"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

30 March 2015


Sanderson, Brandon. Firefight. Delacorte Press, 2015.

This is a sequel to Sanderson's Steelheart, and the reader returns to the Reckoners, who have now moved on to what used to be Manhattan in order to defeat Regalia, who has been sending minor Epics to harass the Reckoners in Newcago.  David is convinced that Epics can defeat the darkness within by choosing not to use their powers, and he wants to get some reformed Epics on the side of the Reckoners to help them in their battle.  Meanwhile, Prof, himself an Epic, is convinced that all Epics are the enemy and must be killed.

I listened to Steelheart on audio CD during my commute, and I really enjoyed both the story and the narrator's interpretation. I could hear that same narrator in my head as I read Firefight, and I think this would be an easy book to book talk to even reluctant teen readers and is a great read-alike for many superhero comics.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence, "fake swearing" (new words are used as profanity, and it's pretty obvious that the words are swears, but it isn't as bothersome as standard profanity since the words are next to meaningless in our world)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

27 March 2015

Virtual Readers Advisory: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Like many others, I recently discovered Netflix's original series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. This 13-episode show follows the life of Kimmy Schmidt, a woman who was kidnapped and locked in an underground bunker by a man who claimed the apocalypse had occurred. She and her fellow kidnap victims were kept hidden for fifteen years. The show picks up after the women have been rescued and Kimmy decides to move to New York City and start her life over.

Although I was never kidnapped or held in an underground bunker, I can relate to Kimmy. When I was in middle school, my family transitioned from being occasionally involved to being heavily involved in a very strict religious group whose behavior closely mimics that of a cult. By the time I was thirty years old, I had memorized nearly half of the Christian New Testament (the latter 27 books of the Bible), I had attended thousands of hours worth of sermons, but I had never been to a Halloween party, had a sip of alcohol, seen an R-rated movie, or owned a cell phone. I wouldn't have known what a "selfie" was any more than Kimmy did.

The skirt was ankle-length, and I had a second shirt underneath my brown shirt so the neckline was high enough. My hair was still considered "too short," but I was working on growing it out.
So when Kimmy breaks out and decides that being a "mole woman" isn't going to define her, when she remains unflappably happy in spite of the tough things she's dealing with, when she has difficulty finding a job because of inadequate education, when she decides to wear light-up shoes and eat candy for dinner just because she can, I get it. I really do. She says, "The worst thing that ever happened to me happened in my own front yard. Life beats you up, Titus. It doesn't matter if you get tooken [sic] by a cult or you've been rejected over and over again at auditions. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say, 'We're different. We're the strong ones, and you can't break us.'"

I don't generally advertise my past for the same reason Kimmy doesn't: she just wants to be normal. Because I love reading books and talking about books, I would definitely want to help Kimmy get caught up on the books she missed while she was in the bunker.  These are the books I would recommend to Kimmy:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.  I didn't get to read it, either, until I convinced my superiors that I was doing so for "research purposes." Kimmy has missed Harry, and I know she'd relate to him and enjoy the fantasy elements of the story as well.

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande. The main character in this book gets kicked out of her church because she apologizes to a gay student for the way her friends were teasing him.  She eventually concludes that it's okay to have religious beliefs and also believe in science, specifically evolution, and that sometimes it's good to live with unanswered questions.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender was taken (or "tooken," as Kimmy would say) when he was a young child and was raised to be a weapon. A big truth - that the "war games" he was playing weren't really games - was withheld from him until long after he could have used it. Kimmy could relate to this, especially as Ender tries to decide what to do with himself once the war is over.

Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester. Tacky the Penguin is a character in a series of children's books. He is a penguin who wears a Hawaiian shirt and always does things a little differently from his penguin friends. At the end of each book, though, Tacky ends up saving the day, and his friends are always glad to have him around. He's also perpetually cheerful, which reminds me a lot of Kimmy.

I would probably pile a few [dozen] more books on her stack, like The Adventures of Beekle, The Martian, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncellos Library, because I love connecting books and people, but I would want to chat with her a bit and let her explore first.  She'd probably be overwhelmed by ALL THE THINGS and want to read and listen and watch and experience, so it might be a while before Kimmy could nail down her specific reading preferences. She'd probably spend a lot of time just staring in amazement at the bookshelves, like I stared at the choices in the big-box grocery store, where entire aisles are devoted to varieties of pickles: "There're just so many OPTIONS here; how in the world does anyone choose?"

25 March 2015

Fish in a Tree

Hunt, Lynda, Fish in a Tree. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015.

