Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Grades 5-8. Dial, August 2013. 384 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Willow Chance is an outsider. She thinks deeply and values logic and order. She's so smart that school is boring to her, and when Willow gets a perfect score on a standardized test, she's sent to counseling because her principal is convinced that she cheated. When tragedy strikes and Willow's parents are killed in a car accident, Willow has no one to turn to. She's forced to depend on the kindness of relative strangers. But for her new unlikely friends, Willow is the catalyst to great and wonderful changes in their lives.

Simply put, this is a story I didn't want to put down. It's a story about the power of connection. It's a story about lost people finding their ways home. It's a story about creating something from pretty much nothing. And it's a story that shows that family comes in all different shapes and sizes, not necessarily the people you're related to by blood.

The story is mainly told from Willow's perspective in the first person, but we also get third-person chapters from some of the other characters. This style was used to great effect, as the reader's able to really see how all the characters begin to come together and how they begin to change and grow.

Willow is an outsider, a girl possibly somewhere on the autism/Asperger's spectrum (although that is never stated). It's her very oddness that brings her into this story and it's her oddness that begins touching the characters she meets. There's a growing trend in middle-grade literature to depict kids on the autism spectrum, but Willow's story truly never would have happened if she was a neurotypical girl.

Family is a huge theme throughout the book, even from the beginning. Willow is adopted, with no knowledge of who her biological family might be. After the accident, Willow feels like she's lost her family twice - her biological family and her adoptive family. What's left? What does a real family look like? This is a question that Holly Goldberg Sloan tackles with grace. It turns out that family doesn't have to be your blood relatives. Family is something that can be created out of nothing.

There are a few items in the story for which I had to suspend my disbelief, but it was such a magical story that I didn't mind. And by the time I got near the end, I couldn't put the book down because I just had to see how everything would play out.

Holly Goldberg Sloan's debut novel I'll Be There was one of my favorite books of 2011. Counting by 7s is a great follow-up and definitely did not disappoint. 


Willow made me think of Emma Jean Lazarus, although the tone of Willow's story is a bit more serious. If you love the character of Willow, try Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. Emma Jean Lazarus is another character possibly somewhere on the spectrum who is trying to navigate middle school.

If the serious subject matter and an atypical character dealing with grief are appeal factors, try Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. In Mockingbird, Caitlin (definitely on the autism spectrum) deals with the death of her older brother, a victim of a school shooting. The story is told with poignancy and humor, similar to Counting by 7s.

If you like stories about all kinds of unrelated characters coming together and seeing how their stories fit, try Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O'Connor. In this book, four kids meet at the Sleepy Time Motel in the Smokey Mountains, each looking for something.

Counting by 7s will be on shelves August 29.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reading Wildly: Readers' Choice

For our July Reading Wildly meeting, our genre was "Readers' Choice". I wanted to give everyone an open choice this month because we're in the throes of Summer Reading Club and I wanted this month's reading to be as easy as possible. I was really interested to see what everyone would choose and how they went about picking what book to read.

 Several of my staff members chose books that were popular with the kids, like Magic Tree House and Big Nate. They wanted to familiarize themselves with books that kids were asking for. Listening to their booktalks for the group was a great way for all of us to become a little more familiar with these popular titles. Other staff members picked up titles that caught their eye or had won awards. I loved hearing them talk about books that they enjoyed reading and I'm seeing my staff gravitate more and more towards the books in our Children's Room when they're reading for their own pleasure, too.

We had a pretty wide selection of genres, including several nonfiction titles, which I was really happy to see. Nonfiction is one of our upcoming topics, but I'm glad to see people picking it up for pleasure this month. We're definitely working on building Readers' Advisory skills by reading widely this year, but part of building your department's Readers' Advisory skills is knowing what everyone's go-to genres are. As we read more and more, I think we're all figuring out what everyone's favorites are. I know that I'll go to Miss A if I need more books for a scary book list. I'll go to Miss K if I need mystery suggestions, etc.

As we're establishing monthly genres next year, I'm thinking I will include Readers' Choice for multiple months. Especially now that everyone's developed greater familiarity with our collection (through their own reading and hearing everyone's booktalks each month), I think my staff members are feeling more confident in choosing books they will like. They're also keeping an eye to the collection as they do their work, knowing they will need to read something for our meetings each month. Readers' Choice would be great for summer when things are so, so busy and maybe around the holidays when people might  have a little more time off to read or might be buying and receiving books as gifts.

So, what did everyone choose to read this month?

