Search This Blog

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Season's Readings!

My favorite Christmas gifts to give and receive have always been books. I know, shocking statement from a librarian who was voted class bookworm in school. 

Here are a few of the books that will be under the tree for my family this year. 

My youngest child may only be six months old, but Santa will still be bringing him a couple of books. Most parents do not begin reading aloud to their kids until they are at least toddlers and old enough to talk and understand a story. However, the research is pretty clear that reading books with your infant has a tremendous impact on their language development and future literacy skills. Not to mention, babies love to snuggle and listen to your voice.  I'll get down off of my soap box now, but check out the Reach Out and Read website for more information about the benefits of reading aloud to babies. 

So, what books will Zack be getting for Christmas? 

The first one is Little Blue Truck's Christmas written by Alice Schertle and beautifully illustrated by Jill McElmurry. I mentioned the Little Blue Truck board books in my post Board Book Fun! In this special holiday story Little Blue Truck is delivering Christmas trees to all of his friends on the farm. 
Of course, every baby loves to explore with their fingers (and mouth) so Zack will be getting some new touch and feel books. The Usborne Touchy-Feely books are particularly adorable. All of these follow a general formula of That's not my ________ he is too shiny, squashy, fuzzy, etc. There are several Christmas versions of the touchy-feely books featuring Santa, an elf, a snowman, a donkey, and a reindeer, but we went with the That's Not My Zoo box set.

I rarely go anywhere without a novel shoved in my bag, but my ten year old son prefers reading nonfiction. Zane is especially fond of anything gross or weird ( he is a ten year old boy after all)    Ripley's Believe It or Not! has several series of books full of bizarre facts and pictures. Many of these such as The Eye-Popping Oddities series has a new edition each year
Another great book for kids that are fond of the grotesque is Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty by Joy Masoff. Do not buy this book for your child unless you have the stomach to listen to them endlessly recite disgusting facts about poop, vomit, and boogers. If you are a glutton for punishment Masoff has also written Oh, Yikes! History's Grossest, Wackiest Moments and Oh, Ick! 114 Science Experiments Guaranteed to Gross You Out!

My almost thirteen year old son and fifteen year old daughter are both sci-fi/fantasy nerds (and I say this with love because they take after their parents).

Currently, my son's favorite science fiction series is the Lorien Legacies written by James Frey, Greg Boose, and Jobie Hughes under the collective pseudonym, Pittacus Lore. You may be familiar with this series because the first book, I Am Number Four, was made into a movie in 2011. Zander will be the first to tell you READ THE BOOKS AND DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE BECAUSE IT WAS ATROCIOUS!!!! Anyway, in addition to the seven novels that comprise the Lorien Legacies there are multiple short stories about the characters known as The Lost Files that are available in paperback. Since Zander already owns the main series we got him some of The Lost Files to put in his stocking.

Zander is a Star Wars geek and enjoys reading the Star Wars novels. Since we went to see Rogue One last weekend we are also getting him Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno, which is a prequel to the movie and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed, the novel based on the movie.

Shopping for my fifteen year old daughter is usually pretty easy because, as my husband frequently points out, she is my clone. Last year Zoe received the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children boxed set by Ransom Riggs. You may recognize this title from the recent film version directed by Tim Burton.
The books frequently refer to The Tales, a collection of supposed fairy tales that actually hide clues to the history of the peculiars. This past September Tales of the Peculiar was released in a gorgeous, clothbound hardcover featuring stunning black and white illustrations by Andrew Davidson.
Tales of the Peculiar is a must have collector's item for fans of Rigg's unique and compelling series.

Another teen series that Zoe loved was The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I mentioned this series that puts a science fiction spin on classic fairy tales in my post Fractured Fairy Tales.  Since Zoe enjoyed The Lunar Chronicles so much I am excited to get her Meyer's new stand alone novel, Heartless, which tells the story of how the infamous Queen of Hearts went from a young girl in love to a tyrannical ruler bellowing "Off with her head!".

A collectable book which Harry Potter fans of all ages will want to see under the tree this Christmas is the illustrated edition of The Chamber of Secrets. In case you didn't know, illustrated versions of the Harry Potter books are being created by J.K. Rowling and artist, Jim KayThe Sorceror's Stone came out in 2015 and The Chamber of Secrets was published earlier this year. I consider these books to be gifts for my whole family and I am looking forward to when the entire series is completed.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The End of Elephant & Piggie: Say It Ain't So!

