Thursday, January 31, 2008

Early Literacy for Preschool Educators

The meeting room was booked. The invitations were sent. The Power Point slide was made. The notes were prepared.

And Tuesday night I gave my first presentation to a group of local preschool teachers. The presentation was about Every Child Ready to Read and it was geared as a refresher course about early literacy with examples of activities that teachers could (hopefully) use in their classrooms. Our library registered to be an official provider of Continuing Professional Development Units so that the teachers could earn credit for attending. The process of registering is different for each state, but ours was through the Illinois State Board of Education.

I culled my material from the awesome workshop resources on the ECRR website. Because this presentation was for preschool educators (and not limited to those working with a certain age), I pieced together slides and information from each of the age groups. As I went through each of the skills, I tried to give ideas about how to develop those skills with every child from birth to age 5. I also tried to give tons of examples of great books and activities that teachers could use in their classrooms. All of the activities I got from the ECRR materials and I put in my own favorite books wherever I could.

As part of the CPDU provider criteria, each participant had to fill out an evaluation form (which is totally awesome, by the way... I got some great feedback). So I know that at least one teacher felt she already knew all the information provided. But I still got many comments saying that teachers had learned something new or appreciated the scientific information or had learned about some new books or games. (My greatest fear was that I would finish the presentation and everyone would be totally bored because, well, they probably have degrees in early childhood education so they already know all this stuff.)

As librarians, it's part of our job to disseminate information about early literacy to the public. Even if preschool teachers have been taught how to develop early literacy, everyone can use a refresher now and then. Everyone can use a few new ideas about how to approach activities or sharing books with children. We got a great response and a great turnout (despite the Blizzard of DOOM that we was supposed to hit at precisely the time of the program). And I'm looking forward to doing more Preschool Educator Workshops in the future (which we will now be able to do since this one was successful).

Though it did go very well, there are some things I would change. I would ask the teachers to introduce themselves at the beginning. I definitely recognized some familiar faces, but I really can't put anyone's faces with their names. It would have been useful for me to get to know them a little better (and as an added bonus it would have given me a minute or two to get comfortable and calm being up in front of them). Also, I think that my presentation ended up being not very interactive. When I do this again (and I will do it again, for parents if not more preschool teachers), I will definitely make a conscious effort to get them involved.

(It was so intimidating to me to be standing in front of this group, most of which have many, MANY more years of experience at their jobs than I have at mine... That's my excuse, though I shouldn't make excuses...)

So. Yes. Our Early Literacy for Preschool Educators went well. My first presentation as a professional went well (and brought me RIGHT back to grad school). And I'm looking forward to doing more in the future.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reviewing the Caudills and other assorted things

One of my reading resolutions for 2008 was to read and review all 20 of the 2009 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award nominees. As I do not intend to re-read all the ones I have previously read (although I might re-read some of them), my plan is to post "mini" reviews of these books. For several years now I've written short summaries or reviews of the books I've read and my plan is to share these blurbs along with any other thoughts I now have about these books. I'll also try to include links to other, more comprehensive reviews.

And, of course, as I start reading the rest of the Caudill nominees, I'll be reviewing those. So, keep a lookout for upcoming "mini" reviews.

And since I've got you here, I'll throw in some random stuff...

I want to draw your attention to the ALSC blog, which is a blog I've only recently started following. If you're a children's librarian, I think this blog can be fantastically useful. My favorite feature is that they often post storytime books along with fingerplays, songs, and activities... a whole storytime already planned for your use! How extraordinary!

Speaking of storytime, I did drop-in storytime this morning and we threw in an impromptu activity with the alphabet song. My coworker B read A is for Salad by Mike Lester, a very cute and funny alphabet book which the older kids ate up and the younger kids ignored while they ran in circles around the story room. After the book, we sang the alphabet song (accompanied by B on the ukulele). Once we sang it through once, we sang it again slowly and told the kids to raise their hands when we got to the letter of their first name. It went pretty well and the parents really liked it. It would have been better if we could have had cut outs of the letters to hand to them as we got to their letter or signs to hold up with the letters printed on them. Maybe next time it won't be so impromptu.

This news is already all around the Kidlitosphere, but in case you haven't heard, the Class of 2k8 is having their first quarterly contest. Do be sure to check it out. I was skeptical, but then I had such a blast poking around all the authors' pages and websites that it was well worth it even if I don't win! (But I would love to win some of their awesome-sounding books, I won't lie.)

And that's all I've got for you at the moment, so you may return to your regularly scheduled programming. :)

Book Review: Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman. (Grades 7 and up.)

After the terrible war between the Life Army and the Choice Brigade, the Bill of Life was passed. According to the Bill of Life, abortion was abolished, but if a child was still unwanted by the time they reached their teens, they could be retroactively aborted... unwound. Their parents would sign the order and the Unwind would be harvested, every part of its body transplanted into someone else who needed it. Arms, feet, eyes, hair, blood, brains... The idea is that the kid will go on living, every part of him or her will still live... just in different bodies.

Connor is about to be unwound.

He found out by accident, but he's not standing for it. Connor's running away. And two other Unwinds are coming with him (Risa by choice, Lev not so much). Can they survive outside the law until they turn 18 and their lives are their own?

Unwind is an action-packed sci-fi thriller with well-developed characters that you get to know as the story unfolds through alternating perspectives. Throughout the book, the kids are not only trying to survive, they're trying to figure out this crazy world and determine the meaning of life. Connor, Risa, and Lev are each coming from a very different place, but their destination is the same... at least according to the law. As they keep running and discover more and more information about their world and the unwinding system, right and wrong may not always be so clear.

I couldn't put this book down and the alternating points of view really kept the pace up. Twists and turns are everywhere and you never know exactly who you can trust. I found the future world Shusterman has built to be really super intriguing (even now, I want to know more and more about it) and seeing the characters grow and change really made me feel like I got to know them.

It's dark, yes, and even rather gruesome in parts. And there is a lot to think about. Do we have souls? Are souls divisible? Where does life begin? Where does it end?

Hand this one to fans of The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer or Lois Lowry's The Giver. This would be a great book for a YA book club because it's certain to spark some interesting discussion.

Looking for your next gripping, can't-put-it-down read? Pick up Unwind. But (as LeVar Burton would say) don't take my word for it...

Check out reviews at Ms. Yingling Reads, Becky's Book Reviews, Oops...Wrong Cookie, and Buried in the Slush Pile.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rebecca Caudill 2009 Nominees

It's here, it's here!! YAAAY! The 2009 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award Nominees have been announced! I found the list here on the website in pdf format (kind of by a fluke... if you go to the website and then click on the "Home" link, you'll see the link to the master list).

