Saturday, December 29, 2007


I just watched the movie Stardust and I thought it was fantastic. I'm a big fan of the book and I think they really got the tone of it right. The casting was spot on. It's beautiful and funny and... just pretty much awesome. If you're a fan of the book, I can't recommend the movie enough. Even if you haven't read it, you should still check it out if you like fairy tales for adults.

And if you haven't read Stardust, I really don't know what you're waiting for. Go. Read. Now. You can thank me later. ;)

My Reading Resolutions

I generally don't make New Year's Resolutions because I think that if there's something you really want to change, there's no time like the present! But, as 2007 is coming rapidly to a close, there are a couple of reading resolutions that I'd like to keep in mind for 2008.

1. I want to read more non-fiction. The great majority of what I read is fiction, but I'd really like to branch out and read some really great non-fiction titles this year. New and old, kids and adults... My goal is 2 a month, but I'm hoping that I can surpass that. I'm off to a good start because I'm doing booktalks in March on Women's History Month, so I already have a big list of history and biography books to get to. Let's hope I can keep it up all year! (And, of course, the Cybils lists are an awesome resource for suggestions...) (I am not the only one with this resolution... and check out an awesome list of appealing non-fiction for YAs over at The YA YA YAs.)

2. I want to read and review all the Caudill nominees. I read 15 of the 20 nominees for 2008. I want to be 20 for 20 in 2009. And, if possible, I'd like to be done with them by the start of summer so I can give recommendations to the kids and (hopefully) teachers who will be hounding after them this summer. (Last summer, our local school district gave a continuing education credit to any teacher who read a certain number of the nominees, so they were in high, high demand all summer. Woot!)

There is a slight possibility that I might be on the next Caudill committee, which would give me a third reading resolution... but we won't count chickens before they hatch, so we'll forget about that one for now. And, of course, I'm doing the Printz Award Challenge and the Expanding Horizons Challenge (so excited about both of those!).

So, you've heard my 2008 reading resolutions... do you have any of your own??

Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: Freak

Freak by Marcella Pixley. Grades 6 and up.

Miriam Fisher is a seventh grade freak. It wasn't always this way. Miriam can remember long hours spent playing Star Trek with her sister and being happy with being who she was. But now her sister Deborah's in high school and she's suddenly gotten popular and stopped caring about music and school. And Miriam is left to deal by herself. When the artsy Artie comes to stay with their family because his parents are going on sabbatical in India, Miriam's dreams are coming true. She's been in love with Artie for a long time and she just knows that he'll be the one who will get her. She knows they're meant to be. But things don't turn out the way Miriam expects. Ultimately, Artie's stay just makes everything worse (especially because he's in love with her sister... just like everyone else). She's bullied at school. Tortured, really. And she can't tell her parents because she knows they wouldn't do anything and they have enough to deal with. Miriam has to find a way to deal, how to stick up for herself... or she just might self-destruct.

This is a gripping portrayal of bullying. It started out as kind of a quiet read. I figured it was going to be mostly about characters, not so much with the plot. This book is definitely all about characters, but there's plenty of plot in there, too. By the middle of the book, I was so worried about Miriam that I actually wrote that down on a post-in and stuck it in the book.

The writing is gorgeous and Pixley's got the outcast perfectly. Take this passage about sitting on the school bus:

The only place on earth I hate as much as the lockers is the school bus. The school bus is a physical map of who's cool and who isn't. No one tells you where to sit. There isn't any seating chart. But if you know who you are, you know where to go. Here's how it works: the more popular you are, the closer you sit to the back of the bus; the more of a loser you are, the closer you sit to the front. It's as easy as that. (p 25)

Obviously, Miriam is sitting in the front of the bus. And here's what makes the book even more wonderful to me. Miriam is socially awkward. She talks waaaay too much whenever she's sitting with Artie. She writes a poem on a napkin with a ketchup packet when she doesn't have her notebook with her. And she keeps going on about e.e. cummings when Artie is reading Neruda to her sister. It's definitely cringe-worthy. Even so, no one deserves the treatment she got in the book. I was rooting for her the whole way and there are images in this book that will stick with me for a long time.

It would make a Great book discussion book. There is so much to talk about with this book. And I wouldn't be surprised if it got some Printz attention.

Also reviewed by: hiplibrariansbookblog, Booktopia, and Teens Read Too. And it's been nominated for a Cybil in Middle Grade Fiction.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Audiobook Roundup: Fun Family Listens for Families with School Age Kids

Yep, it's that time again. Another Audiobook Roundup. This time, I'm going to post about some audiobooks that I'd recommend for families with elementary school age kids. I thoroughly enjoyed all of these and I think both kids and adults will get a kick out of them. So if you're looking for something to spice up a road trip or recommend to those families taking trips, look no further!

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. Zoe Elias dreams of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. She's certain that just given the chance, she might turn out to be a prodigy. She's picturing playing recitals on a grand piano while elegant people dressed in their finest sit in the audience. Imagine her surprise when, instead of the piano she was so hoping for, her parents get her an organ. An organ that comes with lessons from Maybeline Person and her book of organ songs... Hits from the 70s. It's laugh out loud funny and be sure to scoop this one up if there's a young musician in the family. Or if there isn't. :)

Millions by Frank Cotrell Boyce. Fourth grader Damian might not be the smartest boy in school, but there are two things he knows for sure. Firstly, he knows everything about saints. Secondly, he knows that if he ever wants something, all he has to do is remind people that his mum is dead and he will be given something. When a bag full of money falls out of the sky three weeks before England's switchover to the Euro, Damian thinks the money must have come from God. He tries to think of a saintly way to spend it, however big brother Antony has other ideas. What follows is a rip-roaring spending spree interspersed with hilarious and touching moments.

