Monday, July 9, 2018

Summer Xylophone

This summer, my husband made us a PVC Pipe Xylophone for the front porch of our library.

A xylophone made of PVC pipes. 

Here is where we found instructions to make it: How to Make a PVC Pipe Xylophone by Frugal Fun 4 Boys.

We delivered it to the front porch of our library where it has lived musically since June 1 when our Summer Reading Program started.

I bought a handful of flyswatters and doctored them with fun foam to make a "mallet". They didn't walk off as I thought they might, but the fun foam only lasts so long with regular use as a mallet, so I have made two replacement "mallets" so far, which is about what I expected.

The signs are posted in our windows. 

I also made up some signs that we posted on the front windows near the xylophone to give families ideas of what to do with it. Most used, I believe, have been the songs. Since the pipes are color coded, anyone can play these color coded songs, no musical ability or music reading required. I'm posting the PDFs here and you're welcome to use them or edit them if you'd like to use them at your library:

The Xylophone cost about $75 for the supplies and my husband donated a day to working on it for us. If you don't have a handy partner, colleague, or friend or if you yourself are not handy, it might be worth asking your local hardware store if they know anyone who might volunteer their time and skills to build it. 

It's been well worth the effort to see people of all ages interacting with it, experimenting with sound and creating music! 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Spinning Silver

You know the story of Rumpelstiltskin? They got it wrong. It's really just a story about paying back a debt. So begins Miryem's story in Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. In Litvas, a land with a constantly encroaching winter, Miryem's family is starving. Her father is the local moneylender, but he's so softhearted that he will never collect what he's owed. So Miryem takes over and finds out that she has a skill for moneylending and making deals. When her ability to take silver and turn it into gold attracts the nearby magic folk the Staryk, rulers of ice and snow, Miryem finds herself captured by the King of the Staryk in a bargain that means much more than she knows.

So, Miryem is such a great, great character. She sees her family is in trouble and she takes matters into her own hands. She ends up not only saving them from starving, but building a comfortable life for them. Miryem is a lady with ambition. And, just as it does in so many cases, that ambition attracts some trouble. The townspeople are bitter that they can no longer get away with shirking their debts. And the Staryk see what she can do and want to capture that power for themselves.

And that's just one part of the rich tapestry that is this fantasy novel. We also hear from Wanda, a local peasant girl who comes to work at Miryem's farm to pay off her father's debt. And Irina, a plain girl whose father is determined that she will marry the tsar, no matter how unlikely that seems at first. All of their fates are intertwined, though none of them know it at first, and how they're connected is slowly revealed as you read farther and father.

This is a great summer read for when the temperatures are climbing. The magic land of ever-growing winter will have you shivering even as the heat index soars outside. This is a story of strong women who use their minds to solve problems and who refuse to settle for what society seems to want for them. There's a rich tapestry of magic here, too, and it's not always easy to see who the good guys are.

If you like fairy tale retellings and fantasy that completely transports you to another place, pick up Spinning Silver. This book is published for adults, but I think there's a lot of teen crossover appeal, too.

You might like this book if you liked:
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Del Ray, 2017). This is another rich, transporting fantasy novel that you can really sink your teeth into. It features a strong heroine and magic and a similarly cold and sweeping Russian-ish setting. 
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Ray, 2015). Novik's previous standalone fantasy novel won a Nebula Award for best novel. Based on Polish fairy tales, this is another story with a strong heroine, a rich forested fantasy setting, and lots of crossover appeal for teens. 
  • East by Edith Pattou (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003). This fantasy novel is actually written for teens, but I think there's a lot of crossover potential for adults. This one is a retelling of the fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Readers who like sussing out fairy tale retellings and strong girl characters will enjoy this one, too. 
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (adult, with teen appeal). Del Rey, 2018. 448 pages. Reviewed from e-galley provided by publisher. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Kiss Quotient

So, I am a romance newb. In my new position developing adult collections, I'm trying to read a little bit of everything. I thoroughly enjoyed this romance I think because it has some great characters that are easy to root for.

