Monday, October 31, 2011

Read in October

This month I read the following books:

1 The Inquisitor's Apprentice - Chris Moriarty

2 Forgotten - Cat Patrick
3 Blameless - Gail Carringer
4 Shut Out - Kody Keplinger
5 Divergent - Veronica Roth
6 Dash & Lily's Book of Dares - Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
7 Alice in Wonderland - Martin Powell
8 Darth Paper Strikes Back - Tom Angleberger
9 Here Comes Trouble - Michael Moore
10 Vampire Knits - Genevieve Miller
11 Forever - Maggie Stiefvater
12 Boyfriends with Girlfriends - Alex Sanchez
13 Candor - Pam Bachorz

Picture credit: A Quiet Read by William Kay Blacklock

Sunday, October 30, 2011

In My Mailbox 14

Not much this week, except for one book that hadn't really been on my radar 'til just now. The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, out next month by Margaret K. McElderry books. It's about a girl in a dystopian society where social class is determined by how many languages you can speak, and she has a magical ability to understand all of them, even though she's not supposed to. I started reading it and now I can't tear myself away!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lorax trailer

Saw The Lorax trailer for the first time today... I like the looks of it!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 16

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is:

What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Last year I went as Little Red Riding Hood, and much to my surprise, none of the trick-or-treaters I met had any idea who I was! I tried to prod them, "Hey, I'm wearing a red cape, and here's my picnic basket with treats for granny! Now do you know who I am??" They looked up at me with wide-eyes, clearly having no clue who I was supposed to be. Their parents told me that the kids didn't know the story of Red Riding Hood, because they'd decided it was too scary for them. Unbelievable!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime review

Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime
by Myra Wolfe, illustrated by Maria Monescillo
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 2011

Charlotte Jane is born with formidable oomph that keeps her one step ahead of her pirate family. "I like to get all the juice out of my days!" she says as she fearlessly tackles a particularly steep slide on the playground. "Sleep is your friend," her bearded, eyepatch-wearing, tattooed father says to a skeptical Charlotte. "No one can be hearty without it," her equally piratical looking mother adds. When Charlotte finally manages to pull an all-nighter, whispering, "Victory!" as the sun rises, she's disappointed to find that her oomph seems to have gone missing. While her parents gamely search everywhere for it, even checking the neighbor's recycling bin, Charlotte Jane is finally seduced by her featherbed. Even though she still thinks that "sleep is for landlubbers" she decides that her awesome dreams, "rip-roarers" make sleeping worthwhile after all.

Brilliant watercolor illustrations alternate full-bleed double-page spreads with pages using plenty of whitespace for contrast. The world depicted is a cheery suburban pirate-themed house. I liked the funny little details such as Charlotte's crib that appears to be fashioned out of an old rum cask. I loved her bedroom, which includes oceanic murals, a gangway plank, an oversize hammock/climbing net, and of course her ubiquitous teddy bear, One-Eyed Tom.

This would make a great bedtime read for reluctant young sleepers.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting on The Space Between

Another beautiful and mesmerizing cover. The main character is half-demon/half-angel... I wonder if this will be similar to Misfit by Jon Skovron. I really enjoyed Yovanoff's The Replacement, even though it pushed the envelope on creepiness for me. This one should be good!

The Space Between
by Brenna Yovanoff
November 2011

Daphne is the half-demon, half-fallen angel daughter of Lucifer and Lilith. Life for her is an endless expanse of time, until her brother Obie is kidnapped - and Daphne realizes she may be partially responsible. Determined to find him, Daphne travels from her home in Pandemonium to the vast streets of Earth, where everything is colder and more terrifying. With the help of the human boy she believes was the last person to see her brother alive, Daphne glimpses into his dreams, discovering clues to Obie's whereabouts. As she delves deeper into her demonic powers, she must navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels who stand in her way. But she also discovers, unexpectedly, what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda review

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
by Tom Angleberger
Amulet Books
April 2010

This middle-grade realistic fiction novel is sure to have strong boy appeal, especially for fans of Star Wars, as well as readers who enjoyed Jeff Kinney's highly-illustrated Diary of a Wimpy Kid novels. In alternating chapters, various kids chronicle their run-ins with Dwight, a geeky loner, who has taken to wearing an origami Yoda finger puppet, which then dispenses eerily accurate advice to students. For example, when Kellen asks what to do after spilling some water on his pants (looking as if he'd wet himself) Origami Yoda sagely advises, "All of your pants you must wet!" After doing so, Kellen realizes having wet pants is much less embarrassing than having a single wet spot.

The text is sprinkled with deliberately clumsy line-drawings that hearken to the kind of notebook doodles that any student might be familiar with. Just the thing for graduates of Captain Underpants and/or Geronimo Stilton, this book scratches the surface of the complex maze of boy-girl relationships of modern tweens in a fast-paced and funny way. How does Dwight do it? How does he give such great advice as Yoda? We never really find out, but there's a great geek-positive message here with (most) of the kids learning to accept Dwight as he is. The book is appended with instructions on how to make your own origami Yoda.

I purchased this book.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Water Wars review

The Water Wars
by Cameron Stracher
Sourcebooks Fire
January 2011

16 year-old Vera and her brother Will live in a dystopian future America where states have combined resources in their battle to keep and retain what little potable water still exists. Her hardscrabble existence changes with the arrival of mysterious newcomer Kai who appears to have a limitless supply of water and money.

