Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Fuzzies!

It has been a while since we had any good wormies to munch, and our goldfish have grown too big for us to eat, so we were very excited when someone brought Miss Ami a whole mess of caterpillars. Turns, out, though, they aren't for eating!

Miss Ami spent the better part of an hour transferring dozens of teeny tiny caterpillars into what looks like a million communion cups with lids (what, you're surprised to find out turtles go to church too?). She says they are going to turn into butterflies, but that we won't be allowed to eat those, either. Pooh! They are all going to be released at the local Earth Day Fair. Seems like a silly waste to us, but people do some strange things.

They even have cool little houses for their stay here

and Miss Ami is keeping the runt of the litter at her desk to give it special attention.

We just hope this doesn't mean we will be neglected! We are the stars of the show, after all!

Miss Ami is also hoping to find more activities and presenters at the Earth Day Fair for our Summer Reading Program. Like many other libraries across the country, we are using the "Make a Splash" theme. Now, that is more up our alley! Perhaps a summer-long project to build us a giant new deluxe habitat would be good...

We'll keep you up to date on our progress with both the butterflies, and the summer project idea - although we have the feeling one is going to be much more successful than the other.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Speaking of Art by Bob Raczka, reviewed by Fegan

Raczka (some day I will learn to spell that without looking at it) has done it again. We have thoroughly enjoyed his other books, especially The Vermeer Interviews, and this may be our new favorite. A simple collection of artwork paired with quotes by various artists, this book would be a delightful way to introduce people of any age to famous works.

Some of the quotes are surprising or funny, such as, "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens," from Grandma Moses. Any one of the quotations or pieces of art could spawn a whole discussion or lesson. Using this example, what would Mom/Dad have done if not for their current line of work? What paths did they choose not to take in their life? Children are often thrown for a loop when they realize Mom and Dad had a life before them. This can springboard a discussion of possible paths they will have before them, how they might choose which ones to take, and what the consequences might be of making different choices. Not feeling philosophical? Try Jasper Johns's advice to "Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it." What fun could you have with that?!

In addition to serving well on a library or classroom shelf, this book would make a great gift for families whose parents and kids "do things" together. I could also see a teacher using one quote and art pairing each week for discussions and activities. As always, Lerner, who provided our review copy, has done a great job with the binding and print quality.

Check out more great nonfiction books here

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Want TWO Birthdays! by Tony Ross, reviewed by Miss Ami

An apt review, as I dash around planning for two birthdays! As my kids get older, they are less satisfied with the old have-Grandma-over-for-cake, and want parties that actually require events, with invitations and activities and other people's children. It also means getting invited to other children's parties, and Murphy's law dictates that all such parties be lumped into the same weekend.

Being the incredibly organized Mommy I am, the gift for the party my two oldest sons should currently be attending are sitting on the front seat of my van, unwrapped. I say "currently", because I have so far received two phone calls from Grandma, who is running chauffer duty, and who is still trying to figure out exactly where said party is located.

This does not bode well for tomorrow's party, which is at my house. I do know where my house is (most days), but very few other people do, and when I get halfway through directions ("then turn right at the second herd of elk, not the first one..."), their eyes start to glaze over. What I do not know is exactly what we will be doing or eating. I have some cupcake mix and toppers, and we are planning a snipe hunt. Unless the weather is terrible. Which it is right now. Hmm.

Of course, the little princess in this story wants two birthdays for herself. And then three. And then four. And then...you get the picture. Of course, the birthdays stop being special, but that is solved in a way reminiscent of Mike Reiss's Merry Un-Christmas. Ross's illustrations are always adorable, and every child can identify with the sentiments. I have the feeling we may be reading this one come Sunday!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard, reviewed by Freaky

Publisher description:
This complex and haunting exploration of life on the edge and what it takes to triumph over adversity is a story about the indomitable nature of hope.

Two young boys, an old tramp, a beautiful teenage dancer, and the girl's baby-ragtag survivors of a sudden war-form a fragile family, hiding out in the ruins of an amusement park. As they scavenge for food, diapers, and baby formula, they must stay out of sight of vicious gangs and lawless solders. At first they rely on Billy, the only adult in the group. But as civil life deteriorates, Billy starts to fall apart. Skip, who is barely into his teens, must take over and lead them on a search for sanctuary.

Another one whose cover we aren't crazy about - the title either, for that matter. I'm not sure what we WOULD use as the cover art or title, but neither of these seemed to match. Yes, much of the story takes place in an abandoned amusement park, but this cover makes us think horror novel or ghost story, which it is not. The title makes us think romance, which it definitely is not.

