"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

22 December 2016

It's the End of the Year as We Know It


My teens all insisted that we needed to have an end-of-the-year party in December, and I didn't necessarily disagree, although I didn't particularly want to go to the trouble of planning yet another special event. I could let the teens plan the event, but while they are great at coming up with ideas, their follow-through still needs some work.

What I did instead was allow them to make suggestions of things they would like at a party. This is the list I got from them:
pizza
hot chocolate
candy canes that are not peppermint flavored
chicken fighting
a bonfire
poker
white elephant gifts
games
crafts

Many of these were reasonable things that I could accommodate in a library-sponsored event. Obviously a few of them had to be left off the final list. [Chicken fighting? Really?]

This is what we ended up with: I ordered pizza from a local restaurant and brought in hot chocolate, candy canes, and board games. We ate the pizza first, then did the "bobbing for candy canes" game that can be found on YouTube and is hilarious to watch. The scores from that game helped me pick the order for the white elephant gifts. After that we had plenty of time for more eating, playing board games, etc. It turned out most of the teens were perfectly happy chatting with each other and watching Epic Rap Battle videos on their phones. Some of them played Munchkin with me. Everyone had a good time, the food was all eaten, and no chickens were harmed. I call this a successful program.


20 December 2016

One Half from the East


Hashimi, Nadia. One Half from the East. HarperCollins, 2016.

Obayda's father lost one of his legs in an explosion, and his career as a police officer is over. Obayda's family moves to a small town to be closer to relatives. While there, Obayda's aunt suggest that Obayda become a bacha posh, a girl who dresses and acts as a boy. It's hoped that Obayda - now Obayd - can bring some good "boy luck" to the family. At school, Obayd meets another bacha posh and they both wonder if maybe they can just stay boys forever.

This was a fascinating story to me. I've never heard of the bacha posh practice before, and it was interesting to see it through Obayda's eyes as she was given freedoms suddenly and privileges like having the largest portion at meals and being free from chores. I can imagine it would be difficult to give all of that up and go back to presenting female again. This is a great look at another culture and would be easy to recommend to tweens and teens as well.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: a violent explosion causes Obayda's father to lose his leg; there is a warload who basically runs the small town where they live and he often threatens violence toward others
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: If You Could Be Mine, The Garden of My Imaan, A Long Walk to Water

15 December 2016

Star Wars Programming Jedi Training Camp


This year I was able to hold a Jedi Training Camp at my library. We did this in early December before the release of the newest Star Wars movie. I knew people would be thinking about and talking about Star Wars this December, so I planned this event even though there are lots of holiday-related things going on in the community.

Several months before this program, I contacted the 501st Legion to see if they could attend my event. The 501st is a group of adults who have movie-quality Star Wars costumes that they wear to parades, library events, etc. Their time is valuable, though, so I wanted to make sure to get my request in before they were booked.

The program itself cost very little. We used black butcher paper and some gold-foil stars that we already had to make a backdrop for a photo booth area. We also displayed our Star Wars books (all of which were checked out by the end of the day) and had a Star Wars themed scavenger hunt. I regularly do scavenger hunts in my library, so none of this was that unusual. A volunteer made giant origami Star Wars ships, which we hung from the ceiling. He also made us a giant origami Jabba, which we placed in the entryway. Again, none of this cost us anything - we just used materials we already had around.


For the day of the event, I cut pool noodles in half so that kids could make light sabers out of them. We wrapped one end of the pool noodle in grey duct tape to make a hilt, then I provided colored duct tape and electrical tape for kids to customize their hilt. I spent maybe half an hour cutting pool noodles in preparation for this event, and we bought the pool noodles at the end of summer when they were on clearance at the dollar store, so we were able to get two full boxes of pool noodles for about $12. We already had duct tape on hand for teen programming, so I didn't need to purchase any more.


I also created a "training course" for the kids to go through once they made their light saber. I used materials we already had in the library and didn't purchase anything special. First, kids had to walk across a series of boards single file, as that's the way that sand people walk. Then they had to crawl through the trash compactor - this was an area of our library that I filled with crumpled paper, balls from our toy collection, paper cups, and building blocks. I even threw in a monster puppet to be the trash monster. After getting out of the trash compactor, kids crawled through a tunnel to Yoda's Hut. I used the play tunnel we pull out during baby story time for this. Then they hopped on paper "rocks" I had taped to the ground so they could get out of the swamp. Finally, it was time to destroy the Death Star. The Death Star was a giant piece of cardboard cut in a circle and covered in grey paper. We cut a hole in it and kids threw beanbag "thermal detonators" at it to destroy the Death Star.

This is our trash compactor.

