Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twelve Days of Giving

Okay, so my parents have been bugging me about writing about gift books on my blog. And I wasn't going to do it because so many people already do it so well (MotherReader, I'm lookin' at you). But then Colleen thought up the 2008 Holiday Season Book Recommendation Event, so I present to you Twelve Days of Giving!

Starting December 1 and continuing for 12 days, I'll be posting about great books to give this holiday season. I'll update this post with links to all my gift book posts, so bookmark it and keep checking back!

December 1 - From Book to Screen
Got a movie buff on your holiday gift list this year? Here are some ideas of books and movies to pair and give to kids of all ages!

December 2 - Books for Babies and Toddlers
Giving books as gifts is a great way to get baby started on the road to reading. These are some of my favorite picks for the very young.

December 3 - Mad Science
Do you know a budding scientist interested in everything from asteroids to zygotes? Check out some of my favorite nonfiction science books for young readers.

December 4 - Stories to Share
Are you buying gifts for a preschooler this year? These are some of my favorite books to read aloud. Pick out a book and give it with a promise to read it together.

December 5 - Cha-Cha-Chapter Books
Transitional chapter books can be hard to pick out among the masses of books on the bookstore shelves. These are some of my favorite picks for kids who have graduated from beginning readers and are just starting to read chapter books.

December 6 - Books for Twilighters
Do you know a teen (or adult) who's read all the Twilight books multiple times? Try these Twilight readalikes!

December 7 - Cook up a Good Story
The holiday season is a great time to get together and whip up some treats with a special child in your life. Pair a children's cookbook with a related book to read together after you eat the treats you make.

December 8 - Did You Know?
Know a kid who can't get enough of the Guinness World Records? These are some of my favorite fact-filled non-fiction books for kids.

December 9 - When I Was Your Age
Shopping for a history buff this holiday season? Check out some of my favorite titles for kids who love history. You won't find any dry textbooks here!

December 10 - Big, Thick Books
Is there a voracious reader on your list? Here are some of my favorite big, thick books for kids to really sink their teeth into.

December 11 - Big Kids Read Picture Books, Too!
If you think picture books are only for preschoolers, let me show you some of my favorite picture books for older readers. These are great books to share over the winter break.

December 12 - A Few of My Favorite Things
I took this opportunity to highlight a few of my favorite books of 2008. Happy holidays!

**I'll be linking to books and products on Amazon, but please consider buying from your local independent bookstore!!

Book Review: Quest

Quest by Kathleen Benner Duble. (Grades 7+)

The year is 1610 and 17-year-old John Hudson has just set off with his father Henry Hudson to find a passage to the east. Young Richard Hudson has been left home with mother, begging for credit when the ship does not return on time. Isabella is in love with John but cannot marry a lowly sailor so she spies on the Dutch, hoping to gain knowledge of their maps and raise her family's stature. And Seth is a first-time sailor on Hudson's ship, green first with seasickness and then with disgust as events unfold. It will be a rocky journey for all of them.

Rich with historical detail and told in four alternating perspectives, this is a story about a man obsessed with his quest, willing to risk everything for the possibility of greatness. Leaving his wife at home without any means of supporting herself, Henry Hudson sailed on even in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

It was really interesting to get the perspective of the explorers and the people left at home. I had never thought about the family that these explorers left at home, so it was great to see the story through their eyes, too. An author's note is included and appreciated, but I wish there had been a short introduction to set the stage. I ended up doing a little research just to figure out what was going on. The alternating perspectives keep the story interesting and kept me turning the pages, but it's a bit hard to keep track of the passage of time.

Definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction and I think this might appeal to kids who have to read historical fiction for school and aren't big fans of it. It's got swordfighting, espionage, and adventures on the high seas.

Check out Kathleen Brenner Duble's website.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

To all in the States: Happy Thanksgiving!

I thought I'd take a moment and ruminate on what I'm thankful for:

- The great system of libraries set up in our country so my job does not consist of straddling a pack horse and traveling miles up and down mountains in the cold and sleet, a la Down Cut Shin Creek.

- My super awesome coworkers who make it fun to go to work every day.

- My wonderful Cybils panel and especially our organizer, Jackie, who's been just swell. This is seriously a lot of work, guys, but I'm on a great panel with a bunch of great bloggers and that makes it a little easier. :)

- Really nice authors.

- Independent bookstores that throw awesome conferences.

- Publishers, publicists, authors, and marketing types who occasionally send me free books and make me feel Very Important. Someone seriously needs to make a t-shirt or bumper sticker that says "Will Blog For Books" because I would totally wear that. (Special thanks to the publishers of the Cybils nominees... I've got a special post coming up about that later...)

- Everyone who visits this blog and reads it. It's much more fun to blog when your parents aren't the only ones who read it (hi, mom and dad!).

- And of course the requisite family, friends, health, cats, and a generally non-dramatic life.


Now, let's go eat some mashed potatoes!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NaNoWriMo for the win!

