Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Counting Thyme

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin. Grades 4-7. Putnam, April 2016. 320 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Cancer is the worst. Because of cancer, specifically her five year old brother's cancer, Thyme (that's Thyme with an HY like the herb) and her family have picked up and moved across the country, leaving California for New York City where there's an experimental treatment that might help her brother. In New York, Thyme has to share a bedroom with her moody older sister, they deal with a total crab of a neighbor who's always complaining that they're too loud, and Thyme has to start over in a middle school where she knows no one.

Thyme has no interest in building a life here. The treatment is supposed to take three months and then Thyme is planning on being back home with her best friend, living in the house she's grown up in, going to the school that she knows. She is literally counting down the days and hoping that by doing chores and earning "time" (her parents' version of an allowance) that she hopes she can use to visit her best friend back home.

But Thyme's parents aren't being completely honest with her. With cancer, there are no guarantees. And while Thyme will discover some things she likes about New York, like cutie Jake who seems to like her, too, and their housekeeper Mrs. Ravelli's amazing cooking, she's also going to have to accept that you can't always plan out your future.

My thoughts:

Combine the friendship story of Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger and the sibling love of Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie and you have this book. It's both a poignant story of one family dealing with cancer and a story about girl who's navigating friendships and alliances as the new girl in school. It'll appeal both to readers who are interested in reading stories about kids dealing with cancer and fans of realistic friendship stories.

I particularly appreciated seeing how different members of the Owens family dealt with Val's cancer. Although the story is told from Thyme's point of view, Melanie Conklin does a nice job of showing us how each member of the family is reacting, even if Thyme doesn't fully understand where everyone is coming from.


The two books I mentioned above might make good readalikes, depending on what readers like about this story. Readers who are riveted by the frenemies, competition, and crushes that Thyme deals with at her new school may enjoy Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger. Readers who love the relationship Thyme has with her little brother Val may enjoy Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie.

Readers who enjoy reading about life in New York City might enjoy Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead or Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, realistic novels with very different plots but a strong element of New York City apartment life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel. Grades 7 & up. Scholastic, 2015. 345 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


What if you looked in the mirror and saw someone you didn't recognize?

When Maisie wakes up, she's in the hospital. Her memory is fuzzy, but she slowly learns the truth: she was running and it started storming. Lightning hit electrical wires which hit her and she was burned. She has second-degree burns all down her left arm and side. But worse than that, her face was burned. Her face was burned off. And she gets a face transplant.

Everyone keeps telling Maisie that she's lucky. She's lucky that a donor came up just when she needed it. She's lucky that the fire didn't take her eyes or her mouth. But Maisie doesn't feel lucky. Now, she's kept on a strict regimen of intense medications to ensure that her body doesn't reject the new tissue. Her boyfriend Chirag remains steadfastly by her side, but he can't bring himself to touch her.

What if you had to go to school wearing someone else's face?

My thoughts:

I picked up this book because the plot sounded absolutely fascinating and it did not let me down. I'm always a little wary with books like this that could easily veer into sensationalism, but what I found here was a well-grounded contemporary story about a girl piecing her life back together after a traumatic event. It's fascinating to me (and, I think, to teen readers) to put myself in Maisie's shoes. How would I deal with this if it happened to me?

Alyssa Sheinmel has that angsty teen voice down in a way that is realistic and recognizable without being annoying. Maisie's actions and decisions were realistic in a way that made me sympathize and root for her, even when I could see that she was making mistakes.

I especially liked Maisie's relationships with people in her life and how they evolved after her injury and as she started to accept what had happened to her. Her boyfriend Chirag is trying to "be a good guy" and stand by her, even though Maisie is a different person now (both physically and mentally). Her best friend Serena actually does remain steadfastly loyal, even when Maisie is not able to give much back to their friendship. As Maisie comes to grips with what happened to her, these relationships change in ways that are both interesting and believable.


I would hand this book to middle schoolers and high schoolers who enjoy reading stories about teens dealing with something bad happening to them. The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen and/or A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman would both make good readalikes for kids who enjoy reading about teens dealing with traumatic physical events (leg amputation in both those books).

Teens who are fascinated by the concept of dealing with facial injury might enjoy Lucy Grealy's memoir Autobiography of a Face, published for adults in 1994.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ten More Great School Age Readalouds

We visit the YMCA Afterschool groups at each of our nine public elementary schools once a month during the school year, so I am always on the lookout for great readalouds for K-4th. This year, I was really trying to include some more diverse titles and I did succeed in taking more than I did last year (which isn't saying a lot!!), although I would still love more suggestions! Here are ten of my very favorites that I took to my groups this year.

