Saturday, January 31, 2009

Around the interwebs

Interested in kidlit and kidlit blogs? Check out the brand new site Kidlitosphere Central. This is your one-stop guide to kidlitosphere news, kidlit blogs, the Kidlitosphere Conference and more. It's fabulous!

Tomorrow is the start of Black History Month, so remember to head over to The Brown Bookshelf where they'll be starting Twenty Eight Days Later - an annual feature of spectaular African-American authors and illustrators.

Don't miss the January Carnival of Children's Literature, hosted by Lisa at Under the Covers. I had a particularly strong reaction to the post in Mommy's Favorite Children's Books about what to do when you discover a corporate ad in a children's book. Make sure you head over there and put in your two cents.

Remember, there's still time to enter my giveaway for The Siege of Macindaw, the sixth installment in the Ranger's Apprentice series. I have five advance copies to give away and as of this posting there are only 14 entries, so your chances are good! Who's got kids or students that are Ranger's Apprentice fans? Give them a chance to read the latest book before it's on the shelf!

And on that note, I'm off to snuggle back under my blanket. At 37 degrees, today's actually the warmest day Chicagoland has seen in quite awhile, but it's still pretty cold! :)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Storytime Selections

Earlier this week I had a storytime that went really well. It was that perfect blend of happy kids and fun stories that made for a really nice experience (for kids and librarians alike).

We always start with the song "Shake Your Sillies Out" so they have a chance to move around a little bit and get some of those wiggles out.

Then we read There's a Billy Goat in the Garden by Laurel Dee Gugler with really neat illustrations by Clare Beaton. The pictures are done in fabric and there are lots of nice details to appreciate. It's also a big, colorful book which makes it great for storytime. The story is simple - there's a billy goat in the garden and he will not come out. All of the animals try to get him out (and the kids chimed in with each animal sound), but none succeed until the tiny bee buzzes in and the goat goes running.

Next up was a big book of Freight Train by Donald Crews. This is a perennial favorite and kids named the colors of the cars and pretended to be trains with us. Since they had just named lots of colors, we went right into If You're Wearing Red Today, which is always a fun song to get the kids moving a little bit.

Next up was a personal favorite of mine: Minerva Louise and the Red Truck. Minerva Louise is an oblivious chicken who always seems to get things mixed up. If you've got a lively crowd, they'll find the mix-ups hilarious. Sometimes this one can go over the kids' heads (or maybe they're laughing on the inside... who knows...), but today it was just right.

Then my coworker B whipped out his uke and we all sang "Oh Hey, Oh Hi, Hello". This is a really fun song! We taught the kids the chorus (Oh Hey, Oh Hi, Hello) and then as you go through the verses you sing the chorus in all different ways - quiet, loud, sad, mad, and underwater. B encouraged everyone (kids and grownups alike) to sing along and it was quite fun. You can find this song on Jim Gill's CD Jim Gill Makes it Noisy in Boise, Idaho. If you haven't checked out Jim Gill's CDs, you really should. They are great fun and we use them all the time in our storytimes!

We ended with How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? This is another perennial favorite and it works great with a warmed up crowd. The kids giggled as they shouted "NO!" after each dinosaur's rude behavior. (My personal favorite is the dinosaur throwing his spaghetti in the air.)

You'll notice that we don't generally stick to themes for storytimes. Our philosophy is that it's better to have a handful of great readalouds than use a mediocre book or two just because you're sticking to a theme.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Evening Shift in the Life of a Children's Librarian

12:50p - Arrive at work. Greet coworkers, put things away, change my shoes (there is snow EVERYWHERE!).

1:00p - Check email, check staff blog.

1:13p - Work on evaluating damaged books. We're each responsible for certain sections of books and when books are damaged, we evaluate them to determine if we can fix them, if we want to replace them, or if we want to withdraw them. The funniest "damaged" book I ever got had the following note on the damaged slip: "Cheese in pocket." I opened it up and sure enough there was a small piece of American cheese in the pocket. :)

1:57p - Take a stack of damaged books to our Technical Services department to be withdrawn or fixed.

2:00p - Attend training on the Evanced online summer reading module. We're going to use it this summer and it's going to be really interesting to see what happens since it's very different from what we've done in the past. The training is a webinar, which is like a conference call but with an internet screen on a projector so that all the participants can see what the trainer is showing you online. A librarian from Adult Services covers our desk so that everyone in the department can attend.

3:00p - Training is over so I head back to the office where I sort through my files and get rid of a huge stack of papers that I no longer need. I get about halfway through my files when...

3:30p - I meet with a representative from an audiobook vendor. The previous rep was promoted, so this is a chance for me to meet with the new guy. I talk to him about our needs and he talks to me about how they can meet those needs.

4:00p - Back to my desk to continue organizing files.

4:25p - Take another stack of damaged books to Technical Services on my way to lunch.

4:30p - Lunch break!

5:00-9:00p - I'm on desk. I generally work Thursday nights and they're generally pretty slow. Tonight was no exception, so I work on some audiobook kit weeding and my "missing" list. Every so often we get a printed list of items in our sections that have a "missing" status. That means that we've looked for them on the shelf and they were not there. When we get a missing list, we look for the item one last time and if it's not there we decide whether to replace it or to withdraw the record from the catalog.

I also grab Clementine from the shelf and start reading through it a little bit. In a couple of weeks I'll be reading this title to a group of kids at a local school on their lunch time.

8:50p - We start shutting down the games computers and let everyone know we're closing. We help them find any last thing they're looking for and make sure everyone's downstairs before shutting everything down.