Total: 50,093 words

*falls over*

Boy howdy, am I glad to be done with this novel.

Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

8:30a - Arrive at work, turn on computers, printers, etc.

8:40a - Check email.

8:45a - Staple copies of handout I'm giving out at a homeschooler program later.

8:55a - Set up room for homeschoolers' visit. Put out chairs, get projector from admin office and make sure I know how to work it (I do... whew!), help J set up the craft area.

9:20a - Practice my presentation on library databases, get books ready for booktalks.

9:5oa - Wait for homeschoolers to arrive.

10:00a - They're here! We start the program with a tour of the library.

10:30a - Done with tour, we split into two groups. J does storytime and craft with younger group, I take older group in for a demonstration of library databases.

10:55a - Done with presentation, I pass out database "scavenger hunts" and give them some time to work on them. I circle, helping whenever someone has a question or gets stuck.

11:15a - Bring my group back together for brief booktalks, thank them for coming and put in a plug for upcoming chess program.

11:30a - Say goodbye to homeschooling families and clean up program rooms.

11:50a - Check email.

12:00p - Enter RSVPs for upcoming preschool fair.

12:15p - Read emails from PUBYAC.

12:30p - Lunch!

1:30p - Meet with adult services librarians, department heads, and graphic artist to discuss 2009 Summer Reading Club theme. We discuss several ideas and settle on Making History @ Your Library. Should be fun!

3:05p - On desk.

4:00p - Off desk. Pull items for preschool loan bags.

4:20p - Enter more RSVPs for preschool fair.

4:40p - Check email and voicemail and return calls.

5:00p - Time to go home!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review: Sister Wife

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka. (Grades 9+)

Celeste is about to turn fifteen, the age at which the Prophet will consult with God to assign her to a husband. She's in love with another boy at Unity, but she knows she will be in trouble if anyone finds out. Taviana was invited to Unity so she could get off the streets and clean up her act. She knows she doesn't really belong there, but she's grateful that she doesn't have to turn tricks to survive. Nanette is Celeste's younger sister and she has perfect faith. She's happy with the life she has at Unity and fears for her sister's immortal soul.

Celeste has two options: she can stay at Unity and live the life that the Prophet designs for her or she can leave Unity and break all ties with her family forever. Neither one is really a choice. And Celeste will have to find the balance between what she needs for herself and what her family needs from her.

I really enjoyed this book and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Lots of details bring the commune to life. Celeste and Nanette have grown up in a household with a father and his four wives. A wife's job is to take care of the house and have lots of children, so babies are everywhere. Women are married young to much older men and their schooling stops at about seventh grade.

As Celeste is trying to figure out what to do, she discovers rock statues along the river, made by a local boy. The statues seem impossible at first - rocks balanced precariously, forming tall towers. The statues become a metaphor for Celeste's life as she has to find the balance between betraying her family and betraying herself. She's also a "middle of the road" character, balanced between Taviana's knowledge of the wide world outside Unity and her sister's perfect devotion to the Movement.

There's an obvious comparison to be made with The Patron Saint of Butterflies, another 2008 book about teen girls in a religious commune, but the books are actually very different. While PSB was about the journey out of the commune, Sister Wife is about the heartwrenching decision to stay or to go.

I was excited to read this one after Amanda raved about it so, and I wasn't disappointed. I think this is one that will appeal to teens and adults alike. Check out Shelley's blog and read an interview with her to find out what inspired her to write this book.

Book Review: Forever Changes

Forever Changes by Brendan Halpin. (Grades 9+)

Brianna's starting her senior year of high school. She's taking AP calculus and her dad really wants her to apply to MIT. Brianna thinks she could probably get in - math has always made sense to her in a way that the real world often does not. But even though her entire class is abuzz with college talk, Brianna's not sure she wants to apply. Brianna has cystic fibrosis. She's 18 years old. She knows that she probably will not live to see her college graduation. Forever Changes is about a girl coming to terms with not only her own mortality but her own infinity.

I have been a big fan of Brendan Halpin since I read his Alex-Award-winning book Donorboy. He manages to write about interesting situations with interesting characters and I love that many of his books feature strong father figures. Forever Changes is no exception and one of my favorite things about this book is the strong relationship Brianna has with her dad.

Okay, in high school I was not the biggest fan of math. But math plays an important role in this novel. It's through discussions with her eccentric math teacher that Brianna begins to grasp her own place in the universe. Halpin writes about math in a way that even I can think of it as beautiful. And I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but prime numbers dot the cover of the book. I love, love, love that.

It's sad. Brianna has a terminal illness, so this is no surprise. Halpin has the talent of creating characters that are relatable and real. So, yeah. It's sad.

I loved it. I'd hand it to any teen looking for tearjerkers deeper than Lurlene MacDaniel. Hand it to fans of Before I Die. Hand it to teens who are pondering their futures. And then hand them Brendan Halpin's other books, too.

