Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Counting Thyme

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin. Grades 4-7. Putnam, April 2016. 320 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Cancer is the worst. Because of cancer, specifically her five year old brother's cancer, Thyme (that's Thyme with an HY like the herb) and her family have picked up and moved across the country, leaving California for New York City where there's an experimental treatment that might help her brother. In New York, Thyme has to share a bedroom with her moody older sister, they deal with a total crab of a neighbor who's always complaining that they're too loud, and Thyme has to start over in a middle school where she knows no one.

Thyme has no interest in building a life here. The treatment is supposed to take three months and then Thyme is planning on being back home with her best friend, living in the house she's grown up in, going to the school that she knows. She is literally counting down the days and hoping that by doing chores and earning "time" (her parents' version of an allowance) that she hopes she can use to visit her best friend back home.

But Thyme's parents aren't being completely honest with her. With cancer, there are no guarantees. And while Thyme will discover some things she likes about New York, like cutie Jake who seems to like her, too, and their housekeeper Mrs. Ravelli's amazing cooking, she's also going to have to accept that you can't always plan out your future.

My thoughts:

Combine the friendship story of Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger and the sibling love of Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie and you have this book. It's both a poignant story of one family dealing with cancer and a story about girl who's navigating friendships and alliances as the new girl in school. It'll appeal both to readers who are interested in reading stories about kids dealing with cancer and fans of realistic friendship stories.

I particularly appreciated seeing how different members of the Owens family dealt with Val's cancer. Although the story is told from Thyme's point of view, Melanie Conklin does a nice job of showing us how each member of the family is reacting, even if Thyme doesn't fully understand where everyone is coming from.


The two books I mentioned above might make good readalikes, depending on what readers like about this story. Readers who are riveted by the frenemies, competition, and crushes that Thyme deals with at her new school may enjoy Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger. Readers who love the relationship Thyme has with her little brother Val may enjoy Jordan Sonnenblick's Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie.

Readers who enjoy reading about life in New York City might enjoy Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead or Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, realistic novels with very different plots but a strong element of New York City apartment life.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel. Grades 7 & up. Scholastic, 2015. 345 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


What if you looked in the mirror and saw someone you didn't recognize?

When Maisie wakes up, she's in the hospital. Her memory is fuzzy, but she slowly learns the truth: she was running and it started storming. Lightning hit electrical wires which hit her and she was burned. She has second-degree burns all down her left arm and side. But worse than that, her face was burned. Her face was burned off. And she gets a face transplant.

Everyone keeps telling Maisie that she's lucky. She's lucky that a donor came up just when she needed it. She's lucky that the fire didn't take her eyes or her mouth. But Maisie doesn't feel lucky. Now, she's kept on a strict regimen of intense medications to ensure that her body doesn't reject the new tissue. Her boyfriend Chirag remains steadfastly by her side, but he can't bring himself to touch her.

What if you had to go to school wearing someone else's face?

My thoughts:

I picked up this book because the plot sounded absolutely fascinating and it did not let me down. I'm always a little wary with books like this that could easily veer into sensationalism, but what I found here was a well-grounded contemporary story about a girl piecing her life back together after a traumatic event. It's fascinating to me (and, I think, to teen readers) to put myself in Maisie's shoes. How would I deal with this if it happened to me?

Alyssa Sheinmel has that angsty teen voice down in a way that is realistic and recognizable without being annoying. Maisie's actions and decisions were realistic in a way that made me sympathize and root for her, even when I could see that she was making mistakes.

I especially liked Maisie's relationships with people in her life and how they evolved after her injury and as she started to accept what had happened to her. Her boyfriend Chirag is trying to "be a good guy" and stand by her, even though Maisie is a different person now (both physically and mentally). Her best friend Serena actually does remain steadfastly loyal, even when Maisie is not able to give much back to their friendship. As Maisie comes to grips with what happened to her, these relationships change in ways that are both interesting and believable.


