by Margarita Engle. Grades 4-7. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August 2015. 193 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Margarita is a girl from two worlds. Her mother is Cuban, her father is American, and from the first time that Margarita set foot on the island of Cuba, she knew that Cuba was a place where she could really be her true, authentic self. Cuba is a beautiful island, full of lush, vibrant flowers and interesting animals. Margarita sees is as a fairy tale kingdom and she loves her family there and the stories they share.

Back in America, Margarita feels like she doesn't fit in. She's smart and skips a grade, making her younger than her classmates. She identifies more with books and stories than with people. She constantly longs for summer to arrive so her family can travel back to Cuba, back to where Margarita really feels like she belongs.

But when revolution breaks out in Cuba, Margarita's worlds collide in a terrible way. The United States and Cuba are at war and Margarita fears for her family and for the island that she loves. Will she ever be able to visit her fairy tale island again?

My thoughts:

What a beautiful book!

This memoir in verse shows a child's-eye view of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis with author Margarita Engle caught in the middle of it. In spare prose poems, Engle is able to convey strong emotions and she clearly illustrates the connection that she has with Cuba and her family living there.

Engle paints a picture of growing up with two cultures, two languages, two ways of seeing the world. She first learns that teachers can be wrong when she draws a picture of Cuban trees blowing in the wind and her teacher says "REAL TREES DON'T LOOK LIKE THAT." And Margarita realizes that she has a unique worldview, that not everyone can see the things she sees.

The child's experience of the conflicts between America and Cuba are authentic. Engle really writes from her child self's point of view. Young Margarita doesn't always know what is going on. She knows that her family is watching the news more than ever before. She knows her family is in danger and that she may not ever be able to go back to Cuba, but she doesn't really understand why. It shows the senselessness of war, which continues to this day.

This is a luscious book and a valuable perspective to share with children. I learned this year that some of our middle school students are required to read memoirs as one of the genres they explore and I'll be excited to bring this one to their attention this school year.


As I was reading, I kept thinking of the excellent memoir in verse Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I think there are many similarities: carefully crafted sensory writing, the experiences of young girls growing up in a tumultuous time and caught between two cultures, obvious love for the places of their youths.

Two fictional books about children growing up in Cuba and then experiencing life in America via Operation Pedro Pan (which brought children to the US to escape the violence in Cuba during the revolution) are The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez and 90 Miles to Havana by Enrique Flores-Galbis.

And, of course, readers may also enjoy reading Margarita Engle's historical novels in verse, particularly knowing more about the author's heritage and relatives.