Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading Resolutions

Now's the time to be making reading goals for 2012. First, let's take a look at last year's reading goals...

1. The Debut Authors Challenge. I did not do as well with this in 2011 as I did in 2010. I read a lot of debuts, but I didn't review all of them. I ended up reading & reviewing 11 debut titles in 2011, short of the challenge goal of 12 and way short of my personal goal of 25! 

2. Reading more adult books. I am very pleased to say that I succeeded with this goal!! My unspoken goal was 20 adult books and I read 29 this year. I owe a lot of that success to audiobooks. 

3. Less pressure on myself about blogging. I think I succeeded with this goal as well. I definitely didn't review as many titles in 2011 as I had in previous years, which kinda bums me out, but it was a necessary cutback with all the other stuff that's been going on this year. 

I also set a GoodReads goal of reading 200 books in 2011, which I met but just barely.

2011 was super busy with Emerging Leaders, work on various committees, one of my full-time employees out for a couple of months on maternity leave, and now our teen librarian has been out for the past couple of months on medical leave. Frankly, I'm exhausted! But I do have some goals for 2012: 

1. READ LESS. Or, well, set a smaller GoodReads goal for myself. I'm going to set a goal of 150 books and try to surpass it. I aim to feel good about reading, not pressured to blitz through books to meet a goal. 

2. Read at least 20 adult books again this year. I'll also continue reading debuts, but I'm not going to set a numerical goal for that this year. 

3. This isn't a reading resolution, but a blogging resolution: I've loved blogging about our preschool storytimes this year and I will continue that. I'd also like to post more about general thoughts about and experiences with librarianship, so look for more of that to come this year. 

How about you? Are you setting any reading goals for yourself in 2012? 

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Gift from Me to You

As it is Christmas Eve Eve and also Poetry Friday, my gift to you is an original poem that my mom discovered while sorting through the Stuff as they're starting to move house. It's not dated, but based on the handwriting, I think I was probably 9 or 10 when I wrote the following:

Fish in a Cake
by Abby Johnson (age 9 or 10, probably)

Once my mom made cake out of trout.
I tasted it and spit it out.
It tasted like dirty socks
That had walked over many rocks.
It tasted like a dead seahorse
Or maybe dead trout of course.
I asked her what she put in the cake.
"Oh, a little water from the lake.
The rest is secret you know,"
She said while standing on one toe.
So I will advise you,
If fish is in the cake it'll turn you blue.
Don't ever eat something like that.
Just put it out with the cat.


I hope that was as amusing to you as it was to me. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate and Happy Poetry Friday to all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011: My Favorites and My Best

While I read many great books this year, I do have a few favorites... I hereby present to you my favorite books from 2011. (No effort has been made to balance this list! These are my from-the-heart favorites of the books I've read!)

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet. Ms. Sweet combines fabulous, colorful mixed-media art and fascinating text about a relatively unknown artist to create my favorite kind of picture book biography. This is an inspiring story about the unknown side of a well-known Thanksgiving tradition.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke. If you found a mysterious red button in the middle of nowhere, wouldn't you push it, too? After Zita pushes the red button and her friend is taken into a parallel universe, the only thing Zita can do is follow him and try to bring him back. With expressive, colorful artwork that is at turns both funny and poignant, Zita the Spacegirl is a graphic novel that won my heart.

Amelia Lost by Candance Fleming. I am not exaggerating when I say that just booktalking this book has brought me to tears (my staff will tell you!). This is an account of Amelia Earhart's life and disappearance as you've never read it before. Ms. Fleming weaves together information on Earhart's life with a play-by-play of the day she disappeared and the days and weeks immediately after, bringing the story to life for young readers.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Selznick has taken his ground-breaking format and ratcheted it up a notch, creating a story that's even more suited to his breathtaking art than Hugo Cabret was. Two stories, one in prose and one in pictures, wind together toward a riveting conclusion.

Blizzard of Glass by Sally M. Walker. Do not miss this action-packed account of the explosion in Halifax in 1917. When a ship packed to the brim with TNT and combustibles was hit by another ship, the resulting explosion was the largest man-made explosion until the atomic bombs went off in 1945. This is a must-read for any Titanic fan.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. This is the book that broke my heart and put it back together about a thousand times. This is a book about bullying that takes a slightly different perspective. Doug Swieteck will forever have my heart and I'll never stop recommending this powerful story.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr. Hands-down one of the best dual narrator books I've ever read, this is the story of two very different girls, thrust together by circumstance and each navigating a tricky, grief-filled situation. Sara Zarr is a superstar of contemporary YA.

Trapped by Michael Northrop. This is the book that I will never stop recommending to teen guys (and girls) looking for a book they won't be able to put down. When an apocalyptic snowstorm hits, trapping Scotty and six other students at their high school, they'll have to figure out what to do to survive. The book felt so real that I found my mind wandering to whether I had canned goods in the cabinet and I couldn't help but get up to look outside periodically, even though it was not snowing at all.

