Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Retro Tuesday: Prom, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Continuing my browse along the YA shelves, I came to Laurie Halse Anderson. Okay, I've read Speak, read Catalyst, read parts of Wintergirls (couldn't get into it)...wait, Prom? "Ashley Hannigan doesn't particularly care about the prom...finds herself roped into...making the prom happen..." Huh? Laurie Halse Anderson wrote a frou-frou YA novel?

Not exactly. The jacket description does not quite give the true tone of the book. It is definitely not as dark as some of her other books, but much, much smarter than her "Vet Volunteers" series, which we will not discuss here. A quote from Chapter 3 (which starts on page 1 - these are some seriously short chapters):

"Every kid who was in that fifth-grade class with me was graduating, except for the three who were in jail, the two who kept having babies, the one who ran away, and the two crack whores."

Okay, not "Princess Diaries" material. This isn't a tomboy-turns-prom-queen story, and while things do turn out a little too patly (is that a word?) at the end, there was enough real life and humor to have me sneaking reads in between lunch hours. Ashley doesn't HATE prom, she can see that it is important to several of her friends and understands why it is, she just has no real use for it herself. When a couple different disasters strike, it is mostly her concern for her friends that results in her helping with, then basically organizing the entire prom which she has no intention of actually attending.

Most of the characters are rather two-dimensional, but entertaining. Ashley's intelligence and her insight into how to deal with the people around her, from administrators to custodians to crazy Russian grandmothers, doesn't quite explain why she puts up with the loser boyfriend for so long - but then, that might be the most realistic part of the story. Of course, dear readers, none of US have ever stuck with a hot guy longer than we should have, but we've shaken our heads at other mismatched relationships, haven't we? It happens.

Not one of Anderson's best, but an entertaining read. We'll be passing it on to the teen at home once she finishes the huge stack of books she got for Christmas (i.e., tomorrow).

Monday, December 28, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: K is for Kabuki, by Gloria Whelan and Jenny Nolan, reviewed by Freaky

We love Sleeping Bear's alphabet series here at the library, and it's just an added bonus that this one is written by one of our favorite authors:

If you are not familiar with these books, they encompass everything from states and countries to animals, the military, mothers, and sports. Usually each letter gets a two-page spread, taken up mostly by illustrations, then with one short paragraph of text (often rhyming) that you would read as part of the natural flow of the book, and additional background/history on the sides. The variety of authors and illustrators keeps this basic format from getting stale.

I enjoyed the text in this particular edition, particularly the combination of "old" Japan (emperors and origami), things we Westerners think are new (manga), and the fairly modern (bullet trains and hybrid cars). I was a little disappointed in the illustrations, by Oki Han. I liked her work on the Basho books, but these seemed somehow unfinished. The colors are gorgeous, but the faces in particular are nowhere near what we have come to expect from her. The manga page confused me, too: there is familiar manga in the background, but I couldn't tell if the characters standing around were supposed to be manga (in which the faces were all wrong), or just kids dressed in manga inspired costumes.

Overall, though, a good addition to a great series. These are very popular with kids researching states, for example, because they get a good variety of information in small, entertaining chunks. We also have several adults who make it a point to pick these up whenever they spot them on our new book shelves. I recommend school and public libraries at least purchase the geographically themed ones, and look forward to seeing what subjects will be tackled next!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Retro Tuesday: The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, reviewed by Miss Ami

We've decided to start a new weekly feature, called Retro Tuesday. As hard as it may be to believe, some librarians have not read every single book in their collections. Occasionally we run across a book that is new to us, and worth commenting on, but not exactly a recent publication. We are going to take Tuesdays to review some of these books, in the hopes that they still might be new to someone else. If not, you can just leave us a comment saying "I can't BELIEVE you hadn't read that yet! Some librarian you are!"

A recent move further from work means I can't just run home on my lunch hour, which gives me some forced reading time here - bonus! I have started browsing through the YA shelves in order, so our first book will be:

Originally published a few years back, I have seen this one mentioned on a few blogs lately, another incentive to pick it up. I am so glad I did! How can a book be so hysterical and so terribly sad at the same time?

Junior was born with several strikes against him: in addition to being from a poor Native American family that seems to have given up hope, he has a host of medical problems that, if they don't kill him, will at least ensure he is picked on pretty much every day of his life. All this comes in the first chapter, which as I said, somehow manages to be blunt but funny at the same time.

"Do you know what happens to retards on the rez? We get beat up. At least once a month. Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club."

Maybe that's not funny. Maybe it's just awful, and if a non-Native person had written it as pure fiction, let's face it, it wouldn't have made it all the way to the publisher. But (and I have to say fortunately), it was written by Sherman Alexie, who not only is Native American, this is a mostly autobiographical book. (Check out a brief summary of his life here) If he can be brutally honest and still laugh at himself, who are we to argue? (I have to ask, though, did that blocked jump shot REALLY happen?)

People who have never been trapped in the cycle of poverty (or abuse or drug abuse or whatever) find it very easy to say, "If they would just do xyz..." Sure, for you, if you were suddenly thrust into that situation, it might be very easy to find your way out. That is the way you have been built. When people are born and raised into a particular life, however, there is nothing built into them that even allows them to really believe that possibility exists. Sherman shows both the hopelessness felt by most of those around Junior, while making us fall in love with this young man who somehow, with everything else he has lost, has still managed to find and hang onto a hope of something better.

All this sounds very deep and heavy, which is really not doing justice to the book. Page 176 (hardcover 2007 edition) made me laugh so hard I had to stop and read half the chapter aloud to my teenage daughter, who immediately called 'dibs' on reading the book next. Junior's determination and hope are what you come away with in the end, as well as a huge amount of respect for Junior and many of the other characters. Highly recommended, and very glad I picked it up.

Nonfiction Monday: Zero is the Leaves on the Tree, by Betsy Franco, reviewed by Fegan

I'll admit, math books often make me yawn before I even open the front cover. It's not that I don't like math, I kind of do, but do I really want to read about it? This book, however:

definitely did not put me to sleep. Rather, it made me want to get up and take a walk outside, to see how many places I could find "zero" (except that I would not get very far without being stepped on or run over. Plus it's cold.)

The book is built around the premise that it's easy to show "three" by counting three things, but how do you show "zero"? Franco with her simple text, and Shino Arihara with his soft illustrations that make me think of Martha Alexander, show "zero" in some very creative ways that any child can identify with. "Zero is... the sound of snowflakes landing on your mitten." A must-have for any preschool or kinder classroom, and the natural follow-up activity would be to go for a "zero walk" around your school or neighborhood, then create your own book illustrating zero.

Review copy supplied by Tricycle Press. We are Amazon Associates, and if you purchase a copy by clicking on the book cover link, we rceeive a small portion for our library. Click here to see some other great nonfiction choices blogged about this week.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What About the Boys? by Fegan

Humph - two days of books for girls, and nothing specifically for boys? Isn't that a little bit sexist?

People have a stereotype that boys don't read, but we know that's not true. Of course, some boys, BECAUSE of that stereotype, are a little reluctant to be seen with a book; so, here we are going to share both some books for reluctant readers, and some favorites of our male patrons. We would also like to share this link to Charlotte's Library, where she blogs about some of her son's favorite fantasy books.