9:00p - The library's closed! Time to go home and watch The Office and 30 Rock!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Youth Media Awards

So, the kidlitosphere is all abuzz with talk of the Youth Media Awards and I have to confess that I couldn't wait to get home from work tonight so I could buzz, too.

The live webcast was great because even if you were, say, out at the reference desk with no sound you could still read the awards. The live Twitter was great until it went kablooey just before the Caldecott and Newbery medals were announced. (My, there was some freaking out going on in Twitterland just then.)

So, The Graveyard Book won the Newbery. I'm not at all surprised (and after all, we did have this on our Mock Newbery list) and the more I think about it the more it seems like a great choice. It's got kid appeal. It's a "boy book". And Neil Gamian wrote an adorable post about getting the news. Okay, I admit it was far from my favorite book of 2008, but that's okay! I'm on board with this medal winner.

I'm also on board with the honor books! Yay for The Underneath! And Savvy! I was very surprised and delighted to see Savvy on the list. Ingrid Law was surprised and delighted, too. I haven't read After Tupac & D Foster and I had never even heard of The Surrender Tree (but rest assured I have checked it out and will read it tonight). My coworker J said to me that it's a very crowd-pleasing list. It's got kid appeal. A first-author. "Ethnic" titles (for lack of a better term). Something that's not a novel (poetry). A little bit of something for everyone.

I am astonished that Chains didn't get any recognition. But hey, it won the Scott O'Dell award and Laurie Halse Anderson got the Margaret Edwards Award, so that's pretty awesome. She also has an adorable post about winning.

I'm not at all surprised that The House in the Night took the Caldecott medal. It's just gorgeous.

I'm also not surprised that Jellicoe Road took the Printz. It's... well, let's just say that it's not my favorite book and leave it at that. I am very pleased about the Printz honor books, especially Frankie, which was a Cybils finalist.

I'm so happy for Mo Willems, winner of the Geisel Award for Are You Ready to Play Outside? We love Elephant and Piggie! I'm also happy about Chicken Said, "Cluck!" and Wolfsnail, which were a couple of favorites for me, as well.

No one is surprised by We Are the Ship taking the Sibert and Coretta Scott King. It's a good thing the book is so large so that all the medals will fit on it. :) I'm a little bit surprised that Kadir Nelson didn't edge in on the Caldecott action, but I suppose three awards will do...

What else? What else? I'm happy to see Waiting for Normal being recognized and Jerk, California is definitely on my TBR list. Both received Schneider Family Book Awards.

Oh, and I was also excited to see Bodies From the Ice win a Sibert honor. And I'm happy to see A Curse Dark as Gold take home the first Morris Award (Elizabeth C. Bunce was happy about that, too!).

So, the excitement's over for now. I just have one more comment I'd like to make and that is about how awesome the blogosphere is. I mean, it takes awhile for the ALA websites to be updated, but the winners could be live-blogged and you could read people's reactions immediately. It was especially fun for me to see the reactions of the authors who were honored. And Twittering about the winners was great. My beloved John Green wasn't honored today, but he was providing live commentary as the awards were announced, as were several other bloggy friends. Makes me feel all warm and squishy to be part of a community that cares about books like that. :)

Book Review: All About Sleep

All About Sleep: From A to Zzzz by Elaine Scott. (Grades 4-7.)

You spend about a third of your life asleep, but what really happens to you while you're sleeping? Ancient physicians thought that you fall asleep because all the blood drains from your head or because heat sinks into the middle of your body. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries some people thought you fall asleep when too much cholesterol builds up in your body or because there's too little or too much blood in your head.

In this readable non-fiction book, Elaine Scott explores brain waves, neurotransmitters, circadian rhythms, and dreams (among many other things!). Although this book is filled with facts, it's not overwhelming because it's presented in a very accessible fashion.

Fun facts are scattered throughout the text. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln had a dream about a president being assassinated three days before he was killed? Or that Harriet Tubman had narcolepsy?

I give this book high marks for being interesting and readable, but lower marks for design*. John O'Brien provides cartoony illustrations, but big blocks of text make up much of the books. Spiffy it is not - you'll find no glossy photos or colorful sidebars here - but please don't let that deter you. Scott presents lots of information in an accessible way, making this a great book for pleasure reading. An index and bibliography make it suitable for research, as well.

Don't miss Elaine Scott's website. Earlier this year I reviewed Scott's Mars and the Search for Life and When is a Planet Not a Planet? and you'll certainly want to check out some of her other fascinating books! She's quickly becoming one of my favorite non-fiction writers!

Don't fall asleep on this Non-Fiction Monday. Check out the roundup at Simply Science (that oughta keep you awake!).

*I might be a little biased here because, to be completely honest, John O'Brien really doesn't do it for me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Caudill predictions

Looking for the 2010 Rebecca Caudill nominees? Go here! I was right about three of my predictions! - AtL, Feb. 4, 2009

Predictions for the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards are all over the kidlitosphere every year. I've participated in a Mock Newbery and a Mock Caldecott this year. But today I'd like to offer some predictions for the 2010 Rebecca Caudill nominees. The list should be out soon and it'll consist of 20 books.

Last year I offered a few predictions and even got a couple of them right. What would I like to see on this year's Caudill list*?

Lesley M.M. Blume's Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters was on the 2009 nominee list. There's no stipulation that an author can't win the award twice and there are two other books by Blume that I liked more than Cornelia. Tennyson, which was out in 2008 and The Rising Star of Rusty Nail, which was out in 2007. I'd be happy to see either of those on the list. (It seems like the Caudills tend not to be published in the previous year, so my money'd be on Rusty Nail.)

I'd love to see something by Lee Weatherly on the list. Breakfast at Sadie's (2006) is my personal favorite, but Kat Got Your Tongue (2007) is another possibility.