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson. With searingly real voices and a heartbreaking story that is reality for too many teens, this is a layered story about finding the right person at the wrong time and what it takes to find your way home again.

Past Perfect by Leila Sales. This is the book about love that I wish I could hand to my 18-year-old self. It's funny and romantic with some meat on its bones. Plus, it's set at a living history museum and features genuine characters and a plot with a lesson that never feels didactic. Ms. Sales's Mostly Good Girls was one of my favorite books of 2010 and for me her sophomore effort definitely held up to her stellar debut.

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan. I loved the storytelling style and characters in this unforgettable novel. Sam hasn't been to school since the second grade when his schizophrenic father took him and his younger brother Riddle and went on the lam. Since then, they've moved every time his father starts getting paranoid, and Sam and Riddle are on their own for pretty much everything. Our story starts when Sam walks into a church and hears a girl singing a solo he's sure is meant just for him. And everything begins to change.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. In 1941, Lina and her family are taken from their homeland in Lithuania and forced into labor camps by the Soviets. This rarely-heard story of a different genocide that happened during World War II is based on the author's ancenstors. It's a riveting story that I wasn't able to put down.

You Against Me by Jenny Downham. This is an engrossing story about love, loyalty, and the shiftiness of truth. It's about finding out who your enemies are and then realizing that your definition of enemy is fluid and subject to change. It's about first love, that overpowering secret that lights you up from the inside.

 I'd also like to mention a few stellar audiobooks that I listened to this year, even though they weren't published in 2011:

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, read by Nick Podehl. The audiorecording had me laughing out loud, as did the sequel Carter's Big Break. Nick Podehl's voiced narration brings the story to life and makes for a truly enjoyable listening experience.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, read by MacLeod Andrews. MacLeod Andrews's stellar narration and soft drawl definitely made this audiobook a treat for my commute.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laua Hillenbrand, read by Edward Herrmann. This harrowing and inspiring tale of survival against all odds is brought to life by Edward Herrmann's distinguished narration. His voice is a perfect fit for the story.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, read by Grayce Wey. This is another instance of a well-matched text and narrator. Although I tend to prefer fully voiced works, Grayce Wey's understated partial voicing let the writing shine through.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holidays Around the World

This month for our Fantastic Friday homeschooler program, we took a trip around the world and learned about three different world holidays. I loved this program because not only did I learn a lot about these holidays and countries, but once I had everything prepped, it pretty much ran itself! Here's what I did.

I featured three different holidays from three different countries: Diwali from India, Children's Day from Japan, and Losar (Tibetan New Year) from Tibet. I prepped a craft for each of the holidays and put together a take-home packet with information about each holiday/country.I set up the room so that we had three craft tables with chairs all around. On each table, I had the supplies for the craft, a sign sharing information about the holiday, and a sign with craft instructions.

I contacted some of our teen homeschoolers and asked them if they would volunteer to help out. I ended up with four volunteers and I set three of them up at the craft tables and had one taking photos for me. I was lucky to have volunteers, but even if I hadn't, I think families would have been able to figure out what to do. My volunteers were fabulous. I asked them to greet families that came over to the table and tell them some information about the holiday (I printed off an additional information sheet for each of them to have). And then help them with the crafts however they needed. 

The crafts I picked were very easy, but still allowed for creativity (perfect for my group... the kids registered ranged in age from 3 to 14, although it was mostly younger kids that showed up).

  • For Diwali, we made Lakshmi's footprints, an idea I totally stole from Susan Baier at the ALSC Blog (definitely check out her post for some more great Diwali ideas!).
  • For Children's Day, we made these carp kites from Activity Village.
  • And for Losar, we made Tibetan prayer flags (you can see mine in the topmost photo). I cut 11" x 17" construction paper into quarters and had volunteers punch two holes in the top. We asked the kids to think about their wishes and hopes for the people around them and write them down or draw a picture. Buddhists believe that when the wind blows the flags, it carries the prayers all over the land. I had ribbon so that they could string their prayer flags and we used a little bit of tape to hold the string in place. 
Of course, for each table I had a book display featuring books about that country (I only had three books about Tibet, so I supplemented with books about Buddhism).

I did quite a bit of prep work for this program, but it was quite cheap (I didn't have to purchase anything - we had construction paper, crayons, etc.) and it was so easy to run that I didn't mind the prep work. Any one of these activities would be great for a more focused program on any of these countries. And the program format of having craft stations worked so well that I will definitely use it again for my homeschooler program.

Even though I didn't interact with the kids too much at this program, I could tell they were all having fun making their crafts. My hope is that they went home and talked about what they learned and what they did. And that this program might inspire them to learn a little bit more about different cultures and countries!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Drumbeat in Our Feet

Drumbeat in Our Feet by Patricia A. Keeler and Julio T. Leitao. Grades 1-5. Lee & Low, 2006. Unpaged. Review copy provided by my local library.

Paint diamonds on arms. Paint lines on faces. Think about the ancestors and ask them to guide the performance. Drums. Xylophone. Feel the beat. Dance!

