Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An ALA 2015 Recap

My friends, the 2015 ALA Annual Conference was such an amazing experience! I am really grateful for all the connections I have made through ALA, for my awesome 2015 Newbery Committee and our honored authors, for the education I received at conference, and for all the FUN this conference brought!

You definitely want to check out the live blogging posts on the ALSC Blog for lots of detail about sessions and goings-on at conference. But I also wanted to share a little bit about what I was up to at this conference:

PS: I am going to use the word "amazing" about 100 times in this post. Deal.

  • Doing the Dumplin' pose at a HarperCollins breakfast. You do not want to miss this book. I promise. It comes out in September and I have a review coming soon.
  • Presenting on an AWESOME panel about managing youth services (check out hashtag #futureYS for take-aways!)
Photo by Dan Bolstrom, ALSC
  • Meeting up with the ALSC live bloggers and our ALSC Blog manager Mary Voors.
  • Sitting in on the Children's Notable Recordings meeting and learning a lot about evaluating and discussing audio recordings. 

  • Celebrating our 2015 Newbery Medal winner, Kwame Alexander!!!!!

  • Picking up some highly anticipated books at the Exhibit Hall. (These are not all, but I didn't actually take that many books home this time around!)

  • Drinking wine on the 46th floor before my FIRST Newbery Caldecott Wilder Banquet and...

  • Hanging out with this guy in my fancy Newbery dress. 

  • My first Newbery Caldecott Wilder Banquet. I was completely star-struck the entire time and just sat at my table with wide eyes taking in all the famous authors whirling around me. (Also, Jacqueline Woodson's son was at my table and engrossed in a Babymouse book for the later part of the evening!)

  • Being with my people. Love. 
If I don't get to go to an ALA Conference for awhile, this was a GREAT one to go out on. I had a blast and learned a lot. I already miss my magical world of ALA Conference. BUT I know this guy is happy I'm home: 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Live Blogging at #alaac15

Today, I am headed out West to San Francisco for the 2015 American Library Association Annual Conference.

I am SUPER excited about this conference (which will probably be my last national conference for awhile). I'm excited to see my amazing 2015 Newbery Committee again without the stress of committee work to worry about. I am thrilled to join our Newbery honor and medal winners for dinner over the weekend, and, of course, to attend the 2015 Newbery/Caldecott Banquet.

I will also be speaking on a panel Saturday morning: Managing the Future: Supporting Your Youth Services Innovators with the amazing Cory Eckert, Justin Hoenke, and Kendra Jones!

If you are left behind, NEVER FEAR! The ALSC Blog is stepping up to keep you in the loop. A great group of ALSC Bloggers will be live-blogging and posting short, frequent updates throughout the conference, so you won't miss a thing.

Make sure you're following the ALSC Blog and the Twitter hashtag #alaac15 to see all the great stuff happening at Conference!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

#48HBC Finish Line

And the 10th Annual 48-Hour Book Challenge draws to a close!

My time went from 2:30pm Friday to 2:30pm today. During that block:

Total time spent reading & blogging: 20 hours
Books finished: 7.5
Pages read: 1715 + one hour listening to an audiobook

The books I read during the challenge were:

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle
George by Alex Gino
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer
Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith (this was the half-book I started this morning!)

and the audiobook I dipped into is Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

My favorites this year were the nonfiction titles: Terrible Typhoid Mary, Enchanted Air, and The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

All in all, it was a fun challenge year with many great books, although it turned out not to be the very best weekend for us. Fiance lost steam after Friday night and he was feeling a little under the weather, so I'm not sure he got much reading done. Ah, well. Maybe next year! 