George's Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl. George's grandmother is really evil. She's so nasty to George that George decides to mix up his own medicine for her in the hopes that it will blast the nastiness out of her (or make her explode... whichever). He puts everything in it from motor oil to shampoo to sheep medicine and spices from the kitchen. When he gives it to granny, surprising and amazing things start to happen. Narrator Richard E. Grant has a fantastic grandma voice and kids and adults alike will be astonished by the things that go into George's marvelous medicine.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. A cold-hearted china rabbit is lost on a family vacation and goes through many different hands and homes until he ultimately learns how to love. A word of warning: parts of this book are quite sad. However, it has excellent narration. Judith Ivey does great voices for all the different characters. It's really quite amazing that one person can make all those different voices.

Soup by Robert Newton Peck. This story was a favorite of mine when I was in elementary school. It's set in the 1920s and third-grader Rob has many adventures with his rambunctious friend Soup. Another funny book, Rob's escapades will have you giggling all the way to grandma's (or wherever you're going). A word of warning, there's some content that might be questionable. At one point Rob and Soup make acorn pipes and try smoking... at another point they're discussing the only Jew they know, the guy who runs the local junkyard and is purportedly liable to cheat you. Hopefully these scenes will spark a discussion, but they may upset sensitive parents who aren't expecting them.

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech.

The funny thing about the Castle Corona is that no one in the kingdom, from the peasants to the king himself, seems to be happy with his lot in life. Peasants Pia and Enzio dream of riding white horses and eating rich food in the castle, the members of the royal family dream of being free to do as they like without so many responsibilities holding them back. Through the course of The Castle Corona, each character will find a place and figure out how to get what they want. The only question is how it will all come together...

A thoroughly enjoyable audiobook, especially for families who love fairy tales. Narrator Jennifer Wiltsie gives each character a distinct voice, which is especially noticeable when two of the characters are having a conversation or interrupting each other. Jaunty music starts each disc and adds to the story rather than distracting from it.

These are some of my favorite recent listens. What are some of yours? (PS: Who's excited about the first Odyssey Award coming up?!)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Blast from the Past

The Friday before Christmas was a day filled with weeding. We didn't have many patrons coming through. Many of my tasks required contacting other organizations and I decided they could wait until after the holidays. So I weeded. And in doing so, I ran across a book I had completely forgotten about. A book that was one of my favorites in the fifth grade or so. A book I read many a time.

Secrets of the Shopping Mall by Richard Peck. It's about two kids who somehow end up living in a mall at night and the mannequins come to life. Real quality literature, I know. But it was one of my favorites.

A little farther down the shelf, I ran into another favorite of mine. Sister of the Quints by Stella Pevsner. I got that one from some sort of book-of-the-month club. It's about, well, a sister of a set of quintuplets.

Seeing those two books brought back all kinds of memories and I started thinking about other little-known books that I read over and over again as a kid. Here's what I came up with:

Tough Luck Karen by Joanna Hurwitz. Nothing seems to go right for Karen. But by the end of the story she's able to turn it around. I don't even remember much about the plot, just that Karen is a great character.

Sugar Isn't Everything by Willo Davis Roberts. Amy's been feeling pretty terrible lately. She has no energy, she's always ravenous and thirsty, and she hasn't grown at all since last year. One day she collapses in the bathroom and she's diagnosed with diabetes. She has to learn how to take care of herself and deal with her own anger. Um. I don't have diabetes. I just loved this book.

Christopher Pike books. Man I loved them so. So much, in fact, that I belonged to a Christopher Pike fan email list. I was a big fan of his adult books The Season of Passage and The Listeners and Sati kind of changed my whole view of religion. Favorites of his teen books included The Midnight Club, The Last Vampire, and The Tachyon Web.

I found a book in my school library in 7th grade that was the first serious book (that I remember) that really made me think. It was Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien. A nuclear holocaust leaves one girl all alone in her valley. When a man shows up wearing a radiation suit, she's relieved at first, until she realizes that he's a bad guy and she has to figure out how to escape.

It's so funny to me the seemingly random books that I latched on to. I was a voracious reader, but I was re-reading a lot of the time. I'd pick a book from my bookshelf at random to read on the school bus or while waiting for my flute lesson. I guess I should also tell you that in the 8th grade I watched the movie Newsies over and over until I could recite all the lines from heart even without the movie playing.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Book Review: Kimchi & Calamari

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent. Grades 4-7.

There are orphans in many kids books. Orphans and foster kids. Lots and lots of them. Most of them don't have a happy family life. So it's refreshing to find a book about a kid with a solid, caring family. That is not to say that family life is always easy for Joseph Calderaro. Sure, he has an extremely loving set of parents. And he has a pair of younger sisters who are annoying sometimes, but whom he loves and watches out for. But the fact is that he was born in Korea and adopted into the very Italian Calderaro family. And in this book, that causes him a little trouble...

Joseph's trouble starts when his social studies teacher assigns an essay. This particular essay is about family heritage. Although his father is always telling him stories about his Italian relatives, Joseph wants to write his essay about his own heritage. His Korean heritage. The problem is that he doesn't know anything about his birth relatives and his mom and dad don't either. What results is a funny, thoughtful story about the meaning of family.

Joseph feels strange when his dad gives him a corno, a goat horn pendant that's a traditional Italian symbol. He feels equally strange when he visits the home of a new Korean boy at his school and he doesn't know to take his shoes off when he goes in and has trouble using chopsticks. The truth of the matter is that Joseph isn't just Korean or just Italian... he's a mixture of both. He's an "ethnic sandwich" as he describes it. And as he starts to figure himself out, he'll realize that maybe he can have the best of both worlds. Kimchi and calamari.

For another funny, thoughtful book with an adopted Asian protagonist, check out Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick.