Stella, a thirty-something economist in California, is feeling pressure from her mom to be in a relationship and maybe get married and have babies. Not super surprising, right? But for Stella, a woman on the autism spectrum, being in a relationship is not quite as simple as it seems. There's a guy at work who seems suitable, but Stella feels particularly uncomfortable with the physical side of relationships, something she knows will probably get in the way. So she decides to approach this problem like she would a problem at work. Need to know something? Get some training! And she hires an escort to teach her how to be better at sex. Of course the escort she ends up with turns out to be super hot, smart, and kind. Stella knows she's can't fall for him - this is just a financial and educational arrangement, right?

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang is a fun, steamy romance novel with characters that will stay with you. Even though Stella has to work hard at relating to people, she's a protagonist you'll love and root for. And you'll love her dreamy escort Michael, too. The heat here rivals our Southern Indiana summer heat for sure. This is one of those books where you just keep rooting for these crazy kids to get their acts together and end up together!  And since the author is also on the autism spectrum, you know she's writing from an authentic place.

There's a lot of talk about the amount of diversity in romance publishing (hint: it is lacking), so this is a great book to know about and to put on your library shelves for your patrons.


Readers who prefer modern day romance novels with likeable and well developed characters may also like The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (Berkley, 2018). For more steamy stories among a diverse group of characters, pick up Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswall (William Morrow, 2017). And readers who enjoy the theme of a character with autism looking for love may enjoy The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang. Adult. Berkley, 2018. 336 pages. Reviewed from e-galley.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What My Niece is Into: Swimming!

We had the absolute pleasure of going on vacation with my family earlier this summer and my niece (almost 2) is so into SWIMMING! She's made huge strides (strokes?) even just since our vacation a month ago. When my brother brought her to our parents' condo for Father's Day she could swim the entire length of the pool by herself (floaties on, of course, but no help from Auntie Abby!).

So, when I saw this book had just come out in board book format, I knew we needed it for our collection:

Fruits in Suits by Jared Chapman (Abrams, board book edition June 2018). Jared Chapman wrote and illustrated one of my favorite SURE BET readalouds, Vegetables in Underwear, which works with a wide range of ages and is hilarious to all. This book is a similar concept - fruits in all kinds of swimsuits - and it's just as adorable. Swimsuits aren't quite as funny as underpants (nothing is, really), but there's the one fruit who doesn't get it and tries to go swimming in his business suit. And of course someone tries it in its birthday suit! With bright, funny illustrations and a swimming theme, it's just the thing my niece is into right now!

This one's also available as a picture book, which would be a better format for sharing with groups. Try this one in fruit or food themes storytimes, summer or swimming storytimes, or insert wherever you need something to elicit the giggles.

Review copy purchased by moi.

And two more recent swimming books, which are a little old for my niece right now (toddler attention span, dontchaknow), but are still awesome are:

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (Candlewick Press, 2017). Jabari is so ready for the high dive this summer, but it turns out it's not quite as easy as he thinks it will be. It's... awfully high. Maybe he ought to do some more stretches first. And he needs to figure out what kind of awesome dive he's going to do... Or maybe he just needs some special encouragement from his dad. (Review copy provided by my local library!)

Saturday is Swimming Day by Hyewon Yum (Candlewick Press, 2018). Saturday is the day for her swim lessons, but one little girl has a stomachache. It turns out she always has a stomachache when it's time for swimming lessons, but one kind instructor's gentle encouragement can make all the difference. This is a great choice for kids who are reluctant to learn to swim or afraid of the water. (Review copy provided by my local library!)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Musical Petting Zoo

Image of an orchestra playing
This is a program I have wanted to do for literally years and with our Libraries Rock summer reading theme this year, this was the summer to do it: a musical petting zoo. I was inspired by Anna's awesome marching band storytime (a post from 2013, so you can tell how long this has been percolating!) because band was one of the great loves of my life as a kid. I wanted to present a program that might inspire young kids to want to pick up an instrument.