The plotline with Vera's sick mother seemed a little melodramatic for my taste - her mother is generally too weak and bedridden to convey much personality at all. While Vera has some stirrings of feeling for Kai, on the whole, their relationship is very tentative. Water Wars is certain to be compared to Pam Bachorz's Drought, but the feel is very different. I was actually reminded more of The City of Ember by Jeanne Dupreau. Vera and her brother seem so childlike, it would have made more sense if they were only 12 or 13.

Vera's theory that Kai's father is a black-market water trader seems like a plausible one, and the revelation that Kai actually has a magical ability to dowse for water is surprising. When Kai disappears, Vera and Will go on a quest to find him, and meet up with some water pirates, eco-terrorists who are ready to blow up dams in Canada in order to prove that the water shortages are false.

As beautiful as the cover is, I almost wish there had been a different design - the amazing headshot of Vera with the water eyelash will likely draw in YA readers who will be disappointed by the anemic romance. The fast-moving plot, pulse-pounding action sequences, naive main characters and clear-cut villains of The Water Wars might be better marketed to a middle-grade audience.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bookshelf Wall

I know a lot of people would love a full wall bookcase... I'm a little afraid of heights though. This would be too tall for me!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

O Canada

Sometimes after a hard week of reviewing, it's good to just sit and watch some Shatner videos, you know what I mean?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 15

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Jennifer at Crazy for Books.

This week's question is:

What's your favorite candy?

What a good question... I don't really like most candy. I don't like sugar for it's own sake, although I do like sweet things. I do like chocolate. Hmmm. If I had to pick, I guess I'd say Reese's Peanut Butter cups.

When I was very young, one of the first movies I ever saw was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder. The movie gave me nightmares! Sure, sure, everyone's scared of the Oompa Loompas, but the scary boat ride, the girl who blows up into a blueberry, the scene where they lick wallpaper and fly away? The whole thing is full of trippy moments like that. In grade school, I was encouraged to read the book, and not judge it by the movie... but the opening scene has four decrepit grandparents all sleeping in the same bed which seemed a little creepy to me too. I've harbored a deep distrust of Mr. Roald Dahl ever since.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sniffles for Bear review

The Sniffles for Bear
by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Candlewick Press
September 2011

Have you ever had a terrible cold? A case of the flu, or sniffles so bad, you thought you just might die? That's what Bear is experiencing, and when his irrepressibly cheerful friend Mouse comes to visit, Bear's not certain that Mouse appreciates the gravity of the situation! Despite Mouse's best efforts to comfort him (reading bedtime stories, singing songs, even playing the banjo) Bear is having none of it.

When Bear starts melodramatically reading his will, with Mouse helpfully reminding him of material goods he might have omitted, and cheering over the thought of inheriting Bear's favorite pair of roller skates, Bear roars, "Have you no decency?" and promptly passes out, snoring the whole time. Soon enough, Bear is right as rain... but his poor caretaker, Mouse, has come down with the illness. Fortunately, Mouse appears to be bearing up a little better while under the weather than certain folks we could mention.

Watercolor, ink and gouche illustrations in softly rendered tones lend a certain kind of dignity to the over-the-top Bear and his tiny but effervescent friend Mouse. This gently humorous tale will suit preschoolers through second graders just fine.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Waiting on Darker Still

I love the cover for this one. And I'm in the mood for something Pride-and-Prejudice-ish. The part about the painting makes me think of Mary Downing Hahn's The Doll in the Garden.

Darker Still
by Leanna Renee Hieber
Sourcebooks Fire
November 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeNew York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart's latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing... Jonathan Denbury's soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Princess Curse review

The Princess Curse
by Merrie Haskell
Harper Collins
September 2011

In this re-telling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, 13 year-old Reveka is an apprentice herbalist in a medieval castle in Romania. She's striving to find some kind of herbal cure to the curse that seems to make the twelve princesses shoes fall apart, and causes them to be sleepy all day. Frighteningly, anyone who tries to observe the princesses at night is stricken by a coma. Whoever breaks the curse will be rewarded with either one of princess's hands in marriage, or a great sum of money. Reveka is hoping to come up with the cash to continue her studies as a master herbalist.

This is a richly imagined world full of little details that truly bring everything to life. I liked Reveka's sense of humor and pragmatic sensibility. After much research, she comes up with the makings of an invisibility cap, and discovers the dancing princesses underneath the castle. This portion reminded me of Beauty and the Beast as the princesses have been held captive by a zmeu - a shape-changing dragon who is trying to convince one of them to give up her mortal life to marry him and remain in the Underworld. Here, the story takes a definite turn towards the Persephone legend, as Reveka bargains for the princesses freedom in exchange for her own. While she agrees to marry the zmeu - and she's startled to learn that she even had a little crush on him in his human form of Prince Frumos, she's disgusted by his demonic form, that of Lord Dragos. Her father, and her loyal sheepherder friend Mihas attempt to rescue her from the underground kingdom with limited success. She holds out on eating or drinking anything, knowing that will bind her permanently to the land. In the meantime, Reveka decides to investigate the failing flora in her new kingdom, something which holds the key to zmeu's waning power. The pressing magical darkness is another hurdle Reveka has to overcome as she struggles to hold on to her former life aboveground. Her decision to finally give in and eat the pomegranate seeds is tempered by her clever ability to bargain a compromise with Dragos for visiting time in the world above where the princesses are happily married off to foreign princes, and even Reveka's father finds happiness with a new wife.