ETA (March 7, 2008): One of my goals for 2008 was to read and review all the Caudill nominees... I'm linking to my reviews as I finish them (books I haven't reviewed yet will link to Amazon). Most of the books I'd read before the list was announced have "mini-reviews" based on what I wrote down at the time I finished the books. Please check them out and be sure to let me know what you think of the books as well!

Blume, Lesley M.M. Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters.
Carbone, Elisa. Blood on the River: James Town 1607.
Han, Jenny. Shug.
Holm, Jennifer L. Penny from Heaven.
Key, Watt. Alabama Moon.
Klages, Ellen. The Green Glass Sea.
Lawson, Kirby. Hattie Big Sky.
Lisle, Janet Taylor. Black Duck.
Lord, Cynthia. Rules.
Lowry, Lois. Gossamer.
Lupica, Mike. Heat.
Marrin, Albert. Oh Rats!: The Story of Rats and People.
Park, Linda Sue. Project Mulberry.
Paver, Michelle. Wolf Brother.
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. Life as We Knew It.
Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief.
Schlitz, Laura Amy. A Drowned Maiden's Hair.
Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Sherlock, Patti. Letters from Wolfie.
Wilson, Diane Lee. Black Storm Comin'.

[Before the list was announced, I had read] 11 out of the 20... not bad.

Now, taking a look at my previous post about this award, we can see that I totally called Life as We Knew It and Hattie Big Sky. I'm also deliriously happy about Wolf Brother being on the list because I LOVE the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series (and I am not a big series person). I'm also delighted that thousands of kids will be reading The Green Glass Sea, Project Mulberry, and A Drowned Maiden's Hair. I'm glad to see a nonfiction title on the list and it looks like I've got 9 more interesting books to add to my to-read list.

I'll post reviews of the ones I've read, though they may be short if I read them awhile ago. And one of my reading resolutions this year was to read and review all 20 Caudill books, so you can expect to see that in the coming months.

Let the reading of Caudills begin!!

Book Review: Secrets of a Civil War Submarine

Well, it is Non-Fiction Monday and I wanted to share with you the really intriguing and awesome book that I read over the weekend (and am planning on booktalking to 4th graders today... will report back on that front).

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley by Sally M. Walker. (Grades 4 and up.)

By 1863, the Union army had established blockades around the southern ports that supplied the Confederate forces. The Confederates desperately needed supplies, but how could they destroy the ships guarding the ports? James McClintock and Horace Huntley had an answer. They developed a submarine designed to sink Union ships, the H.L. Huntley. At first her track record wasn't so great. She sank twice before accomplishing her goal of attacking a Union ship. Her third try was the charm. She approached and successfully torpedoed the USS Housatonic. But then disaster struck again. For reasons still not known, she sank, trapping and killing eight crewmen. The Hunley waited at the bottom of the ocean for over 130 years... because, although both Confederate and Union forces searched for her, no one could find her.

In 1995, a team of searchers finally found the remains of the historic submarine that paved the way for submarine warfare and on August 8, 2000, the Hunley saw daylight for the first time since she sank in 1864.

I had never heard the story of the H.L. Hunley before I read this book and I found it to be totally fascinating. Ms. Walker begins with a history of submarine development and the Hunley's early test runs and failed missions. Unlike subs of today, she was powered by the crew, which turned cranks to power the propeller. They piped in air from the surface to breathe.

In the last two-thirds of the book, Walker talks about the excavation of the remains. Archaeologists had to be extremely careful with the artifacts, lest they destroy something important. As they found items, the original position of each item was recorded so that archaeologists could piece together theories about what happened to the sub and why she sunk. Even more importantly, the remains of eight crew members were still within the ship and scientists wanted to study the remains and then give them a proper burial.

Photos are included of the excavation process and they enhance information provided about the delicate excavation process. Also included is an author's note, source notes, a glossary, and an index. I think this is a terrifically interesting story that will hook kids in late elementary school on up. You've got warfare, shipwrecks, and buried "treasure"... what more could you want?

Also, it looks like Ms. Walker's adapted the information in this book for a younger audience in Shipwreck Search: Discovery of the H.L. Hunley. The Booklist review says it's for grades 2-4. I haven't yet read this one, but it sounds like it would certainly be worth checking out!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book Review: Wicked History Series

So, the kids are coming in and asking for biographies, eh? And some of them Do Not want to read a biography. What do you give them?

How about one of the books in Scholastic's new Wicked History series?

Grigory Rasputin: Holy Man or Mad Monk? by Enid A. Goldberg and Norman Itzkowitz is an engaging biography about an intriguing historical figure. The action gets going from the first page as the book starts with Rasputin's death (by murder!) and then backtracks to his childhood and the rest of his life. Photos of Rasputin, different places in Russia, and people important to Rasputin's life are scattered throughout the book (with photo credits on the verso). There are also several text boxes at the ends of chapters that examine certain aspects of the story in more detail (for example, there's one about hemophilia, one about World War I, etc.). A map of Russia/Siberia is included at the beginning (I love maps) and all the important stuff (index, glossary, source notes, timeline, etc.) is included at the end, making this a good research book as well as an entertaining read.

Tomas de Torquemada: Architect of Torture During the Spanish Inquisition by Enid A. Goldberg and Norman Itzkowitz is less of a biography and more of a history of the Spanish Inquisition. (The author's note explains that there is not a lot of information available about Torquemada before he became involved with the Inquisition.) Again, an interesting read and very useful for kids doing history reports. Paintings are scattered throughout the book that highlight the information included. This book presents an accessible account of the persecution of the Jews in the 15th century. It also starts with a map of the Iberian peninsula and ends with an index, glossary, source notes, and timeline.

There are two more in this series: Vlad the Impaler: The Real Count Dracula and Genghis Khan: 13th Century Mongolian Tyrant. More are coming this spring (I hope they include a woman!).

I'd recommend these books for middle schoolers and maybe upper elementary school kids. Although I think both of the ones I read give an overview of the historical events happening at the time, kids might get more out of them if they've already studied a little of the history. Both books are fairly short and I think they could appeal YAs, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Celebrating Poland

At my library, we celebrate a different country every January. For the whole month, our displays and programs center around that country. Last year we did Brazil. This year we did Poland. You may not know that Chicago is the city with the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. These programs were a bit hit.

In the Adult Services department, they had a Polish cooking demonstration, the Lira Singers (a Polish music group), Polish dancers, and a program about Polish genealogy (among other things). I don't know a whole lot about those programs, but what I can tell you about are our programs in Young People's Services.