Other predictions:

Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller (2007).

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech (2006) and A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (2007) are both distinct possibilities. I reviewed them both audiobooks here.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate (2007).

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Laura Tarshis (2007).

No Talking by Andrew Clements (2007).

I'm not sure when the list will be announced, but I suspect it may be next weekend that the committee is meeting. (Is anyone reading on the committee? When will they determine the Master list?)

I'm sure there will be 20 great books on the list, some of which I'll have read and some of which will be new to me. That's one of the things I like best about the Caudill list - it's a way to find great books that I might not otherwise have picked up!

So, Illinois librarians and teachers, what do YOU think might be on the list???

*Note: I'm not and never have been on the Caudill committee, so all of this is purely speculation!

And the Mock Caldecott winner is...

Last night I got together with several of my coworkers for a very casual Mock Caldecott discussion. We checked out stacks and stacks of picture books from many Mock Caldecott lists. We ordered pizza. And we talked picture books.

After three rounds of voting, we declared a tie for the Caldecott Medal:

Boycott Blues by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney and On the Farm by David Elliott, illustrated by Holly Meade.

We also declared four honor books:

Cat & Mouse by Ian Schoenherr, Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and Ed Young, We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, and The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes.

I've never predicted any of the awards correctly before and the Caldecott stumps me the most out of all of them. But this was a great excuse to get together with my awesome colleagues and familiarize ourselves with some of the best pictures books published this year.

Tomorrow we'll find out for real... can you feel the anticipation building??

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ranger's Apprentice Giveaway!!

I posted yesterday about The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan, which is available as a free eBook until February 15.

If you're a fan of the series, I have exciting news for you... Penguin Young Readers Group has kindly provided 5 advanced copies of the sixth book, The Siege of Macindaw, for me to give away!

This contest is available to US residents. To enter in the giveaway, leave a comment on this post by midnight CST on February 7! Please include your email address if it's not readily available in your profile.

If you help me spread the word by posting about this giveaway on your blog or Twitter, I'll give you an extra entry in the giveaway. Just leave me a link to your post or Twitter page in your comment!

Five winners will be chosen at random on Sunday, February 8. The book won't be on shelves until August, so this is a great chance to get an early look at the next book in this awesome series!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ranger's Apprentice

One series the kids at my library are crazy for is the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan. The first book in the series, The Ruins of Gorlan, was a 2008 Rebecca Caudill nominee and we absolutely could not keep it on the shelf.

The sixth book is coming out this summer and for a limited time you can read the first book in the series online for free! The Ruins of Gorlan ebook is available HERE through February 15, so if you haven't read it, do check it out!

Skeleton Creek

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman. (Grades 7+)

I know my writing has changed in the past year. The two kinds of writing - the made-up scary stories and the documenting of events in Skeleton Creek - have slowly become one. I don't have to make up stories any longer, because I'm more certain than ever that the very town I live in is haunted.

This is the truth.

And the truth, I've learned, can kill you

Ryan needs to write things down. He needs to get the truth down on paper. On paper, maybe the horrifying events at the dredge won't seem so scary. Except that they kind of do.

See, Ryan and his best friend Sarah were exploring the abandoned dredge when something happened. Ryan fell and shattered his leg. He fell... or something pushed him. Sarah got some of it on video and between Ryan's recollections and Sarah's videos, the two of them start putting together the awful truth about Skeleton Creek. They'll uncover clues that lead to something more sinister than either of them could imagine. But can they get to the bottom of things before someone else gets hurt... or worse?

Okay. It's quite possible I've become a scary stories wimp since I was a teen. This book creeped me out. In a way I would have loved when I was 12 or so. I have apparently gone soft in my old age, but I really think this is a book that many kids are going to love.

The story's written in diary format. Ryan, cooped up in his parents house, explores the mysteries of Skeleton Creek in his journal, a true account hidden from his parents. The text is printed on lined paper and the font looks like handwriting. Emails to and from his friend Sarah appear to be taped into the pages of the book. As Ryan is writing his story down, Sarah is taking videos and emailing the links to Ryan. The reader can log on to and watch the videos (passwords appear every so often in the book).

You can get a little preview of how it works (and read an excerpt) here.

If you don't have immediate access to a computer the story works without the videos, but the videos add a lot to the creep factor. I started reading this on my break at work and then went back to my computer to catch up on the videos and that worked fine, too.

I think it's a really interesting concept and I think kids are going to love the extra oomph that the videos give. The videos and the format of the book really help to build tension and atmosphere. They also serve to break up the text a bit and keep reader interest from flagging. I don't think that'll be a problem with this series. I found it pretty hard to put down.

And yes, I said series. The last video ends on a fairly big cliffhanger and there's a sequel a-comin'.

I agree with others' criticism of Ryan's journaling-as-he-goes format. It's believable in some places, but not so believable in others (although I appreciate the difficulty of creating really tense action scenes in this format). I also found the girl playing Sarah to be a little annoying. But those are minor criticisms in an otherwise engaging read.

Read more reviews at 100 Scope Notes, A Year of Reading, and Maw Books Blog. You might want to wait until you've read the book to checkout (or you might want to go ahead and check it out... your call...).

Skeleton Creek will be available February 10.

The Hunger Games Part Deux

Thanks to Jen Robinson for alerting me to the fact that PW's posted an image of the sequel to The Hunger Games. According to the article, Catching Fire will be published on September 8 (with a simultaneous audio edition).

Fans in the book industry can have their first chance to find out those surprises at the end of May—Scholastic will be giving out ARCs of Catching Fire at BEA in New York City.

