Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Every Little Letter

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Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz. Ages 4-8. Dial, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Of course all my patrons want to check out this new picture book - look how adorable it looks! Kids will gravitate towards this one for the cute, colorful letters and the fun wordplay. Adults will want to share this one for the message of accepting others and celebrating our differences. 

It starts with a town of H's. The H's all live in their little town, walled off from everyone else. They do fine and have pleasant but boring conversations (with only one letter, what do you expect?) until one day a little h spies a neighboring i through a hole in the wall. The little h and little i come together and make something surprising and delightful - "hi!" But the big H's see and promptly close up the gap in the wall. Luckily, the little h has an idea to send out a message and before long, little letters from all sorts of places are getting to know one another. And maybe, just maybe, they can convince the entire world to bring down their walls. 

This would make a great classroom read aloud to introduce concepts of breaking down barriers, getting to know neighbors, and celebrating the unique differences that make our diverse world a fun place to live. As the letters start to come together, they form words and the wordplay is cute and fun throughout. Kids who are learning to read and starting to understand wordplay will enjoy this sweet story. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Dozens of Doughnuts

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Dozens of Doughnuts by Carrie Fenison, illustrated by Brianne Farley. Ages 3-7. Putnam, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

LouAnn the bear is getting ready for winter, which for her means she's baking dozens of doughnuts which she will eat herself to get ready to hibernate. She's just about to sit down to some fresh doughnuts when her doorbell rings and it's a friendly neighbor who has smelled the delicious treats. LouAnn kindly shares her doughnuts and heads back to the kitchen to whip up some more. But when neighbor after neighbor shows up looking to share in the feast, LouAnn has finally had enough! Luckily, her neighbors realize that they've eaten up all her doughnuts and come back to repay her kindness with treats of their own. 

This is a super cute, playful story about sharing that feels mildly seasonal since it's a little bit about hibernation, but it could definitely be read any time of year. The rhyming text begs to be read aloud and this would make an excellent storytime book. It has a recurring chorus each time LouAnn's about to get to eat some of the doughnuts, in which LouAnn gets interrupted by the doorbell before it can get to her name in the rhyme: 

One dozen doughnuts, hot from the pan. 
Toasty, and tasty, and ALL for - 
Ding dong!

The interruption adds humor to the story and you could really play that up in the readaloud. 

Pair this fun animal story with Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson for another bouncy, rhyming picture book about forest creatures having a feast and leaving hibernating a bear out or Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora for another tale about neighbors following their nose and popping in to share in a delicious meal. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

I Am Every Good Thing

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I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James. Ages 4-10. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 32 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

This newest collaboration from the creators of the Newbery-honor-winning and Caldecott-honor-winning and Coretta Scott King-honor-winning book Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut is everything I wanted it to be. It's a celebration of Black boy joy, an affirmation that begs to be read and shared and pressed into the hands of families everywhere. From the dedication of the book, which goes to some of the Black boys murdered by law enforcement, to the text and illustrations, this is a book that will make a difference. It depicts Black boys as superheroes, as scientists, as getting back up after a fall and trying again. 

This is a book that celebrates Black boys in the way that all children deserve to be celebrated and that Black boys are not always celebrated. They are every good thing, just like all children, and this is a book that strives to show that in its ebullient text and its rich, colorful, joyful artwork. 

This is a must-buy for library shelves. Display it proudly alongside Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins (illustrated by Bryan Collier) or I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown (illustrated by Anoosha Syed) for an empowering display. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Bunheads

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Bunheads by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey. Ages 4-9. Putnam, 2020. 32 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Misty Copeland is back with another picture book about a classic ballet and a young, African American ballerina determined to shine. In this autobiographical story, young Misty attends her first ballet class and falls in love with the story of Coppélia when her teacher presents their upcoming show. There is plenty for young ballet students to appreciate here as Misty explains and demonstrates some of the steps she learns in her class as they prepare for the auditions. The steps are depicted in both the text and the illustrations, which will appeal to young dancers who may be learning these very steps themselves. 

Throughout class and the audition process, young Misty bonds with another girl in her class, forming a fast friendship, and luckily they are both cast in the show. I don't know if you have as many Misty Copeland fans at your library as I do at mine, but I can tell you they were asking for her by name this summer. We have plenty of young children that look up to her and this is definitely a book I'm going to put on hold for them. Pick this one up for the young dancer in your life and make sure you have it on your library shelves. Representation matters and it's wonderful to see a book featuring a young African American ballerina. 

