Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Basketball and a Jazz-Loving Rooster

Each fall the Library of Michigan launches the Michigan Reads! One State, One Book program. If you have never heard of Michigan Reads! it is a tremendous program that promotes literacy by getting kids statewide excited about a picture book. After selecting a book, the Library of Michigan sends a copy of the book, stickers, posters, and an activity guide to head start, preschools, and school and public libraries so librarians, teachers, and caregivers can. The author and illustrator of the chosen picture book also go on a promotional tour to a number of schools and libraries throughout Michigan.

The  Michigan Reads! selection for 2014 was Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band, which is a hilarious, rhyming picture book about a music loving rooster who starts his own jazz band.

Portland District Library was very fortunate to be chosen as one the Michigan libraries that the author of Acoustic Rooster, Kwame Alexander, visited.

Of course, it is always exciting to meet an author, but the experience is so much better when you truly admire their work. I loved how Alexander included a glossary of jazz terms in the back of the book. Also, the characters in Acoustic Rooster are based on real Jazz legends: Duck Ellington, Mules Davis, Bee Holiday, and Ella Finchgerald. Not only is the book fun and adorable it perfect for introducing kids to a music genre that they may be unfamiliar with.

Tim Bowers is one of my favorite illustrators and he did a remarkable job of using the real musicians as inspiration for their animal counterparts.

In addition to writing picture books, Kwame Alexander is a renowned poet who has published poems and novels in verse for tweens, teens, and adults. His most recent book is The Crossover which is a novel in verse for tweens and teens.

To put it simply, I am over the moon in love with this book!!! Twelve year old twins Josh and Jordan excel at basketball, but life off of the court is not always so easy. The Crossover is so much more than a sport story; it is about growing up, choices, change, and consequences.

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, but what makes The Crossover a shining star is the lyrical and soulful text.

Dribbling At the top of the key, I'm MOVING & GROOVING, POPping and ROCKING -- Why you BUMPING? Why you LOCKING? Man, take this THUMPING. Be careful though, 'cause now I'm CRUNKing Criss CROSSING FLOSSING flipping and my dipping will leave you
S L I P P I N G on the floor, while I SWOOP in to the finish with a fierce finger roll . . . Straight in the hole: Swoooooooooooosh.

You can almost hear the the staccato thumping of the ball being dribbled up the court. The rhythm of the text has so much impact and it is also fun to read. The Crossover is a great book for reluctant readers because there is lots of white space on every page and since it is in verse it reads very quickly.

If you are a girl and think The Crossover is just for boys YOU ARE SO WRONG!!! If you think poetry is stupid so a novel in verse must be horrible YOU ARE SO WRONG!!!  My 13 year old daughter, Zoe, read The Crossover (because I made her). She was reluctant since it had a basketball player on the cover, but she ended up loving it.  Her comment was that it had basketball, but it was so much more than that.

In case I was not clear: You should check out this book, because it rocks!
Zoe and Kwame

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reading Up or Reading Down

So first let me explain that "reading up" or "reading down" is not the beginning of a Dr. Seuss book. (Even though I can imagine it: Reading up or reading down, I like to read books all around, I like to read books with a clown and that way I will never frown.) I could keep going, but on with the real subject of this post.

Let's start with "reading down" which refers to reading books below your age level. I read a ton of books that are not really targeted at 37 year old soccer moms. A lot of these I read for work, because I need to know what to order, what to recommend, and what is popular. I also read a substantial amount of fiction intended for younger people because I like to know what my kids are reading.

Ok, I'll confess. Juvenile and young adult (YA) fiction can also be a fun and relaxing change of pace, and I am quite certain that I am not the only adult who thinks so. Go ahead and admit it. You read Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.

Every once in a while I do need to throw in an adult book, just to remind myself that I am a grown up (and, more importantly, prevent any of these signs from manifesting).

The reading down phenomenon could help explain why so many popular adult authors (John Grisham, James Patterson, Michael Chabon, Kathy Reichs, to name a few) are now delving into the world of YA and juvenile fiction. It is definitely the reason the library still has a waiting list for the Divergent books.

