"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

31 August 2015

Paper Wishes

Sepahban, Lois. Paper Wishes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2016.

Manami and her family are sent to an internment camp during World War 2. Manami is sad because she tried to sneak her grandfather's dog into the camp and was not able to. She is hoping she can find the dog again, or that the dog can find her.

The writing in this book is very simplistic. A 2nd or 3rd grade student could easily read and understand what was going on. Manami's feelings were real, her mutism was frustrating both to her and those around her, and she experienced a serious amount of guilt over the loss of her grandfather's dog. Woven around this simple plot is the story of the internment camps, again told in a way that is simple enough for even young children to understand.

Recommended for: lower elementary as a read-aloud, middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Red Pencil, Rain Reign, The War that Saved My Life

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

28 August 2015

Summer Learning Club: Getting Results

Yes, these are small children holding a very large snake.
For most of us, summer is over. School has started, and all the children's and youth services librarians are breathing sighs of relief over finishing another busy season of summer learning. My library averaged two children's programs per day (except Sunday), so I am definitely looking forward to spending time planning and preparing for the much calmer fall and winter months.

This is also a great time to evaluate our summer programming. I have been pondering questions like, "What went well?" and "What would I like to do differently next summer?" Some programs were much more popular than expected and should definitely be repeated, while others may need to be held at a different time or dropped altogether.

Librarians are also numbers people. As a general rule, we love counting things: books in our collection, circulations, attendees at programs. For children's librarians, the big question is: how successful was your summer? Did you have more attendees than last year? Did you have more people finish your summer learning program?

In our county, some of our tax dollars go directly into summer library programming, which in turn is expected to yield certain results. Specifically, we are expected to have a high number of registrants for our summer learning programming and a high percentage of finishers.

Last year our library signed up 2,449 participants for our summer learning club (SLC) and 914 finished. This summer we signed up 2,626 participants and 1,729 finished. While the number of participants increased slightly, the number of finishers nearly doubled.

Why the difference? I will explain what I think made a difference, but before that, let's make sure all the terms are defined. In our case, "participant" means a person who has signed up for our SLC. They completed a registration card and received an SLC booklet. Some people who registered for SLC never came to a library program, and some people came to all of our programs and didn't sign up for SLC. A finisher is a person who completed all requirements for SLC and earned the final prize. For each age group this involved a combination of reading and doing learning activities. We did not give out weekly prizes or award regular attendance at programs. A child could sign up for SLC and finish all the requirements at home and that child would be eligible for our final prize.

What did we do differently this year, then, to get so many more finishers? These are the things I think were contributing factors:

  1. School Site Promotion. We visited every single elementary school and performed two assemblies, one for the younger kids and one for the older kids. Using a skit format (feel free to download and adjust as you wish), we describe the different programs that would be available at the library as well as the prizes that could be won for participating in SLC.  Each school also distributed a flyer on that same day so that parents/guardians would have the information as well. For middle and high schools, we dropped off flyers to be distributed through English classrooms at the same time students would receive their required summer reading list.
  2. Social Media Promotion. We posted information about our summer programming on our library's Facebook page and Twitter account. We kept daily photos of programming and information about upcoming events in everyone's newsfeeds so they would remember to come to the library.
  3. In-Programming Promotion. We talked about our SLC during all of our storytimes, book clubs, science clubs, Saturday special events, class visits, etc. etc. We reminded kids to turn in their logs and reminded parents of the prizes available to those who won. 
  4. Outreach. We visited local daycare facilities and summer camps, and, when possible, registered entire classes and allowed the teachers to facilitate completion.  Many of the activities are easily do-able in a summer camp or daycare setting, so kids who attended these programs regularly were able to complete our SLC without ever darkening the library's door. 
  5. Stunts. As a department, we decided before summer started that if we were able to get at least 1,500 finishers, I would shave my head and the other children's librarian would dye her hair. We would let the kids choose her hair color and what particular hairstyle I would have on my head. [They chose a mohawk, BTW.] We talked about this at our school site promotions, throughout the summer at programming, and each finisher was given a ballot where they could vote on the hair color and hair style we would have at the end of the summer. Yes, this does mean that this weekend I'll be getting a mohawk, but it is absolutely worth it to keep kids reading and help them become lifelong readers and learners.

According to my informal poll of the children who attended programs or came to the SLC table during my shifts this summer, it seems that the school promotional assemblies were the single most important factor that got kids into the library to sign up. I even had kids tugging on my shirt in the grocery store, saying, "I think I know you. I saw you at the assembly at my school! You were wearing the Minecraft shirt!"

What types of things have you found to be helpful in increasing the percentage of finishers at your library's SLC?

26 August 2015

The Wild Ones

London, C. Alexander. The Wild Ones. Philomel Books, 2015.

Kit is a raccoon who has always lived in the wild, but a freak accident leaves him an orphan with a mission: he must venture into the city, find his uncle, and give him the artifact that his parents' murderers are after. Kit has never been to the city before, and he's never even met his uncle. Will he be able to survive the trip?