First, I needed a partner. My first choice was to recruit teen volunteers because I wanted to give teens a chance to show their talents and talk to younger people about their music. Teens learn so much from opportunities where they can teach and lead others, so I knew I had the opportunity to make this program a double-whammy: a learning experience for young children and a leadership experience for teens. I didn't really have any connections to the music programs in my local schools, so I started with some cold emailing. Luckily, I hit the jackpot and our local high school orchestra teacher was excited to bring some of her students in for the program.

In addition to the orchestra students, I was able to recruit adult volunteers to play the harp and accordion (!!) and a staff member who plays the trumpet. I also brought in a few instruments that I play (with wildly varying levels of expertise): a flute, a piccolo, a guitar, and a ukulele. You don't have to actually play instruments yourself to make this program happen. Many musicians are happy to demonstrate their talents to inspire future generations of musicians.

If I hadn't hit the jackpot with my high school volunteers, I next would have reached out to local community orchestras (we have a couple around here), college music programs, or local music stores. You can even put the call out to your colleagues, Board members, and Friends of the Library. Many more people play or own instruments than you might expect!

Here's what we did at the program:

The orchestra kids had just finished up a week of "summer strings" and had some pieces they could play for us, so we started with them playing a few songs so the attendees could hear how the instruments sound playing together. Then I asked each of the kids and volunteers to talk a little bit about their instrument and play a little scale or something so we could hear what the instruments sound like on their own.

After we'd gone through all the instruments we had, I told the audience it was time for the "petting zoo" part of the program. They could come see the instruments up close, touch them or play them if it was okay with each musician, and ask any questions. I also put out a box of student rhythm instruments (triangles, tambourines, etc.) that we had as part of our storytime props.

I learned a ton at this program, too! I had never actually seen a harp up close and Ms. L showed me what the pedals are for and how she tunes it. Mr. T showed us the inside of his accordion so we could see what hitting the keys does.

I had intended to read some books at the program and had pulled Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Moss, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Simon & Schuster, 1995) and The Remarkable Farkle McBride by Jon Lithgow, illustrated by C.F. Payne (Simon & Schuster, 2003), but with the way our audience trickled in there wasn't really a great opportunity to do that. I did pull a book display with titles our families could check out afterwards. I had also thought about pulling some teen books that would appeal to musicians and doing some brief booktalks for them, but I wasn't sure how many kids would be coming, so I skipped this. I would definitely add it next time because I think I had some teens who would have been into it.

Both attendees and volunteers had a great time and we had a nice turnout, which is especially pleasing on a Saturday for us. There were a lot of in-depth conversations happening about different instruments and I hope that more kids will now be inspired to pick up an instrument or take music classes when they have the chance.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday Reads

Sadly, I am not at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. I am following along via Twitter and hoping my colleagues bring me back lots of great galleys.

Happily, I am in the middle of some great books! Here's what I'm reading Right Now:

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Ray, July 2018). This book comes out the day before my birthday! Happy birthday to me! It's a rich fantasy retelling of Rumpelstiltskin by the author of the rich fairy tale novel Uprooted, which I also loved. This one's atmospheric and haunting - in a world where all fear the ice faeries the Staryk, a teenage girl catches their attention by turning silver into gold.