Epossumondas by Colleen Salley, illustrated by Janet Stevens (Houghton, 2002). This is one of my very favorite readalouds and makes for great oral storytelling, too. It's a version of a Jack Tale called Lazy Jack in which the silly possum Epossumonas keeps getting gifts from his auntie with no idea how to carry them home, starting with the piece of cake that he squishes up in his paw. It's a silly tale and one that's great to do fun voices with.

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien (Candlewick, 2015). Hoot Owl tries using disguises to help him catch his dinner... with varying success. One of my staffers reads this in a Batman voice and it is hilarious.

The Long-Nosed Pig by Keith Faulkner, illustrated by Jonathan Lambert (Dial, 1998). We don't circulate pop-up books, but this is a fun one that we have in our programming collection and it makes a great readaloud. Way back when pigs had long noses instead of short snouts, one pig couldn't stop bragging about his gorgeous, long nose.

Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook Press, 2013). Whether or not you have kids that are into lucha libre, read this with your best wrestling-announcer voice and it WILL be a hit. I promise. (Practice the Spanish words first if you are unfamiliar with them!)

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (Scholastic, 2014). Kids are entranced by 1) yummy-looking donuts and 2) this grumpy panda who refuses to share his donuts with anyone who cannot ask for them politely.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (Arthur A. Levine, 2015). Farting pony. Need I say more? I do? Okay, kick-butt warrior princess, how about that?

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt (Corgi, 2000). I am so, so sad that this book is out of print, but it's worth an ILL if you can. Timothy Pope loves to look through his telescope and he thiiinks he sees a shark at the park. Have the kids make their own "telescopes" with their hands and look up, down, left, right, and all around with you on the chorus.

Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon (Atheneum, 2013). How is a baseball game the same and different in the US and Japan? This book was a great one to inspire discussion about cultural differences.

Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman (Abrams, 2015). I love this one so much that I accidentally brought it to one group two months in a row. It was okay, they loved it, too! This is just what the title suggests: cute and funny vegetables in underwear.

The Whale in My Swimming Pool by Joyce Wan (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2015). What to do when a whale is taking up your entire swimming pool? This kawaii picture book is filled with creative attempts to get rid of the whale and makes for a fun read.

There are ten of my favorite school-age picture book readalouds that I took to my groups this year. Need more suggestions? Check out Ten Great School-Age Readalouds to see what my hits were last year. What were your favorite school-age readalouds this year??

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Summer Check-In #1

My summer in images (so far):

We're raising butterflies and it is just as easy and engaging as it was last time!

First contribution to our Field Journal:

They started so tiny and then got BIG:

The kids are reading and reading. As of the morning of June 15 (first day for prizes), kids in our county had read 4,809 books. 

We challenged them to read 20,000 books this summer and we're right on track!

Of course, your librarians are reading, too!

Children's books:

And teen books: 

And adult books! 

Also pictured: Howie the cat.

My family book club chose Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell to read for our July meeting and I am enjoying it. We're all Downton Abbey fans and this book reads pretty much like a season of Downton Abbey, so it's right up our alley and pretty easy reading for summer. 

Life is not quite all butterflies and book clubs. My two teen librarians are leaving for new adventures soon and it's making me feel like this: 

But life goes on! It means some creative new approaches to our programming and we'll manage. 

How is YOUR summer going??

Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean

Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks. (Science Comics)
Grades 3-6. First Second, March 2016. 128 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


So, this is one entry in this cool new series called Science Comics, which is just what it sounds like: comics about science. This book is all about coral reefs and I guarantee that you will learn something you didn't know before, even if you are a super ocean expert.

Did you know that scientists have developed cancer-fighting drugs from coral reefs?

Did you know that coral reefs are home to a quarter of the animals in the entire ocean?

Do you know what a cnidarian (NIE-darian) is?!

You'll learn all that and much more in this comic book all about coral reefs. What I love about this book is that it's told in a cute, funny style that will have you laughing even as you're learning. If you like science and comics, this is definitely the series for you!

My thoughts: 

A fun and informational introduction to coral reefs, this book contains TONS of science info. Maris Wicks does a great job of starting from the beginning with each subject, whether it's the difference between animals & plants when introducing the reader to coral or what climate change is when talking about how the environment affects coral reefs. Even kids who think they know a lot about coral reefs and the ocean will probably learn something new from this book.... and they will enjoy doing it!

Wicks's cute, cartoony style is a great medium for the information. She puts in lots of funny little asides and cute, humorous illustrations. One of my favorites is an illustration of flowers "eatin' up the SEE-OH-TOO"/"fartin' out the oxygen". The book is filled with funny little things like that that will keep readers laughing and poring over the illustrations for more.


Readers who enjoy their nonfiction in interesting packaging might also like the Basher Science series or Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale. 

