Saturday, May 31, 2008

A few things on Saturday morning...

Have you seen the new cover for Breaking Dawn?

I am suitably intrigued.

(Thanks to my Borders Rewards account for sending me an email with the cover.)

Speaking of things that intrigue me, Lisa's got a rather intriguing post up: What Would You Buy with $50K? A friend of hers has $50,000 to buy materials for a new elementary school library. Head over to Lisa's blog to check out Lisa's list and add your own suggestions.

And I'd like to point out a blog that I've recently discovered and love. The Crafty Crow is a great, great collection of children's craft ideas. It's updated very frequently with craft ideas for all ages. Each post contains a photo of the craft in question and a link to the instructions. I've already bookmarked a whole bunch of posts with crafts I might use for our fall session of After School Adventures. The posts are all tagged with age groups and may other helpful tags which makes the site a really valuable resource. If you're a crafty librarian or a non-crafty librarian in desperate need of easy, interesting crafts (*raises hand*), you won't want to miss this site.

Happy Saturday, everyone! My parents are in town, so I'm off to the city for lunch and a show!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Review: The Patron Saint of Butterflies

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante. (Grades 7+)

Mount Blessing is the only home Agnes has ever known. She was born on this religious commune and has lived there for all of her fourteen years. She's a Believer. She strives to behave as a saint would, even going so far as to fast and wear a tight rope around her middle to atone for her sins. She lives the way Emmanuel, the leader of their commune, wants her to, even if it means being punished by him when she's done wrong.

Honey is Agnes's best friend. She's also lived her whole life at Mount Blessing, but her take on it is a bit different than Agnes's. Maybe it's because her mother abandoned her there to be raised by Emmanuel and the other Believers, but Honey hates Mount Blessing. She won't stand for the punishments Emmanuel doles out and she skips services whenever she can get away with it.

Life goes on at Mount Blessing much as it always has... until Agnes's grandmother stops by for a surprise visit and discovers the awful truth of Emmanuel's punishments. Nana Pete decides then and there that she's taking Agnes and Honey out of that place. But it won't be so easy to adjust to life on the outside. And both Agnes and Honey will discover answers to questions they didn't even know they had.

I was immediately drawn in to this story, which is told in alternating chapters by both Agnes and Honey. They're two very different characters with very different views on their life at Mount Blessing. Although I found the character of Honey to be more likeable (she's so spunky and stands up for herself and her own beliefs), I was more intrigued by Agnes. I loved Agnes's transition as she starts to see things in the real world and starts to question everything she's always been taught. It felt so real. There's one particular scene where they attend Sunday services at a Southern Baptist church in North Carolina that really put me right into the moment. I felt like I was there happy and sad and mixed up right alongside Agnes.

That's the other thing I really loved about this book. Besides the intriguing characters, the writing made me feel like I was there. When Honey was working in the butterfly garden at the commune, I could feel the sun on my face and smell the fresh earth all around me. I've never been to a religious commune (or a Southern Baptist church service, for that matter) and Ms. Galante made me feel like I was walking beside the characters in everything they did.

Don't take my word for it. Check out Becky's review and Sarah's review and Melissa's review. Also, Little Willow's got an interview with Cecilia Galante that you won't want to miss. Ms. Galante's also got another book that just came out, Hershey Herself, and I assure you it's been added to my TBR list.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Audiobook Roundup: More Picture Books

I've had the pleasure of listening to some more excellent picture book recordings lately. Here are some more of my favorites:

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble. Narrated by Lance White Magpie. Live Oak Media. (K-2nd.)

Okay, take a story that will already appeal to young horse fans. Add excellent narration and awesome sound effects. What do you have? You have the perfect recording to hand to young readers. In this Caldecott-winning picture book, a young Native American girl takes care of her people's horses. When a thunderstorm scares the herd, the young girl is whisked away with them. The lead stallion welcomes her and the girl becomes part of the herd, happier with the horses than with her own family. Realistic sound effects like thunder and hoof beats make the story come to life.

Hansel and Gretel by James Marshall. Narrated by Kathy Bates. Weston Woods. (Preschool-2nd.)

One thing I really love about Weston Woods recordings is that they have such great music. Hansel and Gretel is no exception. A lively score plays under the narrator during the whole story and it really adds a lot. This familiar fairy tale features brother and sister team Hansel and Gretel. When their mom leads them into the woods in the hopes of getting rid of them (how did she find her way back home, I ask you?), they end up eating pieces of the witch's candy house. The story might be a bit disturbing to younger preschoolers, but kids who know the story will delight in this wonderful recording.

Giggle, Giggle, Quack by Doreen Cronin. Narrated by Randy Travis. Weston Woods. (Preschool-K.)

Speaking of wonderful Weston Woods recordings, I can't recommend the Duck books enough. Lively banjos and fiddles accompany much of this farm story and it's punctuated with animal sound effects (including a very Donald-Duck-esque duck snicker). This sequel to Click Click Moo, Cows That Type has Farmer Brown leaving the farm in the care of his brother. "Just follow my instructions and everything will be fine," Brown says. But when Duck gets his wings on those instructions, some very funny things start to happen at the farm. This is a surefire hit with the preschool crowd.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Book Review: Outbreak!