First of all, we put up a big map of Poland on the wall outside our story room. We got a nice, clear map for not too much money from We put out little silver stars and encouraged anyone with Polish ancestry to place a star on the place in Poland where their ancestor is from. As an added bonus, I was working one night when a small child (looked no older than three) was standing in front of the map and loudly spelling out everything on it. "P-O-L-A-N-D!" And then his dad would name the word for him. We were developing letter knowledge and we didn't even mean to...

Because none of us in YPS has any Polish background, we hired performers to present most of our programs. This way we can provide a more authentic experience for our patrons. Every month with our programming, we try to hit all our age groups (preschool, school age, middle school). For the Poland programs, we had a couple that were all-ages, one geared towards preschoolers and one specifically for school age kids.

We hired a Polish storyteller, Barbara Kozuchowska, who came earlier in the month. She was wonderful and we had a pretty big turnout, children and adults. She dressed in traditional Polish garb and told legends that developed in Krakow. At the end, she stayed to chat with people and she handed out coloring sheets that tied in with the stories. (Anyone in Chicagoland want a recommendation for a storyteller, drop me a line! I've seen her twice and she's great.)

We also contacted another local Chicagolander from Poland who had done programs for the Chicago Public Library. She brought many items from Poland including books, a beautifully embroidered shawl, and dolls. She told a couple of stories and then led participants in a craft making some of the story characters out of Crayola Model Magic. Everyone had a great time and stayed around to chat and show off their creations.

Today we had our third Poland program. It was our Poland Adventure Trip and it was for kids in grades K-4. Every fall and spring, we do a six-week session of registered storytimes and After School Adventures is the one that we do for school age kids. This was very similar to those programs and, like those programs have been, this one was super fun (for us and (I hope) for the kids).

My coworker B, who is my partner in crime with After School Adventures, co-ran the program with me. We decorated the room before the program with snowflakes we had cut out and a red ribbon signifying the colors of Poland's flag. We started out by testing their knowledge of Poland with some fun facts gleaned from Culture Grams (a database to which my library subscribes). Did you know that Poland has many large flocks of storks and that some villages actually have more storks than people? Did you know that Poland is about the same size as New Mexico? Did you know that the most popular sport in Poland is soccer? I also brought some Polish books for the kids to look at.

Then B and I each told a Polish story from Favorite Fairy Tales Told Around the World. After the storytelling, we set up chairs and played musical chairs with traditional Polish music. As each child was "out" from the game, they could come over to the craft room and I got them started with our craft. We made a paper craft called a riband, which looks like a state fair ribbon, only made with colorful cut paper and used to decorate the house or even in lieu of ribbons in a bridal bouquet. We got the craft from the book Papercrafts Around the World by Phyllis Fioratta. We had some of the pieces pre-cut, so the kindergarteners could just cut and glue, but the older kids could add as much decoration as they wanted.

By the time they were done with the craft, it was past time to go! So we sent them out the door with their crafts and some coloring sheets. Fun was had by all. The more I work with this age group, the more I realize that I really, really like it!

Tomorrow is our last Poland program... a local Montessori teacher is coming to give a bi-lingual storytime for preschoolers and I'm sure it'll be a big hit if the weather cooperates... (it snowed today, so our attendance at the Poland Adventure was not quite as robust as we'd hoped...)

And that's how we're celebrating Poland at my library!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Carnival! Carnival!

Susan over at Wizards Wireless is hosting the January Carnival of Children's Literature. It's all about awards and quite fun. Go check it out.

I had a really awesome (though cold... it was below zero for most of the weekend with wind chills as low as 20 below...) weekend. A weekend that did not leave much time for reading or blogging. In fact, my guest for the weekend read more than I did... She was intrigued by The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which she heard about on the Today Show...). So I checked it out for her and she read the whole thing. She loved it. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My Mission Statement and Review Policy

Review Policy

As a librarian, I love to read and review books of all types.
I will make a sincere effort to read and review all books sent to me, but, due to time constraints, this is not always possible. I also can't guarantee how quickly I'll be able to get to your book, though I will try to get to it in a timely manner. (This excludes books read for blog tours and/or other publicity events - if I make a commitment I will keep it!) Every book I finish will get at least a small review on my LibraryThing and Good Reads.

I will accept:

- Middle grade and YA fiction and nonfiction
- Nonfiction picture books
- Select graphic novels (I do enjoy some graphic novels, but I am pretty picky)

I am partial to:
- Realistic or historical YA and middle grade novels [recent favorites include Marcelo in the Real World, After Ever After
, Along for the Ride, Ten Cents a Dance, After, The Squad: Perfect Cover and Love You, Hate You, Miss You]

- YA science fiction & fantasy (particularly dystopian lit, paranormal romance, and steam punk) [recent favorites include As You Wish, Leviathan, Wake, and The Hunger Games]

- Nonfiction about science [recent favorites include Just the Right Size, Lucy Long Ago, and Mission Control, This is Apollo]

- Biographies (picture book and chapter book) [recent favorites include The Day-Glo Brothers, I, Matthew Henson, and Charles and Emma]

I do not review and therefore will not accept:

- Fiction picture books or easy readers
- Adult books
- Self-published or vanity press books

See my site stats here

Of course, I can't guarantee a positive review. I am more interested in posting about great books that I can recommend to others, so I may be more likely to post a review of a book that I like or that I think kids will like.

Sometimes I will decline offers of review copies if I have too much on my plate or if it doesn't sound like a book that fits my tastes. I'm not paid for this blog; it is a labor of love. No one wants to spend time reading books they don't like, and I reserve the right to put down a book I'm not connecting with.

I'm happy to accept review copies and galleys. I will definitely consider author interviews, participating in blog tours, and holding giveaways. If you are interested in sending me a book, please email me! In the case of ARCs, I know some publishers prefer that reviews be posted close to the pub date, while some like to create early buzz. If you have a preference, please let me know and I'll be happy to honor that as best I can.

Mission Statement

To be honest, I started this blog because of so many other Kidlit blogs I admired. I tried to recall exactly how I found out about the Kidlitosphere and as far as I can figure, it must have been something on PUBYAC (which I only knew about because of a grad school class on children's programming). You know how it goes. You find one awesome blog about children's books and then you start checking out their blogroll and pretty soon you have a plethora of sites to check out every day.

I kept meaning to start a librarian blog... and then one day... I did. I started it as a way to join this great community of kid-lit loving librarians, teachers, authors, students, parents, etc. But now that I've been blogging for a couple of months, I really wanted to sit down and think about what this blog means to me and what I want to do with it.