Grown-ups have the silliest rules. They tell us not to pick our nose, when you know darn well they do it too, and how else are you supposed to get those stubborn ones out? When you try asking them why, they give really silly reasons. As it turns out, there are some really serious reasons for some of those rules, but they seem to think we can't handle the truth. Please! We're not the ones getting grossed out by a little natural bodily fluid! Read this (and its sequel) to get just a taste of what the adults don't want you to know.

Actually, anything by Andrew Clements is good, but Frindle is probably the most well known. Clements has a recurring theme of the kids sort of getting one over on the adults, but realizing along the way that adults aren't quite as unhuman as they may seem. Nothing preachy, though, don't worry, and definitely a lot of fun along the way!

Hysterical book where, again, the boy gets the best of the teacher - maybe - but that is far from the main plot point. Any kid who has ever felt unjustly accused (and what kid hasn't?) will identify with the main character. All the characters in this book get to be three-dimensional, and nobody turns out to be exactly as we first see them. Did I mention there are roller blades in the school and an explosion? Good stuff, all of it.

All three of these (and their sequels) offer enough tips and ideas to keep any boy occupied for hours...giving them something to do while they are grounded from trying some of these ideas at the, er, wrong place and time.

If your reader likes this first one, there is a whole series to follow up with - some may be out of print, but are easy to find used. A group of boys, each smart in his own way, get together to solve (and perhaps cause) a few local mysteries, and generally keep things exciting. When a lazy day on a boat is interrupted by a wayward military bomb, you know it's a touch more exciting than Encyclopedia Brown.

Definitely for a teen or a very mature reader. Cole is one of those kids most people would give up on - angry, nasty, without remorse or compassion, he is given the choice between prison or a year banished to a remote island. He picks the island, thinking it will be easier (and having no intention of actually staying there anyway). The next year will prove just about everyone wrong.

This is one of those rare series that just gets better as it goes - the last one is our favorite. (So far, that is - Paulsen said he was done before going on and writing that one, so we'll see if that's really it!) Each story line is original enough in itself to make for a good read, but I've also enjoyed seeing Brian grow and mature through the books.

As always, feel free to add your suggestions, I know I have just skimmed the surface - but at least we have a little to balance out the girly stuff!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Favorite Christmas Books from Squirt

My first Christmas with the big guys and I get to do the Christmas post! Woohoo!

I love love LOVE Christmas, and I especially love hearing good Christmas stories. This first one is from an author/illustrator who has become practically synonymous with winter:

The trolls in this story (and in Trouble with Trolls) are just too darn cute. They remind me of me when I was about two, grabbing what I wanted and screaming "Want Christmas!" Read this one for your favorite toddler, then maybe follow up with buying something for Toys for Tots or a similar charity.

Another sweet story, for slightly older children, about how thinking of someone else can make you feel - well, eleven-foot-four!

Definitely not your typical Dav Pilkey, and a perfect example of a book the general public loves, despite bad reviews from the major names. Guardian angels come at Christmas to bring hope and comfort to the unloved and forgotten - such as the gargoyles. Have a tissue handy if you are going to read it out loud.

Have a whole box of tissues for this one! Okay, by the end you know what's going to happen, but that doesn't detract from it a bit. In this book suitable for Christmas or Hanukkah, Polacco also addresses (subtly) God's plans not being our plans, and what wonderful things can happen when we just do our best with what we have, even if we don't see the big picture until the end.

What better way to take a break from the sob-fest than with Michael Reiss and David Catrow? This is the perfect read-aloud for your little ones at home, for a classroom, or for field trips. Noelle is SO tired of Christmas every day, and can't wait until that one day of the year when she gets to go to school and take down the tree! Kids and adults alike will get a giggle out of the story, and have fun thinking of other problems there might be with Christmas every day (nightmare time - most libraries are closed for Christmas!!!)

Sappy and predictable, but who cares? A wonderfully written story with real characters and a satisfying ending.

Like many kids and turtles, I always loved hearing my mommy tell about the night I hatched. Can you imagine how that story would sound if it was accompanied by angels appearing and shepherds at the door? Treat your family to this very special birthday story told by a mother to her very special son.

Dave Barry...writing a children's book...about Christmas? You know you have to check it out! I strongly advise reading it out loud to your family, because it will be too hard to explain why you are laughing so hard without starting at the beginning.

In this last one, the author relates stories from his own childhood and his father's, all centered around Christmas. It makes me think a bit of Jon Scieszka's biography - same time period, same type of rapscalions (I love that word). My favorite tale is what happens to the little brother who opens everything before Christmas and thinks nobody knows...another good one to read together, a chapter a night.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Tree for Emmy by Mary Ann Rodman

I just finished processing and reading a new book, which I have to add to the spirited girls list:

"I declare, Emmy," said Gramma. "That mimosa tree is a lot like you. Stubborn and strong and a little bit wild."

Too cute! Emmy is my kind of girl, arguing with the florist that clovers and dandelions are pretty, so why shouldn't they be sold, too? She knows what she wants, and she isn't going to let anyone else's opinion stand in her way. Fortunately, she has very wise parents and a grandmother to stand behind her.

Book Suggestions for Spirited Girls - Older Readers

This is an even harder list to narrow down, so I am going to cop out on part of it and just give some authors;

Karen Cushman - Strong female characters finding out they are more than the people around them may give them credit for. Mostly set in the middle ages, but don't miss Rodzina, set in the days of the orphan trains. I especially like that one because she is NOT skinny or pretty or smart, and messes up quite a bit. Trina Schart Hyman illustrated manyof her covers, which is just an added bonus!

Gail Carson Levine - Probably best known for Ella Enchanted (a prime example of not judging a book by its movie), she gives a realistic twist to old fairy tales, making the characters more than three-dimensional and making them very easy to relate to, without taking them out of the world of castles and princes.

Nancy Springer - specifically, of course, the Rowan Hood series and the Enola Holmes books. Rowan Hood is the daughter of Robin Hood (unbeknownst to him at first), and upon the death of her mother becomes the unwitting leader of a band of very strong characters with their own strong personalities. Through the series they all learn a lot about love, honor, revenge, and friendship. Enola Holmes is the very intelligent younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, who was not exactly known for his high opinion of the female intellect. When her mother disappears and her brothers want to send her off to a finishing school, she begins a series of adventures, mostly just trying to stay free until she is of legal age, but also longing to have a relationship with her brother - adding a very nice dimension to what would already be highly enjoyable books.

Gerald Morris - While his main characters are usually male, all contain some strong females (as well as some simpering idiots). Any of the books in the Squire's Tale series can stand alone - and who can resist a title like The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf? - but it's best to start from the beginning and read them all.

Now for some specific titles:

Your classic tale of miss prim and proper learning there is more to the world than her sheltered upbringing would have her believe, and that right and wrong aren't always clear. In Avi's masterful hands this classic tale becomes a gripping Newbery Award novel that both boys and girls alike will not be able to put down.

Yes, by the same author as Pippi Longstocking, but Ronia does not have any superhuman strength or chest of gold. She does have a heart of gold, as well as a wild spirit, and entire band of robbers (of which her father is the leader) wrapped around her pinky finger - a good thing, too, since she has more sense than the lot of them! This is exactly how I picture my daughter to be a few years from now, barefoot and ragged and running through the trees. Another great illustration from Trina Schart Hyman.

Unfortunately out of print, and I couldn't find cover art, but used copies available from the usual sources. Maud wants to be a wool merchant, not a lady - but that's not the way things are done, so off to the castle she goes to learn all the important things in life, like needlework and courtly manners. She makes some friends, but a girl with a brain can only take so much lute playing, so she runs away, and...well, then the story really starts! A comfortable tale your young woman will go back to curl up with again and again.

Here's one for your older teen that should drag her away from the Twilight-and-such genre (for a little while, anyway). Vassar is NOT the tiniest bit free spirited when we first meet her, planning every year, day, hour of her life. Then her bohemian grandmother blackmails her parents (what on earth does she have on them, anyway?) into letting her drag Vassar across the world on a crazy, very definitely UNplanned trip. If she survives grandma's lack of forethought (or is it really?) and the disastrous situations they get into, she may learn quite a bit about a number of things, and maybe - just maybe - enjoy herself a little?

Must...stop...now...so many great books, and such a long post already! As always, feel free to add your suggestions! happy shopping!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Books for Spirited Girls - Younger Edition, from Miss Ami

Pippi Longstocking was my hero growing up - a bit surprising since I was actually quite shy and reserved, and even my mother will tell you I was a fairly obedient child. I grew out of that, and have to say none of my daughters, including the one on the way, quite fits the "shy" description. The following are some picture book recommendations for the spirited young lady in your life, the one who speaks her own mind and does her own thing. Monday - barring the illnesses and power failures that threw us off this week - we will give some suggestions for older readers.

We absolutely have to start off with:

Mandatory reading for every young girl (and suggested reading as a warning for every young boy). I first heard this book read aloud as part of a sermon given by a rather unorthodox (but highly memorable) pastor when I was in college, and immediately bought my own copy. Many years later, I was corresponding with a very intelligent gentleman who was not getting the hint that I wanted him to ask me out. We were discussing books with great characters, and I countered his Louis Lamour with The Paper Bag Princess. He remarked that, if a woman were to rescue him from a dragon, he hoped he would at least know enough to offer dinner rather than a criticism of her appearance. I told him to let me know if he saw any marauding dragons.

He finally took the hint, and we were married the following spring. On the day of our wedding, this arrived in the mail from Canada:

Yes it's real, and no, you may not touch it. Or breathe on it. Ever. And the baby's middle name will be Elizabeth.

There are, of course, a million other great books out there for that independent young miss, such as:

This wonderful collection of poems celebrate the narrator's friendship with the "one of a kind" Danitra Brown. In addition to her spunk, you can't help fall in love with Danitra's sense of right and wrong and her commitment to her friends.

Pippi needs no introduction or explanation, I just had to push this edition. lauren Child's illustrations are a perfect match for the irrepressible heroine, and where the altered font on some of the words usually drives me crazy, as in the Geronimo Stilton books, it totally works here.

When Theodore Roosevelt was asked why he didn't "do something" about his oldest daughter Alice, the man who once led the Rough Riders and convinced Russia and Japan to make nice replied, "I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both." I think Alice Roosevelt would make my top five list of people I wish I had known, and after reading this, she may make yours as well.

There are so many great twists on the Cinderella story, but this is one of my favorites. Edna, Ella's next door neighbor, finds herself in much the same situation, but is a bit more enterprising and self-sufficient than Ella. At the ball, she wins the attention of the handsome prince's slightly nerdy younger brother, and in the end I think she gets a much better deal.

I can't really talk about strong-minded females without mentioning Lola, can I? Any from this series are good, I like to follow this one up with a taste test of different foods. You could include a coupon for a dinner date at an ethnic restaurant, and have fun giving new names to unfamiliar foods.

I know as soon as I hit the pillow tonight I'm going to think of a dozen other books I should have mentioned, and I am sure you are thinking "I can't believe she didn't talk about ---." Please feel free to add your suggestions, because as I said, I have some spirited girls to buy for myself!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nonfiction Monday and Gift Suggestions

Today we will feature some of our favorite biographies. The first is actually a series, all by author Mike Venezia:

These are sooooooo great for reluctant readers - and, we will admit, we love reading the cartoons ourselves! Comprised of short but informative bits of text interspersed with photographs and cartoons, Venezia keeps each of these biographies lively and interesting. Often biographies of "old dead people" just plain look dry and dusty, because any portraits of the subjects are....dry and dusty. You definitely can't say that about these! Several adult patrons have discovered the series and scraf them off the new shelves as they come in. Don't miss the back pages, where Venezia explains how one of his distant relatives was either related to the subject of that particular book, or almost accomplished the same feats! So far he done artists, musicians, and presidents.

In this hilarious autobiography, Scieszka covers the female readers with his humor, the male readers with the hijinks (making money off your baby brother and blowing things up), and the adults with memories of Catholic schools and family car trips. Each chapter is a story all by itself, making this a great book for read-alouds, the coffee tabvle, or one to just stick in your purse for doctor's office waits (just be prepared for strange looks when you start giggling and shouting "ohmygosh, pagan babies! How could I forget about the pagan babies?!")

We were so happy to see Kathryn Lasky turning her hand to biographies a few years ago (she did a couple, this one and one on Eratosthenes, in the 90's, but has done more in recent years). They have the same rich writing as her historical fiction and fantasy books, making her subjects come to life.

This is part of another series we have really enjoyed. It is always good to see young people getting involved in important causes and using their boundless energy to do something to change things (before they get jaded and cynical like us old folks!) In this particular title, Mr. Kachepa started off as a victim, and is now an advocate for human trafficking victims. Many kids and teens (as well as many adults) will be shocked to discover slavery is still a problem in many parts of the world, including the United States. While this book does not gloss over terrible living conditions, it does not give so much detail as to be inappropriate for anyone around 5th grade and up. The focus is on how the young men in Kachepa's situation were helped, and how he is now helping other victims. A very inspiring book, as are the others in the series. Give these to the thinkers and doers on your list who may need to be encouraged that they are never too young to make a difference.

"A long time ago there lived a thre-year-old author.
I was the best grocery-list writer in the world and a huge help to my mother. When I wrote a word I knew exactly what it said.
And the fun part was that I could turn each list upside down and the words said the same thing."

This is an "oldie", but still in print, and perfect for the budding author on your list. We found it just as adorable as her picture books (Hooway for Wodney Wat, Score One for the Sloths, etc.) It is so full of one-liners and giggles, you will find yourself wanting to read it out loud to another grown-up before you package it up for its recipient. In fact, you may just want to buy two copies, so you can keep one for yourself!

The "For Kids" series combines interesting biographical information with tons of activities to try. These would be excellent either for home schoolers, or for a child who has a special interest in a subject area (in this case, art). The series also includes books about archaeology, the civil war, Harry Houdini, and the solar system, among others.

Cool Contest - Today Only!!!

Our friend Amanda over at A Patchwork of Books has a big book giveaway going on, but you have to enter TODAY. We love her idea of posting your favorite Christmas tradition to enter, and we're mostly having fun reading those:) We're not entering, but several people already have, so hurry on over to A Patchwork of Books

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gifts for People Who Have Pets...or Want Pets...or are Pets!

Karen Beaumont and David Catrow, the perfect combination for a goofy picture book. Every dog owner can identify with the early morning wake-ups, and trying to control a group of exhuberant puppies of all shapes and sizes. Snuggle up with your little one on your lap and take time to look over all the silly details in Catrow's illustrations - the facial expressions alone are priceless!

We know, a wombat makes a lousy pet, but after reading these and French's nonfiction follow-up, we WANT one! We also think Freaky might be one...obstinate, likes to burrow, wants to be fed but then left alone...is there such thing as a hairless water wombat?

Anyone who has ever owned a dog will recognize it in one or more of these short poems. A marketing hint to Harper Collins: we would love to see individual prints made of these! Although this is a picture book suitable for any age, we have also given it as a gift to adults who love their pooches with personalities.

One of our favorite read-alouds, and another book filled with David Catrow's quirky illustrations. A young boy who desperately wants a pet iguana exchanges notes with his skeptical mother. Our favorite exchange is when he tells her the iguana could be the little brother he always wanted, and she reminds him, "You HAVE a brother." Seriously, when you were younger, wouldn't you have exchanged your sibling for just about any type of pet? Bite your tongue if you still want that option, it's the holiday season.

One of our absolute all-time favorites, and a great introduction to his whole Magic Shop series. Suitable for 4th or 5th grade readers, or as a family read-aloud. Check local rock shops for one of those polished, egg-shaped stones to make it extra special.

Really, anything by Jean Craighead George should satisfy the animal lover on your list. This is one of several books in which George relates true stories about the animals, wild and domestic, with whom she has shared her life (and shower. And purse. And...)

The bunny in question is never a pet, but rather the catalyst for a young girl and the grown-ups around her to find their way out of the rather rigid boxes they have found themselves in. Give this one to the quiet loner on your list who has memorized all the books in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Just about everyone, young and old, is familiar with the name of Dr. Dolittle and the concept of talking to animals. Unfortunately, for most the name is associated with the movie, which (apologies to Mr. Murphy), was absolute rubbish. Also unfortunately, you can't get new copies of most of this series anymore, and will have to purchase most of them from secondhand sources. We think that makes them more of a treasure, though. Perhaps if we get a new generation hooked on the series, publishers will take note and start reprinting!

There are tons of great books out there for animal lovers, and we have only scratched the surface. We would love to hear your suggestions (because hey, we have gifts to buy, too!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Secret Santas

Last month we posted here about a Secret Santa type gift exchange just for book bloggers.

We were absolutely tickled today to receive a gift from our Secret Santa, some anonymous elf from Ontario. Not only did our package contain a nice little journal for us, but a board book and stuffy for our keeper's baby-on-the-way; her first official Christmas present! Even the card was hand made and adorable, making us feel guilty for the generic stick-on labels we use. Thank-you Santa, for making our day!

Gift Ideas for Teens

Some groups are just harder to buy for than others. Husbands are one - the ads say to buy them tools, but unless he has been dropping hints like Home Depot flyers with items circled, how do you know which ones? And if you could afford them, wouldn't he already have six? The office "non-gender-specific-around-$15" gift exchange can be a nightmare as well. Buy a set from Bath and Body, and guaranteed, the one guy in the room will draw that number. Ditto with the fancy chocolates or cocoa sets and the coworker on a diet.

Teens are definitely another one of those groups. There is just so much twilight paraphenalia in the stores, and they stopped letting us pick out clothes for them years ago. God bless the teen who collects something, and triple blessings upon those who love books!

In Tuesday's post, we gave a couple web sites where you can find upcoming releases. Commercial sites like Garnes and Noble and Amazon also allow you to search by publication dates. Today we are going to feature some books for teens that may have been out for a year or a decade, but which we think will still appeal to a wide variety of teens. Later this month we will feature favorite authors for the same age group.

Publisher's description: Though legally blind, Paul Fisher can see what others cannot. He can see that his parents' constant praise of his brother, Erik, the football star, is to cover up something that is terribly wrong. But no one listens to Paul—until his family moves to Tangerine. In this Florida town, weird is normal: Lightning strikes at the same time every day, a sinkhole swallows a local school, and Paul the geek finds himself adopted into the toughest group around: the soccer team at his middle school. Maybe this new start in Tangerine will help Paul finally see the truth about his past—and will give him the courage to face up to his terrifying older brother.

A rather intense book, full of social issues but by no means bogged down by them. Although the main character plays soccer and his older brother is a football star (and the sun around which the family revolves), it is not a sports book. Although there are a few mysteries to be solved, it is not a mystery novel. Although most of the main characters are male, it can easily be enjoyed by both genders. Not for teens who like light reading, but highly recommended for those who like to think. Word of warning, once your teen begins this book, do not attempt to draw them into everyday conversation until they have finished it!

Publisher's Description: Los Angeles is a place of movie stars and fast cars and people who are too rich and people who are too poor. An area of freeway chases and drive-bys and death. But there's another L.A., one where warmth and humor and humanity pervade. Where a tacqueria sign declares: "One cause, one people, one taco." This L.A. is a place where random acts of generosity and goodwill improve the lives of the community. Any Small Goodness is a novel filled with hope, love, and warmth.

This book runs the gamut of emotions, from humor to despair. The reading level, about 4th grade, and the pervasive element of hope, make it suitable for pre-teens or for family read-alouds, yet the themes of balancing who you are with wanting to fit in, or the feeling that sometimes no matter how hard you try to do the right thing, bad things still happen, make this story resonate with teens as well. A great book any time of year, but the last chapters are especially suited for Christmas.

What teen has not felt he was the odd one at times? Here, two boys who would seem to be exact opposites, but who are both more than they appear, team up to show the world (and themselves) that there are different kinds of strength, and different kinds of smart.

This is actually the link to the Audio CD, but we like the cover photo better:) Publisher's description:

Thirteen-year-old Steven has a totally normal life: he plays drums in the All-Star Jazz band, has a crush on the hottest girl in the school, and is constantly annoyed by his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey. But when Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, Steven's world is turned upside down. He is forced to deal with his brother's illness and his parents' attempts to keep the family in one piece. Salted with humor and peppered with devastating realities, DRUMS, GIRLS, AND DANGEROUS PIE is a heartwarming journey through a year in the life of a family in crisis.

An amazing first novel in its own right, it is hard to believe Sonnenblick has not gone through these circumstances himself. These who have will find parts of it very familiar, while those who haven't will get a glimpse of what it is like to have a child inthe family with leukemia. Lest you think it is all about having a sick sibling, however, we refer you to the title words, which hint at all the other things going on in Steven's life - as things do.

A little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of mystery. Some readers report finding it slow at first, while others were hooked right away. A twist in the middle, however, gets the attention of both groups, and the ending leaves you wanting a sequel.

Publisher's Description: Maybe it was bad karma. Maybe it was just bad luck. Whatever the reason, fifteen-year-old David was born defective. His bug eyes, pinched face, and hearing aids are obvious, but there is a secret David keeps from everyone, even his foster parents. Because of a thin layer of skin hidden under each arm, David can fly—well, glide is more like it. Terrified of doctors, wary of letting down his guard, David is determined to hide his secret at any cost. But then David meets Cheetah, a girl whose own defect doesn’t diminish her spirit, and suddenly his life begins to take wing.

Don't worry, the bad pun at the end of the description is not indicative of the writing in the actual book! Intriguing selection for boys or girls.