If you are a parent, educator, librarian, or just someone who cares about getting kids reading you are probably more concerned with "reading up" (i.e. reading above age level). There are oodles of blog posts and comments on this subject and I find myself jumping back and forth between allowing kids to read whatever they want and restricting them to books that are written for kids.

On the one hand, I grew up similar to Melissa Taylor from Imagination Soup. I was a voracious reader as a child and my parents allowed me to choose books with absolute impunity.

I moved on to adult books for a couple of reasons.
 1. First of all adult books were usually thicker so they took longer to read.  Really thick books were especially important for long car rides, family vacations, and my sister's basketball games (that my parents forced me to attend).
2. Back then  (you know way back in the 80s) there were not many authors writing teen fiction and those that did seemed to focus on topics suitable to an after school special. Don't get me wrong Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Cynthia Voight etc. are amazing authors, but I was just never all that interested in books about high school drama. Honestly, wasn't it bad enough to have to live through all the crap without reading about it in your spare time? Please don't hate me if The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Deenie, or any of the Sweet Valley High series were amongst your favorite books. Realistic teen fiction was just not my cup of tea. I had an unusual penchant for classic mysteries by Agatha Christie and Rex Stout and thrillers by Dean Koontz and Stephen King.

Who can blame me for my clown phobia!!!
Now that I am a Mom and a children's librarian I find myself agreeing with many of the points made by my fellow librarians, Jen Robinson and Liz Burns.  Just because an eight year old is capable of reading at a tenth grade  level does not mean that they have the emotional maturity or attention span to read high school level books.

I know that I read books when I was younger  that had mature content and sometimes it went over my head and sometimes it didn't and probably should have.  Not to mention, I am still deathly afraid of clowns after reading IT in the fifth or sixth grade.

It isn't just violence, sex, or bad language that we should be concerned about. Many teen and adult books have deeper emotional, political, and/or historical themes that younger kids aren't mature or experienced enough to fully comprehend. I am specifically thinking of all the recent teen books that have been made into films that kids in 3rd or 4th grade are asking to check out: The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Book Thief, Divergent, to name just a few.

The book lover in me is thrilled because they want to read the book, because I think the book is almost always better than the movie (you can read a former post of mine to see some of the rare exceptions). Even decent movies derived from books leave out scenes, characters, and other details and the images can never truly compare to the ones in your imagination.

However, are young kids ready to read about the holocaust as narrated by death? Can they comprehend the socioeconomic and political strife in The Hunger Games or are they just going to cheer on every death in the arena.  Side Note: When I went and saw this movie in theater it was kind of disturbing how many tweens and teens were hooting and hollering for every kill that took place in the arena. I am pretty sure that they were missing the point.

I am a habitual book re-reader. I love to go back and read books that I read when I was younger or even ones that I read less than five years ago. It is always interesting to see how my opinions and ideas have changed and what new insights I have now that I am older and (hopefully) somewhat wiser. Not everyone likes to do this, though, and I think that by reading certain books too early you can really miss out. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a completely different reading experience in my thirties then it was when I was barely double digits.

By reading adult books too early, kids may also be missing out on a lot of wonderful children's books. I am 37 and I still like to read children's books. If you are a parent trying to challenge an advanced reader many of the classic children's books like The Incredible Journey, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and countless others are actually more challenging than a lot of teen and adult fiction. Yes, they may be a bit harder to sell to a ten year old than The Hunger Games, but at least you do not have to worry about content that is too mature.

Despite everything, though, I think that adults often underestimate the intelligence of a lot of kids.  I have come across a number of precocious readers (my own son and especially my daughter included) and they exhibit a remarkable ability to self-censor. Now when I say censor I do not mean refusing to read certain books because of religious reasons or parental influence. Rather, when a book becomes more than they can handle, for whatever reason, they ask for guidance, skip portions that bother them, or even discontinue reading it all together.