Combine the obstacle course with the light sabers and the addition of the 501st Legion, and we had a very successful program. Saturday mornings are usually very quiet for us, but our library was packed to the gills and everyone had a great time.

I highly recommend doing Star Wars themed programming, and doing so without purchasing a ton of supplies. Kids have great imaginations and are very happy with simple things. With a bit of creative thinking, you can turn your library into a training camp as well.

Even our visiting Jedi tried to destroy the Death Star.

13 December 2016

Weeding: It's Not Just for Books


Ah, weeding. Some librarians love it; some librarians dread it. It's important for us to weed our print collections so that there is room on the shelf for new books and so those new books are easier to find. This is something we're taught, directly or indirectly, at library school, and most libraries have a weeding schedule that they may or may not choose to follow in order to keep their print collections looking up to date.

But what about programs?

Like books, programs can be very popular when they are started, and like books, they can become dated. It's important to weed your programs just as you weed your books.

For example, My library has had a tween book club for several years. Kids in grades 3-6 can pick up a copy of the book, then once a month we meet together to discuss the book and do a related craft. Sounds fun, right? And it is fun. At the outset there were 8-10 kids who regularly attended this program, and that size group made it so that everyone could contribute to the discussion and enjoy the craft without being overwhelmed by crowds.

Then the numbers dwindled, and kept dwindling until we had only two kids show up for two months, and then only one kid for three months after that. I could have chosen to keep the program going. I do love book club, and I love discussing books, but I had to think about my community and whether this was the best way to serve them. I also had to consider the amount of time I invested into the program. A book club took a lot of my time: time to read the book, plan a craft, find appropriate discussion questions. I don't mind investing this time, but to do so when only one child will show up seems like a poor use of resources.

In the end I have chosen to eliminate the tween book club, even though it's one of my favorite programs, and we're replacing it with a Pokemon club, which has already sparked interest among our school-aged patrons. The same age range of kids will likely come to the Pokemon club, but hopefully I'll be able to serve more than one or two patrons at this monthly event.

Adding new programs to your calendar is a great idea, but make sure to remove old ones that aren't well attended anymore. This not only will save your time at work but will also make sure your patrons have good options to choose from when deciding whether to attend a program.

08 December 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016


It's that time of year again! In no particular order, here are my top ten books of 2016:

  1. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  2. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
  3. Afterward by Jennifer Matthieu
  4. The Girl who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  5. My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter
  6. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray (the audiobook version of this is excellent!)
  7. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman (the audiobook version of this is also excellent!)
  8. Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian
  9. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein 
  10. The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley
What about you? What is your favorite book from this year?

06 December 2016

Getting Judgy


In a former life, before I became a librarian, I was an English teacher. One year I came up with the idea that our students should have a Young Authors Contest at school where all junior and senior high students would submit a piece to be judged, and prizes would be awarded to the best works.

Then I realized someone would have to read all of these stories in order to choose the best one, and I nearly lost it because no English teacher on earth has time to spare for bonus reading like that. Thus I came up with a system that has served me well when I've had to find the "best of" or candidates for the "best of" in a pile of stories, books, artwork, etc.

I call it Judging via Sturgeon. Sturgeon's Law posits that "ninety percent of everything is crap," which seems to hold true, for the most part. There are very few stand out movies, books, etc. That's why the good ones stand out. I keep Sturgeon in mind when evaluating for awards because even if I have five hundred entries, only one (or two or whatever) will actually win.

When I was teaching, I was given an entire grade level's worth of stories to read. I was supposed to pick the top three or the top five or something like that, and someone else would read those and choose the best one. This means that 95% of what I was reading was not going to win. So I quickly eliminated stories that used poor grammar or had multiple misspellings or did not grab me in the first paragraph. This doesn't necessarily mean they weren't good stories, but they weren't the BEST, and I was supposed to find the best.

Now as a librarian I have served on ALA's Stonewall Book Award Committee. I am also a judge for the 2016 CYBIL awards. In both cases I have been handed a giant stack of books and asked to choose the best ones, and in both cases I have used Sturgeon's Law once again.

When it comes to books, I give them a fifty-page test. If the first fifty pages compel me to keep reading, that's good. If not, then they go into the "definitely no" or "probably no" pile. The "probably no" pile gets an additional fifty pages. If an average book, which is probably around 400 pages, can't keep my attention or compel me to read after the first 25%, it's unlikely that will change later on, and I'd hate to say to people, "This book is really great, but you have to get to page 243 before it gets there."

