Thursday, July 30, 2015

Family Book Club

This year, the ladies of my family are doing something we've been meaning to do for a long time: we've started a book club. The idea came about last year, but of course I couldn't commit to a book club during my Newbery year. Once my Newbery work was done, we decided to get started and it's been a lot of fun!

It's fun to have an excuse to put a social event on the calendar and make sure we get together. We're all book lovers and we're taking turns hosting the book club at our homes, so it's been fun to get together just to talk about books.

We typically read adult books (occasionally a YA book, too), which I love because it gives me motivation to pick up books that are not for work. Yes, even children's librarians deserve some time to read something that's not directly related to work (YES, we do). And since we try to share suggestions for our next book at our meetings, it encourages me to stay on top of what's coming out that I would be interested to read.

Since we're a new book club, we're still kind of feeling out the types of books that we all enjoy, so we've read quite an eclectic selection so far. Here's what we have all read and discussed:

And our next read coming up is The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly. 

So far, our biggest "problem" has been that it's hard to decide what to read next. We don't really like the idea of taking turns choosing because we're all wary of choosing a book that no one likes, so we have each been bringing suggestions. But then all the suggestions sound good or no one wants to choose. This last time, we wrote all the suggestions on slips of paper and drew one out of a hat!

Are you in a book club? What have been some of your group's favorite books to discuss? 

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Petersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. Grades 7+ Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, May 2015. 208 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


During WWII, in 1940, Germany took control of Denmark. The Nazis basically seized Denmark and called it their "protectorate"and the government of Denmark said, "Okay." They rolled over and let Germany take over. Now, in Norway when Germany tried to take control, they fought back against the invading soldiers. And they didn't win, but they at least took a stand. But the government of Denmark didn't want to risk its citizens' lives, so they didn't resist.

And this made some Danish people very angry.

One of these people was Knud Peterson. He was fourteen years old when Germany took over and he thought that was garbage. He looked at Norway's response and thought Well, at least they stood up for themselves! They let the Nazis know that they were not okay with occupation!

But the adults in charge had let Germany in. And Knud was just a teenager. What could he do?

It turns out, he could do a whole lot. He and his brother Jens got together some like-minded classmates and they decided that they would start a resistance movement. They would do whatever they could to stop or slow down the Nazi soldiers.

At first, they did things like messing with the German directional signs that told soldiers where to go and defacing German property and the property of known Nazi sympathizers with their symbol of the resistance movement. As their ranks grew and they became more experienced, they seized German weapons and set fire to buildings and railcars.

They called themselves The Churchill Club. They awakened the nation of Denmark. They started the resistance movement. And all before they graduated high school.

My thoughts:

This is a gripping true adventure story that will have wide appeal with kids. Much of the story is told in Knud Petersen's own words, collected through hours of interview and hundreds of emails, which gives the book an authentic voice and brings the reader right into the action. And the action is nonstop. These brave kids had a fire in their hearts and they would stop at nothing to save their country from the Nazi invasion.

This story is truly a testament to the power of teens to make a difference in their world and this is an engaging and inspirational story that needs to be widely read. Hoose follows Knud's story through the formation of the Churchill Club to their eventual arrest and the aftermath in the later years of the war. Archival photographs and documents throughout the book help bring the time period and events to vivid life.

Back matter includes an epilogue, detailing life for the players after the war, an extensive bibliography, and source notes.

WWII books are popular anyway, but this story featuring actual teenagers performing extraordinary acts of courage is a sure winner. Don't miss it.


For another gripping nonfiction book about courage and resistance in the face of oppression, pick up Steve Sheinkin's excellent The Port Chicago 50, also set during WWII but on the American homefront.

Readers interested in learning more about the actions of youth during WWII may like Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Those interested in more stories of resistance during WWII may like Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport or the historical novel Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Comic Book Workshop: Guest Post from Ms. Teresa!

Today, I am so happy to turn the mic over to one of my awesome librarians, Ms. Teresa. She ran an awesome Comic Book Workshop this summer, which brought in a great crowd of tweens, an age that's been hard for us to reach. Recently, Bryce posted about a similar program she did at her library: Make a Graphic Novel. I'm excited to share Teresa's take on the same idea!


Hi, all! My name is Teresa Scherping, and I have the pleasure of working as a children’s librarian for Abby the Librarian herself.