Despite their marriage and some stirrings of feelings between Reveka and Dragos, as well as the unrequited feelings that Mihas seems to have for Reveka, on the whole, this does not read like your typical love-triangle YA novel. Reveka's marriage feels more like something out of a fairy-tale and very much in line with the middle-grade audience for this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Juliet Immortal review

Juliet Immortal
by Stacey Jay
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
August 2011

I have to say, I'd heard a little bit about this re-telling of the Romeo and Juliet story, and thought it might read a bit more like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Instead, it was nothing like that. I was pleasantly surprised by the reinterpretation of this story. In this version, Romeo and Juliet are traveling through time - inhabiting the bodies of star-crossed lovers who've had near-death experiences. In each incarnation, Juliet, who is working for the Ambassadors (presumably the good guys) has a limited amount of time to get the couple back together again. Romeo, who sacrificed Juliet (and in some ways, himself) to the Mercenaries in exchange for eternal life, catches up with her, possessing a newly dead body each time, and tries to foil her plans.

This go around, Juliet finds herself in the body of Ariel Dragland, a shy blonde teenager in the small California town of Solvang. After a reckless driving accident, Romeo is in possession of the body of Dylan, the school bully and sometime crush of Ariel's. There are a few hints that are dropped that all is not right - Juliet/Ariel has never seen Romeo track her down so quickly before. She's noticed that the gaps between each mission are growing shorter and shorter. Nurse, her Ambassador handler, has gone missing. She's beginning to wonder if the Ambassadors have her well-being at heart after all.

As Ariel, she's landed in the middle of a tricky situation. Ariel's been recovering from severe burns she received as a child. Years of surgery have restored her looks, but not her confidence, as she copes with a strained relationship with her single mom, and an overbearing best friend, Gemma. I had trouble visualizing Ariel's ugly/pretty look - she's supposed to be a former burn victim, but she's also supposed to have an elfin, delicate beauty, with scars that only add to her unique look. Juliet explains that once she's inhabiting someone's body, she picks up their language, memory and abilities, and she's pleased that she and Ariel share a "soul gift" - both are talented artists. I liked the kind of maturity and distance that Juliet brings to the situation. When Ariel is in a fight with her mom, Juliet decides to let some matters drop, instead of escalating the situation. They end up having a heart-to-heart talk that is very healing for them both. Juliet is very conscious of wanting to leave her host's relationships better than when she found them, which made me wonder how and what her former hosts remember after she leaves them and returns to the void she inhibits while waiting to be pulled to Earth again. The last thing Juliet expects is to be slammed with "love at first sight" feelings for sensitive and kind Latino transfer student Ben. Unfortunately, she feels duty-bound to stick to her mission and try to fix him up with Gemma, who is glowing with the aura of true love. Juliet also has to avoid Romeo/Dylan's attempts to kill her - he truly comes across as a psychopath, coming up with whatever threats and lies that cross his mind just to try to distress her. Ben, on the other hand, is a total fantasy - no high school boy in the world has ever been so kind and virtuous and good. He instantly falls head-over-heels for Ariel/Juliet and within a few days is already talking marriage.

I was curious if readers not familiar with Solvang, CA would get the references to Danish windmills, tourists, and of course, easy access to wine country, with most high school students finding it easy to host bootleg wine parties.

Wow, the ending! I had a few of my own favorite pet theories brewing, and I sure didn't see that ending coming. I had been hoping that Juliet would realize that she'd been a dolt - that every time she'd been deposited into someone else's life mid-stream, it was actually a chance for her to grab a chance at happiness and realize there is no such thing as a "one true love" pre-destined by fate. I was shocked by the revelation of Gemma's relationship with a teacher, and more shocked by the Ambassadors cold admission that they were going to somehow use the psychic power of the relationship, which suits them just fine. The actual ending felt like a bit of a muddle to me, with time traveling, alternate realities, awful fates for most of our modern day characters (if we find out what happens to them at all!) and Romeo getting the last word. Normally, I'm not one to recommend a book with such a let-down of an ending, but it was still such an enjoyable read - brace yourself for the oddness at the end (perhaps it will all be addressed in a sequel??) and you will enjoy it. I really liked the characters of Juliet/Ariel and Ben, they made the book worthwhile for me.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Tweak, Tweak review

Tweak, Tweak
by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
Clarion Books
May 2011

A sweet little adventure story about a baby elephant and her mother who spend the day taking a stroll. Sergio Ruzzier's pen and ink and watercolor illustrations which have verged on the melancholy or surreal in earlier offerings such as Amandina and Hey, Rabbit!, are simply charming here.

Little Elephant holds onto Mama's tail (the elephant version of holding hands) and is encouraged to tweak her mother's tail when she has a question. Passing by a jumping frog, a climbing monkey, a swimming crocodile and more, Little Elephant asks her mother if she can do what the other animals are doing. I loved the imaginative two-page spreads as Little Elephant pictures herself leaping, flying and singing, and Mama Elephant gently reminds her of more elephantine alternatives: spraying herself with water from her trunk, scratching against a tree, and so on. There's a comforting cadence to the repeating refrain "Did that feel good my little elephant? Very good, Mama. And on they went."

