Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bok bok bok

I've found that you can pretty much never go wrong with barnyard animals at your storytime. I've already posted about cows, but (as anyone in my department could tell you) I prefer a wacky chicken any day of the week.

One of my all-time favorite chicken books (and an all-time favorite readaloud, period) is Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox. Hattie the hen is the only sharp-eyed bird in the barnyard and when she spies a nose in the bushes, she knows it's trouble. Unfortunately her barnyard pals don't seem too concerned. As the fox slowly sneaks out of the bushes, Hattie tries to warn them, but eventually she flies the coop, leaving her friends to deal with the fox in a most surprising manner. You can do different voices for each of the different animals and kids enjoy finding the fox in the bushes (they'll be yelling out "It's a fox!" long before Hattie guesses what it is...).

A somewhat new favorite of mine is Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman. My library school friends can all attest that when this book came out, I forced everyone I knew to read it because it's so fabulous. On Monday the farmer drops his watch down the well. How is he to get it back? Chickens to the rescue! As we go through the week, the family gets into problem after problem with the chickens saving the day each time. Until Sunday... Hmm... Where are the chickens? Detailed illustrations make this a great book for one-on-one reading. Those crazy chickens are up to all kinds of things and there's always something new to find in the pictures. The chorus of "Chickens to the rescue!" is great for storytime, too. If you're resourceful, you could even act it out...

Of course, we can't forget the incomparable Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke. This silly chicken is always mistaking objects for something else. She thinks a flower pot might be a nest, she thinks a garden hose might be a scarf. Kids enjoy correcting her and there are quite a few books about her. Minerva Louise goes to school, meets a new baby, hunts for Easter eggs, and much more. There are also board books about Minerva Louise for our youngest readers.

Chicky Chicky Chook Chook by Cathy MacLennan isn't about wacky chickens, per se, but they sure sound wacky. This book is filled to the brim with interesting sounds that help promote phonological awareness. There's a great rhythm to its chanting nonsense phrases as a group of small chickens and other animals play in the sun and are then drenched by a sudden rainstorm. This is a great readaloud for younger preschoolers and be sure and let the parents know that playing around with sounds will help kids hear that words are made up of smaller sounds.

And I have to end with a book I recently discovered through the Kidlitosphere... Hungry Hen by Richard Warring. I read about this book in the ALSC Blog (in a post that points out some more excellent chicken and duck books... you should definitely check it out). It finally came in for me at the library and I was instantly in love. It starts with a hen, hungrily eating all the grain in sight. As she keeps eating, she keeps growing fatter and fatter. A fox is watching from a distance, stomach rumbling, but just as he's going to run down the hill and get her, he realizes that if he waits until the next day she'll be even bigger. He waits until he absolutely can't stand it... but just as he's about to - finally! - get his dinner... he's met with quite a surprise ending. Fun and funny and just slightly disturbing (which describes some of the very best picture books, in my opinion...).

These are some of my favorite wacky chickens... what are some of yours?

Book Review: Curse Dark as Gold

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce. (Grades 7+)

For generations the Stirwaters Mill has been run by members of the Miller family, passing down the line in a weird zig-zag from uncle to nephew to distant cousin. Some say there's a curse on the mill and that's why no Miller son has ever lived long enough to inherit the mill. But Charlotte Miller doesn't believe in curses, even when her beloved father dies young and without a will, the mill passing by default to her. Charlotte and her sister Rosie are the last of the Millers and they are determined to keep the mill going. It employs many of the people in the village and the Stirwaters name still carries some weight.

Charlotte doesn't find it easy to run the mill. First of all, no one outside the little village of Shearing will take her seriously. And secondly, the mill seems to be bent on destroying itself somehow. Repairs never seem to take, machines sometimes refuse to work, and unlocked doors stick shut for no reason at all. A series of misfortunes leaves Charlotte fearing that she might lose Stirwaters... until a mysterious stranger shows up and claims that he can help them... for a price.

Ms. Bunce takes a familiar fairy tale and fleshes it out, turning it into a rich retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, rife with layered characters and a setting that seems to leap right off the page. The people in the village really come to life. The village of Shearing is steeped with superstition and lore, the mill being the center of it all. One of the most interesting things for me was how the mill really became another character in the book. It communicated with Charlotte and she obviously loves it like a member of her family.

This is a book to lose yourself in, a deep story you can really sink your teeth in. There's a bit of romance and a lot of creepy moments. People stick up for each other and people betray each other. Ooh, and best of all... there's an author's note!

Hand this one to fans of rich fantasy stories like The Goose Girl or East or Cynthia Voigt's wonderful Jackaroo (and other Kingdom books).