First and foremost, I started this blog for me. I want it to be:

- a record of excellent books I've read. I want to get better at writing about books and reviewing them.

- a record of great storytime books so that the next time a preschool teacher asks me to do a storytime about giant squids, I can look back to see what books have been good readalouds.

- a record of successful programs I've done or programs that somehow went wrong or weren't well attended. I want to keep track of the things that go well and the things that don't so I can figure out how to make them better.

So, yes. First and foremost, this blog is a record and a professional development tool for me.

But once I started to put these thoughts out there, I began to realize that this blog could also be utilized by other new librarians, by library students, maybe even by some veteran librarians. I like to think that maybe librarians looking for storytime books about winter might be helped by one of my posts. Librarians putting in a book order or parents looking for books for their kids might be helped by reading a review of a book I read. I think all librarians can benefit by sharing programming ideas, so I'm trying to put successful ideas out there for the world to see. I'd also like to encourage other librarians, teachers, parents, and kids to share their ideas in the comments. Just as you might learn from my blog posts, I learn from reading your comments and your blog posts!

I like to think that maybe some people are finding or will find this blog useful... but I
know that it's useful to me. Plus, it's just really fun to be part of such a vibrant community of book lovers.

And that, ladies and gents, is my mission statement. My blog's raison d'etre.

Updated: December 30, 2009

Friday, January 18, 2008

Book Review: Encyclopedia Horrifica

Encyclopedia Horrifica: The Terrifying TRUTH! About Vampires, Ghosts, Monsters, and More by Joshua Gee. Grades 6-8.

I don't know about your library, but at my library there always seems to be a great interest in the supernatural, the horrifying, and the gross. You only need to look at the cover to know that our middle schoolers are going to love this book.

Did you know that (on average, worldwide) 106 people die every minute? Did you know that the CIA once ran a program called Star Gate that recruited and experimented with psychic spies?

Learn all this stuff and way more when you peruse the glossy pages of Encyclopedia Horrifica. You'll accompany the author as he attends a ghost hunting session with two expert ghost busters at a 206-year-old house. See if you can tell the difference between "real" photos of ghosts and hoaxes. Test yourself for ESP. Learn 8 things you need to know about zombies.

In picture-filled pages, this book examines the truth (and legends) behind many kinds of supernatural beings and events. Vampires, werewolves, sea monsters, haunted houses, and many, many more. Each article reads like a magazine and the text is mostly in small chunks and accompanied by photos and illustrations. It's obviously been well-researched and finding out the facts behind the legends and the legends behind the monsters will fascinate young readers.

This is a surefire hit with horror fans and will appeal to reluctant readers. A selected bibliography is included at the end (with the full bibliography available on the author's website) along with an index and picture credits.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

Ever wondered what, exactly, children's librarians do all day? I'm here to answer that question.

8:23am - Arrive at work, return library books, grab our book cart, check the mailbox, head upstairs

8:33am - Snag a copy of The White Darkness (which just won a Printz) on my way to my desk. Deal with all the stuff newly piled on my desk (damaged audiobooks, preschool loan requests, etc.) (and by "deal with", I generally mean "sort into semi-organized piles to take care of later")

8:47am - Head into the story room to prep for Nursery Rhyme Time (twice monthly program for babies-23 months), set up felt board, practice felts and rhymes, read through books, grab some browsing books, make sure toys are clean

9:30am - First session of NRT (13 people), we do 10-15 minutes of stories, songs, and nursery rhyme felts and then we have 15 minutes of free play time so the kids (and caregivers) can interact

10:15 - Second session of NRT (13 people again)

10:45am - NRT cleanup

10:55am - Back at desk, check email, enter new preschool loan card in the binder, work on the audiobook order

11:58am - On the reference desk. We're generally slow at lunchtime. I refill our folk/fairy tale display, read picture books in preparation for next week's storytime planning meeting, and help one patron find videos about making a newspaper

1:00pm - Lunchtime! A couple of us walk down to the Italian deli down the street. Mmm.

1:50pm - Arrive back at the library, put stuff away

2:00pm - Attend a programming meeting. Librarians from YPS, Adult Services, and Circ meet with our graphic artist, the director, and the assistant director to discuss upcoming programs and the publicity for said programs

4:00pm - On the reference desk again. Here's a sampling of the questions I was asked:

- Can I check out a laptop?
- Do you have "Baby Gingerbread Boy"? (Title was, as I suspected, Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett)
- I need help with the computer.
- Where are craft books?
- Where are books on insects?
- I need information about the dumbo octopus for a school report.

5:00pm - Clean off my desk (as best I can...) and it's time to go! A quick stop at the circulation desk to check out my (multitudes of) books and I'm headed home.

And that was one day in the life of a children's librarian. Every day is different, so look for more "Days in the Life" to come.

Book Review: Airborn

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Grades 6 and up.

If you're looking for an engrossing fantasy-adventure with believable characters and a well-detailed world, look no further. I'd been meaning to pick this one up for a long time and I'm so glad I finally did.

Young Matt Cruse, cabin boy on the Aurora, has always dreamed of flying an airship. He was born on one and he feels more at home in the sky than anywhere else. When he helps rescue a dying man from a balloon over the ocean, Matt sets into motion a series of events that will change his life forever.

There are a few things about this book that really stuck out in my mind as I read it. The first is imagery. I noticed it from the very beginning. Oppel's detailed writing really made me feel like I was there watching all of this happen. Take this bit about stars (on the very first page):

The sky pulsed with stars... So when I look up I see a galaxy of adventures and heroes and villains, all jostling together and trying to outdo one another, and I sometimes want to tell them to hush up and not distract me with their chatter. I've glimpsed all the stars ever discovered by astronomers and plenty that haven't been. (pp 1-2)

Right from the start, I was with Matt Cruse as he stood on the crow's nest and looked out over the ocean, seeing billions of stars as far as he could see. I was in his world. I was hooked.

Another thing I loved about this book are the characters. My problem with some kids' books, especially mysteries and adventure, is that I don't always believe that these kids can really do the things they're doing. I want to shake them and tell them to go get a grown-up to help them. But with Matt Cruse, 15-year-old cabin boy, I honestly believed that he could do all the adventuring and taking charge that he does in this book. Oppel gives him a history with the ship, a history of being in the air. You know that Matt has a passion for this airship and that he will quite literally do anything he can to save her.