There HAS to be a sequel to this, it was set up at the end to have a sequel, and we desperately WANT there to be a sequel, but one has not materialized yet. Yes, Ms. Plum-Ucci, we are directing those comments at you!

A sci-fi thriller that will appeal to your computer geeks, without being to technical for those of us who are still figuring out how to operate our blog. Characters' changing relationships, international intrigue, mistaken first impressions, terrorism, family ties - there is something for everyone in this thriller. Give it to your favorite teen so he or she can help us nag the author for another!

Gotta love a book that warns you up front, don't you? Yes, it does begin with the mother dying, but no, the book itself is not hideous. We'd have to say this is definitely a girl book, though. Written in verse, teens will find it an easy read, and will probably identify with the main character in several areas, even if their father is not a "megafamous actor/ who's been way too busy/ trying to win Oscars/ to even visit me once in fifteen years".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Old Picture Books Worth the Search Time

Today for our gift suggestions, we are featuring picture books that may be a little hard to find - some are out of print, most won't be carried at your local book store - but they are definitely worth a little searching. These are "classics" that may not make any of the classics lists, but we bet (or at least hope) you'll recognize one or two and say "I LOVED that book! That would be perfect for my neice!"

Without further ado, and in no particular order:

Not only is this one back in print, it made Barnes and Noble's Holiday Gift list. Also by Doris Burn:

Both are simple stories guaranteed to fire up the imagination of any child. In the first, a young, misunderstood inventor runs away from home (as far as the meadow) and builds his own home. He is soon joined by other children who feel unappreciated at home, and builds for them unique homes suited to their personality. In the second, a boy tries to escape the annoying tourists buzzing around the beach, and discovers a small group of children who, while we can assume came with their parents as tourists, have also slipped away to create their own little quiet hiding places where they can be themselves. Make sure to pair these with an age-appropriate set of tools and some scrap materials. After reading either one, your kids will be itching to get out and create their own hideaways! If space is an issue, they may settle for creating miniatures out of shoeboxes or the like.

Two oldies by Brock Cole:

Buttons will tickle children who like to see adults behaving in absurd ways. Father loses the buttons on his britches and takes to bed, unable now to go out and prvide for his family. His loving daughters come up with absurd ways of locating new buttons for their dear father, with the least likely of course being the most successful. While children may be unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary (like britches) and time period references (the shiny buttons on a soldier's uniform), the context is more than adequate for understanding, and shouldn't break the flow of the story. Pair it with a box of miscellaneous buttons, and your youngster can spend hours sorting them or stringing them together.

The King at the Door is a very sweet tale of a raggedy-looking man appearing at the door of an inn, insisting he is the king, and in need of some assistance. The innkeeper judges him by his appearance, while the young apprentice takes him at his word. When the former sends out dishwater to drink and dog scraps for food, the apprentice shares his own food and drink with the man instead. Everyone gets their just rewards the next day, when the king returns to take the kind apprentice to live with him at the castle. A very simple tale of kindness and trust vs. cynicism and judgementalism without any overbearing preachiness. Also a gentle reminder to adults that children sometimes see things more clearly than we do! After reading it together, make a trip to a local soup kitchen to help out for an afternoon.

Who does not remember playing for hours with a giant empty box? (If you never experienced that, go get one and try it out in your living room. We won't tell anyone. Just curl up inside with a flashlight, a blanket, some cookies and a book. Trust us.) This would go well with the Doris Burn books to inspire creativity. Pair it, of course, with a giant box - check your local appliance store for empties, or use the excuse to replace your old dryer.

Slight confusion may arise from the fact that Kim is generally thought of as a girl's name these days, and here Kim is a boy, but many kids won't even think about it. Partly in rebus, this is the comical tale of a boy who must find homes for all but one of his kittens, and succeeds - by exchanging each for a different kind of pet! Children will enjoy reading along by naming the color and type of each pet as they are listed in cumulative form, until Kim arrives proudly back home. Pair it with a collection of plastic animals, a wagon like Kim's, or, if you have decided it's time, a handmade gift certificate for a certain kind of pet.

This one was actually written and illustrated by fourth graders in Mount Horeb, Wisnconsin. Basically, a little girl takes the chewing gum from her mouth and sticks it under a park bench before walking away. The gum ends up beingpicked back up, in one way or another, by a variety of creatures, until it ends up back in the same spot the next day - where the little girl finds it again and pops it back into her mouth. We know, we know, eeeeeewww!!! But that's part of the appeal, as is the authorship. Buy it to encourage your budding author/artist, and make sure to include plenty of drawing paper, or maybe a blank book and a "grown-up" pen and pencil set.

Another one where the grown-ups are just plain silly, while gently teaching that we can't expect other people to meet our every need and want - we need to take responsibility for some things ourselves. Pair it with a date to make gingerbread together - and invite us, we LOVE gingerbread in all forms!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Giving Books as Gifts

Before we make any more book recommendations, we have to share this fantastic list from another blog:

MotherReader: 105 Ways to Give a Book

Anybody can just put a book in a pretty bag with tissue, these wonderful but simple ideas take gifts to a fun new level!

Also, if you are in the area of our library, remember we have a Christmas tree near our videos with order cards for books you can buy and donate for everyone to enjoy!

Some of you may find yourself in the same position as our keeper - her teenage daughter asks for books for Christmas, but reads everything the second it comes out. Sure, gift cards mean they can choose their own books, but it's still nice to have something to wrap. Check out these sites for some upcoming titles and preorder, so they can't POSSIBLY have already read them...right?

YA Lit
Teens Read Too December Calendar

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nonfiction Monday and Christmas Suggestions

We are adamant the Christmas should not start until after Thanksgiving, but once the turkey leftovers are packed away - bring it on! For the next few weeks, we will be reviewing some old (and new) favorites that we think would make great gifts. Today we will start it off with some great nonfiction reads.

Check these previous posts first for new series we loved:
Fantasy Chronicles series from Lerner - for tweens or teens, or anyone into fantasy

Gross Body Science from Lerner - upper elementary on up, good for reluctant readers.

Rosen's Library of Intergenerational Learning - Native Americans - lower elementary

An 'older' series that is still adding new titles is the "You Wouldn't Want to Be" collection by Children's Press

Okay, it's not as if we need a book to tell us we wouldn't want to be an Aztec sacrifice...or an Inca mummy...or in a medieval prison...but these books sure make it fun to read about the horrors we are missing out on. Cartoony drawings and short bits of text make the gruesome palatable, while keeping that 'boy appeal'. Yes, we know, that's stereotyping - but we also know exactly what those moms and grandmas mean when they want a "boy book" for their reluctant reader.

We like the "Questions Children Ask" series because it gives simple, straightforward answers directly from scripture, with little to no denominational bias.

Lots of great activities for different ages. This one might be good for the moms on your list!

Not specific locales per se, but things like "a working farm", or "Mom or Dad's workplace". Sometimes we take for granted that our kids have the same background knowledge we do, but that certainly isn't always the case. The more experiences they have, the better able they are to comprehend what they are reading, and the more they can enjoy themselves. A good one ofr kids or for parents (or grandparents...or daycare providers...)

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, reviewed by Miss Ami

Publisher's description: "When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind."