Since I'm reading to judge for awards and not for personal pleasure, a book has got to be pretty good to pass the one hundred page mark. For each of these awards I've read over one hundred books, and there's simply no time for me to completely read every single one of those books, but there will be some standout books that will require slow reading or rereading or perusing of reviews and opinions of others. Those few books end up on a shortlist, which I use to make my recommendations. This helps maintain my sanity and prevents my eyeballs from falling out of my head from overuse.

How about you? Do you have any tips for quickly eliminating books from a list? Let me know in the comments!

01 December 2016

Holding Up the Universe


Niven, Jennifer. Holding Up the Universe. Knopf BYR, 2016.

Libby was once called "America's Fattest Teen" and had to be removed from her house via crane because she couldn't fit through the door. That was several years and over 300 pounds ago, and now she's going back to high school. Jack is a stereotypically popular jerk of a guy who cannot remember people's faces and has managed to keep this hidden from those around him. Jack and Libby fall in love.

I agree with others that it's pretty much impossible to believe that Jack has hidden his prosopagnosia from his family, especially since he believes it began due to head trauma when he was young. The bullying and teasing and whatnot is believably typical. Other than that, this does seem to be a story where the two teens have problems just to make their romance more fantastic. Libby is not well-rounded enough, and Jack is too much of a jerk. It's a book where nothing happens and then nothing happens and then insta-love happens. My teens will love it, but I'm not impressed.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: bullying, fat shaming, underage alcohol and drug use
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read-Alikes: All the Bright Places, Butter, 45 Pounds

28 November 2016

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity


Clark, Kristin. Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BYR, 2016.

Jess's father is getting married in Chicago, and at the last minute Jess decides to drive across the country with her best friend Chuck to be at the wedding. The only thing is, Jess's father thinks she's not coming. Also, her father thinks Jess is a boy, not a girl.

This was an unusual story involving a trans* character, in that the book wasn't focused on the trans* character realizing she was trans* or beginning her transition, etc. etc. Jess was already out to the important people in her life - her mom, her dad, her best friend - and she had graduated from high school and was in the process of transitioning so she could begin college as a girl. The story, instead, is about Jess coming to terms with her parents' divorce, her father's remarriage, and the fact that maybe, just maybe, she might have feelings for her best friend.

I am glad for a book that features a trans* character that is about things other than her transition. Also, I have driven the I-80 route from the Bay Area to Chicago three times already, and the author got the details perfect, from the stop in Elko (why does everyone stop there?), to the random tree installation in the middle of Utah to the fake fort in North Platte. I'm also glad the characters aren't perfect. Jess is *a little* self-centered, and Chuck calls her on it, and I'm glad he does, because she starts to realize it by the end of the book, which is a good thing. I'm also glad we didn't get the Disney-esque ending of "I met up with my dad and he totally accepted me and everything is roses now!" because that isn't reality for most people.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: teens talk of "hooking up" even though nothing happens in the book; one character smokes; Jess and Chuck are offered (and accept) beer to drink at one point
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Drag Teen (for the road trip), The Porcupine of Truth, Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie

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

24 November 2016

Still Life with Tornado


King, A.S. Still Life with Tornado. Dutton BFYR, 2016.

Sarah is 16 and she's quitting school. She stops going one day and refuses to go back, using her time instead to wander the city. Then she runs into her 10-year old self and her 24-year old self. The other Sarahs help 16-year old Sarah to face some hard truths about her life.

The chapters in this book alternate between flashbacks to when Sarah's family took a trip to Mexico when she was 10 and now, when Sarah is 16. Sarah's father is physically abusive to her mother and her brother, but Sarah wasn't ready to face that until now. She also needs to deal with a bullying situation at her school as well as what to do with herself now that she is not attending school at all. I liked this book much more than previous A.S. King titles and found it easier to follow. I would recommend it to teens who like sad books or books about kids facing hard things in their lives.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: bullying, domestic abuse, language, alcohol use by minors
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Speak, Girls Like Us, Split

22 November 2016

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes


Ribay, Randy. An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. Merit Press, 2016.

Three friends find themselves on a cross-country trip that binds them together better than their weekly Dungeons & Dragons meetings have over the past several years.

This book was told from the perspective of each of the four main characters, whose backgrounds and personalities are quite different. We get to hear their stories from their own perspectives in a way that helps us understand what is happening better than the characters themselves do. There is a lot of character growth throughout this story; this, combined with some of the unrealistic aspects of the characters adventures makes this an ideal script for an after-school special. It's not a bad book, but it isn't stand-out amazing, either.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: homophobic slurs, one boy is beaten fairly severely because he's gay
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity,Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie, The View from Saturday

17 November 2016

Front Lines


Grant, Michael. Front Lines, Katherine Tegan Books, 2016.