Another of the main characters is a spunky girl named Kate de Vries. She's a passenger on the airship who also has passion for the things she loves. She also happens to get Matt into trouble a lot. I love that Matt has a love-hate relationship with her. She's high class and pampered, while he's poor and has had to work hard for everything he's ever gotten. Although he's immediately attracted to her, there are also times when he sees how different they are and he doesn't always like her.

...I understood then that hers was a world where she got her own way and nothing was impossible. For a moment I almost disliked her. Could she even imagine how other people lived? (pg 100)

Although Matt may have mixed feelings for Kate, I never did. Kate is an energetic, intelligent, stubborn young lady. She doesn't need rescuing and she's intent on meeting her goals, no matter who she might inconvenience. As the book is set in an alternate history (a date is never mentioned, though the author mentions that he imagined it in the time of the real airships, so somewhere between 1900 and 1930), Kate's gumption is not much appreciated by her chaperon. Matt, however, likes her just the way she is. When he's not almost disliking her, that is.

Class is also a strong element in the book (or maybe I'm just noticing it more because of the recent discussion about class in YA lit). Matt is quite definitely from a lower-class family. He's also very low-ranking on the ship, though he believes that with hard work and perseverance, he can rise in the ranks. It's been slow going for him, though, and it's not easy when a young man with connections swoops in and takes the job that had been all but promised to Matt. Although Matt and Kate are together quite a bit, Matt always feels that wrong-ness of it, the impropriety of him being there with this high-class girl. Kate, however, never seems to think of it.

Altogether, I thought it was a fabulous book. I couldn't put it down and I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel. I'd recommend this one to fans of fantasy-adventure like Peter and the Starcatchers or Gregor the Overlander or even The Golden Compass.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

THE Book I'm Looking Forward To

Bouncing around in the Kidlitosphere today have been many lists of books that bloggers are looking forward to reading. I've found it really fun to read about what others are looking forward to. When I started making my list, it was really similar to many of the other lists out there. Susan Beth Pfeffer, Jeff Kinney, Sarah Dessen, Rachel Cohn, etc. etc. So instead of posting my list, I figured this would be a good chance to showcase the book I am most looking forward to and hopefully we can get a bit of buzz started about it.

The number one, top choice book that I am looking forward to is one that I haven't heard a lot of buzz on. Albeit, it's an adult memoir, not kidlit, but it's going to be awesome. This I know. I've been waiting years (literally years) for blogger Rob Rummel-Hudson's book Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey with his Wordless Daughter. I've followed Rob's blog for a long time. What drew me to the blog was the story of his gorgeous, spunky daughter Schuyler (pronouced SKY-ler). She was born with a condition called Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome, which is a neurological disorder that affects her speech. His book is about fathering a child with a disability, about constantly fighting for her, and about how she is constantly fighting to best her monster.

I've always found Rob's writing to be eloquent and moving. I expect nothing less of his book. On Rob's blog you can find videos he and his wife have made to promote the book, posts about Schuyler's life, reviews of the book, and lots more. Check it out and maybe you'll fall in love with Schuyler the way I have, the way a whole community of internet friends has.

February 19. The wait will be over.

Monday, January 14, 2008

2008 ALA Literary Awards Announced

Without further ago, I give you THE LIST!

There are some surprises in there, both good and... surprising. I'm dashing off to a meeting, but I'll be back to discuss the results later.

ETA (11:53AM) -

Okay. I'm back. And, like many in the Kidlitosphere, I have reactions.

First, the Newbery...

Winner: Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz
Honors: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, and Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Nothing surprising here (to me, at least). I have yet to read the Newbery before it was announced, but I am happy to say that I have read all the honor books. Although I haven't read GMSL, I'm glad to see the award go to a non-fiction book. At least, I think it's non-fiction... we have it in the 812s... (where do you have it?)

Now, the Caldecott...

Can I just say that I am shocked and delighted that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won?! I think it totally deserved it (although I have already heard some grumblings of "That's not a picture book!"). Yay!

And the Printz...

I am shocked and dismayed that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian didn't win anything. I mean, well, yeah, it won the National Book Award. And that's awesome. But I really, really thought it would get some Printz recognition... I'm disappointed about that, but I am raring to read The White Darkness, which won.

Here is one interesting thing that I noticed... my department serves kids from birth to 8th grade. We have a J Fiction section that encompasses roughly grades 3-6 and we have a Teen Fiction section that encompasses roughly grades 6-8. Then we have a YA section in the adult services department.

We have ALL of the Newbery books in the Teen section (with the exception of GMSL, which we have in non-fiction). The White Darkness is also in our Teen section, as are two of the Printz honor books (One Whole and Perfect Day and Repossessed). This was (apparently) a big award season for middle-schoolers. I'm not saying that's good or bad... just interesting. And I wonder if this is the trend, how will we recognize those excellent books for younger chapter-book readers?

(One way might be with state book awards... our 2008 Caudill list seemed to be split pretty evenly between J and Teen books... for more on that, check out my post about the Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Awards...)

ANYhoo. Those are my thoughts about some of the award winners... what are your thoughts??

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Early Literacy @ Your Library

Okay, who here has looked at ELSIE? If you're at all concerned with early literacy, you should check it out. ELSIE is the Early Literacy Storytime Ideas Exchange, created and maintained by the wonderful people at the Minneapolis Public Library. I love ELSIE and I use it all the time, especially now that I'm designing the first of several early literacy workshops that my department is presenting over the next couple of months. ELSIE is a database of picture books that promote one or more of the six early literacy skills denoted by the Every Child Ready to Read initiative. More about ECRR in a minute.

Not only is ELSIE a great resource for planning early literacy storytimes, displays, and booklists, but it's a great resource for storytime in general. Each title is given a short review and ideas about how to present it and how you can use the book to develop early literacy skills. Do you have a book and you're wondering how to use it to promote early literacy? Look it up. Are you looking for books with some great vocabulary or rhymes? You can search by the early literacy skill you want to promote. Are you bored with all your normal storytime choices? Browse the list and you're sure to find some fun, new reads that will be perfect for your storytime. And ELSIE includes more than books. You can find songs, rhymes, and fingerplays on there, too. AND it includes materials in Spanish as well as English.

So, yes. Go check out ELSIE. If you provide storytimes for preschoolers, it's guaranteed to be a great resource.

Want to know more about early literacy and Every Child Ready to Read? Read on.