School starts back next week, so our genre for August is school stories. Also coming next week will be a look back at this past half-year of Reading Wildly! Check back to see how it's going. :) 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hold Fast

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett. Grades 4-7. Scholastic, March 2013. 288 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

The Pearl family doesn't have much, but they hold fast to their hopes, the biggest of which is a house to call their own. Eleven-year-old Early Pearl loves her family dearly, but it wears on you, living with her parents and baby brother, all four of them crammed into a studio apartment with no space to do anything on your own. Early's dad Dash is the light her her world, teaching her about the power of words and helping the family keep a notebook of special words that they love. One day, everything changes when Dash mysteriously disappears and bad men ransack the Pearl apartment. Early and her family are forced out onto the street, desperately looking for help in a world that seems to see them as less than human just because they don't have any money. The police seem to suspect her father of something illegal, but Early knows her father was a good man and she's determined to help track him down. But what Early stumbles into is way more than she bargained for.

This is an exciting mystery set in a cold Chicago winter, perfect for kids who love words as much as Early Pearl does.

So... books about kids living in the shelter system. Any come to mind? Hmmm. Me neither. Until now. And what a book to put into the hands of young readers. The writing is poetic, each word carefully chosen. Poetry (and particularly the poetry of Langston Hughes) is an important element in the story and the writing style reflects that. Blue Balliett places her readers in a cold, Chicago winter and the setting is vivid in every scene. I have clear pictures of the shelter, Early's school, and the Harold Washington Library (which factors in greatly).

The book is not without its problems. With the exception of the Pearl family, most of the adults in the shelter are hitting their kids and/or dealing with substance abuse. Another down-on-their-luck family is nowhere to be seen. It feels a bit stereotypical. That said, this glance at homelessness (particularly Early's struggles at a new school) will certainly be eye-opening for many kids and they'll be rooting for the Pearl family to get back on their feet.


Readers who enjoy a high-stakes mystery coupled with a fine art theme should definitely pick up Blue Balliett's first novel Chasing Vermeer and its sequels. They also might enjoy Elise Broach's Shakespeare's Secret or Masterpiece.

Readers who enjoy the strong urban setting in a mystery might try the wonderful When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (set in New York City).

The poetry of Langston Hughes factors heavily into the story and young readers might be interested to read more.

Hold Fast is on shelves now!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Barbed Wire Baseball

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu. Grades 2-5. Abrams, April 2013. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Kenichi Zenimura (known as Zeni) loved baseball. Every since he was a little kid, he wanted nothing more than to play ball. And despite the fact that he grew up to be a small man (just five feet tall!), he did achieve his dream of becoming a professional ball player. When World War II started, Zeni and his family were forced into an internment camp for people of Japanese descent. But Zeni would not let that keep him from playing. With help from many people at the camp, Zeni built a ball field and brought baseball to the camp!

This is an inspiring story of one man's passion for sport and the things people will do to help each other. Zeni didn't build a ball field alone. Many people helped, from clearing the land to building grandstands to sewing uniforms. The reality of the internment camps isn't glossed over, but the story definitely concentrates on hope.

Yuko Shimuzi's illustrations help bring the desolate interment camp, located in the Arizona desert, to life. Colors are muted throughout the book, giving it an aged feel. Spreads set in the camp show how bleak and lifeless the land is until Zeni and his friends irrigate and grow grass for the field. The camp is portrayed with barbed wire fences to depict the fact that the camp was a prison, even though the barbed wire was eventually removed at that particular camp. This is addressed in the afterward, along with additional information about Zeni and baseball in the camp.

Back matter also includes an author's note and an artist's note, which talk about how Marissa Moss was inspired to write the story and how Yuko Shimuzi researched to make the illustrations as historically accurate as possible. An index and a bibliography (for both the author and artist) are provided. Yay for citing sources!!

This is a great book to add to lessons on World War II, particularly lessons about the Japanese internment or the home front. It would also work for lessons on immigration, BUT don't file this away as strictly a classroom book. It's a story that will have wide appeal with sports fans and kids interested in history.


The same issue gets a fictional treatment in the picture book Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee. It might be interesting to compare a fiction and nonfiction book on the same subject.

For more on the Japanese internment camps, check out Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne F. Oppenheim. This book contains letters written by kids in the camps to their beloved librarian Miss Breed.

For more about baseball history, check out We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson or A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League by Sue Macy.

For more books about Asian-Americans breaking color barriers, check out Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story by Paula Yoo (about swimmer Sammy Lee) or Sky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss.

Barbed Wire Baseball is on shelves now!