Outbreak!: Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard. (Grades 5-8.)

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

Some diseases have changed the course of history. Did you know that the Black Plague helped break down the peasant-crushing feudal system of Europe? That smallpox paved the way for the European colonization of the Americas? That yellow fever might have helped end slavery?

Bryn Barnard has examined six pandemic-causing diseases and how they affected history. He talks about the Black Plague, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, tuberculosis, and influenza. He maps the spread of the diseases over continents and/or the world and talks about how each disease was perceived, how it was treated at the time, discoveries connected with the disease, and how all of these things affected the people of the time. I found it it be utterly fascinating and a great book for anyone interested in medical science or history.

This book has been criticized for its political slant and it's true that Barnard writes in a fairly candid manner and definitely lets his opinion in. I did notice Barnard's political jibes, but they didn't bother me. Although a pretty extensive list of sources is included, I wouldn't consider this title to be a reference work but rather an appealing recreational nonfiction read.

My only real problem with this book is its format. It's been published as a fairly large picture book, 48 pages long. The large pages are mostly covered with text with few breaks. For each of the diseases there are a couple of lovely paintings depicting some aspect of the disease. I think this book would have worked better as a smaller book. I think that would make it more appealing to the middle schoolers to whom the text is aimed and that would make the text-heavy pages smaller and more manageable.

Although I would have preferred a smaller volume, that didn't deter me from picking it up and devouring it. It might take some booktalking to bring it to their attention, but definitely consider this one for those science-minded kids and history buffs looking for a great read.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Who else is excited about MotherReader's 48-Hour Book Challenge? *raises hand*

I've been plotting my reading pile for weeks now, determined to have on hand a variety of books from which to choose. The colorful pile is currently teetering on my kitchen table and I can't wait to dig in. But there are always room for more...

So here's my question for you: What books have you read lately that were utterly un-put-down-able? Long or short, they were so engrossing that you couldn't help but read them in one or two sittings because you just didn't want to stop.

Books that fell into that category for me include Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant (it's a novel in verse, is that cheating for the challenge?), Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, Good Enough by Paula Yoo, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman.

What are yours? What books should I add to my pile for the 48HBC??

Friday, May 23, 2008

Master the ART of Reading

Our theme for the Summer Reading Club this summer is Master the Art of Reading. Our programs and reading clubs this summer are all centered around different kinds of art. Drawing, painting, dancing, singing...

Oh, wait. I must stop myself before I go into the whole Summer Reading Club spiel.

That's right.
It's that time again. Time for our visits to the local schools to pass out fliers and talk about the Summer Reading Club. To be honest, it's one of my favorite things to do! We go to all the elementary schools in our district, send fliers to the middle schools, and I've been scheduling our visits to local preschools as well.

Now, when we go to the elementary schools we do the spiel. We tell them about the Summer Reading Club: how to join, what they have to do, what fabulous prizes they will earn. We also tell them about some of the cool programs we have going on this summer. But when we go to the preschools we do things a little bit differently. We start each visit with a story and then go into a brief spiel about the read-to-me club and a couple of the most appealing programs for preschoolers.

So, my challenge is to find picture book readalouds appropriate for all preschool ages (generally from 2 to 5 or 6 years old) that tie in to our summer reading theme. Last year we did Get a Clue and we brought books that had to do with solving mysteries. This year I needed to find books about art. A couple of favorites jumped to mind, but I turned to the good people at PUBYAC for some more suggestions and, as usual, they did not let me down. I'd like to share a few of our favorite art-related books for preschoolers.

The first book that jumped to my mind was Karen Beaumont's fabulous I Ain't Gonna Paint No More! This catchy picture book can be sung (to the tune of It Ain't Gonna Rain No More) or read and the bright, silly pictures are a surefire hit with the preschool crowd. A boy gets caught painting up his house and vows not to paint anything else... but temptation gets the better of him and he just has to take some red and paint his... head. The rhyming verses encourage kids to guess which body part he will paint next. One teensy red flag is the use of the word "heck". I read this to a Methodist preschool class and one little boy whispered "It said a bad word, it said heck!" So... something to be aware of.

Another hit with our older preschoolers has been Art by Patrick McDonnell. Art is the name of our main character here and Art loves to do art. He paints, draws, doodles, and even his blotches and squiggles all come together in a beautiful, colorful spread that elicits "Ooohs" and "Aaahs". And at the end, Art's art ends up on the refrigerator because mother loves A(a)rt.

For the younger crowd, you really can't go wrong with Mouse Paint by Ellen Walsh. It starts with three white mice on a white piece of paper. Why are they on a white piece of paper? They're hiding from the cat, of course. Well, one day the three mice find three jars of paint. They think it is mouse paint. So they dive right in. This starts our colorful story as the mice discover what different colors they can make by combining red, yellow, and blue. This is a great, simple story for younger preschoolers and they can name the colors that come up on every page. I've yet to meet anyone who is not a fan of Mouse Paint.