In September, my department was lucky enough to have a trainer come for a whole day and give us training on Every Child Ready to Read, the ALSC and PLA initiative for promoting early literacy. What is early literacy, you ask? Early literacy is what kids know about reading and writing before they start learning how to read and write. What is Every Child Ready to Read? Well, that link to the homepage will give you more info than I can give you here, but basically it's an initiative to include information about early literacy in library programs and workshops for parents and caregivers of young children. It's a way of incorporating brain and child development research into programs and workshops. It's a way of providing proof that what we librarians do for young kids is so, so important. I know that. You know that. Every Child Ready to Read gives us the tools to let that research support what we do every day... in storytime, in talking to parents about reading to their kids, in selecting books for toddlers, and so many other things.

In late January, I'm presenting our library's first (hopefully of many) preschool educator workshop. Our topic is early literacy, especially how preschool teachers can promote and develop it in their classrooms. My library has registered to be a provider of Continuing Professional Development Units (registration was much easier than I thought it would be, actually!), so any teacher that comes will earn one CPDU. We'll provide them with information and activities they can use in their classrooms. We'll have tons of book suggestions. Hopefully it will go off without a hitch and the teachers will feel like they got something out of it. In the coming months, we're also offering parent workshops and going out to a local hospital to offer a workshop for new parents.

Want to know more? One of my favorite resources for early literacy storytimes is Early Literacy Storytimes @ Your Library by Saroj Nadkarni Ghoting and Pamela Martin-Diaz. The ECRR website has lots of resources for parent/caregiver workshops. And, of course, you should check out ELSIE. Anyone else have some early literacy tips or resources??

Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review: Elijah of Buxton

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. Grades 5 and up.

Elijah of Buxton is one of the books that has gotten heavy, heavy Newbery buzz this year. It's already won the 2008 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Mr. Curtis has won a Newbery and a Coretta Scott King Award for Bud, Not Buddy and a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor for The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963. Elijah's been on many a Mock Newbery list and gotten tons of good reviews. To be honest, when a book or a movie has gotten that much buzz, I ready myself for disappointment. Everyone's raving about it and I can just tell that I'm going to be the one person in all of creation who didn't like it.

Not so with Elijah of Buxton. I loved it. Loved it.

From the first chapter, this book had me laughing out loud. Elijah's voice is real and instantly likeable. Told in the first person by Elijah Freeman, the first freeborn person in the settlement of Buxton in Canada West, this story begins with stories about everyday life in Buxton. Elijah is 11 years old and what his mama calls "fra-gile". He's skittish and sensitive and likely to run off if something scares him or cry if something sad or emotional is happening. The story is set in 1859, so slavery is still going on down in America. The people of Buxton are freed or escaped slaves and kids like Elijah who were born into freedom in Canada.

The first half of the book is mostly light-hearted - tales of Elijah fishing, going to school, getting duped by a dubious characters he calls "the Preacher". I found it laugh-out-loud funny. The second half of the book takes a darker turn. Elijah (and the audience) must confront some realities about slavery. Realities that were easy to deny when he was a freeborn boy safe in Canada. And Elijah must face his fears - his "fra-gility"- when he's called on to help some people who really need it. It's a powerful story with memorable characters.

One of the things that impressed me most when I was reading was language. The story is written in dialect, which in itself shows the important of language to the author. I didn't find it cumbersome and, in fact, I found it rather beautiful. I constantly found myself reading passages out loud to hear how they sounded. Throughout the book, Elijah talks about "growned-up talk", about how adults don't seem to say what they actually mean, but instead have a secret code that only they seem to understand. This culminates at the end of the book when Elijah realizes that maybe he actually can understand some of this adult-speak.

Misunderstandings about language also show how important it is. At one point near the beginning, Elijah and his best friend misunderstand the phrase "Familiarity breeds contempt", with hilarious results at their school house. Later, Elijah really learns a lesson about familiarity breeding contempt when he uses the n word in front of an adult in the community. Reading and writing are important tools that Elijah has. They are especially important because many of the adults in the community of Buxton are not able to read or write.

This emphasis on language even takes me back to Tasting the Sky, which I recently read. It's amazing and awesome how two such different books (and cultures) can have something in common...

Elijah of Buxton... I laughed, I cried, I went home happy (and recommended it to pretty much everyone). If you've been meaning to read this one, do yourself a favor and wait no longer!

(OH, and this is also one of my books for the Expanding Horizons challenge... wahoo!)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Book Review: Tasting the Sky

Tasting the Sky by Ibtisam Barakat. Grades 4 and up.

I read Ms. Barakat's gorgeous memoir as part of the Expanding Horizons Challenge. The bulk of this poetic book details her childhood in Israel, starting with the Six-Day War in 1967 when she was three and a half and ending in 1971. As a young girl, the author endured some horrifying events, such as being forced to flee her home and being separated from her family. I would venture to say that the majority of American children have not had to endure such things.

However, one of the things that really struck me about this book is that not all the memories are horrifying or even sad. Certainly life was not easy for the Barakats, living as refugees with soldiers marching by their house. But throughout it all, the family stuck together. There is a strong sense of family, even when they are forced from the place that they call home. Although Ibtisam endured hardships, she also was delighted to go to school and loved learning and writing. She played with her brothers and sister. There is a lot here that kids can relate to.

I think that's what makes this book such a strong starting-off point for discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Ibtisam grew up in a world much different from one that many American children know, yet in many ways she was just the same as any other child.

In the historical note (I love authors' notes... and there is also a map... I love maps), Ms. Barakat says:

To learn more about the Middle East, and to deepen our understanding of both Palestinians and Israelis, it helps to share stories. Mine is one of many. Together, these stories can show us how all people are interdependent and have the same basic needs. Together, these stories may inspire us to join hearts and minds so that, with our collective wisdom, a solution for this conflict - and any other - is possible. (pg. x)

I cannot agree with these words more and I think Ms. Barakat has done an excellent job of sharing her story in an accessible way. (On a personal note, I identified with her from the beginning because she had pen pals... I had a great number of pen pals when I was a teenager, although I did not get detained by soldiers coming home from the mailbox...)

Tons of other bloggers have reviewed this title and rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm going to point you to the Fuse #8 review (part 1, part 2), which collects many of the reviews as well as information about the author, etc.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A couple new storytime favorites

Today was my first storytime in a couple of weeks and (to be completely honest) I was dreading it a little bit. Don't get me wrong. I love storytime, I do. But after having a couple of weeks off, I was afraid I'd be rusty. I was afraid I wouldn't pick good books. Heavens, I might even have forgotten some of the words to Shake Your Sillies Out! Luckily, none of those situations came to pass and we actually had quite a good time. In fact, I think I might have some new favorite storytime books and I just had to share them.