Check out Brendan Halpin's website: Girl in a Cage.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: Perfect Cover

The Squad: Perfect Cover by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. (Grades 8+)

When antisocial hacker girl Toby finds a note in her locker inviting her to try out for the varsity cheerleading squad at Bayport High, she's convinced it must be a joke. She can think of nothing she'd enjoy less and the very idea of her joining the "God squad" (so-called because the students at Bayport treat them like gods) is laughable. But then she takes a closer look and notices a code hidden in the note.

"Come alone."

Intrigued, Toby goes to the meeting and is swept up in a world she didn't know existed. See, the varsity cheerleaders at Bayport High aren't just perky, vapid high-kickers. They're a group of highly trained teen spies working for the CIA. They have weapons and gadgets stashed in a secret lair underneath the school. And when they're not cheering at halftime, they're on classified missions to help the government.

I loved this book!

It's hilarious and smart and fun. Jennifer Lynn Barnes takes an outlandish scenario and makes it seem plausible. It's Alias meets Bring It On. It had me laughing out loud and I didn't want to put it down. I'm so looking forward to picking up Killer Spirit and I'm hoping that there will be more Squad books to come.

Learn more about the books at, visit Jennifer Lynn Barnes's website, and check out Jen Robinson's awesome review of the Squad books (she links to more reviews). Hand this one to fans of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls books. (It would also be perfect winter break reading and great for a trip to the beach or on a plane.)

Book Review: Feathered

Feathered by Laura Kasischke. (Grades 9+)

It's spring break. Anne and Michelle are off to sunny Mexico to escape the cold and blow off some steam. They'll lay on the beach, have drinks with cute guys, maybe explore some Mayan ruins, and then they'll come back to face the rest of their senior year. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, a lot can go wrong.

Feathers starts out somewhat ominously and builds tension until it reaches a fever pitch when something terrible happens to one of the girls. The inclusion of Mayan legends brings something original to the plot and I thought it was very interesting. The main characters of Anne and Michelle are fleshed out well, with lots of little details about them that really bring them to life.

I wish the secondary characters had been as well developed at the main characters, especially Terri, the third friend who is on vacation with them. She doesn't seem to serve much purpose in the story and I wonder why she's there at all. The story is told through the alternative viewpoints of Anne and Michelle, with Anne in first-person past tense and Michelle in third-person present tense. I liked getting both perspectives, but I wish they had been in either the same person or the same tense. Every time it switched back and forth I felt like it was very jarring. (Some readers have liked the narration the way it is, so maybe it's just me...)

That said, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to teens who like thrillers. It's a little offbeat in a good way.

Read more reviews at librarian by day, Sarah Miller's blog, The Story Siren, and Bildungsroman.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Homeschoolers Program

Last week we did a program for some of our local homeschoolers. We have an active homeschooling community in our district and we're moving towards offering more programs for them. (Instrumental in my understanding of homeschooling is Adrienne's book Helping Homeschoolers in the Library. If you can get your hands on it, do so! Also check out her blog Homeschooling and Libraries for valuable links.)

We had a fairly large group of kids ranging from kindergarten through 8th grade. We started by giving them a tour of the library. We tried to point out areas that would be helpful to them and since our circulation area recently underwent major construction, we demonstrated the new holds process and self-check machines. The tour lasted just about 30 minutes and then we split into two groups.

The younger group (approximately K-3rd) went with J and had a storytime and a craft project. The older group (approximately 4th-8th grade) went with me and had a demonstration of library databases and booktalks. We were very flexible about which kids went in which group. The only small issue we ran into was having the groups on two different floors. Some parents had kids in each group and were trying to go back and forth to get some of each program. It would have been easier if the rooms were side by side.

For our database program, I had set up a projector with a laptop. I demonstrated searching with the library's catalog (which most, if not all, of them were familiar with). I also demonstrated how to limit a search to the kids' area or to fiction or nonfiction and I demonstrated how to request books through Interlibrary Loan.

I showed them our booklists, including readalike lists, genre lists, and topical lists. Then I demonstrated several of the databases to which we subscribe. In each database, I showed them how to find the link from our website, how to access it from home, and how to search. I showed them World Book Online, Biography Resource Center, CultureGrams, and Student Resource Center. My presentation was about 25 minutes long and by the end we were all getting a little squirrelly. If I did it again, I'd try to make it a little more interactive.

When I had gone through all the databases, I handed out a "scavenger hunt" worksheet. Each question had a note about which database to use to find the answer. I gave them about 20 minutes to go through 8 questions and if they didn't finish I told them they could take it home and finish it.

To end the program, I brought them back into our story room and did about 15 minutes of booktalks. I booktalked the following:

Down Cut Shin Creek by Kathi Appelt
Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
Savvy by Ingrid Law
Seaborn by Craig Moodie
Secrets of a Civil War Submarine by Sally Walker
What the World Eats by Peter Menzel

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine was a big hit and that's one of my favorite books to booktalk. Savvy was also snatched up right away, as were the Sharon Creech books.