The world is on the brink of a second world war, but something has changed from the history we know: the United States has extended the draft to include both male and female people over 18. This book follows three different girls who all enlist for various reasons and end up running into each other during the course of the war.

Told in alternating chapters among the three characters, this is a fairly standard war story with a small twist. It's still about training and fighting and killing people and questioning your motives, etc. etc. But the difference is that the three characters we follow are female, so in addition to typical soldier issues, they are also dealing with quite a bit of sexism (and racism, and classism, etc.). The three girls are from three very different parts of the country and each have their reasons for enlisting. This story is action-packed, fast-paced, and an easy book to recommend to teens.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: sexist, racist, homophobic slurs - all fitting with the time period depicted; violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: All Quiet on the Western Front, Wolf by Wolf,Rose Under Fire

15 November 2016

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko


Stambach, Scott. The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko. St. Martin's Press, 2016.

Ivan lives in an orphanage in the Ukraine. As a result of the Chernobyl accident, he and the other children at the orphanage are dealing with various disabilities. Ivan himself has only one arm/hand, no legs, and although his mind is unaffected, it is difficult for him to speak. He amuses himself by playing tricks on the other children and on the nurses, until one day a new person arrives who steals his heart away.

Initially when I read this book, I enjoyed it as much as anyone can enjoy an adventure in the mind of a teenage boy. The story was interesting because of the different setting, but it was still "teen boy loves girl and is sad and telling his story so obviously he didn't get the girl for whatever reason." It still had lots of scatological humor and references to masturbation. I wasn't super impressed. But then I read Emily's review and my opinion changed a bit. I had not thought about what this book would look like through the eyes of a parent of a child with a disability. And it's true that Ivan is particularly horrible to the other children, I didn't see this as mocking children with disabilities, but rather showing Ivan to be a particularly normal and not entirely sympathetic character. However, the reactions from the author and a few of his supporters left a bad taste in my mouth. For these reasons, this book receives 2 stars from me.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: profanity (English and Russian), scatological humor, references to male genitalia/masturbation, underage alcohol use, ableist slurs
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

10 November 2016

Run


Keplinger, Kody. Run. Scholastic Press, 2016.

Agnes is a good girl. She always follows her parents' rules and never asks for exceptions. She knows the rules are there to protect her because she's legally blind. Bo, on the other hand, is the type of girl Agnes has been told to avoid. She comes from a family with a bad reputation and her mom is high on meth more often than she is sober. But when Bo and Agnes become friends, both of them realize that there may be more to life than what they have been given so far. It will take both of them stepping out of their comfort zones to realize the importance of their friendship.

This is the book which recently caused quite the brouhaha in the YA and LGBT community. VOYA listed this book as appropriate for older teens, citing mature themes including bisexuality. That entire issue has been discussed elsewhere, so that's all I'm going to say about it. That being said, this is a hard book to read. The characters are dealing with a lot, especially Bo, who just wants to graduate and get out of her house and avoid being sent into foster care again. There is mention of drugs, there is drinking, there is strong language - all of these things cause me to recommend this book to older teens. I wanted this book to be more than it was, to dive deeper. I wanted Agnes to rage against her parents instead of accepting her punishment. I wanted Bo to escape again in order to avoid foster care, as that seemed more fitting with her character. I'd add it to my collection if I had unlimited space, but otherwise I'll just suggest teens put it on hold.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: alcohol and drug use by adults and teens, slut-shaming of Bo (even though she's a virgin), Agnes has sex with Bo's cousin, strong language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, Not Otherwise Specified, Just Call My Name

08 November 2016

The Loose Ends List


Firestone, Carrie. The Loose Ends List. Little Brown BFYR, 2016.

Maddie is ready to enjoy her last magical summer before college when her grandmother calls everyone to her house and gives them this news: she's dying and she's booked them all on a cruise so she can spend time with them before she dies. This special cruise is only for terminal patients and their families, and the patients have all chosen to end their lives on their own terms. Maddie somewhat reluctantly joins her family on this cruise and gets to know the other cruise guests and celebrates their lives and their deaths, all the while knowing her grandmother may choose to end her life any day.

This was an unusual take on the typical "road trip" story in that it's a cruise instead. Also, there are very few YA books about physician-assisted suicide, so I am grateful for the compassionate way in which this tough topic was handled. I am glad Maddie got to grow and come out of her shell a bit and meet other people and come to terms with her grandmother's death. Without this serious topic, flighty Maddie would have gotten on my nerves. Her insta-love relationship with Enzo was not my favorite sub-plot, but it may draw readers to this book who wouldn't pick it up otherwise.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, drug use, drinking, Maddie and her cousin both have sex on several occasions and discuss the size of her cousin's partner's genitalia
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Universe Versus Alex Woods,

03 November 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior


Whaley, John Corey. Highly Illogical Behavior. Dial Books, 2016.