Drumbeat in Our Feet takes the reader along with a troupe of children learning African dance, from the rehearsals to learning the meaning behind the dances, to the performance day. As illustrations show children doing each step, sidebars provide information about the history and traditions of African dance. This colorful book would make a great addition to units on Africa or performance arts. Also, make sure you keep it in mind during Black History Month!

The book first talks about how diverse Africa is, from grasslands and deserts to dense forests and beaches. It says, "The history of African music and dance is as rich and diverse as the land itself." The accompanying illustration shows American children coming together from many different neighborhoods to attend African dance class. Throughout the book, we learn that dances have been passed down over many, many years and that it's important to keep these traditions alive.

The lyrical text provides information in an accessible way, while the illustrations do a nice job of showing how African traditions are kept alive through modern dance studios and teachers. At the end of the book is a section with photographs and information about Batoto Yetu, a renowned children's dance troupe that performs African dance. Back matter includes a simple map of Africa, a pronunciation guide, and a list of sources.

Drumbeat in Our Feet is a great book for discussing the importance of keeping cultural traditions alive. It would make a wonderful resource for a group about to attend an African dance performance and it is a wonderful read for anyone wishing to learn about African culture.

Many thanks to Andrea who recommended this book to me!

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Diane at Practically Paradise has this week's roundup!

Friday, December 16, 2011

On Being the Boss

We're in the story hour room, which is connected to our Children's Services offices by a door which was currently open. While we were doing the craft at my program, two of my staff members came in from the office, exclaimed over the kids' projects, and then went back into the office. Then the Kindergartners and I had the following conversation:

Kindergartners: Do they live in there?
Me: No, they don't live in there. They work in there.
Kindergartners: Oh, are those the offices?
Me: Yes, those are the offices.
Kindergartners: Do you work in there?
Me: Yes. I work in there and Miss T and Miss A work in there, too. We all work in the offices.
Kindergartners: *pause* Who is the boss?
Me: I am the boss.
Kindergartners: *Are they looking at me with newfound respect or am I imagining it?* Ooooh.


Managing youth services. 

It's not something I ever thought I would be doing. But it turns out that sometimes in order to have a job in a certain area or to make a living wage, you're destined for management. And, honestly, it has its ups and downs. (Mostly ups for me, since I am lucky to have a wonderful staff and very supportive administration.) 

Today I want to talk a little bit about what I do as a department head. But first, a little background. 

My title is Children's Services Manager and I'm the only MLS librarian in my department. I supervise three full-time and two part-time employees. I've been there for almost three years now. Before I started my current position, I was a Youth Services Librarian I for 2.5 years at a different library in a different state.

I think the biggest change for me when I took my current job was the increased responsibility. That sounds obvious, I know, but suddenly instead of being responsible for my own work, I was responsible for the work of a handful of people. It's up to me to decide how to run the department, which programs we're going to offer, what we're going to spend our money on. It's also up to me to cover if someone calls in sick or needs to be off. I'm salaried, which means that I can work my normal 37.5 hours or I can work 50 hours a week and I'm paid the same.

As manager, I'm responsible for keeping track of time sheets, doing staff evaluations, attending managers' meetings, and reporting to the director and/or Library Board about our department. I'm also responsible for dealing with problem patrons and mediating any problems among my staff. And I'm the one who can decide to bend the rules.

The hardest part for me is figuring out how to balance the work I love to do (children's services, outreach, collection development) with the work I have to do (the management stuff). And I've learned a few things about that since I started:

- It's impossible to do everything I want to do all at once. Relax. There is plenty of time. If I don't get this super awesome program started this year, I can always try it next year. Good ideas'll keep.

- It is necessary to delegate. Yes, that means that sometimes I don't get to go to every school I love to do our afterschool programs. Yes, that means that some days I have to let other people interact with patrons while I work on staff evaluations in my freezing cold office. But I have realized that if I don't delegate, I'm going to burn out and fast.

- Everybody has a different way of doing things, and it's okay if not every single thing is done the way I would do it. As long as the work gets done and we're serving our patrons, I can let go of the details. Also: I do not always know best! I learn as much from my staff as they learn from me.

For me, the first year of management was the hardest and it's gotten much easier since then. Since I was coming in to a new library, learning a new community, I didn't want to change everything right away. I wanted to go through a year the way things would typically be before I decided what needed to change. That meant doing a Summer Reading Club I didn't plan myself, that meant doing storyhour the way it had always been done. But once I had done that, I felt like I had the knowledge to know what we should keep and what we should change.

And of course, it's essential to get staff input along the way. I'm lucky to have an energetic, passionate staff and my employees are generally up for whatever I ask of them. I want them to feel ownership of their department, so I let them be in charge of their programs (offering help when needed, of course). My job is not to do their work, but to give them the tools to do their work.