Ally has changed schools a lot, and every time she gets to a new school, she uses bad behavior to cover up the fact that she cannot read easily.  She mouths off to teachers and spends more time in the principal's office than the principal herself does.  Ally is really good at math, but her reading difficulties have caused her grades to plummet, while her mom assures her that she would do better if she just tried harder.  Ally has tried and tried; how hard is hard enough?

I loved this book.  I love the description of dyslexia from the perspective of the person struggling with it. I loved Ally's substitute teacher and his willingness to help all of his students, even to the point of staying after school to help Ally while waiting for her IEP to kick in. The addition of Ally's brother as a character / role model for Ally was great. Not only would this book be an excellent addition to a public or school library, it should be on the to-read shelf for every teacher as a reminder that sometimes bad behavior doesn't mean the student is trying to be bad; sometimes it's a cry for help.

Recommended for: middle grade, educators and those who work with children
Red Flags: Ally is teased quite a bit by her classmates and called dumb (the "r" word is never used)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, El Deafo, Absolutely Almost, Rain Reign

23 March 2015

Stella by Starlight

Draper, Sharon. Stella by Starlight. Atheneum BFYR, 2015.

Stella's North Carolina town has been invaded by members of the Ku Klux Klan.  Stella already knew that there were different rules for her than for the white children in her town, but this becomes even more obvious with the KKK becoming a part of her town. When a neighbor's house is burned to the ground, Stella witnesses her neighbors banding together to help each other, regardless of color.

Stella is a very likable character; I enjoy the fact that she gets up at night to "practice writing" since she thinks she's not very good at it.  I was glad for the historical details, especially the mention of the fact that African-American men who wanted to vote had to pay a fee and take a complicated test, while white men could simply sign their name to the list of registered voters. This book would be an excellent read-alike for Mildred Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, especially for slightly younger children. Historical fiction isn't usually an easy thing to sell to kids, but this book would make an excellent classroom read aloud as well.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: obvious racism (no uses of the "n" word, however); one family's house catches fire and for a while the reader thinks one of the children has been trapped inside the building
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Unstoppable Octobia May, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, One Crazy Summer 

20 March 2015

Class Visits

These are not my kiddos and not my library, but it's a pretty good representation.
Do you ever have classes visit your library as a field trip? We have classes visiting all the time, usually kindergarten or first grade classes who are visiting the public library to get their first library cards and learn about what is available there.  When these young students visit our library, we give them a tour of the library, read them a story (or two), then give them each their own library card and allow them to check out books, provided, of course, that their parents filled out the card application and returned it to the teacher, etc. etc.

In the past two weeks, however, I have had two separate high school classes visit our library. In both cases it was a smaller class, one from a special education department and one from an alternative learning center. Obviously my normal kindergarten library tour wasn't going to work with these older students.  Instead, I gave them a tour, emphasizing the way the books are organized and where to find important things (computers, DVDs, the bathroom, the graphic novels).  When our tour was finished, I gave them a short scavenger hunt to complete; their teacher offered a school-based reward for the first student to finish.  After our scavenger hunt, I gave a quick book talk over a half dozen books I had chosen earlier and allowed the students time to browse or to ask me questions about books they'd like to read.

In both cases, I like to emphasize that the library staff wants to HELP our young patrons, that we are here to answer their questions and that we love, LOVE talking about and recommending books. I always mention our programs as well; the teens were especially excited to hear about the summer reading prizes this year (teen finishers will be allowed to participate in the Game Truck event that will be happening at our library).  I want our patrons, from the youngest to the oldest, to know that the library is here for them and that we offer a wide variety of things they can do.

What about you? What do you do when classes visit your library?

18 March 2015

Through the Woods

Carroll, Emily. Through the Woods. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014

This is a great graphic novel short-story collection of creepy tales, some of which are retellings of well-known fairy tales and some of which are new to readers. The creepy atmosphere created by these tales will be a sure hit with readers who are looking for the next scary story.

Recommended for: tweens, teens
Red Flags: minor violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Grim,

16 March 2015

Ms. Marvel: No Normal

Wilson, G. Willow. Ms. Marvel: No Normal. Marvel, 2014

Kamala discovers that she has become a superhero, so now she has to balance her superpowers (and super responsibilities) with her normal high school life.

A female superhero! A non-white female superhero! This book is excellent and should be in every library's graphic novel collection. 'Nuff said.

Recommended for: teens, fans of superhero stories
Red Flags: minor "cartoon violence"
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

13 March 2015

Skink -- No Surrender

Hiaasen, Carl. Skink--No Surrender. Knopf BFYR, 2014.

Malley doesn't want to go to boarding school, so she runs away with a guy she met on the internet. But her escape didn't go as well as she planned, so now her cousin is traveling across Florida in an attempt to find her and bring her home.