My daughter was reading the Quarantine trilogy by Lex Thomas. In the book an entire high school is sealed off from the outside world when the teenagers become carriers of a virus deadly to adults and young children. Yeah the idea that the only immunity to this virus is puberty is a tad far-fetched. The school turns into Lord of the Flies meets Clockwork Orange meets American Psycho. By time Zoe made it through the second book she said that she was done because it was too bloody, too much boy/girl stuff (her words), and the characters were all horrible.  I have seen other kids have the same reaction to books that were maybe too scary, too gory, too much romance, etc.

As much as the mom in me wants to keep kids little kids, I probably lean toward allowing them to read whatever they want. That doesn't mean I won't offer a warning if I think a book is scary, violent, or going to make them cry buckets. Above all, though, I think kids should be given the leeway to choose a variety of books in a variety of genres: classics, mysteries, science fiction, dystopian, etc. How else are they going to find what they love?

Whether you want to have veto power over every book your child selects or you give them free reign it is still a good idea to know what they are reading. Kids that enjoy reading, no matter how introverted or shy, become incredibly talkative when they are asked their opinions about books. So before you snatch away a book that you deem questionable ask why they chose it and what they think about it so far.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall, The Grimm Brothers, and Gilmore Girls

When I first  feel that chill in the air. Fall, fills my mind and one of the first thoughts I have is Gilmore Girls!  Yes, still even after 7 years of it being off the air I still think about it.  I guess first it is because, well of course the new season always started in the fall, but the other reason is the show really encompasses the feelings of fall.  You know what I mean jack-o-laterns hot chocolate, jacket weather, pumpkin pie, and the launch of the holiday season. Gilmore Girls is fall to me.  I guess it is a little strange to still have a show come to mind 7 years later every time you take a breath of crisp air, but I guess you could say I might be a little obsessed.  (I wonder what the word would be for a Gilmore version of a Trekkie?)


Okay the Gilmore challenge, now that I am done obsessing.:)  I read Snow White and Rose Red by Grimm Brothers, okay I will admit it was very short but also very interesting.  I have always meant to read the Grimm Brothers being a fan of fairy tales but it is another one of those things you never seem to get to.  (I guess I could have watched less episodes of Gilmore Girls) (Nah!) I have always heard they are way different than the fairy tales we know from watching Disney, etc... and darker too. This one definitely was different and a little dark, I am never to sure what all to say on here because I don't want to give to many spoilers.  If you want my opinion on whether you should read this my answer is definitely yes!  It was really good, I will just say I didn't even know Snow White even had a sister.(there that is not much of a spoiler since it is on the cover)  There is another Grimm Brothers on the list so I will prob read that one next.

Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!

Here is the reference to Snow White and Rose Red:
Season 2 Episode 7

Rory: Paris, it's not the Cosa Nostra.

Rory: Sandra Day O'Connor was a Puff?

Francie: Well, no one has proof. It's just folklore.
Ivy: Like Snow-White and Rose-Red.
Francie: Or Mariah Carey's crackup.

Rory: I tell ya, she's a regular Gary Mule Deer.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 100: 61-70

I read several other blogs and I am flabbergasted by the frequency and quality of the author's posts. They must stay up all night blogging, because between work, home, kids, and all those other things that require time and attention I can barely manage to post once a week.

Well, to quote Trace Adkins:  "All I can do, is all I can do and I keep on tryin'". My mother-in-law was a huge country fan and she once said this to me and it has always stuck in my head.

Here we go with the next 10 books on my Top 100 list.

70. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I am sure that many of you have seen the film version of Ella Enchanted starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy which is cute and campy. Levine's Newbery Honor book actually has a lot more depth. Yes, there is a fairy godmother and a handsome prince, but Ella Enchanted is less about finding true love and more about redefining the classic fairy tale heroine. Ella may be cursed with obedience, but she does not allow that to keep her from being confident and independent. Rather than waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her from unhappy circumstances, Ella exerts her will to change things herself.

69. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Alaskan gold rush in the 1890s leads to a profuse demand for strong, large-breed dogs that can pull sleds laden with equipment and supplies. Buck is St. Bernard/Shepherd mix that is snatched from a life of comfort with a wealthy family and shipped to the Alaskan wilderness.