I was nervous about this program before we did it because I had never worked with this group before and because we were doing a lot. It went absolutely fine. Everyone was super nice and had a good time and I think we were able to give them a lot of valuable information. Homeschoolers are generally huge library users and it was so nice to get to know some of them a little bit more and to provide a program that was useful. I'm certainly looking forward to planning more programs for homeschoolers!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Book Review: Mexican WhiteBoy

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena*. (Grades 9+)

There are no easy answers to Danny's problems this summer.

1. He's spending the summer with his Mexican relatives in National City because his white mom is living in San Francisco with her boyfriend. As much as Danny wants to fit in, he feels like an outsider because he doesn't speak Spanish and because he's smart and goes to a private school. He's too white to be Mexican, but at school he's too Mexican to be white.

2. He's in love with a girl who only speaks Spanish and how's he going to get to know her if they can't ever say anything to each other?

3. He loves baseball and he's an amazing pitcher, but he loses his control under pressure and he has no idea why.

4. His dad left almost four years ago. Danny knows it's because he's not Mexican enough, because he's not tough enough, not perfect enough.

All Danny wants to do is run away to Mexico and find his dad. He knows everything will be better once he can see and talk to his dad again. But as the summer wears on, Danny will find different answers to his problems. He'll make a best friend. He'll have a first kiss. He'll learn some hard truths. He'll figure things out. No, Danny's problems don't have easy answers, but the difficult answers will be worth so much more.

I loved this book. Danny and all the other characters felt so REAL. I was rooting for Danny the whole way through. The story is told through two points of view - Danny's and a kid named Uno's. Uno is facing some of the same problems as Danny is. His dad lives in another town. Uno's half black and half Mexican, so some people in the neighborhood treat him differently. Their friendship develops very naturally.

There's plenty of baseball for the sports fans, but this novel is about so much more than baseball. For Danny it's about finding his identity and figuring out who he can count on. It's about building trust with other people and building trust with himself. Short chapters and the alternating perspective kept me turning the pages. This would be great for reluctant readers.

Highly recommended. I have to admit that I haven't read de la Pena*'s first YA book, Ball Don't Lie, but I'll certainly be looking for it now. Read more reviews at Reading Rants! and Oops...Wrong Cookie. Read the opening from the book here. *Oookay, I know that's supposed to be an enye, but I have NO IDEA how to do it on Blogger... anyone know???

Friday, November 21, 2008

So... who saw Twilight?

Personally, I give it props for bringing the funny several times. I loved Charlie. Loved Jacob (although there wasn't enough of him... was he really only in the first book that briefly?). LOVED Rosalie.

I can't say I cared for it overall, but there was a packed house of teenage girls who disagree with me (if the squeeing is any indication). I didn't really expect to enjoy it, so there ya go.

What did YOU think??

Book Review: Hurricane Song

Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi. (Grades 9+)

The wind and rain had beat down on that dome like it was a giant drum. But now, people were pounding at each other. There was a buzzing, and I guess the generators tried to kick back in. The rings of light circling the stadium started to glow a little. They reminded me of halos over the heads of angels. Then I heard a baby cry with a shriek that nearly stopped my heart cold. And for the life of me, I didn't know if that baby was being born or dying.

Miles knew that moving to New Orleans to live with his dad would be no picnic. His dad's a jazz musician and chose his gigs over his son any day. But when Miles's mom gets remarried, moving south and being ignored by his father was the lesser of two evils. When news of Hurricane Katrina comes through, Miles and his dad and uncle try to leave the city, but with a busted car they've got no choice but to join the huddled masses at the Superdome. And what happens there will haunt Miles for the rest of his life.

Hurricane Songs is a wild ride of a book and it sweeps the reader along for the entire stormy trip. What happened in the Superdome was not pretty and Mr. Volponi does not spare the reader from the horrors. As I was reading, I got to the part where the lights go out for the first time and I was terrified. And that's when I realized what a great book it was. I totally felt like I was in the Superdome with all the Katrina evacuees. That's a sign of a great book, but it's also pretty disturbing considering the subject matter.

My one complaint is a really dorky one. I wish there had been some kind of author's note explaining how Mr. Volponi researched it. Absolutely no offense is meant, but Volponi is a white guy from New York... how would he know anything about what went on in the Superdome? Luckily, you can find out how he researched on his website, so make sure you check that out.

The book doesn't shy away from, well, anything. It's a powerful story of a really dark time. It examines issues of race and class and would make for a great book discussion.

Read more reviews at Becky's Book Reviews (I agree with her comments about the ending... beware of spoilers!), Practically Paradise, and Chasing Ray.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Book Review: Looks

Looks by Madeleine George. (Grades 9+)

Meghan. Big as a couch. Silent observer of high school halls. Victim of abuse perpetrated by the basketball team. Invisible. Silent.

Aimee. Angular. Tiny. Family falling apart, so she starves herself to gain control. New at school and looking for someone to trust. Poet.

In the halls of Valley Regional High, Meghan spots Aimee and recognizes her as a kindred spirit. As their stories unfold, they'll come together to get back at the girl who's hurt them both.