Perhaps the best advice I can give to anyone taking the leap to management is to never speak in anger. Always, always, always think before you react to a situation. If you can't react rationally at that moment, walk away and take some time before you say things you might regret. Always try to see all sides of an issue. Always get everyone's story before dealing with interpersonal problems (including patron complaints). And always treat everyone fairly. Your staff know if you're treating some of them differently and they will talk to each other about it and it will undermine morale.

Think about the managers you've had. And strive to emulate the good ones. And learn how not to manage from the bad ones. And you will be fine.

Other library managers out there? What would your advice for new managers be? 

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Grades 7 and up. Feiwel & Friends, January 2012. 390 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

What if Cinderella was a cyborg?

(I mean, seriously, if that question doesn't intrigue you, I don't think we can be friends.)

Life in New Beijing isn't easy for Cinder. Cyborgs are considered second-class citizens and Cinder's expected to support her stepmother and stepsisters with the mechanic shop she runs at the marketplace. Add to that an incurable plague pandemic and the Lunars poised for war at the first chance they get... But when dreamy Prince Kaito, heir to the imperial throne of the Eastern Commonwealth, stops by her mechanic shop with a broken android, Cinder finds herself swept up in political battles beyond her control. With all the dangers facing the Earthens, it seems that Cinder might be the key to avoiding a devastating war.

Debut author Marissa Meyer combines excellent world-building with a compelling plot for one seriously awesome book!

First of all, the world-building. Cinder is set in New Beijing, a city rebuilt after the fourth World War. In this future Earth, most of the continents have merged, leaving a handful of very large countries. There are also people called Lunars living on the moon. The Lunars are the biggest threat to the Earthens. They have the ability to mess with people's bioelectric fields in order to compel them to do things, feel things, or see things a certain way. Plus, their Queen is seriously evil. Like, killed-everyone-who-could-be-a-threat-to-her-power type of evil. When Prince Kai meets Cinder, his father (the emperor) is dying from the plague, even as scientists work around the clock trying to find an antidote. It's not the most politically stable situation.

I totally dug this speculative world. The setting in New Beijing with Asian influences reminded me of the setting of Firefly. There's a lot going on, but it never felt overwhelming and everything was explained organically in the story. The book also never felt dense, as it easily could have been with all the political stuff going on in this world. There is a lot going on, but the book's very readable.

From the get-go when Kai and Cinder meet, there's romantic tension building. Although Cinder knows that if Kai knew she's a cyborg he'd be repulsed by her, she can't help falling for him. It's not something that happens overnight, but an attraction that builds gradually as Cinder sees the prince several times over the course of the story. Cinder's a believable character that I can get behind. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty or say what she thinks. She sticks up for the people she cares about. She's smart and she's got a plan to escape her situation.

I'd hand Cinder to fans of Graceling by Kristin Cashore (for the kick-butt heroine, romance, and political intrigue), fans of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (for the Asian-inspired setting), and anyone looking for a fairy tale retelling that's different from any fairy tale retelling you've ever read.

Cinder will be on shelves January 3!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dumpling Days

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin. Grades 3-6. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 2012. 264 pages. Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA.

"Traveling is important - it opens your mind. You take something with you, you leave something behind, and you are forever changed. That is a good trip." - Pacy's dad (page 2*).

When Pacy and her family leave for a month-long summer trip to Taiwan, Pacy's not at all sure about the trip. She doesn't speak the language, she's going to miss her friends, and she's just not convinced that it's going to be any fun. It's true that many things seem harder in Taiwan: ordering restaurant food, using the bathroom, even an art class (Pacy's best subject!). But sometimes the most difficult things are the things most worth doing and her adventures in Taiwan will bring Pacy closer to figuring out her own identity and growing closer to those she knows best.

Grace Lin perfectly captures a child's-eye view of family vacation and reading this book was liking taking a trip to Taiwan myself! Details from the architecture to the folklore to the food (Oh! The food!) paint a picture of Taiwan that will have readers eagerly devouring the pages. I didn't want to stop reading because I didn't want my vacation with the Lins to end!

This is a perfect book for American kids to explore different cultures. It's interesting and accessible with lots of tidbits about Taiwan. Ms. Lin also explores the culture clash Pacy experiences being from the US and visiting her parents' homeland. Pacy feels like she doesn't fit in anywhere. In her New England hometown, she doesn't look like everyone else. In Taiwan, she looks like the people but she can't speak their language and doesn't know their ways. Even McDonald's is different in Taiwan!

Although culture clash is definitely an element of this book, it's not the only focal point. This is a story about Pacy and her family. Being the only American kids around, Pacy and her sisters grow closer. Sometimes it takes a journey of thousands of miles to get to know the people you live with every day. And as Pacy learns the stories of her Taiwanese family members, she grows closer to them, too.

If nothing else, read this book for the descriptions of the food! Grace Lin has me wanting to go and eat my way through Taiwan and try all the kids of dumplings that Pacy eats. ;)

There are two previous Pacy books, The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat. I recommend you read them because they are awesome, but Dumpling Days stands quite nicely on its own, as well. You may also want to pair this book with Grace Lin's Newbery honor-winning book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

Seriously, don't miss this one! This is definitely one of my favorite books I've read this year!

Dumpling Days will be on shelves January 2, just in time for Chinese New Year (January 23 this year!). Make sure you've got this and all the Pacy books in your collection!

* Quoted from ARC.

Monday, December 12, 2011

If You Like A Child Called "It"

A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with one of our regular tween patrons and she mentioned that she really wanted to read the book A Child Called "It" by David Pelzer. That was the last straw: for years as I've worked in libraries and bookstores, this title has been continually in demand by adult, teen and tween patrons alike. It was time for me to read it and see what all the fuss was about.

I confess that I only made it about halfway through because it was just too hard for me to read about the awful things being done to this child. I respect anyone's right to read and enjoy this book (and I understand that it may be a necessary book for many teens and adults who have been through abusive situations), but it just wasn't for me. Knowing the incredibly popularity of this book got me thinking about A Child Called "It" as a gateway drug of sorts - the kind of book that can captivate reluctant readers. So today, I'm taking a page from The Reclusive Bibliophile's book and I'm going to do a list of readalikes. (Be sure you check out her If You Like feature for some great lists of books and movies.)

If You Like A Child Called "It", Check Out These Books

For teens:


Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Alice was kidnapped at the age of 10 when she was on a class field trip to the aquarium. She's now lived with Ray for five years, enduring unspeakable things. Ray starves her in an attempt to keep her small and young-looking. He promises her that if she ever tries to run, he will kill her parents. And then he tells her to find him a new girl, a girl that Alice can teach to please him.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin. "For Matt and his sisters, life with their cruel, vicious mother is a day-to-day struggle for survival. But then Matt witnesses Murdoch coming to a child's rescue in a convenience store, and for the first time, he feels a glimmer of hope. When, amazingly, Murdoch begins dating Matt's mother, life is suddenly almost good. But the relief lasts only a short time. When Murdoch inevitably breaks up with their mother, Matt knows he needs to take action. But can he call upon his hero? Or will he have to take measures into his own hands?" (Publisher summary quoted from GoodReads.)


Split by Swati Avasthi. Ever since his older brother left, Jace's dad's abuse has gotten worse and worse. Jace steps up and tries to take as many of the beatings as he can, in order to spare his mom, but one night things go too far and his dad kicks him out. Jace has nowhere to go except to track down the brother who abandoned him. Together, Christian and Jace must figure out how to find peace and how to rescue their mom... if she'll let herself be rescued.

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga. When Josh was 12, he was sexually abused by his history teacher. It's messed up everything for him. Her detailed confession made its way on to the Internet, so now everyone knows exactly what happened between Josh and his teacher. And now, six years later, she's getting out of jail. 


Burned by Ellen Hopkins. "Raised in a religious -- yet abusive -- family, Pattyn Von Stratten starts asking questions -- about God, a woman's role, sex, love. She experiences the first stirrings of passion, but when her father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control. Pattyn is sent to live with an aunt in the wilds of Nevada to find salvation and redemption. What she finds instead is love and acceptance -- until she realizes that her old demons will not let her go." (Publisher summary quotes from GoodReads.) And also check out Ellen Hopkins' other books. 

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. "In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match. He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life." (Publisher summary quotes from GoodReads.) 


Sickened: The True Story of a Lost Childhood by Julie Gregory. Throughout her childhood, Julie was told that she was sick. She was starved, beaten, and taken out of school for doctor's visits and hospital stays. Her mother insisted that every possible test be done (including invasive ones), in order to "get to the bottom of this". Julie was punished if she didn't go along with the symptoms her mother told the doctors she had. This is Julie's story of her childhood and how she finally broke free.

For tweens: 


Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. It's 1968 and fourteen-year-old Doug Swieteck has just moved to a new town with his family. Life's not easy for Doug there. No one expects much of him or his family and Doug never knows what to expect from his father, who flies violently off the handle at the smallest thing. Two things help him get by: the book of Audubon prints at the town library (and the librarian who's helping Doug learn to draw them) and Lil Spicer, a feisty girl in his class who becomes Doug's unlikely ally. As Doug tries to navigate his eighth grade year and the sides of his personality that would have him act just like his violent father and brothers, he's just hoping that things will turn out okay... for now.

What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman. What Jamie saw was his mom's boyfriend throwing his baby sister across the room. Luckily, Jamie's mom was quick enough to catch her and the three of them left that night. This gem of a book tells what happened after the incident and how Jamie and his mom begin to conquer their fears and put their lives back together.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. "A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the long as they stay in the Underneath." (Publisher summary quoted from GoodReads.) 

What other books would you recommend for teen or tween fans of A Child Called "It"

Friday, December 9, 2011

Show Stoppers!

Kelly and I got to talking about the wonderful books on performing arts that have come out for children & teens over the past couple of years, so we're presenting today a list of great books about performing arts for the artsy kids in your life. Check out the teen stuff over at Stacked and you'll get your children's & middle-grade stuff right here!