I've never been to Book Expo America, but I'm seriously considering going this year just for the possibility of getting this book. Well, not just for that... I'm sure BEA would be all kinds of awesome. And I've never been to NYC before... Hmm. Lots to think about... ;)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Congratulations Laurie!

Congratulations to Laurie Halse Anderson whose wonderful book Chains won the 2009 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction!

(Via Read Roger)

ETA: And read Laurie's joyful reaction here! (Thanks to Jen for the link!)

Interview with Anna Levine

Anna Levine is the author of two books that won Sydney Taylor Book Awards this year. Her teen novel Freefall won the Sydney Taylor Honor Award for teen readers and her picture book Jodie's Hanukkah Dig was named a Notable Book for Younger Readers. The fantastic Ms. Levine was kind enough to answer some questions for me as part of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. You can even tell in this interview what a great storyteller she is, so if you haven't picked up Freefall, I don't know what you're waiting for!

One of the things I really love about FREEFALL is the juxtaposition between Aggie's "normal" teenage girl life (having crushes on boys, hanging out with her best friend, etc.) and her life in military training. Was one type of scene easier or more fun for you to write? If so, why?

There were so many scenes I loved writing it’s hard to choose. But if I have to choose one, well, the runner up is the scene where Aggie is in Noah’s room and she notices all the bits and pieces that make up his personality, from the oil rags on the floor used to clean his gun to the crumpled up pieces of paper on which I imagine he’s jotted down lines of a song. I loved capturing the juxtaposition of Noah as a regular guy who plays the guitar, reads the Beats, smells of shampoo, is a bit awkward around the girl he likes and all with a gun under his bed waiting for when he has to return to his base within 12, 24 or 48 hours.

But one of my favorite scenes is close to the end where Aggie is on the bus going back to Jerusalem from Nahariyah. Aggie is sitting next to a girl she doesn’t recognize, only to discover that it is the girl who was her commanding officer during boot camp. For me, this scene captures the double lives led by many Israeli youth. When in uniform they take on the responsibilities demanded of them. And when off duty, out of uniform, they love, desire, dream, fear and fantasize like all teens everywhere.

I'm fascinated by the research authors do to create their books. In one interview you mentioned that you interviewed girls waiting for their drafts in order to write FREEFALL. What other research did you do for this book? Do you like researching?

I love doing research. I love it because it involves meeting new and interesting people, stepping out of my own life for awhile and into someone else’s. For Freefall I set up interviews with girls serving in combat units or those hoping to be accepted into combat. One of the interviewees, who inspired Lily’s character, is a Moroccan girl who lives in a neighborhood next to mine. She was having a great time making fun of the cultural differences between us, me being Ashkenazi and originally Canadian, and laughing at our different attitudes and food preferences and all with an easy sense of humor. I was captivated by her and that’s when Lily’s character became set in my mind.

I also went to watch the soldier’s parachute jumps. That was terrifying and exhilarating. Driving to the jump site was an experience. Finding the turn off, which was onto an abandoned road at the end of a dusty path would have been easy to miss if it weren’t for all the parents who had parked, popped open the trunks of their cars and lugged out coolers stuffed with food and drink, as if as soon as the paratroopers landed the first thing they’d want to do is eat—my appetite having disappeared at the first sight of the planes circling above. All of us stood, craning our necks as the planes flew over and we clapped at the first sight of the tiny stick figure appearing, as if they could hear us. We were clapping for them as much as for each other and for ourselves.

For Jodie’s Hanukkah Dig I’ve crawled through narrow underground caves slogging through water up to my knees. I’ve sat in the sun digging for hours to uncover nothing more than another pile of dirt—while discovering the excitement of working beside others, talking and sharing the feeling of “what if?” Digging for treasures—tell me that isn’t something you’d not drop everything to do right now?

In FREEFALL, Noah asks Aggie about her favorite sunrise. Where was your favorite sunrise?

I used to live on a kibbutz up on the Northern border of Israel. From my window I could see Lebanon. Mornings I would get up at 6:00 AM to work in the apple orchards and I remember walking through the still silent kibbutz to the dining hall and seeing the sun rise, illuminating the sky. I would savor the stillness and beauty aware that it was fleeting (soon the hot sun would be beating down on me while I had a heavy sack around my neck reaching for an apple that would surely send me tumbling off the ladder). This is what Aggie and her friends have learned to do, to appreciate the moments of joy while they can grasp them, because life here changes so quickly.

What are some of your favorite YA books?

I’ll begin with poetry! Like Neruda, “I have a crazy, crazy love,” of poetry. I highly recommend all things Billy Collins (his anthologies are wonderful), will re-travel “The Road Not Taken,” reread Elizabeth Bishop, and Emily, and Naomi Shihab Nye and James Fenton (these last two are poets I’ve been reading most recently) and this list goes on and on.

Where were you when you found out you had won the Sydney Taylor Book Award Honor? What does winning this award mean to you?

Hanukkah. And Danny Roupe our channel 10 weatherman had been promising rain. Like many things in this country, we pray for and anticipate, but when they finally happen we’re caught by surprise. At around 3:00 in the afternoon I get a note from one of the Sydney Taylor Award judges that she wants to call and “give me the good news and can I send my phone number.” Well, from that moment on I’m yelling, “No one touch the phone!” My husband arrives late because traffic is backed up due to slippery roads (still no phone call). We light the Hanukkah menorah (still no phone call). And just when I’m sure it’s time for her to call…remember the rain? Well, whenever the drops turn to a drizzle you can be sure there will a power outage. The lights go out. The phone line goes down. And we’re all standing around the fuse box holding up Hanukkah Menorah trying to figure out how to “banish the darkness” and bring back the light – and the phone line!