Museum 1 2 3 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a really cool way for little kids to look at art. It goes through the numbers 1-10 and invites readers to count objects in art. Although the book is a little small for group readalouds, it would be a great book to peruse one on one. It's an interesting way to expose kids to art. Kids will love to search the pictures to find the objects.

One of the books that jumped immediately to mind is a personal favorite of mine: Micawber by John Lithgow. Upon inspection, this book seemed a little too much for the preschool crowd, but I think it would work great with lower elementary kids. Micawber is a squirrel who loves to sneak into the art museum every day and watch the people copying the great masterpieces. One day he hitches a ride home with an unwitting artist and that night he borrows some of her paints to create his own masterpiece. Micawber continues painting until he has enough art to start his own animal art museum. I love the great rhyming text which has a really rich vocabulary and the sweet story with colorful pictures. I won't forget this one when we start up our elementary storytimes in the fall.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to point out two new favorites that were suggested by PUBYAC members. Art Is and Artful Reading, both by Bob Raczka. In Art Is, Raczka takes famous words of art and creates a rhyming text that points out all the different forms art can take. The rhyming text is simple enough to use with younger kids and Raczka includes additional information about each piece, making the book appealing to older readers as well. In Artful Reading, Raczka has collected art that features readers, again with a rhyming text that presents the art in an interesting way.

These wonderful art-related books are helping us kick off what is sure to be a very colorful summer at the library!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stuffed Animal Sleepover

What fun was had at the library this Friday! I hosted a Stuffed Animal Sleepover and I think it was great fun for all involved. Here's what we did:

On Friday at 4:00 we had a storytime and invited kids to bring their stuffed animal for a sleepover at the library. We read books about toys and bedtime, then the kids made name tags for their toys (just to ensure that no one's got mixed up), and then they tucked them in for the night.

What did we read for our Stuffed Animal Sleepover? We read Corduroy by Don Freeman, Where's My Teddy? by Jez Alborough, and How Will I Ever Sleep in This Bed? by Della Ross Ferreri. We also did Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed with finger puppets, Teddy Bear Teddy Bear Turn Around, and a felt story about the first teddy bear. The storytime lasted about 25 minutes and then we had the kids make name tags. I had cut out a teddy bear Ellison shape, punched a hole through it, and threaded some yarn through the hole to make name tags the kids could put on their stuffed animals. We asked them to write the toy's name on one side and the kid's name on the other side. (I had visions of things getting horribly mixed up and people taking the wrong toys home, but all went smoothly, thank goodness.)

Once everyone was gone, we librarians got out the stuffed animals and took photos of them "playing" around the library. On Saturday, the kids came to pick up their toy. We printed out one picture for each child to take home and showed them all the other pictures. I wasn't there for the pickup, but from what I hear the photos were a big hit and we got some great feedback. This was a fun, inexpensive program that I will definitely do again in the future. I don't think we even really needed to print out a picture for them. Most kids seemed to be thrilled with looking at the pictures on the computer and I emailed the pictures to any interested families.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Summer Blog Blast Tour

Today's the kick-off for the 2008 Summer Blog Blast Tour and you won't want to miss it. Colleen over at Chasing Ray is organizing and it looks to be fabulous. Already I've learned about R.L. LaFevers's new Theodosia book due out in November (yay!) and Adam Rex's sequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich: Frankenstein Takes the Cake (also yay!). (And I know one coworker's daughter who will be Very Happy to hear about the new Adam Rex.) Different interviews will be up all week long, so make sure you stop by.

Annnd to flesh out this post, I'm doing a meme that Melissa tagged me for awhile ago. I will present 6 incredibly random things about myself:

1. I started my first website when I was in high school. It was on Angelfire and it was called Abby's Place. A guy from the local newspaper wrote an article about kids with websites and he interviewed me for it, but the day the article came out Angelfire crashed and I lost my entire site. It was a bummer.

2. I wrote my first book in Kindergarten for the Young Author's contest. It was about an owl and my teacher helped me cut out pages in the shape of an owl's head.

3. When I worked for a major corporate bookstore chain, I got to dress up in the book character costumes that came to the store. I was Spot, Miss Spider, Froggy, and Clifford. It's not that it's so hot in there, really, but more that it's hard to breathe and it smells bad. It's worth it, though, for how excited the kids get.

4. When my brother and I were little, the whole family would read Richard Scarry books at bedtime and we'd all try to find Lowly Worm and Goldbug on the pages.

5. I totally had a literary crush on Johnny Tremain in the fifth grade.

6. When I was in middle school, I had over 70 pen pals from all around the world. I had a map in my room with pins that showed each pal's location and I would get up to 10 letters a day. It was awesome getting so much mail, but somewhere along the line I lost touch with every single one of them. I think I still have folders full of their letters at my parents' house, though.

There. Now you know some incredibly random things about me. I'm not so into the tagging people thing, so if you want to do this meme, consider yourself tagged. If not, no harm, no foul.

Book Review: In Our Village

In Our Village: Kambi ya Simba Through the Eyes of Its Youth edited by Barbara Cervone. (Grades 3-7.)