For more reviews of this book, check out The Longstockings, MotherReader, Becky's Book Reviews, Jen Robinson's Book Page, and Library & Literary Miscellany. There's also a post on Fuse #8 with Rose Kent's thoughts on adoption. Kimchi and Calamari is nominated for a Cybil and it's on Anderson's Mock Newbery list. Whew!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Book Review: The Poison Apples

The Poison Apples by Lily Archer. Grades 6-9.

Alice, Reena, and Molly meet at an elite boarding school in Massachusetts. Though on the surface they don't seem to have anything in common, they eventually discover that they all have evil stepmothers. And when I say evil, I mean Evil with a capital E. The girls bond over their unfortunate family circumstances and form a club called the Poison Apples with the aim to get revenge on their stepmothers.

Really, the revenge part (and even the Poison Apples part) is a very small part of the story. The evil stepmothers are used as a device to get the girls to the school and bring them together. It works. It's a bit unbelievable how evil the stepmothers are (and how totally clueless the fathers are), but each time one of the stepmoms did something heinous, I'd find myself actually yelling out loud at the book. So, y'know, I was pretty into it.

The story is told through the alternating voices of each girl and one of the things I loved best about this novel is how Archer manages to give each girl a totally different voice. And these girls are very different. I liked each of them for different reasons and I was rooting for them to become friends. Boarding school girl cattiness, a dreamy English teacher, a bit of adolescent romance... and you've got a fun chick-lit book perfect for light reading over the winter break.

The alternating viewpoints and friendships between such different girls really reminded me of Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain. Another readalike might be The Sisterhood.

Be sure and check out the review and interview with Lily Archer over at The YA YA YAs. Also, you might want to glance at the Bookslut in Training column Finding Your Way (November 2007) and another review at Krystel's Book Blog.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Book Review: The Luxe

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen. Grades 9+

Oh the intrigue!

I got completely caught up in this luscious novel of scandal and love triangles set in 1899 New York. The book opens with the funeral of Miss Elizabeth Holland, New York's darling, pure young lady. So sad for her life to have been cut short, and the funeral being held on the very day she was supposed to marry the dashing Henry Schoonmaker... well, it's tragic indeed...

But as the novel unfolds we learn the events of the fortnight leading up to the funeral... When it comes to relationships between the characters, there is more than meets the eye.

Okay, yes. The ending was predictable. I knew almost exactly what would happen by page 75 (I made note of it). However, I give Ms. Godbersen all the more credit for keeping me interested and entertained through 375 more pages even though I already had figured out the ending. That's a lot of pages! The point of view switches between many of the characters, so you see things through Elizabeth's eyes, through Henry's, even through Elizabeth's maid's. The jacket flap informed me that Ms. Godbersen is at work on a sequel and I, for one, can't wait.

The Luxe is Gossip Girls set in Victorian NYC... this will definitely please fans of the drama, and all the sex occurs off-stage (though boozing and smoking abound).

(And I wasn't even going to review this because so many awesome people have already done so, but I just couldn't stop thinking about it, so here you go.)

(Also, take a look at that gorgeous cover. I love everything about that cover and it totally and completely fits the book.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Booktalking Once Again (Yay!)

On Monday I got to do one of my favorite things and booktalk to a class at a local elementary school. The class we were visiting is a 3rd-5th gifted reading class and the teacher has us over about twice a year to do booktalks. They're great readers and great kids and I've been looking forward to going for a couple of weeks now.

I won't give you the whole list because we brought quite a few, but I will give you the highlights. Probably my favorite of the books I brought was The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin. I knew from past experience that many of these kids have read and loved The Westing Game. Winston is a great book to recommend to fans of TWG. First of all, it's about a treasure hunt. Who doesn't love a treasure hunt? Secondly, the book itself is full of puzzles that you can solve as you go (and the answers are provided in the back of the book). So much fun. You know, I thought that I didn't like mystery books... but I keep finding books like Winston and Shakespeare's Secret that might make me change my mind...

Another book that was super fun to booktalk was The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch (review here). We had passed out a handout with the titles and blurbs of books that we had brought. Then we let the kids pick which ones they wanted to hear about. This is what I wrote in the blurb for TNOTBIS: "I can’t tell you much about this book. Well, I could, but you’d regret it. You’re much safer not having read this book. Don’t read this book." For the booktalk, I continued in that line asking "Are you SURE you want to know about this book?" and warming them at the end that if they found themselves in mortal danger because of this book that they couldn't blame me. It's a bit gimicky, yes, but it worked well enough.

Another favorite was the wordless graphic novel that my cohort talked up, Robot Dreams by Sara Varon. At first the kids were just pleased that it had no words, but as he talked about the story, they were intrigued. A lot of them came up afterwards to look at the art. (I haven't read it myself, but it's definitely on my list.)

The Boys' Book: How to be the Best at Everything by Dominique Enright and Guy MacDonald was another hit. Yes, it's the American knockoff of The Dangerous Book for Boys (but we can't keep that one on our shelf). My cohort booktalked this one and impressed everyone (me included) by tying a knot with one hand and tying a knot without letting go of either end (both tricks that are covered in the book). This one's super easy to booktalk, too. All you need to do is read out some of the things that the book teaches you how to do and the kids are instantly hooked.

So, there you have it. Highlights of our booktalks. I'm FAR from being the best booktalker ever, but I do have some tips for decent booktalking. I always try to write a little review of everything I read. Sometimes I write a long review, but most often it's just a few lines detailing what I liked about a book (or what I didn't like). This makes it easy for me to go back and see what I've read that might be good to booktalk. I use LibraryThing and GoodReads to keep track of the books I've read.

For formal booktalks, such as the one at this class, I will write down my booktalks and at least read over them a couple times. When I did a booktalking assignment in library school, I practiced them out loud until I pretty much had them memorized. This is not necessarily the way you want to go and I haven't done that since. Making sure you know what it is you want to say about the book and where you want to end so that you don't say too much... even a little practice can make a big difference.