Pair this book with Goodnight, Little Dancer by Jennifer Adams for more representation of African American children as dancers (that one gets a bonus for also including a male child dancer). And A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, which is a picture book about an African American girl inspired by the first African American prima ballerina Janet Collins. And don't forget Misty Copeland's Firebird, for which Christopher Myers won the 2015 Coretta Scott King illustrator award. 


Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (And Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion

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How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (And Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ahima Shiraishi, illustrated by Yao Xiao. Grades K-4. Make Me a World, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Ashima Shiraishi knows about problems. Problems are what rock climbers call the boulders that they climb: each one is a problem to solve. Shiraishi is a world champion rock climber who was the first woman in the world to climb a V15 boulder problem (that is a very, very difficult climb). And in this picture book, Shiraishi takes a look at how she solves problems. While this book uses Shiraishi's boulder problems to detail her problem-solving steps, these steps translate to any kind of problem a person might face. 

She looks at the problem "There were many parts, and none of them looked easy." 

She maps out her steps. She gives it a try.... and she falls. But does she give up? Of course not! "Then, when I was ready, I looked at the problem again with the new information the fall had given me." 

This is an encouraging book that is wonderful to share with kids of all ages who might struggle with perseverance in the face of difficulty. It would make a great classroom read aloud to set the tone for your class. The text reinforces the importance of learning from your failures and getting up to try and try again. Of course Shiraishi did not become a world champion by getting everything perfectly right the first time. I love how she structures her falls as opportunities to learn and to approach a problem in a new way. 

Not only is this a great book about problem solving and perseverance to have on your shelves and to know about for your patrons, but it's also a story that celebrates women and Asian Americans in sports and the accomplishments of a young person. Ashima Shiraishi was born in 2001, so she wrote this book as a teenager and she won world championships in climbing as a teen, so this is definitely a story that young people will relate to. And I think it's got some nice words of wisdom for us all! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul

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RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Grades K-6. Atheneum, 2020. 48 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Y'all. Stop what you are doing and run to your local indie bookstore to get your hands on this book. It is absolutely stunning. Stun. Ning. 

Carole Boston Weatherford is a poet, we know this. And she's outdone herself here. The text of this book is deceptively simple, each spread a rhyming couplet titled with a spelled out word, paying homage to one of Aretha Franklin's most well-known songs. It seems simple, but there's a lot of thought that's gone into the construction of this book. Each couplet is titled by a spelled-out word that ends in that "ee" sound like R-E-S-P-E-C-T. For example: 

B-L-E-S-S-E-D
Cradled by the church, rocked by an ebony sea, 
Aretha says a little prayer each night on bended knee

D-E-T-R-O-I-T
The Franklins move north from Memphis, Tennessee. 
They put down roots and rise like a mighty tree

Not all the words are seven letters long, like "respect", a feat that would have been a stretch to carry out throughout the book. They all end in that long E sound, so the text flows together like a song and continually brings the reader back to the powerful message of Aretha's famous song. 

And the paintings. Oh, the paintings. Frank Morrison's oil paintings are rich and full of color and consistently play with perspective, sometimes taking a view from behind or above. I love the spread that talks about Detroit, picturing the Franklin family as part of a mighty tree and then later in the book after Aretha's mother has left the family, the same image is rendered with the family minus mom. 

I am sure the Caldecott Committee is looking carefully at this book - it's one of my favorites of the year! 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Laugh Out Loud Picture Books

 Holy cats, did I start a thread on Twitter the other week! In one of my Grab Bag requests I was working on, a patron asked for "any picture books that are hilarious and make you laugh out loud". I definitely have my own laugh out loud favorites, but I know that everyone has a different sense of humor, so I wondered what my Twitter friends would say. 151 replies later (!!!), I have quite a list and I was happily able to tell my patron to let me know anytime she wanted more funny books and I could keep her in good supply! 

It's waaaaay too many books to list all of them, but here are some of my favorites and some of the most-suggested. If you're looking for funny books, you can't go wrong here! Bonus: MANY of these authors have other books that are also hilarious and/or awesome, so definitely check them out!

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Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett. Atheneum, 1988.

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The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak. Dial, 2014. 

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Chicken Butt by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole. Abrams, 2009.

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Guess Again! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex. Simon & Schuster, 2009. 