(As usual, happy Nonfiction Monday and be sure to head over to Picture Book of the Day for the roundup!)

I stumbled upon this title while I was weeding the 900s section. It's a project created by Awet Secondary School in Tanzania and an organization called What Kids Can Do. This book gives us a look inside a small village in Tanzania.

In Kambi ya Simba life is much different than it is here in the States. Nearly half the people in Tanzania live under the poverty line, which is $180 a year. Access to electricity is scare in some places, in particular rural areas. Farming is the livelihood of many people, tying their lives to the whims of nature. Although education is improving, only one in ten kids continues on to secondary school which they have to pay tuition for.

This book was created by students at the Awet Secondary School and many of the photos were taken by them. They chose what they wanted to share with the world, what they would want the world to know about their village. And it's an enlightening look into the dreams and realities of one small African village. Some information is added by Tanzanian professionals such as doctors and agricultural experts who comment on some of the problems faced in the village. But the book is not all about problems. The children of Kambi ya Simba are friendly and ambitious. Some dream of being doctors, lawyers, and presidents. Here's a chance to look at the world through someone else's eyes.

The preface gives information about how Cervone came to start this project and how she met the kids at Awet Secondary School. The bulk of the book contains short chapters about many aspects of village life: cooking, farming, raising livestock, going to school, riding bicycles, singing, building houses, making clothing, etc. A section at the end gives additional information on Tanzania, including a map and a fairly lengthy glossary of Swahili words.

I thought it was a wonderful book, though not perfect. I wished the photos had captions. I'd like to know which were taken by students and which weren't. The text is edited together rather than presented as separate essays. Although Cervone gives a reason for doing this (wanting to make the book as coherent as possible and avoid communication breakdowns because of differences in English), it would have been neat to at least see some excerpts of essays from the kids to get a sense of their voices and get to know them.

Still, I think it's a great idea for a book and I think it would be interesting to use it as a class project. If kids in Illinois (or Hawaii or New York or wherever) could create a book to show other kids the important things about where they lived, what information would they include? What pictures would they take to show the world their hometown?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Book Review: Larklight

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space by Philip Reeve. (Grades 4-8.)

I'm a bit late to the bandwagon on this title. Larklight's gotten rave reviews all over the place, it was nominated for a 2006 Cybil, and now it's being turned into a movie. But better late than never, eh?

This book is fabulous.

It's set in space... kinda.

In the world of Larklight, Sir Isaac Newton discovered the secrets to space travel and Britain has colonized many of Earth's surrounding planets and moons. Arthur and Myrtle Mumby live with their father in a ramshackle, space-traveling house called Larklight. Mother has died and Arthur is concerned about his father who's withdrawn into his study and only seems to care about collecting specimens for the Royal Xenological Society.

And then the spiders show up.

These aren't just any spiders. They are huge white spiders that travel in a spiny black ship and seem intent on capturing the Mumbys and spinning Larklight into a cocoon. Arthur doesn't know why they've come, he just knows they've got to get out of there, so he grabs Myrtle and they take off in the escape hatch. They end up on the moon where they meet Jack Havock and his roving band of pirates, a mish-mash collection of space creatures from all over the galaxy. And their adventures only get wilder from there.

Things you should know about Larklight:

1. It's funny.

2. It's set in an intricately developed alternate Victorian world where there is most definitely life on other planets and creatures travel through the aether to reach said other planets.

3. It has great, great illustrations.

4. There is a sequel out now - Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel, and Curious Hats. And there is a third book due out in the fall - Mothstorm.

Larklight reminded me of a cross between Alice in Wonderland and the TV show Firefly. If you like fantasy with wonderfully crafted worlds (a la His Dark Materials), you should pick up this book. If you like your fantasy funny and with lots of adventure (a la Peter and the Starcatchers), you should pick up this book. I don't think you'll regret it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let me introduce my friend Sally...

Inspired by Ms. Yingling's post about her BLF (Best Literary Friend), I'd like to post a bit about one of my own BLFs. When I was a kid I often read the same books over and over again. They were my favorites. I loved the characters. I loved the stories. I could pick them up and immediately be somewhere familiar. Fifteen years later, nothing has changed. I can still pick up those books and be transported to a familiar place with characters I love to revisit. This week, yearning for the familiar, I picked up one of my childhood favorites: Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself by Judy Blume.

Sally is ten years old and lives in New Jersey in 1947. The memory of the war is fresh in her mind and it's especially relevant because Sally is Jewish; her aunt and cousin died in a concentration camp. When Sally's brother Douglas gets sick, the doctors think the best thing for him would be to spend the winter in a warm climate. So Sally, her mother, her grandmother, and Douglas pack up and move into a tiny apartment in Miami Beach. At first things are really crummy.

Sally's new school is huge compared to her New Jersey school. She's sure she'll never find her way around. On her first day she wears the wrong shoes and her hair is totally different than everyone else's. It's taking forever to get their phone line hooked up, she has to share a room with her brother, and worst of all is that her father had to stay in New Jersey to work. Sally's trying to be brave and think about her time in Florida as an adventure, but it's not always easy...