I received the news on the fifth night of Hanukkah. Was I thrilled? And how! To be recognized by the Association of American Jewish librarians is a wonderful honor. As a North American and an Israeli, this award unites both aspects of my identity. As an Israeli, I feel that I share this award with the Israeli teens who are striving to live normal lives in a very stressful environment. As a North American it gives me a great feeling of achievement to be recognized by the librarians who I have always admired and who have kept me supplied with great books since childhood.

Thanks for a great interview, Anna, and congratulations on your win!

You'll definitely want to check out the rest of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! Today there's also an interview with Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty, over at The Page Flipper.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book Review: Freefall

Freefall by Anna Levine. (Grades 7+)

What would your life be like if military service was compulsory, not voluntary?

For 18-year-old Aggie, this is the case. Aggie lives in Israel and as her draft date approaches, she has to decide how she'd like to serve the allotted military time. Will she get a desk job and fill out paperwork for the next two years? Will she audition for the entertainment troupe as her best friend is doing? No... Aggie's decided that she wants to apply for an elite combat position.

Her parents think she's crazy. And when Aggie gets to her first training session, she begins to think that maybe she is crazy. But Aggie's nothing if not determined. And if she can muster the courage to dive in to what she wants, Aggie just might figure out what it takes to survive.

Here's what I loved about Freefall:

1. It has a great sense of place. Ms. Levine's descriptions really bring the reader into Israel. I've never been there and (to be honest) don't know a great deal about the country, but I still felt like I could see all the places she was writing about. Which brings me to...

2. Information about Israel and about the military service there is incorporated very organically. An American teen reading this book likely won't know very much about teen life in Israel, but Ms. Levine provides the background info you need to know without getting all textbook-y. This would be a great book to hand to teens who want to know more about life in Israel.

3. I thought Aggie's perspective was interesting and unique in teen literature. This is definitely a book that will provoke some discussions. I mean, what would your life be like if military service was compulsory??

I loved the juxtaposition between Aggie's "normal" teen girl life and the scenes where she's in combat training. While I wouldn't call Aggie a girly girl, she's got crushes on boys. She thinks about her looks. She hangs out with her best friend. But then she's also facing boot camp, trying to gain weight so she'll qualify for the combat team she wants. These are two very different parts of Aggie's life, but she wouldn't be who she is without both of them.

I think this is a great book for teens who like to learn about other cultures and who like books that inspire them to think. This would make an excellent book discussion book and it'd make a great conversation starter. It has a premise and characters that will keep the attention of teens and it may inspire them to keep reading and learning about Israel.

Freefall is the 2009 winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award honor for teen books. Check out for more info about the book. Read more reviews at Boho Chick, Liv's Book Reviews, and Reading to Myself (among others).

You can read interviews with Anna Levine at Bookluver-Carol's Reviews, Elizabeth O. Dulemba's and HarperCollins and TOMORROW you can read one RIGHT HERE as part of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour! So... stay tuned!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Come again?

From this article at the Baltimore City Paper:

"We all know that Ulysses and A la recherché du temps perdu are "better" books than The Velveteen Rabbit or The Little Prince, but come on--which would you take with you on a spaceship to salvage from the dying Earth"

Do we? Do we all know that?

And... reading the rest of the article... wow... there's a lot here that I think I disagree about... Seems like the point of the article is that children's books are beloved to children because they contain the morals and lessons about life that children so crave. And they're wrapped up in a cute little stories like "the sugary frosting on children's cereal".

Also... wow, this article is from September. I am not that on top of things.

Book Review: Swords

Swords: An Artist's Devotion by Ben Boos. (Grades 4+ and younger kids might love it for the illustrations.)

Know a kid that likes weaponry? Know a kid that's fascinated with knights or ninjas? Know somebody of any age who doesn't (yet) know they like swords? Hand them this book.

Ben Boos has created a book filled with hundreds of pictures of all kinds of swords. They are gorgeous.

I really had no interest in swords per se, but I couldn't put this book down. Boos's intricate drawings and lush, full-color (computer generated? Or partially computer generated?) paintings had Caldecott bells going off in my ears. (Is there any stipulation in the Caldecott criteria about computer-generated art? It appears not:

The only limitation to graphic form is that the form must be one which may be used in a picture book. The book must be a self-contained entity, not dependent on other media (i.e., sound or film equipment) for its enjoyment. Caldecott Terms & Criteria.)

The book's organized into short sections that show different weaponry from particular time periods and for particular warriors. He includes information about which fighters might use which weapons and how sword design affected the type of fighting the weapon is used for. He covers fighters from berserkers to knights to samurai to ninjas and lots of others. He also provides information on the development of swords and how inventions like stirrups or steel affected weaponry and fighting.

This is a book that kids and adults alike will want to pore over. If I had one wish it would be for a lengthy author's note or afterword detailing all of Mr. Boos's research (as I'm sure a ton of research went into this book). He does provide a short author's note introducing the book and a fairly lengthy bibliography, so that's awesome. Also of note is that Mr. Boos previously worked for Blizzard Entertainment, which may explain why my first reaction upon opening this book was a pang for World of Warcraft. ;)

Check out Ben Boos's blog, read an interview with him at Omnivoracious, and read another review at Guys Lit Wire. Swords is a Cybils finalist in the Middle Grade/YA Non-Fiction category.