Miryem is the daughter of a terrible moneylender. Terrible because he can't bring himself to force people to repay their debts, so Miryem's family starves which those who borrowed their money (her mother's money) live fine lives. When Miryem has finally had enough of starving and watching her ailing mother's health decline, she takes her father's account books and starts collecting the debts owed to her family, bringing them fortune but also attracting the attention of the Staryk. If you're looking for a fantasy fairy tale to sink your teeth into, do pick this one up when it comes out next month. If you enjoyed Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale or Novik's previous fantasy retelling Uprooted, you will like this one, too.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, May 2018). This one has been my pool book for the past week and UNFORTUNATELY it's been rainy and busy this week, so I'm still at the very beginning. I loved Goo's previous YA romance I Believe in a Thing Called Love and so far this one is standing up to it. It's funny and I can't wait to see what will happen next - maybe I can make it back to the pool tomorrow?!

And on audio, I have Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of WWII by Liza Mundy, read by Erin Bennett (Hachette Audio, 2017). I'm only at the beginning of this one, too, but I'm drawn in by this untold women's story. It's reminding me a lot of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, both of which I enjoyed a lot. Many women were recruited from top colleges to join the US Navy and US Military as code breakers during WWII. Why don't we know their stories? Now we will. Historical feminist nonfiction is my jam, so I think I'll enjoy this quite a bit.

What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez

This book is just what I wanted to kick off summer: a light, fun romance with enough meat on its bones to keep it interesting and great characters. I would definitely recommend starting this season with The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding. I mean, just look at that bright rainbow cover and you know what a fun book you're getting into.

When Abby scores the fashion internship of her dreams at a boutique store near her home, she's determined to do a good job. She's heard that this summer internship usually leads to a part-time paid position in the fall and Abby is determined to get the job and start her career in fashion. She has no idea she's going to meet the girl of her dreams, fellow intern Jordi Perez. Abby goes to school with Jordi and rumors fly about how Jordi committed arson and went to Juvie, but all Abby can think about is how good it feels to earn a rare Jordi smile. Oh, and the fact that they're competing against each other to earn the fall job.

And Abby's got abundant free time to obsess over Jordi since her best friend is newly in a relationship and her older sister is not coming home for the summer for the first time ever. Luckily, a new unlikely friend, lacrosse-playing Jax, recruits Abby for a quest to find the best burger in Los Angeles. And Jax is a ready sounding board for Abby's pursuit of her crush. 

The combination of summer romance, a quest for burgers, and Abby's passion for fashion made this a really fun read that's perfect for light summer reading. I really appreciate Abby's body positive attitude - she's defined vaguely as "plus sized" - and her quest to enjoy and promote fashion fun at all sizes. I also think this was a very realistic portrayal of a bigger girl being body positive but also being unsure about some things. Abby doesn't love having her photo taken and refuses to post her own photo on her fashion blog. She's self-conscious about being in a swimsuit, even just with her friends. Even though Abby's on the path to body acceptance and she's an advocate for enjoying fashion at any size, she's still got her hangups and that's very realistic.

This is a light romance without a lot of physical action, so a good choice for teens who like romance but don't want graphic physical scenes. Hand it to teen romance fans looking for a breezy, fun summer read.


Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour is another teen lesbian romance that has a similar light, romantic tone and gives a peek into the world of film production much like Jordi gives a peek into the world of boutique fashion.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo is another light teen romance with an upbeat, breezy tone and that doesn't have a lot of physical romance.

Book info: 

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding. Grades 7+ Sky Pony Press, April 2018. 224 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Wrap Up

It's been a blast concentrating on reading middle grade books this month. Now that I'm not a youth specialist anymore, it's easy to let that reading slip as I'm concentrating on building up my skills in other areas of collection development and reader's advisory. I read some great books this month and had a lot of fun recording some video booktalks to highlight books to go along with Akoss's weekly themes.

I read a lot of the books from the TBR pile that I started with, but not all of them. And I ended up picking up some other titles as I was inspired to throughout the month. I did a lot of reviewing, as you may have noticed, and it was great to get back in the habit of writing in depth about what I'm reading.