Solomon hasn't left his house in three years. His panic attacks only strengthen when he thinks about returning to the outside world. Lisa is determined to earn a scholarship for college and get out of her small town, and she thinks Solomon, or more specifically, his agoraphobia, is the ticket out. Lisa is determined to cure Solomon, but along the way she finds him to be more of a friend than a patient. What will Solomon do when he finds out that Lisa has been using him for a scholarship essay?

I didn't like Lisa from the start of this book. She's got an irritating uber-ambitious personality that can really grate on a person. I loved Sol and his nerdiness and his Star Trek references and his obsession with the game Munchkin. I loved the way Lisa and her boyfriend befriended Sol and ended up spending time with him because they were all friends instead of just because they wanted to make Sol their "project." I don't think I've read another YA book about agoraphobia, so this was an interesting new topic for me. The depth of characterization combined with the breezy, conversational style of writing would make this an easy book to recommend to most teens.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Solomon goes skinny dipping in his backyard at one point. Lisa attempts to have sex with her boyfriend on several occasions. Lisa's best friend makes some very stereotyped comments about Lisa's boyfriend's possible homosexuality.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: You and Me and Him, The Inside of OutEverything, Everything

01 November 2016

Lily & Dunkin


Gephart, Donna. Lily and Dunkin. 2016.

Lily (nee Tim) is a girl. Her mother and sister both accept her as a girl, but her dad just can't get over the fact that she was named Tim and proclaimed a boy when she was born. He won't let her dress as a girl outside of the house, and worst of all, he won't sign the papers allowing Lily to receive hormone blockers so she won't go through male puberty. Meanwhile, Dunkin (ne Norbert) moves into the neighborhood and befriends Lily. Dunkin and his mom have moved in with Dunkin's grandma because Dunkin's dad and Dunkin both struggle with bipolar disorder. Dunkin is accepted by the basketball guys at his school because he's tall, but he doesn't really play basketball, that is, until he chooses not to take his antipsychotic medication. Will Lily and Dunkin be able to embrace their true selves?

This book packs quite a punch for a book aimed at tweens. Lily is teased at school constantly, regardless of whether she presents in a more feminine or a more masculine way. Dunkin hears voices in his head and makes a series of poor decisions when he stops taking his medicine. I loved the strong characterization in this novel, Lily's best friend and Dunkin's grandmother in particular. My library will definitely have this book on the shelf because all children deserve both windows and mirrors.

Recommended for: tweens, teens
Red Flags: Lily is teased at school and often called a fa%; Dunkin self-medicates with caffeine and donuts and at one point must be hospitalized because of his choice not to take his medication; Lily is cornered in the boys' locker room at school (she is still being socialized as male even though she has told her parents that she is transgender) and some bullies pull down her pants and underwear to see her genitals.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Cameron and the Girls, George, The Pants Project, Gracefully Grayson

25 October 2016

My 1,000th Post


This is the 1,000th post to appear on this blog. Wow, it's been a long ride. I started this blog back when I was a fundamentalist teaching at a private religious academy on the island of Guam. I've come a very long way since then, and along the way I have deleted some of my older (and scarier) posts, mainly because they reflect views that I no longer agree with. So my 1,000th post probably came a few months ago, really, but this is the 1,000th post to stay on this blog.

In the last six years of blogging, I have had a few posts that became very, very popular. Here are the top ten posts from this blog:

  1. Far and away the most popular post is the one about consent at storytime.
  2. My post about the results from dividing the fiction section into genres.
  3. Why I let kids make noise in the library.
  4. The one where I get rant-y about observing holidays in the library.
  5. How I made display signage.
  6. A science club post about race cars.
  7. The original genre dividing post.
  8. A science club post about color.
  9. The post about hungry kids at programs.
  10. And last but not least, my library bingo post. 
Now that my blog has been around for more than ten years (although you can only access six years' worth of posts), I have a few tips for maintaining a blog online. This blog, after all, is one part hobby and one part professional development for me. 

Pick a Topic. Pick a specific topic for your blog. My blog is both book reviews and library programming, but both of these things related to youth services. In the course of this blog, I could have written about a number of things that I enjoy - Harry Potter, LEGO bricks, Pokemon, crocheting, etc. - but I decided to focus exclusively on youth services. That means when I have something important to say that doesn't relate to the library, I save it for a Twitter rant or a Facebook post or some other venue. Keeping to one topic will make it easier for your blog to find followers.

Build up Your Posts Pre-Launch. Before you launch your blog, have a few posts ready to go. You can still post just once a day or once a week or whatever schedule you pick, but have a few posts lined up before you go live. This will ensure that you have material ready for your new followers to read.

Keep It Current. It is a lot of work to maintain a blog. When I'm not posting programming ideas or book reviews, I have to think about what other things I'd like to have up, because my goal is to make sure there is always fresh material on my blog. I take occasional breaks - when I've moved cross-country, when I'm in the middle of summer reading, etc. - but I always announce those. If you gain followers and then all of a sudden stop posting because you've run out of ideas, then you will lose those followers. I currently post twice a week, and I always have at least three posts pre-scheduled so that I have time to come up with other things to post. 

Connect to the Community. Find other blogs that post material similar to yours. Comment on their posts. Post links to their blogs on your page. Share the love. This will bring followers to you and will also send followers to those other sources of information. It definitely gives me a boost for my day when I check my stats and realize my post has been shared somewhere else. 

Have Fun! Blogging should be enjoyable. If it becomes too much of a chore, perhaps consider if you need to tweak your topic or if you should take an announced sabbatical from your blog. Consider bringing in guest writers to post, or make a few posts a compilation of links to other locations or something fun and different. 

Is there something I should start writing about that I've neglected in my first thousand posts? Let me know in the comments!


20 October 2016

The Mighty Odds


Ignatow, Amy. The Mighty Odds. Harry N Abrams,  2016.

When a school field trip turns into a bus accident, four unlikely allies all inherit strange powers. They must band together to find out how they received these powers and what they should do now that they have them.

This book is the first in a series, so there is a considerable amount of character development and backstory happening before the actual plot begins. Once the story does pick up, the action keeps it flowing right until the end, which is a cliffhanger as there is another book coming after this one. I could easily place this book in the hands of Wimpy Kid fans, especially once the sequel is out, but some reluctant readers may find it difficult to get through the all of the background bits that happen at the beginning of the book.

Recommended for: middle grade, fans of book/cartoon combinations like Wimpy Kid
Red Flags: racial teasing of a Middle Eastern boy, some "mild violence" in the form of explosions and such due to a character's special powers
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Bully Bait, Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

18 October 2016

TTT: Top Ten Character Names I'd Borrow

All the yarns are belong to me.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

I regularly name things, not just animate things, like my cat, but also house plants, cars, stuffed animals in the library, etc. Without further ado, here are ten character names I would borrow or have borrowed to name both animate and inanimate objects:

  1. Crookshanks from Harry Potter. My cat is named Crookshanks, because she is orange. Fortunately, she doesn't have the squashed-face look or temperament of her namesake.
  2. Tacky from Tacky the Penguin. My baby storytime plushie is a penguin, and I have named him Tacky in honor of my favorite picture book character. 
  3. Clifford from Clifford the Big Red Dog. At my previous library we had a large, red, stuffed dinosaur whom the children dubbed Clifford the Big Red Dino. 
  4. I once had an umbrella named Mahershalalhashbaz, which is a name from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The name means something like, "swift to the booty, speedy to the prey," which doesn't sound like an umbrella at all, but I was a weird college kid, so what can I say?
  5. When I was in college I suffered from chronic vertigo, requiring me to use a cane when I walked places on campus because the world was spinning so much I could barely stay upright. I gave my cane a biblical name, too: Abel. 
  6. I am considering naming my spider plant Longbottom, in honor of Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter. It certainly grows as though the Herbology professor is caring for it. 
  7. I named my dad's cat Yoda in honor of the Jedi master who has appeared in numerous books, not the least of which is The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda. Yoda the kitten had unusually large ears. Unfortunately, Yoda the adult cat looks nothing like a Yoda, so now he gets all kinds of nicknames.
  8. If I ever have another animal, which I don't want to think about because that involves my current animal being no longer with me, I want to give it a very long pompous-sounding name like Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, which is Nearly Headless Nick's full name. 
  9. I am considering naming our Christmas cactus Ebeneezer, because like its namesake it tends to ignore Christmas altogether and bloom at whatever time it feels convenient, like Fathers Day or Constitution Day.
  10. Finally, I have a few stuffed dinosaurs, many of whom I have named Steggy in honor of Steggy from What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night
What names do you like to co-opt from books? Do you have a list of names you'd like to use in the future? Let me know in the comments!

13 October 2016

Vassa in the Night


Porter, Sarah. Vassa in the Night. TOR, 2016.

Vassa lives in Brooklyn where the nights are becoming longer and longer. When one of her stepsisters sends her out for light bulbs, she becomes trapped at BYs, a strange dancing convenience store surrounded by severed heads on pikes. She has to work for three nights to free herself, but will she survive?