I want to give a huge shout out to Pam of MotherReader for hosting the challenge!!! Thanks for all that you have done. :D 

#48HBC: The Sound of Life and Everything

Book finished: The Sound of Life and Everything by Krista Van Dolzer

What a strange, beautiful book. In 1950s California, Ella Mae's family is still dealing with their grief over losing Ella Mae's brother Daniel and cousin Robby in the war. When Ella Mae's Aunt Mildred responds to an ad in the paper claiming that scientists can bring Robby back if she has a sample of his DNA (which she does - the blood on his dog tags), Ella Mae thinks she's crazy. Crazier still is what happens next. It wasn't Robby's blood on the dog tags, but the blood of a Japanese soldier. When Takuma is brought back to life, lost and alone in this strange land, Ella Mae's mother ends up taking him in. But anti-Japanese sentiment runs strong in this small California town and it won't be an easy ride for anyone.

This is a really interesting blend of historical and science fiction that made me think of the tone of classic science fiction stories like Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Challenge update:

Time spent reading/blogging: 18 hours 20 minutes
Pages read: 1574
Books finished: 7

Saturday, June 20, 2015

#48HBC Check-In

Well, I'm over halfway through my time slot in the 48-Hour Book Challenge. I'm at 16 hours of reading & blogging so far and I have until 2:30pm tomorrow, but we'll probably be leaving for Father's Day lunch earlier than that.

I've slowed down tonight because I'm pretty tired and I'm having a little trouble figuring out what book to pick up next. I did spent some quality time with an audiobook (Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance), but I'm heading to bed soon. Hopefully I will wake up with lots of energy tomorrow and get through the last 4 hours I need to meet my goal!

How's the challenge going for you?

#48HBC: The Churchill Club

Book finished: The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Petersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose.

This is a completely gripping true adventure story about a group of teenagers who started the Danish resistance after the Nazis invaded. I couldn't stop turning the pages! Highly recommended.

Challenge update:

Hours spent reading/blogging: 14 hours
Pages read: 1312
Books finished: 6

#48HBC: Enchanted Air

Book finished: Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle

What a beautiful book! This memoir in verse shares Margarita Engle's childhood memories of traveling to Cuba as a young girl and living in America during the '50s and '60s when conflicts like the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis were going on. This is a valuable perspective and a beautifully crafted memoir. Fans of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (obviously one of my favorite books!) should NOT miss this one.

Challenge update:

Time spent reading/blogging; 10 hours 35 minutes
Pages read: 1104
Books finished: 5

Still a few more hours before today's appointment, so I think I can start one more book before it's time to leave. I don't know how long it will take today, but I will definitely be doing some more reading when we get back this evening!

#48HBC: Harriet the Invincible

Book finished: Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon

This is a cute and funny fractured fairytale with a kick-butt princess protagonist. Babymouse meets Whatever After. I'm really looking forward to adding this one to my booktalking repertoire for the fall and I can already tell it's going to be really popular with our young readers!

Challenge update:

Time spend reading/blogging: 8 hours 37 minutes
Pages read: 911
Books finished: 4

It's up-and-at-em this morning! I'm glad to get a fairly early start since we have an appointment for several hours this afternoon. I may be able to squeeze in one more book before we have to go do that stuff, so back to reading for me! :D

Friday, June 19, 2015

#48HBC: Bayou Magic

Book finished: Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This is a lush love letter to the Louisiana bayou. Almost-ten-year-old Maddy is summoned to spend the summer with her Grandmere in the Bon Temps bayou, a place about as far from civilization as you can get. Feeling an immediate connection with her Grandmere upon arrival, Maddy spends the summer falling in love with the flora and fauna of the bayou and figuring out the special role she holds in her family and in this close-knit community. 

Challenge update:

Time spend reading/blogging: 6 hours 45 minutes
Pages read: 664
Books finished: 3

It's getting close to bedtime for me, but I will try to start one more book tonight before I fall asleep. Fiance has finished a couple of his Swamp Thing graphic novels and just started Get Jiro by Anthony Bourdain. 

#48HBC: Terrible Typhoid Mary

Book finished: Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This finely crafted work of nonfiction is a page-turner and paints a vivid picture of Mary Mallon's life and the typhoid epidemic in the early 1900s. Bartoletti uses examples from today to put the events in perspective (example: 6% of Americans today say that they do not trust scientists or scientific information AT ALL, so it's easy to see why Mary did not believe those accusing her of hurting people, especially when she wasn't sick!).