I was absolutely entranced by the writing in this book. I seriously did not want to put it down. Ms. George starts us off with a very cinematic view of Valley Regional High. We zoom in on the characters and see Meghan standing off by herself, observing everything around her. I felt like the book was unfolding before my eyes.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Meghan and Aimee. We meet Meghan first, but the story feels more like Aimee's story because we get a lot more background on her character. Aimee's been messed up since her kinda-pseudo stepdad left (what do you call the guy who was your mother's live-in boyfriend for five years but who has now broken up with her and left?). She's not so much with the eating. And she's just started high school and she'd really like a friend. She thinks she's found a friend in Tara. Tara is cute and popular and smart and she takes Aimee under her wing when they meet to work on the school's literary magazine. But many people in this story are more than meets the eye.

The writing is poetic, which is really fitting since Aimee is a poet and all.

Here's a passage when Aimee's about to share a poem she wrote:

It's so weird to see it there, this thing that was totally personal, totally hers, like a tooth in her mouth or a vein in her wrist, extracted from the privacy of her notebook and pinned out here on the page for everybody to see and peer at and judge. (pg 68)

And in describing Aimee's relationship with food:

Surely any second now she'll get up helplessly from the circle and drag her backpack to the bathroom and cram a whole carrot stick into her mouth, bite down on it and explode the beautiful hunger she's been building like a glass palace in her body all day long. (pg 72)

I agree with criticism that the two narrators are not equally developed. Aimee gets a lot of backstory, while Meghan is simple "the fat girl" for the vast majority of the book. But it didn't bother me so much because I felt like this was Aimee's story. I wonder if we might be so lucky as to get a sequel that fleshes out Meghan's story.

Check out Madeleine George's website and more reviews at Teen Book Review, bookshelves of doom, and Becky's Book Reviews.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Book Review: Bottle in the Gaza Sea

Bottle in the Gaza Sea by Valerie Zenatti. (Grades 7+)

Tal is an Israeli teenager and she's been dealing with the conflicts between Israel and Palestine for as long as she can remember. One day she gets the urge to write about her experiences and she puts her message in a bottle and throws it into the Gaza sea, hoping someone will find it and start a conversation with her.

She's not at all expecting that someone to be "Gazaman", an irreverent, angry guy whom she gets to know through a series of email exchanges. He reluctantly talks about his life on the Gaza strip where internet access is spotty and monitored and talking to the wrong person can get you beat up. The Palestinians are angry. The Israelis are angry. Sometimes they're both angry about the same events. And Tal, who was hoping for a simple exchange of ideas, an easy way to get to know "the other side", will find that there are no easy answers.

Written by a French woman who has lived in Israel, this is an important book for teens to read. This is a great book to spark discussion, a great book to read and talk about. It's told from the perspectives of both Tal and Gazaman through emails, narration, and IMs. I'd be willing to bet that many teens in America know hardly anything about the Israeli-Palestinian War and this book will bring it to life. I'd pair it with Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Read more reviews by Miss Erin, Melissa, and Jocelyn.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Review: Down Cut Shin Creek

Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt & Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer. (Grades 4-7.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the Works Projects Administration to help alleviate the effects of Great Depression. The WPA gave people work and also promoted an awareness of the arts. WPA workers built schools, roads, parks, community centers, and more.

One of the most successful projects of the WPA was Eastern Kentucky's Pack Horse Library Project.

Thousands of people lived in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, unreachable by vehicles and totally isolated from the rest of the world. With the Pack Horse Library Project, these people received library services for the first time. Books and magazines were delivered by women and men who traveled 50-80 miles a week on horse, mule, and foot.

Carriers went out three or four times a week, taking a different route each day. Each route was repeated every two weeks. They went out in all kinds of weather and brought books to men, women, and children. They were paid $28 a month.

This photo-filled book will appeal to any lover of books. The pack horse librarians are truly inspiring with their dedication to improving the lives of people in their community. I certainly take my wonderful library for granted. When I do an outreach program, it entails getting into my car, driving to a school or preschool and bringing a bag of books from our abundant collection. These librarians who rode and walked 20 miles to bring a meager selection of tattered books to a one-room schoolhouse... well, they're an inspiration.

This should be required reading for all librarians and anyone who loves their library. (I hope all of you love your libraries!)

An extensive bibliography and index make this a great choice for research and the many photos and interesting facts make this good for browsing, too.

It's Nonfiction Monday! Anastasia's got the roundup at Picture Book of the Day!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

New widget and NaNoWriMo update

If you're reading this in a reader, you might want to click through to my actual site so you can admire the shiny new Cybils nominees widget. Mine rotates through all our fantastic YA Fiction nominees (so you can sympathize with me when I tell you that we have a Very Hard Job ahead of us to narrow this list down to 5-7... oy!). Like what you see? You can get one of your very own! Choose the categories you want to show and customize the colors to compliment your site. Very, very cool.