This is definitely a read-alike to the Redwall series, and kids who enjoy books with animals as characters would like this particular story. My book club read The Dragonet Prophecy and fell in love with it; I could easily see them loving this series, too.

Recommended for: middle grade readers
Red Flags: lots of what movie raters would call "cartoon violence" and "mild peril" - the bad animals threaten Kit fairly frequently, but there's no blood/gore/foul language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

24 August 2015

These Shallow Graves

Donnelly, Jennifer. These Shallow Graves. Random House Children's, 2015.

Josephine's father dies in an accident, and Josephine is determined to figure out what really happened. She is sure it wasn't an accident, like the newspapers say, nor a suicide, like her uncle says. But how can a girl in late 1800s New York solve a mystery when she is supposed to be mourning her father, planning her possible future wedding, and behaving like a proper young lady?

The cover of this book is what drew me in. It looks spooky, possibly zombie-esque, and I felt the promise of a creepy mystery/thriller. Unfortunately, this book is not as creepy or spooky as it appears. Instead, it reads very similarly to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and Chasing Secrets, both of which are excellently written middle grade historical novels featuring female protagonists. The difficulty here is that These Shallow Graves is written for a teen audience and the protagonist is 17 years old, but she reads very often like a 12-year old. The entire book felt like a middle grade book for me, but some of the content is not necessarily appropriate for a typical middle grade audience. Also, this book is very, very long, much too long to tell its story. I'm not sure there's a good audience for this one: teens will likely be bored by the repetitive, plodding story.

Recommended for: young teens
Red Flags: girls discuss what happens on their wedding night - no explicit details are given, but it is implied
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

21 August 2015

Science Club: Density

This week my science club studied density. We watched a short video by the Sci Guys about density and density towers, and then we tried making our own.

If I were to do this program again, I would make sure, first, to have bowls instead of cups for the main supply of each liquid, since several of the cups fell over during the experiment. Second, I would eliminate the water level.  I tried this at home and it worked fine with all the levels except water.  When the kids added water, it did NOT work the way it did in the video; instead, all the layers in the middle ended up mixing together, which makes sense since the dish soap was supposed to go on top of the water, and we mix those together all the time when we do dishes.

All in all, the kids and parents both loved making the tower, and I made sure to send them home with a handout so they could try it again if they wanted to.

Update: You can access my handout here.  Feel free to use/photocopy/distribute as needed.

19 August 2015

The War that Saved My Life

Bradley, Kimberly. The War that Saved My Life. Dial Books, 2015.

Ada has never left her apartment. Her abusive mother refused to have Ada's clubfoot treated when Ada was an infant, so now Ada crawls about their apartment and cares for her younger brother. With the second world war on the horizon, many parents choose to send their children out of London to keep them safe, and Ada escapes with her brother and ends up living with an older single woman who never wanted children. Ada is safer now than she's ever been, but will she ever learn to trust?

Wow, this was a hard book to read. There will be spoilers in this paragraph, so consider yourself warned. Ada's mother locks Ada in a cupboard to punish her or her brother. I spend the first part of the book wanting to slap the woman for treating her children like that. When she escapes, Ada exhibits all the typical symptoms of a person with PTSD: she gets irrationally angry, has nightmares, and sometimes experiences panic attacks that are only abated when she is wrapped tightly in a blanket. Until she escapes London, Ada has never seen grass or trees, has never been educated, hasn't ever eaten a peach or a Brussels sprout. In the country she learns and grows and recovers and is well-fed. The book has a bit of a sad ending, but it's better than I had initially expected.

I highly recommend this book to fans of WWII historical books as well as those who wish to add more books about differently abled characters to their collections.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: Ada's mother slaps her and her brother, locks her in a cupboard, and calls her horrible things. There is a mild amount of British cussing involved. Ada herself is violent toward her brother until she learns not to react that way. Survivors of childhood physical abuse and neglect may need to take special care.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

17 August 2015


Applegate, Katherine. Crenshaw. Feiwel & Friends, 2015.

Jackson's family has never been rich, but things are getting tougher for them. Jackson and his sister play "cerealball" in order to make their meals last longer, and they've sold just about everything in their house. Jackson is really hoping his family doesn't end up living in their car again. When Crenshaw, Jackson's imaginary friend from childhood, shows up again, Jackson isn't sure what to think. Crenshaw is imaginary: that's a fact. But it's also a fact that Crenshaw is very obviously there.

This is one of the very few middle grade books I've read that addresses child hunger and poverty. Jackson's parents aren't abusive, but even with their multiple part-time jobs, they aren't able to make enough money for Jackson to eat. They absolutely love him, but they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and Jackson is getting increasingly frustrated by his inability to help out. This is an excellent peek into a child's view of poverty and a timely read for all who work with children.

Recommended for: middle grade readers
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

12 August 2015

I Am Princess X

Priest, Cherie. I Am Princess X. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015.