First is one that my coworker read. I'd never heard of it before, but it was a delightful story that kids and parents (and librarians) all enjoyed. Sadly, it looks like The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr is out of print, but I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on it. It was originally published in England and it tells the story of that fateful day when a tiger came to tea. Not only did he eat up all the sandwiches and all the buns, but he ate all the food in the fridge and the pantry as well! When Mum and Dad discover that there's no food left, the family goes to eat at a cafe and then buys some groceries, including a giant can of tiger food in case the tiger ever stops by again.

Next is a sequel to one of my favorites. Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Ann Dewdney is the sequel to Llama Llama Red Pajama. Both books have great rhymes and vocabulary. In Llama Llama Mad at Mama, Llama is forced to abandon his toys and go on a boring shopping trip with Mama. He can only take so much of trying on clothes and deciding which cereal to buy before he has a massive meltdown in the store (sure to be a familiar scenario to many a family). Mama understands, calms him down, and makes the rest of the shopping trip into a game, which results in a much happier trip for both of them. Great rhymes (my favorite is "llama drama") and a situation to which all kids can relate makes this one a surefire hit. (And hopefully if there are more Llama books, we can get the dad in there somewhere...)

And finally, we just got in a big book version of A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom. This is a great, great book to have as a big book because the illustrations are so important to the story. A polar bear is sitting alone, trying to concentrate on reading, writing, and then thinking while his friend the goose insists on interrupting him. The polar bear's expressions are priceless. Although the text of the story doesn't mention anything, you can see the bear getting more and more annoyed. But in the end, the bear realizes that goose wasn't trying to be annoying, he was just trying to talk to his friend. All is forgiven and bear and goose remember that they are splendid friends indeed. Funny and sweet, this book has great opportunities for dialogic reading. Ask kids how they think bear is feeling or how goose is feeling. Have they ever felt the same way? Maybe with a brother or sister?

We always include songs or action rhymes in our storytimes and today we ended with a rousing rendition of Old MacDonald Had a Farm. My fellow librarian B accompanied us on the ukulele and I stood behind our giant felt board with a hidden stash of puppets. When we came to each animal, I held it up above the felt board, dancing around with it. We did the typical animals... pig, cow, cat, dog... and then threw in a HUGE tiger at the end just for fun. My library is lucky enough to have a giant closet full of puppets and we try to use them at every opportunity because the kids love them so.

So, there you have it. My first storytime of 2008 was a hit and I'm just hoping it's indicative of what's to come throughout the year.

(Incidentally, yesterday was my one-year anniversary with my library, so... happy anniversary to me!)

Book Review: Squirrel's World

Squirrel's World by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. Grades 1-3.

Squirrel, an adorably ADD woodland creature, only wants to help his friends. The problem is he always seems to be trying a little too hard. The episodic chapters in this beginning reader book detail Squirrel's interactions with Mouse, Turtle, and Rabbit. He collects food with Mouse, plays a game with Turtle, and helps Rabbit get a lily pad from the pond, each with varying degrees of success. In the end, though, all Squirrel's friends realize that his heart's in the right place.

I really enjoyed this beginning reader by the author of The Monster in the Backpack. It's funny and it has heart. One of the things that made it so enjoyable is the kooky, excitable main character. You can tell right from the start that he's on the move, he's got places to go and things to do. Take the very beginning of the book:

Squirrel was busy, busy busy. He had to help his tree. "Grow, grow, grow!" cheered Squirrel. He had to help the river. "Flow, flow, flow!" said Squirrel. He had to help his friends. "Got to go, got to go, got to go, go, go!" (pg. 1)

All he wants to do is help and his gestures turn out larger than life. By the end of the book, he's even helping his friends go to sleep. Valeri Gorbachev (illustrator of All for Pie, Pie for All and The Giant Hug, among others) adds perfectly cheery illustrations. They're cute without being cutesy. Hand this one to fans of Frog & Toad or anyone looking for a super cute first chapter book. I'm hoping we'll see more of Squirrel and his friends.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award

ETA (Jan. 28): If you're looking for the list of the 2009 Rebecca Caudill nominees, you can find it here! Happy Caudill reading!

Ahhh... Award season. The Cybils shortlists have been announced. Best-of lists are bouncing all over the web. We're right around the corner from the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, Odyssey, etc. But the award I want to write about is one that is near and dear to my heart (at least for the past year since I moved to Illinois): the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award.

Now, sometimes we get parents coming in to the library looking for a list of good books for their middle-grade readers. Nothing seems to satisfy quite like a list of award-winners and often parents ask for a list of the Newbery winners. I love the Newberys as much as the next librarian, but you have to admit that not all of them have great child-appeal. One option is to hand them a list of your local kids' choice award books. In Illinois, this is the Caudill.

The Caudill award is a state book award in Illinois for kids in grades 4-8. Every year there is a list of 20 nominated titles. These can be fiction or non-fiction (incidentally, the 2008 nominees are all fiction). The books are nominated by students, teachers, and librarians, and a committee made up of teachers and librarians from all over Illinois whittles the list down to 20 nominees. Any student that has read or heard at least 3 titles from the list is eligible to vote and the votes are tallied at the end of February. (You can read more about official rules and all that jazz here if you're interested.)

The Caudills were big in my library this year. Over the summer, teachers in our school district could earn a Continuing Education credit if they read a certain number of nominated books. We've also had various schools offering extra credit for reading Caudill books or assigning Caudill books.

(It struck me as funny that kids from one of our middle schools were coming in and telling us that if they read all 20 Caudill nominees, they would be exempt from one assignment in their English class... I love that they want to read Caudills, but don't they realize that it's probably a lot more work to read 20 books than it would be to do the one assignment??)

ANYhoo. The great thing about the Caudill is that it gives you a great list of 20 books that kids will probably like. They are books that are nominated by kids and people who love kids. Unlike the Newbery, which is based on "distinguished contributions", the Caudill is simply about books that kids LIKE. Books they want to read. Books that are awesome.

The list of 2008 nominees has some great books on it. I didn't read all of them this year. I read 15 of the 20. Some of my favorites were Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick; East by Edith Pattou; Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach; Princess Academy by Shannon Hale; and Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip. If I had to guess which book would win based on our circs at my library, I would have to say Princess Academy or The Ruins of Gorlan. We absolutely could not keep those titles on the shelves. You can see a list of previous winners here. Previous winners include such notable titles as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Giver, Matilda, Eragon, and Stormbreaker. (See? Awesome books...!)