There's so much to say about this book that I'm not even sure how to summarize it. I think I liked Sally so much because I was a lot like her. I always made up stories just like Sally does. She pictures herself getting cast in movies alongside her favorite actors (Margaret O'Brien and Esther Williams). She doesn't always understand what grown-ups are talking about, but she'll be darned if she'll admit it. She's a little too inquisitive for her own good, but it's only because she doesn't want to be left in the dark.

I haven't reread this book since I was in grade school and I thought about some things that I never thought about before. Like what happened to Sally's Florida friends when she moved back to New Jersey? Did she stay in touch with them or did she never see them again? When she got back to New Jersey, were things back to normal with her old friends? Did she miss Florida or was she glad to be home?

If you're looking for a new literary friend to get to know, I highly recommend picking up Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself. It's still one of my favorites and it's comforting to know that she'll always be there when I want to feel like I'm ten again.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Book Review: Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time

Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee. (Grades 4-7.)

Loving Son
Great Basketball Player
Rotten Student

Those are the words Stanford envisions on his tombstone (page 4). He's just gotten an F on his final book report in Mr. Glick's English class and now he has to go to summer school instead of basketball camp. And if he doesn't pass the class, he'll fail the sixth grade and worse! He'll be kicked off the A-team, the best basketball team in the school. The basketball team that a sixth grader has never made before.

Not only does Stanford have to endure summer school, but his parents have hired the annoying, geeky genius Millicent Min to tutor him. Stanford's grandmother is moving out of their house and into a retirement community (a change she's NOT happy about). And Stanford's dad is working so much he's hardly ever around. When he is around, he's just yelling at Stanford about his grades.

Obviously, this summer stinks.

Stanford doesn't want to tell his friends (teammates on his park district basketball team The Roadrunners) that he flunked English, so he makes up a story about having a summer job. And when the sweet and pretty Emily Ebers starts showing up with Millicent, Stanford worries that she won't like him if she knows he's stupid, so he tells Emily that he's the one tutoring Millie. And after that, well, things just get way out of control.

Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time is a great, great book to pick up for your summer reading pleasure. Once I got into Stanford's story, I couldn't put it down. It was great to see him grow and change and to see the changes that happen to all of his friends, too. A lot can happen in one summer. The story's told in a diary-like format that really kept me turning the pages.

I think the neatest thing about this book is that it's a sequel to Lisa Yee's Millicent Min, Girl Genius. It tells the same story, but from the perspective of Millicent's arch nemesis Stanford. You don't have to read Millicent Min first, so if you enjoy Stanford's story, pick up Lisa Yee's other books to see other characters' points of view. I've really enjoyed Millicent's and Stanford's stories and I'm looking forward to reading Emily's in So Totally Emily Ebers!

Be sure and check out Lisa Yee's blog and visit her over at Fusion Stories.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review: Deadly Invaders

Deadly Invaders: Virus Outbreaks Around the World, from Marburg to Avian Flu by Denise Grady. (Grades 7-10.)

Hypochondriacs beware... this is not the book for you!

But if you happen to have a penchant for the medical, for the icky and the deadly, do pick up this book.

Denise Grady is a science reporter for the New York Times and in 2005, after a massive effort to convince her boss to send her, she traveled to Angola to report on a deadly outbreak of the Marburg virus. Angola is a country in Africa and Marburg is a serious hemorrhagic virus, a cousin of the Ebola virus. It's super contagious and just being in Angola put Grady at risk for catching the disease herself. There's no cure. There's no vaccine. But Grady wanted to get the story, so there she was.

The first half of this book details Grady's time in Angola. She describes the terrible conditions - hospitals overrun, doctors afraid to treat patients for fear they might contract the disease themselves, family members unable to hold a funeral for a loved one because of risk of contamination... Color pictures are included and all the details provided make you feel as if you're really there.

The second half of the book takes us on a tour of other diseases that have caused or might cause pandemics. Diseases included in this portion are AIDS, SARS, Went Nile virus, and avian flu (among others). Grady provides basic details about the disease's origins, how it spreads, and how scientists discovered it. In the 1950s and 60s scientists thought they had a handle on infectious disease and that it would soon all be wiped out. Now they know that new diseases can crop up at any time and that current diseases can mutate and come back to infect hundreds or thousands of people.