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Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein. Candlewick, 2016. 

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The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex. Balzer + Bray, 2017.

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Misunderstood Shark by Amy Dyckman, illustrated by Scott Magoon. Orchard Books, 2018. 

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Moo! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. Bloomsbury, 2013. 

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Neck & Neck by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown, 2018. 

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Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex. Chronicle Books, 2017. 

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Penguin Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith. Random House, 2016. 

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Potato Pants by Laurie Keller. Henry Holt, 2018. 

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The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton. Arthur A. Levine, 2015. 

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Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas. Beach Lane Books, 2009. 

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Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, 2011. 

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This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Candlewick, 2012. 

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We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 

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Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea. Little, Brown, 2019. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Powwow: A Celebration through Song and Dance

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Powwow: A Celebration through Song and Dance by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane. Grades 3-8. Orca Book Publishers, 2020. 88 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

When your patrons ask you for books about Native Americans, do you only have history books to give them? If so, it's way beyond time to change that. And this book is a great one to add to your collection. With vibrant words and photographs, this book takes a look at modern powwows, celebrations of song and dance that are still held today in all 50 states, as well as their history and significance. It's a comprehensive introduction that is a wonderful starting point for kids (and adults) interested in learning more about Native American traditions and it inspired me to look up annual powwows held near me. Of course I can't attend one this year, but it's definitely something I would like to do once it's safe to do so again. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Ghosts Went Floating

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The Ghosts Went Floating by Kim Normal, illustrated by Jay Fleck. Ages 3-6. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Are you as ready for Halloween as I am? I don't even know if we will really have a Halloween (at least not like we're used to, I'm sure), but for some reason I am all about decorating and celebrating it early this year. Maybe it feels like something to look forward to? Anyway, it was a lot of fun the week I got to sit down and order some new Halloween books for my library and this was my favorite one. 

The text is a variation of The Ants Go Marching, which is fun since you can sing it. Instead of "Hoorah, hoorah", it says "BOO-rah! BOO-rah", which I think is super cute. And instead of ants, each spread is a different ghosty or beasty. The book is far from scary with super cute illustrations, making this a very gentle monster book that's good for really young kids. I'm going to buy it for my youngest nieces, ages 2 and 4. 

Most of the book is not Halloween specific - it's only the last two spreads the mention where the ghosts and creatures are marching to - your street for trick or treat! And then the very last spread shows all the monsters enjoying a Halloween party together. So if you wanted to use this for storytime, it could easily fit into a monster or slightly-spooky themed storytime just by skipping the last couple of spreads. It would also make a super cute flannel board story. Although it does count up to 10 different creatures marching together, you could definitely cut down on the pieces by just creating one piece for each creature. 

Pick this one up if you're looking for a Halloween book for a very young child on your list! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Brother's Keeper

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Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee. Grades 4-7. Holiday House, 2020. 320 pages. Review audiobook provided by publisher via Libro.fm.

Life as the oldest sister is not easy for Sora in 1950 North Korea. Not only does her family already live by a set of ironclad rules set by the government - they can't leave their village, they can't speak their minds, they can't trust their neighbors - as a girl, Sora has to live by even more rules. She has to quit school to take care of her brothers and she must learn to keep house in preparation for being a wife one day. But everything changes when war is declared and her family decides to make a run for it. Early in their journey, Sora and her little brother Young are separated from their parents and they have to make this dangerous journey - hundreds of miles to the South Korean border - by themselves. Can they face hunger and exhaustion and the Red Army chasing them and make it to freedom? 

This is a riveting survival story that will appeal to young readers who enjoy books like Refugee by Alan Gratz and The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. I am a huge historical fiction fan and I loved learning about Sora's struggles as a girl in a culture that venerates sons. As smart and strong as Sora is, her family still balks at sending her to school and letting her follow her own dreams. Sora is expected to set her own wishes aside to care for others (her brothers and eventually her husband and her own family). Sora's not perfect - she's impatient and careless sometimes - but she's definitely a heroine you can root for. And readers who love discovering history through story will really enjoy this tale. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

What Sound Is Morning?