Program planning for the Summer Reading Club can be a challenge. I want something that will get kids in the door, won’t take a ridiculous amount of prep during an already busy time, and will maybe even relate to our theme. Since this summer’s theme is Every Hero Has a Story, I thought that it might be fun to do a program for upper elementary kids about making comic books. A lot of our young patrons love graphic novels, and we also get a lot of requests for drawing books. Plus, an open-ended art program sounded simple, flexible, and creative.

I did want someone to provide some sort of instruction at this program and offer tips and pointers about drawing comics or cartoons. Unfortunately, I don’t have any training in art. Fortunately, we’ve formed relationships with local teachers who do! I contacted one of our patrons, a local art teacher who has regularly checked out collections of books from us for her classroom, and she said she’d be happy to help.

The afternoon of the program, I set out blank white paper, pencils, rulers, staplers, markers, and crayons on long tables in our small programming room. I also pulled books from our collection on comics and cartoons and spread them around on the tables for inspiration. I had looked through some of the books beforehand and made copies of pages that I thought might be helpful, such as different ways to draw cartoon eyes or a chart of drawing challenges in case kids were stumped.

When our teacher arrived, she came prepared with a handout of cartooning basics, an example comic she drew herself, and many pages of blank comic panels that the kids could draw in. She had the kids do a little free drawing while everyone got settled. Then she went over the basics of making a graphic story, like establishing character and setting and expressing exaggerated emotions. She had a lot of great tips!

While the kids were working on their comics, she went around and asked each one about their idea and how they were planning to implement it. She was very positive, and you could see the kids opening up and wanting to share. She also encouraged them to share their drawings and ideas with each other to get feedback. She got them talking about comic books or graphic novels they like to read and continued to teach to the whole group as needed.

Altogether the program took about 50 minutes, with some engrossed comic artists staying a little longer as I started to clean up. We had 16 kids who seemed to all be in the 3rd-5th grade age range we specified. This was a great turnout for us, especially for this age! I look forward to building off of this success with future programs featuring art or graphic novels. If you’re looking for a low maintenance program for tweens and you know someone with some cartooning knowledge, I highly recommend giving something like this a try.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Moon Bear

Moon Bear by Gill Lewis. Grades 4-7. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, March 2015. 384 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


When Tam's family is forced to move from their mountain home in Laos to a village in the lowlands, they are told that they will have a better life. They will have schools and doctors and electricity. But almost immediately, Tam finds himself having to travel to the city to work and send money home to his family. He's given work at a bear farm, a place where bears are kept in tiny cages and "milked" for their bile, a substance that is used in traditional Chinese medicine. As Tam begins to care for the bears and realizes what a terrible situation they're in, he knows he needs to do something. But what can one boy from the mountains do to make a difference?

My thoughts:

This was a hard book to read sometimes, but it's an important story and I'm glad I did read it.

I was interested in the details about Tam's life in Laos, both in his mountain home and in the city. We see how the people in charge casually manipulate those beneath them. Bombs left over from the Vietnam War are still scattered in the fields, the people with money and power easily cheat those with nothing. But one person can still make a difference and even small differences can lead to real change.

This book brings to light several issues of which young readers may not be aware, including the treatment of village populations when Progress wants to make its way through their home and, of course, the farming of bears for bile. I think this is a title that will particularly interest young activists and those wanting to know more about political and environmental issues in the world around them. Tam, a child with no power to change the fate of his family and fellow villagers, chooses to make a difference where he can: speaking up for the bears who have even less of a voice than he does.

Gatekeepers should be aware that there are some scenes depicting the treatment of the bears that might be upsetting to sensitive readers, particularly animal lovers. It's nothing that feels out of place in the story, but just be aware.


Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins is another story about a boy choosing to make a difference for endangered animals (be aware that Tiger Boy is a bit of a gentler story).

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. This book also features a child caught up in the political issues of her country, affected by war, and trying to figure out how to make her way in an unfair world.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This book also features a child who loves animals and is willing to face scary adults to do what's best for the animal he loves.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Back into the Booktalking Swing of Things

As we get closer and closer to the school year starting, I find myself really excited to get back into the booktalking swing of things. I was so excited to see a great post about booktalking in my feed last week: Teri Lesesne on the importance of booktalking. She and Donalyn Miller recently presented on the subject at the International Literacy Association Conference and Teri very eloquently speaks about how booktalking can help create a culture of reading.