I would hand this book to middle schoolers and high schoolers who enjoy reading stories about teens dealing with something bad happening to them. The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen and/or A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman would both make good readalikes for kids who enjoy reading about teens dealing with traumatic physical events (leg amputation in both those books).

Teens who are fascinated by the concept of dealing with facial injury might enjoy Lucy Grealy's memoir Autobiography of a Face, published for adults in 1994.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Ten More Great School Age Readalouds

We visit the YMCA Afterschool groups at each of our nine public elementary schools once a month during the school year, so I am always on the lookout for great readalouds for K-4th. This year, I was really trying to include some more diverse titles and I did succeed in taking more than I did last year (which isn't saying a lot!!), although I would still love more suggestions! Here are ten of my very favorites that I took to my groups this year.

Epossumondas by Colleen Salley, illustrated by Janet Stevens (Houghton, 2002). This is one of my very favorite readalouds and makes for great oral storytelling, too. It's a version of a Jack Tale called Lazy Jack in which the silly possum Epossumonas keeps getting gifts from his auntie with no idea how to carry them home, starting with the piece of cake that he squishes up in his paw. It's a silly tale and one that's great to do fun voices with.

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien (Candlewick, 2015). Hoot Owl tries using disguises to help him catch his dinner... with varying success. One of my staffers reads this in a Batman voice and it is hilarious.

The Long-Nosed Pig by Keith Faulkner, illustrated by Jonathan Lambert (Dial, 1998). We don't circulate pop-up books, but this is a fun one that we have in our programming collection and it makes a great readaloud. Way back when pigs had long noses instead of short snouts, one pig couldn't stop bragging about his gorgeous, long nose.

Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook Press, 2013). Whether or not you have kids that are into lucha libre, read this with your best wrestling-announcer voice and it WILL be a hit. I promise. (Practice the Spanish words first if you are unfamiliar with them!)

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (Scholastic, 2014). Kids are entranced by 1) yummy-looking donuts and 2) this grumpy panda who refuses to share his donuts with anyone who cannot ask for them politely.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (Arthur A. Levine, 2015). Farting pony. Need I say more? I do? Okay, kick-butt warrior princess, how about that?

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt (Corgi, 2000). I am so, so sad that this book is out of print, but it's worth an ILL if you can. Timothy Pope loves to look through his telescope and he thiiinks he sees a shark at the park. Have the kids make their own "telescopes" with their hands and look up, down, left, right, and all around with you on the chorus.

Take Me Out to the Yakyu by Aaron Meshon (Atheneum, 2013). How is a baseball game the same and different in the US and Japan? This book was a great one to inspire discussion about cultural differences.

Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman (Abrams, 2015). I love this one so much that I accidentally brought it to one group two months in a row. It was okay, they loved it, too! This is just what the title suggests: cute and funny vegetables in underwear.

The Whale in My Swimming Pool by Joyce Wan (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2015). What to do when a whale is taking up your entire swimming pool? This kawaii picture book is filled with creative attempts to get rid of the whale and makes for a fun read.

There are ten of my favorite school-age picture book readalouds that I took to my groups this year. Need more suggestions? Check out Ten Great School-Age Readalouds to see what my hits were last year. What were your favorite school-age readalouds this year??

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Summer Check-In #1

My summer in images (so far):

We're raising butterflies and it is just as easy and engaging as it was last time!

First contribution to our Field Journal:

They started so tiny and then got BIG:

The kids are reading and reading. As of the morning of June 15 (first day for prizes), kids in our county had read 4,809 books. 

We challenged them to read 20,000 books this summer and we're right on track!

Of course, your librarians are reading, too!

Children's books:

And teen books: 

And adult books! 

Also pictured: Howie the cat.

My family book club chose Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell to read for our July meeting and I am enjoying it. We're all Downton Abbey fans and this book reads pretty much like a season of Downton Abbey, so it's right up our alley and pretty easy reading for summer. 