Here are the middle grade books I read this month (some pictured above):
And speaking of middle grade... are you following Heavy Medal, SLJ's Mock Newbery blog? Usually they are quiet this time of year and pick up the discussion in the fall as we approach award season, but this year they're compiling suggestions of titles just like the actual committees do. I LOVE this not only because it gives a greater feel of what being on the actual committee is like, but because it gives all of us a head's up on what books we might want to pay attention to because they're getting award buzz. 

Each month, anyone can submit up to 4 suggestions of already-published eligible books and the Heavy Medal bloggers are compiling the suggestions, grouped by number of suggestions. So if you're wondering what middle grade to check out this year, books with multiple suggestions on their lists are good bets to be books people will be talking about. This is a great resource for collection development, too!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

Save the restaurant, save the world.

Okay, not really, but it feels that way to Arturo in The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. Since before Arturo was born, his family has run their restaurant La Cocina de la Isla. La Cocina is a special place in a close-knit Latino neighborhood. Arturo's abuela knows every regular customer by name and it's a place where many in the community feel like family. Now, it's being threatened by a developer who wants to move in and build condos and destroy their neighborhood.

In addition to saving his restaurant, Arturo's trying to win over the girl of his dreams, his god-cousin Carmen who's come to visit for the summer after the death of her mom. She's into poetry and activism; how can Arturo get her attention? And he's starting his first kitchen job in the restaurant - not a prep chef like he'd imagined, but a dishwasher which is harder than it sounds!

It's a lot for one thirteen-year-old boy. Can Arturo make it work? Or will it all be an Epic Fail?

I don't know why I waited so long to pick up this book, but I'm so glad I did. It won a Pura Belpre honor, so that definitely tells you something. I fell in love with Arturo and his family and their neighborhood. This is a great story about the power of people to stand up to bigger, richer forces and defend their neighborhoods and their way of life. It introduces the concept of gentrification in a way that makes sense and really digs into the issues surrounding it. Arturo and the other kids in his family really take an active role, seeing the urgency in their situation even as others in his family want to pretend it's not happening to protect their ailing abuela from the devastating truth.

It's funny and it's serious, which is my favorite kind of contemporary story. I like to laugh AND cry.

I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author and it's great. Pablo Cartaya is an actor, which makes sense since he reads really well and does voices for the characters. Audiobook is a great way to experience this book if you, like me, don't always know how the Spanish words should be pronounced. Or if you're just looking for a fun listen. This would be a great family listen for families with tweens, too.

Hand this one to activism-minded kids or kids who like realistic stories about kids making a difference in their communities.


An oldie but a goodie: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen about a kid trying to save the burrowing owls in his Florida home from development, this is another book for kids who want to save the world.

The tone and characters of the book reminded me a lot of Gordon Korman, so maybe try Ungifted. And readers looking for stories about boys told with a mix of humor and serious subjects might like Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson. 

For kids drawn to Arturo's experience in the kitchen and restaurant life, hand them All Four Stars by Tara Dairmen.

For kids looking for more stories about Latino families, try Enchanted Air by Margarita Engel, Stef Soto Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres, or Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. Grades 5-9. Viking, 2017. 230 pages. Audiobook is 5 hours and 6 minutes. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Week 5: Diverse Books!

Whew! What a month it has been! I don't know about you, but I have really cherished the time I spent this month dedicating my reading to middle grade books. I read more than I normally do and I read and blogged about some truly great books. Let's hope I can keep the momentum going as we head into summer. (My first summer in 10+ years that I will not be stressed out about the Summer Reading Program...)

Our final week of Middle Grade May 2018 is all about diverse books. Akoss asked us to talk about books that portray diversity in an uplifting way. I couldn't narrow it down this week, so I have six booktalks for you with some of my favorite recent diverse reads.

Books mentioned in this video:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokski (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (Scholastic, 2018)

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres (Little, Brown, 2017)

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin, 2015)

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (Viking, 2017)

Rebound by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin, 2018)

How'd your Middle Grade May go? Did you read some great middle grade books? I'd love to hear about them - let me know what you've been reading!