Elizabeth C. Bunce is a member of the Class of 2k8 and you can find other reviews at Book Nut, The YA YA YAs, bookshelves of doom, Sarah Miller's blog, and Miss Erin.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review: When Is a Planet Not a Planet?

When Is a Planet Not a Planet?: The Story of Pluto by Elaine Scott. (Grades 3-6)

When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.

But did you know that Pluto's not the first planet to be demoted? I had no idea.

Elaine Scott has given us a great look into the history of the discovery of our planets. This book includes much more than the story of Pluto. It starts in Ancient Greece and takes us up through the present day, giving a complete picture of how astronomy developed. The origin of the word "planet", the invention of the telescope, the difference between the small rocky planets and the gas giants... these are all covered in this book and all the information plays into why Pluto was ultimately demoted.

It's written in a clear, concise manner with many photos of actual planets and drawings of what we think space objects might look like. Although the book is definitely written for a child audience, I daresay adults wanting an explanation of the Pluto situation might find this book helpful. It provides enough background information that you really understand what happened and why without going into so much detail that it bogs down the reader.

Scott includes a glossary, a list of books and websites for further reading, and an index. This is a great book for upper elementary kids wondering just what happened to Pluto.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Be sure and check out all the links over at Picture Book of the Day!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

Busy busy week...

You'll have to excuse my lack of posting this week. It's been a busy, busy week with preschool visits to the library, grade school classes visiting the library, going out on outreach visits, and everything else that makes the week busy. I'm also in the middle of three thick books, all of which I am really enjoying.

I've got some new stuff lined up for next week, but for now I'm going to point you to some of the interesting stuff going on in the Kidlitosphere.

Paula Yoo alerted me to the new site Fusion Stories, which is a celebration of Asian-American writing just in time for Asian/Pacific-American Heritage Month (May!). Head over there and say hi to Paula, Grace Lin, An Na, Lisa Yee, and others. You'll be sure to find a great book to read!

Ms. Yingling posted about her BLF (Best Literary Friend)... the characters you love so much that you come back to their books just to say hi. I have to say my BLFs are Ramona Quimby, Anastasia Krupnik, and the girls from the Babysitters Club. Whenever I need a comforting read or I'm having reading ADD, I turn to them. Who are your BLFs?

And there have been a couple of reviews of particular interest to me posted lately. The YA YA YAs reviewed Lock and Key, which is one of the books I'm "in the middle of" (if by "in the middle" you mean "started and had to put aside for other books that are due first"). I'm a big fan of Sarah Dessen and I've been looking forward to this one for quite awhile. Jackie over at Interactive Reader has a review of The Host and it sounds like it won't be a disappointment to the hordes of Twilight fans out there (whew).

And I'm out. Have great weekends, everyone. I fully intend to spend mine curled up in my reading chair finishing at least one great book that I can't wait to share with you. Want to know what it is? I'm not telling... but I'll give you a hint... The author is a member of the Class of 2k8.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book Review: Princess Ben

Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. (Grades 6-10.)

If Princess Benevolence had accompanied her parents that day, everything would have been different. But, laid out with a cold, Ben stayed home and received news that night that her parents had been attacked by unknown assassins. The King and her mother were killed, her father and their head of defense are missing. The kingdom's in an uproar, suspecting the neighboring country of the attack, and Ben is thrust into a life she never wanted. Since the queen never bore a child, Ben is the heir to the throne. Without any consideration for the fact that she's mourning her parents, Ben is expected to pick up the role of lady-in-training. The queen is horrible to her, practically starving her and insisting that she prepare for her inevitable marriage (probably coming much too soon for Ben's liking).

But Princess Ben's not taking all this lying down. She's fiesty, thinking up ways to get back at her teachers and the abominable queen. And then she discovers the magic...

Catherine Gilbert Murdock's brought us a treat. Princess Ben is a real step away from Dairy Queen and The Off Season, but I'm pleased to report that it's awesome. Ben's a spunky heroine who undergoes some real changes as the book progresses. She uses her brain and disdains those who would judge her on her beauty. Ben can do whatever she puts her mind to, whether it's torturing her dance teacher or saving the kingdom from certain doom.

Murdock's created an intriguing fantasy world with a unique magic system. I won't go into it too much so that you can delight in discovering it for yourself, but it made me want to know more. Her world-building reminded me of Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl and Princess Academy (two books I also really loved).

Another delightful aspect of this fantasy novel are the bits of fairy tales hidden within. Murdock includes cameos of many familiar stories and it was such fun to discover them all.

Hand this one to fans of Gail Carson Levine (particularly Ella Enchanted and Fairest) and Shannon Hale. They won't be disappointed!

Peruse other reviews at Teen Book Review, Educating Alice, Sarah Miller's blog, and The Compulsive Reader.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review: Close to Shore

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo. (Grades 6-10)

Da dum.