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What Sound is Morning? by Grant Snider. Ages 2-5. Chronicle Books, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Mornings are quiet, right? But if you listen carefully, you'll start to hear all kinds of sounds. From lights clicking on to the wind whispering in the trees to sprinklers turning on to a rooster crowing, the sounds of the city and the country grow as the sun rises. In simple, quiet text, told in slanted rhyme, this is a book that celebrates sounds and the rituals of morning routines. And although the text of the book is about morning sounds, the illustrations are a beautiful celebration of the changing morning light. From the sunrise yellows, pinks, and oranges of the sky to how light starts to slant in through a window or gets reflected in a creek, the pictures perfectly complement the text in this deceptively simple book. 

This is a beautiful book to share when talking about day and night and a quiet book that would be a super wake-up morning read. 


Monday, September 14, 2020

Your Name is a Song

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Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe. Ages 6-10. Innovation Press, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Frustrated when her teacher can't pronounce her name and kids at her new school make fun of her name, our narrator vents to her mom on their walk home from school. And her mother responds to each complaint with positive language to present her unique name in a different light. "Your name is a song" and your name is one that needs to be said from the heart more than the tongue. Or even, your name might be made up because long ago our original names were stolen from us and we looked to the sky for new names. 

This is a wonderful book for kids and teachers to read about the importance of names. Young readers with names that often get mispronounced will find words to speak back (and teach) about it and anyone who meets new kids and learns their names on a regular basis should read this book. The book uses all kinds of names from many different cultures around the world as examples, and I especially appreciate that all the names in the book (even white normative names like "Bob" or "Ms. Anderson") are given pronunciation guides. This is a must for school and public libraries!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Time for Bed's Story

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Time for Bed's Story by Monica Arnaldo. Ages 4-8. Kids Can Press, 2020. Digital review copy provided by publisher. 

The next time you push back when you hear the nightly announcement "It's time for bed!", maybe think again. Maybe take a minute to read bed's side of the story. You'll find it right here. Because as much as you don't want to go to bed.... you're no picnic either. And Bed's here to tell you that they don't appreciate the kicking, the drool all over their pillows, the mysterious smells in your room, or the stickers - endless stickers! - that are constantly stuck all over everything. 

This humorous take on a bedtime story is made super endearing by the expressive bed in the illustrations. Look at those indignant eyes! If you're looking for a book that will send little ones off to bed with a giggle, this is a rollicking good family readaloud. (If you're looking for a gentle bedtime story that might entice kids to actually sleep, you may want to look elsewhere.) This may be an especially appropriate read for families with kids who have trouble with the bedtime routine or who are growing up a little bit and would like to stay up later. Pair it with Bedtime for Mommy by Amy Kraus Rosenthal for another humorous, nighttime role-reversal. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Day Saida Arrived

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The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gomez Redondo, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel. Ages 4-9. Blue Dot Kids Press, September 15, 2020. 

The day Saida arrived, our narrator knew they would be good friends, but there was one problem. Saida's words appeared to be lost. Looking high and low, those words can't be found until our narrator takes her problem to her father. He explains that Saida has words, but her Arabic words don't work here, just the way his words wouldn't work in Morocco. And so begins a blossoming friendship as Saida begins to learn English and teach her friend Arabic. It turns out you don't need perfect words to make a friend, after all. 

This is a really whimsical, humorous and poignant look at the importance (or non-importance!) of language. I love the fantastical illustrations that really play around with words - there are words everywhere throughout these pages, in both English and Arabic alphabets. There are funny moments, such as when our nameless protagonist looks into her teacher's pockets, searching for Saida's words, but this is also a book with a strong message of being accepting of new immigrants and that friendship transcends cultural differences. Originally published in Spain, this book is a little outside the box of what we normally see published in America and I love it for that. It's a beautiful book that's not afraid to play. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Nana Akua Goes to School

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Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker and April Harrison. Ages 5-9. Schwartz & Wade, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

When Bring Your Grandparents day approaches at school, Zura starts to get nervous. She loves her grandparents, who grew up in Ghana; they're her favorite people, but Zura's afraid that the kids at school won't understand her Nana Akua's tribal face tattoos. She's afraid the other kids might be afraid or laugh at her grandma. Luckily, Nana Akua has a plan and with the help of Zura's quilt featuring many tribal symbols and some gold face paint, Nana Akua turns the day into one that no one will forget. 

This is a nice story about learning about different cultures and accepting differences that make us all special. It's a very reassuring story and may introduce a lot of young readers to the idea of tribal markings. I love the vibrant, textures artwork, especially  the patterned material used for many of the fabrics in the book. This would make a wonderful classroom readaloud to introduce empathy and acceptance. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Grownup Books I've Loved Lately

So, I'm back at blogging, as you may have seen if you've been around over these past couple of weeks. I'm trying out a new format of short little micro posts. I want to get the word out about some of the amazing kids' books coming out, but I honestly don't have the time or bandwidth to write booktalks and longer reviews right now. We'll see how this goes. 