Happy Nonfiction Monday! This week's roundup is at Wrapped in Foil, so make sure you check it out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Fifth Wave

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. Grades 8 and up. Putnam Juvenile, May 2013. 457 pages. Review copy purchased.

The first wave was an electromagnetic pulse that knocked out all the electronics and engines on the planet. No one knew that about the Others before that. The second and third waves killed billions. The fourth wave was slower, more deliberate. The aliens look like us now. And there's no knowing who we can trust.

Cassie is alone. She might be the last human left. But she made a promise. And she'll risk everything to keep it.

Guys, this book is AMAZING. Rick Yancey is a master at building suspense and there are plot twists around every corner, so everything is changing constantly. You think you have it figured out and then YOU DON'T. Even though it's a huge, thick book, the pages went quickly because I just couldn't put it down.

It's scary if you really think about what's happening because it's all so very plausible. One day humanity was doing its thing and then suddenly aliens came and killed pretty much everyone. The survivors had to figure out what to do next. So, yes, it's scary, but I would call it a thriller rather than a horror novel. There's plenty of violence and the characters have to make some really psychologically demanding decisions. And again: you never know who you can trust.


This is a great choice for fans of The Hunger Games for the survival aspect and the tough moral choices the characters have to make. While both books have plenty of violence, I think that The 5th Wave hits a little closer to home since their world is closer to our current world.

I'd also try it on fans of Ender's Game, both for the people-fighting-aliens plot line and the kid soldiers plot line. The aliens of Ender's Game are also similar to the aliens in The 5th Wave for the utter destruction they have planned for the Earth (and also for some spoilery reasons). Keep The 5th Wave in mind as a readalike when the Ender's Game movie comes out.

The 5th Wave is on shelves now!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

At the Baby Fair

One of my favorite outreach events that the library participates in each year is the Baby Fair, held at our county hospital. There's usually a nice crowd and, even though not everyone lives in our county, expectant parents and grandparents are hungry for information. The Baby Fair crowd is very engaged and eager to take whatever handouts I bring along.

So, what do I take for my table at the Baby Fair?

1. BOOKS! A display of books is great for catching people's eye and quickly branding your booth. I select books from our parenting section, board books, and media items to show parents what we have to offer. Classic favorites that parents will remember from their childhoods are also a great bet. Anything to catch their eye and draw them over to your booth.

2. Early literacy information. This is a great time to break out your Every Child Ready to Read brochures and bookmarks.

3. Book lists. We updated our "New Baby" book lists (books for siblings about to get a new brother or sister) and I put together a new list of some of my favorite books for babies. My list includes board books, picture books, nursery rhyme collections, and music CDs. Also consider bringing other book lists you might have, since many of the families might have older siblings.

4. Program information. I brought along our summer calendar and I made a separate flyer just for our baby storytime. I included the summer and fall dates for the program since I know I'll be seeing many expectant parents who might not have a baby to bring until the fall or spring. Since I am in a community where I know I'll be seeing patrons with other home library districts, I try to familiarize myself with their offerings for babies. That way when I get "Oh, I don't live in Floyd County", I can let them know that their home library has programs for them, too. This isn't too hard since we're fairly collaborative and communicate frequently with our neighboring districts.

5. A door prize (if the event asks for one). I usually fill a little bag with a few of my favorite board books with bookplates (read: printed labels) on them to tell parents that they came from the library. This is a great opportunity to spread love for some of your favorite titles and to help start a baby's library!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rapture Practice

Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket to Salvation, A True Story by Aaron Hartzler. Grades 7 and up. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013. 390 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Aaron Hartzler grew up in a home where he was taught that at any moment the Rapture could happen - that Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye and scoop Aaron and his family up to heaven. As a kid, he was thrilled by the idea that every moment of every day might be his last one on earth. 

But as Aaron turns sixteen, he finds himself more attached to his earthly life and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn't want the Rapture to happen just yet - not before he sees his first movie, stars in the school play, or has his first kiss...(Quoted from jacket flap copy.)

More YA memoirs, please!

Aaron Hartzler's story is one that many teens will be able to identify with. The search for religion and starting to question the beliefs one has been raised with are issues that LOTS of teens are dealing with. Aaron treats these issues with humor and a lot of heart, acknowledging that he loves his family and they've given him a strong foundation, even if he doesn't believe everything they do.

There are plenty of stories about teens questioning their religion, but memoirs are another story. I'd love to see more memoirs for teens being published. Yes, kids identify with characters in novels, but it's another thing to know that this is a true story, that the author actually lived through this, came out on the other side and wrote a book geared for teens.