And the last thing I'll say is that I always like to bring a handout with a list of the books I'm booktalking. Sometimes it's just a list of titles and authors, sometimes it's call numbers, titles, authors, and a blurb about each book. I think it's helpful for the kids and teachers to have something to write on and something to remind them which books they liked during the booktalks.

All that said, I know that everyone has a different way of preparing for booktalks and programs. This is what works for me and I'm continually trying to improve upon it. Ask me again next year and I might tell you something completely different. ;) Above all, I think booktalking should be fun. For me it is. I love books and I love kids and I love talking to kids about books. And when you booktalk, that's basically what you're doing.

My job rocks. :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Review: Red Moon at Sharpsburg

Red Moon at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells. Grades 6+.

(And yes, it is written by THAT Rosemary Wells! [Whose website is sorely in need of an update...])

The story is set in Virginia during the Civil War. When we first meet our main character, India Moody is 12 years old. She'd rather run with the boys and play their war games than sit inside with the girls. She likes school and is actually disappointed when the school is shut down because their teacher goes off to fight for the Confederates. With school shut down and the war picking up speed, India's best friend moves north to Oberlin, Ohio where there is a college that accepts women. India begins studying with Emory Trimble, a scientist who shares his theories about bacteria and chemistry. India develops the hope that she will one day attend Oberlin College and study science. A lot of stuff gets in her way, though. First of all, she's a woman. No woman is going to be able to make a career out of science. Second of all, she's in Virginia and has no money to get to Ohio. Also, there's a war on. And despite the South's hopes that the war would be over in three months, it just keeps going on.

There is much of interest in this novel. Emory's theory about the spread of infection and his scientific work to develop antibiotics. The struggle between the development of more sophisticated medicine and the older doctors who hang onto their bloodletting and leeches. The young Southern men who are compelled to join the army so they can hang on to their honor. And through it all, India holds on to her hopes and dreams.

This is a sprawling novel, continuing through much of the Civil War in just about 250 pages. I thought parts of it felt a little disjointed and I wished that I could have seen India's character grow and change a bit more gradually. But there's no denying Ms. Wells's beautiful turn of phrase.

When India and her mother are talking about why India's father had to join the army, Mrs. Moody says, "'Seems to me... the whole town's worth of men just dropped their plows and pencils and walked into the army like flowers turning to the sun.'" (p.32) It captures the feel so perfectly... all the men suddenly caught with War Fever and running to enlist in the war that will only take three months to win (so the Southerners thought...).

And later in the book, India's reaction to some bad news:

"Without my permission my heart tears down its middle seam." (p. 175)

I do like Civil War books (inexplicably, seeing as I dropped the one Civil War class I tried to take in college). And I liked this book. It's one that will stick with me for a long time, I think.

As far as readalikes go... I would hand over A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly for another historical story about a plucky young woman determined to go to college despite the odds. For more on the Civil War, maybe Annie Between the States by L.M. Elliott.

It's on Anderson's Mock Newbery list and it's been reviewed by Reading Rants and it's a Cybils nominee for YA fiction.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tis the Season: Winter

I don't know about you, but I'm currently being inundated with requests for winter-themed books. Of course, it's a given that this time of year all the requests for holiday books come in, but we don't tend to do holiday books in storytime at my library. So what do you read to all these preschoolers who want to celebrate the season of salt-and-static-cling? (That's a Paula Poundstone-ism, by the way.)

Well, here's what I would recommend for a stellar winter storytime:

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner, illus. by Mark Buehner.

Perfect for a preschool audience, this whimsical rhyming story gives us insight to what snowmen do at night. Obviously, they race down to the park where they ice skate, have snowball fights, and drink ice cold cocoa made by snowman mothers. At the end of the book, I asked the kids what snowmen do at night and they said "Melt." I guess they're not buying it. But it's still a fun story.

Bearsie Bear and the Surprise Sleepover Party by Bernard Waber.

I must confess that I have not read this book. We do it as a puppet story and it's one of our most popular. Bearsie Bear is about to settle down and go to sleep on a cold winter's night when he hears a knock at the door. It's one of his friends wondering if he can share Bearsie's warm bed. We use a basket or bag as the "bed" and whatever puppets we can find. The funny names are a favorite of our preschoolers and we repeat them as often as we can (Cowsie Cow, Goosie Goose, etc.).

A Hat for Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke.

I love Minerva Louise. This goofy hen is always mistaking things for other things with hilarious results. In this installment, Minerva Louise wants to enjoy the snowy winter day, but it's too cold and she needs some warm winter clothes. Make sure all the kids can see the pictures as she goes around the farm looking for winter gear.

Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London, illus. by Frank Remkiewicz.

We have a felt version of this story and the ending gets them every time. Froggy, eager to run out and play in the snow, rushes out forgetting first his pants, shirt, and coat. The last time he runs out, his mother reminds him that he's forgotten his underpants (say "underpants" instead of "underwear"... it's funnier).

The First Day of Winter by Denise Fleming.

A great singable story, the text of this book is a variation of the song 12 Days of Christmas. "On the first day of winter, my best friend gave to me..." At the end you discover that all the articles of clothing and decoration have been going to a snowman. It's niftily portrayed in a vertical spread across the last pages. Fun to sing and cumulative so kids and parents can sing along if they're so inclined.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

Of course, I have to end my list with this winter classic. I read it to a group of preschoolers last Friday morning. I was a bit unsure about it because it's such a quiet, peaceful story. I tend to be more confident with funny, loud stories. They loved it. I think kids can really identify with everything Peter does in this book. They kept remarking about how deep the snow is and they commented about their own snowmen and snow angels that they had made. When I got to the part about Peter's snowball melting and Peter feeling sad, you could have heard a pin drop. There's a lot to talk about in this book and it makes a great pick for dialogic reading and building narrative skills.

