Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Article from Library Journal, commentary from Miss Ami

 Library Journal XPress has an interesting article this week about book review blogs. When I first started working as a librarian, I came fresh from years as a teacher. I knew what my students liked, and filled in some holes in the collection accordingly. Like a good little librarian, however, I relied heavily on published reviews - like those in the School Library Journal - for the rest of my ordering.

And bombed heavily.

Readers everywhere are different. While the time-honored review sources should be looked at, they are just one of many tools. As I got to know my patrons better, I became better able to choose books they would need or want (there is often a difference - very seldom to kids come to me and ask me to please buy more books about the constitution - but they sure do go out when US History report time comes around!)

We had one director, briefly, who believed heavily in the power of reviews. We frequently had one of two conversations:

D: We don't need this book, it didn't get good reviews.
A: There are already two patrons on the waiting list.


D: You need to order this book, it was on the Land of Enchantment list.
A: But it's stupid. No one will read it. (P.S. - I was right, no one did)

Not that I don't make mistakes. I really thought the video series on authors that followed them around their homes, etc., was pretty cool. So it irked me to discard them this week, after acknowledging that they have only gone out once or twice each in the past four years. I recently made a quick check of books I have ordered for YA recently, and they have all been checked out at least once already.

I don't really get the credit for that, though. Neither does the School Library Journal. Credit for the YA selections mostly goes to Miss Amanda at A Patchwork of Books, who is NEVER wrong about YA. I mean it, never! For picture books? Amanda again, but Bookie Woogie is a also good source of both new titles and old ones we may have missed. For scifi? Charlotte's Library, or A League of Extraordinary Writers. Abby the Librarian is a great source for middle grade fiction titles.

My point? If it weren't for book bloggers, each with their own little niches, I would miss out on a lot of titles my patrons enjoy. I would also probably order books that look great in a catalogue, but fail to deliver. Do I buy everything that gets a good review from a blogger? Heavens no - but through blogs, we can get to know the reviewer, get a feel for how in sync they are with our patrons, and order accordingly. With the New York Times, not so much.

So, yay for bloggers! I give us all a

10 out of 10.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean

Time to break out your best Bob Marley voice, and be ready to read this one over...and over...and over! You'll have help, though, because your little ones won't be able to resist chiming in, especially on the song. What's the tune for the song, you ask? Why, just hop on over to Pete the Cat's page at Harper Collins, and right-click on "Download". You also have to watch the video of two little girls reading the story, it's a riot! It may even inspire your family to film its own version of a favorite story. As for us, we can't wait to use this one at story time when we do the letter "C" in a few weeks - cats and colors, double points!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Shih Tzus and Boston Terriers are the Best! by Elaine Landau

So, our custodian is retired Navy. Big guy. Fixes up cars. Drives a Mustang. What kind of dog does he have?

Yep, a little fuzzball. Cute little guy, too! He has come to visit a few times, and we love that he doesn't bark his head off like some little dogs. We're more familiar with big dogs ourselves, so when this book arrived from Lerner, we asked him to check it over for accuracy. As we expected, it passed the test.

This is the third set we have received from this series (see an earlier review here), and we are happy to see Lerner is continuing with the same quality. Many breed-specific dog books for children fall into one of several pitfalls. Some aren't really very breed-specific at all. Some focus too much on the positive attributes of a breed, making everyone want to go out and adopt one without knowing what they are getting into. Some swing so hard the other way, the reader is left feeling ambivalant at best.

We do have to point out the first 'mistake' we have noticed in these books, although it is a tiny one.

In Boston Terriers are the Best, right next to a caption stating "Ask your vet how much food you should give your BT", we see a photo of a Boston Terrier munching from a bowl of food bigger than he is. Probably NOT what your vet is going to recommend. Many of the photos in this series feature a large animal/head/object in the forefront, and this is just following suit. Not a huge deal, but since the photos and text in this series usually match up so well, we thought it worth mentioning.

That tiny detail aside, these books contain a thorough and accurate overview of each breed, while maintaining a very upbeat and accessible style. As we mentioned, we are more into big dogs. These books don't make us want to run out and get a Shih tzu (it's hard to groom a puppy when your flippers can't hold a brush), but we do have an appreciation now for their happy little personalities, or for the Boston terrier's intelligence. If your library can only get one series of dog books, we strongly suggest this one! We give both of these a

5 out of 5.

For more reviews of nonfiction books, hop over to The Book Nosher (We love that name!)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Love Sucks, by Melissa Francis

"AJ Ashe may have gotten rid of her vampire stalker and her evil ex-teacher, but things are hardly back to normal. For one thing, she still has to maintain a strict look-but-don't-touch policy with Ryan, her hot ex-boyfriend-turned-stepbrother. For another, she has to learn to control her vampire superpowers—which means more than a few dates with Lex, mind-reading professional vampire trainer and too-sexy-for-his-own-good bad boy. And as if that's not enough, she happens to be the key to her father's plans to take over the world . . . and he'll stop at nothing to get what he wants.
All this and she's still got to plan the prom. Being a teenager is tough, but being a teenage vampire just flat out sucks!"
We have to admit right off the bat, this is the second in a series, and we have not read the first (Bite Me). Our library did not own the first, and we were frankly not keen on ordering yet another vampire book just so we could review this one. So we started reading Love Sucks.

Hmm. Hee hee, good line. Oh, nice zinger. Our favorite teen might like these.

Chuckle. She would love these.

And then we meet Lex...she will love, love, LOVE these! Pause to write out order card and slap a patron request on it. We get it first, though, Favorite Teen can wait.

A little while back, Amanda at A Patchwork of Books alluded to us being slightly sarcastic. We have NO idea what she means, but we did love the main character's constantly snarky comments and her way of using humor to handle stress. When addressing a demon trying to eat her sister, we get 
"D***, you're a big bucket of ugly,"

(there is a bit of mild swearing throughout) or;

The demon bared its fangs and wrapped its meaty fingers around my wrist and pulled me into its chest. "We need to have a serious discussion about your manners and your lack of dental hygiene," I said.
You might think it would be hard for a turtle to identify with a teenage vampire, but we found ourselves nodding and rolling our eyes at parts like:
To my horror, every girl on the committee squeed. (Why do people squee? Seriously.)
AJ is very likeable. There's plenty of action, mixed with romance - the boy you can't have but can't forget, and the boy you don't want to like but can't resist ("a smile so cocky that I was torn between wanting to slap it off his face and wanting to stare at it for hours.") Award-winning literature? Probably not - but your Twilight fans and teen lit readers will eat it up. We give this one a

4 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Dontcha hate it when you have a review post all set up except for the quotes you wanted to include...but you have left the book elsewhere? Sigh. We already felt guilty for missing so many Nonfiction Mondays - we just haven't had too many nonfiction books grabbing our attention this summer.

Lerner to the rescue! A whole box of books to review arrived yesterday - Antarctica! Armadillos! Art! The Alamo! And even some things that don't begin with "A"! We will be learning and reviewing (and alliterating) like gangbusters shortly, so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien

We were intrigued by the premise of this book, and had to order it:
"In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the wall and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. Gaia has always believed it is her duty, with her mother, to hand over a small quota of babies to the Enclave. But when Gaia's mother and father are arrested by the very people they so dutifully serve, Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught to believe. Gaia's choice is now simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying."
In some ways, the book is very satisfying. Gaia is a stong character with realistic emotions, brave but fallible. The plot works in that things don't always go according to plan, and of course the whole premise is something we haven't seen recently - somewhat reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale which is definitely not a YA book, or perhaps The Giver.

Unfortunately, there were also many areas we were dissatisfied with. Let's take the premise to begin with. Turtles aren't particularly close to their offspring. We pretty much lay the eggs and leave them to their own devices. From what we understand of humans, however, they are incredibly attached to their hatchlings, even before they emerge from the egg - er, womb. In books like The Handmaid's Tale, the women who are forced to give up their babies are under the control of a government much more suppressive than that in Birthmarked. In The Giver, they are all under the influence of drugs that suppress strong emotions. Even in American human history, when slaves were constantly forced to give up their children, we have never seen an account of that being done willingly.

The only reason we are given is that parents believed their children would have a better life. While mothers in desperate situations, like the recent floods in Pakistan, may try to give their babies to foreigners to save their lives, Birthmarked has families who are poor but not starving actually putting their children through competitions to see who will get selected! That just doesn't seem at all plausible to us.

Children who are selected for "advancement" and taken in to the Enclave are, at the age of 13, given the opportunity to be "unadvanced", and return to life outside the walls. Nobody ever makes that choice.

Really? Nobody? There are entire web sites and businesses devoted to helping adoptees find their birth parents. Many adoptees, regardless of how wonderful their life is, want desperately to know about that part of themselves. But nobody in the Enclave does? Again, hard to believe. There is also the fact that the Enclave wants only 'perfect' babies. What if an advanced child shows problems later in life? Wouldn't some be encouraged or even forced to be unadvanced?

Of course, if anyone ever did choose to be unadvanced, they couldn't be sent back to their own family or even their own district, because the Enclave doesn't keep records of where they came from. The babies are taken in order to improve the gene pool, but they don't keep records to make sure they aren't related? That sure seems counterproductive. Then at the beginning of the book we are told DNA testing shows two people may be siblings, but later they aren't able to see if others are related. Huh?

That brings us to one of our biggest beefs with the editors. We'll be honest, we aren't good at noticing things. One of the employees here changed her hair color, and we didn't notice for a full week. Other people will point out inaccuracies in a book we have read, and we have to go back and reread to see what they are talking about. So, if we notice something, it is pretty glaring.

In Birthmarked, one of the main characters, the Protectorat's estranged, adopted son, is shocked on page 149 to learn that he is from outside the wall. That seemed a bit strange right away, because there was supposed to be such openness about it. Wait, didn't everyone know he was advanced on page 145? Are we supposed to think it was kept a secret from him? Except then he talks about trying to search for his birth parents before he turned 13, when he would have to decide if he wanted to be unadvanced. In fact, every year a list comes out with the names of all the 13-year-olds who were advanced as babies.

Okay, it feels like all we have done is trash the book, when we really did enjoy reading it. We do plan to order and read the sequel (it is obvious there will be one), and hope there is a little more consistency, as well as some more character development, in the next. Those who aren't bothered by little details like accuracy, and who have a strong ability to suspend disbelief, will enjoy the story. It certainly isn't slow at any point, and gives the reader a lot to think about. Overall, we'll have to give it a

2.5 out of 5.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester

Well now, that was...
It was...
Yes, definitely interesting.
We liked it! We really did! And we think you will really like it, too! But we aren't exactly sure what exactly it ...is!
It's a very sweet book. With people who torture animals. (Turtles even!!!)
It is not a romance. It is not a vampire novel.
It is about very down-to-earth, simple folk. With superpowers.
It is realistic. And completely implausible.
Oh, just go read it for yourself, will ya'? It's good. We'll just stick with that: and give it a
4 out of 5.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Shooting Kabul, by N.H. Senzai

As Americans (reptile or human), it is hard for most of us to identify with having to flee everything we have known in the middle of the night, escaping to a foreign country to begin a completely new life - yet it happens every day. A difficult enough situation, but imagine if, in the last minute chaos of the flight, a child in your family was left behind?

Two themes people (and turtles) anywhere can identify with are loss and hope. How can life possibly continue after such a devastating loss? And yet it does. How long should you hold on to hope before accepting that something isn't going to happen?

Shooting Kabul puts its readers through an emotional wringer, yet we would say it is still suitable for middle schoolers. In fact, we would recommend it as a daily read-aloud for middle or high school classes (something that isn't done nearly as much as it should be at those grade levels). It is timely in its reference to current events, but also timeless in its underlying themes of guilt, family relationships, struggling to make something happen, making use of your talents, and so on.

So much happens in this very powerful first novel! We give it an exhausted

5 out of 5

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Picture Book Wednesday: Mouse Was Mad, by Linda Urban

Cute, cute, CUTE! From the story to the pictures to the cover - even the end pages are adorable. Have you ever noticed that when you are already mad, things just seem to snowball to make you even madder? Poor mouse can't even show he's MAD right! Kids and turtles of all ages will easily identify and laugh along with Cole's brilliant illustrations. (We were impressed at just how many facial expressions one tiny mouse can make!) We give it a

5 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Retro Tuesday: Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter

Our favorite teen has been bugging us to read this series for ages, and since the third one (Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover) is in the Scholastic Book Fair, we thought this might be a good time.
Note to selves: listen to the teen a little more often!
Our main character, Cammie, attends what appears to be an elite boarding school for snooty rich girls. In actuality, it is a training school for spies, where PE class becomes P & E (Protection and Enforcement, and a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" can result in trips to the infirmary.) A little suspension of disbelief is needed (we don't care how well-trained they are, there is no way that many seventh grade girls can keep a secret year after year), but these are very enjoyable reads. Loads of funny lines you will want to read out loud, and while some outcomes are predictable there are still plenty of surprises popping up.
In short, balanced enough that most teenage girls (and a few adults) looking for a fun read will enjoy them, engaging enough that we will be watching for the rest of the series. For those who are already fans, we recommend the Agency series by Y.S. Lee - watch for our review of the first book, A Spy in the House, as soon as we can get it back from the aforementioned teen! We give the Gallagher Girl series a
4 out of 5.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Bowing to our favorite blog...

This has nothing to do with books. Except, they do have one out, and you should definitely buy it:

But mostly, you should head over here and watch the funniest video ever. Then come back tomorrow and let us know if you have managed to get the song out of your head, because we can't.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Scholastic Picture Books

More picture books from the Scholastic Book Fair:

Just when you think you've heard everything there is to hear about the voyage of the Titanic!
There are both fiction and nonfiction accounts of the dogs that were aboard the Titanic when it went down, but were those the only animals the ship carried? According to author Marty Crisp, every ship that sailed in those days had a ship's cat, and the Titanic would have been no exception. What happened to that cat, then? Drawing on an interview with an old sailor, Crisp paints this account.
While the story of the Titanic is of course a tragic one, the focus of this story on the mama cat and her kittens, and their friendship with a young boy, make it suitable for a young audience. The story of the ship's sinking is told seperately at the beginning, without graphic details, so parents can decide whether to share that part or not. The pictures, by Robert Papp, are gorgeous. He has undoubtedly known and studied many cats and their expressions! We give it a
4 out of 5.

At first glance, we thought this was a Fancy Nancy book. Intentional, perhaps? Yes, they have the same illustrator (Robin Preiss Glasser), so of course there will be similarities; but, the border? The colors? The font? Did he publishers not think the author's name and title (Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York) would be enough of an extra sell?
Silly, really, and not at all necessary. The story is very cute in its own right. How often does a child get excited about some coming event, only to be hit with a barrage of instructions from adults about how to behave when the time comes? Fortunately, Ruby does not let their cautions ruin her enthusiasm, and a wonderful time is had by all. Yes, fans of Fancy Nancy will love it, but it can also stand on its very own two feet. We give it a
5 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

WHAT THE HECK IS THAT??? (and a review)

One of the joys of being a Children's Librarian, who is commonly known to like animals, is that when people need a home for an animal they automatically think of you. Over the years Miss Ami has been the recipient of countless hamsters, guinea pigs, lizards, baby birds, orphaned rabbits, injured turtles, etc. This morning she came in to find this on her desk:


She did know he was coming, and had set up a cage and left instructions with the night crew.

We may need a bigger cage (no fear, amphibian lovers, one is coming).

I mean, they said it was big, but...wow! We have seen (and had) big frogs and toads before, but not running loose in southern New Mexico. Does anybody recognize this guy? We are pretty sure he's a toad, and have named him Bufo, thanks to two great books:

We love this series from Capstone, which includes alligators/crocodiles, butterflies/moths, and leopards/cheetahs. Many nonfiction books don't make for great read-alouds, but these do, and they answer the questions countless kids (and adults) have very clearly and thoroughly. The pictures, by Bandelin-Dacey, are not only attractive, they enhance the descriptions perfectly.