And my novel is coming along, slowly but surely. I know that there are some authors out there who object to the idea of NaNoWriMo, an attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I can see their point. After all, they work hard for months and months (or years and years) to perfect their manuscripts and I can see how it might be offensive to them that thousands of people call themselves "authors" and "novelists" after a 30-day writing frenzy.

For me, though, it's just fun. I don't intend to become a writer (although I guess I would never say never). And I don't typically brag about the fact that I'm working on my fifth novel (because then people might want to read my novels and, well, all of my novels are... very not good). NaNoWriMo is an outlet for me to be creative with a support group of thousands of other people who are also being creative. It's an excuse to let go and to write something that I know is bad and to not care that it's bad.

I have been finding this year's novel hard going. Um, in fact, I hate this year's novel. But yesterday I gave my main characters X-men-like super powers and I think I'm starting to like it a bit more. I passed the halfway mark this weekend and I'm up to 27,469. And I hope that the second 25k is going to be much easier and more fun than the first 25k.

Here's hoping, anyway...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Around the interwebs

Don't forget to check out the Winter Blog Blast Tour happening next week! Tons of fabulous authors will be interviewed all over the kidlitosphere and you won't want to miss it. You also won't want to miss Colleen's Holiday Book Recommendation Event, which is happening the week after Thanksgiving (and in which everyone can participate). I will be posting about holiday gift books starting December 1, so keep your eyes out for that!

If you just can't wait until December 1, check out Books for the Holidays where they are already posting some great holiday gift ideas. This site exists to encourage people to buy books as gifts this holiday season. (Link via Jen Robinson.)

Sarah encourages us to nominate education/teacher-related blogs for the 2008 Edublog Awards. There are 14 different categories including Best Individual Blog, Best Group Blog, Best Librarian/Library Blog, Most Influential Blog Post, Best Educational Wiki, and more! Make sure your favorite blogs get the recognition they deserve!

There's still time to sign up for Dewey's second annual blogger Secret Santa. You have until November 18! (Link via Book Nut.)

The ALSC has announced additions to their Great Websites for Kids list. This is a great resource if you're looking for links to add to your library's website.

And I don't know if y'all are already following Reviewer X, but I think you should. She has a great feature called YA Connection with tons (and TONS) of links to book reviews, author interviews, giveaways, and more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Book Review: Girl, Hero

Girl, Hero by Carrie Jones. (Grades 7+)

Liliana is starting high school and her life has gotten pretty strange. Her dad may or may not be gay (she doesn't know if she really cares, but she worries that people at school might care). Her mom's new boyfriend may or may not be a drunken sleazebag. Her best friend only cares about being popular. And the guy she has a crush on just might be into her.

It's a lot to deal with and, to cope with it all, she writes letters to John Wayne. Yes, he's a famous movie star and, well, dead. But to Lili, he epitomizes what she thinks a hero should be. Someone who protects people, who stands up for what he believes in, someone who's able to take care of things when life gets a little rough. Yep, John Wayne is her hero. But as Lili faces new and different challenges, she'll learn to be a hero herself.

This is kind of an odd little book. I mean, writing letters to a dead movie cowboy is pretty odd. And Lili adopts some of John Wayne's cowboy slang into her speech. And, well, she's writing letters to John Wayne. Lili is not your typical YA heroine. And that's what I love about her.

The farther I got in this book the more I loved it and when I was finished, the more I thought about it the more I loved it still.

What I love is that it's complicated and messy. Lili doesn't have simple problems. She doesn't have problems with easy answers. And by the end of the book her problems are not all solved. The people in her life are not all tucked away into neat little boxes. It's complicated and messy and real. In real life your problems are not solved after 305 pages. I'm not saying that it's an ending that leaves you hanging. It doesn't. But the people that are confusing and contradictory at the beginning of the novel aren't suddenly all black and white.

Check out reviews at Charlotte's Library, And Another Book Read, Writing and Ruminating, and Teens Read Too. Also, you'll want to visit Carrie Jones's website where you can read her blog and find out what inspired her to write Girl, Hero and her other books.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: The Apprentice's Masterpiece

The Apprentice's Masterpiece: A Story of Medieval Spain by Melanie Little. (Grades 8+)

Fifteenth century. Spain. Christians live side by side with Jews and Muslims. Then Queen Isabella takes the throne and starts her quest to Christianize all of Spain. Suddenly, no one is safe. Jews are forced to convert to Christianity and even after they convert they are still suspect. Jews and Muslims must wear special patches on their clothes indicating their religion. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors. You could be reported for eating meat on a Friday, for wearing clean clothes at the end of the week, for avoiding pork...

Ramon and his family are conversos. Generations ago they were Jews, but they have since converted to Christianity. They are still suspect. Ramon is a scribe who works with his father copying books and other documents for anyone who will pay. Work is becoming more and more scarce as customers no longer want to associate with conversos (you could be reported for that). Enter Amir.

Amir is a Muslim slave given to Ramon's father as a gift. Instantly Ramon is jealous. Ramon's and Amir's stories will come together as the Inquisition takes both their lives in vastly different directions.