The book maybe was a little overly long and the scenes are very detailed, reading like a novel. I think some of those scenes could have been cut in the interest of streamlining. Still, I enjoyed reading it and getting to know Aaron.


Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr is a novel about a pastor's kid questioning her faith. The tone's different from Rapture Practice, but this would be a good choice for teens interested in the storyline of questioning faith.

Rapture Practice is on shelves now!

Happy Nonfiction Monday! This week's roundup is at Biblio Links, so make sure you check it out!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Kindergarten, Here We Come at the @alscblog

Yes, today I'm over at the ALSC Blog talking about a program we had yesterday for kids starting Kindergarten this fall. It was a blast and I love that it's a program we can easily repeat each summer (since we'll have a brand-new batch of incoming Kindergarteners each year)!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt. Grades 4-7. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, July 2013. 336 pages. Reviewed from egalley provided by publisher.

Raccoon scouts Bingo and J'miah are on duty by themselves for the first time. They remember the rules: "always heed the Voice of Intelligence, and in the event of an emergency, wake the Sugar Man." So when word comes that a posse of wild hogs is on its way to Sugar Man Swamp (sure to destroy everything in its wake), Bingo and J'miah must figure out how to wake the Sugar Man... but no one's seen him in decades...

Chap Brayburn has a mission of his own: to protect his home. Nothing's been right since his beloved grandpa Audie died, but now their landlord's raising the rent, planning to turn this patch of swamp into an arena for alligator wrestling. The only way to save his home is to come up with a boatload of money or prove the Sugar Man's existence... but how?

Kathi Appelt once again shows her master storyteller chops with her latest novel. The language! The characters! I seriously felt like I was sitting down with Kathi and she was spinning this yarn right in front of me. Some passages read just like a storyteller was saying them out loud. This story is evocative of those animal classics and will make a fabulous family readaloud.

Appelt's sense of place is also masterful. She brings the Texas bayou to life once again, just as she did in The Underneath. Readers are treated to the sights and sounds of the swamp and meet wonderful characters, both animal and human. And there are good characters and not-so-good characters in both the animal and human worlds here. The overarching goal for the good guys of all species is protecting the land from threats. This is a book with a strong (but not heavy-handed) environmental message, celebrating the importance of preserving the wetlands as a habitat for both animals and conscientious humans.

I loved Kathi's previous Newbery-honor-winning novel The Underneath, but it's a book that I place carefully into the hands of youngsters because it's a very intense and emotional story. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is similar in setting and in the storytelling voice, but the tone is much lighter and I think this will definitely have a wide audience. There's a lot of humor and repeated phrasing... it was simply a delight to read.


Readers who enjoyed the animal characters will want to pick up other classic animal tales like Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden and The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. Kathi Appelt's storytelling style has the feel of a classic and I think this is one that'll be sticking around for a long time to come.

Readers intrigued by the environmental issues and the quest to protect the land might enjoy Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

Readers who love the strong sense of place and the Texas bayou setting (and the strong storytelling-style writing) might enjoy Kathi Appelt's earlier novel The Underneath, although you should definitely be aware that the tone is much different.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp will be on shelves July 23!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Primates and Nonfiction Monday!

Happy Nonfiction Monday, everyone! Today I've got a review of the awesome nonfiction graphic novel, Primates, and I'm really excited to hear about the nonfiction you've been reading lately. Please leave a link to your post in the comments and I will add to the roundup throughout the day!

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks. Grades 7 and up. First Second, June 2013. 133 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Jane Goodall. Dian Fossey. Birute Galdikas. Three women who revolutionized the field of primate anthropology, bringing chimps, gorillas, and orangutans (respectively) into the public eye and redefining what it means to be human. These are three women who aren't afraid to get dirty, who aren't afraid to sleep outside, who aren't afraid to infiltrate a man's field.

Primates presents the lives of these incredible women, focusing first on Jane Goodall, then on Dian Fossey, then on Birute Galdikas. The stories flow, connected by each woman's relationship with anthropologist Louis Leakey, who thought women made better primate researchers because they are "more patient and give more of themselves". He was right that each of these women made excellent scientists. Jane Goodall discovered that chimpanzees use tools in the wild. Dian Fossey brought gorillas into the public eye and fought against poachers. Birute Galdikas studied the elusive orangutan and helped to improve rainforest conservation.

Full color illustrations complement the frank text, bringing each woman to life by showing important scenes in her life. The true stories are told with a dose of humor, making these scientists instantly accessible to the reader. Back matter includes an afterward where Jim Ottaviani notes where he took poetic license for the story. The book also includes a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a photo of the three women together.