Side boxes throughout the book look at topics in detail, such as what a virus is and how it works or how vaccines work. An index is included at the end along with an extensive list of New York Times articles for further reading (it is a New York Times book, after all). This is a great choice for teens interested in medical matters or researching Marburg virus and wanting to get a closer look at those affected by it. The material on other diseases is fairly brief, but definitely interesting.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Audiobook Roundup: A Grab Bag of Picture Books

Picture book audiobooks can be great for kids learning how to read or for classroom listening. Most of the preschool teachers I work with love them and request them on a regular basis. Even if kids are already reading, the excellent narration, sound effects, and music in these titles make them appealing. Here are some of my recent favorites:

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maria Kalman. Narrated by Judd Hirsch. Live Oak Media. (Grades K-3)

This nonfiction picture book starts off in 1931. Many things, great and small are happening, including the launch of the John J. Harvey, a New York fireboat. The John J. Harvey is busily protecting the piers of New York, fighting fires when they spark up and sometimes spouting water just for fun. The years take their toll and by the later part of the century, the John J. Harvey is not in use and will soon be sold for scrap... until a group of friends decides to restore the boat. When the attacks on the World Trade Center occur, the John J. Harvey is called for help and she bravely battles the fires along with scores of other people. Judd Hirsch provides great narration for the story and the sound effects really add to the recording. Although I really recommend the recording, make sure you take a look at the book for its gorgeous pictures. This title was on the 2008 Monarch Award Master List.

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night illustrated by Peter Spier. Narrated by Tom Chapin. Live Oak Media. (Preschool-1st.)

This delightful audio recording presents the traditional song The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night illustrated with full color pictures that alternate with detailed black and white pictures. This would make a great choice for early readers who like to follow along with the CD. Tom Chapin is a great narrator, both for the spoken-word portion and the sung portion. The song is read first and then sung. Three tracks provide 1) the spoken song with page-turn signals, 2) the spoken song without page-turn signals, and 3) the song by itself (sung). This is a great way to introduce kids to this classic song and they're sure to want to sing it again and again.

Epossumondas by Colleen Salley. Narrated by Cynthia Darlow. Recorded Books. (Preschool-2nd.)

This retelling of a traditional Jack tale stars Epossumondas, a young possum who doesn't have the sense he was born with. When Auntie gives him a piece of cake, he carries it in his tight little fist, ending up with nothing but a handful of crumbs. Mother explains to him that the proper way to carry a cake is on top of your head. Later, when Auntie gives Epossumondas a pound of butter to take home, he carries it on top of his head with less than ideal results, and so forth and so on. Cynthia Darlow does a great job with narration. Each character has a really distinct voice and she makes the story a joy to listen to.

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett. Narrated by Frances Sternhagen. Spoken Arts Media. (Preschool-K.)

The story of the Gingerbread Boy is one of my most popular requests around the holiday time and I'm lucky to have several copies of this audio recording in my collection. Narrated by Frances Sternhagen (who played Charlotte's mother-in-law on Sex and the City and Dr. Carter's grandmother on ER), the lively text is accompanied by appropriately lively music. As that gingerbread baby outruns everyone trying to catch him, on young Mattie is clever enough to catch him. This recording makes great listening at the holidays or any time.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: the dead & the gone

the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer. (Grades 7+)

Alex doesn't really have time to watch the news. Between school, his part-time job, the debate team, and keeping his grades up so he can get a scholarship to Georgetown, Alex is kept pretty busy. So when the asteroid hits the moon, Alex doesn't immediately know the danger he's in. He figures it'll take NASA a few days to figure out how to move it back and then life will go on as normal. Sure, it's a bit disconcerting being in charge of his two younger sisters while Papi is in Puerto Rico attending a family funeral, older brother Carlos is deployed with the Marines, and Mami is unable to leave her job at the hospital due to the catastrophe. But they'll be home as soon as they can, Uncle Jimmy has made sure they have plenty of food, and Alex is sure this will all blow over.

Alex is wrong.

This sequel to Life as We Knew It explores the apocalypse through the eyes of a Puerto Rican teenager in New York City. Left alone without his older brother or parents, Alex has to figure out how to feed and protect his two younger sisters. Briana is devout, turning to her faith when all else seems grim. She staunchly holds on to the belief that her parents will return someday. Julie is the baby of the family and she acts that way. She and Alex have always butted heads and now she'll be forced to grow up and deal with the situation they're in.

I loved Life as We Knew It and I thought it was really interesting to see the same event through another character in another place. Alex deals with some of the same problems as Miranda in LAWKI, but he also deals with some very different ones. Alex lives in a major city, so he's able to partake of some social services. He gets lunch at his school, he can pick up bags of food being given out every Friday. But at the same time, these very services cause other problems. There are food riots and epidemics of cholera and influenza. The whole borough of Queens is evacuated, and Alex has heard horror stories about the evacuation stations.

Another interesting difference was the teens' reliance on their faith. Alex and his sisters are all Catholic and they turn to the Church for help. Their Catholic schools feed them, their priest helps Alex look for his father. Although Alex doesn't have his parents to rely on, he comes to rely on the Church family. And he comes to rely on himself, doing whatever is necessary (as distasteful as it may be) to feed his sisters and keep them safe.

All the things you've heard about td&tg being a lot darker than LAWKI are true. LAWKI was seriously ominous, but it seems cheerful compared to this book. There are more graphic scenes in td&tg, too. Bodies are rotting in the streets, people die in front of your eyes... Sensitive readers beware. Also, I highly recommend reading LAWKI before you pick up td&tg. LAWKI really builds the event and presents a lot of information about it, while td&tg drops you right into the action. Knowing from Miranda's account how bad things were going to get really helped build the suspense for me as Alex was stumbling around not reading the newspaper.