This story was a bit different from the other Hiaasen environmental mystery/adventures. This book focused much more on finding Malley and much less on the environment. As such, I didn't find this book to be as interesting as Hiassen's other works. Malley was consistently obnoxious and didn't seem to learn her lesson until perhaps the last page of the book. I could see some kids really enjoying this book, but it just wasn't for me.

Recommended for: teens and tweens
Red Flags: Malley runs away with a man she meets on the internet; the man ends up threatening her (and a few others) with a gun
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

11 March 2015

The Clean Reader App

The library world always has something semi-controversial to discuss, and this week's topic is the new Clean Reader app, an app that will allow the reader to "clean up" books by removing objectionable content. It seems the creators were motivated to make this app for their daughter, who reads well above grade level but isn't quite ready for the adult-level content in many books.

Many people have opinions about this app, and naturally many librarians are concerned about making censorship so simple. It is likely, however, that certain demographics of people are rejoicing over the creation of such an app. 

I used to be one of those people.

For nearly a dozen years of my adult life, not to mention most of my childhood, I was part of a very strict religious denomination which borders on cult status. In addition to the strict dress code (long skirts for women, shorts and t-shirts over swimwear, nothing ever showing a knee), I was not allowed to go to a movie theater, drink a glass of wine, listen to any music not approved by the church, or watch R-rated movies in my home. I was told that reading Harry Potter would make me worship Satan, and for a while I actually believed it, too. Both as a child and as an adult I thought that crap, shut up, stupid, and suck were horrible, nasty swear words. I tried not to think about what words might be worse. 

My love of reading was not hampered by these rules, however.  There were lots of things for me to devour.  I read a lot of classics; for a while I dabbled in Christian fiction; I loved Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read a lot of children's books, most of which were fairly clean. And when I did read something else, I always stopped when there was too much foul language or if I came upon a bedroom scene.  Sometimes I could skip those parts and continue the book; other times I simply had to throw the book out. As a member of this religious sect, I was encouraged to think this way and to keep my mind "pure."  Whenever I read something that contained an "objectionable element," as I then called what I now say are simply red flags, I felt horridly guilty for even letting that word/idea/sentence enter my mind. 

So I can definitely understand how the creators of this app and many of my former colleagues and neighbors would desire and appreciate the ability to sanitize their reading. We had already been "clean reading" via Sharpie for many years, and this app would combine a love of technology with our devotion to purity.

And yet.

Part of the reason I left this particular sect behind, one of the major deciding factors when I chose to start my adult life over, was that our group lived in a bubble of sorts where new ideas were scary, bad, and discouraged.  My students, my colleagues, my neighbors - we all lived very sheltered lives because so little was able to penetrate the bubble of purity surrounding us.  This may mean we were safe, but it also means we had very little choice and very little exposure to the wide world outside.  Like the people in Lowry's The Giver, we were seeing only in black and white because we chose to stay that way.  

There's nothing wrong with finding a set of principles to believe in and sticking with them, but when alternate theories and ideas become dangerous if they are not sanitized, it's time to reconsider why we are doing what we do. When I had to encourage my students not to read Harry Potter because the supposed link to Satan worship was much more important than the themes of loyalty, bravery, and love, and when I had to put down the James Patterson or Jeffrey Deaver paperback because the church-imposed profanity limit was reached, that was a sign that something was seriously wrong. 

When I assist patrons who are looking for clean reads for their kids, there are a plethora of resources I can use, among them the red flags lists I place in every review on this blog. I can also easily turn to classics like the ones I read when I myself was looking for clean reads. I can't say that I would in good conscience ever suggest this particular app to them.  It's one thing to read a book and choose to stop because of what you see contained therein; it's another thing entirely to read a bowdlerized version of the book and pretend you're reading the story the author meant to tell. 

09 March 2015


Meyer, Marissa. Fairest. Feiwel and Friends, 2015.

This is an "in between" book that has been added to the Lunar Chronicles series. It tells the story of how Queen Levana came to rule the moon and a bit of her back story. This book serves both to give more information about the characters' back stories as well as to give readers something to chew on while they wait for the arrival of Winter.

I enjoyed this story and was glad to hear a bit about why Levana is the way she is. This story reminded me a lot of the TV show Once Upon a Time. I have heard some buzz about the book being violent, and it is, but I don't think the violence would be overwhelming to those who've read the other books in the series.