You know this blog highlights kidlit, but I have also read some fantastic adult books over the past few months, too. I have been listening up a storm thanks to libro.fm's librarian review copy program. Publishers provide new release and advance downloadable audiobooks free to librarians through this program. It's easy to sign up if you are an ALA member and there are new selections - both adult and youth titles - each month. (This is not a sponsored post - I just want to make sure you know about it!)

If you're looking for adult book recommendations, I would hand you any of these. I didn't read all of them on audiobook, but most of them. 

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020. 432 pages. This super cute and funny British romcom was a phenomenal listen that had me grinning as I walked around my neighborhood listening to it. Luc, the reluctantly famous son of a rock star, has landed in the tabloids once too many times for his employer and must improve his image or lose his job. So he makes a deal with friend of a friend Oliver - they'll fake a relationship and stay in the public eye enough to fix Luc's reputation and Luc will accompany Oliver on some of his social obligations. But you know how this trope goes, right? The audio is fantastic, fully voiced by Joe Jameson who does all the accents for the quirky supporting characters in Luc's life. It's funny and feel-good and all the action happens offscreen, so if Red, White, and Royal Blue made you blush too hard, this is a great choice. 

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The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. Orbit, 2020. 448 pages. Urban fantasy is not always my jam, but this one was getting So Much Love at the #MidLibFaves twitter roundup of librarian favorites that I had to check it out and I loved it. New York City is in the process of being born and facing an otherworldly evil that threatens its very existence unless the five avatars - one representing each of its five boroughs - can find each other and figure out how to fight back. I absolutely loved all the characters and the intriguing world-building. Audiobook narrator Robin Miles really brings the story to life with her fully voiced performance. She had me hooked from the scene where our first avatar runs across a busy New York highway.

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Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan. Doubleday, 2020. 336 pages. I'm a huge fan of Crazy Rich Asians (book series and movie!), so I was really excited to see this coming out. It's got a surprisingly low rating on GoodReads, but I actually really enjoyed it. It's a play on A Room with a View and stars an endearing protagonist Lucie Churchill who has a disastrous fling with the sexy George Zhao on the lush island of Capri in Italy, thanking her lucky stars that she will never have to see him again... until of course years later their paths do cross again. I loved the opulent Capri setting in the first half of the book and it was just a fun book to sink into while I was on a week of vacation this summer. The descriptions of fashion, luxury apartments, and five-star food made for excellent armchair travel, especially enjoyable right now since we can't go anywhere or do anything.

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The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Riverhead Books, 2020. 352 pages. This beautiful novel explores the lives of light-skinned African American twin sisters who run away from their small Louisiana town at age sixteen and what happens when one of the twins leaves and starts passing for white. This is a book that has a lot to say about family and race and presenting yourself to the world in the way that you want to be seen, and what that means for where you come from and who you are. The multi-decade historical setting and family dynamics of the story really reminded me of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and I think readers of that book would really enjoy this one, as well.

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. Knopf, September 2020. 288 pages. This is a moving portrait of an immigrant family torn apart by addiction, a novel that puts faces on the opioid crisis and examines what it means to have faith and to love. I devoured this novel and I especially loved Gifty's story of her gradual loss of faith. I recognized so many moments as adolescent Gifty began to question the religion that had always been so important to her. This is a great pick for readers of women in science or searing family stories.

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The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 304 pages. I devoured this wonderful historical novel, set over the course of three days in Dublin during the 1918 flu pandemic. Although it's set 100 years ago, it's eerily reminiscent of things happening today during this global pandemic and publication was pushed up several months to get this ready during these tumultuous times. Nurse Julia Powers finds herself on her own, running the Maternity Fever ward for expectant mothers with the flu, but luckily she's not without help. A brand new volunteer assistant shows up and quickly begins learning the ropes. Together, the two of them will face birth, death, and begin to realize what makes life worth living. It reads like the best episode of Call the Midwife ever and it's perfect for readers of medical stories.