I loved Little Elephant's furrowed brow of determination as she tries out stomping her feet, and the serene smile she wears when she remembers the way home and leads Mama Elephant behind her. This cozy read is just right for preschoolers.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Afterlife review

by Claudia Gray
March 2011

I have to say, I was fairly skeptical about this finale to the Evernight series. Bianca is dead, but still around as a mostly non-corporeal wraith. Her star-crossed lover Lucas has unwillingly been turned into a vampire. How much of a romance can this be with two leads who are both dead, only one of whom has a body??

Bianca and Lucas both still have that very restrained, mature approach to life - possibly because they're both only children, raised in circumstances where they don't interact much with other people their own age. (In Bianca's case, her parents and family friends are not just decades older, but in some cases, centuries older.) At several points in the story, it felt as if Bianca and Lucas were college seniors, not high school seniors. Their loyal vampire friends hunky Balthazar and quirky, about-a-thousand-years-behind-the-times Ranulf as well as human Vic all get the opportunity to assist Bianca and Lucas as they fight their way back to Evernight boarding school and attempt to figure out if there's any cure for their predicament.

We get a lot more of Evernight Academy's headmistress Mrs. Bethany's backstory in this novel, and the mystery of how and why the wraiths are connected to humans being admitted to the secretive formerly all-vampire academy is revealed. Did I miss something? Whatever became of Balthazar's sister, the threatening and insane vampire Charity?

Gray shocks readers yet again, with another surprising and unbelievable twist at the end of this book. While dramatic endings should be expected by now, it's honestly, a turn that readers will not see coming. I want to say more, but I don't want to spoil it, either. The ending wasn't satisfying, but it didn't want me to make me throw the book across the room either. It was ho-hum. It wasn't the ending I was hoping for, but I am intrigued by Balthazar, the planned spin-off novel of this series, which seems to promise a more exciting and less syrupy-sweet storyline.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Illustrated Envelopes

After working for 30 years in children's book publishing, Klaus Flugge amassed quite a collection of illustrated envelopes from famous authors and illustrators. Check out the Guardian article for more pictures. I'd love to see these turned into a book!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Red Glove review

Red Glove
by Holly Black
Margeret K. McElderry
April 2011

This book was amazing! Spoiler alert... it's rather impossible to discuss Red Glove without revealing some major plot points from the first book, so if you haven't read White Cat yet, I strongly advise readers to start there first.

17 year-old Cassel Sharpe struggles in his new role as a curseworker - a loosely organized crime family of people with paranormal abilities over others, activated by touch. Cassel has one of the rarest and most powerful abilities: shapeshifting. After years of having his memories manipulated by his brother, Cassel no longer has any idea who to trust. Worse yet, his well-meaning, but irresponsible mother has compulsed his longtime crush Lila into irrationally falling in love with him. Cassel is, at heart, a really good person. And that's why he finds his family's life of crime so very difficult. He knows if he gives in to what Lila "claims" she wants from him, he will essentially be guilty of rape... something he's definitely not prepared to live with. He has a fine offer of employment with one of the largest crime bosses where a life of luxury and ease, fast cars, beautiful women and fear-tinged admiration from his fellow criminals awaits him. But embracing such a lifestyle means that he'll be helping murderers escape justice. Cooperating with the Feds would seem to be an easy choice, except for the fact that they have a scarcely disguised contempt for him (as they do for all magical folk) and want him to rat out his own family. Plans are secretly being formed by the Feds to force the entire population to take a test, proving whether they are "cursed" or not and I enjoyed reading about a counter-movement rally where protesters shock people by taking off their gloves - which in this world is about as verboten as going around fully nude.

A fast moving plot with more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at makes for a thrilling read. I was reminded strongly of M.T. Anderson's Thirsty, a modern-day, love-gone-wrong story about a seemingly doomed teenage va
mpire trying to escape his fate. Cassel's trying to play the part of double-agent, loyal to none but himself, but it's a dangerous line to walk. Does he have the fortitude to carry out his elaborate deception on all sides? Will he get all the information (some of it locked in his own memory-addled brain) he needs in time? 

I loved Cassel's boarding school roommate's description of him... as a tiger who thought he was a housecat, someone who implicitly gives off an aura of sleek dangerousness without even realizing it. And Cassel's meeting with Lila's crime boss father was also fantastic, as Mr. Zacharov explains to him that it's one thing to dream of winning the lottery and being a millionaire, and it's quite another to actually suddenly actually be a billionaire. It's so much money, it's so much power, most people have no idea what to do with it, which is exactly the situation that Cassel finds himself in after tapping into his shapechanging abilities.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to mention that it crossed my mind, when Cassel turned himself into a cat to get out of a tricky situation, I feared that he'd be trapped as a cat until another curseworker could change him back. There's some kind of internal logic to how his power works so that wasn't the case.