Show-Stopping Books: Books for the Artistic Readers in Your Life

Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson (ages 3-6).
The bouncy rhyme and rich vocabulary will have kids tapping their feet even as they're gaining valuable early literacy skills. 

Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin (ages 4-8).
Can Farmer Brown's animals win the local talent show (grand prize: trampoline) without him knowing?

The Remarkable Farkle McBride by John Lithgow (ages 5-9).
Farkle McBride tries and rejects a number of musical instruments in this humorous, rhyming book. 

Opera Cat by Tess Weaver (ages 5-8).
When the opera star Madame SoSo comes down with laryngitis, it's up to her cat Alma to save the show!

Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen (ages 6-9).
Sassy longs to be a professional dancer, but she's too tall to partner with the boys in her class, so she dances in the wings during performances. When Sally competes for a prestigious dance program, her hard work pays off!

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (ages 6-9).
When the third and fourth graders are putting on a talent show, Clementine is desperate to find an act - any act - to perform!

Drumbeat in Our Feet by Patricia Keeler (ages 6-10).
"If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing." - African proverb. Explore the traditions and meanings of African dance in this colorful picture book.

Babymouse: The Musical by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (ages 7-10).
When Babymouse is assigned the role of Felicia's understudy, she's sure she's never going to be on stage. Filled with references to musicals from Phantom to West Side Story to Fiddler, this is a great choice for any young musical theater buffs. 

Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg & Sandra Jordan (ages 7-10).
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the work that went into creating the ballet Appalachian Spring

The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements (ages 8-12).
When school budget cuts mean that the music and art teachers will soon be gone, Hart Evans decides to make this year's holiday concert the best ever... but it'll take all his powers of persuasion to get his classmates to cooperate. 

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple (ages 8-12).
This beautifully illustrated book retells the stories of some of the most famous ballets. Background information about each ballet is included before the story, making this a book that young ballerinas will cherish.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (ages 8-12).
Zoe Elias dreams of playing the piano at Carnegie Hall. Imagine her surprise when, instead of the piano she was so hoping for, her parents get her an organ. An organ that comes with lessons from Maybeline Person and her book of organ songs... Hits from the 70s.

The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff (ages 9-12).
When 12-year-old Allegra is selected as the youngest competitor in the Ernest Bloch Young Musicians’ Competition, it means a summer of not only practicing Mozart's notes, but learning how to let the music into her heart.

The Rising Star of Rusty Nail (ages 9-12).
In Rusty Nail, Minnesota, Franny takes piano lessons from the Russian lady that just moved in. Is it possible she's a spy? 

To Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel (ages 9-13).
Siena Cherson Siegel studied at ballet school in New York from when she was six until she was eighteen. This sweet graphic novel memoir describes her time there. 

Four Seasons by Jane Breskin (ages 9-13).
Allegra, piano student at Julliard, must decide whether she wants to commit her life to her music career.

No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman (ages 10-13).
Eighth grader Wallace Wallace is forced to join the school play after turning in his real opinion of the book Old Shep, My Pal for a school book report. But with Wallace involved, the boring school play turns into something much different.

Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes (ages 11 and up).
Wen, Stella, Charlie, Olivia, and Mo take turns telling the story of their band, Lemonade Mouth, and how they achieved fame and glory.

What other great performance books for kids and tweens would you add to this list?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Audiobook Review: The True Meaning of Smekday

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, read by Bahni Turpin. Grades 4-7. Random House/Listening Library, 2010. 10 hours and 38 minutes. Review copy provided by my local library.

Plot summary from publisher via GoodReads:

It all starts with a school essay.

When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens - called Boov - abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?

In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.

Hype. You know how it is. Sometimes everyone's gushing about a book (or an audiobook in this case) and it wins the Odyssey Award and yet... for some reason, you're reluctant to pick it up. Everyone loves this, but I will probably be the one dissenter, you might think to yourself.

This is one of those books that I don't think I would have finished if I had been reading the print version. It's funny and wacky, but despite the madcap action it dragged in a few places. Young science fiction fans will certainly eat it up, but it would have been easy for me to declare, "Not My Genre!" and put it aside. That's where Bahni Turpin comes in.

Bahni Turpin embraces the text fully and becomes her characters. Yes, she was absolutely hilarious as the alien J.Lo with his high voice and strange accent and clicks. But Turpin was also able to bring me to tears with a single phrase as Gratuity. This is a superb performance and Turpin is a perfect match for the text. If you've been holding out on this one, wondering if it could possibly live up to the hype, I'm telling you to give it a chance!

The wacky humor makes this a good choice for fans of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglass Adams, well-read by Stephen Fry. I'd also try this on kids who enjoyed Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith or Bruce Coville's titles.

Check out more reviews of the audiobook at Reading with My Ears and Book Nut.

The True Meaning of Smekday is on shelves now!