Happy Non-Fiction Monday! (And Happy MLK Day, too!) The roundup for NFM is over at Simply Science today, so go check out what the kidlitosphere is reading this week!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Reminder: Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

Today, head on over to Jewish Books for Children where the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour is kicking off with an interview with Karen Hesse. She's the author of Brooklyn Bridge, winner of the gold medal in the Older Readers category!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A chance to win Wintergirls

Good morning. It's a snowy Saturday and I'm headed off to work (instead of back to bed with a book or two), but before I dash out the door, I just have to tell you that Reviewer X is having a drawing for Laurie Halse Anderson's next one: Wintergirls.

So head on over there and enter yourself!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Around the interwebs on a cold, cold day

It's too cold to do anything but sit in front of my happy little laptop. Or, that's what I'm telling myself anyway. Here's what I've been surfing lately:

MotherReader's got her reflections on the Cybils and she points us to a post at Children's Literature Book Club that sums up the experience of serving on a panel.

Sarah over at The Reading Zone is encouraging everyone to peruse the book Readacide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It (link opens a PDF preview of the book) by Kelly Gallagher and then join in the discussion happening via blog tour next week.

Teresa's posting on the ALSC blog about additions to Great Websites for Kids. This is good to know if you have a kids' page on your library website. It might be time to update those links!

There's an article in the Idaho Statesman about the potentially lost art of cursive handwriting: Can't read cursive? You are not alone. I've talked about it with several coworkers over the past couple weeks. While legible penmanship is important, part of me wants to say that in a society where things are increasingly required to be typewritten... who cares if you know cursive?
(Via The Reading Zone)

And whew, I'm really delayed in linking to this one, but Bill of Literate Lives posted about a really interesting program he did in his school library: The Amazing Library Race. Based on The Amazing Race, he creates clues that require kids to find books on the shelves. Complete with a roadblock challenge and a prize for the fastest teams, this is a great idea for engaging kids at the library.

That's what I've been reading around the interwebs lately... what about you??

Book Review: The Explosionist

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson. (Grades 7+)

I don't know if I can do this book justice with a summary, but I'll try. :) Also, the last half of this post may contain some spoilers, so be warned!

It's 1938 in an alternate history in which Napoleon won the battle of Waterloo and Europe is now united and on the brink of war with Scotland and the other countries in the Hanseatic League. Fifteen-year-old Sophie is just trying to make it through. She has a fairly mortifying crush on her chemistry professor and hopes to go to university if she passes her exams. She lives with her great-aunt Tabitha who often holds seances and it's through one of these seances that she meets Mrs. Tansy, a medium who delivers a chilling warning to Sophie. When Mrs. Tansy is murdered, Sophie is determined to find out who killed her. As she uncovers more information, Sophie suddenly finds herself swept up in a terrifying political plot and she might be the only thing that stands between her country and a war to end all wars.

Okay, I loved this book. Sophie pretty much had me at hello. I loved her from the first chapter. And every time I felt a little bogged down with trying to puzzle out this alternative world, some new little factoid or invention would pop up and suck me right back into the story. Seriously, I found this alternative world fascinating.

There's been a little debate on the sci-fi verses fantasy thing. I'm talking about this review at Tor and Colleen's counter. When I was reading Colleen's post, I disagreed with her about some things. I mean, talking to dead people is fantasy. Call me a non-believer. Fine. But communing with the spirits is not science fiction. It's fantasy. But once I finished the book and thought about it a bit, I started to come around. I mean... in this world technology exists that did not exist in our 1938. So... why not a way to harness the energy of the spirit? I still think it's fantasy when you're talking about our world, but in this alternate historical world... I can suspend my disbelief and buy it.

And also (perhaps more to the point), I don't happen to care if it's sci-fi or if it's fantasy. I don't feel the need to put this book into a neat little genre box. It was a great story. 'Nuf said.

(And oh, this next part is going to contain some spoilers, so please read at your own risk.)

The bigger problem I had with it (and "problem" is a relative term because overall I just really loved the book) was the subplot of the IRYLNS and how it fit into the book as a whole. I loved the creepy IRYLNS bits, but I kept looking for more of a connection between the IRYLNS bits and the political intrigue/murder investigation that was going on. It felt a little bit like two separate books and it would have been great if they had come together more.

But the more I think about it, the less problem I have with it. I only hope that we'll get more info about IRYLNS in the sequel. I loved the question of how far these young ladies were willing to go to serve their country - would they sacrifice their lives? Would they sacrifice their friends' lives? I love that the feminist great-aunt Tabitha is such a staunch supporter, when it seems quite obvious (to modern eyes at least) that it's so blatantly sexist. I loved that Sophie had her mind so made up about IRYLNS, but she keeps getting new information that flips her opinion back and forth.

So. Yeah. Um.. go read it. I'll leave you with a few last words to convince you. They are totally Colleen's words because I think she summed it up perfectly: "This is sweeping historic fiction about a girl who uncovers horrifying truths on both a personal and political level and must save both herself and her country."

The Explosionist is a finalist in the Cybils' YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi category. You can find more reviews at Charlotte's Library, Bookslut, Bookworm 4 Life, and Teen Book Review.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Such a librarian-ish dream

I guess all the Newbery buzz is getting to me... Last night I dreamed that I walked in to work only to find out that Nic Bishop Frogs had won the Newbery medal...

*shakes head at self*

(I mean, not that Nic Bishop Frogs isn't a great book, but I think we can all agree that it's more suited to a Sibert than a Newbery.)

Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

8:30a - Arrive at work, put lunch away, & greet coworkers

8:40a - Hang a map of Korea on the wall in our department. Every January our library explores a different country and this year we're exploring Korea. (Last year we explored Poland.)

8:45a - Check email, record some preschool loan statistics

9:00a - Grab a cart from downstairs and work on weeding the teen section

11:00a-12:00p - On desk. Between questions I read picture books in preparation for our upcoming planning session for spring storytimes.