May and Libby were best friends, and together they created the character of Princess X. They filled notebooks with the princess's adventures. Then Libby died in a car accident and May was left alone. Now May is seeing Princess X appear all over Seattle, and she just knows that Libby is somehow still alive and is responsible for the Princess X webcomic. But will she be able to find Libby before the Needle Man does?

This book was amazing. Between the Princess X webcomic that graces more than a few pages and the mystery element with the clues that Libby leaves for May to find her, I couldn't stop thinking about this book. For the first time in months, I actually wanted to put aside my to-do list at work and read my book instead [I didn't.]. This book would be a great one to give to teens or tweens who are fans of webcomics or graphic novels and who like mystery stories. I will definitely be book-talking this one with my patrons.

Recommended for: tweens and teens
Red Flags: intense situations where May is being chased by the villian, but no sex, smoking, drinking, swearing, etc.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Afterworlds, Fangirl, Book Scavenger

10 August 2015

A Thousand Nights

Johnston, E.K. A Thousand Nights. Disney-Hyperion, 2015.

Lo-Melkhiin is a tyrant who goes through wives so fast no one can keep track of their names. He goes from village to village, choosing a wife who returns with him, only to die within days of arrival. Then he's off to another village. When he gets to the protagonist's village, she disguises herself so she will stand out and be chosen instead of her sister. Every night she fears death. Every morning she wakes again. She isn't sure why she is still alive or how long that will last.

I cannot begin to describe how beautiful the language is in this book. I loved Johnston's previous two books and was excited to see this new book, even though it is a very different story from that of Owen the Dragon Slayer. The pacing of this story is slow, but the perpetual impending death of the protagonist - whose name is never mentioned - keeps the reader turning pages. This may become one of the rare books that gets added permanently to my personal library, and I will definitely be recommending it to my teen readers and strong tween readers. Fans of fairy tale retellings will love the lyrical, magical language of this book.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: lots of violent deaths, some wine-drinking, no language or sex - the protagonist's marriage is never consummated
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

05 August 2015

Everything, Everything

Yoon, Nicola. Everything, Everything. Random House, 2015.

Madeline has SCID (aka "bubble baby" syndrome), so she has never left her house. She only ever sees her mother, who is also her doctor, and a nurse who cares for her when her mother is away. Then one day a new family moves in next door, and Madeline is captivated by the boy whose window faces her own. Madeline thinks she loves this boy, but how can she have a relationship with a person she can never meeet?

Like many other reviewers, I was intrigued by the concept of this book. A "bubble baby" who has never left her house? Interesting! A biracial main character? Awesome! Unfortunately, this story fell flat on many levels. The following paragraph contains spoilers, so please consider yourself forewarned.

Madeline's SCID seemed sketchy to me from the beginning. There's simply NO WAY her entire house could be completely sealed off and disinfected. I don't believe that the magic airlock her mother and her nurse go through each day could kill all the germs she'd be dealing with. The original "bubble boy" lived in an environment where he was never, ever touched by human hands. Yet Madeline wanders about the house and likely eats food that has come in from outside. She even escapes the house on more than one occasion, yet her mother doesn't take her to the hospital to get things checked out? I don't buy it. Then her mother shows her a picture from a family vacation when Madeline was four months old and her family visited Hawaii. Nope. Not possible. And it turns out I was right. Madeline's mom has a mental illness and has been trying to keep Madeline close to her since she lost both Madeline's father and brother in a car accident, so she invented SCID as an excuse to keep Madeline at home FOR HER ENTIRE LIFE.

All in all, this story is just another spin off of The Fault in Our Stars, complete with an impossible trip and an impossible insta-boyfriend.

Recommended for: young adults
Red Flags: Madeline and insta-boy have sex when they're in Hawaii. The description isn't very explicit, but it's pretty obvious what happens
Read-Alikes: The Fault in Our Stars, All the Bright Places, Broken

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

03 August 2015

Chasing Secrets

Choldenko, Gennifer. Chasing Secrets. Random House Children's, 2015. 

Lizzie lives in San Francisco at the turn of the last century, and because she's a girl, she's stuck learning about leaving calling cards and dancing instead of studying science and medicine. Luckily, her father, who is a doctor, allows Lizzie to accompany him on many of his calls. She is determined to learn as much as she can so she can go to medical school and become a doctor herself. But when Chinatown is cordoned off due to rumors of plague, Lizzie finds herself wrapped in a mystery, one that could have devastating consequences.

This is a great historical fiction book for middle grade children. There is enough mystery and action mixed in with very real historical events to keep even reluctant readers still turning the pages. I was drawn to this book because of the San Francisco setting, and I am now curious to learn more about the plague outbreak of 1900. I could easily recommend this book to the tweens at my library and am considering using it as a book club book for my 9-12 year old book club.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens
Red Flags: Lizzie's older brother wants to be a fighter, so he comes home beaten up on occasion. There's some "minor peril" as Lizzie attempts to break into Chinatown and find her friend.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The Fire Horse Girl, Elizabeth Blackwell: America's First Woman Doctor, Stella by Starlight
I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.