It really isn't a lot of things, including, unfortunately, believable. I was interested in the angle at first - most war stories focus on either key players, or people who are clearly on one side or the other. This one features characters who are just living their own lives, not really paying attention to, or even aware of, the events leading up to the fighting, but nontheless finding their lives turned upside down as a result.

Unfortunately, the characters themselves never developed into solid people in my mind. I had to look back to see how old Skip was, because he, like the other characters, alternately behaved and spoke as someone older and then younger than he was supposed to be. Parts of the story seemed forced, others disconnected. A book that had good intentions, but didn't really follow through.

There was one line in particular I really liked, though, and I'll add it here - although, again, it's hard to believe that it would come from a 12-year-old who is not very perceptive in so many other areas (I really got the impression he was mentally challenged at times):

"I know that sentence is too long and has too many joining words in it but sometimes, when I'm angry, words burst out of me like a shout, or, if I'm sad, they spill out of me like tears, and if I'm happy my words are like a song. If that happens it's one of my rules not to change them because they're coming out of my heart and not my head, and that's the way they're meant to be."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Our Four Seasons series by Sheila Anderson, reviewed by Yoda

Why yes, yes we are!

Not so much, thanks anyway.

Whatever season you are ready for, these books are a nice way to begin it, whether read aloud to a class, or sitting on the sofa with your little one. Simple vocabulary and fun phrases ("splooshy, squishy mud") will have your young readers coming back to read them again on their own. Parts of the text almost read like poems, with onomotopoeia and forms like concrete poems abounding. Great pictures, glossaries, and mini-articles (like "Why Do Leaves Change Color" in the fall version) add to the interest. A great addition to library or classroom. Excuse me now, while I go make order cards for the other two...

In the meantime, check out some other great nonfiction books at Books Together

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bedtime Without Arthur by Jessica Meserve, reviewed by Squirt

I know, I seem to be doing all the reviews lately. There are just so many great picture books coming in! Lerner sent us a copy of this one, and it's just too cute not to share:

Publisher's description:
Bella has a bear named Arthur. Like other bears, he's soft and cuddly. Unlike other bears, Arthur knows karate and works tirelessly all night to protect Bella from monsters, dragons, slugs, and other things that lurk in the shadows. One night, Arthur goes missing. Her mother, her father, and her little brother search high and low, but he is nowhere to be found. Will Bella ever find him again? Or can she find a way to be brave all on her own?

I'll admit, I USED TO BE afraid of the things that go bump in the night - and let me tell you, there are lots of weird noises in a library after everyone has gone home for the evening! Fortunately, Yoda (who is not as grumpy as he pretends to be) made some monster spray for me, and that kept the creepy things at bay. I found out later it was just glitter and vegetable oil mixed in water - or maybe I knew that all along. At any rate, it worked pretty well!

Now, of course, I am big enough that I don't have to worry about those monsters - and by the end of this tale, Bella realizes she is, too. Adults will probably figure out pretty quickly where Arthur is, but those in the intended audience will find it a surprise, and hopefully be inspired to be a big kid like Bella. The pictures are great, making obvious use of light and dark that, again, is quite suitable for the age group. I especially like the change in the end page illustrations.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer, by Carol Brendler, reviewed by Squirt

A few days ago, I reviewed a great book on composting for kids. I have already made Miss Ami go out and buy the materials for our very own composting bin. Once she has it together and we have started collecting garbage, do you know what we'll need? Worms!

Just as worms are the perfect complement to a composting pile, this fiction book is the perfect complement to the other. Winnie loves worms, to the point of hugging them and taking them for walks (personally I enjoy them as a good snack, but that would be at cross-purposes here). She hopes to enter them in the county fair, but there doesn't seem to be a category for worms. There really should be. have you looked at a 4-H catalog lately? If they can have pygmy goats or clowning, both very cool, why not worm farming?

Rather than call her local County Extension Office to complain, Winnie gets creative and finds a way for her worms to be well-represented at the fair, helping others and teaching us a little about composting and interdependence along the way. I am now looking forward even more to our composting project, and promise not to eat a single worm from it. (Did you know you can buy earthworms at many Walmarts? Ask in the sporting goods section.) A fun read even for kids who aren't into gradening (or garbage) just yet.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Retro Thursday: little blue and little yellow by Leo Lionni, reviewed by Squirt

Okay, normally when we have a retro book it is on Tuesday, and it is Miss Ami reviewing a YA book that isn't new, but which other people may have missed when it first came out. Got all that? Today, however, it is ME, on a Thursday, reviewing a picture book that came out a long time ago, but was recently rereleased. So, basically, the exact same thing. Only not.

