Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Raising Readers

Check out this article just published on CNN about how to raise a reader. I'm quoted in it as a children's literature expert. There's a ton of information in their slide show about all the various children's book awards as well.

From Dahl, to Sendak, to Dr. Seuss and others, young readers are spoiled for choice. There's a reason why Dr. Seuss in particular gets a nationwide celebration -- or Seussibration, for those in the know -- on his birthday, March 2: He created a niche with his wacky characters, and accessible writing style.
"It's a really simple vocabulary; it's easy to begin to read, if you're a beginning reader, but (the books) still have a really great sense of humor," said Madigan McGillicuddy, a children's librarian in Atlanta. "There is so much packed in there that builds a lifetime love of reading."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Hexed review

by Michelle Krys
Delacorte Press
June 2014

Sixteen year old Indigo Blackwood wants nothing more than to focus on her role on the cheerleading squad, her new boyfriend Devon and patching things up with her jealous friend Bianca. Hoping to increase her popularity, Indigo is eager to avoid her nerdy former friend Paige. Indigo is also embarrassed by her New Age hippy dippy mother who runs an occult shop in Los Angeles and her party animal aunt Penny. 

After witnessing an apparent suicide, Indigo finds herself embroiled in a top secret bloody feud between dueling factions of wizards and sorcerers. Her family had been tasked with protecting a witchcraft Bible that holds the key to destroying witches everywhere. Villains Frederick and Leo's powers are truly far-reaching, as they wipe memories, use telepathy, and freeze the entire city for their epic showdown. With the aid of a hunky stranger, Bishop, Indigo must quickly master her newly developed magical flying abilities in order to protect her friends and family. There is a hint of a love triangle, and plenty of drama as Indigo discovers who her true friends are. Krys' debut novel offers a fast paced plot with plenty of shocking twists and turns, and a cliffhanger ending that will appeal to fans of teen paranormal romances.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
This review originally appeared in School Library Journal.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Three Kinds of Library Fines Patrons

Library fines are just a part of my everyday business as a librarian. Why do libraries have them in the first place? Really, the main reason is to give library patrons a gentle nudge to bring their books back. Without that pesky little fee, I think a lot of our patrons would honestly mean to bring back a book, "soon" and somehow, with one thing and another and everyone's busy schedules, "soon" would somehow never come. Ultimately, we want the library materials back so that other members can use and enjoy them. Even I've been known to rack up the occasional late fee. The few times a year that it happens, I usually sigh with annoyance at myself and then I'll just matter-of-factly pay it. When you use the library a lot, it's bound to happen now and then, even if you're careful.

That being said, I've noticed that when it comes to fines, there are three kinds of patrons. Here they are:

1) The Good-Hearted, Yet Guilty Patron
Generally, this patron will approach the circulation desk, sweating bullets and looking nervous. They may whisper dramatically, and will let you know that they have a serious confession to make. It's a Big Deal... They owe a fine! Looking up his or her record, I announce, "Okay, Ma'am/Sir, it looks like you owe... THIRTY-FIVE CENTS!" The patron will gasp with alarm, and throw a few quarters your way, perhaps even encouraging you to keep the change as a donation, as they quietly slink out of the library in utter shame. These folks always crack me up. They take their library fines very seriously!

I promise never to bring back anything late ever again!

2) The "I Know My Rights" Patron
This is an interesting phenomenon, and I don't really fully understand the psychology behind it. Let's say that your library system will block someone's card, not allowing them to check out more books, or reserve an item, etc. etc. once they owe more than $10.00. This kind of patron will generally owe about $9.95 at all times. They may even owe $9.99! They are very cautious about keeping their library card in good standing. If they return something a little bit late, they may argue very hard with the librarian to try and get their fine removed, or they may pay juuuust exactly enough so that they can check out items again. Frequently, they'll pay with a twenty dollar bill, but if I ask if they'd like to pay down the whole amount, they'll look horrified. "No way!" They'd only like to pay a dollar (or however much to keep it under ten bucks) and that's it. It's obvious that they are of the opinion that paying off your library fine in full is for chumps! They've got a "right" to have a certain amount of fees racked up without any consequences, and they plan to keep it that way!

I like those fines, just the way they are.
3) The Carefree Debtor
This is the kind of patron that haunts librarians' nightmares. This patron will stroll up to the check-out counter, just as casual as you please, and hand you their card. "Oh, I'm sorry," you'll say. "It looks like you owe $257.85! There are quite a few late fees on here, as well as a number of books you checked out about two years ago, but never returned, so the computer wants to charge you to replace them." This patron will deny everything. They'll deny that they owe money. They'll deny that they've ever checked out anything in the past. Or perhaps, they'll fix you with a blank quizzical look as if to say, "So, I owe more than $250.00 So what? I wanna check out these DVD's right now." These folks amaze me - how can you rack up these kind of library fines without even caring?

I'll never pay up! NEVER!
So, dear readers, are you guilty as charged? What kind of library fines do you rack up? Do you pay them? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fortunately, the Milk review

Fortunately, the Milk
by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young
Harper Collins
September 2013

First line: "There was only orange juice in the fridge."

Fortunately, the Milk is a fast-paced, silly tale of a father determined to bring milk home to his family - despite alien attacks, time travel, super cute ponies, inept pirates, bloodthirsty piranhas and more. One random, unbelievable thing after another keeps happening, turning Dad's quick jaunt to the corner store for a bit of milk into a major ordeal. 

Gaiman deftly keeps the the story moving at a zany pace while managing to shoehorn in many highly wacky non-sequiturs, making each surprising new twist in the story look effortless. As the beleaguered father's story grows more and more unbelievable, his son and daughter begin to grow quite skeptical of his grandiose claims. Kudos to illustrator Skottie Young for subtly including all the (possibly inspirational?) elements from their father's crazy story into the family's typically British home. I'll recommend this to kids who want a fast, fun read.

Compare to:
Fake Mustache - Tom Angleberger
Jake Plank Tells Tales - Natalie Babbitt
Invisible Inkling - Emily Jenkins
Stardust - Neil Gaiman

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top 10 Bookish Things I'd Like to Own

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is: Top Ten Bookish Things (That Aren't Books) That I'd Like To Own.

I know a lot of people will say, bookshelves, bookshelves and more bookshelves. Or, maybe some great bookmarks. Or book ends. I actually don't want any of those things. I'm trying to trim down on the actual owning of books. What I've always really wanted, and never have quite gotten around to, is a collection of bookish themed t-shirts. How great would that be? I could wear them to work, and be so comfy, but also look super dedicated to being a librarian at the same time. They'd be great conversation starters. I could look so literate and smart in a humble-braggy way. Yes! Sadly, I am terribly, terribly frugal and also, apparently, bad at hinting for presents, so I have never actually bought myself or been gifted any of these items. 

Here are 10 (count 'em, ten!) bookish t-shirts that I have my eye on.

1) Storytellers shirt from Threadless.

2) House Brawl shirt from Threadless.

3) Oz t-shirt from Out of Print.

4) Pride and Prejudice t-shirt from Out of Print.

5) Where the Wild Things Are t-shirt. I don't know who makes this shirt. And I never wear hot pink. But I want it!

6) Reading is Sexy t-shirt. Yes. Yes it is. Okay, I wouldn't wear this one to work.

7) Slytherin t-shirt. I need one of these.

8) Lord of the Rings t-shirt. I could probably start shopping around and find about 10 awesome shirts that were Lord of the Rings themed. Especially if they had Elvish writing on them. I like this one though.

9) Edgar Allen Poe t-shirt. I just found this one randomly on Etsy. I like it! I think it's out of print though.

10) Alice in Wonderland t-shirt.

I could keep going! What about a Hunger Games t-shirt? Or a Shakespeare t-shirt? Or, just about a dozen other things? I think the real problem though, is that I don't actually dress like this. I rarely, if ever, wear t-shirts with designs on them. So, I see these on the internet, and the thought crosses my mind, "Oh, cool, I wish I had that," and then, wisely, perhaps, I decide not to buy it, so they don't sit in the back of my closet, unworn.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Written in the Stars review

Written in the Stars
by Lois Duncan
Lizzie Skurnick Books
March 2014

This collection of hard-to-find short stories written at the beginning of Duncan's career in the early 1950s transports readers to another era, one in which marrying one's high school sweetheart was the norm, young men entered military service in droves, and the chief concern of most young girls was finding the right man with whom to settle down. The cadence and vocabulary evoke the period. “Written in the Stars” features a girl realizing with shock that her high school beau isn't “The One” as they drift apart once he starts college. In “Return” shell-shocked young veteran Bill struggles with readjusting to life back home from the front. “April” deals with the intense sibling rivalry between intelligent, but plain Martha Dunning and her glamorous older sister April, who appears to coast by on her good looks. In “Time to Find Out” Janie stands up for herself and delays marriage with her military-bound boyfriend. 
Close-knit families with warm and supportive brother/sister relationships which echo the author's own family are featured in most of the stories. Each entry is appended with a note from Duncan on where each piece was originally published, her inspiration for it, and what was happening in her life at that time. Perfect for Lois Duncan completists, this collection of short stories may spark interesting conversations with teens about how gender roles have changed over the years.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
This review originally appeared in School Library Journal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guessing game felt board

I had so much fun with this felt board. I tried something new, and instead of doing a song or rhyme to go along with this activity, I just tried a discussion with the kids about what could be behind these mystery boxes.

I gave them lots of clues, such as: 
This animal is a mammal.
This animal has fluffy white wool.
This animal sounds like, "baaaa!"
What is it?

This animal is a sheep!

Here are all our animals, revealed. I think we had a lot of fun with this guessing game. Kids at my storytimes are super fond of animal noises, so even if they didn't guess with the other clues I gave them, they definitely had fun with our animal sounds!

This was a really fun and different dialoging exercise, and I'm really glad I tried it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Leviathan review

by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Keith Thompson
Simon Pulse
October 2009

Leviathan is an unusual steampunk adventure, as the action is set during an alternate history of World War I, rather than the Victorian period.  In this story, the British style themselves as "Darwinists" and have a formidable air force composed of genetically modified "beasties."  Their German opposition, known as "Clankers" use over-sized metallic walkers and tanks.  The story follows, in mostly alternating chapters, two young protagonists, Deryn, a.k.a. Dylan Sharp, a midshipman in the British air navy and Aleksander Ferdinand, son of the murdered Austrian Arch-Duke and a budding Clanker pilot.

Deryn, the new Darwinist recruit, is hiding a secret -- "he" is actually a "she."  Her brother and recently-deceased father have given her an unconventional upbringing and encouraged her interest in flying, even though only men are allowed in the air service.  I felt that Westerfeld really hit the right note with Deryn.  It's such a common science-fiction and fantasy trope to have a young girl disguise herself as a boy in order to go off and have adventures... but it's pretty uncommon to see characters address this problem with the seriousness that it deserves.  Deryn spends the first three-quarters of the novel terrified that she will be found out.  Being caught is her number one concern, and it drives most of her decisions, including her impetous piloting and her foul mouth. (Westerfeld's gritty street vernacular includes terms like, "clart," "boffin" and "barking spiders.")

Alek is the son of the recently murdered Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Austria.  He is on the run, aided by two of his loyal retainers, and remains one step ahead of the war-mongering Germans, as he attempts to re-group and prove his legitimacy.

The thing that surprised me the most about Leviathan was my own reaction to the Darwinists.  I found myself thoroughly skeeved out by the description of the living airships, with their attendant symbiotic life-forms creating a self-sustaining biosphere.  A typical ship would be mostly whale, with perhaps a bit jellyfish and a number of other "life threads" mixed in.  It would be accompanied by double-nosed hydrogen sniffing dogs, flocks of bats and birds, messenger lizards and more.  Plenty of thought went in to how the living airships would be fed and how waste management would be handled.  Oddly, the "Clanker" steam-driven technology, appealed to me much more.  How awesome would it be to pilot one of those?  From the description in the book, they sound just like the AT-AT walkers from Star Wars.

I'll recommend this for Westerfeld fans, and steampunk aficionados looking for something a little different.

Compare to:
Mortal Engines - Philip Reeve
The Bloomswell Diaries - Louis L. Buitenbag
Soulless - Gail Carringer

I borrowed this book from the library.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Read in March

No fooling! Last month I read the following the books:

1. Hexed - Michelle Krys
2. Mother Daughter Me - Katie Hafner
3. More Than This - Patrick Ness

Picture credit: Girl Reading by George Cochran Lambdin


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