I won't lie; it's been nice to have a little break from the intensive booktalking that we did last school year. It's been nice to read at my own pace, to pick up some adult books and teen books among all the middle grade reading I need to do to prep. But I've missed seeing the kids. I've missed our regular visits and telling kids about all the great books I've been coming across.

I'm ready to get back into the booktalking swing of things.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lunch Bunch at the Library

This summer, we tried out a new program that was really fun and easy: Lunch Bunch at the Library!

Our Lunch Bunch met every weekday for one week during the summer. We met from 12:30-1:00pm and invited families to bring a sack lunch to the library and listen to a chapter book readaloud while they ate.

Disclaimer: This is where I tell you that attendance was really low for this program. The highest I had all week was five children and two adults. I did have one day where I only had one child. This is not really a sustainable number for us, but it was so easy and fun that I want to try it at least once more and see if we can't grow the program a little bit.

AND I will say that even though the numbers were low, the kids who did attend LOVED the program. I had three very loyal kids who came every day they could to hear as much of the story as possible.

Here's how I prepared for Lunch Bunch.

I picked out a chapter book to read aloud. I wanted something that would appeal to our lower elementary age group and that I could easily read in five 30ish-minute sessions. I chose the book Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins, which turned out to be a really fun read.

A couple of weeks before the program started, I actually read this book out loud in my office, noting about how long it took me to read each chapter. This helped me plot out how much I would plan to read each day and it helped me develop the voices that I would use as I read, so I could try to keep them consistent.

I set up the room with tables facing the front of the room so that families could sit at the tables to eat their lunches. I had space on the carpet for any that didn't bring a lunch and I invited the kids to come sit on the carpet when they had finished their lunch. I kept the lights down a little bit, which made a really relaxing atmosphere (at least for this librarian!). This was my little oasis during this hectic summer week.

I pulled a selection of readalikes and several copies of Toys Go Out to put on a display in the room. If families couldn't come every day, they were welcome to check out a copy of the book to keep reading at home.

How it went: 

Reading a chapter book aloud is a different animal than reading picture books aloud, and it's really fun. This was a program I honestly looked forward to every day, made even better when my small crowd became loyal listeners. This was a program that was fun for kids and librarian alike.

What I did not super realize when I picked Toys Go Out was that the chapters are very episodic, making it easy for families to drop in and understand the story even if they hadn't come every day. This was nice, but not totally necessary. The kids did a great job of remembering what we had read about the day before and I asked them questions at the beginning of the program to refresh their memory.

I found that the chapters took longer to read with the kids than they had when I was alone because I would pause every so often and ask the kids questions to keep them attentive and make sure they understood what was going on in the story. I also took about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of our programs to allow the kids to get their lunches ready and refresh them on what we had read the previous day.

For next time: 

Before I even started, I wondered how this program would go. I thought that if attendance was low, I might try a different format next time: reading the beginning of a different chapter book each day and then providing copies for children to check out. I still may try this format (I think it would especially work as a once-a-week program), but it was really a great experience to read one entire book with these kids.

Maybe I will try one book over a week's time again during our school breaks, and next summer try out a weekly program reading the beginnings of different chapter books.

Although I thought that having an episodic novel would encourage more listeners to pop in throughout the week, it didn't really work out that way. I wouldn't especially look for an episodic book next time. I also wouldn't worry as much about finishing the book within a certain span of days. It's certainly nice to read the entire book from start to finish, but if I'm able to provide copies for check out, that might even encourage families to read together at home to find out the ending.

What I love about this program, too, is that it introduces families to chapter books that make good family readalouds and it emphasizes the importance of reading aloud to kids of all ages.

This might also make a great (easy!) program to take on the road. We may consider offering it to daycares and summer camps (although I guess the concern there would be that we would potentially have ALL the kids, not just the kids who would elect to sit and listen to a book, so I wonder if we'd have behavior issues).

I'm glad that we tried it out. It was a good experience. And I will try it again to see if we can get attendance up.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Terrible Typhoid Mary

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Grades 5 and up. HMH Books for Young Readers, August 2015. 230 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


What would you do if strangers showed up at your door, accused you of sickening dozens of people, and demanded blood and stool samples from you?