Am I  the only one whose heart broke a little bit when Mo Willems announced that The Thank You Book (which was published last May) would be the final Elephant and Piggie book? Sure, I can sympathize with Willems' desire to spread his wings creatively (which he elucidates in this interview with The Washington Post). A huge part of me, though, wanted to throw a tantrum to rival that of any four year old and demand "More Elephant & Piggie now!".   

Gerald the Elephant and his best friend Piggie the pig were first introduced to young readers in 2007 with the simultaneous publication of My Friend is Sad and Today I will Fly. On a side note, I have always wondered why the elephant has a real name and the pig is just called Piggie. Well, I guess that I am not the only one curious about this because Mo Willems explains his character's names in the FAQ section of his website. According to Mo: Piggie does have a name. Her is "Piggie". She was named that because when she was born she looked just like a little piggie. Elephant Gerald is named after my favorite singer (say it fast).

All 25 books in the Elephant & Piggie series are easy readers done in a comic book style with Gerald's words appearing in grey speech bubbles and Piggie's in pink. Personally, I find the majority of easy reader books to be watching-paint-dry dull. Nothing against authors of easy readers but often the simplified text results in a story that is trite and boring. This is not true with Willem's Elephant & Piggie series. Yes, the text is appropriate for beginning readers, but the stories will have readers of all ages rolling on the floor with a case of the giggles. In fact, I have frequently used Elephant & Piggie books to demonstrate how to write dialogue with my young authors club.  The tweens and teens in my group love Elephant & Piggie just as much as any kindergartner. There are multiple printables online for older kids involving Elephant & Piggie such as this adlib and this fill in the  comic.

What better way to channel my grief than by throwing an Elephant & Piggie party at the library? Since our community did not have school on November 8th I went with an Election Day theme for the party. The library was decorated with Vote for Elephant and Vote for Piggie signs, Elephant & Piggie balloons and pictures, and we had a special Elephant and Piggie election booth.
After voting the kids were able to show further support for their candidate by choosing an Elephant or Piggie party blower. And just in case you are interested Piggie won in a landslide.

As far as other party activities, I was definitely inspired by some of my favorite Elephant & Piggie books.

Kids were able to pose for a picture as Gerald or Piggie in the We Are In a Book cutout that I made. I bought the pig nose at the dollar store and the elephant trunk was actually a clip on wolf tail that I found at Target around Halloween. I just turned it around and ran elastic string through so kids could put it over their face.

For a craft we decorated paper ice cream cones perfect for sharing (or not sharing) with Piggie.

One of the games that the kids seemed to enjoy the most was the bird nest balance walk. I made bird nests out of foam bowls and brown construction paper, and glued a paper Pigeon (another fantastic character created by Willems) in the bottom. The kids then had to race to a set of plastic cones and back while balancing the nests on their heads. I had kids of all ages at this party and I have to tell you that it amazed me how entertained the older kids were by this game. I had nine and ten year old boys that spent half the party walking around with bird nests on their heads.

Of course, no party would be complete without dancing! For extra fun I threw out a bunch of pink and blue balloons with Gerald and Piggie faces drawn on them.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Gilmore Girl's is back!

Gilmore Girls is back!
I can remember when I first watched Gilmore Girls, my husband wanted to watch wrestling and I was just looking for something to do, who would have thought it would have started a life long love affair!  My mother and I watched that first episode and we were hooked for life.  It wasn't long till we had a Tuesday night routine, grab a cup of hot chocolate (little late for coffee) and curl up on the couch and let the fun begin!  We laughed, we cried and we spent seven years with the Gilmore's.  It was a sad day when the show went off the air.  My mother and I gathered as many Gilmore snacks as we could and watched that last episode with tears flowing down our faces.  It's amazing how attached you can get to fictional characters, they become people you care about, people whom you love.  When Rory turned Logan's proposal down I was crushed, when Rory and Dean broke up, I'm the one who needed the tub of ice cream and to wallow, and when Rory and Lorelei didn't spend Rory's 21st together it was me who needed a drink,, perhaps one that was like drinking a My Little Pony. ;)  My mother and I watched every episode and bought every season when released on DVD, watching every episode over and over, my kids would even walk around the house singing the theme song.  When my mom passed away she left me her Gilmore Girl collection and her set of Harry Potter books her most prized possessions. For me November 25th will be full of joy and sorrow, as I'm eating my Luke's cheeseburger my heart will be breaking, for my mom for whom "never gave me any idea that I couldn't do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be.  She filled our house with love and fun and books and music...
I don't know if she ever realized the person I most wanted to be, was her.  Thank you mom, you are my guidepost for everything."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

"You can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be."