The story gets a bit bogged down in details of an elaborate info-gathering caper towards the end of the book - these kind of "perfect crime" stories should work like clockwork... every person perfectly in place, every disguise used, every lie, simple but necessary. I felt it got a tad overly complicated towards the end, and even though Cassel is under incredible duress I was surprised at how many little (but ultimately very important) details he overlooks. It rachets up the tension, certainly, as his mission becomes more precarious with each error that he makes, but armchair quarterbacking, I lost respect for him the same way you might downgrade your opinion of an Olympic skater for not hitting a triple-lutz perfectly. So what will happen? Is Lila's love for Cassel real? Will he ever carve out a decent, semi-normal life for himself? Will he ever learn how to trust people again? Should he? I can't wait for the third book in this riveting series.

I purchased this book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Waiting on Black Heart

I put off reading White Cat, the first in Holly Black's Curse Workers series for the longest time, because I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype, but once I'd read the first book, I knew that I didn't want to delay in reading the sequel. I read Red Glove in a flash. Now I've got to wait until April of 2012 for the third book! Torture, I tell you, torture!

Black Heart
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry
April 2012

Cassel Sharpe knows he’s been used as an assassin, but he’s trying to put all that behind him. He’s trying to be good, even though he grew up in a family of con artists and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. He’s trying to do the right thing, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy.

But with a mother on the lam, the girl he loves about to take her place in the Mob, and new secrets coming to light, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, he needs to sort out what’s a con and what’s truth. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Amazing bookmark idea

Wow, so pretty! I'm kind of in love with these bookmarks made from paint chips. I wondered how they got the flower pattern on them, and after some googling around, I think they must have used a flower stamp. I love the grommet with ribbon... so classy. This would be a fun project to do at the library.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Library Cartoon

More madness from the delightfully deranged brain of Grant Snider. Do check out his blog if you haven't already. Most of his cartoons are available as full size posters. Here's one I'm enchanted with. I love all the details! Check out the teen section with "sexy vampire novels" on one side and "sexy werewolf novels" on the other side. And the Harry Potter closet! And the Grumpy Librarian vs. Overly-Friendly Librarian (I have been both, in my time, I must admit.) See the homage to Maurice Sendak and Pee-wee Herman in the children's corner? Look out for Shelob, Enforcer of Library Fines. What's your favorite part of this illustration?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Zombie in Love review

Zombie in Love
by Kelly DiPuccio, illustrated by Scott Campbell
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
August 2011

What's a lovelorn zombie to do? Mortimer tries all his best romantic moves on the ladies, gifting them with a maggoty box of chocolates, a shiny red (still beating?) heart, even a diamond ring (unfortunately, with decomposing finger still attached) all to no avail. Desperate, he finally puts out a personal ad, (to the tune of Escape, The Pina Colada Song) "If you like taking walks in the graveyard/and falling down in the rain. If you're not into cooking,/if you have half a brain./If you like waking up at midnight,/horror films, and voodoo,/then I'm the guy who you've looked for/and I'm dying to meet you!" Attending Cupid's Ball in hopes of scoring a date, he gives each of the attractive young ladies who approaches him a smile, "like this" (a close-up picture of Mortimer's gaping snaggle-toothed smile is featured.) Just as he's nearly about to give up, he finally meets the girl of his dreams - a zombie named Mildred.

Soft watercolor illustrations in a slightly muted palette of colors give what could be a genuinely scary or gross story an undeniably cute charm. The illustrations are chock-full of little details, like Mortimer's coffee cup emblazoned with the slogan, "I (brain) Brains" or his computer mouse that is actually a mouse. Mortimer's zombie dog manages to make a dangling eyeball and exposed ribcage seem adorable. Best of all, are Mortimer's constant companions, and first-rate wingmen, a family of busy worms that follow him wherever he goes. I also enjoyed the "brain cake" the Mortimer dishes up on his picnic date with Mildred. I guess it's easy to draw the conclusion that if you're unlucky in love, the surest way to happiness is to lower your standards. Or maybe the moral is, there's someone for everyone.

As a librarian, I love that this story will be equally appropriate for Halloween and Valentine's Day. Yay! Two holidays for the price of one! I'll recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the macabre and funny mash-up of holidays of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and to first and second-graders with a sense of humor.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Re:Imagine Ed Wordle

Last month's Re:Imagine Ed Next Chapter Summit was so intense, I'm still pondering over some of the ideas we generated. Here's a wordle from my write-up of the event.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bunheads review

by Sophie Flack
October 2011

19 year-old Hannah Ward has given up most of her childhood in pursuit of her dreams... a spot in the corps de ballet of the famous Manhattan Ballet Company. As a very worldly teenager, she's already been living in Manhattan for several years, and is slowly but surely attempting to work her way to the top of the heap in her clique-ish, exclusive world.

When I first heard about this book, I thought for certain it would be some kind of exploration of body issues, and maybe an anorexia book with touches of evil competitiveness a lá Black Swan. That is the stereotype of the hard-driving, ambitious, slightly-crazy ballerina, right? I was pleased that the book dispels those ideas immediately. Hannah's not anorexic - she's always been naturally slim. It's just her natural body type. She eats healthy, but "cheats" every now and then with a big bowl of pasta or (thanks to lax city bartenders) the occasional glass of wine. She doesn't hate her fellow dancers - they are her best friends and constant companions. She doesn't even consider herself a true "ballerina." She's a ballet dancer, but she's not a star. For her, it's a living.