Daaa dum.

Da dum da dum dadum dadum dadumdadumdadumdadum.

Have you see the movie Jaws?

Read about the shark attacks that inspired Peter Benchley to write the book that was turned into the movie that made you want to stay AWAY from the shore.

It was summer 1916. People flocked to the beaches of New Jersey, anxious to escape the heat by taking a nice, cool dip in the ocean. Ocean swimming was becoming more and more popular. And man-eating sea creatures? Pah. They didn't exist.

Science was the new rage with new scientific discoveries happening all the time. The "myths" of man-eating sea creatures were happily dismissed as people congregated in the cool, ocean waves.

Until...

A lone shark, possibly ill or injured, began appearing on the Jersey shore. It attacked one. People said that maybe it was a killer whale, a swordfish, or a tuna, surely not a shark. Sure not one of those big fish that scientists said would not harm a human... But then it attacked more... And soon the shark hysteria was making its way up and down the coast. The people of New Jersey demanded help. Hotels remained empty, the beaches were desolate. Small towns were dependent on the money that summer tourists brought it, only now people were afraid to come. Something had to be done... but what?

Capuzzo's penned a captivating true story of a man-eating beast and how it changed the public and scientific view of sharks. Humans thought the ocean was their playground, that they had nothing to fear. But all that changed in 1916 on the Jersey shore. Adapted from his adult book (Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence), this book provides an interesting glimpse into life in a different time and it also provides a glimpse into the psyche of a shark. Capuzzo alternates chapters about the human reactions with chapters told from the (possible) point of view of the shark. It's perfect for young marine biologists and shark enthusiasts. Pair it with Peter Benchley's Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & the Sea, another great book about unraveling the mysteries of great fish in the deep.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Check out the roundup at Picture Book of the Day!

(ETA 4/22/08): PS: Check out this awesome booktalk for Close to Shore and another shark-related book, Soul Surfer, over at Bookwink!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Audiobook Roundup: Bob Barner

I often get requests from preschool teachers for "book and tapes" - kits that include a picture book and an audio recording (a tape or, with newer recordings, a CD). Teachers tell me the kids love to listen to them because they include sound effects and music that really bring the stories to life. I must admit that, even though I order the audiobooks for my department, I haven't listened to a lot of the picture book audio recordings. This is something that's going to change.

I love listening to audiobooks, but I do so most often in the car. As my commute to work is very short (typically about 15 minutes), that makes listening to a longer audiobook difficult because it stretches it out over weeks and it means I have to listen to it in 15-minute spurts. Checking out some picture book recordings is a great solution! Most of them are between 5 and 20 minutes long, making them perfect for short car trips. One caveat is that, obviously, you are meant to look at the artwork in picture books (which is tricky when you are driving... ;).

That said, here are some recent picture book audio recordings I've been listening to (and look for more reviews like this in the future!).

Dem Bones by Bob Barner. (Ages 4-7) Audio produced by Weston Woods, narrated by Chris Thomas King.

The leg bone's connected to the knee bone in this book about the bones in the human body. Music accompanies the song "Dem Bones" and after singing about each connection, information is given about that bone. I found myself moving my body as I listened to the narrator tell me that without ankle bones I wouldn't be able to walk or dance and that the shoulder bones fit together so that you can move your arms. This would be a great contribution to a classroom lesson on the skeleton or the human body. The first two tracks provide the text with and without page signals. The third track is just the song "Dem Bones".

Stars! Stars! Stars! by Bob Barner. (Ages 3-7) Audio produced by Weston Woods, narrated by Gavin Bozza.

My favorite thing about this book is that it has a very simple rhyming text and more information about space and the planets is included at the end. This book makes a great readaloud for preschoolers but it contains enough additional information at the end to be useful to curious older kids as well. Majestic music accompanies the simple text and it made me feel like I was at the planetarium. One thing to be aware of is that this book includes Pluto as the ninth (and smallest) planet. It's a great recording and would work well for a space-themed storytime or a preschool class doing a space theme.

Bob Barner is a popular author of nonfiction for preschoolers. I've often had preschool teachers specifically request his books and I'm beginning to see why. He's able to combine a simple text with facts and information so you can adjust the story to fit your audience. I'll definitely be looking for more of his books! Make sure you check out his awesome website where you can get a glimpse inside his studio and watch video clips of some of his books!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

B-I-N-G-O

On Monday I helped a coworker with her Picture Book Bingo program for preschoolers. It was quite fun for all involved and I think it's definitely something I would do again. We're so lucky that we have a marvelous graphic artist who helped us create the Bingo cards. Here's what we did:

We chose three books and scanned in pictures from each of the three books. Some of the pictures were a whole page from the book, some were only part of the page. We used pictures from each of the three books to make up the cards, but each card had only one "Bingo" (three pictures from the same book that were in a row). Our cards were three by three, so it only took three pictures to make a "Bingo".