Hey, I'm an Audible affiliate, so if you purchase items after clicking the links on my site, I may get a small commission!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Wonderful Problem

I'm over at the ALSC Blog today, talking about a wonderful problem my department's been having recently... Please check it out!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Planet Middle School

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes. Grades 4-7. Bloomsbury, September 2011. 154 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

When Joylin starts middle school, things begin to change. Her body's changing (making playing basketball with the boys sort of awkward). She's suddenly sitting with different girls in the cafeteria (since her best girl friend joined choir). And worst of all, she finds herself obsessed with catching Santiago's eye (a boy she'd never noticed previously), even if it means squeezing her feet into heels, getting her ears pierced, and experimenting with makeup. Life seems to be wobbling out of orbit for this tomboy, but Joylin's doing her best to navigate Planet Middle School.

In short prose poems, Nikki Grimes tells the story of an infinitely relatable girl facing problems that many of our tween readers are facing. This verse novel may not be breaking new ground, but I appreciate a coming-of-age story written by an author of color, featuring a protagonist of color, and I definitely have some kids in mind who will snatch up this book.

The verse format is another appeal factor for kids. This is a slim book anyway, and the verse format makes the pages fly by. The poems are well-constructed and Ms. Grimes is able to paint pictures that get her point across without wasting a word. Girls will see themselves in these poems. Here's one example:

Silent Shift

On the way out, 
I pass by KeeLee
laughing with her new friends
from show choir.
We smile and wave
at each other
like our not sitting together
is no big deal. (pg. 49)

I absolutely think you could lift this poem right out of the book and still get a complete picture of what's going on between Joylin and KeeLee. This is the case for many of the poems in the book, which (to my mind) is the mark of a nicely written verse novel.

Hand this to tweens who are unsure about starting middle school, girls who are noticing boys for the first time, or fans of Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez, Shug by Jenny Han, or Judy Blume's coming-of-age books.

Planet Middle School is on shelves now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Good Day

Wednesday was a good librarian day.

I think I have finally won over the kids at my toughest afterschool site. It's almost all boys at this site and the older ones are way too cool for school. It's not unusual for me to be greeted by groans of "Not YOU again!" when I arrive at this school (I assume they're saying that with love, of course). But this time, one of the younger boys saw me arrive and raced to open the door. When he spotted my bag of books, he gave me a big hug and said, "You're the book lady!"

The kids were more attentive than they've ever been and after several of the younger kids clamored to do the craft (scratch-art snowmen), most of the older boys drifted over to do it, too. I sat at their table and they showed off by saying rude things about the people in their classes and telling me who liked who in their classes and which girls were "smokin' hot".

After my afterschool visit, I had Teen Otaku Club and it went really well. I had 30 kids and we had a really nice discussion about their favorite manga. I know they were a little disappointed that we cut the program back to one hour (previously, we let it go for two hours), but it really was more manageable. I'm getting to know some of the kids and we have some great leaders that participated and helped me moderate our discussion. They talked for almost 45 minutes, telling others about new manga and explaining their favorites to me. (Take-away: the girls tend to like any manga with attractive male characters. The boys tend to like manga with violence and gore, the bloodier the better.)

So, all in all, it was a good day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

#FlannelFriday: Santa Had a Christmas Tree

Well, ho ho ho! Look who finally got her act together to participate in Flannel Friday?

Since today's the holiday extravaganza, I wanted to share a flannel that's been a HUGE HIT with preschool classes in my community. I know not everyone's comfortable sharing Christmas materials at storytime and I think that's just fine not to. However, we do in my community (although we stick to more secular stuff).

Here's the flannel:

As you know, we love to pass out felt pieces and have our kids come up and put them on the board. You can do that this way or you could put the felt pieces on yourself!

(Apologies, but I don't have a source for this song!)

Santa Had a Christmas Tree (To the tune of "Old MacDonald")

Santa had a Christmas tree
Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho
And on that tree he had a star
Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho
With a twinkle, twinkle here
And a twinkle, twinkle there
Here a twinkly, there a twinkle
Everywhere a twinkle, twinkle
Santa had a Christmas tree
Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!

Repeat with:
Under his tree he had a gift... with a rattle, rattle here
On that tree he had a light... with a sparkle, sparkle here
On that tree he had a bell... with a jingle, jingle here
Next to his tree he had some cookies... with a crunch, crunch here

And, of course, you can add more verses if you think of different items you want to put on or around your tree.

Our Head Start teachers loved this so much that they all asked for the words to the song after we went there.

Today is the Flannel Friday Holiday Extravaganza, hosted by Loons and Quines, so head on over there to check out the roundup!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

AudioSynced: November Roundup

Of course, I love hosting AudioSynced (along with my good pal Kelly) all year round, but the November roundup might have a special place in my heart. We just finished our holiday travel for Thanksgiving (in the States, anyway) and December's coming soon, bringing another round of road trips and crowded airplanes as people travel to see family for those holidays. So if you're looking for a great listen to make your next road trip more fun, check out our November audiobook reviews!!

Audiobook News and Posts

James Parker's examining the audiobook in the New York Times Sunday Book Review section.