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The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. Quirk Books, 2020. 408 pages. I loved, loved, loved this funny, gory novel about a book club in Charlestown, SC that takes on a neighborhood vampire. Set in the 1990s, it's Steel Magnolias meets Anne Rice and such an enjoyable read with memorable characters and a giggle for every shudder. I listened to the audiobook, expertly narrated and fully voiced by the indomitable Bahni Turpin. This was a perfect summer read and a great distraction. It's my first Grady Hendrix, but it won't be my last.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Punching the Air

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Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. Grades 7+ Balzer + Bray. 400 pages. Review audiobook provided by libro.fm and HarperAudio. 

Amal didn't do what they said he did. Yes, he was there in the park. Yes, he threw the first punch. But he didn't throw the punch that landed a white boy in the hospital and landed himself in prison. Now, at sixteen, his life feels like it's over before it began as he's taken from his family and stuck behind bars. He's so angry that he doesn't know what to do. But when he starts to turn to poetry and art, he starts to have hope. This never should have been his story. But can he change it? 

This is a powerful novel in verse that is a great choice for teens and adults interested in social justice. It's written by YA superstar Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam - a member of The Exonerated Five, a group of five teen boys who were convicted of assaulting and raping a white female jogger in Central Park and serving their sentences before being exonerated when another man confessed to the crime.  This isn't a memoir, it's a fictional story, but it's based on the author's experience in prison. 

The imagery is so striking in this novel - near the beginning of the story the authors compare the handcuffs placed on Amal with the shackles of enslaved people and I can't get that image out of my head. When Amal is meeting with adults who run the prison (his counselor, etc.), the poems are titled "Conversations with God". There is so much to unpack here and although I listened to the book on audio, I know it's one I will be revisiting in print to discover more of its layers. It's a testament to the power of art to heal as Amal turns to art and poetry to deal with the anger he feels over what's happened to him. 

I would hand this book to fans of Walter Dean Myers or Jason Reynolds, readers interested in social justice and the criminal justice system. Run, don't walk, to buy this book for your library or classroom. 


Friday, September 4, 2020

Hello There: Pandemic Update #3

 How's it going for you in library land? Or classroom land or office land or virtual land or stuck-at-home land, wherever you happen to be? 

Abby, wearing a mask, poses with a cart of children's books pulled for Grab Bags

I don't have any big updates since my last pandemic update, which is in itself an update. We've settled into a lonely and depressed and anxious pattern here, which is not to say that things are all bad. It's just to say that if you're feeling some negative emotions about whatever you're doing right now, whatever your library is doing right now, you're not alone. 

Our schools started back up a couple of weeks ago and so far they are continuing a mix of in-person instruction and virtual. One struggle for our library staff in general is that we're a border town, so the situation is different in Indiana and in Kentucky. The Louisville public schools are completely virtual for now, which has been challenging for some of our staff who live there. 

One improvement we've made since school started back is that we've started a subscription to an online tutoring service and it's getting a lot of buzz in our community. After parents' struggles with virtual school in the spring, I knew we should look for some kind of virtual tutoring, so we're excited to see how this goes. Honestly, tutoring was a regular request from patrons at our library, so it was high time we took the plunge. We struggle sometimes with promoting use of digital services (especially database-type services, e-books do pretty well), so it's really nice that we're getting some nice buzz. 

I'm hopefully about to add about 10,000 digital library cards for the students in our public school system, too, which should be a great help for people. We did this last year, but we struggled with really getting the word out about it, so hopefully this will be our year to fully capitalize on the digital cards. 

My day to day looks much like it did in July. I'm in the library every day and splitting my time between my office (when my officemates are working from home) and a meeting room so that I don't have to wear a mask all day. I know the day will come when work from home stops and I'll have to get used to wearing a mask all the time, but I'm taking my behind-the-scenes privileges where I can right now!

My general routine is to start each day pulling books and putting holds on our Grab Bag requests. This is one of the few things I am doing right now that I can see makes a difference, so it's a nice way to start my day. It is a very concrete activity in that I get to interact directly with patrons via email and I get to pull books that are going into their hands. Most of the new books I'm ordering right now are just sitting on shelves no one can browse, so while I know that will make a difference at some point or to a few people who place advance holds, it's really helpful to have something more concrete. 

One of the book display fixtures we've moved from the Children's Room to the front lobby. This one is filled with fall books and I call it the Pumpkin Spice Display.

Our library is still working very hard at providing curbside service and we've opened our lobby for limited browsing. That means that we've moved a bunch of our New Book collections and places some genre and topical displays in the front lobby that patrons can browse. We've also moved computers to the front of the building and are offering computer use by appointment (and drop-in as long as we've got a computer available). 

A friend and library colleague of mine Tweeted the other day about the cognitive dissonance between being in a helping, public position and being afraid to get too close to people (the public, for sure, but also coworkers). That really hit home with me and put words to the feelings I'm having, too. I miss my coworkers, but don't want to endanger myself or anyone else by starting to meet in person or dissolving our work teams and bringing the entire staff back into the building. 

Luckily, I am not the person who has to make any of those kinds of decisions for our library. So I will just keep on keeping on and doing what I can do to help our community and keep everyone as safe as possible. 

How are things where you are? 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mindy Kim series

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by Lyla Lee. Grades 1-3. 96 pages. Aladdin, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Mindy Kim has just moved to Florida and is starting a new school for the first time in the series opener of this own-voices early chapter book series. In the first book, she's nervous about making friends, especially at a school that has no other Korean kids, and after a rough first day where the kids made fun of her Korean lunch, she's sure this is going to be the worst school year ever. But when the other kids get interested in her seaweed snacks, she's sure she has found the key to friendship and maybe a way to convince her dad to get her the puppy she's always wanted, too. 

This is a really cute series that will appeal to readers who enjoy school stories and I love the details about Mindy's Korean heritage. It's got some meat to it, as well. Mindy's not only navigating a new school and a new state, but she's figuring out life without her mom who died before they moved to Florida. Now it's just her and her dad. The series isn't sad, but it does have some emotional scenes as Mindy and her dad celebrate their first Lunar New Year without her mom, train a new puppy, and Mindy runs for class president. 

Hand this series to fans of the Anna Banana series by Anica Mrose Rissi or the Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbie Michiko Florence. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Girl Versus Squirrel

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Girl Versus Squirrel by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Renée Andriani. Grades K-3rd. Holiday House, 2020. 32 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Pearl has put up bird feeders in her backyard - three different kinds. Suet went in the house-shaped one. Seeds went in the tube-shaped one. And peanuts went into the teacup. But imagine her surprise when a squirrel starts showing up and eating all the peanuts out of the feeder. Pearl is determined to figure out how to prevent the squirrel from eating all the peanuts she's putting out for the birds, but this squirrel is very wily and keeps getting the peanuts, no matter what Pearl tries. 

This is a cute and funny picture book about a problem-solving girl who eventually learns to make peace with her nemesis squirrel once she understands a little more about squirrels. The book reminded me of nothing more than this YouTube video - it's 20 minutes long, but definitely worth the time.  


It's a great story about problem solving and it includes a page of fun squirrel facts at the end of the book. This would be a great book to display or read aloud on January 21, National Squirrel Appreciation Day. 


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Best Worst Poet Ever

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The Best Worst Poet Ever by Lauren Stohler. Grades 2-5. Atheneum, 2020. 48 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Cat and Pug are both determined to become the best poet ever, but they each have very different approaches to their goals. These two artists who share a work space don't get along at first - Cat needs order and quiet; Pug needs snacks and the freedom to use his own process. But as these competing poets duel with words, they realize that their feud is sparking some great work. Imagine what a great poem they could write if they teamed up and worked together?! 

Brimming with humor, in both the poems and the illustrations, this is a really fun introduction to poetry and the creative process. Read this with any class who has reservations about your poetry unit being boring. Pug types a poem with his butt! And the text includes many different types of poems - haiku and a dual voice poem, making it a tool for introducing different styles of poems. Hand this to fans of funny verse like Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, or Alan Katz. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

I Am Not a Label

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I Am Not a Label: 34 Disabled Artists, Thinkers, Athletes, and Activists from Past and Present by Cerrie Burnell, illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo. Grades 3-7. Wide Eyed Editions, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Collective biographies - how do they do at your library? Not always great at mine, but this is one that I was thrilled to put on our shelves. This is a collection unlike any I have seen yet and it's high time to put more disability representation on our library shelves. This collective biography gathers brief bios of 34 different disabled people who have done awesome things. I really appreciate how diverse the collection is, highlighting not only people with a variety of different disabilities (physical and mental, visible and invisible), but people from around the globe and of many different races. Each of the 34 people profiles here gets a spread with a portrait and a page of information about their contributions to the world. There are folks you may have heard of here, like Frida Kahlo and Stephen Hawking and plenty of names that will probably be new, from Paralympic stars to artists to activists and more. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Dancing at the Pity Party

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Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder. Grades 6+ with crossover for adults. 208 pages. Dial Books, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

I can't do better than this publisher blurb, so here's what this book is about: 

"From before her mother's first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter, Tyler Feder tells her story in this graphic novel that is full of piercing--but also often funny--details. She shares the important post-death firsts, such as celebrating holidays without her mom, the utter despair of cleaning out her mom's closet, ending old traditions and starting new ones, and the sting of having the "I've got to tell Mom about this" instinct and not being able to act on it. This memoir, bracingly candid and sweetly humorous, is for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to get it."