12:00p - Lunch time!

1:00-3:00p - On desk. Between questions I read more picture books and pull some books for preschool loans (winter and arctic animals). Here is a sampling of questions:

Who is the author of this series?
Will you help me with the early literacy game computer?
Do you have this title?

3:00p - Off desk, I schedule a date for a local preschool to visit the library and finish my preschool loan bags.

4:00p - On desk again.

Can you help me print?
Where are biographies?
Do you have this title?
How many books are in this series?
Where is this call number?
Would you pull some books about this topic for preschoolers for me?

5:00p - Time to go home!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour!

Please join us in celebrating the authors and illustrators who received Sydney Taylor Book Awards and Honors this year by tuning in for the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour!

From the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog (updated to add additional stops, thanks Heidi!):

The Sydney Taylor Book Award will be celebrating and showcasing its 2009 gold and silver medalists with a Blog Tour! Here is the preliminary schedule:

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Karen Hesse, author of Brooklyn Bridge
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category
at Jewish Books for Children

Monday, January 19, 2009
Richard Michelson
Author of As Good As Anybody, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
Author of A is for Abraham, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Well-Read Child

Monday, January 19, 2009
Ron Mazellan, illustrator of A is for Abraham
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Tales from the Rushmore Kid

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Jane Yolen, author of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Boston Bibliophile

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Valerie Zenatti, author of A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category
at Lori Calabrese Writes

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Anna Levine
Author of Freefall, Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Teen Readers Category
Author of Jodie's Hanukkah Dig, Notable Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Abby (the) Librarian [Yep, that's correct! Right here!! - AtL]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Jim Burke, illustrator of Naming Liberty
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at The Page Flipper

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Jacqueline Jules, author of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Chicken Spaghetti

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Sarah Laughs
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Write for a Reader

Friday, January 23, 2009
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Becky's Book Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2009
Shahar Kober, illustrator of Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride
Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Younger Readers Category
at Into the Wardrobe

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. (Grades 8+)

At first glance, high school senior Terra might seem to have the perfect life. She's tall and blonde, has a studly boyfriend, excels in school and is graduating early, has a part-time job at a local art gallery. But underneath the makeup and the fake smile, Terra's life is much different. She's always defined herself by the port-wine stain on her cheek and by her father's verbally abusive criticisms. Her two older brothers left as soon as they were able and Terra watches her mother's weight balloon as her father berates her more and more. She's intent on leaving her small town for a college across the country and then a successful career that will allow her to travel and escape her father's critical eye.

But when Terra serendipitously meets Jacob, an Asian-American goth boy with a penchant for good coffee, the compass guiding her life plan begins to slowly tilt. She will finally learn what it's like to be loved for who she is and maybe she'll begin to find her own way.

Justina Chen Headley pulled me into Terra's world with great characters and lots of interesting details. Terra felt very real to me - I got angry when her father berated her and I felt unspeakable sadness when Terra's timid, plump mother apologized for her own existence yet again. Terra and her mom take a great journey together - all the way to China to visit Terra's brother. The descriptions of Shanghai and Beijing (as well as Terra's small town in northern Washington state) made me feel like I was traveling with them every step of the way.

I love all the details that make the story so rich, too. Jacob is really into geocaching (kind of like treasure hunting with a GPS) and he shares his passion with Terra. Jacob's mom Norah is a coffee buyer and travels all over the world searching for great coffee beans. Terra's an artist, collecting materials from everywhere to add to her collages. All these great details really flesh out the story and make it just as rich as Norah's perfect cup of coffee.

Terra undergoes changes throughout the course of the novel. She's not perfect and she makes mistakes. I loved the slowly blossoming romance between Terra and Jacob and I loved the slowly blossoming friendship between Terra's mom and Jacob's mom. I thought the ending was just right - everything gets wrapped up, but not too quickly or too neatly.

I'd recommend North of Beautiful to fans of Sarah Dessen and Carolyn Mackler. It's a great story about the meaning of beauty and one girl learning to forge her own path. And even though it's a book about maps and directions and GPS systems, it's definitely a book you can get lost in. ;)

Check out Justina Chen Headley's website and my review of Girl Overboard (which was a 2008 Cybils nominee). Read more reviews of North of Beautiful at Teen Book Review, Oops...Wrong Cookie, Mitali's Fire Escape, Simply Books, and Shelf Elf.

North of Beautiful is out on February 1.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Delurking Week Extended!

An official decree from MotherReader:

It seems that National Delurking Week caught everyone off guard, and that’s a shame because it’s a great chance to meet some of your less comment-prone readers. So I’m extending it to this week. Yeah, who’s going to stop me? The Delurking Police? I think not.

So, with my pretty little graphic borrowed from Asymptotia (from Delurking Week 2007), I'm extending National Delurking Week also. :)

I got many nice comments last week and it really means a lot to me that y'all said hello. :) So, in case you didn't get a chance last week, I hereby invite you to continue the delurkation and leave me a comment. I enjoy hearing about your favorite books or you could also let me know where you're from or how you found this blog. Or what you love most about ME. (Kidding, kidding... kind of...)

Seriously, a blog's not that much fun if no one but the author reads it. So thank you, thank you for tuning in. And I promise that now that my part of the 2008 Cybils is over I will post something other than book reviews once in a while... ;)

Bluestem Award

It was brought to my attention this morning at an NSLS meeting that the Illinois School Library Media Association is creating a new state book award. The Bluestem Award is named for the state prairie grass of Illinois and it will be a kids' choice award for kids in grades 3rd-5th.

