Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guest Review: The Healing Art of Storytelling, by Richard Stone, reviewed by Steve

This is an excellent introduction to the importance of storytelling our mental and emotional health. Stone provides examples in the form of personal stories and explains how telling the stories helped him come to terms with issues from the past that continued to adversely affect the present. Mr. Stone also addresses the importance of stories told to teach a lesson. He explains how people learn from stories and why many spiritual teachers taught with stories and parables. The reader is also given a wide range of topics to begin telling their own story as well as encouragement to begin. Stone includes a section with cautions about what to avoid, and what to watch for. He points out that some stories are too painful and that sometimes one needs to speak to a professional if a story is too difficult for a friend to handle. I found this book to be inspirational and practical and would recommend it to anyone interested in emotional healing, storytelling, and teaching.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nonfiction Monday, by Freaky

It's Halloween week, so we'll go with something in the fantasy realm that still qualifies as nonfiction. We LOVE Halloween, although it is hard to find little turtle costumes anywhere. Stores have whole sections for dogs and cats, but nothing for reptiles - what is up with that?

We recently received two books from Lerner from their "Fantasy Chronicles" series:


Aren't those covers gorgeous? Different illustrators, both fantastic. A quick look online at the other titles in the series tells me these will fly off the shelves just on face appeal. (I could SO be a hydra, by the way - just use my shell as a base, add a few stuffed heads...I'm telling you, there is a huge, untapped market out there!)

The text is even better than the cover art. So many books of mythical creatures just go for the shock appeal and make a quick list with brief history. These give so much more history and background, including the reasons people may have started telling stories about each creature, lessons to be learned, etc. There are some great lines, like "That's when you realize that this is no Tinker Bell you are dealing with."

You'll want this series for your upper elementary, middle, or high school students!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Druscilla's Halloween, by Sally M. Walker, as reviewed by Freaky

Getting old stinks - or so I've heard:) According to this adorable picture book, before flying broomsticks came along, witches used to sneak up on people by tiptoeing. Unfortunately, Druscilla's creaky old knees make her tiptoeing anything but sneaky. With Halloween coming, what is a witch to do?

If it's a witch as determined and clever as Druscilla, there are a number of things to try - most of which don't work. Fortunately, while sweeping up one failure, Druscilla gets another inspiration, and the rest is history! You can tell kids there are several morals to this story: Never give up. Clean up after yourself. Don't count the old lady out! A fun lesson extension might be to have the kids think up and illustrate other solutions she could have tried.

We may just have to use this for story time next week - in addition to the easy craft project to follow up with, the pictures are engaging, and the text is Halloweeny without being "too scary" (I love one of the last sentences: "Druscilla successfully scared each child - only as much as he or she wanted to be scared - just as she had planned.")

A great addition to your library this season!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tentacles, by Roland Smith, as reviewed by Atlas

I hadn't actually read Cryptid Hunters yet, the first book in this series - it just didn't seem like my type of book. I am very glad Tentacles ended up on our Fall Into Reading list, because it forced me to read both back to back - not that there was much forcing to do after the first few pages!

From the jacket cover:

"Wolfe's latest quest: to be the first to capture a giant squid alive. Before long, the trio sets sail, South-Pacific bound - and with a couple of dinosaur eggs incubating below deck. But their huge freigter may be haunted, and someone on board seems determined to sabotage the mission. If Grace and Marty follow the clues, will they get to the bottom of all this fishy business - or end up at the bottom of the sea?"

Sometimes you have to wonder if the people who write the jacket covers actually read the book. Not that anything in this description is inaccurate, but it really doesn't give a good description of the story line - which may have been why I wasn't initially interested in reading the first one. One would think an author of Roland Smith's caliber would rate a little more attention to detail. Like the fact that it isn't just the trio (Wolfe, Marty and Grace) on this adventure, but also some characters from the first book - most notably, Marty's friend Luther, and Laurel Lee. Noah Blackwood is, of course, also heavily involved. We know from the beginning there is no haunting, and that's almost a side issue, so its mention becomes rather misleading.

For the story itself, I have no complaints! Things may not have happened the way I wanted them to, but that is a sign of the reader's emotional involvement with the story, not a fault of the story itself. There is a lot going on, and the ending only sets things up for a lot more to happen in the next book - which we hopefully won't have to wait too long for!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur, as reviewed by Atlas

I read this on a day when I was already feeling depressed, and I definitely do not recommend that. Reading sad books while depressed, that is - the book itself I do recommend!

Don't worry, when I say the book is sad, I am not giving away anything you won't find out from the jacket cover or the first couple chapters. Aubrey (NOT Audrey!) is 11 years old, coping with the accident that killed her father and younger sister, and a mother who grows more and more withdrawn until one day she just disappears completely. Aubrey copes on her own for about a week, until concerned Grandma shows up at the door and quickly discovers Mom's absence.

While we get some good-sized glimpses into how Aubrey's mother and grandmother are working through their grief, most of the focus is on Aubrey. Some wise adults and a new friend help her work through her feelings about both the deaths of her father and sister, and her mother's abandonment. Sometimes the adults are a little too perfect in knowing just what to say, but that may be just the ticket for a child dealing with the same issues. For some reason I had a hard time reading the letters Aubrey wrote to various people - they seemed somehow overly sentimental. Logically, they worked with the story, and of course they would be sentimental, so I'm not sure why I didn't like them - maybe it was my mood!

While sentimental doesn't appeal to me, we all have those readers who actually come to us looking for sad stories, and this is just the ticket. There is a satisfyingly realistic, if somewhat surprising ending. For those readers either dealing with grief themselves, or wanting to understand someone who is, LaFleur does an excellent job of showing the ups and downs up the process, and the ways seemingly innocuous events can trigger strong emotions. A good start for a new author, and I look forward to seeing what she comes out with next.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - geography and biography, reviewed by Yoda

I am definitely memory-challenged. I meet new people and read new books every day, and I forget names and titles about three seconds after I hear them. I use my status as the oldest as an excuse, but it is a little frustrating at times, so I was especially interested in the "Adventures in Memory" series from Millbrook Press (division of Lerner).

Lerner was kind enough to send us the above title to review. While learning the original 13 colonies might not directly help me with kids' names, studies have shown any work with mnemonics can help in other areas. According to the AMA, exercising your brain can make it stronger at any age, so there is hope for me yet!

This edition had a nice mix of mnemonic devices, from anagrams to songs to silly stories. It also gave tips on adapting some to make them easier for you to remember them personally. In some places it had a little too much information - for example, while I would certainly recommend reading Anansi stories if you were doing a unit on Africa in school, it really doesn't relate if I'm trying to memorize basic facts about the continent. I'm also not sure that word scrambles are a helpful mnemonic device, especially when the scrambled word is so unrelated, you would have a hard time remembering that one, too. Finally, they missed some simple tricks that I learned back in school a million years ago - i.e., LONGitude lines go the LONG way down, lATitude lines show how fAT the earth is. I'm not sure I would remember the banana and watermelon thing.

Then again, everyone's brain is different, so what doesn't work for one reader or student may be just the ticket for another. While it's not their best offering, it may be handy to have around the classroom.

Also received from Lerner:

We definitely do not discuss politics at work, but there is no denying the public's interest in the First Family at any given time, and it has been encouraging to see more books offered about the Presidents' wives over the last few terms. This one had more information than some others I've seen about Michelle Obama's childhood, which children may find more interesting - what types of toys she played with, what her chores were, etc.

Typical of most children's biographies, there is only one paragraph in the whole book with any negative information, summing up her "proud of her country" gaff and other tidbits reported throughout the campaign. This is, as I said, typical of children's books, and not necessarily a complaint. Overall it was very readable, both entertaining and informative. A good addition to any library.

To order either book, click on the cover above. If you order through the link, we receive a very small percentage, which is used to purchase more books or materials for our public library.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck, as reviewed by Atlas

You just have to love Grandma Dowdel. She does what she wants, and she does it with style. Not the kind of style you'll see on the cover of a magazine, but the kind you'll remember. Someone told me once of a beauty pageant contestant who, for her talent portion, gutted and skinned a raccoon while chatting cheerfully with the judges (she won). That young lady would have earned a nod of approval from Mrs. Dowdel, even if the latter wouldn't have much use for beauty pageants in general.

We of course met Grandma Dowdel in A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago. If you haven't read those yet, you'll still enjoy this book, but not nearly as much. She doesn't feature as heavily in this book as in the other two, but everything that happens is flavored or influenced by her. She has mellowed out a bit, letting her kinder side show without losing any of the gruffness. I thought her age was given at one point, but I can't seem to find it now - at any rate, she is now a great-grandmother, so has to be in her eighties at least. While she has always been portrayed as a tough old bird, I did find it a little unrealistic to see no physical slowing-down.

That was my only beef with the story. I know there has been some controversy about the Kickapoo Princess episodes, but to me that's like being offended by racism in Huckleberry Finn. It's part of the flavor of the times, and you could just as easily be offended by half the other events in this book. We had a 22-year-old Kickapoo friend read chapter 6, but she was laughing too hard at the sorority girls to tell us whether she was offended or not.

Grab it for Christmas and read a chapter a night with your family. In addition to being constantly in stitches, you may find yourselves getting into the true spirit of the season more quickly than with any of the schmaltzy tales that usually come out at this time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Library Loot from Miss Ami

Ever wonder what the librarian checks out from the library? (No, we don't get to sit and read the books at work all day). The turtles have graciously allowed me one day a week to break from typing their reviews to share my own picks. This event is cosponsored by two other bloggers, and you can read all about it here:

Library Loot at A Striped Armchair

This week I've checked out:

Love, Aubrey, by Suzanne LaFleur - one of those where I skimmed the first chapter when it came through processing, and decided I had to read the rest of it!

A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck - I love his books, and I want to be Grandma Dowdel when I grow up. (I think I have accepted the fact that I am too old to be Stephanie Plum any more). I also want to see what the big hullaballoo is about the Kickapoo Princess - my two oldest daughters are Kickapoo, and I have the feeling they wouldn't give a flying fig, but we shall see.

Mustang Horses by Kristin Van Cleaf - because my second grader is doing a report on mustangs for school! I love that her teacher has them learning to do research and take notes and follow the whole report writing process. Of course, it helps to have a mom who can snag the newest books for you.

A Squire's Tale, by Gerald Morris - for my husband. I've already read the whole series so far, and it is SO hard to explain why you are laughing hysterically to someone with no background knowledge. He normally prefers westerns, so this may be a bit of a stretch. I did get him hooked on Stephanie Plum, though!

Leigh Ann's Civil War by Ann Rinaldi - didn't get very good reviews, but it's Ann Rinaldi, so I have to read it.

Slim pickings, but in addition to the (probable) swine flu and cracked rib the turtles mentioned, I'm six months pregnant, hoping to move this week (don't you LOVE closing delays?), and still working on the turtles' new tank - oh, yes, and then there's my REAL job, the kids, the husband, the pets, etc., etc. If I get time to read these few, I'll be happy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nonfiction Monday...on Tuesday

Honestly, first she gets sick, then our typist cracks a rib coughing and thinks that should get her out of work as well! Humans just never run out of excuses, do they? She is also behind on remodeling our tank, needed badly since somebody whose name we won't mention (Yoda) is getting a little too big and taking up all the swimming space.

That's nothing compared to these guys, though:

These cousins of ours are HUGE - as big as a walrus! This book is part of Bearport's "Super Sized" series, which also includes books about komodo dragons, anacondas, and giraffes, among other cool creatures. It is very simply written, around a 2nd or 3rd grade level, with a short photo-glossary in the back. This would be a good set for youngsters just learning to do research and write or give reports.

(Thanks to Bearport for the review copy)

A new series from Lerner that is sure to be a hit with the boys is the "Gross Body Science" set. Lerner very graciously sent us the titles Crust and Spray, Clot and Scab, and

Tell us your preteen boys (and many of the girls, let's not stereotype completely)won't snatch that up after seeing the cover! They may realize full well they are being tricked into learning some good health facts, but they probably won't care. The text will grab them just as quickly: from the beginning of Clot and Scab,

"Have you ever fallen off your bike and dragged some poor body part along the pavement? Yow! Not only does it hurt like crazy, it looks nasty too. But don't worry. While you made hamburger out of your knee or elbow, your body got busy repairing the damage."

I wish we could figure out how to change font on here, because Lerner does - making phrases like "While you made hamburger out of your knee or elbow" stand out nicely. The next page delivers salient facts about bone marrow while letting readers know what it TASTES like. We'll take their word for it!

Readers who are easily distracted may find the business of the pages...well, distracting, but these are fantastic for the kid who CAN read, he just doesn't WANT to. Just try to hide the smug grin when he starts reading parts out loud to those around him! A good glossary, index, and list for further reading round out each of the books.

Librarian alert: these books are gross. The pictures are gross. The factoids are gross. The suggested activities (like keeping a fart journal) are gross. Parents will object. Kids will read. You decide. We're ordering the rest of the series, ourselves!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Flawed Dogs: the Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed, as reviewed by Freaky

We loved the picture book by the same title, and when this one finally arrived we read it in one sitting. Perfect! The age-old themes of love, heartbreak, true beauty, purpose and revenge are illustrated with doggy kisses, airplanes on the highway, lethal farts and mud. Like I said, perfect!

Events that would seem far-fetched written by anyone else somehow seem perfectly plausible when written by Breathed, which makes us wonder: what would happen if he and Dave Barry got together to write a novel? Almost a scary thought, but one we would love to see happen.

Breathed manages to hit most of the terrible fates that can befall a dog (animal testing labs, dog fighting ring, hit by a car, dog pound, etc.) while still making us laugh between the sniffles - and only he can be that silly and heartwarming at the same time. A must read for any dog lover out there (and really, if you don't like dogs enough to appreciate this books, we have little use for you anyway.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Forest Born by Shannon Hale, as reviewed by Atlas

This was another one from our Fall Into Reading list. It has been a while since we read the other three books in the Bayern series, so it took a little bit to place everyone and their histories. That didn't detract at all from my enjoyment of the story, however, which tells me this book will work fine as a stand-alone. Readers who haven't read the others may feel at times that they have been left out of the loop, but that may help them identify with the main character, Rin.

Rin is the younger (and only) sister of Razo, who we met earlier. She always thought she knew where she belonged, content with her huge, noisy family back in the forest, but one short incident changes all that. Needing a change, she accepts Rin and Dasha's invitation to join them in the city, where she becomes a lady in waiting to our old friend Isi. Her problems only follow her, however (don't they always?)

People seem to either love this book or find it lacking something. I think the difference comes from whether the reader identifies with Rin or not. Everyone LIKES Rin, but not all readers may empathise with her feelings of not belonging anywhere, or of feeling there is something wrong with her but not knowing just what. Since that describes a great majority of teens at one time or another, this one should be just as popular as the other three!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Run Away from Home Day - 2 reviews from Atlas

Apologies for the missed days, our typist had the creeping crud, and we still aren't very good at hitting the right keys with these webbed feet. It did give us time to work through our Fall Into Reading list, though, and we found two we enjoyed with a similar theme.

What child hasn't wanted to run away from home occasionally? What adult, for that matter? In both these books, the kids have good reason to. Our first:

Snyder touched on abusive families in Libby on Wednesdays, but it becomes the more central focus in this book. It seemed at times that she wasn't quite sure how to handle the topic with her readers. It was both more light-hearted and more serious than some of her other books, with some of the situations and the ending being a little too far-fetched and pat. Not one of her better books, but still a good read.

This one is also light-hearted, but between the title, the cover, and the jacket description:

Curiosity killed the cat, or so Liberty's evil dad, Mal, tells her. They've never had a cat, though, and Liberty is very curious. She's curious about why her mom needs to eat pounds of fried hot dogs and clams, why mal only bathes in months with the letter Z in them, and why she has not been allowed to go outside, not once.

you expect that from the get-go. I have heard this one compared to works by Roald Dahl, Eva Ibbotson, Lemony Snicket, and J.K. Rowling. It certainly has elements of all those, which I think will make it a popular read. The situations are fantastical, the heroine has spunk, and things are wrapped up neatly at the end. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I like the fact that the mother was given a second chance, but I do not get why Liberty would still want to attend the boarding school after her experience there. While the characters are interesting, they are a also one-dimensional and stereotyped...but, in a Roald Dahl fashion, which many readers enjoy. Not a life-changing book, but enjoyable light reading.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Nonfiction Monday and Series Review - Celebrations in My World from Crabtree, as reviewed by Yoda

Ten years ago, it was hard to find any children's books on holidays beyond the Christmas/Halloween/Thanksgiving fare. As cultural diversity gets more of a place in school curriculae, publishers are starting to catch on and offer more variety. This series so far covers Chinese New Year, Christmas, Cinco de Mayo, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Constitution Day, Day of the Dead, and Diwali. We recently purchased the latter three for our children's collection.

Written around the 4th or 5th grade reading level, with large print and beautiful pictures, these are attractive books. The Diwali book is so beautiful, in fact, I found myself ignoring the text and just looking at the pictures in places. One might get the impression that all Hindu people are spectacularly gorgeous! The Day of the Dead of course offers a sharp contrast, with skulls of every size and material - but still great pictures.

The text is worth looking at as well, of course. The history behind each celebration is given clearly and succinctly - a brief history, because these are your usual 32-page children's books, but enough to get the general idea. Different aspects of the celebrations - the lights at Diwali, cleaning graves on the Day of the Dead, a swearing-in ceremony for Constitution day - are explained, so that readers understand the whys in addition to the whats.

A nicely done and needed addition to our collection. We look forward to seeing the rest of the series.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo, as reviewed by Atlas

Really, what can we say about this book that everyone hasn't already said? Magical, definitely, yes. Funny that waiting for snow is one of the minor themes of the book, because that's almost what reading it felt like to me - the sort of muffled softness of a nighttime snow. A tiny bit surreal, without being the least unbelievable. One of my favorite passages:

"Is he mad? Is the boy mad? Is the policeman mad? Has everyone gone mad?"

"Yes," said Hans Ickman after a long moment. "I believe that is the case. Everyone has gone a little mad."

"Oh," said Madam LaVaughn, "very well. I see."

If you want to know what the story is about, there are the three questions repeated throughout:

What if?
Why not?
Could it be?

If you want a synopsis of the story - well, too bad, I'm not giving it any more than anybody else is. You can't go any further than the jacket cover without making an awful muddle of it, so I'm not even going to try. But do, if you read nothing else this month, read this one. If you are a librarian and you haven't ordered it yet, hurry up for goodness sake, before it hits the Newbery and Cybils lists and all the others, and your director asks why you don't already have three copies on your shelves!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Series Samplings from Bearport, as reviewed by Yoda

Today we are looking at three new nonfiction offerings from Bearport, each representing a new series for the Fall. First up:

While the cover you see above does not match the copy we have, if you click on the "Look Inside" link you do get the correct cover. Both are cute, so I don't think it matters much - but it's worth clicking on and enlarging to full size just to see that big ol' face staring out at you!

Like many of Bearports' series, this one from their "Spectacular Animal Towns" is extremely accessible for the reluctant or beginning reader, with the pages dominated by colorful pictures and text broken into small chunks and fact boxes. I am personally still stuck on the idea of a prairie dog town covering 16 million acres! My tank suddenly seems way too small. Other books in the series look at ants, bats, bees, beavers, and coral reefs (now there's a home for a turtle! Er...except for the whole salt water thing).

Next up:

part of the "Going Green" series, a popular topic these days. In fact, we are looking at remodeling a bit in our library to save on energy costs, so it was interesting to see all the different things that can be done. Freaky was excited to see the photo of Chicago's City Hall, which is covered in a huge garden - what a great place to take your lunch break! (see his post about The Curious Garden by Peter Brown) Often pictures of just buildings can get dull, but the different angles and perspectives used keep these buildings from blending together in the reader's mind. Very nicely done! An extra feature in the back of this one tells readers how they can "live green" without reconstructing their entire house.

Last but not least:

Again, Amazon's photo does not match the final cover, but no biggie. This selection from the "X-Moves" series contains plenty of close-up high-action pictures to appeal to our adventurous readers (and for their moms, there is a page illustrating safety gear at the end). I haven't been on too many bikes, myself - hard to find one my size - so I learned a lot from this one. Thank goodness for the glossary, which the books in all three series contain - as well as bibliographies, index, recommended reading, and a link to Bearport's site where you can find up-to-date internet links for more reading. Other titles in this series cover snowboarding, surfing, skateboarding, motocross, and rally cars. This series in particular would be a great one for school libraries, especially those with upper elementary or middle school students. Click on any of the covers above to order yours.

Thanks to Bearport for the review copies!