They claim that even though you haven't been sick, you've infected people you care about with a deadly disease. They tell you that you're a menace to society, that you must comply with them or else.

You've never been sick a day in your life. You're a clean person. You know you haven't made anyone sick. The theories they're telling you about sound like gibberish to you.

You haven't committed a crime, but they arrest you.

What would you do?

This is what happened to Mary Mallon; you may know her as "Typhoid Mary". She was a healthy woman, an Irish immigrant, and a good cook who worked for many good families in New York. She was also a carrier of the deadly typhoid disease. Even though she was not sick (and did not remember ever being sick), she carried the bacteria that cause the disease, infecting people through the food she was serving them.

It wasn't her fault. But she was still kidnapped and held prisoner by people who said it was for the public's good. How could this happen? Read Terrible Typhoid Mary to find out.

My thoughts:

This book is excellent. It's a finely crafted work, presenting a balanced view of Mary Mallon's life and the health workers who locked her up for the common good. The prose reads like fiction and Bartoletti draws out the tension slowly as the reader learns who Mary Mallon was and how she became a suspect in dozens of typhoid fever cases.

Historical details paint a picture of life in the early 1900s, revealing the action as if the reader is watching it unfold. Bartoletti is careful to present Mary as a sympathetic character. She brings in statistics and facts from the present day to put this historical event in perspective. For example, she explains Mary's reluctance to believe the scientists by pointing out that 51% of Americans "say they trust scientists and the scientific information a little bit. Six percent don't trust scientists and their facts at all." [page 56] Knowing that even today not everyone trusts scientific information, it's easy to see why Mary might not have been convinced in 1907.

Earlier this year, I read and loved Fatal Fever by Gail Jarrow, another book about the typhoid fever epidemic and Mary Mallon. While that book concentrated more on the epidemic and the disease, Terrible Typhoid Mary concentrates more on Mary as a person. I am happy to say that there is room for both books on library shelves, and both are excellent reads.


For those looking for another great read about typhoid fever, don't miss Fatal Fever by Gail Jarrow (and also check out the readalikes I listed in that post!).

If you're drawn to Susan Campbell Bartoletti's well-crafted writing depicting historical events as a gripping drama, check out The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming.

Thursday, July 9, 2015


George by Alex Gino. Grades 4-6. Scholastic Press, August 2015. 195 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher. 

Summary: When George's fourth grade class puts on the play Charlotte's Web, she wants nothing more than to play the part of Charlotte. When they read about Charlotte's death in the book, it made George cry, and she knows that she can do justice to this part, this role that means so much to her. 

George has a secret. A secret that no one knows about - not even her mom or her best friend. And she's hoping that if her classmates and her mom see her playing a girl's part in the play, it might make it easier to tell her secret and easier for them to accept the truth that George has accepted about herself. 

George is a girl. She is in a boy's body, but she is a girl. 

It won't be easy to convince her teacher and classmates that she should play Charlotte. It might be impossible. But George has to try. 

My thoughts

This is a book that's been talked about a lot (at least in my bloggity teacher/librarian circles) and it's certainly one that people should know about. We need more books about the GLBT experience and this hits the right notes for upper elementary students. The experience of being in a class play is something that many kids will identify with, and I think George is a heroine that kids will root for. 

Because the author immediately starts out using the pronoun "she" to describe George, it was impossible for me to see George as anything but what she is - a girl. This is an effective way to introduce our protagonist, and as the narrative continues, the reader starts to understand the problem: that George, a girl, is living in a boy's body. 

I appreciated that George has done her research and that the word "transgender" is used in this book, along with some information about what that means. The information is not presented in a didactic way, and it definitely makes sense that a fourth grader curious about what she is experiencing would have done some research and be at least somewhat knowledgeable about what is going on. 

I also appreciated the range of characters in the book, some surprisingly supportive and others not as supportive of George's wishes. I do not have firsthand experience to speak to the authenticity of this, but it felt realistic to me. 

This book is an important addition to our library shelves and deserves to be widely read and shared. Don't miss it. 


For readers interested in reading more about the transgender experience in middle-grade lit, check out Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. 

The tone of this book reminds me of other school stories, such as Andrew Clements's wide cannon or maybe Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer Reading Club Check-In #2

I'm over at the ALSC Blog today, checking in about the Summer Reading Club. Please click through and let me know how your summer is going!!