I picked up the galley at PLA and I didn't read it right away, but when I saw how many holds were gathering on this title at my library, I picked it up to see what the buzz was about. I was surprised at how much I loved this book. Like... LOVED. It's not an easy read and I'm not a member of the Dead Mom Club, so it's not a story that I especially identify with, but it still struck a deep chord in me. I think it's got wide appeal for kids in middle school and high school, but also for adults, especially adults who experienced a major loss while they were in their teens or young adulthood. Readers who have experienced the loss of a parent or another close loss will find recognition and acceptance here, but even readers who have not experienced this loss should tune in for just a well-crafted and emotionally vulnerable story. Have tissues nearby, of course. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Something to Say

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Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée. Grades 5-8. 304 pages. Balzer + Bray, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

I was a huge fan of Lisa Moore Ramee's debut, A Good Kind of Trouble, and this follow up does not disappoint. Painfully shy Jenae resists the friendship advances of a somewhat weird kid at her new middle school, but when they're paired together for a debate assignment, she'll have to face her fear of public speaking. She's convinced that she can make things happen with her thoughts and blames herself for her brother's basketball injury that's kept him home from college recovering. And when her grandfather's health takes a turn for the worse, she'll have to step up and help her family in a way she's never had to before. This is a great book for readers who love character-driven stories - Jenae's character development is fantastic and I loved the slow burn friendship that eventually blossoms between the two main characters. Hand this one to fans of Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina or My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Lift

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Lift by Mihn Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat. Grades PreK-2nd. Unpaged. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This gorgeous, imaginative picture book is glorious. When little brother starts pushing the elevator buttons, a job that used to belong to big sister, she is not very happy. After an elevator mishap, she swipes a broken elevator button from the maintenance man and tapes it up in her room. When she pushes the button, she discovers that it takes her to a different, fascinating place each time. But she can't spend all her time in magical places - she has a little brother who needs her, after all. This is a book that older siblings will definitely relate to and it combines wonder and whimsy with a strong loving message about the bond of siblings.

With beautiful illustrations and a storyline that will appeal to a wide range of readers, I keep sending this book out in our book care packages as often as it appears back on the shelf. It's a story that will capture imaginations and it could be a really fun idea for an imaginative game to play. (Plus, who doesn't love pushing buttons!?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Felix Ever After

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Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. Grades 8+ 368 pages. Balzer + Bray, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. 

How do I love Felix? Let me count the ways. This is one of my favorite books of the year and I keep pressing it on readers at any opportunity. Felix Love has never been in love (ironic, huh?) and he's desperate to know what it feels like and why it seems to happen so easily for everyone but him. Black, queer, and trans, Felix worries that he doesn't fit anywhere and that he'll never find love. After an anonymous person starts sending him transphobic messages, Felix is convinced he knows who's doing it and comes up with a plan to get revenge. The one thing he's not prepared for his catfishing scheme to land him in a quasi love triangle.

This is a wonderful queer teen love story about finding yourself and really embracing your identity and declaring yourself worthy of love just as you are. Felix is trans, but still questioning his identity, even after transitioning and top surgery. Something about "boy" just doesn't always fit. He's obsessed with applying to Brown University and just as obsessed with the idea that he might not get in. His home life is okay, but his mom left and left behind some big scars. Felix starts out the book believing that he's unworthy of love. He's desperate to fall in love and be loved in return, but he's equally afraid of even trying.

I just loved Felix so much. He felt so real to me in that he was not always making the best choices and couldn't always see things that were right in front of his face. And this is a book written for all kinds of readers. Readers who may not be super familiar with the queer community will definitely get an education, but it mostly feels organic, written through the lens of Felix still questioning his own identity and learning about his community. And readers looking for trans stories should definitely pick up this own voices book.