Life is not quite all butterflies and book clubs. My two teen librarians are leaving for new adventures soon and it's making me feel like this: 

But life goes on! It means some creative new approaches to our programming and we'll manage. 

How is YOUR summer going??

Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean

Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean by Maris Wicks. (Science Comics)
Grades 3-6. First Second, March 2016. 128 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.


So, this is one entry in this cool new series called Science Comics, which is just what it sounds like: comics about science. This book is all about coral reefs and I guarantee that you will learn something you didn't know before, even if you are a super ocean expert.

Did you know that scientists have developed cancer-fighting drugs from coral reefs?

Did you know that coral reefs are home to a quarter of the animals in the entire ocean?

Do you know what a cnidarian (NIE-darian) is?!

You'll learn all that and much more in this comic book all about coral reefs. What I love about this book is that it's told in a cute, funny style that will have you laughing even as you're learning. If you like science and comics, this is definitely the series for you!

My thoughts: 

A fun and informational introduction to coral reefs, this book contains TONS of science info. Maris Wicks does a great job of starting from the beginning with each subject, whether it's the difference between animals & plants when introducing the reader to coral or what climate change is when talking about how the environment affects coral reefs. Even kids who think they know a lot about coral reefs and the ocean will probably learn something new from this book.... and they will enjoy doing it!

Wicks's cute, cartoony style is a great medium for the information. She puts in lots of funny little asides and cute, humorous illustrations. One of my favorites is an illustration of flowers "eatin' up the SEE-OH-TOO"/"fartin' out the oxygen". The book is filled with funny little things like that that will keep readers laughing and poring over the illustrations for more.


Readers who enjoy their nonfiction in interesting packaging might also like the Basher Science series or Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale. 

Readers who enjoy Maris Wick's funny style would do good to pick up her Human Body Theater

Friday, June 3, 2016


Tumbling by Caela Carter. Grades 7+. Viking. June, 2016. 432 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


There's the gymnast who hasn't played along with the Olympic coach's master plan. There's the gymnast who would rather be anywhere than at the Olympic trials. There's the gymnast who isn't eating anything. There's the gymnast who doesn't think she has a chance. There's the gymnast carrying a secret.

For these five girls, the next two days are a pivotal point in their lives. It's the Olympic trials, an intense last gymnastics meet that will decide the American Olympics team. Dreams will be realized. Dreams will be crushed. Mind games will be played. Secrets will be spilled. Friends will be betrayed. Decisions will be made.

And at the end of it, there will be an Olympic team. A handful of girls who will go on to compete for gold and glory.

This behind-the-scenes look at the Olympic trials is a great choice for anyone who's waiting eagerly for the Olympics to start back up in August.

My thoughts:

Couldn't. Put. This. Down.

I am definitely one of those people who can't wait for the Olympics in August, so this was right up my alley. I don't have the experience to know for sure, but the book seems very well researched, including lots of details of the minutiae of gymnastics life. A lengthy glossary includes lots of gymnastic terms.

Besides being a solid sports book, this is a great book for teens who enjoy the ~drama~ of it all. Any sport has psychological aspects to it. Combine that with a gaggle of teenage girls, all thirsty for a chance at their Olympic dreams, and you get quite the soap opera (in a good way, I mean).

The cast of narrators is diverse in a surface-level way (there's the African American, the Jewish girl, the half-Asian girl, the closeted lesbian), but the focus here is on the sport and the relationships of the characters to one another and to their own goals.


For younger teens looking for more gymnastics this summer, try Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas (Arthur A. Levine, 2012). Older teens might enjoy gymnastics memoirs like Off Balance by Dominique Moceanu (Touchstone, 2012).

Readers who gravitate toward the drama between the girls might like Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (HarperTeen, 2015).

Readers may also enjoy dance stories like Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo (Random, 2016) or Pointe by Brandy Colbert (Penguin, 2014).