I read a lot of middle grade fiction. Not only do I order books for that section of the library but, let's be honest, kids' books are sometimes just more fun to read than adult books. I must confess, though, that I would not normally choose a sports themed book.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds is one of those books that made me glad that I stepped outside of my elves-battling-dragons comfort zone.

Castle Crenshaw started referring to himself as Ghost the night his father went into a drunken rage and chased him and his mother with a gun. Three years after that fateful night Castle walks past the park and sees a group of kids on the track. Curious, he stops to watch because "running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do." On a whim, Castle decides to prove that Lu, the sprinter to beat, isn't "that fast" by running alongside. Blown away by Castle's natural talent Coach Brody convinces him to run with the Defenders. For the first time in his life Castle is part of a team, but only if he can stay out of trouble. Easier said than done for "the boy with the altercations and the big file. The one who yelled at teachers and punched stupid dudes in the face for talking smack. The one who felt...different. And mad. And sad. The one with all the scream inside."

Ghost is the first book in a four-volume series revolving around, the Defenders, an elite middle school track team. Ninety-nine percent of children's books about sports spotlight boys playing, football, basketball, or baseball. Reynolds went the unexpected route by writing about the less popular sport of track. I also love that the Defenders is a coed team and future books in the series will feature some of the female members of the team as main characters.

So, I have gone on and on about Ghost being a "sports" book but, obviously, it is much more than a book about track. Castle Crenshaw is such an authentic character and you will cry, cheer, and laugh as a he struggles to move beyond the shame of being poor and having a father in jail. Yes, Castle makes some serious mistakes. Like when he steals an expensive pair of track shoes or smacks the school bully with his lunch tray. But you also see the love Castle has for his mother when he sits and watches romance movies with her despite thinking that they are goofy and boring. Or how much Castle longs for his sober father every time he buys a bag of sunflower seeds at the corner store.

There is also a beautiful circularity to Ghost. The story begins with Castle remembering the worst night of his life when: "the shot--loudest sound I ever heard--made my legs move even faster. I don't know if that's possible, but that's definitely what it seemed like." At the conclusion of Ghost, Castle is in the starting blocks at his first track meet, but this time when the gun goes off  he is confident, eager, and proud.

Jason Reynold's writing absolutely shines and this exceptional coming-of-age story is sure to appeal young readers whether they are boy/girl, black/white, rich/poor, etc. Check out the amazing video below in which Jason Reynolds explains what led him to become an author of juvenile and teen fiction.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Comic Book Crossovers

Every year I choose September to do my displays in the library, seeing as its the month of National Comic Book Day. I always am scrambling for themes. But this year the themes did half the work for me. There's been a large influx of comic book-based media in the last few years. By this I'm talking about TV shows and the like; of course there's been the superhero movies, at least one every year for the last couple of decades. But over the last few years, we've seen more shows like Arrow, Flash, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Gotham, Powers, Preacher, Outcast, etc.There has also been a smaller amount of video games based on comics. Obviously there's been the high-contenders like the Batman: Arkham series, but there's also the the classic pulp-detective style Wolf Among Us based on Bill Willingham's Fables series. A great conjoining has been happening, giving us interesting new mediums and perspectives to analyze our favorite characters or backdrops. So for this September, our display has been focusing on cross-platform books, such as most of the bolded above. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Kinder than is Necessary

Since my previous post, B is for Bully, focused on picture books I figured that this week I would highlight several chapter books with a bullying theme. Books have remarkable powers. When we relate to a character or situation in a book we are comforted by the fact that we are not alone. Inversely, books can cultivate empathy when we read about viewpoints and experiences that differ from our own. Whether a child is the bully, the victim, or a bystander each of these books is sure to make them feel something be it indignation, remorse, sorrow, or hope.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
The Hundred Dresses may have been written in 1944, but this simple story of kindness and compassion continues to resonate with young readers today.  The story revolves around a poor Polish girl, Wanda Petronski, who is teased relentlessly by the other girls at school for her funny sounding last name and for wearing the same faded blue dress everyday.  When Wanda claims to have one hundred beautiful dresses at home the bullying grows steadily worse. 