And those are my favorite winter stories... now, what are yours??

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Expanding Horizons Challenge

Thanks to Becky, I've become aware of and decided to join another challenge. The Expanding Horizons Challenge is over at Book Nut. The challenge is to expand horizons by reading authors of ethnicities outside your own. For the challenge, one must read either 4 books from one category or six books, one from each catergory. Here are the categories:

1. African/African-American.
2. Asian/Asian-American
3. Hispanic/Latin American
4. Indian/Indian-American
5. Middle Eastern
6. Native Peoples

I've decided to take the second challenge suggestion and read one book for each category. Here's my list:

1. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis or Copper Sun by Sharon Draper (or maybe both).
2. Year of the Rat by Grace Lin
3. Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez
4. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins
5. Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
6. The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Friday, December 14, 2007

4:30 on a Friday afternoon...

Today I faced the program that I was dreading. I'd managed to get out of it all semester, but I knew it would be inevitable today... I would have to face my fear and go do an after-school storytime at a local enrichment program. Now, normally I would not be scared of a school-age storytime. Normally, I would be excited about such a prospect. But this group in particular has a reputation for being a tough crowd. I mean, it's 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. I totally can't blame them. At 4:30 on a Friday, I'm longing to go home, so I can imagine how they feel.

Today's program didn't go badly, though. It actually went pretty well. I hesitate to attribute that to my superior programming skills (ha!) and I'm sure it had more to do with the combination of kids that was there and the fact that the grownups actually sat and listened with them. But still, it went well and I need to record that fact so that next month when I'm dreading this program again, I can look back and remember that it's nothing to be scared of.

The group: It is a mix of kindergarteners through 4th or 5th grade. Today we had 13 kids, but that varies, too. The enrichment program meets after school at a local elementary school (actually 4 local schools and each of the full-time staff members in my department is assigned to a school). When I was in elementary school, I went to an after school program that was similar, I think. All I wanted to do was sit there and read until my mom picked me up.

The books:
Wolf! Wolf! by John Rocco
I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry
Wait! I Want to Tell You a Story! by Tom Willans
More True Lies by George Shannon

Now. Here's what I did with them. Wolf! Wolf! is a retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I just read that one. With ITBTITO and WIWTTYAS, I made short MadLibs versions. This went over pretty well. I took a short passage from each book (or made up a passage that was similar to what happened in the book). I wrote out the passage on a piece of paper, taking out words occasionally and leaving blanks. Then I took a piece of construction paper and used an X-acto knife to cut out boxes where the blanks were on the paper (it's not as hard as it sounds). The goal is that when you're done, you can lay the construction paper on top of the sheet and just see the blanks. I laminated the bottom sheet so it's reusable. I had the kids volunteer if they wanted to put a word in and gave everyone a chance to say one if they wanted. I wrote the words in with dry erase marker and then read the wacky story to them when they'd filled in all the blanks. (The best thing is that they're reusable, so we can use them with other groups...)

Of course, it's probably way easier to just buy a real MadLibs pad from your local bookstore. But this way, each MadLib had something to do with the story I was reading. The kids were remarkably good at thinking of funny words to put in the story and I think that they all got into it, though some were definitely more enthusiastic than others.

More True Lies was the most popular item, I believe. There are a bunch of books by this author that are all similar in nature. They are collections of short stories that have some kind of a riddle or a trick to them that you have to figure out. The answer is provided on the next page. I thought I would only read one or two of them, but I ended up reading all four that I had marked and then let two of the kids pick out two more and read them to the group. Other books by George Shannon include True Lies, Stories to Solve, and More Stories to Solve. I'm thinking Encyclopedia Brown books or something like Two Minute Mysteries (also by Donald J. Sobol) might be similarly popular. I'll try 'em out and let you know.

The kids wanted more stories to solve, so I'll definitely bring them back next time. They asked for something different than MadLibs, so I'll have to rack my brains to think of something entertaining...

Printz Award Challenge

Ahhh... this blog's first challenge. I'm joining the Printz Award Challenge over at the hidden side of a leaf.

The challenge is to read 6 Printz winners or honor books between January 2008 and December 2008. It's a great chance to catch up on the Printz books that may have slipped under your radar or that you've always been meaning to read.

Here are my six books:

1. Surrender by Sonya Hartnett
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak*
3. Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
4. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
5. Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton
6. Keesha's House by Helen Frost

and as an alternate, I'm including

7. Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

*I will admit that I tried to read The Book Thief when it was getting so much buzz last year and I couldn't get into it. One of my coworkers just recently finished it and was raving about it and she's convinced me to give it another try. But I have an alternate just in case. ;)

Also, whether or not you're in the challenge, be sure and check out the Printz Award Challenge Blog. There's nothing up yet, but come January and throughout 2008 it'll be your key to reviews of Printz books.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


CONFESSION: I get the authors Sherman Alexie and Salman Rushdie mixed up. YES, I know they're different kinds of Indians. Their names sound very similar! Give me a break...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: Billy Creekmore

Billy Creekmore: A Novel by Tracey Porter. (Grades 4-7)

Billy Creekmore is a spunky orphan with a talent for telling tales and hearing spirits. He was born at midnight on Friday the 13th and has always been told that he's destined for a life of bad luck and hardship. In 1905 West Virginia, Billy's story starts out at the Guardian Angel Home for Boys where he's starved and worked hard by the miserly couple that runs the orphanage. Billy's only hope is to be sent off to the glass factory when he's old enough. However, when a fellow orphan returns from the glassworks with a maimed hand and reveals the truth that it's a dangerous place where kids risk their lives for pennies a day, Billy knows he's got to get out. Luckily, his aunt and uncle show up in the nick of time to whisk him away to a coal mining town. What follows is the rest of Billy's adventures - learning to drive a coal mule, joining a traveling circus, and searching for the father who abandoned him.