Flack's own experience as a dancer lends lots of realistic details to the book. Hannah and her friends are heartily sick of The Nutcracker, a perennial audience favorite which is physically challenging yet artistically boring. They are tired of having to dance through filthy re-used plastic snow every night, which then wends it's way into everything: hair, clothes, even the utensil drawer at home ends up with stray bits of dirty white fluff.

Another detail I didn't expect, but found completely believable was the staff of professional masseuses and sports doctors on hand to treat the ballet dancers - massaging them into shape, even offering an ultrasound machine in the basement, where dancers are invited to wand their tired bones back into fighting form again.

When Hannah meets Jacob, a gorgeous college-student musician, they are both instantly equally smitten. Hannah soon realizes just how all-encompassing her schedule really is as she struggles to make time for him. I loved how from her perspective, she sees Jacob, "all the time" - bending over backwards to call in favors and skipping classes in order to get in a simple date. From Jacob's perspective, he almost never sees Hannah. He likes her a lot... and he'll wait patiently for her, but even so, a man has his limits. In fact, Hannah is only seeing Jacob every couple of months - to her, with a jam-packed routine where every moment is either devoted to rehearsals, auditions, performances or classes, it really does seem like time flies. It would be so much easier to continue to ensconce herself in the world of the "bunheads" - the serious ballet dancers, and date the charming son of one of the ballet company's most generous benefactors.

As Hannah puts on a little weight, she's mortified to have to wear a bra for the first time. A few critical comments from her dance director leave her feeling shaky and unsure of herself. Again, I liked how this is a brief crisis of conscience, rather than an all-encompassing quest for her. I thought Hannah's main struggle was in how her ballet colleagues - who have been her entire universe - will most certainly judge her if she chooses to dial back on what is already a short-lived career for "some boy." Ultimately, Hannah has to do what feels right for her, and I liked being inside her head as she thoughtfully considers her options.

Romantic, funny and totally absorbing, I loved this look into the life of a dancer who struggles with "work/life balance," on a grand scale. I highly recommend this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

State of the Cybils 2011

Okay! With a few necessary adjustments to the eligibility rules this year, The Cybils Awards ensconces itself even more firmly among the United States. In their own words, "we've gotten so big and la-di-da we can be a bit pickier now." So this year, ONLY books published in the United States or Canada are eligible. Makes sense to me. If British (or Ugandan or Australian, or where-ever-arian) bloggers want an award, they can start their own version of the Cybils, right? As for the home-grown Cybils award, "nuts to books published by them furriners who can't be bothered to furnish a few US or Canadian bookstores with copies." Right?? Right.

Last year, I took a look at where Cybils judges w
ere located (in a general sense, of course... I'm not publishing anyone's street address, or anything, for goodness sakes.)

Last year, I thought I saw a fairly decent spread of representation nationwide. A few foreigners, to be sure (mainly from E
nglish-speaking countries) and most U.S. states had a representative, with urban population centers looking decidedly darker on the map. Only four judges from outside the U.S. this year. I predict that number will dwindle in years to come.

This year, what a surpr
ise! I'm glad I repeated this little experiment, if nothing else for showing me how very clearly the Cybils judging panel is made of... former Cybils judges. Not a lot of new blood this year. And yet! There's an interesting shift... California, despite the high cost of living, is far and away, the top state for judges. With an impressive 19 judges total, no other state even comes close. Texas makes a sturdy showing with 9 judges total. As was the case last year, the greater Washington, D.C. area splits it's votes among several states. Huge swath of the Midwest looking decidedly underrepresented, but again, I suppose that's to be expected in "flyover" states that boast a larger population of livestock than people.  Compare last year's judges to this year's to get a sense of how the population has shifted.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Weeding Wednesday 5

Here's another item I'm pulling from the shelves this week.

Here's a quote from the jacket: Their move from New York City to a quiet Pennsylvania town has a profound effect on sixteen-year-old twin sisters with unusual talents and unusual parents, but with little else in common.

Gosh, this sounds like it fits in with so many trends going on right now: twins, paranormal. It could be a cool read. But, that cover just won't cut the mustard with my young patrons. This book hasn't circulated in over a decade! Books have got to earn their place on the shelves. This is one that we've got to cut.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cybils nominations 2011

Nominations are open for Cybils awards. Haven't heard of the Cybils yet? You should definitely check them out. I think of them as the blogging world's answer to the ALA Youth media awards which includes the Caldecott, Newbery, Printz awards, etc.

Here are the titles I put forth.

Teen Fantasy/SF: Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay
Middle Grade Fantasy/SF: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Teen Fiction: Pink by Lili Wilkinson
Poetry: Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engel
Fiction Picture Books: A Zeal of Zebras by Woop Studios
Graphic Novels Teen: The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay
Middle Grade Fiction: Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

I'm really rooting for all of these. There are a few more categories, especially non-fiction, that I didn't nominate for, because I just didn't feel that I had read enough in that area... and all the titles in middle-grade graphic novels that I liked have already been nominated!

Read something great this year that you think deserves a spot on the list? Hurry over to the Cybils site to make your nominations before October 15.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Re:Imagine Ed Next Chapter Summit Part II

Here are my notes from Day 2 and 3 of the Re:Imagine Ed conference. It was, as you can imagine an intense, exhilarating and exhausting weekend. We worked continuously for 12+ hours on Day 2, and about 8 hours on Day 3.