We planned it so that some of the cards would get a Bingo on the first book we read, some on the second, and some on the third. Each participant got a packet of three Bingo cards and we had numbered them so that we could spread out the number of winners on each book and so we could make sure that everyone would win once. We chose three books that we had in big book format so that the pictures would be easy to see. Then we read each book, making sure to go slowly and point out the pictures on each page. As the kids and grownups saw the pictures on their card, they crossed them off with a crayon.

We told them to raise their hand when they got a "Bingo" and that at the end of the story we'd check their cards. We gave them a sticker once we had checked their cards and at the end everyone could choose a prize (we used leftover prizes from past Summer Reading Clubs).

Our program was for preschoolers (ages 3-5 with an adult) and I think it worked well, but I think it would also work for an early elementary audience. Those kids would be able to follow along and mark off their cards without an adult's help. If you do this program it's important to go through the books slowly and point out pictures that might be on their cards. It took some kids awhile to realize that they had seen one of the pictures and to cross it off. To this end, it's probably wise not to pick pictures that are on pages one after the other. Space them out a little. Also, we had some confusion with pictures that were from different books but were of the same animal. For example, we had a giraffe from Goodnight Gorilla and there was a giraffe in Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Some kids were confused because they saw a giraffe, so they crossed off a giraffe. Just make sure to pick books that have different animals or are about completely different subjects.

Since the program was for a potentially wiggly age, we structured it like a storytime. We sang "Shake Your Sillies Out" at the beginning and read two of the books. Then we stood up and did "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" before we continued with the last book. This gave the kids a chance to move around a little bit.

We worried that there might be problems with some kids getting a Bingo on the first card and others not getting it until the second or third cards, but we didn't have any upset kids. We assured everyone at the beginning that everyone would win and if someone thought they won but hadn't actually won, we just reassured them that maybe next time they would win. We numbered the cards so that we could make sure everyone would win once.

All in all, it was a fun program and I'd love to try it again for an older age group (or for this age group again). It's a little bit labor intensive with creating the cards, but once you have a template it's not difficult to swap in pictures from other books. Not only was it a fun preschool program, but it gave us an opportunity to use some of those leftover prizes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Book Review: Tennyson

Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume. (Grades 4-8)

Tennyson's mother Sadie is gone. Sadie's a high-strung artist, destined to be a famous author, and now she's run off, saying that her family is holding her back. Tennyson's father goes off in search of her and brings Tennyson and her sister Hattie to Aigredoux.

Aigredoux. The name means "bittersweet" in French. And Aigredoux is bittersweet. Once an imposing, glamorous mansion, Aigredoux is now falling apart at the seams. Marble once covered all the floors and stairs, but it's slowly being sold off to make ends meet. The house is being torn apart, crumbling before their very eyes.

But that won't stop Aunt Henrietta from trying to save it. Life under Aunt Henrietta's roof is much different from the life Tennyson and Hattie had at their old home. They sleep on a scratchy moss-filled bed underneath mosquito netting to prevent ceiling plaster from coating them as it falls during the night. They're expected to learn how to behave like ladies, how to interact with potential suitors... because Henrietta knows that Tennyson and Hattie are her last hopes. They're children now, but one day they might marry rich men who could save Aigredoux and the Fontaine family.

When Tennyson starts having dreams that tell her the true story of Aigredoux's past, she gets her own idea about what might help. She knows she has to bring her mother back, she has to get her family back together. But will her idea work? And what secrets about Aigredoux's tainted past will be revealed in her dreams?

This is an unusual story about an unusual family. It's very gothic and the house and characters are suitably creepy. The mechanism of Tennyson's dreaming about Aigredoux works for the story because Aigredoux is almost like another character. It makes sense that it would communicate with Tennyson about its history. The book is set in 1932 and Tennyson's dreams take her back to the Civil War, but the house seems almost frozen in time. People from the same family still live there, using many of the same objects.

My one criticism is that the ending really snuck up on me and I felt that it was very abrupt. Prepare yourself for that and I think you'll really enjoy this creepy, romantic tale of the American South.

You can find more reviews by Little Willow and Sarah Miller. And yes, Lesley M.M. Blume is the author of 2009 Caudill nominee Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters and The Rising Star of Rusty Nail (which I quite liked but didn't review for some reason...).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Book Review: Light Shining Through the Mist

Light Shining Through the Mist: A Photobiography of Dian Fossey by Tom L. Matthews. (Grades 4-8)

'Tis the season for biographies (at least in my library) and here's a great one on a subject that I'm betting most kids wouldn't know about.

I first heard of Dian Fossey in the book Gorilla Doctors. The book gave a brief history of the study of mountain gorillas and when I read that Fossey was murdered, possibly because of her anti-poaching activities, I was intrigued. I wanted to know more.

Ever since Fossey was a little girl, she always loved animals. In college she tried business but hated it. She tried veterinary medicine but couldn't pass the science classes she would need. Eventually she studied occupational therapy and got a job at a hospital (in Louisville, KY, which, incidentally, is where I grew up). She worked at her job, but she dreamed of going to Africa and studying animals.

Fossey saved and finally took out a loan to go to Africa where she happened to meet the anthropologist Louis Leakey. Eventually that connection led him to offer her a job studying mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. It wasn't an easy job. She was alone most of the time on a cold mountain, surrounded by mist. She didn't have the modern conveniences she was used to and the countries she worked it were constantly engaged in civil wars.

But Fossey loved her job. She learned tons about gorilla behavior and got close to the gorillas themselves. In fact, she was the first person to get really close to mountain gorillas. And she hated the poachers. Humans were encroaching on the gorillas' territory with farming and trapping. Poachers would sell the heads and hands of gorillas and people capturing infant gorillas for zoos often had to kill the entire gorilla family in order to take the infant. Fossey loved the gorillas and she was determined to fight back. She destroyed poachers' traps, shot at trespassing cattle, and spoke openly about the need to limit tourism.

No one knows who murdered Dian Fossey or why. She was a passionate woman who cared deeply about what she did. She was a great teacher and speaker. She might still be alive today if someone hadn't cut her life short.

The story of Fossey's life is an interesting and inspiring one. Here's another strong woman to add to your women's history booklists. I've found National Geographic's Photobiographies series to be a great series of biographies with pictures that really make the subject matter pop. An afterward includes information about the state of the mountain gorilla today. The book also includes a time line, index, and extensive bibliography. The next addition to my to-read list is the book that Fossey wrote (which was turned into a movie), Gorillas in the Mist.

I really enjoyed Light Shining Through the Mist and I might never have picked it up if it hadn't been for Gorilla Doctors. Amazing the connections you can make through literature.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Go check out the roundup at Picture Book of the Day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mooooo

Mmmkay, you all know Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. But what about all the other bemusing bovines hiding out on your library shelves? I want to share a couple of my favorite cow books with you.

Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier is one that you won't want to miss. Every day Millie the cow waits for the mail... because she loves to terrify the mailman. She waits in hiding and then jumps out to scare him and chase him off the farm. All of the farmer's packages arrive broken. The mailman is suffering from PTSD. This has to stop! Both the farmer and the mailman come up with a plan... and it works... kind of. The hilarious illustrations and surprises in the story make this a great choice for storytime, but it would also be great for one-on-one reading because there's lots of see and talk about in the pictures. This one's a winner all around and it's one of my new favorites.

Too Many Pears by Valerie French is about Pamela, a cow who loooooves to eat pears. Nothing can keep her from getting to those pears and she eats so many that there are none left for the family! Luckily, someone comes up with an idea... Is it possible to eat too many pears? This is a silly story that would fit in perfectly for a cow-themed or a food-themed storytime.

Of course, we can't forget Adventures of Cow and Adventures of Cow Too by Lori Korcheck. In both these incredibly silly books, Cow goes on an adventure and writes a book to tell his tale. The only problem is, well, he's getting everything wrong! Sharp-eyed preschoolers will love to correct each mistake. Although I've used them for storytimes, the small size of these books might make them a bit better for one-on-one reading. Plus, the silly mistakes Cow makes provide a great opportunity for talking about the things in the pictures.

I'm fairly convinced that Karma Wilson can do no wrong. So, of course, I have to include Sakes Alive! A Cattle Drive. The whole book is a play on the expression "cattle drive" because in this book, the cattle are driving. And everyone else better get out of their way! Anything in the road is liable to go flying, but the townspeople are thrilled when the mad chase turns into a rollicking parade. A silly hit for your storytime.

These are some of my favorite cow books... What are yours?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. (Grades 7+)

When Frankie was a freshman at the prestigious Alabaster Preparatory Academy, she was as good as invisible. As a slightly geeky member of the Debate Club, her only tenuous link to the popular kids is her older sister Zada. When Fankie comes back for her sophomore year, some things have changed. Zada has graduated and Frankie's undergone a transformation. Over the summer, she's had a growth spurt and she's coming back tall and curvy. Suddenly boys are looking at her, including the object of her crush, the popular, funny senior Matthew Livingston. But Frankie's looks aren't the only thing that's changed about her. She's sick of being overlooked. She's sick of being underestimated. She's sick of being thought of as her parents' little Bunny Rabbit. And she's determined to make people stand up and take notice of her.