AudioFile's released their lists of Best Audiobooks of 2011 and Best Voices of 2011. Do you agree? What was YOUR best audiobook of 2011?

Sarah's over at The Hub with some great audiobook suggestions for your holiday travel this year!

Be sure and head over to Audiobook Jukebox for LOTS MORE audiobook reviews!

Children's/Middle Grade Audiobooks

The Ballad of Jack Johnson by Charles R. Smith, Jr., illustrated by Shane W. Evans, read by Dion Graham, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "Johnson's strength and pride are clear in Graham's sterling narration that builds in intensity and volume to the championship fight."

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban, read by Tai Alexandra Ricci, reviewed by Brenda at proseandkahn. Brenda says, "This short, sweet, gentle read is peopled with memorable characters, leavened with much humor and lovely moments where imperfect people do the best that they can, and where friendship can creep up and surprise a person."

Dear America: Like the Willow Tree: Portland, Maine, 1918 by Lois Lowry, read by Sara Barnett, reviewed by Abby (me!) at Abby the Librarian. I say, "Narrator Sara Barnett was well-chosen for this role. She reads with a girlish inflection that is totally appropriate for an 11-year-old's diary and it adds to the authenticity of the audiobook."

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, read by L.J. Ganser, reviewed by Brenda at proseandkahn. Brenda says, "Perfect for your trivia lovers and history buffs. It will also be appealing to reluctant readers."

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1) by Maryrose Wood, read by Katherine Kellgren, reviewed by Sarah at YA Librarian Tales. Sarah says, "This book is an ABSOLUTE JOY to listen to..."

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm, read by Becca Battoe, reviewed by Allison at Reading Everywhere. Allison says, "[Becca Battoe] suits the sassy character of Turtle perfectly, and her performance really enhanced my experience with this book."

YA Audiobooks

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur, read by Georgette Perna, reviewed by Sarah at YA Librarian Tales. Sarah says, " It has some great lessons to learn and in the audio version, the characters' voices are really well done. The story is rather slow and I can see it losing readers along the way. Overall, a rather mixed bag listening experience."

Fever Crumb, written and read by Philip Reeve, reviewed by Jeanne at Books for Ears. Jeanne calls it "[An] [i]maginative and original steampunk story set in a distant future London and beautifully read by the author."

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld, read by Alan Cumming, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "Goliath, in the hands of Westerfeld and Cumming, is -- as our heroine Deryn Sharp would say -- barking brilliant!"

The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan, read by Katie Schorr, reviewed by Brenda at proseandkahn. Brenda says, "I'm glad that I chose to read this one with my ears because I think the narrator's voice did a lot to coax me into not abandoning the book."

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, read by Jason Isaacs, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "...Isaacs knows how to tell a good story, his delivery of the monster's three tales has a tension and pacing that helps keep you listening."

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray, read by Bruce Mann, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "[Mann's voice] works for these teenaged boys; while he knows how to speak in their ebullient riffs and rhythms, they all sound just a little bit lost and lonely in Mann's interpretation."

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins, read by a whole buncha people, reviewed by Drea at Book Blather. Drea says, "Hearing the words spoken aloud really turned up the wow factor. With each character having their own distinct voice, they became real like, tangible, as if I were listening to one of my best friends talk."

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel, read by Luke Daniels, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "Sure, there are some very exciting bits... But there's no heart at the center of this story."

Adult Audiobooks

The Help by Kathryn Stockett, read by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell, reviewed by Melissa at The Book Nut. Melissa says, "There were parts that I would have gotten frustrated with if I'd just read it, but I found loving listening to. I adored the inflection the narrators would give to the sentences, the rich Southern accents..., and the voices they'd give to the characters."

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, read by David Pittu, reviewed by Jeanne at Books for Ears. Jeanne calls it: "A dark overly dramatic story, mediocre reader and no one to root for."

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, read by Jim Dale, reviewed by Melissa at Mel's Books and Info. Melissa says, "Dale is a superb narrator and probably one of the bests in the industry... It comes as no surprise then that the audio version of The Night Circus would be so remarkable. It is a great way to read this wonderful novel."

Reamde by Neal Stephenson, read by Malcolm Hillgartner, reviewed by Lanea at Books for Ears. Lanea says it's, "A fantastic, well-read, fast-paced novel of hackers, criminals, anti-heroes, terrorists, and gamers."

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, written and read by Susan Orlean, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "Orlean reads her own work and she's quite easy to listen to. I can hear the care that she takes to read clearly, and her familiarity with the story shows in the comfortable way that she reads."

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, read by Edward Herrmann, reviewed by Lee at Reading with My Ears. Lee says, "[Edward Herrmann] reads everything -- from what could be mindnumbing detail of airplanes to the way the sharks circled the life rafts -- in a committed way that makes all of it easy to listen to."


Have a post or review that I missed? Please leave me a link in comments and I'll update this post to add it! Be sure and check out the AudioSynced archives for links to tons of great audiobook reviews!