Day 2:


Meet w/ teams - make introductions
At a rough guesstimate, I’d have to say Cohort B consisted of roughly 30 people. We were then subdivided into working teams of 5 or 6 people. With the exception of myself, everyone in my group was an elementary school librarian.

Meet “mentors” - design professionals guiding each group
Each group was given a packet with information on our challenge.

I had an interesting conversation with some of the designers this morning. They asked what I thought of the conference so far, and I took and risk and confessed that I was excited by everyone’s energy, and I liked so much of what they had to say, but then... I felt like the creative team was jumping off a cliff, into something I didn’t understand. Like, a speaker would pace along the stage and say something like, “Library. Is. Verb.” and I had NO idea what that meant. Okay, you said it slowly and importantly, and then gazed triumphantly around the room. I don’t think that’s the same as actually saying something worthwhile! I hated feeling like the jerk who had to announce that the emperor had no clothes. I wanted to be part of the fun - but in all honesty, I couldn’t “fake it” when it came to things like this. Much to my surprise, they laughed and agreed, and said they’d try to find some ways to communicate a little better.

Step 1: Look at survey research gathered from K-12 students

Share w/ group observations that seemed important or interesting to you in the research
These observations were noted on giant paper.
I was pleased that several important questions regarding the surveys we’d been given were immediately addressed by our group. How large were the sample sizes? What was the age/gender/income level of the people who were responding? Was there any kind of bias inherent in librarians asking their students for feedback on libraries while in a library setting? Any kind of self-selection bias to these surveys? We didn’t have the answers to any of those questions, and were forced to plunge ahead with the information we had at hand. Here’s what we came up with:

Include me
Many of the students surveyed said they wanted to be surveyed more, they wanted their opinions to matter, they wanted the opportunity to give feedback and book reviews on library websites.

Books matter
Interestingly, many of the young people surveyed reported that they still highly valued books. They saw books on equal par with online resources and wanted both types of materials at the library.

Overwhelmingly, young people wanted the comfort of their living rooms in a library. They wanted soft seating, the ability to bring snacks, clean, well-lit spaces with natural light. They wanted study rooms so they could meet with groups and socialize, but they also wanted designated quiet areas.

Interestingly, I got into a side-conversation with my cohorts - all highly educated folks, passionate about life-long learning (in short, potentially our ideal patrons) who told me they don’t go to public libraries much, because of the homeless who spend their time there. They felt that homelessness and libraries went hand-in-hand and far from being considered a problem, public libraries should embrace their role as a safe place for homeless to go and step up to the task by providing showers, sleeping cots, and social services. (Several of them were very emphatic on that point about providing showers.) They felt very good that homeless people had a place to go. They appeared to view public libraries as community centers valuable for the space they provide and saw their school libraries as “true libraries” where books and learning would be the focus.

Step 2: Based on those observations, we did some drawings of ideal interactions in a K-12 library


Provocateurs speak
In what was referred to as a “keynote slam” several well-respected designers and librarians each gave short 10-minute talks.
Nancy Giordano gave a talk as a brand futurist. She claimed that 95% of people crave mastery of a subject, 5% crave new experiences. She said team workers who work outside their job description often excel, because they are more innovative.
David Staley gave a very visceral talk about using smell to process or present information.
Helene Blowers from Columbia Public Library gave a talk about playfulness in the library - demonstrated with a bubble machine. She averred that if you graduated library school in 2008, you are already a dinosaur.

Step 3: Prototyping
Based on our earlier drawings we then “prototyped” - writing concrete items, policies, etc. that could be implemented on to Post-It Notes.

Another  break for provocateurs
Tom LaForge of Coca-Cola gave a talk about how communities will be getting smaller and more local in the future.
Devin Moore gave a talk about how values change over time.
Carl DiSalvo gave a talk about using maps as musical instruments by recording ambient sound.
Trung Le gave a talk about faster than light neutrinos and some good design ideas including “do no harm” (children should have spaces that are as well-designed and comfortable as the spaces that adults get.)

Step 4: Sorting ideas
Our ideas are now posted on the wall in one of 3 categories: “Do Tomorrow” - easy implementable ideas, “Valuable” - things to work on right away, even though they may not be completed in a single day, and “Further Thought” - pipe-dream type stuff
After some arranging and re-arranging of ideas (and Post-its) we take our “valuable” ideas to work on further.

Step 5: Ranking ideas
Each of those ideas were entered into a spreadsheet, with points assigned for the scale of the project, the cost, the time to implement, etc. As we’d been warned, some of our most breathtaking ideas only ended up with a fair to middling grade, because of one or other of its’ aspects had some inherent difficulty. Cheap, easy, global innovations naturally rose to the top. Our sub-cohort chose our top 4 ideas. We then re-grouped with our larger cohort to further combine our best bets so we could land on the best of the best. We experienced some “creative abrasion” which is a really polite way of saying that at this point, conference attendees had spent nearly 12 hours continuously brainstorming. Many people reported feeling “fried” and tempers ran high as we debated which ideas to work on. We did finally settle on 4 very excellent ideas, and after reformulating our groups, called it an evening.

The winning ideas in our cohort were:

  • The ever-changing library
  • The library as social buzzing place
  • Global collaboration
  • Student/teacher video talks patterned after the TED talks (it turns out we were right on the money with this one... a few days after the conference, TED announced they were putting together exactly this:

Day 3:

We had 3 hours in the morning to work on creating a presentation for the larger group. Honestly, this felt a lot like being a contestant on Project Runway. It was not nearly enough time to come up with something you could really be proud of, but you just had to “make it work,” as Tim Gunn would say. I was excited to be working with a new group of diverse people, including a
middle-school librarian, an interior decorator, a graphic designer, a library consultant and a school administrator.
A working lunch. It's crunchtime!
We generated some really positive progress, but then broke down a bit, as half the group favored presenting a skit of some kind, with the other half rooting for a slide presentation, and a lone hold-out who was not happy with either of these ideas. We scrambled to come up with a last-minute presentation - a hybrid of an improv skit paired with a Powerpoint. To be honest, I was less than pleased with our final product, as a lot of compromises had to be made. To my surprise, our talk was very well received. I do think we were greater than the sum of our parts and came up with some really valuable ideas.

Our slide show is here.

One idea our team came up with the idea of making a library like a zoo. People were excited about the idea of offering pets, especially rabbits to check out. Now, obviously there are a tremendous number of problems with this idea. I’m not even going to bother to point out all the things that could go wrong with such a program, as the challenges inherent in such an undertaking are too many to list. But! The reasons to do something like this would be that it’s something truly innovative, certain to capture the attention of the media and possibly create some interest, new learning experiences and fun around the library.

We also came up with a great tagline: “Homework Hacking Hosted Here” A lot of people use the term, “hacking” just to mean taking a shortcut that makes life better. Using the library could be a way to “hack” your homework - get it done faster.

Decorate the library with fairy doors for a sense of whimsy and fun.

Buffy Hamilton and a few others ran into some creative differences and broke off to form a new “Cohort D” Their presentation was based on comparing the movie Field of Dreams to libraries. I was not very familiar with the movie, and didn’t understand most of their presentation. I got the sense that the conference hosts were eager to reward non-conformity - so you had to approach many of their challenges and projects as double-speak. They’d tell you to work closely with your group, but then praise you for doing the opposite.

Another group came up with the idea of a kitchen island in the library, as your mobile technology and workstation area.

One group came up with a library design that looked like a tree... with stacks beneath (like roots) and terraced levels for socializing above.

In short, here are some of the ideas that kept coming up over and over again during the course of the weekend:

  • Remove borrowing limits, remove late fees to increase customer satisfaction and increase circulation
  • Create permanent workspaces that could be reserved for use (I saw this idea as being far more practical in a school setting with a limited number of students, but several presenters suggested setting up tinker’s labs or robot-building labs in public libraries)
  • Hand out condoms in libraries. Provide social services.
  • Modular furniture, including rolling bookcases for ultimate flexibility in the library space
  • Folding walls, again for flexible space, creating study rooms when needed, larger spaces when needed - libraries could be designed like a black box theatre - an infinitely flexible space
  • Yoga chairs and rocking chairs are greatly appreciated by ADHD students who can’t sit still
  • Student involvement in creating displays
  • Idea Paint to turn walls into whiteboards
  • A suggestion box so patrons can be heard - so simple, so easy to do. Does your library have one?
  • Everyone felt that iPads were amazing devices - that they change the way people learn and think and they are nothing short of extraordinary. Most private schools thought it would be ideal for each and every students to be issued an iPad, some were already doing so. Do I think iPads will be made available for loan at the public library? Not anytime soon, although a few public libraries are already doing so.
  • Everyone was very, very excited about TED talks. If you haven’t seen any yet, you should check them out. They are pretty great.
On the whole, this was a conference that was heavily geared towards the issues and concerns facing private school libraries, but it was interesting to get the chance to attend... many of the ideas that were presented are ones that I’m sure would translate well to use in public libraries, and if nothing else, it’s helpful, as a children’s librarian in a public setting, to know what is happening in the parallel field of school libraries.

Continue checking the Re:Imagine Ed website as they compile other blog posts, design challenge information and resources generated over the course of the summit weekend.

Resources recommended to me:

Brockman, John. This Will Change Everything, Ideas That Will Shape The Future. HarperCollins, 2010.

Carse, James P. Finite And Infinite Games. Ballantine Books, 1987.

Christensen, Clayton M., Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson. Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change The Way The World Learns. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.

Web resources:

TED talks:

Brain Pickings:

Pecha Kucha:
(If I understand correctly, these are a series of fast-moving slide-shows put on by architects and designers - as a side note, one of the best slide show talks I ever gave the slides were accidentally on fast-forward, forcing me to jump through my talk faster than anticipated. Everyone's feedback was that it was the most exciting slide show talk they'd seen in a long time and they appreciated having time at the end for questions.)
An alternate to Powerpoint:

A newsy Facebook alternative:

Resources I recommended to others:

Burke, James. The Day The Universe Changed. Little Brown & Co, 1985.

Edwards, Margaret A. The Fair Garden And The Swarm Of Beasts, The Library And The Young Adult. ALA Editions, 2002.


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