The Apprentice's Masterpiece is a novel in verse that gives a really interesting look at medieval Spain through the eyes of two different cultures. I knew a bit about the Inquisition before, but these poems really bring it to life. People were burned alive for not confessing to a crime as small as seeing a Jewish doctor. If they did confess, it was marked down in their file and brought up in the case of future transgressions. Everyone was afraid.

The first part of the book is told from Ramon's point of view. Then we get Amir's point of view and at the end it goes back to Ramon. Ms. Little includes tons of historical detail that really brings the time and setting to life. If I have one criticism it's that occasionally the voices of Ramon and Amir slipped into more modern speech. I do understand the necessity of updating speech and making it accessible to today's readers, but in a few places it was a little jarring. That said, I really enjoyed the book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the time period.

Ms. Little includes a prologue and an epilogue that both contain background information on the time and place so that the reader has the information they need to start the story. She also includes some references in her acknowledgements (yay!).

You can read the prologue and two of the poems at the Annick LIVEbrary Blog. The post also contains a lesson plan using the book. For another great book about the Spanish Inquisition, check out Alice Hoffman's Incantation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: Perfect You

Perfect You by Elizabeth Scott. (Grades 7-10.)

Vitamins had ruined my life.

So begins Kate Brown's story. Life isn't easy for anyone when you're a sophomore in high school, but Kate might have more than her fair share of angst. Her dad's quit his job to follow his dream of opening up a vitamin kiosk in the mall. Her best friend Anna lost a ton of weight over the summer and is now ignoring Kate and hanging out with the popular girls they used to make fun of. And Will, resident hottie, can't help but make jibes at her every day in biology class. Although sharp-tongued Kate holds her own, she harbors a secret crush on him which makes it heartbreaking to know that he thinks so little of her.

What's a girl to do? Kate's answer is to freeze everybody out and keep herself from caring about anyone. After all, people only let you down. Or do they?

What I love, love, loved about this book is what I've loved about all of Elizabeth Scott's books. Her characters are so real that sometimes I wanted to shake them. They don't have easy, uncomplicated problems. Even when things are going well, they're messy and sloppy, just like a real relationship or a real family dynamic.

I'd hand this to fans of Sarah Dessen and Carolyn Mackler. And you'll certainly want to check out Scott's Bloom (I haven't read Stealing Heaven yet, but it's definitely on my list!). Read more reviews at, bookshelves of doom, Becky's Book Reviews, Teen Book Review, and Bildungsroman. And check out interviews at Cynsations, Bildungsroman, and Becky's Book Reviews. (Doesn't that picture just make you want to be Elizabeth's friend?) You'll also want to check out Elizabeth Scott's website:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review: Mars and the Search for Life

Mars and the Search for Life by Elaine Scott. (Grades 4-7.)

Is it possible that there was once life on Mars? To have life, you need to have water. Was Mars once covered in water like Earth is? That's what some scientists are trying to figure out. By studying rocks and minerals on Mars, scientists can determine whether they were formed in or shaped by water. They're getting one step closer to determining if there has been life on Mars. But if it was there, what happened to it? And if there's never been life on Mars, why not?

Elaine Scott, author of When is a Planet Not a Planet?, turns her attention to the red planet in this book. She provides a brief history of Mars exploration and details recent expeditions to Mars. In clear, simple language she explains how scientists determine information from Martian rocks and how robots travel to Mars and collect information for scientists back on Earth.

Is it possible that humans might walk on Mars in the semi-near future? There are a lot of obstacles to that goal, but walking on the moon once seemed impossible, too.

Scott provides an author's note about how she was inspired to research and write this book. She also provides a schedule of upcoming Mars expeditions and suggestions for further reading. This would make a great book for browsing and is detailed enough for reports. Hand it to budding astronomers along with Team Moon and Mysterious Universe.

Happy Nonfiction Monday! Get the roundup at Picture Book of the Day.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Booktalks and Storytime

Today, I went to a local Montessori school to do booktalks and a storytime. Here's what I booktalked (to 4th-6th graders):

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
Frindle by Andrew Clements (as luck would have it, they're doing a class read of Frindle because they're going to see the play)
Skinnybones by Barbara Park
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Hurricane by Terry Trueman
How Fast Is It? by Ben Hillman (we all love the books in this series!)
Submarines Up Close by Andra Serlin Abramson (really, really neat life-sized photos)
Grow It, Cook It
The 100 Most Dangerous Things on the Planet by Anna Claybourne

The 100 Most Dangerous Things was a huge hit and I highly recommend it for booktalking and general browsing. I picked it up off our new books cart last month and couldn't put it down myself. The kids felt much the same way. I practically had to pry it out of their hands so I could leave. A bunch of them assured me that they would be stopping by the library to check out these books. Is there a better feeling for a librarian*?

For the storytime (grades K-3), I read:
Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
Poems from Mammalabilia by Douglas Florian and
There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems (they laughed and laughed)

They enjoyed all the books, but I think Leonardo and Bird were the biggest hits. What would librarians do without Mo Willems??