When I read LAWKI, I found myself hunting in the pantry for a bag of chocolate chips, ripping the bag open and eating a handful. As I read td&tg I put on more and more articles of clothing until I finished the book and realized I was wearing two pairs of socks and a huge hoodie.

Mad props go out to Jen Robinson who posted on her blog that the book was already in stores. I did not hesitate to run right out to Barnes & Noble and pick up my copy. You'll want to check out her review of td&tg as well. Also check out the review at bookshelves of doom, an interview with Susan Beth Pfeffer at Cynsations, and (of course) Pfeffer's own blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

7:30am - Wake up, hit the snooze button
7:36 - Get up, get dressed, brush teeth, etc. Check email.
8:05 - Leave for work. Listen to CD recording of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in the car.
8:25 - Arrive at library, return books and head upstairs. Put lunch in fridge, turn on lights, computers, printers, etc.
8:35 - Start getting ready for today's preschool Summer Reading Club visits. Collect items to take: books, stickers, and gong.
8:43 - Talk with graphic designer about getting a copy of the read-to-me folder to bring. Talk with my coworker about what we're going to do. Make notes about summer programs I want to talk about.
9:05 - Leave library and drive to local preschool.
9:15-10:30 - Visit seven preschool classes ranging in age from 2-5. We read a story in each class, show them the SRC folder, explain how to sign up for the SRC, and talk about some of the preschool programs we're having. They'll get fliers to take home later in the week with the schedule of programs and SRC details.
10:40 - Arrive back at library, return a school loan book we picked up at the preschool, talk with coworkers about our visit.
10:50 - Check email.
11:00-12:00p - On desk. The weather is awesome and the library is quiet. I straighten up the teen section and the audiobook section. I work on some damaged books (deciding whether to replace them) and work on some weeding in the 900s.
12:00-1:00 - Lunch time! As previously mentioned, the weather is awesome so I eat outside with a couple of friends. I read So Totally Emily Ebers while I eat.
1:00-3:00 - Back on desk. Here's a sampling of questions I am asked:

I need a readaloud for a second grade class. (I suggest Me First, Aaaarrgghh! Spider!, and If You Hopped Like a Frog)

Can you put Evil Star on hold for me? (Yes.)

Where are the bird books? I'm looking for bird pictures, can I find them online? How do I print them? How do I change the size? Do you have basic computer classes? (I show her the bird books. I show her Google Images. I walk her through finding bird pictures, saving them, and manipulating the size on MS Word. I send her downstairs to inquire about computer classes.)

I'm looking for Huck Finn in the Classic Starts series. Do you have it? (We do not own it, but I ILLed it for her and showed her the other Classic Starts books we have.)

3:00-4:00 - Off desk, I work on pulling books for a couple of preschool loan bags. One teacher wants books about graduation/celebrations and beaches/oceans. The other teacher wants books about outer space and the Old West. I get most of the books pulled and print labels for them.

4:00 - I head for home! (Short day today because I'm coming in for a few hours on Saturday for a program.)

And there you have another day in the life of a children's librarian. I've been meaning to do this for awhile, but we've been soooo busy that by the time I remember I wanted to do it, the day is halfway over.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Book Review: Ringside, 1925

Ringside, 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant. (Grades 7+)

In 1925, in the small, sleepy town of Dayton, TN, there was a trial. A local high school teacher was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution to some of his science students. And soon two of the greatest public speakers in the country were coming to battle it out. Did J. T. Scopes break the law by teaching evolution? Was the law constitutional in the first place?

Hundreds of people crammed into the sleepy little town and the trial had lasting effects on many of them. Jen Bryant has written a novel in verse that shows the trial through the eyes of some of the people affected by it. The narrators include Marybeth Dodd, a high school student whose father thinks a woman's place is in the home; Willy Amos, an African-American boy who taught himself to read and write because he's not allowed to go to school; Jimmy Lee Davis, a high school student whose mother has taught him to follow the teachings of the Bible; and Peter Sykes, Jimmy's best friend... or he was until their differing opinions on the trial drove them apart. Each narrator has a distinct voice and takes something different away from the trial. Seeing the trial through so many different points of view really brings it to life.

Plus, the writing is delicious. Take this excerpt from the beginning of the book when Marybeth is talking to her father about the trial:

"Daddy," I said, mixing my pick
of berries in the basket with his,
"I really don't think Mr. Scopes had any
intention of replacing the Holy Book.
I think he just wanted to teach science,
which is not the same as religion,
and I think what everyone at Rhea County High
likes about Mr. Scopes
is that he trusts us to learn both
and know the difference."

Daddy got quiet after that, though I could
hear him mumbling something
under his breath.

I started separating the bigger, sweeter berries
from the smaller, sour ones, until Daddy said:
"Leave 'em together, Marybeth-
if you use both, it makes a better jam."

I did as he said, but I swear
I heard the Lord himself
(pp 13-14)

I was hooked from that poem on. The verses paint a picture of a small Southern town and the people who live and work in it. I thought the whole thing was gorgeous and I loved reading from every character's point of view.