Eventually it comes to light that Wanda is an incredibly talented young artist whose drawings of one hundred dresses win a competition at school. Wanda's tormentors are filled with remorse, but it comes too late since the interminable abuse has forced the entire Petronski family to leave town.

So many children (and adults too) can relate to Maddie, the narrator of The Hundred Dresses, who knows that taunting Wanda is wrong, but joins in to avoid becoming a target herself. Although Maddie decides that she is "never going to stand by and say nothing again" the fact that her cowardice caused someone so much suffering continues to haunt her: "Nothing would ever seem good to her again, because just when she was about to enjoy something--like going for a hike with Peggy to look for bayberries or sliding down Barley Hill--she'd bump right smack into the thought that she had made Wanda Petronski move away." The message that bullying hurts all of those involved, not just the victim, is profound and timeless.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Rarely does a single book have the nationwide impact that Wonder has since its publication in 2012. Millions of readers, young and old, have been inspired by the heart-wrenching yet triumphant story of Auggie Pullman.

Let me confess that I was incredibly hesitant to read this book. Why? Well, first off I am a huge, huge crier and I knew from the book trailer that Wonder was going to set off my water works.  In addition to weeping uncontrollably, I was worried that I would end up angry and disgusted. I cannot abide cruelty in any form. Seriously, I think that I would be more outraged and upset to hear that my kid was being a bully than if they were actually being bullied. Thirdly, I was concerned that Wonder would be so sappy that it would read more like a Hallmark card than a realistic novel.

So how did I feel after I actually read Wonder. I did cry (a lot) and I definitely wanted to slap a couple of the characters.  As for the book being too sappy, though, I could not have been more wrong. Wonder is so superbly written that you never doubt the authenticity of the plot or the characters. Palacio has different characters (Julian, his sister, his sister's boyfriend, his best friend, etc.) narrate various chapters and each voice comes across as honest and true.

Wonder is a book that should be required reading in every school. There could be no better class motto than, “Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

For fans of Wonder, Palacio has now written several short stories that follow the original story and are narrated by various side characters.   Also, there is a movie based on Wonder slated to come out in 2017 starring Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie's parents.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
First off, let me warn you that The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen deals with a school shooting and suicide so even though the cover looks young and cutesy it is definitely for a more mature audience.

Henry Larsen had a perfectly normal life until his older brother, Jesse, ruined everything with the "unspeakable" act. Now Henry and his father have been forced to move across the country to a new city and his mother is in a psychiatric hospital after suffering a nervous breakdown. Encouraged by a therapist to keep a journal, Henry writes down all of the thoughts and feelings that he cannot share with his parents or the friends he has made in his new school.

Be prepared to experience shock, despair, and outrage while reading The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. However, the intensity of the story is deftly tempered by hope, tenderness, and even humor. Trust me when I say that you will be thinking about this book long after you finish reading it

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Julian Twerski has been asked by his English teacher to write about the events that earned him a week long suspension. This turns out to be easier said than done as Julian begins to write about everything but the incident in question. Through Julian's journal you learn that he he is not bad or mean. He is just a kid (like so many others) that allows his friends and/or the crowd to dictate his actions even when his conscience tells him not to.  At times humorous and others heartbreaking, Twerp is an incredibly powerful story about gaining the strength, integrity, and maturity to not only learn from your mistakes, but make amends for them.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
In my opinion Freak the Mighty is one of the most poignant and heartrending friendship novels written since Of Mice and Men. Max is a giant of a boy with a heart to match that is a little bit slower than most kids his age. Kevin, or Freak, is incredibly smart and was born with Morquio Syndrome, which has stunted his growth and necessitated leg braces and crutches. The unlikely duo form an indelible bond that helps them cope with bullying, kidnapping, abandonment, and even Freak's crushing disease. I already told you that this one was a tear-jerker so be sure to have a box of tissues (or several) handy when you read Freak the Mighty.

Loser by Jerry Spinelli
In Loser Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Donald Zinkoff (or just Zinkoff) from first to sixth grade. Zinkoff may be one of my all time favorite characters from a children's book. Why? Because Zinkoff is awkward, clumsy, and never quite fits in, but he is also caring, generous, funny, and happy to be who he is. Honestly, haven't we all met someone at some point in our lives who is completely oblivious to what other people think and don't we all wish we could be a bit more like that? Zinkoff's classmates may have labeled him a loser, but he is too busy enjoying every moment of his life to care. Loser is a remarkable story about standing out for all of the right reasons. Not because you are popular, athletic, smart, etc. but because you are kind, brave, joyful, and optimistic. We should all strive to a bit more like the Zinkoffs of the world.