Challenge update:

Time spend reading/blogging: 4 hours 20 minutes
Pages read: 425
Books finished: 2

Fiance is home from work and working on his stack of Swamp Thing graphic novels!

#48HBC: George

Book finished: George by Alex Gino

This is a book getting much buzz (at least in my bloggity teacher/librarian circles) and I was really excited to be sent an ARC. This is a middle-grade story about George, who desperately wants to play Charlotte in her school's production of Charlotte's Web. But Charlotte is a girl part. And George is not sure that they'll let her play Charlotte because George is a girl who is in a boy's body. This is a much-needed addition to our middle-grade shelves and will proudly take its place alongside Ami Polonsky's Gracefully Grayson

Challenge update:

Time spent reading/blogging: 1 hour 45 minutes
Pages read: 195
Books finished: 1

48 HBC: Starting Line

It's time! It's time!! It's time for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, hosted by Pam at MotherReader.com. I love this weekend and I'm looking forward to delving into some GREAT books this weekend!

It's not too late to join us! You only need to read/blog for twelve hours to be an official participant! You can do it! Head over to the Starting Line post at MotherReader.com to sign in. :D

I have a few things going on this weekend - we're spending time with our families on Sunday for Father's Day and we have an appointment for several hours on Saturday, but I'm hoping to be able to read & blog for 20 hours this weekend.

Here's my book pile:

I will not read all of these, but I like to have lots of choices so I can pick up whatever I'm in the mood for. (I also have 90 million other books on my bookshelves, so deviation may occur...!)

Boyfriend Fiance is reading along with me and participating unofficially since he doesn't have a blog (I am a lucky librarian!). Here's his pile (and he also just got a whole set of reference books on mythology, so he may be picking those up, too): 

My time will run from 2:30pm Friday to 2:30pm Sunday (although I will probably have to stop before 2:30pm on Sunday). I will be checking in periodically and posting short reviews (with longer reviews scheduled to post later in the summer). 

Ready... set... go! 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Family Camp Out

Last week, we tried a new program that we've never done before: a library family "camp out"! I got the idea for this program from the inimitable Marge Loch-Waters (see her post about it here) and Amy Koester (see her post about it here). It was so valuable to see how two librarians at different libraries had structured their programs, and I wanted to share how ours went!

The program was held at the library after hours. Our building is kind of convoluted and large, so we closed to the public first and cleared the building, set up for the program, and then reopened just for families attending this program. Our library closes at 5:30 on Friday nights and we scheduled the program for 6:30, manning the doors from 6:15 - 6:35. After that time, I had a phone number folks could call if they arrived late (our Children's Room and Teen Scene are down the hall, not within sight lines of the doors).

I let people in at the doors and sent them down the hall to the Children's Room where my lovely Ms. Teresa was there to do storytelling. We provided "walking s'mores" for families to munch on as they gathered in our program room and listened to stories.

For the s'mores, I mixed up two boxes of Golden Grahams cereal, one large bag of mini marshmallows, and two bags of milk chocolate chips. We portioned them out in small cups about half full and we got about 70 cups out of that amount of supplies. Since we were not requiring preregistration, I had no idea how many people would show up, so we were way over-prepared. I could have gotten away with half of what we had, but this way everyone could snack to their stomach's content. ;) 

At about 6:30, Teresa started the storytelling in our program room. She constructed a "campfire" from an electric fan, colored lights, crepe paper, and brown bulletin board paper: 

She turned the lights down low in the room and encouraged kids to spread out on their blankets and pillows as she told stories. We kept the storytime portion pretty short to allow lots of time for families to build forts and read together. Here's what she shared: 

Story: Epossumondas (from the picture book by Colleen Salley)

Song: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Story: Moira's Birthday (from the picture book by Robert Munsch)

The storytime lasted about 15-20 minutes, and then she turned it over to me to explain our rules. Families were encouraged to move chairs and tables around and set up their forts anywhere in the Children's Room or teen area. We had set up a display of some of our favorite books for reading together, but families were also welcome to look through the stacks and find other books to enjoy. 