The first thing I noticed about this book was Billy's great voice. He's cocky and funny and he really reminded me of Bud from Bud, Not Buddy. Throughout the book, Billy's voice is entertaining and matter-of-fact, even about some of the outlandish things that happen to him. Plus, you have great chapter titles, like "Chapter Two: I Frighten the Snake-Handling Preacher and Mr. Beadle, Then I Tell Rufus a Secret".

The other thing I really, really like about this book is its sense of setting. Porter's obviously done her research and the West Virginia coal mining town jumps to life as you read. Porter includes a fairly extensive author's note (y'all know how I adore them) about how she came up with the idea for Billy and how much of it is based on her actual ancestors.

Now. There is one thing that bothered me about this book. Things seem to happen to Billy just in the nick of time. His uncle comes to get him at the orphanage the day before he's supposed to be sent off to the glass factory. When disaster strikes in the mine, he just happens to be with an older boy who helps him escape and not by himself as he spends much of his days. And there are more examples, but they give away some important plot points. The more I sit and think about this book, the more examples I come up with. Billy never seems to do anything on his own. He's always being rescued in the nick of time. The ending especially was what bothered me, with everything coming back together and tied with a neat little bow (except the fates of certain important characters who I am still wondering about).

That said, I still enjoyed the novel. I think its attention to child labor issues are especially good and it would be great for a classroom discussion about child labor, unions, or the turn of the century. Billy's voice is appealing enough for me to overlook the deus ex machina bits.

For further reading suggestions, I suggest Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis if you're looking for a similar funny male narrator. If you're looking for more about child labor and/or unions, try Lyddie or Bread and Roses, Too, both by Katherine Paterson. If you're an adult (young or old) and loved the Appalachian setting of Billy, I can't recommend Clay's Quilt by Silas House strongly enough.

Other reviews can be found at Little Bitty Book Reviews and Becky's Book Reviews. Also, Billy Creekmore is on the Anderson's Mock Newbery List.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Book Review: Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. (Grades 4-7+)

Ten-year-old Kek is a refugee from Africa and he's coming to America to live with his aunt and cousin... in Minnesota. Talk about culture shock. Kek's got a lot of stuff stacked against him. He doesn't know much English, his aunt works almost constantly to pay the bills, and worst of all, his mother is still in Africa... and no one can find her. Still, Kek "finds sun when the sky is dark" and he's determined not to lose hope. He befriends a local cow and makes a human friend in his apartment building. Hannah can understand where he's coming from sometimes because she's being raised by foster parents. Kek's indomitable spirit keeps him going throughout his hardships in America and he's pretty much an unfailing optimist. Parts of the book are sad, but other parts are unexpectedly funny.

It's a novel in verse, which I have mixed feelings about, but it worked for me. I really like that it shows immigration from a refugee's point of view. I think it will give kids a lot to think about and it presents the viewpoint in an accessible way.

My one big criticism is that it lacks an author's note. I would have loved to know how Katherine Applegate (author of the Animorphs series) was inspired to write this standalone novel and how she researched it. Luckily, Sandhya Nankani over at Literary Safari felt the same way and posted an interview with Ms. Applegate on her blog. Whew.

I'm no Newbery committee member, but I wouldn't be surprised if Home of the Brave got some Newbery action and I am a bit surprised that it doesn't seem to have any buzz... Hmm... What do I know?

Oh, yeah. For grade levels, I put down grades 4-7+. Even though I think the main audience for this book is middle grade readers, I think this book could easily be used with older kids in classrooms or suggested to older kids who dig this kind of stuff. A notable readalike suggestion is A Step from Heaven by An Na, which also deals with an immigrant experience and is also told in verse (although it is much darker than Home of the Brave).

Shelving the Kids

So, a Montessori school teacher calls you up and wants to bring a class of K-3rd graders over for a session on how to use the library. What do you do? Do you run around in a panic and plead for the chickens to come to the rescue? No. You shelve the kids.

We had just such a class come to the library on Friday. It was a small group (11 kids total) and their teachers wanted them to learn how to find books at the library. With such a range in ages, we were striving to find something that all the kids could do and that would actually teach them useful information.

First, we gave them a tour of our department, pointing out things such as the beginning readers section, the DVDs, the audiobooks, the biographies... Then we gathered in our storyroom for a brief section with the computer and projector to show them the lists on our webpage and how to find the call numbers when looking up a book.

Then the piece de resistance... I got the idea from a post on the PUBYAC listserv. We assigned each kid a call number based on something that they were interested in. We added the Cutter numbers based on their last names. Then we either told them to go "shelve" themselves or we took them and "shelved" them (depending on each kid's comfort level with finding the call numbers).

It was the first time we'd tried something like this and I think it was really fun... I don't know how much the kids really learned from it, although some of them definitely at least learned where some interesting books are... The teachers seemed really impressed and I think it was something outside the box that we can tweak and make better. For instance, we didn't really have a plan for once the kids found their call number and were "shelved". And we got several kids who, when asked what they were interested in, said "Pokemon"... and we really don't have anything on Pokemon in the non-fiction section except The Official Pokemon Handbook, both copies of which were checked out.

If/when we do this activity again, here are the changes I'd make:

- I'd do it with a slightly older group if possible. I think the older kids in this group were getting it, but the younger ones needed a lot of help and I don't think they really got it even with all the help.

- Maybe I'd open it up to fiction books as well, or give them the option to be a picture book or a DVD or something if they wanted.

- I'd think of some way to bring the activity to a close... Maybe tell them to find one interesting book in their section and bring it to the tables to look at it or something. Although we'd have to re-shelve the books they take, it would get them back together in one spot so we could take questions or say goodbye or something.

So, yes. You live and learn. We had fun with this one and I'm eager to try it again and see if our "tweaking" makes it even better.