B is for Bully

School supplies, homework, teachers, bus schedules. Back to school time can be stressful for both kids and parents. Unfortunately, bullying in schools is also an issue that many kids and parents (myself included) worry about. I know that kids being mean to one another is nothing new, but that doesn't make it any less scary. Especially when so many distressing stories involving bullying are propagated by the media. Being an avid reader and a librarian I have always relied on books to educate my children or help them cope with serious subjects.

Here are five picture books that are an excellent segue into a conversation about bullying, kindness, and empathy.

1. Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Well, it seems obvious to start with a book that is actually titled Bully. What is truly amazing about Bully is that Seeger is able to deliver such a profound and ultimately beautiful story in a meager 22 words. A big, tough bull walks along a fence shouting things like "Slow Poke" to a turtle, "Chicken" to a chicken, and "Buzz Off" to a bee. He grows louder, bigger, and angrier until a goat calls him out on his behavior and yells "Bully". Immediately chagrined the bull realizes the negative impact of name-calling and is able to reconcile with the other animals.

The illustrations and text of Bully may be simple and sparse but Seeger is able to convey a wealth of emotions from the anger and eventual remorse of the bull to the humiliation and fear of his victims. Below is a video of Seeger discussing how Bully came to be and what message she was hoping to send to young readers.

2. Lllama llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney
I have yet to meet a toddler or preschooler who does not love the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney. I'm a fan because Llama Llama is depicted as a "normal" kid. One who is sweet, affectionate, kind, but also bratty, selfish, and temperamental. In Llama Llama and the Bully Goat Gilroy Goat is ruining the school day by teasing and name-calling. The teacher handles the situation in the classroom, but when Gilroy's bullying continues on the playground Llama Llama is unsure what to do.

With her gentle rhyming text and adorable illustrations Dewdney teaches young children that it is okay to involve an adult when bullying occurs. I also love that there is the same theme of forgiveness and reconciliation that Seeger has in Bully. Even though Gilroy starts out being mean, Llama Llama is still willing to let bygones be bygones and be his friend. Does every conflict have a happy ending? No, but Llama Llama will show young children the importance of a positive attitude and giving people a second chance.

Anna Dewdney's website has information and activities to go with Llama Llama and the Bully Goat including a downloadable Pledge to Play Nice.

3. Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester

As you can guess from the title Rodney Rat has a speech impediment and cannot pronounce his R's. Being teased and laughed at day after day has turned poor little Rodney into the shyest and quietest rodent (or wodent) in his elementary school. Rodney's tormentors get a taste of their own medicine, though, when a new student who is bigger, meaner, and smarter joins their class. Rodney becomes the hero of the school when his lisp helps him send the bully away.

Wodney Wat does not have the conflict resolution that took place in Bully or Llama Llama and the Bully Goat. Camilla Capybara just leaves and never comes back, which is a bit sad when you think about it. However, Hooway for Wodney Wat is still a fun little story with adorable animal characters illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Kids are sure to giggle when Rodney is leading a game of Simon Says and Camilla Capybara is trying to "Wake" the leaves rather than "Rake" them.

4. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell
Maybe I am partial to Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon because, just like her, I was short, clumsy, and had giant buck teeth as a kid.
I didn't have a voice like a bull frog being strangled by a boa constrictor. Mine was more like a chipmunk who had drunk three or four cups of coffee. Well, I am still short, still clumsy, and I still have a high pitched voice, but at least braces fixed the buck teeth.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is all about embracing what makes you different, even when others put you down for it. David Catrow is one of my favorite illustrators and he perfectly captures the uniqueness and effervescence of Molly Lou Melon.

5.Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Kids will tease each other about the strangest and silliest things, but that doesn't make it any less hurtful as shown in Kevin Henkes' delightful story about a tiny little mouse with a very big name. Chrysanthemum comes home from kindergarten in tears after her classmates make fun of her long and unusual name. Her worried parents are helpless to fix the problem, but they shower Chrysanthemum with love and reassurance cheering her up each night with cuddles and Parcheesi. Eventually, Chrysanthemum's self esteem is restored when a favorite teacher at the school reveals her own long and unique name. The solution is a bit pat, but kids will get the message that individuality should be celebrated.