I had extra blankets and sheets (brought from home by me and some of our other librarians) in case anyone didn't bring fort-building supplies or wanted extra to cozy up their forts. We had a few families that used these, so I was glad I had them available. 

We had closed down all our computers for the night except the catalog search computers and a couple of computers where families could sign up for the Summer Reading Club. We left out the toys in our room, like the Lego table and the science table. This was good to entertain the younger kids who got restless after sitting for storytime, although it was maybe a little distracting for some of the other kids. 

We opened the program to children ages 0-11 with an adult caregiver and said that siblings were welcome. The program was maybe not the very most engaging for those really little ones, but they still had fun playing with our toys in the room. I think opening it up to all child ages encouraged the entire family to attend, so when we do this program again, I will probably keep it that way. 

Families had about half an hour to build forts and read together in their forts. I think this was a good amount of time. Certainly some of our families with older children could have stayed longer, but by 7:20 the families with younger children were pretty distracted. I made announcements that it was time to start cleaning up and that if anyone wanted to check out books tonight they could bring them to us at the Children's Desk. 

Lots of families checked out at least one book and a few families signed up for Summer Reading Club. I was pleasantly surprised that most of our families took the initiative to put chairs away for us, which made the cleanup super easy afterwards! Hooray, families! 

We got everyone checked out and had the building cleared out by about 7:40 and then Teresa and I finished cleaning up and putting away our display tables, etc. 

I wasn't sure how the attendance was going to go, but we ended up having 22 children and 21 adults, which is less than I was hoping for (given how our performers have been getting SUPER HUGE crowds this summer), but I think a fine turnout. We had some really great comments from our families and I think everyone had a really fun time. I am thinking we will turn this into a tradition and use it next summer to kick off our Summer Reading Club. It's way less expensive than hiring a performer and more fun and easier for staff. Plus, it really reinforces our mission of creating young readers and it encourages families to have fun together, screen-free. 

All in all, this was a really fun and easy program and I would encourage any librarian to try it out!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Jumbies

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. Grades 4-6. Algonquin Young Readers, April 2015. 234 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


On Corinne’s island home, people often talk about the jumbies - evil spirits that live in the mahogany forests and cause trouble for people who cross their paths.

There are the douens (dwens), spirit children that travel in packs and have backwards knees and feet. “If they know your name, they will call you and sound just like your mom or dad” and if they get you they’ll turn you into one of them.

There are the La Diabless (LA-jah-bless), beautiful women who wear big fancy white hates and long white dresses to cover their feet. Instead of two lady feet, they have one lady foot and one cow’s hoof, so “if you see a pretty lady on the side of the road one night, make sure you see both her feet.”

Soucouyant (soo-coo-YAH) are “old ladies who will take off their skin, leave it in a nice safe place, and then fly around in a ball of flame, sucking out people’s blood.” You may have woken up sometimes with soucouyant bites, only they look like mosquito bites so it’s hard to be sure.

Corinne doesn’t believe in jumbies. She’s sure that they’re just tales people tell. But one day, some trickster boys steal her mother’s necklace and when Corinne goes to get it… something follows her out of the forest.

In The Jumbies, Corinne will face the worst jumbie anyone has ever seen on her island, a jumbie bent on taking Corinne and her father, a jumbie who will stop at nothing to get her revenge.

(Parts of this booktalk were taken from Tracey Baptiste's author's note in the book. Direct quotes are denoted with quotation marks.)

My thoughts

I cannot wait to booktalk this book to students this fall. Scary books are always a hit and this one is a unique take with its island setting and its basis in Caribbean folklore and tales. The story was inspired by a Haitian folktale and incorporates legends that author Tracey Baptiste grew up with in Trinidad. 

At its heart, this is a story of friendship and family and finding the power inside you that you didn't know you had. As Corinne faces the jumbies that begin attacking her village, she's not alone. She bands together with a pair of trickster brothers and a new friend whom she met at the market. The four children support each other and each ends up being braver than he or she thought possible.