I wasn't sure I'd like this one, although I knew it had been receiving great reviews. It looks/sounds like a "boy book", and as I commented on another blog, I just hate not knowing what is going on!

Definitely wrong on both counts - as soon as I had finished and recovered from shock enough to speak and move, I handed it over to my 15-year-old daughter. I needed to talk to someone who had read it! She started it in the afternoon, and ended up staying up to the wee hours to finish it (that's my girl!) We met in the hall the next morning, groggy and disheveled, to exclaim "OMG! What the...and then...and when he...so are they...but how can...!!!" (much to my husband's annoyance - he prefers Louis Lamour). The entire book is gripping and fast-paced, and the ending makes every season finale of "Lost" look humdrum ad predictable. I would love to say more, but definitely don't want to spoil it. Anyone who hasn't read this one yet needs to hurry up and do so, so that we can all converse freely (it kind of feels like getting that advance library copy of the last "Harry Potter", but having to keep your mouth shut.)

We will be giving book recommendations soon for Christmas gift giving, and strongly suggest this one for any tween or teen. If you click on the book cover to purchase this or any other book, we receive a small percentage to be used for new materials at our library.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NOT a Contest, Just Some Thanksgiving Fun

So, we have the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the corn, the stuffing, many kinds of pie, green bean cassserole, the rolls you forget about until the last minute, the cranberry sauce that nobody eats, ditto with the green salad, fruit salad, Jell-O salad, and dumfkraut (you probably need to be from my family - just go with it.) If you're lucky, maybe even a cake like one of these: Cake Wrecks Thanksgiving (yes, we will use any excuse to link to our favorite blog).

But what happens next week? When you have force fed leftovers in every possible combination to your kiddos, and the freezer is still full? Time to get creative! Here we will post suggestions from some of our young patrons (and a few older ones), and we challenge you to post some of your own.

Leftover Turkey:

* Carve dark and light sections into chess pieces.
* Use thinner strips as bookmarks.
* For instant popularity, tuck small pieces in your socks and go visit the Bark Park.
* Place a chunk on the car manifold of a problem patron (not that we would ever DO that).

Leftover Corn:

* Let kernels dry out and pair with a soda straw for study hall entertainment.
* Think of the craft possibilities - use to fill a paper plate shaker, glue in mosaic patterns along with the leftover peas.

Leftover Cranberry Sauce:

* Freeze and save for Halloween, makes excellent fake blood.

Leftover Pie:

* Are you kidding? Who has leftover pie? Just send it our way. Don't forget the whipped cream.

Now, we KNOW you can come up with more ideas than that! Take some time out today to give us your ideas, or come up with a list while everyone is lying around, comatose tomorrow. Enjoy!

And the Winner is...

Squirt! Lots of great names suggested, but most of the staff liked this one. Kayleigh, we're sure we will see you next week, and you can pick out your free books then. Squirt is very THANKFUL to have an actual name now, instead of being referred to as "the new guy", or "the baby" (he especially doesn't like being called the baby.)

Thanks for all the participation, and have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Contest Reminder

Don't forget, today is the last day to submit your name suggestion for our newest turtle! Head to this post: Changes and a Contest and leave your idea. The winning name will be chosen at tomorrow morning's staff meeting, and announced on the blog by afternoon.

Graphic Universe Myths and Legends from Lerner

These links will take you to hardcover editions, but both are also available in slim paperbacks. We always try to get hardcovers of graphic novels for our library, and often they aren't available, so it was nice to see these offered! If you are just buying for your favorite tenn or tween, however, we suggest the much cheaper paperbacks.

This series includes more than a dozenmyths and legends, some familiar old favorites like Ali baba, others less so, like Sunjata: Warrior King of Mali. There is quite a wide variety of cultures and time periods represented, making this a good starter set for your library. It would even make a good book-of-the-month series (do they still have those?) It isn't offered that way as far as I know, but you could certainly purchase and dole them out one at a time, maybe as a fun part of a home school curriculum. Use them as a springboard for different social studies units.

Marwe, for example, would be a much more interesting introduction to East Africa than a map of principal exports! In this legend, a young woman with a good heart makes a mistake, and ends up in the land of the dead. Because she is so kind and hard-working (two themes hit hard through the short story), she earns favor with everyone there, and eventually returns home years later, beautiful and wealthy.

Her hope that "I will be able to find a suitable husband, then everything will be perfect" may make us cringe at first, but it is a great discussion starter. She ends up marrying a man who is not as handsome as the others, but who is also a hard worker with a kind heart (told you that was hit hard!)

In addition to moral and cultural lessons that would be easy to expand on, there are references to languages, Mount Kilimanjaro, wildlife, and agriculture. It almost makes us want to grab a random teen and start planning activities! Pigling, a Korean version of the Cinderella story, is much the same. Both have notes at the front detailing some of the research and fact checking that went into creating that particular book. We will probably be recommending this series to those parents who come in trailing bored-looking middle schoolers, saying "I've decided to home school - now what do I do???"

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Guest Review - Ash, by Malinda Lo, reviewed by Sissy

Ash is a wonderfully written story about a girl who loses her mother at a young age. She dreams of fairies and wishes them to take her away from her life, even if it's only in her dreams. When her father passes away, her step-mother takes her away to live with herself and her two daughters. Ash finds hope and love in places she never would imagine. Ash is a new twist on the Cinderella tale.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Moon Party Wrap-Up

Wow, are Twilight fans dedicated! How dedicated? When the fire alarm went off, most of our guests were working on their answers to the trivia contest, and no one so much as stood up. Who cares if the building is burning down around our ears, you said we had to turn this in before we left if we wanted to win the life-sized movie characters, and we know where our priorities lie!

There were 35 questions on the quiz (mostly stolen from various internet sites), but they were worth a total of 50 possible points. We wanted to give credit for partial answers, while still rewarding those who were more specific. The questions, their answers, scoring, and page numbers they were on (letters tell which book) are as follows:

1. Who is Elizabeth Masen? (NM pg. 39)
Edward’s mother (1 point)
2. What did Edward take when he left Forks? (NM pg. 83 and pg. 525)
She THOUGHT he took her CD and photos, but he just hid them under her floorboards. We awarded 1 point for “nothing”, “her heart”, or “his family”.
3. Who found Bella in the forest? (NM pg. 75)
Sam Uley (1 point)
4. When is Bella's birthday? (NM pg. 6)
September 13 (1 point)
5. What did Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper give Bella for her 18th birthday? (NM pg. 27)
New stereo for her truck (1 point)
6. To whom does Bella give the second set of photos that she took with her new camera? (NM pg. 66)
Renee, or her mother (1 point)
7. What did Bella's father give her for her 18th birthday? (NM pg. 9)
A camera (1 point). Many people put “scrapbook”; that is what her mother gave her.
8. Where does Bella get the pictures she took with her new camera developed? (NM pg. 64)
1 point for “drug store”, 2 points for “Thriftway”
9. What reason did the Cullens give for moving away from Forks? (NM pg. 82)
They said Carlisle was offered a job at a big hospital in LA (1 point)
10. How long has Bella's grandmother been dead? (NM pg. 3)
6 years (1 point)
11. What is Bella's grandmother's name? (NM pg. 3)
Marie (1 point)
12. What is the original source of the epigraph at the beginning of New Moon? (An epigraph is a quote at the beginning of a novel. The epigraph in New Moon is:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, comsume.)