According to the ISLMA website:

In the spring of 2008, the ISLMA board approved establishing a committee to explore the possibility of a new book award that would fit between the Monarch and Rebecca Caudill Awards. Interested library media specialists met in June, and an outline of the proposed new award was presented to the board in August. In September, a survey about the new award was conducted, and 92% of respondents favored the creation of a new award. The ISLMA board approved the new award at their October meeting.

The award is designed for students in grades 3-5 who are ready for longer titles than found on the Monarch list, but not quite ready for the sophistication of some of the Rebecca Caudill titles. Named in honor of Big Bluestem which is the state prairie grass, the award may include both timeless classics and current titles, as well as books that have appeared on Monarch and Rebecca Caudill lists.

It looks like the first Bluestem Award will be given out in 2011 and registration forms for the voting will be available in May 2010. It doesn't appear to affect the established Rebecca Caudill or Monarch awards and it looks like schools may choose to participate in more than one of the awards programs if they so desire.

I'll be interested to see what makes the first nomination list (coming in 2010?), especially since it doesn't require that books be published within the last five years like the Caudills and Monarchs.

Book Review: Body Drama

Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd.

When Body Drama made the Cybils MG/YA Non-Fiction shortlist, I raced to pick it up and was totally wowed. I opened it tonight, intending to flip through a few pages, but I didn't put it down until I had paged through most of the book. I wish I had had it in high school or college.

Nancy Amanda Redd has written a book about girls' bodies that presents the facts in a straightforward, conversational way. Tons of photos of real girls (not models) accompany the text. Do your breasts look strange? Is it normal to have stretch marks? Are you wondering how to curtail unwanted body hair? This book has all the answers and, better still, Ms. Redd doesn't give you preachy advice and stodgy, dry information. Reading this book, I felt like I was sitting down with a trusted friend. Ms. Redd even includes some of her own confessions: a botched wax job, going to a therapist, having people comment on her weight, and more.

Besides all the great information and the message that different body types are normal, the photos are invaluable. Be warned: the girls in this book bare it all. Maybe not every parent would be comfortable with that, but personally I think it's a great way to show girls that there are so, so many different body types that are all perfectly normal. Just because your breast or your behind doesn't look like a model's in a magazine, that doesn't mean you're ugly or weird or anything but beautiful. And sometimes things aren't perfectly normal. Body Drama is great about pointing out which differences are normal and which differences merit a call to your doctor.

I think Vivian said it best: "Don't let your teens get the wrong information from their friends... let them get empowered with real information and love the body they're in."

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for all young women (and because it can be kind of taboo to talk about this stuff, even older women might learn something!).

Check out Nancy Amanda Redd's website for information about the author and extras that go with the book.

And Happy Non-Fiction Monday! Anastasia's got the roundup over at Picture Book of the Day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

National Delurking Week!

This just in from MotherReader: It is National Delurking Week!

All you lurkers (and I know you're out there), I encourage you to reveal yourself - drop me a comment and say hello. I promise I am a very nice person. :)

And if you can't think of anything to say, I'll steal the idea from Pam and invite you to share your favorite book of 2008 or your favorite book or author from when you were a kid or your kid or student's favorite book. The possibilities are endless!

Also, this is another opportunity to say thanks for reading my blog. :D

(Coincidentally, it is also my 2-year anniversary of being a children's librarian! So you could also say "Happy anniversary" if you can't think of anything else to say.)

ETA: Thanks for all the kind comments, everyone! I'm really enjoying hearing from y'all and hearing what your favorite books have been!

Book Review: Masterpiece

Masterpiece by Elise Broach. (Grades 4-7.)

I'm afraid I can't sum it up any better than the jacket flap, so here ya go:

"Marvin lives with his family under the kitchen sink in the Pompadays' apartment. He is very much a beetle. James lives with his mother, stepfather, and baby brother in New York City. He is very much an eleven-year-old boy. After James gets a pen-and-ink set for his birthday, Marvin surprises him by creating an elaborate miniature drawing. James gets all the credit for the picture, and before these unlikely friends know it, they're caught up in an art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art..."

I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this book from A Patchwork of Books, so thanks to Amanda for holding the contest and to Elise Broach and Henry Holt for providing the copies!

I loved the characters in this book. I especially loved Marvin the beetle and his beetle family. Although, I have to admit, if I found generations of beetles living in my kitchen I doubt I would give them long enough to draw me a little picture before I squashed them. The beetles in Masterpiece have a precarious relationship with the Pompadays. The book starts with the beetles going on a mission to retrieve Mrs. Pompaday's contact lens which she lost down the drain. From that point on, I was hooked.

The beetles live on crumbs scavenged from the Pompadays' kitchen and they take care not to be seen, lest the apartment be fumigated. They do their best to help out and Marvin's uncle has a talent for electrical work. Whenever the microwave or the toaster breaks, he shimmies inside to reconnect wires and get things back in working order. I found the whole beetle world to be fascinating.

I also loved the friendship between Marvin and James. Although Marvin can't talk to James, he does find ways to communicate. James's parents aren't exactly supportive and he doesn't seem to have many friends. Marvin fills a need for James as surely as the other beetles do what they can for the other Pompadays.

So, I loved the characters, but I found the plot a bit lacking. The mystery felt a little rushed and it was all over too quickly at the end. I kept waiting for a final showdown, but it never happened. That said, I think the art-themed mystery will appeal to fans of Chasing Vermeer and the quirky insect characters will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl. An author's note provides some information about Albrecht Duerer, the artist whose work boy and bug replicate.

All in all, I liked Broach's Shakespeare's Secret a little better, but this is still a solid read and will charm kids with its loveable (and unloveable) characters. Check out Elise Broach's website, check out this interview with her, and read more reviews at Book Nut and A Patchwork of Books (among many others).