Vivid sensory details bring the lush island setting to life as the adventure travels from the dark mahogany forests to the swamps to the beaches of the island. Small details such as the fish stews that Corinne cooks for her father and the fruits sold at the market place the action firmly in its setting in a very organic way. 


The blend of a strong friendship story with some creepy elements made me keep thinking about Doll Bones by Holly Black, which is another favorite creepy book that I like to booktalk. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Don't Forget: 48 Hour Book Challenge is Coming!

Have you been thinking about next weekend's 48 Hour Book Challenge?! I am really looking forward to one of my favorite bookish events of the year! I have already started putting my TBR pile together (and a TBR pile for The Boy), and even though I won't be able to devote quite the ENTIRE weekend to reading, I hope to read for at least 20 hours!

Hope to see you reading next weekend! It's always a really fun event. :D

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Storytime: Fruit Salad II

I had a hankerin' to do another Fruit Salad storytime, a preschool storytime. I had done several years ago, but I wanted to give it a little update and try out some different books and add some great new-to-me songs. So, here's what I did for storytime this week:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett. This is a silly story that's fun to read and just uses four words throughout most of the book. Families were chuckling along at the funny illustrations and this is a great book to demonstrate rhyming words since "pear" and "bear" appear on almost every spread. When children hear and recognize rhyming words, they are learning that words are made up of smaller sounds (phonological awareness), which is an early literacy skill.

Book: The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big, Hungry Bear by Audrey & Don Wood. This is a favorite with many of our kids and a lot of my storytimers were familiar with this one. I love to share old favorites to demonstrate a love of reading and reassure parents that it's a-okay to read your favorites over and over again!

Felt Rhyme: Five Red Strawberries (with mouse puppet)

This activity was inspired by Melissa Depper from Mel's Desk. Before we said our rhyme, I put up the strawberries on the board and we talked about them. I asked them if the strawberries were the same or different. I asked them to help me find the tall, skinny strawberry and the big, wide strawberry and the unripe strawberry. This is a great activity to help reinforce the concept of same and different and to introduce vocabulary. Then we shared our rhyme:

(This rhyme is the same as the rhyme I have used for Five Red Apples, which, I realized, means that some of the verses don't actually make sense - strawberries don't grow on trees, etc. I will have to update it for the next time!)

Five red strawberries, sweet to the core.
Bear came and ate one and then there were four.

Four red strawberries, sitting in a tree.
Bear came and ate one and then there were three.

Three red strawberries, one for you and you and you.
Bear came and ate one and then there were two.

Two red strawberries, shining in the sun.
Bear came and ate one and then there was one.

One red strawberry, left all alone.
Bear came and ate one and then there was none.

[At this point, I should have gone in to one of our action songs, but the kids seemed okay so I stuck with the plan... halfway through the book, I was regretting that! Don't be afraid to rearrange your order of activities as needed!]

Book: Go, Go Grapes by April Pulley Sayre. How do I love April Pulley Sayre, let me count the ways... She writes awesome and accessible nonfiction for very young readers. This one in particular has a great rhythm and rhyme and introduces kids to lots of new words - many fruits that I was not familiar with. 

Action Song: Bananas Unite

Part of the reason I wanted to do a fruit storytime is that I had learned some new-to-me action songs that fit perfectly! This one was really fun. We did it twice!

Book: The Mouse Who Ate the Moon by Petr Horacek. This is a cute story about a mouse who thinks he's found a piece of the moon when he spies a banana outside his house. It smells so delicious that Mouse can't help but nibble and soon he's eaten half of it and he despairs that the moon will never be round again! Bright, colorful pictures make this a great one for sharing.

Felt Activity: Fruit Salad! As we like to do here, I passed out pieces of our fruit salad felt set and let the kids bring them up as I called their fruit. We made fruit salad together! After everyone had brought up their fruit, we talked about the rainbow of fruit that we had on the board and we counted our pieces together (a sneaky way for me to get a count for our stats!).

I ran out of time, but I had also planned two more items:

Book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar (pop-up) by Eric Carle. This is another classic favorite and the pop-up format gives it a twist that's something new for kids who have the original book at home.