I think that the expected, happy story line would be for Buck to stay loyal and make the steadfast journey back to his home. London does not take this route, though. Instead he shows that Buck's domesticity barely contains a fierce and independent will to survive. Eventually he becomes so disgusted and furious that he abandons all semblance of docility and embraces the savage freedom of a wild wolf.

And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive       again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. . . . Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again. . . .

68. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

It has been over 75 years since Mr. Popper's Penguins was published but it is just as lively and cheerful to read today. Mr. Popper is just your everyday house painter working and raising a family in a small town. Whenever he has a free moment, though Mr. Popper dreams of traveling to the Antarctic and exploring the frozen continent just like his hero, Admiral Drake.

One day a package arrives from Admiral Drake and the Popper family is delighted to welcome a penguin, whom they dub Captain Cook, into their home. When Captain Cook is overtaken by loneliness the Poppers do the logical thing and bring him home a mate. Well, of course, one penguin plus one penguin equals ten baby penguins and what could possibly go wrong in a house with a dozen penguins?

This book is so joyful; it begs to be read aloud with your children.

67. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Isn't it every reader's fantasy that the characters and worlds that exist in fiction become reality? I would definitely not object if Edward Rochester or Rhett Butler were to walk into my living room. The ability to summon the characters and things that they read into the real world is more of a curse for Meggie and her father, Mortimer. For every object that is drawn into reality from fiction, something from our world must go into the realm of the book. This is how Meggie's mother was lost and a depraved villain was unleashed upon our world.

I am a total book nerd so nothing could be better than an exciting  fantasy that revolves around books and reading. Don't stop after reading just the first one, though, because the entire trilogy is an amazing fantasy adventure.

66. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
The fierce loyalty and 300 mile trek of Luath, the young lab; Bodger, the old bull terrier; and Tau, the Siamese cat are the antithesis to The Call of the Wild. Both books do share a savage yet breathtaking setting: London's being the Alaskan wilderness and Burnford's takes place across Canada. Burnford actually based The Incredible Journey on the pets she and her husband owned while living in Canada and the strong bond that those animals shared.
The Incredible Journey was not that popular of a book until Disney made it into a movie in 1963. The 1963 film version is wonderful (I do not like the remake, Homeward Bound, as much, because they changed the breeds of the dogs which bugged me), but the book is definitely worth the read.

 65. The Tale of Despereaux  byKate DiCamillo

I must confess that I am not a big fan of Kate DiCamillo. Personally, I find that she throws too many mature themes in books intended for younger readers and her writing style is pretentious. However, the grandiose (you could say highfalutin) language really suits this classic fairytale about a tiny mouse that aspires to be a knight. The abusive and depressing history of Miggery Sow may be a little heavy for younger readers, but overall The Tale of Despereaux it is a whimsical and charming fantasy.

My kids and I listened to the audio version of The Tale of Despereaux and the reader, James Heywood, was wonderful. The narrator in this book "breaks the fourth wall" i.e. speaks directly to the reader which really works when are you listening to the audio version.

64. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
I am aware that most "greatest chapter books" lists have From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler much higher. I do love this book and, like every other kid who read it, imagined running away and secretly living in a museum (or library!). However, it has never been a book that I wanted to read again and again. I also had to drop it lower on the list just because even when I was a kid I thought that Claudia was a snobby, know-it-all and when I read it as an adult I still thought that she was a snobby, know-it-all and a selfish, disrespectful brat too. I know that is the mom in me talking, because if my kids just decided to runaway with or without a note, because they didn't always get their way I would be frantic with worry and really angry when I found them. Despite the rather unlikeable heroine (I much prefer Claudia's little brother) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a fun mystery to read.

63. The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Here he is again, the splendiferous Roald Dahl!!! I told you that I adore him and you would see more of his books on my Top 100 list. Mr. Fox is an ingenious trickster that manages to outwit the three despicable farmers determined to kill him. One of the things that Dahl does exceptionally well is make his villains so outrageously horrid that they end up being hilarious.
"Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean."
- Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr Fox, Ch. 1

62. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline should probably be reserved for older elementary kids that love to read anything creepy, because it is horrifying in the best possible way. When Coraline opens a mysterious door in her home it does not lead to a magical fantasy land like Narnia. Rather it leads into a replica of her apartment that is different in strange ways. Cleaner, nicer, and with an Other Mother who is much more attentive and affectionate. At first Coraline enjoys all of the attention and special treatment, but then things begin to seem sinister. I love scary books and Coraline definitely delivers. Of course, part of the reason I find it so scary is that I am terrified of dolls and there is the whole replacing eyes with buttons. The movie was also quite good too (it is from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas) and especially fun to watch around Halloween.

61. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brian
I must have read this book half a dozen times and probably watched the Don Bluth cartoon more than a hundred times. I cannot remember if I read the book or watched the movie first, but they are both imaginative and exciting.  Sorry, Mrs Frisby, you may have been the title character, but I was much more interested in the super intelligent laboratory rats that escaped from the National Institute of Mental Health.
The home that they build in the Fitzgibbon's rose bush is so fascinating I wish that I was small enough to explore it. I read this aloud to my daughter when she was five or six and it was so much fun to share a book from my childhood with her and have her love it just as much as I did.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bananas for Curious George

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of TV and movies and my kids definitely love them too.

As a librarian, though, I feel like I should plan events that tie in with books and authors.

Since September 16th was the birthday of H.A. Rey what would be a better way to celebrate than having a Curious George Party!!

I love reading about authors and the stories behind their books.

The story of Curious George travels from Hamburg, to Rio de Janeiro, to Paris, to Lisbon, and to New York City. It involves the famed Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, a wedding, bicycles, a train, Nazis, and a giraffe named Raffy.

Hans Augusta Rey spent his childhood in Hamburg, Germany near the Hagenbeck Zoo which is where he fell in love with animals and practiced drawing them.  While working in Brazil he was reunited with fellow Hamburg native, Margeret Waldstein. The two fell in love, married, and decided to settle in Paris. Hans had published several cartoons featuring a giraffe in a French newspaper and a publisher asked him to expand his ideas into a picture book.  Raffy and the Nine Monkeys (or Cecily and the Nine Monkeys in the U.S. and Great Britain) featured a small monkey named George that Hans and Margaret decided to make the main character in another book. Unfortunately, it was 1940 and springtime in Paris and the Nazis were about to invade France. Since the Reys were Jewish they decided to make their escape on two bicycles that Hans built from spare parts. The Reys rode the bicycles for four days to the Spanish border with only the clothes they were wearing, some food, and five new manuscripts one of which was Curious George. When they reached the border the Reys sold the bicycles to buy train tickets to Lisbon and from there sailed to Brazil and eventually made it to New York City, where they became celebrated children's authors.  Hans and Margaret are such an inspiring couple not only for their courage and bravery, but also for their deep and long-lasting love and creative partnership.

I know that I kind of went off on a tangent, there, but the story behind Curious George was so uplifting and fascinating I just had to share some of it.

Now on to the Curious George Party that the library held for toddlers and preschoolers.

First I handed out snacks (banana chips and chocolate animal crackers) on a big yellow hat plate which I made by hot gluing a yellow cup to a yellow plate. While the kids ate their snack I read them Curious George Vistis the Library (of course!).  After that we sang Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree during which I gave each child the chance to wear my big alligator puppet and chomp a monkey.

Each child got to make a Curious George puppet to take home, which were really simple. I had all of the pieces cut out ahead of time and the kids just glued George together, gave him googly eyes, and drew on the mouth and nose. I had printed Curious George bookmarks to color and take home too.

By the time the kids finished their craft they were ready to move around so I got out balloons, hula hoops, and the brand new bubble machine that the library just purchased. The kids were so enamored with bubbles that we didn't even get to some of the games that I had planned.  We did manage to play freeze dance to the Go Bananas song by the Fresh Beat Band.

Another game that I had was toss the banana.  I had taken the tiles out of two bananagrams games and put just regular bean bags in the bananas (letting toddlers throw hard scrabble tiles would probably be a bad idea). I put hula hoops on the floor  and the kids had to try and toss the banana in the hoops.

Mostly, though, the kids just danced which was a blast for them and so much fun for the adults to watch!