I love doing outreach and getting a chance to visit local schools and preschools. This school is one we visit often and it's so nice to get to know the kids and teachers and what kind of books they like. I hope to see many of these kids in my library over the next couple of weeks. ;)

*Actually, this may not be a better feeling, but it's certainly on par. A mom stopped by the desk tonight to ask for a recommendation for her daughter and said that a book I'd recommended previously had been a big hit with her reluctant reader daughter. Woo!

The Comment Challenge

MotherReader and Lee Wind are challenging us to comment on at least 5 posts a day for the next 21 days in the Comment Challenge: 21 Days to Community.

From MR:

Since it is said that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, we’re going to run the Comment Challenge for the next three weeks — from today, Thursday, November 6, through Wednesday, November 26, 2008. The goal is to comment on at least five kidlitosphere blogs a day. Keep track of your numbers, and report in on Wednesdays with me or Lee. We’ll tell each other how we’re doing and keep each other fired up. On Wednesday, November 26, we’ll have a final check-in post for the Comment Challenge. (Actually, it will go up on Tuesday night to catch all you Thanksgiving travelers.) I’m thinking that a prize package will be involved. Perhaps awarded by drawing from the bloggers who reached the 100 Comment Mark (five comments a day for twenty-one days with one day free of comment charge).
I feel like I do okay on commenting, but I know I can do better. Commenting is great because it really does create a community. You get your blog out there and you let other bloggers know that their voices are being heard. I can't think of a downside!

Between being sick last week, reading for the Cybils, and starting NaNoWriMo (10,221 as of this morning!), I feel like I haven't sat down to write a decent post in a long time. I promise I'll catch up this weekend with at least two new reviews and a couple of other posts I've been thinking about.

For now, though, it's time to head to work. Comment away!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Happy Election Day, everyone! Have you voted? I did. I voted on my way to work this morning (and, as a consequence, got here really, really early...).

Check out Blog the Vote where you can read posts from across the blogosphere about why voting is important and what voting means to us.

I'm a Votey McVotersons... are you?

Book Review: Seaborn

Seaborn by Craig Moodie. (Grades 7-10.)

Luke's not exactly sure how things got so off-track with his girlfriend Ginnie, but he's sick of feeling tied down. His parents make all the decisions and Luke just longs for the Big Freedom. When Luke's mom makes the decision to walk out on their family, Luke and his dad take their annual sailing trip alone. Two men in a boat, not great at communicating with each other but both looking for something. And when Luke is put to the ultimate test, will he have what it takes to face his Big Freedom and come out alive?

One thing I really loved about Seaborn was the details that made Luke's sea adventure spring to life. The author info on the jacket flap tells me that Craig Moodie's a sailor and it really comes through in his writing. This is definitely a story that will appeal to kids with any aptitude for sailing.

There are also some great descriptions that really make the New England coast seem real. For instance:

The island grew before us, and soon I could make out the biscuit-colored beaches and scrub-covered dunes. The gulls and terns flapped above the beach like confetti. (pg. 94)

Luke's struggle at sea is a rip-roaring, page-turning event. But I felt like the story wasn't organic enough. The first half of the book was character development, character development, character development. And while I liked that, I kept waiting for the action to start. Then the action starts and that's what happens until the end where some things are wrapped up a little too neatly.

I enjoyed the book, but I think if it had been a little more even, it would have been great.

Check out BookEnvy's review. She recommends it for fans of Will Hobbs and Gary Paulsen and I would agree. You'll also want to know that Craig Moody's got a blog (and I love the name): Wharf Rat Writes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Book Review: Ballots for Belva

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardham-Quallen, illustrated by Courtney A. Martin. (Grades 2-5.)

Even as a young girl, Belva knew that she would move mountains. When she decided to go to law school, she wouldn't give up until she found a school that would admit women. When she completed the law school coursework and the university wouldn't give her a diploma, she wrote to President Ulysses S. Grant and demanded her diploma.

She got the diploma.

Belva went on to become the first female lawyer to practice law in the federal courts and the first woman to argue a case before the Surpreme Court.

In 1884, Belva Lockwood became the first woman to officially run for president. (In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president, but she ended her campaign before Election Day and no official votes were recorded for her.)

This non-fiction picture book shares an inspiring story that's certainly timely. Belva ran for president in an election in which she could not vote. Women couldn't vote until 1920. Still, Belva garnered thousands of votes from men. She fully believed in equal rights for everyone - men, women, people of all colors...

Now we've got those rights and it would be a shame not to exercise them. I don't intend to discuss politics on this blog, but I will encourage you to go and vote tomorrow. A vote is a powerful thing. Women have had the vote for less than a century. I certainly feel like I owe it to those suffragettes to cast my own ballot.

I don't care who you vote for, but please vote!

And since you can't vote until tomorrow, you might as well check out Nonfiction Monday in the meantime. :) Anastasia's got the round-up.