Jacket description:
"Little blue and little yellow are best friends. One day they can't find each other. When they finally meet, they hug and hug - until they become green! But where did little blue and little yellow go?"

This book has all the things I like in Lionni's books; simple shapes, bright colors, and a fun story with few words but much to enjoy. For those parent/teacher types, everal obvious story extensions leap out. You can, of course, experiment with mixing colors (I wonder how much food coloring it would take to dye the water in my tank?) You can find out ways to separate substances that have been mixed (markers on coffee filters, evaporating salt water, etc.)You can discuss friendship and whether our appearance is the sum of who we are. This 50th anniversary edition also tells how the story came to be, a cute tale in its own right. From there you can pass out magazines and have kids make up their own stories the same way.

Miss Ami says this makes a great read-aloud, and I plan to bug her to read it to me over and over again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Garbage helps Our Garden Grow: a Compost Story, by Linda Glaser, reviewed by Squirt

It is SUPPOSED to be Spring here in New Mexico, but it actually snowed this morning! I know some people like the white stuff, but this little turtle is a bit tired of the cold, and ready to go sit out on a rock and sun himself. I am also ready to dig my flippers into some nice WARM dirt and start some new plants. While that will have to wait a bit longer, there are some things I can do now to get ready for gardening, which made this book the perfect choice for today.

If there is one thing turtles produce, it's fertilizer - all that yucky water is chock full of nitrates. The potted plants in the library love it! This book has motivated us to branch out into composting. The conversational text is matched nicely with bright, cheerful photographs by Shelley Rotner. Just one quick read lets the reader come away with the feeling that, not only is composting something he can easily do, but that he should. Today. For those who have a few more questions, there is a concise FAQ at the end, detailing what to include and leave out, and different options for your actual bin. Reading a page further even tells you the book itself was printed on recycled paper:)

Grab this book for your favorite young gardener, and start saving those veggie scraps! review copy provided by Lerner. Check out In Need of Chocolate for today's round-up of other great nonfiction books.

Video of the Week

Once again, I have to send you all over to MotherReader to check out what she has posted. It would probably be easier if you all just subscribed to her blog:)

Can you imagine how much time it took to put this together? But so worth it!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blog Post of the Week

And since I have shared this post with everyone else I have spoken with today, I'll add a link here:

Reading is Boring (Sometimes)

Parents; enjoy, and let that guilt slide right off of you. Kids; just because your parents don't find you fascinating every second of the day, does not mean they don't love you.

Ashes by Kathryn Lasky, reviewed by Miss Ami

I 'discovered' historical fiction in college, and have been a voracious reader of it ever since. As a result, it is hard to find a part of history I haven't read several novels about already. When I saw this one advertised, I thought "Oh great, yet another WWII book." Being authored by Lasky, however, automatically puts it on my order list.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Lasky does in fact manage to address a period we don't normally see in children's books, and does a fantastic job of it. Ashes describes Hitler's rise to power through the eyes of a young German girl, Gabriella. The political maneuverings and citizens' varying reactions to propaganda are relayed through radio and newspaper announcements and changes at Gabriella's school, as well as conversations with her older sister, her parents, and their friend and neighbor, Albert Einstein, making it completely age appropriate and easy for any reader to understand. (Let me add that I adore Einstein, and any book that gives kids a glimpse into his personality and spirit automatically gains ten points in my esteem).

All of the characters are well drawn, whether based on real people or completely fictional. Gabriella learns some hard lessons when people she idolizes are not who she had built them up to be, and when she herself does things she is immediately ashamed of. The book does not end exactly as you might want it to for all of the characters, which I am grateful for - a book leading up to WWII with a happy ending would be the height of ridiculous.

Great addition to any middle or high school library, and a strong possibility for a class reading assignment. Review copy pulled from our library shelf and read during lunch hours:)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine, reviewed by Freaky

What a great book...and what a terrible cover! The latter, unfortunately, is the first thing I noticed about the book, and if it weren't for the fact that I ordered this one myself based on the description, I probably would never have picked it up. The story itself should appeal to most upper elementary and middle school students, but the cover design screams Ernest Hemingway - not something that would appeal to most 6th graders (or young turtles, for that matter). I am afraid we are going to have to hard-sell this one.

And sell it we will, because it's a wonderful story. Set in 1917 Alabama, the subjects of racism, true friendship, growing up, being yourself, right and wrong, and parent/child relationships are all dealt with in the simple context of two kids meeting and becoming friends.

"Dit", one of ten kids, feels himself overlooked by his father at times (hard not to when he can't seem to remember your name most times). He is looking forward to the arrival of a new postmaster, who is rumored to have a son his age. He isn't as thrown as some townspeople when the new family turns out to be black, but he is crushed when the son turns out to be a girl - and a timid, prissy one at that.

Despite a rocky start, Dit and Emma become "very best friends," each learning quite a bit from the other - and not just how to throw a ball or enjoy a good book. It doesn't happen quickly, and there are plenty of age-appropriate moments where Dit puts his foot in his mouth without ever realizing he has done it, as well as moments when their racial differences and the attitudes of those around them cause the friendship to stall.

Interesting characters, a quick-moving plot, and chapters that could stand alone as stories keep the reader's attention throughout. We just may see this one on some awards lists atthe end of the year - which we hope will prompt Penguin to rerelease it with a new cover!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Listeners, by Gloris Whelan, illustrated by Mike Benny, reviewed by Squirt

Slavery is a difficult subject to broach with very young children. You don't want to make any of it sound acceptable, but you don't want to give your six-year-old nightmares. Whelan and Benny together do a commendable job with a tricky subject.

Ella May and her fellow slave children have an extra job after their day's work is done. They listen underneath the windows of the master's house hoping to gain any sort of information they can share back at the slave quarters - news of a new overseer, the sale of a slave, or a new President whose coming may mean big changes for all of them.

Whelan's storytelling hints at the sadness of being separated from a parent without going too deep, and gives the general impression of the overseer and owners as being mean grown-ups, a concept most small children can grasp, without spelling out the cruelty that existed. Benny's darkly shaded drawings, contrasted by the brightness inside the house and towards the end of the book, do an excellent job of conveying the mood as well.

I would recommend this book for young children (5 or so) who have begun asking questions, on up to middle schoolers, possibly read as a lesson introduction. Copy received from Sleeping Bear for review consideration.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

genesis by Bernard Beckett, reviewed by Freaky

Publisher description:
Set on a remote island in a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden world, this electrifying novel is destined to become a modern classic.

Anax thinks she knows her history. She’d better. She’s now facing three Examiners, and her grueling all-day Examination has just begun. If she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society.

But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And that the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be.

In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim?

I thought this book would continue me on my dystopian society kick, but found it to be something quite different. I'm not sure even that post-apocalyptic even describes it. I certainly wouldn't put it in YA, which is where I have seen it placed on a few other blogs - we will be shelving it in science fiction, where I think it will do very well. More of an intellectual/philosophical discussion than a story, this may appeal to some deep-thinking teens, but is more for an adult audience.

I found it interesting that reviewers have either found the final plot-twist shocking or old hat. I didn't see it coming myself, but then I am a sporadic reader of science fiction, so maybe I haven't seen this twist happen in as many other stories as some have claimed. At the same time, I did not see the theme of environmentalism that some reviewers have claimed - to me that is a common enough cause of a planet-wide apocalypse in such books that it isn't worth noting.

At any rate, an interesting book that will generate thought and discussion among its readers. Possible choice for high school libraries and book clubs, a definite purchase for public libraries.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter's End by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, reviewed by Freaky

I like books set in dystopian societies, don't ask me why - maybe it makes me feel better about ours, no matter how bad things get! This one has all the classic elements: bad people take over government, general populace lets it happen because they think they will make things better. Bad government puts more and more limits on personal freedoms, everyone is afraid of repercussions if they object, main characters stumble upon underground movement to overthrow bad government. If it's really a spoiler to tell you citizens triumph over bad government in the end, then you haven't read any of the other dystopian novels out there.

I am of two minds about this book. The writing is good, the story line moves along quickly and contains plenty of action. I can see many teenage girls liking this one for several reasons, but for some of those same reasons I (not being a teenage girl) can't give it both thumbs up.

First is the romance angle. It works in the Hunger Games series because it is slow and realistic. It does not work (for me, anyway) in this one, where two girls meet two boys on the road, talk for a few minutes, and the next thing you know, are soul mates for life. Helen and Milos spend maybe two days together before being separated, and they are referring to each other as "my love". Seriously? And at the same time we are supposed to believe they are all mature enough to help lead a rebellion?

Believability was not a strong point in general. The characters are constantly getting out of scrapes by tricking or overpowering the bad guys way too easily. I'm not sure how the government came to power to begin with if everyone that works for them is that inept. I don't think Mourlevat knows very many toddlers, too, if he expects us to believe these kids only have one or two repressed memories of their parents, who they lost when they were two. And, what, these parents all had kids at the same time? If there was any mention of older or younger kids, I missed it.

A good read, but not a must-have. Review copy checked out from our library.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, reviewed by Miss Ami

Doomed loves, failed families, nixed dreams someone else's leftovers are heaped on our plates the day we come into this world.

Big Macs and pop tunes mask the emptiness as Madeline watches her mom drink away their welfare checks. Until the day Tad, a quirky McDonald's counter boy, asks Madeline out for a date, and she gets her first taste of normal. But with a life that s anything but, how long can normal really last?

Hanging with Jeremy, avoiding Mam, sticking Do Not Disturb Post-its on her heart, Desiree's mission is simple: party hard, graduate (well, maybe), get out of town. But after Desiree accepts half a meatball grinder, a cold drink, and a ride from her mother's boyfriend one rainy afternoon, nothing is ever simple again.

Too many AP classes. Workaholic mom. Dad in prison. Still, Ariel's sultry new boyfriend, Shane, manages to make even the worst days delicious. But when an unexpected phone call forces a trip to visit a sick grandmother she's never met, revealing her family's dark past, Ariel struggles to find the courage to make the right choice for her own future.

As three girls from three different decades lives converge, they discover they are connected ways they could never imagine. Each of them finds strength that brings her closer to healing a painful past, and faith that there is a happier future.

Okay, heresy alert: I didn't love it (cringing in anticipation of reaction).

I know, I know, I'm the only person in the world who did not fall in love with it, and I know, it made the Cybils short list. I LIKED it, it's good, interesting, well-written, I thought about it during the day when I had to put it down and actually attend to my job and family, I just...didn't love it.

Maybe it was an inevitable letdown after all the glowing reviews I have read about it. I do know the switching from prose to poetry got on my nerves - I like books in poetry form just fine, and I could see that the change in form helped set the characters apart, it just wasn't working for me this time.

I did LIKE the book, however, and definitely recommend it. The characters are believable and you very quickly get pulled into their worlds. Even though some were the type of girls I wouldn't like in real life, I liked their characters, if that makes any sense. The way their stories wove together weren't terribly shocking by the end, but that was okay - I think the point was more that both the characters and the readers understand that there is more to a person than their current situations and decisions.

I gave it to the teen last night to see what she thinks of it. She 'forgot' she was supposed to be cleaning her room because she was engrossed in reading, which is a good sign (for the book, not for the state of her room). I'll post her thoughts when she has finished (with the book - the room, let's face it, will never really be clean).

Monday, March 1, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: The Best Dogs Ever, by Elaine Landau, reviewed by Freaky

Back in November we reviewed one of the first books in this series, and suggested Lerner might want to hurry and add more titles before dog lovers rioted (or something to that effect).

They have been hard at work, and today we are looking at two of their newer titles:

(I should note here, Miss Ami says she doesn't know why they didn't start off with goldens, because those obviously ARE the best dogs ever. I have never been to Miss Ami's house, but I think I can guess what would greet me at the door.)

Like the Boxer version I reviewed earlier, I found these immediately engaging, in both text and pictures (just look at that face on page 5 of Bulldogs are the Best- totally smooshable!) While each title promotes its breed as the very best one, giving all sorts of interesting facts and historical tidbits, they are also very realistic about what type of home each should have. The golden retriever edition, for example, stresses the high energy and need for space and companionship, and golden owners will chuckle at statements like;

If you need a good watchdog, don't get a golden. They usually don't bark at strangers. What if someone broke into your home? Don't count on your golden to scare off the robber. These dogs would want the thief to pet them or play with them.

The bulldog edition warns about their tendency towards...er...flatulence, saying, "You need a sense of humor to have a bulldog."

It is great to see dog breed books that present animals in a positive, yet realistic light. Each book also includes a section about preparing your home for your new dog, as well as a glossary and web sites to go to. Usually we don't advocate including specific web sites, since those can become out of date quickly. These link to the AKC and ASPCA, however: not organizations that are likely to become defunct any time soon.

A great series for reports or pleasure reading, highly recommended for schools or libraries - or individual titles to be given as gifts. Review copies received from Lerner Publishing. Check out more great nonfiction books as part of Nonfiction Monday.