Action Song: Fruit Salad

The whole reason I wanted to plan another fruit storytime was to include this fun song and then we ran out of time and I didn't get to do it! Ah, well. I think next summer's theme is going to be Health, so I can definitely fit another fruit program in there!

PS: These action songs are expertly demonstrated by the lovely ladies at Jbrary and if you're not using them as a resource for songs and rhymes, you should start now!!!

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Play Time: For summer, we're keeping it easy and I just pulled out the blocks and the play food/dishes and the kids had a great time. These simple basics are a great investment and encourage lots of imaginative play!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Reading Club Check-In #1

Summer Reading Club started last week! Which means... we have been busy! (In fact, I meant to post this last week, but that was not to be.)

I was super anxious about Summer Reading starting this year, in part because we were doing school visits almost every day in May and I felt like I didn't really have any time to prepare. When the first day came around I did NOT feel ready. But guess what? It was okay. We had everything ready that we really needed and we were able to get to everything else throughout the next couple of days.

Now, we're a week in and we have over 1000 kids and over 300 teens signed up for the Summer Reading Club. They're starting to read and log their books. And, of course, they're coming in to ask us questions! 

We keep track of questions we're asked for stats and to help with collection development and trends. Normally, our questions for the entire day fill up half a sheet or maybe one whole sheet. During the summer, we regularly spill over onto the back page (or sometimes more!). 

These pages are from a couple of days last week, the first week of the Summer Reading Club.

Programs are hopping! We had a big performer last week (the first week school was out, which ended up being a mistake - our crowds were too big for our room!) and our weekly storytimes are back this week. I really try to go light on programming the first week of Summer Reading Club because as the kids get out of school, we have SO MANY coming in and we need all hands on deck to answer questions and help people get signed up. 

(Life is SO much easier since we switched to doing the Summer Reading Club online several years ago, but we still get questions!)

One GREAT change that we made this summer is that we have made all of our summer programs drop-in and many of them are all-ages this year. Not having to deal with registering patrons and getting all their info (and then at some point having to turn people away when the programs fill up!) had made life easier, too. 

I am all about making things easier this year. :) 

Of course, we librarians have started our summer reading, too! 

I love showing off our own reading so that kids can see that we're participating. They may see something that looks interesting on our "reading log" and want to check it out, too! Since we generally can't meet for our Reading Wildly meetings due to the traffic in our department in June and July, this is a way we can still share what we're reading with each other. 

We have been seeing a lot of our booktalking kids come in to the library looking for books that we've brought to their classrooms throughout the year. Even if they didn't come in right away, many have been storing up ideas and are now seeking out these titles as they come in with their families. 

Have you started Summer Reading yet? How's YOUR summer going?!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Tiger Boy

Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins. Grades 4-6. Charlesbridge, April 2015. 144 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


Neel loves his home in an island village in India. He loves his mother’s cooking. He loves swimming in the nearby ponds. And he loves the tigers that live on the preserve on a neighboring island, the only place where wild Bengal tigers still live.

When Neel and his friends learn that a tiger cub has escaped from the preserve and is thought to be on Neel’s island, they know that they have to look for her. It’s not often that tiger cubs are born in the preserve - every one is precious.

Neel’s teachers have nominated him for an important scholarship, a prize that could be his family’s ticket out of poverty, and Neel knows that he ought to be studying instead of patrolling the island for a lost tiger cub. But when Neel finds out that Gupta, a corrupt businessman, is also searching for the cub, Neel knows that he has to be the one to find her. If Gupta finds her, he will most likely sell her on the black market for her beautiful fur and Neel can’t - he WON’T - let that happen.

Can Neel find the lost tiger cub in time? If he joins the search for her, is he giving up his chance for a good future?

My Thoughts:

Okay, friends, I judged this one by its cover initially (the cover, to me, is not super appealing). But it kept getting great reviews from my friends on GoodReads and when I finally picked it up, I was so glad I did!

Lesson: do not doubt Mitali Perkins. 