1 point for “Romeo and Juliet”, 2 points if you also named Act II, Scene VI
13. Which of the Cullens was the fastest runner? (T pg. 370)
Edward (1 point)
14. How many humans has Rosalie killed? (E pg. 163)
1 point if you said 7, 2 points if you listed them (her fiance, his four friends, and the two guards)
15. What injuries does Bella have from James' attack? (T pg. 460)
1 point for each: broken leg, 4 broken ribs, cracked skull, bruises and blood loss, bite on wrist.
16. Where do the vampires meet with the werewolves to train for the upcoming battle with the newborn vampire army? (E pg. 387)
At the baseball clearing (1 point)
17. In Twilight, on the page before the Preface, there is a quote from the Bible. What is the reference for that quote? (T)
Genesis 2:17
18. Who was Sam Uley's high school sweetheart? (E pg. 117)
Leah Clearwater
19. What color is Bella's prom dress? (T pg. 482)
1 point for “blue”, 2 points for “deep blue” or “dark blue”
20. What music does Bella hear in Edward's car the first time he gives her a ride home? (T pg. 104-5)
Clair de Lune by Debussey
21. Who are the elders of the Quileute council that are at the bonfire? (E pg. 240, 244)
1 point for each: Billy Black, Old Quil, Sue Clearwater, Sam Uley
22. What animal does Billy Black compare Leah Clearwater to? (E pg. 626)
A wolverine (1 point)
23. In how many bites did Bella swallow her granola bar the morning after she discovered Edward was a vampire? (T pg. 196)
Three (1 point)
24. Who first discovered that Sam was a werewolf? (E pg. 117-118)
Old Quil Ateara, or Quil’s grandfather (1 point)
25. Why was Alice put into a mental asylum? (T, chapter 22)
Because she was having visions of the future
26. What does Jacob threaten to do so that Bella will ask him to kiss her? (E pg. 523)
To take himself out of the picture, to die in the vampire fight (1 point)
27. What does blood smell like to Bella? (T pg. 100)
Rust and salt (1 point – must have both)
28. How are Emily and Leah related? (E pg. 122)
1 point for “cousins”, 2 points for “second cousins”
29. What caused Emmet to cross the boundary line between the vampires and werewolves? (E pg. 86)
He was chasing Victoria (1 point)
30. When Carlisle first discovered he was a vampire, he tried to kill himself. How? (T ch 15 and 16)
1 point for each: jumping from cliffs, starvation, drowning
31. What is Charlie's favorite hobby? (T many places)
Fishing (1 point)
32. When Charlie grounded Bella, when were Edward's visiting hours? (E pg. 7)
7:00-9:30PM (1 point)
33. What type of car does Edward drive? (T)
1 point for “Volvo”, 2 points if you also said it was silver.
34. Who did the heart-shaped crystal charm originally belong to? (E pg. 438)
Edward’s mother (1 point)
35. How does Edward pay off Alice to get her to kidnap Bella for a sleepover while he's gone hunting? (E pg 145)
Buys her a Porsche (1 point)

Congratulations to the winners: Felicia with 43 points, Melinda with 36 1/2, and Haley with 35. Now to pry the figures out of the clutches of the female staff members (and to rescue Bella from the recycling bin, which is where the clerks relegated her).

Anyone who wants to see their score can pick their quiz up at the Children's Desk. Anyone else is welcome to use these for their party (as mentioned, we stole them ourselves). Word of warning - we didn't even print the questions out until an hour before the party, and didn't print the answers until the next day - everyone was trying to get an advance look at them!

Everyone seemed to have a good time, and we saw people we haven't seen at previous programs, always a good sign.

Miss Ami is not a huge Edward fan - that would be an "L" shape she is making with her hand.. Sara agrees!

The gang attends morning staff meeting. We...er...forgot this was also the morning the fire department was coming to give a training. There were a few odd looks, but the firemen wisely didn't say anything.

More pictures coming as they get to us!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Slobodan Milosevic

(From Lerner's "Dictatorships" series.)

Once you hit about third grade, it seems, teachers start assigning book reports on a variety of subjects, usually including biographies. Many kids get stuck in the rut of reading yet another book about Harriet Tubman or Andrew Jackson. No offense to either of the aforementioned, but - yawn! Yes, they were incredible people who led interesting lives and contributed to mankind, but don't you already hear about them in class each year? Give us a good bad guy any day!

This series hits on a few familiar names, such as Saddam Hussein, as well as several villains kids may not know of - Pol Pot, Than Shwe, Mao Zedong. There is a definite bias in the books - no "history will judge" here - but, what would you expect from the series title? Kind of hard to defend a dictatorship (except, of course, the benevolent dictatorship run by Mom. That one goes unquestioned.)

The cover is attractive, and shows Milosevic's trademark arrogant stare (okay, we're not exactly unbiased ourselves). It is actually hard to critique the book without critiquing the man it is about, which I suppose is good, as it attests to how well the writing draws you in. While written at a middle/high school level, it is very readable - even the historical background at the beginning doesn't get as bogged down as in some books - and the personality of the subject becomes very 3-dimensional. We think teens or adults who read this one will come away from it feeling they are familiar with a person they perhaps didn't know anything about to begin with. definitely a series to add to your middle or high school library. Rather than that 16th book on Abraham Lincoln.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Picture books by Idries Shah


I...don't get it.

Nope, still lost.

Okay, I normally don't read other reviews of a book until after I have written mine, to make sure my review is all mine. This time, though, I had to wonder if maybe there was some sort of cultural barrier, so I googled. Oh, my! What a spate of controversy surrounding Mr. Shah and eastern religion and whether anyone was really directly descended from anyone else and a whole lot of other things I am not interested in getting into for a picture book review!

So, I'll just concentrate on the books themselves, and go back to my first comment: huh? I mean, I understood the stories - they are very simple. I understood the morals - they are often literally spelled out for you. I just didn't see how the moral matched the story. Or how the story was actually supposed to teach anything. It's like hearing someone say, "Yesterday, it rained, and I splashed in puddles," to which you are supposed to nod sagely and say something like, "yes, water makes wetness," and this will somehow cause you to be a more enlightened person.

Let's take "The Boy Without a Name", for example. When the young man is born, a wise man tells his parents he is very important, and they must not give him a name, they must wait for him to do it at a later date. They agree without question, calling him "Nameless" (which to me would be a name, but, whatever.) One day he asks a friend for his name, but the friend doesn't want to give it up for nothing. Nameless (see? He capitalizes it - it's a name!) says he has a dream he can give away, and they run to the wise man, who lets Nameless pick a name from a box, and both of them pick a dream from another box and then everybody is happy. The end.

I just have to say one more time...HUH??? So, what was so important about the kid? What is so special about the name? Why make him and his parents wait if he's just going to pick one from a box? What's up with the friend and the dreams, which we never learn anything about? The jacket cover says it teaches kids about patience and tenacity, but I just don't see that happening. We received this whole set free from Hoopoe Press, and I hate to criticize the entire collection, but - I just can't recommend these to anyone. Since we have them, we will go ahead and put them out for circulation, in the hopes that maybe it is just me and my western brain not 'getting it'. If anyone has a different experience or take on the books, we would love to hear it!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Moon Party!

No, we are not going to be the 8 billionth blog to review anything in the Twilight series. We do want to share our plans, however, for the upcoming movie release, and see what ideas we can steal from the rest of you!

Our library is partnering with our Friends organization and a local astronomy club to host an evening event for teens and adults on Tuesday, November 17th. Did anyone realize there actually is a new moon that week? Hopefully, the clouds will stay away, because the astronomy group has some very cool telescopes they are going to set up on our lawn, giving everyone a chance to check out the night sky. From there, they can head inside (through a walkway hung with silver moons and stars), to check out some different activities centered around the main events of the book.

Bella's Birthday - This will be our refreshment area. Since we did 'spooky' for Halloween, we are going with pink and twinkly for this area. Lights, rose petals, pink cupcakes, pink lemonade, those pink globey things that hang from the ceiling - but nothing made of glass, just in case!:)

Edward Leaving - Well, how on earth do you celebrate THAT - sit around and look depressed? We made this the spot for our trivis contest, stolen - er- borrowed from various web sites. It's a HARD one, hopefully forestalling too many perfect scores, since we have a limited number of prizes:)

Jacob's Transformation - We really wanted some sort of craft to take home, so even though they aren't actually from this book, we bought a bunch of crystal heart and werewolf charms (Ebay!) to represent our two guys. Guests can either make bracelets or keychains. It will be interesting to see how many use both charms, and how many choose just one (Miss Ami is firmly in Team Jacob).

Bella's Reckless Streak - after briefly toying with the idea of crossing the street to the pool and going cliff diving, we decided virtual thrills would be safer. Guests can race cars or motorcycles on our big TV, using a borrowed game system. Something for the guys still reeling from all that pink!

Meeting the Volturi - Again, how would you celebrate this one? Eat some tourists? We decided dressing like them might be more acceptable than adopting their dining habits. We hit the after-Halloween sales and bought up all the body glitter, plastic fangs, and body paint we could find. Plenty of mirrors to do yourself up, and - the piece de resistance - life-sized cardboard figures of Edward, Jacob and Bella, plus a volunteer with a digital camera to snap your picture. Those figures will then be the prizes for the top three scorers on the trivia contest (pleasepleaseplease no ties!)

We will also have miscellaneous door prizes, quotes from the books posted throughout, etc. We are already getting calls, and it hasn't even been advertised in the paper yet! We'd love to hear more ideas, so we can make sure we have something for everybody! Our goal is to have all the activities in a come-and-go style, so we will just have to monitor and replenish supplies as needed. I've seen some great ideas for games like pass-the-apple, and vampires vs. werewolves, that you could use if you are having a more structured event. Please share if you have something planned yourself!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, reviewed by Freaky


Just, wow.

Publisher's description:

Four mysterious letters change Miranda’s world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

I so absolutely loved First Light, I waited anxiously for the next novel from Stead - and then I took forever to read it! I don't know why. Maybe I was afraid her second book couldn't be as good as the first.

Did I say "wow" yet?

This book is nothing like First Light, in theme or in tone, but it is just as gripping. The descriptions are great - from page 151,

"I glanced at Sal, who was concentrating on his basketball like the whole concept of bouncing had just been invented and was really very amazing and deserving of attention."

And just after that;

"There are days when everything changes, and this was one of those days."

The characters are all three-dimensional, but mostly we get to know Miranda. I knew I would love her as soon as I read that her favorite book - the only one she reads, in fact - is A Wrinkle in Time. (If you haven't read A Wrinkle in Time - and I really cannot conceive of a reader who has not read A Wrinkle in Time - go read that first, or this book will not make as much sense). The only thing about the characters - and it's a little thing - is that I didn't get that Julia was black. It was mentioned in the beginning almost in passing, and wouldn't have mattered at all, except that later in the book it DOES matter, but when it is mentioned at the beginning you aren't quite aware yet how much you need to pay attention to things that are mentioned almost in passing.

And if that sentence just made your head swim, you are now prepared for parts of this book. Not that the book is confusing, but you do need to pay attention. The thing is, there are so many other absorbing stories going on, it doesn't feel like a mystery novel where you want to get out a pad of paper and jot down clues.

It's just a fantastic book, and I feel like I am not doing it any justice in trying to explain why. The only beef I had with it besides Julia's character is that this is supposed to be set in 1979, and I didn't get a sense of that at all. No, I certainly did not want to see any stereotypical "black" speech or behavior from Julia, but if Stead wanted the time period to be important some cultural or historical references (besides a certain TV show) might have been helpful.

Again, though, just a little thing, and it in no way detracted from my inability to put it down! Give it to anyone who liked the Wrinkle in Time series, or Hannah's Winter or possibly The Mysterious Benedict Society (I don't know why that one comes to mind, it just does. Go with it.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Picture Book Catch-Up, reviewed by "the new guy"

I really do need a name, folks! We've had some good suggestions so far, but I'd love to have more to choose from. Go to this post to leave your idea by November 24 - and remember, if we choose yours, you get three free books and bragging rights!

Today I'm reviewing three cool picture books that got lost in the shuffle when everyone moved and changed jobs.

We love Vaunda Nelson, and not just because she is a New Mexico librarian:) She is quite the versatile author, with picture, chapter, and nonfiction books under her belt. This latest offering is a nonfiction picture book about Bass Reeves, a widely respected lawmen in the days following the Civil War, when many people would prefer blacks didn't even have guns.

It is always good to hear about men of integrity, and this book offers a great role model for kids of any race, while offering at the same time plenty of action and excitement. Quite a remarkable man I knew nothing about - kudos to Nelson for making sure he isn't forgotten.

Kitamura is one of my favorite illustrators. His drawings look so simple and so complex at the same time. With sparse lines and simple shapes, he still manages to convey a lot of expression on his characters' faces.

In this story, Millie very much wants a fancy, feathery hat, but doesn't quite have the $500 and change it costs. Fortunately, the salesman has just the thing - a magical hat that can look like whatever you imagine it to be. This has some obvious art connections, as kids draw, or even just describe what their hats would look like - then ask them to tell you what YOUR hat looks like!

New printing of an old favorite. The cover is different from the 1979 version, but the other illustrations aren't the same - and who could not love Quentin Blake? Would Roald Dahl's books be half as much fun with a different illustrator? (And yes, we know there are some, but we choose to ignore their existence.)

Who could not love the wild washerwomen, for that matter? We have all had days, whatever our age, when the work seems to just keep piling up, and we wonder what it would be like to just chuck it all and go have fun. Unfortunately, the wild washerwomen get a little too wild, dunking people in water barrels and making a terrible ruckus with the church bells, until everyone for miles around is quite terrified of them.

Enter seven brave woodcutters, who decide to scare them back, beginning by making themselves as dirty as possible. Well, what do you suppose a wild washerwoman will do when confronted by something matted and grubby? By the time the woodcutters have been soaked and squeezed and pounded against stones, everyone has become quite attached to each other, and the final spread shows a happily ever after in true Quentin Blake style. The scruffy-looking woodsman with the kids piled in his lap reading rather reminds me of someone I know, and would make a super mural for the wall of a children's area.

Any of these books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on the cover picture. We receive a small portion towards books for our library (which, for all you IRS auditors out there, totals a whopping $1.52 so far this year).