For a name, of course, we could go no further than:

LOVE LOVE LOVE the Magic Shop series by Bruce Coville, and wish there were more! The best one, and a permanent fixture on our recommended reading list, is Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher . Our Library dragon (a large plush dragon used as a seat, pillow, and wrestling partner until Miss Ami catches you), is even named Tiamat, after the dragon in that story.
So, we know his name, and we are pretty sure he's a toad, but...what kind of toad??? Any armchair herpetologists (or anyone with more time to research than we have today) out there???


Okay, after a little googling, we think it's actually a plain old (but HUGE) American bullfrog - which would change his name to Rana. But we still love the books:)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Nonfiction Monday

We are excited to be hosting this week's Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of blog posts about great nonfiction books for kids! To add yours, just post the link in the comments area, and we'll get it up as soon as possible!

This week we have been reviewing books currently on sale at our Scholastic Book Fair, so we thought we'd combine the two:

Just what every young boy (or girl) needs: advice and how-tos on making noises with body parts, or using a shirt-egg-slingshot! In fact, we just gave this as a gift to a young man, bookmarking the pages we liked best with $1 bills.
The first volume of this 'encyclopedia' is already in our collection, and has been fairly popular, despite its Dewey classification in the no-man's land of "indoor amusements". Librarians know; there are certain sections of nonfiction that get used so often, everyone has the Dewey numbers memorized (quick, where are dinosaurs? You didn't even have to think about it, did you?) Then there are the areas that have great books, but seem to grow cobwebs (i.e. the entire first half of the 300's, unless it's Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday).
So, we book talk, we have special displays, we put them on recommended reading lists. That brings us to our challenge for Nonfiction Monday: if the book you are reviewing just wasn't flying off the shelves, what would you suggest to draw attention to it? It doesn't have to be anything complicated or involving movie stars and world records. We have had an easel with chart paper up all summer, inviting people to suggest free or cheap activities to answer the "I'm bored" complaints. When we type up the final compilation, we will include book titles like this one at the end.
So, what do you think? Help out some librarians who have had their brains fried by summer reading! And don't forget to check out the links to everyone else's blogs!

Angela at Bookish Blather is first up this morning with a review of Hungry by Crystal Renn (and, Angela, when we say "first up", we mean, whatever time zone you are in, that is still way too early to be up!)

Charlotte at Charlotte's Library (who was also awake before us) has Do Not Open: an Encyclopedia of the World's Best-Kept Secrets by DK.

Jennifer at the Jean Little Library has The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer. We are sensing a theme of boy-friendly books today.

Laura has a book I've been wanting to read, Saving the Baghdad Zoo, as well as some great ideas in her comment that we are totally going to borrow.

Abby the Librarian has Kindergarten Day: USA and China by Trish Marx and Ellen B. Sinsei, to get us ready for the start of school (two more weeks here!), and another great advertising idea.

Coming to us live from the School Library Journal, A Fuse #8 Production has Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

The Fourth Musketeer has No Easy Way: the Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season, fourth installment in her Boys of Summer series.

Time to check our links then open up the library (oh, yeah, our actual job). More great reviews to come!

Check out Face to Face with Manatees at Bookends (we SO want a manatee playmate, but our tank is just a bit too small.)

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini at proseandkahn (love that blog title!)

Pop! the Invention of Bubblegumon Carrie's Comfy Cozy Reading Nook, complete with a link to help you make your own bubble gum.

Drive over to NC Teacher Stuff for Dump Trucks

We could have used a copy of Ocean Soup this summer. Cute pictures, and Shirley at SimplyScience includes some fun activities.

Wild About Nature has Animal Baths: Wild and Wonderful Ways Animals Get Clean, another one that would have been great this summer (isn't that the way it always happens?!) Oh, and they have largely the same page setup/colors that we do, so you know they have good taste.

Learn How Baseball Managers Use Math at All About the Books.

Read aboutSummer Birds: the Butterflies of Maria Merianat Picture Book of the Day. (We won't tell you how we like to 'study' butterflies. And caterpillars. Yum.)

We have to ask Wendie at Wendie's Wanderings: does Lots of Spots include any turtles? We love Ehlert's illustrations!