Book Review: The Name of This Book is Secret

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. (Grades 4-7)

There's really not much I can tell you about this book. Well, there are things I could tell you, but you would regret it. See, this book is about a secret. A big secret. And if you read this book, you'll have to carry around that secret. And I just can't let you do that. It's way too dangerous.

What? You really want to know?

Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to tell you that this book is about two kids named Cass and Max-Ernest (those aren't their real names, after all). And I guess it's okay to tell you that they find something called the Symphony of Smells. Wait... is that too interesting? Does it make you want to read the book? Darn it. I'm just going to stop there because anything else I tell you about Cass and Max-Ernest's rip-roaring adventure to save a mysterious magician who hears smells and may be trapped in mortal peril, well, it's just going to make you want to read the book. And I can't have that hanging over my head.

So just go navigate your web browser to another blog. Maybe this one or this one. After all, they don't have reviews of The Name of This Book is Secret. So you'll be safe there.

What? You demand to know who else has reviewed this book?


FINE. I'll tell you. But don't blame me if you're tempted by Professor Nana or Paul or Becky. Read at your own risk.

Ahem. I loved this book. I loved the little gimmicky things about keeping the big secret and not revealing the characters' real names or any identifying information. I loved that Chapter 13 was crossed off and replaced with Chapter 14 ("Of course, I don't really believe that the number thirteen is bad luck - but under the circumstances, why not play it safe?"). I loved the footnotes. And I am going to love booktalking this one to a class of 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade gifted readers in a couple of weeks. I can't wait to tell them not to read it. :)

PS: Do yourself a favor and poke around on the book's website: You can find out what your Symphony of Smells code name is (mine is Asparagus Nutmeg), speculate as to the author's true identity, send an e-card, and maybe even stumble onto a link to the true website...

Thursday, December 6, 2007


On Tuesday at our staff meeting, we had a teacher from Quentin Road Dyslexia Solutions come talk to our department about dyslexia. I think dyslexia is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but not everyone has a clear idea of what it actually means. Here's the definition from the literature she gave us:

"Dyslexia is an inherited condition that makes it extremely difficult to read, write, and spell in your native language - despite at least average intelligence. Dyslexia is a language processing disorder that also impacts directionality and the ability to memorize random facts."

Here are some facts from one of her handouts:

  • Dyslexia affects at least 1 out of every five children in the United States.
  • It affects as many boys as girls.
  • A child can be accurately tested for dyslexia as early as age five and a half.
And here is an excerpt from one of the most interesting things she gave us. It's a passage that is written the way a person with dyslexia might see it. I'll give you the first paragraph and then the "translation".

These Studies Wake a Difference

The toaster wanted his fonth-grid studies smuggle with the dread, cast-of Christian threes. They where playing the threes, on by on, in a long row. Passing-by must have mandered my the studies where "playing" bed threes on the toy's bench. If anything asked, the studies mold explore that they wanted the project and redild the sad blues.

And now the way a neurotypical person would read it:

These Students Made a Difference

The teacher watched his fourth-grade students struggle with the dried, cast-off Christmas trees. They were placing the trees, one-by-one, in a long row. Passers-by must have wondered why the students were "planting" dead trees on their town's beach. If anyone asked, the students would explain that they wanted to protect and rebuild the sand dunes.

It was certainly eye-opening for all of us to experience reading the way a person with dyslexia might. I hope it was eye-opening for you, too.

For further reading about dyslexia, the following books were recommended by our speaker:

Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz
Reading David by Lissa Weinstein
Straight Talk About Reading by Susan Hall & Louisa Moats

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Book Review: Hero

Hero by Perry Moore. (Grades 9+)

In a world where superheroes are real, Thom dreams about joining The League, a band of A-list good guys who protect the citizens of their fair city. He also dreams about one of the most famous (and dreamiest) superheroes, Uberman. Thom's keeping a lot of secrets, not the least of which is that he's got superpowers and has been invited to try out for The League. He knows his dad would flip if he found out. His dad used to be a hero, one of the greats, but then he was maimed in a catastrophic accident during a rescue mission that went terribly awry. Now Thom's dad is a pariah and blamed for hundreds of deaths. He's sworn off the hero stuff for good and Thom knows that there's no way he'd let him join The League.

Throw in a zany cast of outcast potential superheroes, a dark stranger following Thom everywhere he goes, and a disappearing mom and you've got Hero. The book has issues to spare... family issues, abandonment, sexuality, and characters facing death every other day (and those are just the ones I can name without spoiling stuff...)... Through it all, Thom is learning to trust who he is, to show who he is, and to see beyond the faces that everyone else shows the world.

I really enjoyed this novel, even more than I thought I would. It had a lot going on and it's a book you can really sink your teeth into. I loved the superhero world that Moore created. I loved that Thom was gay, but the book was about more than that. Really, I just wanted to stay in Thom's world a little longer and I wished the book would go on and on. (What super power would I have, I wonder...)

However. I agree with Christian's review over at Books Are King when he says that the book doesn't really feel YA. Yes, the protagonist is a high school boy discovering himself, but that doesn't necessarily make it YA. I also agree with criticisms that there are several plot elements that aren't tied up... Crime happens, people are murdered for reasons that are never fully explained, characters make decisions that don't always seem to make a lot of sense. However, with the exception of one thing that happens at the end, none of that stuff bothered me while I was reading it because I was so caught up with Thom's journey. (As for what that issue at the end was... well... read it yourself and you tell me.)

Altogether, I loved the book. Follow this one up with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

Hero's also been reviewed by The YA YA YAs, Oops...Wrong Cookie, and Professor Nana. Plus, over at Seven Impossible Things there's an interview with Roger Sutton talking about the book. PLUS, YOWZA. No wonder he's a Hot Man of Children's Literature (#32).

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No School Today

"Officials canceled school in Barrington Area Unit District 220 today after vandals slashed tires on nearly 40 school buses...