It's not quite as easy as she thought. She's ecstatic when Matthew notices her and she becomes his girlfriend, but she soon discovers that there's something more important in his life. And although Matthew doesn't know, Frankie finds out that he's an integral member in the school's all-male secret society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. Frankie could admit defeat and take the back seat to the Bassets (as the other girlfriends of the members seem to do), but that's not who she is anymore. So she does a little plotting and Frankie Landau-Banks takes over the Basset Hounds... without any of the guys realizing she's the one behind their pranks.

I loved this unusual book... I couldn't put it down. You find out at the beginning through a letter from Frankie to the headmaster of the school that Frankie was the one behind all the pranks the Basset Hounds pulled during the first semester... but it takes awhile for the action to unfold, to find out just what happened and how Frankie articulated her play for power.

Besides the great characters and intriguing plot, this book actually made me think a lot about power. Frankie's constantly questioning what it takes to be successful and the unspoken rules that we all follow. She wonders how far she can go to mix things up, break the rules. She wonders what it will take to get the boys to respect her as much as they respect each other. Do they respect each other because of the things they accomplish or because they're boys, buddies, connections? Frankie's dad (who also attended Alabaster) is always talking about the connections she's going to make that will help her be successful. Frankie wonders if she really needs to rely on these connections, if she needs to be tapped into the "Old Boys" network... what will it take for her to become successful on her own terms?

Frankie's definitely a kick-butt heroine and it's so great to see a girl find a boyfriend but refuse to let him push her around. Even though Frankie's not always the nicest person, I was rooting for her the whole way. If you like books with some intrigue and really interesting characters, pick up The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

But don't take my word for it... read more reviews at The Reading Zone, Reading Rants!, The Book Muncher, Under the Covers, and Little Willow. Also, check out an interview with E. Lockhart over at YA Fresh.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Scariest Creature in the World...

Susan over at Wizards Wireless has got people talking about the first book they remember reading on their own. People are sharing some great books that have created some great memories for them. What a special thing, to remember that first book you read all by yourself! I, unfortunately, do not remember the first book I read on my own. But that got me thinking about other special memories I have that are connected with books.

When I was little, we read Uncle Remus tales almost every night. We have (my parents still have it) a copy of Walt Disney's Uncle Remus Tales and my brother and I loved to hear about Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox. Night after night. We loved them. I remember that it was mostly my dad who read the stories to us and I cannot recall whether he attempted the dialect or not.

My favorite was the one about De Wuller De Wust.

I don't remember which tale it's in (I could tell you if I had the book, but it's at my parents' house in Kentucky), but there is one story about Brer Rabbit where he steals some honey. He eats that honey all up and when he's done, he's just covered in sticky honey. Then he hears someone coming and he decides to play a little prank. All sticky from the honey, he then rolls in some leaves and pretends to be the scariest creature in the world... De Wuller De Wust.

Well. For Halloween one year, I was De Wuller De Wust:










I'm sure none of the neighbors had any idea what I was dressed as. But I'm also sure it was quite fun to roll around in those leaves. And a Halloween costume based on a favorite book? I can't think of a happier book-related memory than that. :)

PS: The Disney version is long out of print, but if you want to check out some of the Uncle Remus tales, there's a retelling by Julius Lester (illustrated by Jerry Pinkney) that is still available. This "translates" the Southern African-American dialect into modern English (a sore point for some, but it may be easier to read). Or dive into the original stories with The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Book Review: We Are the Ship

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. (Grades 4+)

Kadir Nelson... how do we know this name? Ah, yes. He's won Caldecott honors for Moses and Henry's Freedom Box. And he's also written and illustrated a fantastic book about baseball.

We Are the Ship takes the reader right into the time of the Negro League. Before Jackie Robinson "crossed over" to the Major Leagues in 1945, African-American players had to play in their own leagues. It wasn't easy. Sometimes they had to sleep on busses or go all day without eating because the establishments in the area wouldn't serve Negroes. Sometimes they had to be sure not to beat the other team too badly because they might be run out of town (and have to go without pay).

Possibly worst of all, the great Negro players didn't get the recognition they deserved. Although there were Negro players who were as good or better than white players, many of their names have been lost over the course of history. Which is why this book is important.

And that's why it was so surprising to me that the three women who played in the Negro Leagues were not mentioned.

Okay, I concede that the bulk of the book wraps up around 1945 when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mamie Johnson, Toni Stone, and Connie Morgan didn't join the league until somewhere around 1953. But I can't help but think that Nelson is doing to the women players what so many people did to the African-American players... by neglecting to even mention them, he's effectively erasing them from history. The subtitle of this book proclaims it to be "the story of Negro League Baseball". Why aren't women a part of that story?

(And why don't any other reviews mention this omission?)

Book Review: Tracking Trash

Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns. (Grades 4-8)

Confession: I expected to be totally bored by this book.

This was due to a number of factors:

1. It had gotten a fair amount of buzz on the blogosphere, which always makes me suspect that my expectations might be too high and I might be the ONE person who is completely underwhelmed.

2. The Scientists in the Field series is pretty hit-or-miss with me. Some I've loved and some I really haven't.

3. It's about ocean currents. And trash. I was not entirely convinced that I cared about either one of those things.

Confession #2: I was wrong! I loved this book! In fact, I think it's my favorite of the Scientists in the Field series so far.

Tracking Trash is about ocean currents, yes. But the cool thing is how these particular oceanographers study ocean currents. For Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, his studies started with a sneaker. Well, a case of sneakers. A case of sneakers that fell off a ship during a storm and began washing up on beaches from Alaska to northern California. What currents brought those shoes to rest on shore? What paths did they take? Why did some of them go north and some go south?

By studying the effects of accidents like this one, scientists are learning more and more about the patterns of the ocean. Maybe someday this can help us clean up the sea. You see, some trash washes up on the shore. Other trash floats around in the middle of the ocean, sometimes creating giant islands of trash. Much of this trash is plastic and that's a big problem because plastic will break into smaller pieces, but it will never break down completely.

This plastic can be harmful to animals who eat it or who get stuck inside plastic pieces. One problem in the ocean is "ghost nets" or nets that have been cut or wrenched loose from ships and now float in the ocean. They still do their jobs - they still catch animals - but now they're killing animals for no reason. Animals also eat plastic pieces and can die from it.

It really made me think about how much plastic I use every day. I was reading the book in bed and I looked over on my nightstand and quickly counted the plastic things there.

My alarm clock, a Chapstick, a remote control, two water bottles, a lotion bottle, the cap to my nail polish, two loose buttons, and the pen I used to write my notes with (not to mention the Mylar cover on the very book I was reading). That's 10 pieces of plastic within two feet of me. I use so much plastic every day and I never really thought about where it ended up when I was done with it. It's certainly gotten me thinking about the three R's: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

This is another great book to use for Earth Day or any day. An interesting science book that will appeal to reluctant readers because it's so unusual. No wonder it was a finalist for a Cybil (read the review posted at the Cybils page). And you'll definitely want to check out Ms. Burns's blog.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Life-Sized Clue


On Saturday, my coworker S and I did a program for middle schoolers. We played life-sized Clue! It was an idea I got from the ILA conference last fall when they had a showcase for the state summer reading theme: Get in the Game - Read! When I found out that my library's programming theme for the spring was "Get Out and Play!", I immediately wanted to do this game at my library. We had a pretty good turnout (despite the fact that the weather was gorgeous for the first time since October or so) and I think all the kids that came had a good time.

This is a great program to put on, especially if you have teen volunteers who will help you with setup. We laid out the game board on the floor with masking tape. It was definitely labor intensive, but if you had a couple of young volunteers, it wouldn't take them too long. It took us a solid hour to get the board set up, but I was happy with it when we was done. I made a sketch of how I wanted to set up the board before I started putting down tape. I based it on the game board, but I made many fewer squares between the rooms. We have a pretty large meeting room, so I made the squares 2' by 2'. That was plenty of room, but you could also have 1' by 1' squares if you have a smaller space. We included all the rooms from the original game and the players' starting points were designated with colored electrical tape (red for Miss Scarlet, blue for Mrs. Peacock, etc.). For the doors into the rooms, we simply wrote "DOOR" on that strip of masking tape.

Of course, we had props. Most of this stuff can be found at your local dollar store. S brought the rope and a wrench from home. The "lead pipe" is a cardboard tube covered with aluminum foil (a paper towel tube would work perfectly for this). We used a water gun as a revolver, a plastic play knife, and a candlestick (all procured at the dollar store, although if you asked around it's quite possible your coworkers might have these items). And, of course, the piece de resistance... the giant die. They come in different sizes for different prices and many online novelty stores carry them. The one I bought is 17" by 17" and I got it at Kopes Great Gifts and Gadgets. The shipping was a little expensive, but they were very prompt and I was happy with the product. It's hard to blow up, but the kids got a kick out of "rolling" it and I really think it was my favorite part of the game.

We let the kids choose their characters and they could play alone or in teams. We ended up having two teams of three (Mrs. White and Mrs. Peacock) and three kids playing a character alone. Both ways worked fine, so you could do this game for as few as two kids or as many as 30-40 (although the game board would be quite crowded with 30 kids on it... I would suggest designating one person per team as the on-the-board player and having the rest hold cards, roll the dice, and keep track of their guesses). After the kids chose characters we went over the rules. I think everyone had played before, but sometimes people have slightly different rules, so it's good to be on the same page. Another note: if you're running the program with a coworker, make sure you figure out exactly what rules you're following before you start!

It took us a little over an hour to run one game (counting the time spent choosing characters and explaining the rules at the beginning). It was the perfect amount of time because by the end of that hour, everyone was tired of standing up. A few of the kids stayed to help me take the tape up when we were done (which is a lot easier than putting it down!).

Oh yeah, and it was Professor Plum with the candlestick in the kitchen. :)

Friday, April 4, 2008

48 Hour Book Challenge, etc.

How excited am I that MotherReader just announced the third annual 48 Hour Book Challenge? Um, very. The challenge is to read as much as possible during a 48-hour period in the weekend of June 6-8. I've always wanted to do it. The first year, I didn't find out about it until it was over. Last year I had to work at my second job the weekend of the challenge. I am determined to participate! Head on over to MotherReader's if you're interested in signing up or if you want to know more.

I also found out that the Chicago Tribune Printer's Row Book Fair is that same weekend... and guess who's going to be there??? Catherine Murdock, author of my beloved Dairy Queen and The Off Season (and Princess Ben which I am waiting for with bated breath)! Seriously, if you haven't read Dairy Queen, I really don't know what you're waiting for. (Oh, and by the way, there will be a third DJ book... apparently not until fall 2009, but it's coming eventually!)

Have you checked out the Children's Book Reviews wiki? It's a collection of book reviews by kidlit bloggers. Picture books, nonfiction, middle grade novels, YA... it's all there. This is definitely a resource to be aware of. I've started adding my reviews and if you're a blogger, I encourage you to participate. If you're a reader, it's a great place to find reviews and ideas of great books to read!

In case you haven't heard, Mo Willems's newest book is... The Pigeon Wants a Puppy! Mo had a contest going on to guess the name of the newest pigeon book. I can't wait to get it and read it.

Did you know they're making a movie of Larklight? Shekhar Kapur (director of Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age) apparently has been signed on to direct. (Thanks to Fuse#8 for the link!) I know several people in my department that will be extremely pleased about this. I haven't read it yet, but I'm certainly bumping it up in my list.

OH. And also, if you've ever wondered how to pronounce the publisher Houghton Mifflin, here is the answer. Honestly, I've always pronounced it wrong and the correct pronunciation is neither of the ways I thought it might be.

I think that's all the news I've got for you right now... Have a great Friday (and be sure to check out the Poetry Friday roundup, especially since it's National Poetry Month...!)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How are you celebrating National Poetry Month??

April is National Poetry Month, so today in After School Adventures, we celebrated poetry. We always pull books for the kids to browse while they wait for the program to start, so I pulled a bunch of poetry books. Two popular ones I noticed the kids poring over were Blackbeard the Pirate and Animal Snackers.

We started by reading the picture book I Know Two Who Said Moo by Judi Barrett. This is a nonsensical rhyming book that rhymes each number with a ridiculous number of words. Crazy pictures accompany and the kids loved picking out the details in the pictures. You can also challenge the kids to see how many words they can think of that rhyme with "two" or "seven".

We also shared some of our favorite poems. I read a few from the book Who Swallowed Harold by Susan Pearson. My favorite one is called "Do Goldfish Pee?" and I challenged them not to laugh (they couldn't do it). All the poems in this collection are about pets and although they asked for funny ones, I think they liked the not-funny ones, too. I also shared some poems from Douglas Florian's Mammalabilia because I love Douglas Florian.

B broke out the uke and we sang "Miss Mary Mack" with the kids joining in on the repeated parts. They like to be silly about it and I think they got really into it. We sang it normally twice and then we sang it superfast.

Then it was time for our craft. We have wonderful volunteers who cut out hundreds of typed words and we made a kind of "magnetic" poetry activity. Each kid had a piece of construction paper and could choose words to glue to their paper to make a nonsensical poem. We stressed that it didn't have to rhyme and it didn't have to make sense... in fact, the sillier the better! We realized that we didn't know if all the kids could read yet, so we also cut out pictures from discarded magazines so the kids could collage and decorate their poems.

The kids came up with great poems, very funny and silly, and they looked great all decorated with the magazine pictures. The kids at our program were grades K-2nd, but I think this craft would be great for older kids, too. Last year we hung a magnetic board in our Teen Zone and provided magnetic poetry for the middle schoolers to play with, which was also a big hit. We certainly had fun celebrating National Poetry Month and I hope you do, too!