This is an engaging story that will be a super hit with kids who love animals and/or adventure stories. Cultural details bring the Indian setting to life, detailed while still being accessible to kids who have no knowledge about India. The pacing is on-point; this is a short book that will hold the attention of its audience. There's plenty of tension as the reader wonders if Neel will find the tiger cub in time (and also, y'know, what Neel will do about his entire future, which rides on this scholarship). 

Neel's reluctance to leave his family home (and thus his reluctance to study for the scholarship exam) is believable. It shows that smart kids can be reluctant learners, too. Neel needs to find inspiration to continue his studies, he needs to be shown how attending a good school can enable him to do something he cares about. I found that transition to be believable, too. 

And, after all, who doesn't love a story in which a kid protects a baby tiger?!

Answer: no one. Everyone loves that. 


I would suggest this to kids in 4th-6th grade. I'm excited to have a shorter book I can bring to our middle schools for booktalks (I feel like every book I bring there is so LONG!).

Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins - this book brings its Bangladeshi setting to life in much the same way as the Indian setting in Tiger Boy. 

Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery (and other books about animals) - Tiger Boy is a great pick for kids who love wild animals and want to learn more about them.

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins - this book about endangered animals includes a passage that I kept thinking about while I read Tiger Boy, about why folks in India might hunt tigers even though they know they are endangered. This would be a good readalike for kids who enjoy exploring environmental themes.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Levy - okay, this is a little bit of a wild card, but i think that kids who enjoy reading about Neel's family in Tiger Boy and/or kids who identify with Neel's struggle to figure out his future might also find some of those elements in The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Way Home Looks Now

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang. Grades 4-7. Scholastic Press, April 2015. 272 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Peter Lee and his family have always loved baseball. One of Peter’s happiest memories is going with his family to watch the Little League team from Taiwan compete against the American team in the Little League World series. It was such a beautiful day and a great game, plus an important one as Chinese-American families all gathered to support Taiwan.

But that was Before.

Before Peter’s older brother Nelson died in a car accident and everything changed. Peter desperately misses his brother and he wonders if his family will ever be happy again. Now, Peter’s mom just sits on the couch and watches TV all day, not cooking, not talking, not doing anything… until one day when Peter mentions that day at the Little League championships and she actually sits up and has a conversation with him for the first time in forever.

Peter thinks he’s found the key to bringing his mom out of her slump: baseball. So he convinces his father to let him join a baseball team, aiming to get really good and invite his mom to come and watch. But when Peter’s father volunteers to coach his team, Peter begins to doubt his plan. His dad has never coached before. He has weird methods. Some of the other kids don't like having a Chinese-American coach. Is Peter's team doomed to fail? Will his family ever be normal again? 

My thoughts:

This is a great sports story, perfect for baseballs fans, while also including some really interesting historical detail and a nuanced family story.

Set in the 1970s, the story is based on events that happened in the author's childhood - the Chinese-American community's strong rally of support for the Taiwanese Little League team, the question of girls playing on sports teams, etc. Reading the author's note helped me appreciate the story on a deeper level, knowing that it was based on some actual events.

This is also a story that tackles the subject of a grieving family and acknowledges that grief does not just magically go away. It's a story of family members doing their best to support each other, even as each person in the family grieves in his or her own way. Peter doesn't really understand why his mom is so out of it, but it's something he has to accept. True fans don't give up if their team has a losing season; they continue to show their support and hope that things will get better. This simple message really connects baseball to the deeper themes of the novel.

And the beauty is that this nuanced family story is organically nestled in a great baseball story. The book includes some of the play-by-play action that sports fans will look for, as well as fun baseball facts and coaching techniques. Peter and his teammates challenge themselves to come up with the answers to seemingly impossible plays, like "How do you get a no-man triple play?" 


The Only Game by Mike Lupica - I read this earlier this spring and it shares a lot of the same themes: a boy mourning the loss of his older brother in an accident with lots of play-by-play baseball action. 

Nest by Esther Erlich - kids who more identified with Peter's family mourning and who are interested in the 1970s setting might like Nest, a story of a girl dealing with her mom's MS diagnosis.