This would be a great book to hand to budding scientists or to read as part of ecological study or Women's History Month. The comic format will definitely up its appeal to some readers and I'd recommend it to fans of graphic nonfiction, as well.


Readers interested in these particular scientists may enjoy biographies about each woman. There are many books by and about Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey and there's even a book about all three women: Walking  with the Great Apes by Sy Montgomery.

Another intertwining collective biography of awesome women is Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madame C.J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins.

And if your reader is looking for additional graphic biographies and memoirs, try Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Primates is on shelves now!

Nonfiction Monday Roundup:

Myra of Gathering Books shares a post about Drawing from the City by V. Geetha & Gita Wolf and My Henry by Judith Kerr, among many other books! About Drawing from the City, she says, "I hope you get a copy of this book so that you will likewise be touched by Teju’s life, and how through pencil and paper, she was able to touch the skies."

Natalie of Biblio Links shares Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet by Andrea Cheng. She says, "Dave’s story is powerful, and I’m in awe of Cheng’s ability to use a few hand-picked words to pack such an emotional punch. Lovely, sad, and–above all–hopeful."

Lisa of Shelf-employed shares Aesop's Fables by Ann McGovern. She says, "Fables also invite imagination and embellishment. They're perfect for creating short plays, puppet shows, and flannelboard stories."

Ms. Yingling of Ms. Yingling Reads shares Strange Foods by Michael Rosen. I love that she says "Definitely gross" as both a strength and a weakness. Depends on how strong your stomach is, I guess! :)

Tara of A Teaching Life shares I.M. Pei: Architect of Time, Place, and Purpose by Jill Rubalcaba. She says, "The engagingly written text is just detailed enough to inform not overwhelm - tricky to do when one is writing about a topic that is rather complex."

Jennifer of Jean Little Library shares Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. She says, "This book does an awesome job of piquing kids' interest in the outdoors and making what might sound like a boring hobby (bird-watching) something kids might try out a time or two."

Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff shares a book that fits right in with my review of the day: Orangutans by Meish Goldish. He says, "The text... lends itself to modeling for writing nonfiction. Main ideas and supporting details abound."

Tricia of Bookish Ways in Math and Science shares The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman. She says, "I think all kids would enjoy this story, but if I were still teaching young kids today, I'd slip it [to] that child who felt he/she didn't fit in."

Anastasia of Anastasia Suen's Booktalking also shares Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. She says, "You don’t have to own binoculars and know a bunch of fancy Latin names to watch birds! No matter where you live, they’re in your neighborhood — just look up."

Brenda of prose and kahn is featuring two biographies about boy geniuses: Albert Einstein and Paul Erdos. Of On a Beam of Light she says, "This lovely book surely deserves space on the biography shelf next to Kathleen Krull's excellent biography and the photo-biography Genius, by Marfe Ferguson Delano, which every great middle school library collection ought to have."

Sue of Sally's Bookshelf shares Nature Recycles, How About You? by Michelle Lord. She says, "This book looks at recycling from sea urchins to bandicoots... and explores how animals in different habitats recycle materials for building homes to getting food."

Roberta of Wrapped in Foil shares As Fast as Words Could Fly by Pamela M. Tuck. She says, "Can you imagine being the first African American teenager entering a classroom that had previously been for whites only? ... Mason Steele manages to find success in this challenging environment using his determination and award-winning skill at typing."

Margo of The Fourth Musketeer shares Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days, edited by Michael Oren Fitzgerald. She says, "Because there is no narrative from the editor as part of the text, the quotations and photographs together evoke a nostalgic view of the American Indian experience on the Plains."

Jenni of Biblio File shares Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu. She says, "This will be enlightening to American readers, as Na Liu's life isn't easy compared to modern American standards..."

Jeanne of True Tales & A Cherry On Top shares Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige Vs. Rookie Joe DiMaggio by Robert Skead. She says, "I thought this story of two amazing baseball players' parallel experiences provides a powerful comparison of how they received different treatment based on their race."

Pam of MotherReader shares National Geographic Kids's Just Joking series. She says, "...[W]ith quality construction, engaging design, great photography, AND jokes, these books would make a fantastic addition to any library - public, classroom, or personal."

Reshama of Stacking Books shares 13 Art Illusions Children Should Know by Silke Vry. She says, " In “13 Art Illusions Children should know”, art historian and archaeologist, Silke Vry has collected art work that cheats the eye and bewilders the mind!"

Keep 'em coming! I'll update throughout the day!