Superintendent Tom Leonard said school officials were notified of the issue about 5:45 a.m. this morning.

With fewer buses available, Leonard said if school was in session students would have had a longer wait for the bus.

"We were concerned about the kids waiting outside in the cold, so we decided to close school," Leonard said.

Leonard said about 7,000 of the 9,000 students in the district ride the bus..."

Monday, December 3, 2007

My Literacy Lunch Comes to an End

Today was the last day of my stint doing Literacy Lunches at a local elementary school. I sped read through the last 10 chapters and got it all wrapped up in the time allotted (go me!). Then at the end I had time to do a drawing for couple of free books and I gave out High School Musical 2 bookmarks (quite a hit). The free books came from Scholastic. Apparently we placed such a large order that they let my boss choose a package of free books.

The kids got really excited about the drawing and I only wish we had enough free books that I could have given everyone a prize. Still, I think they were happy with the bookmarks and it was nice to have a little something for everyone. (Although I am firmly in the camp of reading-should-be-its-own-reward...We have a bit of an issue with prizes come Summer Reading time... but that's a post for another day.)

ANYhoo. I asked the kids how they had heard of Whittington because I was a bit surprised that they had picked it and they seemed so very excited about this book that I hadn't even really known about. They said that their school librarian had booktalked several books to them and everyone had liked the sound of Whittington the best. So, take heed, dear booktalkers. The kids ARE listening. (Quite a relief to me, as I'm slated to booktalk to a class in this very school in two weeks...)

Whittington is the story of a cat. It is also the story of the man the cat was named after. Whittington-the-cat shows up at Bernie's barn looking for a home and some friends. A huge duck named The Lady rules over the barn and she allows Whittington to stay in exchange for helping them keep the rats at bay. Whittington tells the story of the man he was named after, Dick Whittington who owed his great fortune to his cat (Whittington-the-cat's ancestor). Bernie's grandkids stop in to listen to the story and all the animals rally to help eight-year-old Ben with his reading so that he won't have to stay back a year.

It got a starred review from SLJ, won a Newbery Honor, and yet somehow it slipped under my radar. I have to admit that it's not my favorite book, but the kids were quite excited about it and they followed along and clapped at the end.

Incidentally, I discovered that Alan Armstrong has written another book, Raleigh's Page. It's on the Anderson's Mock Newbery list.

Looking for readalikes for Whittington? I would suggest Charlotte's Web for the dynamic of the barnyard animals, and Ben and Me for another story about animals helping people to prosper. The novel is based on the English folktale Dick Whittington and his Cat, of which Marcia Brown has a version. It might be worth tracking down for kids who want to know more about the original story.

PS: This has absolutely nothing to do with Whittington or library programs, but I like the results, so I'll post my Harry Potter Personality Test:

Pirate Monkey's Harry Potter Personality Quiz
Harry Potter Personality Quiz
by Pirate Monkeys Inc.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Seven things about me

I was tagged for this blog's first meme by the wonderful and fabulous Wizards Wireless (she's got an awesome compilation of Best of 2007 Lists over there, by the way... go check it out).

Here are the rules:
1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I went to library school on a whim. Long story short, I had finished undergrad and moved back home and I desperately wanted to move back to my college town where my friends and boyfriend were. My undergrad university offered an LIS program, so I took the GRE's, applied, and the rest was history. I had never worked in a library before. I am seriously so lucky that it turned out to be the right choice.

2. Before entering the world of library jobs, I worked at Barnes & Noble for 6 years. I still kinda miss it sometimes. But I'm way too soft now... no way would I survive those 8 hour shifts on your feet...

3. I have two cats. Howie and Ava. I guess maybe that qualifies me as a Cat Lady. But I don't mind because I like them and they like me (most of the time).

4. I won first place in my school's Young Author's contest when I was in the first grade. I wrote my first book when I was in kindergarten (with the help of my teacher). It was about an owl. The book I wrote in first grade was about my cats. They went on adventures and solved a mystery. There was also a whale named Big Body Whale. Heheheh.

5. I won NaNoWriMo for the fourth year in a row this year. My story was about a girl who sees faeries and then is transported to the faerie world to fulfill a lost prophecy and defeat an ancient evil that's slowly taking over the faerie kingdom.

6. I love doing laundry. This stems from finally having a washer and dryer in my apartment after several years of having to trek laundry across a parking lot and use all my quarters to get it done. In fact, the washer is going right now. :)

7. One of the first books I remember loving as a child is Chris Van Allsburg's Two Bad Ants. I think it's so awesome that now I can share this book with kids at my library.

Now, here's the thing about tagging... I'm just not sure that seven people really look at this thing regularly, SO if you're reading this and want to do the meme, drop me a line and I will link to you. I know, I know, it's kind of a cop-out.

Eat Me

Struck by inspiration while looking at the books on our "New Books" shelf, I had the idea to do a storytime about eating things. There are so many great books that could fit under this topic. The book that inspired the idea was:

Penguin by Polly Dunbar. Read it and you'll see how it fits into the theme. It's super cute and surprising. Plus, penguins pretty much rock. I'm not sure preschoolers would really get it, but I think it would be great for kindergarteners and lower elementary school kids. It's a very simple story with cute, simple illustrations.

I'd pair it with a couple of my new favorites: I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry and Class Two at the Zoo by Julia Jarman. Throw in a little Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau and maybe the song "I'm Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor" and you've got yourself a storytime.

These are all stories about animals eating other animals or people, but if you wanted to broaden it or turn it around, you could add the stories The Little Old Lady who Swallowed a Trout by Teri Sloat, My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman (a favorite of our 4- and 5-year-olds), or Too Many Pears by Jackie French. For younger kids, add The Very Hungry Caterpillar with puppets or felt pieces (there is a cute velcro set and a puppet available from Lakeshore Learning Store).