One of my favorite games of late is to think about which books might be on the nominated list for 2009. We won't know for a couple of months yet, but I've got a couple of guesses: Whittington by Alan Armstrong, Firegirl by Tony Abbot, Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson.... I could go on and on...

The moral of this post is that I think the Caudill award rocks. Even if schools in your area don't participate in a kids' choice award or a state book award, the nominated lists can be really useful in finding recommendations for kids and for parents. There's a nifty list of state book awards on Cynthia Leitich Smith's site. Check out the lists of current nominees for some top-notch recommendations.

Happy reading... and I'll be back in late February or early March to report the results of this year's Caudill voting!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Book Review: What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know

What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones. Grades 7 and up.

Geeky, artsy Robin Murphy doesn't have any friends at school and he knows that the girl of his dreams would never stoop to being with a loser like him. But the thing is, Sophie actually does love him back. It's almost too good to be true. In fact, it's really too good to be true. At first Robin's afraid that their winter-break romance will be over once school starts again, but to his surprise, Sophie doesn't seem afraid to show her feelings for him. Unfortunately, there is some backlash. Sophie's friends ditch her and overnight she's as much of a social pariah as Robin has always been. And it's all Robin's fault.

This novel in verse is a great depiction of adolescent romance and it's so neat to see it from a guy's perspective. Sones really gets that need that comes with a first love. That need to be with your significant other and the heartbreak that happens just spending a weekend apart. Just as interesting as the romance is Robin's experience taking a college art class and making some friends.

Robin's a realistic narrator. He knows that Sophie's catching a lot of flack because of him and as much as she tells him she loves him, it hurts him that he could be causing her pain. Here's part of a poem just after Robin's overheard Sophie's friend insulting her:

I want to run after her.
I want to wrap my arms around her.
I want to tell her that everything will be okay.

But if I do,
she'll know I've been eavesdropping.
And, besides -

maybe everything
isn't gonna be okay.
Maybe everything's
gonna totally suck

(pp 52-53)

Although What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know is a sequel, it can definitely stand alone. However, do yourself a favor and check out What My Mother Doesn't Know because it's also totally awesome. WMMDK, another novel in verse, is told from Sophie's point of view and it's another great book for first romances. Sophie starts out dating the smokin' hot Dylan, moves on to a cyber crush on Chaz from the internet, and then realizes that she has feelings for the most unlikely of boys, the loserly Murphy.

In both books I think Sones has really captured the feelings of first loves and of adolescent crushes and friendships. Two thumbs up.

You can find other reviews of WMGDK at Becky's Book Reviews and at Young Adult Book Reviews.

Friday, January 4, 2008

2007 Reading Stats

Inspired by Biblio File, I've compiled my 2007 reading statistics.

In 2007 I read 222 books total.

I read:

28 adult books
30 graphic novels
37 YA books and
127 juvenile/middle grade books (up to approx. 7th grade level, not counting fiction picture books)

Of these 222 books, 22 were non-fiction and 24 were audiobooks. My highest month was December with 34 books. I credit this to preparing for booktalks, having some time off work, and being obsessed with reviewing books on this blog. My lowest month was September with 10 books. I blame this on Second Grade Safari.

I read more adult books than I thought I had, less YA books than I thought I had, and actually more non-fiction than I thought I had. Except for my non-fiction resolution, I expect my breakdowns to stay pretty similar. I do love YA, but my department serves kids through 8th grade, so that's what I'm more likely to read for booktalks and general readers' advisory knowledge.

Interesting, interesting... Well, to me, at least. :)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Under the Radar: Lee Weatherly

Author Lee Weatherly has flown under my radar until, well, about 2 weeks ago. I picked up Kat Got Your Tongue on a recommendation at the ILA conference and sat with it on Christmas Day and devoured it. I would have reviewed it then and there except that I discovered that two of Weatherly's other books have these cute matching covers. And I thought it would be delightful to review all three at once.

Now, before I start, I'll tell you that these books are not a series. Though the covers match, they are about completely different characters. There are a few things that they have in common, though. They are about strong girls. Girls who may not be the most popular or the smartest, but who grow and change and figure out ways to better themselves. They are all about girls who have to stand on their own at some point and who figure out who their true friends are and who their true self is. If you're looking for some spunky young women, look no further. (Also, they're all set in England, so if you're looking for some cool Brit slang, you're in the right place.)

Missing Abby starts with a missing persons report. Emma is shocked to read about her former best friend in the newspaper and she's even more shocked to realize that she was the last one to see her and speak with her. Emma and Abby were best friends until bullies started attacking Emma at school and Emma decided that it was best to leave her old life behind and turn over a new leaf. Now she feels guilty that she shunned her best friend, but she's also terrified that her new friends will find out what a loser she used to be. Chapters count the days that Abby has been missing and as Emma searches for her friend, readers slowly uncover what happened at her old school and why she ditched Abby. Weatherly is great at letting a story build and letting the reader uncover the characters bit by bit until you get the full picture. (There's another review at Miss Print.)

Sadie is an underachieving cut-up in Breakfast at Sadie's. Her mom is always bugging her to get her grades up, telling her she'd do better if she just worked harder. Her friends automatically hand over their homework for her to copy and make cracks about how dumb she is. When Sadie's mom is diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and has to spend several months in the hospital, unable to move, Sadie is left in the care of her young aunt. When Aunt Leona flits off on vacation, leaving Sadie by herself, Sadie takes over the bed & breakfast and quickly learns that she's hard-working and creative. She knows she can handle it, but she's afraid of what might happen if the authorities find out she's on her own, so she has to keep it a secret that she's the one running things. It's a fast-paced story and I kept turning the pages to find out if Sadie could really pull it off. Recommend this one to young entrepreneurs and for further reading about take-charge girls, hand them Joan Bauer's Hope Was Here and Catherine Murdock's Dairy Queen.

In Kat Got Your Tongue, Kathy runs out in front of a car and is hit. When she comes to, she doesn't remember anything. She doesn't know who she is. She doesn't know why she was running. She doesn't recognize her mom or her friends. Kathy has amnesia. Chapters alternate between post-accident Kat and pre-accident diary entries from Kathy. As Kat tries to find out more about her life and to figure out why she was running away from her friends, readers follow Kathy's diary entries, which start three months before the accident. It all builds to a fever pitch when everything finally comes out in the open and people can start to make amends. I love that Kat and Kathy are completely different characters in the book, even though they're the same person. Kathy gets a clean slate and we see what Kat feels differently about. For another great teen amnesia book, check out Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin.

Don't let Lee Weatherly fly under your radar! I really enjoyed all three of these books and I'll certainly be checking out Child X and looking for more.