This is a classic magical realism YA novel. It helps to be familiar with the Russian fairy tale Vassilissa the Beautiful before reading this book, although it's not entirely necessary. I would recommend this book to strong teen readers because it is indeed very bizarre and can be rather gory at times.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: lots of gore b/c Baba Yaga kills thieves, so there's blood and axe-chopping, etc.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alike Suggestions: As I Descended, Bone Gap, Egg & Spoon

06 October 2016

Three Dark Crowns


Blake, Kendare. Three Dark Crowns. HarperTeen, 2016.

On the island of Fennbirn, triplet queens are born every generation. They are raised separately until their sixteenth birthday, when they are crowned and given one year to kill their sisters and become the one reigning queen. Each of the queens has a special ability - to withstand poison, to tame the elements, to communicate with animals, etc. As their sixteenth birthday approaches, the three queens-to-be consider the best ways to survive and reign supreme.

This is an excellently told fantasy story, full of sub-plots, backstabbing, world building, and wonderfully round characters. The narration is excellent, the action keeps the story well-paced, and the ending makes it clear where the second book may lead. As an added bonus, this is a world where the women lead and men follow. I would easily recommend this book to teen fantasy fans.

Recommended for: teens, fans of fantasy stories
Red Flags: lots of violence - the queens are trying to kill each other, so there is poisoning, mauling by animals, etc. None of it is very graphic.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Fairest, A Thousand Nights, Alanna: The First Adventure

04 October 2016

Storytime: Pirates!


I haven't posted a storytime lineup in a while, mostly because I am at a new library, which means I've been systematically recycling my old storytimes and programs from my previous library. However, last month I was able to do a pirate-themed storytime during the week of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Book: The Pirate Princess by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Book: Are You the Pirate Captain? by Gareth P. Jones

My previous storytimes had this pattern: rhyme, book, song, book, rhyme, book, song, book, rhyme, book, rhyme, craft. That's five books total. My current crowd is considerably younger than my previous crowd, and they are used to much shorter storytimes, so I follow the same pattern I have for the pirate storytime above and just switch out the books. We repeat songs because repetition is comforting to kids and easy for me.

For our craft we made paper plate pirates. I supplied the half-circles for the pirates bandana and the black eye patches. The kids colored in the faces and added spots to the bandanas.


29 September 2016

Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit


Brown, Jaye Robin. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit. HarperTeen, 2016.

Jo's father is marrying for the third time, and now Jo and her father are moving from metropolitan Atlanta to the small town of Rome, Georgia. What's more, Jo is an out lesbian, and her father has asked her to go back into the closet, so to speak, for her senior year. Jo agrees somewhat reluctantly, but things become complicated when Jo meets the girl of her dreams.

First off, Jo's life is already hard enough, what with moving her senior year of high school and getting yet another fill-in mother, so her father really, truly was being unreasonable in asking her to un-out herself for her last year of school. I absolutely agree with Jo that this sends her the message that he is less-than-okay with her sexuality. That being said, I just moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Midwest, and I work in a small town not unlike Rome, Georgia. While I do not hide my queer status from those around me, I don't have a pride flag on my office or an HRC sticker on my car, so there's that. I kind of understand. Would "straight Jo" have an easier time in Rome than lesbian Jo? Definitely. Would it be super hard for lesbian Jo to pretend to be "straight Jo" while in Rome? Absolutely.

The drama in Jo's high school life was understandable and realistic. Jo's confusion and conflict over whether to stay closeted per her father's instructions or to be honest with her new friends is also understandable. I liked that the story ended on a good note, even if that seemed a bit Disney-esque. Will this book be added to my library's collection? Yes. Will any of the teens actually check it out and read it? Not sure.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: at least two of the supporting characters are sexually active and like to talk about it; Jo and Mary Carlson nearly have sex (but are interrupted); underage drinking; Jo's Atlanta friend is put in jail because she's involved with identity theft
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Dumplin', Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, Openly Straight

27 September 2016

My Fall TBR List


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly series hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. 

I try to keep a relatively short to-be-read (TBR) list, so my "Fall TBR" list is pretty much just my TBR list right now, since it's fall.

  1. One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi
  2. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  3. Burn, Baby, Burn by Meg Medina
  4. Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  5. Vicarious by Paula Stokes
  6. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
  7. Three Truths and a Lie by Brett Hartinger
  8. The Bronze Key by Holly Black
  9. When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
  10. We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
What are you itching to read this fall?

22 September 2016

As I Descended


Talley, Robin. As I Descended. Harper Teen, 2016.

Maria and Lily want to have it all. They are competing for a scholarship at their prestigious private school, but they know that Delilah will win it, just as she wins everything. How far are Maria and Lily willing to go to get what they want, and will they be able to live with the consequences?