I think that kids with some background information about the Scopes trial and evolution might get more out of this book. Most of the characters are high schoolers and adults, each dealing with their changing (or staunchly unchanging) attitudes in a different way. Another great novel about the Scopes trial is Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial by Ronald Kidd. Also check out Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Book Review: She Touched the World

She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer by Sally Hobart Alexander and Robert Alexander. (Grades 4-7.)

You know about Helen Keller, but have you ever heard of Laura Bridgman? Laura was born about 50 years before Helen and actually taught Annie Sullivan to fingerspell. Laura was born strong and healthy, but when she was a young child she contracted scarlet fever, a disease which robbed her of her hearing, sight, and most of her senses of smell and taste. The world was silent and gray, but Laura proved to be unstoppable. She was intelligent and always curious, exploring everything and touching everyone.

When Laura went to a school for the blind, she quickly learned to communicate. She was delighted to be able to communicate with the people all around her and her questions were nonstop. Her sense of touch was so fine that she could identify different people by the vibrations of their steps. She could feel dirt and lint on her clothes. And now she could fingerspell, read raised print, and write. Laura became famous for what she could do, for the obstacles she had overcome. People all over the country knew her name. And once you read this book, you will, too.

I thought this was a fascinating biography about a person I knew nothing about. I first heard of this book through Sarah Miller, the author of Miss Spitfire. I was intrigued because she was so enthusiastic about the book coming out and I was not disappointed. Tons of photographs accompany the text, making it feel like you just stepped into Laura Bridgman's world. The authors talk about the assistive devices available at the time, like a metal grid with boxes that was used to help blind people do arithmetic or a board with raised lines on it that helped blind people write on straight lines.

At the end of the book there's a section about the authors' research and about how life is different for Deaf-Blind people today. There have been many, many advances in technology that help people with disabilities and, most importantly, attitudes about disabilities have changed.

Hand this one to fans of Helen Keller or anyone looking to read an interesting biography.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Anastasia's got the roundup over at Picture Book of the Day. Go check it out.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Audiobook Review: Nate the Great

Nate the Great Collected Stories by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Read by John Lavelle. Listening Library.

When I was a kid, I loved Nate the Great. When I became a librarian, I remembered that I loved Nate the Great, but I couldn't tell you any of the specifics. It was time for a refresher course and this wonderful recording fit the bill perfectly. It's a collection of eight mysteries that's a great introduction to Nate or a great way to relax with a favorite friend.

As I listened, I delighted in John Lavelle's narration of the different characters (my favorite is Rosamund who is undoubtedly strange and has four cats named Super Hex, Big Hex, Little Hex, and Plain Hex). The stories are simple enough and the narration interesting enough to catch the attention of preschoolers and the mysteries will appeal to kids in lower elementary. This would be a perfect audiobook to take along on a short car ride with small kids.

It's also a perfect audiobook for those of us with a short commute to work. Each story lasted almost precisely the time of my morning and evening commute (about 10-15 minutes). Plus, since they're all separate stories you don't have to remember where you left off when you come back to it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like John Lavelle's recorded anything else, but I'll certainly be on the lookout because I really enjoyed his reading.

So, what are you waiting for? Go make some pancakes and eat them while listening to Nate the Great Collected Stories.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Book Review: Waiting for Normal

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor. (Grades 4-7)

Addie's family life has never been what she would call "normal". Her mom is unreliable, all or nothing, excited about a new business venture one day, chain smoking in front of the TV the next. And sometimes Mommers leaves for days at a time.

Addie's ex-step-father Dwight looks out for her as best he can. He lives with her two half-sisters in another town and thought Addie loves him and he loves her, he can't get custody because he's not blood related.

Oh, Addie's a strong one and she copes pretty well. She's learned to cook with whatever groceries Mommers leaves for her, dividing up the food to stretch it as long as possible. Although she has dyslexia, she works hard at her school work and her music. But as long as Addie can remember, she's just been getting by, taking each day as it comes... and always, always waiting for normal.

I absolutely fell in love with Addie. She's certainly a great candidate to be your next BLF (Best Literary Friend). Although it seems like so much is stacked against her, Addie's an eternal optimist. She always believes that her mom will come home before the food runs out. She believes that she can learn the music for her school concert even though reading music is pretty much impossible for her. She's tenacious and full of life, despite the obstacles in her path.

She's also friendly and very loving. In so many foster kid/screwed-up-home-life novels, the kids are completely distrusting of other people, sometimes even hostile so that they won't be betrayed again. Addie is just the opposite. She quickly makes friends with the quirky folks who run the minimart across the street. She makes friends at her new school. And she unfailingly trusts her mother to take care of things, sometimes to her own detriment.

The book is very character-based, not heavy on plot. But that's one of its charms. For those looking to read a book with a main character you'll love to get to know and a handful of interesting secondary characters, this book entirely fits the bill. In that respect, it reminds me of Heartbeat by Sharon Creech. I'd also definitely hand this one to fans of Shug by Jenny Han.

Read more reviews at A Fuse #8 Production and Literate Lives.