Recommended for: teens, fans of fairy tale retellings
Red Flags: violence - several people die, there is mention of blood on sheets after a character's first sexual experience
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Beastly, Splintered, Dorothy Must Die

06 March 2015

Book Club: Extra Yarn

My BookMunchers book club met for its second time this month.  The book we read this time was Mac Barnett's Extra Yarn. We had a fairly short discussion about our favorite parts of the book and why the yarn box was empty when the Archduke stole it, along with what we'd do with a box of yarn, then it was time for activities.

I have chosen to set up my book club activities in stations. This way kids can choose to do one activity for the entire time or can dabble in each of the options.  Either way, they can interact with as many or as few of their peers as they'd like, and the older/younger siblings who join them can also try their hand at the activities.

1.  Spool knitting: The idea is simple.  Get a TP tube, tape six craft sticks to the outside, then use it to spool knit.  In reality, though, it is hard to get younger kids to focus on spool knitting, especially to do it long enough that the knitted part pops out of the bottom of the TP "spool." Kids struggled with this one, but the older siblings seemed to enjoy it.

2.  Yarn poofs: This went over really well.  Take two TP tubes and wrap yarn around the outside of them a million zillion times.  Then tie the yarn in the middle, slip out the tubes, tighten the knot, and cut the loops to make a poof ball.  The kids loved this one, because it was easy to wrap yarn and they got to dictate how much to wrap. I liked it because even when the kids tried to throw/hurl/kick the poofs, they didn't go very far or hurt anyone.

3.  Wikki sweaters: I put clip-art of animals on a paper, then gave the kids Wikki Stix to make sweaters for the animals. I didn't think this would be a popular station, but some of the kids LOVED using the Wikki Stix to make little sweaters for the critters on the paper.  I'm not sure why it worked, but I am very glad it did.

4.  Yarn Measuring: I cut four pieces of yarn to four different lengths (6 inches, 1 foot, 2 feet, and 1 yard) and gave the kids a sheet so they could measure various things in the library.  Some of the kids enjoyed this, but it definitely was not as popular as the Wikki sweaters. I wanted to have a math/science related activity, so this was good for that, but it probably would have worked better if we had done it as a group instead of offering it as an option.

I also had snacks (apples and pretzels), a sign-up sheet for next month's club, and a cart full of read-alikes to check out. Since we had to meet in the picture book room instead of our normal location in the auditorium, the book cart wasn't as popular as it could have been.  Overall, the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, they all signed up for next month's meeting, and we got a lot of interest/attention from other library patrons, so hopefully we'll get even more kids for our next meeting.

Our book club has become so popular that I now offer this same club at two times on the same day.  That means that one day a month is pretty much "book club-apalooza" for me, and I sleep really, really well each night of club, but it's been great to see the kids interacting with their parents and connecting with good books.

04 March 2015

Denton's Little Deathdate

Rubin, Lance. Denton's Little Deathdate. Knopf BFYR, 2015.

When Denton was born, scientists used hair and blood samples to determine his date of death. Denton is an Early, a person who is fated to die before his 25th birthday. In fact, Denton is going to die sometime tomorrow, and he already knows that. As he plans for his funeral and his self-eulogy, though, a man runs up to him and tells him to be careful. Now Denton is on a search for the truth, and time is running out.

That synopsis made this book sound a lot more suspenseful than it really is. There is a small element of mystery, but most of the book involves Denton and his family preparing for his eventual demise, with spurts of mysteries thrown in. I liked the mystery element of the book, and I liked the other parts, too, but I don't think they meshed as well as they could have. If the mystery/thriller/discover the Truth (TM) had been given more emphasis, this book would definitely have been more of a page-turner. As it is, it was just okay. However, the idea of being given one's death date from birth is intriguing enough that this will be an easy book to booktalk to teens.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, Denton gets both drunk and high, minor violence, Denton has sex but in both instances it occurs off-stage
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for a review.

02 March 2015

Vivian Apple at the End of the World

Coyle, Katie. Vivian Apple at the End of the World. HMH BFYR, 2015.

Vivian's parents belong to the Church of America, which was founded when a man named Frick heard god speak to him about the coming rapture of believers. Vivian doesn't put much stock into what her parents believe, until the day after the rapture when she wakes up to find two holes in her parents' bedroom ceiling. Thus she embarks on a road trip across America searching for the truth behind her parents' disappearance.

There are a few reviewers on Amazon who say this book mocks religion.  It does, but not to the extent I expected.  This is not an anti-religion book, but rather a coming of age and finding yourself book that happens to take place during a strange religious phenomenon in the United States.  I enjoyed reading this book, but not enough to pick up the sequel.  Still, it's a good road-trip story and would be easy to book talk to teens.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, drug use, sex, mockery of American evangelical Christianity
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Godless, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature,Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie