Saturday, April 28, 2012

"D" video

A friend forwarded me this awesome animated short about a homicidal pen and a very resourceful letter D.

"D" - animated short film from Closed Eye Visuals | DP on Vimeo.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Picture book mini-reviews

How do we like this? I'm putting up some "mini-reviews" of picture books I've been reading recently. Not a full review, not really, just my quick thoughts on each.

Extra Yarn
by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray
January 2012

Sweet and wonderful. Annabelle has a passion for knitting and an endless box of yarn. Soon, the whole town is bedecked with her creations. This heartwarming, inventive story could be a Caldecott contender, for sure.

I borrowed this book.

I'm Adopted!
by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
Holiday House
August 2011

A basic introduction to the idea of what adoption is, and how adopted families come to be formed. Covers both international and domestic adoption. Plenty of bright, clear photographs of diverse children in happy families - this book should corner the market for introductory adoption books for young families and the early-education classroom for a good decade or so - at least until the photos begin to look dated.

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

One Cool Friend
by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small
Dial Books
January 2012

Cute! Very formal little boy Elliot gets a penguin for a pet. Often left to his own devices in elegant surroundings, he reminded me of a male Eloise. Mostly black and white drawings are accentuated with pops of color. Bonus points for the mannish, pink-haired librarian! A good surprise ending with his father and another unexpected pet.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Never Forgotten
by Patricia McKissack, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Random House Children's Books
October 2011

Incredible! A boy from an African village, raised by his single father, with the help of his guardian angels, the four elements, is captured and sold into slavery. Gorgeous colorful woodcut-style illustrations are packed with hidden details, including skulls on the slave trader's boats. The elements of earth, fire, water and air search for him, and return news to his father that his son is all right, making his living as a metalworker. A powerful modern folktale.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Waiting on Insurgent

Love this series! I can't wait to find out more about the other factions.

by Veronica Roth
May 2012

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth's much-anticipated second book of the dystopian Divergent series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Drama Llama

photo by iregretjumping
Unfortunate rumors are swirling about one of YA book blogger's top celebrities, The Story Siren. It appears that she's plagiarized some material from another blog. I am incredibly bummed out about this.

More posts, with more details, here and here.

There is so much that I like about Kristi at The Story Siren:

  • Her incredibly successful (and sometimes controversial) meme, In My Mailbox draws the participation of 300+ bloggers a week. While many have said that these posts seem braggy, "Look how much publishers love me, more than you! My swag! Let me tell you of it!," her apologist answer was that she never asked for all this free stuff publishers send her, and she genuinely wanted to give a shout-out to authors so that their effort in sending out freebies wasn't wasted, struck me as quite genuine.
  • Ditto to her Debut Authors Challenge - what a great way to shine a spotlight on new authors. Yes, she's recruited lots of volunteers to help organize what's become a fairly large undertaking, but this is still another really neat way to stay au courant with the constantly shifting world of YA publishing, and honestly has gotten to the size where it couldn't be managed by one person anymore anyway.
  • She has a wonderful "camera-ready" presence as a vlogger. How many people can say the same? Good lighting, casual but clean clothing, smooth vocal delivery with little to no stumbling and an honest level of enthusiasm about YA literature all shine through on her weekly videos.

I will say, my concerns with The Story Siren have always been: her reviews are few and far between, and when they do come along, they tend to be rather short, contain plenty of filler from the publisher's copy, and nearly always are fairly glowing. Why are such short tidbits rewarded with an "everyday is Christmas" cavalcade of free books and other merch? I chalked it up to the internet principle of "FIRST!!!" The Story Siren's been around a lot longer than some of these other johnny-come-lately blogs, plus I imagined that Kristi must be awesome at following up with folks - e-mailing PR staff, maximizing any and all exposure for her reviews, being a social media maven and so-on. Stuff, that, I admit it, I rarely follow through on.

I've certainly been in that position myself: sweating bullets over some of the reviews I've written, when I've realized that I used the same pull-quote as someone else, or used the same word. I pride myself on writing unique reviews, always from my own perspective, but I've comforted myself thinking, you know it's the same exact book - it's not shocking that two or more people with similar backgrounds and book knowledge would both describe it with the same word, "charming" or whatever. But whole sentences? Whole paragraphs, lifted word, for word? That's just not right. I await further developments on this whole set of dramatic events with interest. In the meantime, there's a hashtag on twitter, #stopthestorysiren.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Art

Nifty book-related paper crafts via

Saturday, April 21, 2012

That Old Book Smell

I like this. People often wax poetical about "that old books smell" ...I have to admit, it is pretty nice. The smell of an old bookstore plus fresh-brewed coffee just can't be beat!

Friday, April 20, 2012

And Then It's Spring review

And Then It's Spring
by Julie Fogiano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Roaring Brook Press
February 2012

What an absolutely amazing book! Is it possible that Erin E. Stead could win another Caldecott so soon? I could see an Honor for this book, definitely. This story about hoping and waiting for spring begins by saying: "First you have brown. You have brown all around." "...but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown." "...and you worry about those little seeds." "...bears can't read signs that say things like 'please do not stomp here - there are seeds and they are trying.'" Well, isn't that the essence of spring, right there? There are seeds and they are trying. Astute readers will delight in little details revealed by the boy, his sleepy dog, pet bunny and pet turtle, including garden signs for a buried bone, and a chocolate chip cookie patch.

Those mopsical bears just killed me! They carelessly knock down all the garden signs, but that doesn't stop those seeds from continuing to try, try and try.

I like that this book doesn't end with a garden in full bloom but rather with the palest yellow green of early spring. When the first flush of new growth finally arrives, " you have green, all around you have green."

I borrowed this book.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Waiting on The Selection

OMG, that cover! Plus, the whole arranged bride/dystopian future plot sounds very enticing. Can't wait to read this one.

The Selection
by Kiera Cass
April 2012

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself- and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Star Trek Quiet Book

So cute! Here's a pattern you can buy for this Star Trek Quiet Book - an old-fashioned fabric book for kids with snaps, velcro and the like. It's available on etsy.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pregnancy Project review

The Pregnancy Project
by Gaby Rodriguez and Jenna Glatzer
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
January 2012

The Pregnancy Project was co-written by Gaby Rodriguez and a professional author who moved to print quickly to capture the excitement of a newsworthy story. Short chapters and slightly wide margins make this a blazing fast read. High school senior Gaby Rodriguez pretended to be pregnant for 6 months so that she could present a senior project on "how it felt" to be marginalized as a pregnant teen.

I read it recently, and was disturbed by it on a couple of levels:

1) The first half of the book is about Gaby's mother and her early childhood as the youngest child in a big family. The teen author seems to have a real chip on her shoulder re: teen pregnancy, both her mother's and her older sister's. She'd be a great candidate for some family counseling, rather than acting out in this bizarre way. She comes across as mildly sociopathic. When she breaks down in tears over the stress of lying to one of her favorite teachers about the "pregnancy" her first thought is that crying is something that a pregnant woman would actually do - making her story all the more plausible.

2) Rodriguez comes across as a neo-con - despite her pro-contraception stance, she quickly dismisses Planned Parenthood as an abortion factory.

3) Rodriguez is deeply starstruck by the media attention she receives after the "big reveal" at the end of her project. There is at least a chapter or two devoted to what it was like to go on "Good Morning America" and how surprising and thrilling it was to receive so many phone calls from media outlets. She also goes into great detail about the press conference she held and how the media were fighting for her attention - one reporter supposedly even tried to steal the "pregnancy bump" that Rodriguez had worn for several months while fooling the fellow students at her school.

4) I am amazed and astounded that there was a school principal who actually approved of something on this size and scale - AND that Rodriguez and her boyfriend let her boyfriend's parents believe that the pregnancy was real, right up until the end. (They reportedly were NOT excited about being grandparents and were relieved that it was all a hoax, but still, that is an astonishing level of deception to carry out.)

What Rodriguez does very well is take the nuanced view that experiencing a pregnancy in one's teens is not the end of the world. It will make life hard, much harder, to be certain, but it doesn't mean that a teen girl's life is over. She was greatly surprised that none of her friends suggested abortion or adoption as options - everyone assumed right from the start that she would keep the "baby" and while there was some mean-spirited gossip, many were fairly supportive. She was also surprised that all of the early hints she'd been dropping were mostly ignored. Rodriguez pretended to complain of nausea, made sure to schedule more trips to the bathroom, and enlisted her best friend as a confederate to publicly give her knowing looks, caution her to eat her vegetables and chide her for lifting anything heavy. It wasn't until she donned her pregnancy bump that everyone really took notice, however.

The book ends with Gaby Rodriguez describing her college plans. She seems to have some compassion for teen mothers, exhorting readers to show a little kindness for young women in a tough situation, and she stumps heavily for early sex-education and highly encourages the use of birth control. Still, for the most part, there's a thin-veneer of preachiness and holier-than-thou-ness slathered over nearly everything that Rodriguez says and does. She comes across as a more than a little crazy, and judgmental, "I won't mess up my life the way everyone else in my family did. I'm better than that," is the overall theme. I would be so interested to get an update on this whole story - will this project end up being a blip on her high school resume, or will it continue to affect her life, especially the relationships with her mother and siblings down the line? The book was adapted to a Lifetime TV movie - it's an interesting read, and will definitely make you think.

I borrowed this book.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Five Fish feltboard

I'm really excited about this new storytime rhyme, which I love because it's an anything rhyme. You can have five of anything, and the rhyme still works.

One problem that I have with a lot of rhymes with five of anything is that they can be fairly tricky to remember. For example:

Five little seashells lying on the shore;
Swish! went the waves, and then there were four.
Four little seashells, cozy as could be;
Swish! went the waves, and then there were three.
Three little seashells, all pearly new;
Swish! went the waves, and then there were two.
Two little seashells sleeping in the sun;
Swish! went the waves, and then there was one.
One little seashell left all alone;
I picked it up and took it home.

See, you've got to remember all these things that rhyme with four, three, two and one. And what if you don't have 5 seashells? (Okay, I know you could always just use your hand, like a fingerplay) but say you wanted to do 5 flowers, or 5 cookies, or 5 elephants? Now all the stuff about the waves doesn't make any sense.

This rhyme featured on the amazing blog Mel's Desk is what we'd call "extensible," you can pop anything in there and it still makes sense.

The "original" version, as near as I can make out goes like this,

Five little cupcakes in the bakery shop.
Five little cupcakes with sprinkles on top.
Along came someone with a nickel to pay,
And one of those cupcakes went away!

If you can't think of anything that would logically go "on top" of your item, you can use this version:

Five little _________ at the _________ store.
Five little _________ and not one more.
Along came someone with a nickel to pay,
And one of those _________ went away!
(and so on, with four, three, two, one, etc.)

Here we go! I did a version with five fish. I made the nickels perfectly round by tracing around a bottle cap - they're a little bigger than real nickels. Someone suggested the technique of stippling with a marker onto the felt - it works like a charm! Clear, and easy to read the 5's on those nickels. I'm still kind of debating if I want to add eyes on the fish.

I finished out like this:

Five fish! Five nickels!
My tale is at an end.
Now, tell me children, how much money do we have to spend?
Five! Ten! Fifteen! Twenty!! Twenty-five cents!!!

I shout the last part with as much enthusiasm as if I was saying "A million dollars!" The kids in my storytime love counting by fives, so this one was a real hit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Waiting on Springsweet

Hurrah! I'm looking forward to this book - I kind of wish that we had more of Amelia's story, but I'm interested to see what adventures her cousin Zora will get up to.

The Springsweet
by Saundra Mitchell
Harcourt Children's Books
April 2012

Heartbroken over the tragic death of her fiancĂ©, seventeen-year-old Zora Stewart leaves Baltimore for the frontier town of West Glory, Oklahoma, to help her young widowed aunt keep her homestead going. There she discovers that she possesses the astonishing ability to sense water under the parched earth. When her aunt hires her out as a “springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land.

Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water.
Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter reviews

Curious George Colors Eggs
by H.A. Rey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
January 2012

Using very simple vocabulary, this isn't a thrilling story in and of itself - the joy for young readers is in figuring out how to read for oneself. Curious George is cautioned to stay clean while dying eggs with Betsy and Steve. He experiments with primary and secondary colors, making a huge mess. His decision to hide out in the sink turns out to be a wise one, as he's all cleaned up and ready when the man in the yellow hat comes to pick him up. Written by staff writers and released under H.A. Rey's name, this simply doesn't compare to the original classic, but is still sure to be in demand for Easter.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Toy Story: A Bunny Surprise
by Apple Jordan
Random House
January 2012

Here's a very simple Easter story. The toys from Disney's Toy Story are stunned by the arrival of a chocolate bunny at Easter. EASY to read with mostly one-syllable words in large font. The plot is thin, but the trademarked characters will sure to be a draw for kids who enjoyed the movie.

I borrowed this book from the library.

by Helen V. Griffith, illustrated by Laura Dronzek 
HarperCollins Children's Books
January 2012

Simple and sweet, about a rabbit enjoying the buttery moonlight. A lovely bedtime story for toddlers and preschoolers. I read this with a group of 2-3 year olds and they all took the butter simile a little too literally. Still, I think I'll get a lot of mileage out of this story at my library, I'm sure it will be welcomed at Easter, as a bedtime story, pajama storytimes, Dream Big Summer Reading program and more. Pair this with Kevin Henke's Little White Rabbit for a sweetly imaginative bunny-themed storytime.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Piggy Bunny
by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard
Feiwel & Friends
February 2012

Hilariously wonderful! This little pig knows just what he wants to be when he grows up... The Easter Bunny!

"You are a terrific piglet," says his mother, "We love your squiggly tail and your little black eyes and your snouty nose and your adorably triangular ears... you are perfect... just exactly the way you are."
"Just exactly the way I am... is like a piglet who is going to be the Easter Bunny." Liam the pig decides, "This is the kind of problem... that is called heartbreaking."
It takes some help from his understanding grandparents, who declare that everyone else has "the imagination of a kumquat."
"You know how to make an Easter Bunny suit?" Liam asks.
"Absolutely not... We will order one on the Internet."

A dry sense of humor, and heavily lined digital illustrations which alternate between white and brightly colored backgrounds with an expressive, adorable family of pigs makes this a sure-fire hit for Easter.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Birthmarked review

by Caragh O'Brien
Roaring Brook Press
March 2010

Set in a dystopian future, 16 year-old Gaia Stone lives with her family near "Unlake" Superior. Under her mother's tutelage she is training to be a midwife. Their little village of Wharfton lies on the outside of The Enclave, an enclosed city of power and privilege. Like all midwives, she is supposed to "advance" the first three babies born every month to the Enclave where they will be raised by adoptive families.

There's a common trope in dystopians of the heroine who has completely drunk the Kool-Aid and is only just now beginning to realize what is obvious to everyone else - that everything is not what it seems, and not what it should be. When Gaia's parents are arrested under suspicion of being involved with an underground rebel movement, and after an intimidating interview by a security officer who comes to her home, she takes over her mother's work as the sole midwife in their district. I liked O'Brien's invented terms of address: mabrother and masister, instead of Mr. or Ms. - it does give a pleasantly alien feel to the world.

Gaia has a scarred face from a childhood accident - it's made her very self-concious and isolated her from many of her fellow villagers. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that it's eventually revealed that her parents burned her face on purpose, as a way of ensuring she wouldn't be taken from them and sent to live in the Enclave the way her two older brothers were. To their credit, when they finally reveal the truth to Gaia, they admit that they absolutely did not think things through and hadn't realized how it would negatively affect her life for so many years to come. Most of Gaia's memories of her parents are very happy ones and she comes to forgive them. Gaia is still certain that she looks hideous however... whenever she describes herself, I picture this:

Two-Face, not  looking so good.

One of the characters reassures her, "You get used to your face. I always watch the pretty side of you now, and the other side sort of vanishes into a blind spot." When Gaia begins pressing for answers to her parents disappearance and meets with Leon, an insider who helps her break into the Enclave to look for clues, who eventually becomes a love interest for her, it seems like he sees her more like this:

Tina Fey's scar: so cute, it's practically a dimple.

Once Gaia is on the inside of the Enclave, she's able to decipher a complex code left behind by her father to determine the adopted children's heritage - something which has been kept secret.

I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but the ending of the book felt a little too pat to me - as Gaia makes her escape from the Enclave she's nearly captured several times and some amazing coincidences enable her to avoid the guard's attention. She's also smuggling out a baby, and I was surprised that the baby is so cooperative - luckily the baby never cries at an inopportune moment, and Gaia is never hindered by having to hold onto the baby as she stays on the run. 

I'm already digging in to the sequel however, because I can't wait to find out what happens next! Normally, I hate a cover change... but in this case, I like both of the covers a lot, maybe the paperback cover even a little more than the original. Several intense and harrowing childbirth scenes make this a good choice for older teen readers.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Waiting on Losers in Space

I hear this is supposed to be funny. It's being released next week. I'm intrigued.

Losers in Space
by John Barnes
Viking Juvenile
April 2012

In 2129, hoping to bypass the exams and training that might lead to a comfortable life, Susan, her almost-boyfriend Derlock, and seven fellow students stow away on a ship to Mars, unaware that Derlock is a sociopath with bigger plans.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Read in March

This month I read the following books:

1 Spoiled - Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

2 Birthmarked - Caragh O'Brien
3 A Million Suns - Beth Revis

Picture credit: A Quiet Read by William Kay Blacklock


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