Readers who enjoy Maris Wick's funny style would do good to pick up her Human Body Theater

Friday, June 3, 2016


Tumbling by Caela Carter. Grades 7+. Viking. June, 2016. 432 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


There's the gymnast who hasn't played along with the Olympic coach's master plan. There's the gymnast who would rather be anywhere than at the Olympic trials. There's the gymnast who isn't eating anything. There's the gymnast who doesn't think she has a chance. There's the gymnast carrying a secret.

For these five girls, the next two days are a pivotal point in their lives. It's the Olympic trials, an intense last gymnastics meet that will decide the American Olympics team. Dreams will be realized. Dreams will be crushed. Mind games will be played. Secrets will be spilled. Friends will be betrayed. Decisions will be made.

And at the end of it, there will be an Olympic team. A handful of girls who will go on to compete for gold and glory.

This behind-the-scenes look at the Olympic trials is a great choice for anyone who's waiting eagerly for the Olympics to start back up in August.

My thoughts:

Couldn't. Put. This. Down.

I am definitely one of those people who can't wait for the Olympics in August, so this was right up my alley. I don't have the experience to know for sure, but the book seems very well researched, including lots of details of the minutiae of gymnastics life. A lengthy glossary includes lots of gymnastic terms.

Besides being a solid sports book, this is a great book for teens who enjoy the ~drama~ of it all. Any sport has psychological aspects to it. Combine that with a gaggle of teenage girls, all thirsty for a chance at their Olympic dreams, and you get quite the soap opera (in a good way, I mean).

The cast of narrators is diverse in a surface-level way (there's the African American, the Jewish girl, the half-Asian girl, the closeted lesbian), but the focus here is on the sport and the relationships of the characters to one another and to their own goals.


For younger teens looking for more gymnastics this summer, try Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas (Arthur A. Levine, 2012). Older teens might enjoy gymnastics memoirs like Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu (Touchstone, 2012).

Readers who gravitate toward the drama between the girls might like Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (HarperTeen, 2015).

Readers may also enjoy dance stories like Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo (Random, 2016) or Pointe by Brandy Colbert (Penguin, 2014).

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hello, Summer.

It's summer.

The kids were out of school today.

The air conditioner was out at the library today.

And you know how the rest of that story goes. (Hot. It was hot.)

I can't wait for summer... to be over.
Our schools had no snow make-up days added to the end of the school year, so I'm feeling about a week behind in planning and getting ready. I was out for a couple of weeks this spring and I have been dealing with planning for some upcoming staffing changes for the past month. We have a part-timer on unexpectedly early maternity leave, so we've been understaffed during our heaviest planning and school visit time of the year. So... yeah. I'm feeling really behind.

I need the Calming Manatees.

Hey. You got this. 
Our Summer Reading Club officially starts tomorrow. And although I am really taking this summer one day at a time, I am also really eager to see how many books the kids in our county read this summer. (We challenged them to read 20,000 books.) It has been nice to see so many kids who proclaim "You came to my school!" I adore handing out books we've booktalked through the months. I am nerdily excited to add books to our staff summer reading "logs".

So, yeah. Summer is exhausting, but there are some good things about it. And, as Victory Baby says:

The only way out is through!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Series I Love: The Thickety

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. Starting with:

The Thickety by J.A. White
Gr. 4-7. Katherine Tegen Books. Review copies provided by publisher.


When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. She was sentenced to death and ever since that happened, Kara’s family has been shunned by the community because to them, magic is the most evil thing there is… except maybe the enchanted forest that covers much of their island home and grows larger every day: The Thickety.

One day Kara is lured into the Thickety by a colorful bird and she discovers her mother’s grimoire, her witch’s spellbook. She knows that she should take the book straight to the town Elders, she knows that it's illegal for her to have this book, but this last connection to her mother means too much to Kara to give it up. So she opens the spellbook…

And that’s just the beginning of the story.

If you like a fantasy magic adventure story that’s a little bit scary and completely engrossing, this is a great choice for you. Even though the book is really thick, the pages are small, so it’s actually a pretty fast read. I love that it almost feels like you’re holding a spellbook as you read.

And this is the first book in the Thickety series, so if you like this one the adventure continues in the next books.

Books in the series: 

1: The Thickety: A Path Begins (2014) 496 pages.

3. The Thickety: Well of Witches (2016) 505 pages.

Why I Love Them:

The books in this series are fast-paced and magical with a strong heroine. I have always been drawn to witch stories, but more than that, this series is about a girl against the world, a girl that few people in her community (including her own family) really see or care about. She's imperfect, she's fallible, but Kara would do anything to protect her little brother. I just love Kara so much and I'm rooting for her the whole way through. 

The world that J.A. White has created here is intriguing and detailed. Magic is not to be trusted, even by those who may wield it themselves, and yet it's an irresistible force. There's history here. 

And I think the format of the books have a lot to do with my love for them. When I booktalk this series, I always mention the design of the books. They're thick and long, but because the trim size is small, the pages go by in a flash. You can read a quite long book in a relatively short amount of time (and then feel very accomplished). The pages have beveled edges (those rough-hewn pages) and the overall effect is that you might actually be reading from a spellbook, which adds to the allure of the magical story. 

Readalikes: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell (Katherine Tegen Books, 2014) for its blend of mystery and fantasy. Dreamwood by Heather Mackey (Putnam, 2014) for its fantasy wilderness adventure. The Septimus Heap series, first book Magyk by Angie Sage (Katherine Tegan Books, 2005) for readers who love the small "spellbook-y" format and a magical story (although the tone is different). 

So, there you have it: a series I love and have actually kept up with. There are a few more, so look for more series features in the weeks to come! 

What series do YOU love??

Monday, May 16, 2016

You Can Fly

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford. Grades 5 and up. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, May 2016. 80 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

You guys. I am so, so pleased to be able to share an amazing behind-the-scenes look at this awesome new book. If you (or your kids/students) love adventure stories, war stories, and/or learning about American history, you are not going to want to miss this book. I am a huge fan of Carole Boston Weatherford and her latest does not disappoint.

First, check out the book trailer:

This small package packs a powerful punch. Like Kadir Nelson's We Are the Ship, the narrative is written in the second person (using "you"), which puts the reader right into the middle of the action. Using prose poems, Carole Boston Weatherford is able to get across a lot of information about the Tuskegee Airmen in an engaging read.

Back matter includes an author's note, a detailed timeline, and resources for further information. Ms. Weatherford includes an extensive list of lesson plans and teacher resources on her website. Black and white illustrations by her son Jerry Boston Weatherford illuminate the action.

And I am privileged to share a special Q&A with debut illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford. If his name sounds familiar it may be because he is author Carole Boston Weatherford's son.

Jeffery Boston Weatherford poses with Tuskegee Airman portrait

How did you come to illustrate children's books?

I doodled a lot in elementary school. In middle school, my mother enrolled me in studio art classes. I illustrated my first children’s book manuscript for my high school senior project. I used my mother’s unpublished manuscript Which Way to Dreamland? In college, during an internship with author/illustrator Jim Young, I created digital illustrations of the Airmen. Shortly after college graduation, I got my first contract. That project was killed and eventually reborn—with scratchboard illustrations—as You Can Fly.

When did you first hear about the Tuskegee Airmen?

I first heard about them when I was a boy. My family visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. I saw the Tuskegee Airmen’s planes, uniforms and other World War II artifacts.

Archival photo provided by the author

What was your inspiration for the illustrations?

I always had dreams of flight. I watched the movie Red Tails and researched documentary photographs on the Library of Congress and National Archives websites. While doing my research, I had some dreams of meeting Tuskegee Airmen.

Describe your creative process.

Of course, I began by reading the poems. After I did my picture research for each poem, I drew a graphite study to layout the composition. Once that was completed and approved by the publisher, I refined the image and transferred it to scratchboard. I used various nibs for different effects.

Do you have a favorite illustration?

I like the one of boxer Joe Louis punching the German Max Schmeling during their historic rematch.

Illustration by Jeffery Boston Weatherford

Do you have military ties in your family?

My great great great grandfather fought in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. And my mother’s father was in the Army during World War II. He served in New Guinea and the Philippines. My grandmother still has his uniform. I think he would be proud of me and my mom.

I want to thank the author and illustrator for stopping by and providing some great content today. I've said it before and I 'll say it again: don't miss this book!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Reading Wildly: Funny

At today's Reading Wildly meeting, we discussed funny books. We've discussed funny books in the past and we keep on doing it because this is a genre that kids want all the time and it can be hard to identify these books using the catalog.

We talked about some sources for identifying funny books, including lists on the internet and getting recommendations from friends or colleagues. We also talked about how a lot of funny books have parts that are funny and parts that are serious and that there are different kinds of humor that kids may be interested in. Some kids are really looking for wacky, weird humor and others like something more subtle.

Here's what we read:

SUMMER IS COMING, so next month will be Reader's Choice, though I have challenged my staff to read something from the room they don't normally gravitate towards. Staff who normally choose books from the Children's Room should pick something from Teen, staff who normally gravitate towards teen books should choose something from the Children's Room. And if anyone feels like they read pretty equally then they can choose. 

We probably won't be able to meet over the summer months because we're so busy in our department, but I'm definitely intending a return to our library staff "summer reading log" where we'll share our reading with staff and patrons!

This was the start of our "reading log" last summer.