This is a retelling of Macbeth, modernized and set in a boarding school, so it's hard to judge this book, since it's not a standard boarding school story, nor is it a standard fairy tale retelling, nor is it a typical story with LGBT characters. It's spooky, and it's confusing at times, and the pace is pretty slow even though the events take place over a short period of time. In all those ways it's a lot like Shakespeare's Macbeth.

I would recommend this book to teens who enjoy boarding school stories and for strong readers. Readers looking for an action-packed page turner should find a different book.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: This is a retelling of MacBeth, so murder. Also underage drinking and drug use
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Huntress, Dorothy Must Die, Beast

20 September 2016

I See You


Your ninja skills are not as advanced as you may think, my young friend. You came to our LEGO club, and like all the other kids, you heard me say that each kid gets "one eatable and one drinkable" snack during club. I don't spend much time near the snack table, doling out food to you kids. I like to wander around the room, chat with you as you build, take pictures if you don't mind, etc. etc. I don't like to guard food.

I saw your trick; it was a good one. You put your first snack in your pocket and ate it, then when you got a second snack, you put it in the same pocket. I certainly wasn't paying attention to which snacks people had, so probably no one would notice if you were still eating snacks from your pocket. But I noticed.

I have eagle-eyes honed by years in a classroom, so I knew when you took a second snack, and a third and fourth, and then a second drink, and then a fifth snack. I saw you each time you walked oh-so-casually over to the refreshments and shoved another cellophane bag into your pocket.

You know what I also saw, though? I saw your eyes. You were not being a greedy kid. You were not trying to get away with something simply because I said no. Other kids were too busy building to care about a second snack. You, however, were too hungry to care about building.

I've seen that hungry look before, on my students when I was a teacher, and when I was a librarian, that look hounded a few kids who were honest with me: "Miss, I got here too late to get my free breakfast, and I'm hungry. Do you have anything to eat?" For some kids, the meals at school were all they could depend upon.

I don't know if that's your situation; I didn't ask. But I saw the hungry look in your eyes and I chose to ignore the plastic rustling in your pocket, because maybe getting a second snack isn't fair, but being hungry isn't fair, either, and I can certainly afford to make sure there are extra snacks available for you, kid.

Maybe some day you'll know me well enough to tell me what's going on, or maybe not. Either way, though, I'll keep the snack tray stocked, and please, please eat what you need.

15 September 2016

The Pants Project


Clarke, Cat. The Pants Project. Sourcebooks Jaberwocky, 2016.

A delightful middle grade novel in the vein of Gracefully Grayson with the upbeat hopefulness of Better Nate Than Ever.

Liv is not excited about starting middle school. He hasn't told his moms yet, but Liv has figured out that he's transgender, and his school has a strict dress code which will require him to wear a skirt since everyone thinks he's a girl. Not only that, but he loses his best friend to the popular crowd within the first week of school. Liv takes matters into his own hands and decides to challenge the school's dress code, and along the way he finds allies in unexpected places.

This story was completely adorable, from the small details of Liv's Italian heritage to the superhero comic pages his friend Jacob draws. I am so glad to see that there are more middle grade books featuring transgender characters, especially FTM (female to male) characters. This book is smart and funny and good, and even though the ending wraps up in a Disney-esque fashion, I want my middle grade readers to see some "happily ever after" endings. I love Liv, and I'm so glad his moms are supportive of him being true to himself. Strongly recommended

Recommended for: middle grade readers
Red Flags: minor bullying - Liv is referred to as "it" on occasion and called a freak, usually in reference to his two moms and not related to his being trans*
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Other Boy, Gracefully Grayson, George, I Am Jazz

13 September 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Fantasy Books


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

There's no way I could pick the top ten books in ANY genre. It's like asking me to choose my favorite child (which is part of the reason why my only child is a cat). I can't pick the top ten books of all time, but I can give you the top ten books of right now.

With that caveat in mind, here are my current top ten fantasy books:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. I still remember exactly where I was sitting when I read this book, and I consistently re-read it, too.
  2. The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Like HP but for grown-ups. Also, not as happy. But still really good.
  3. Ash by Malinda Lo. Cinderella retold with a queer angle.
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Allegorical Christian references aside, this series defined my childhood. I re-read these books then like I re-read HP now.
  5. Tuesday by David Wiesner. This picture book is fantastic! I find new things every time I look through its pages.
  6. The Iron Trial by Holly Black. This is a different take on the Harry Potter story. What if Harry discovered he was actually a reincarnation of Voldemort?
  7. A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. This book is truly lyrical and beautifully written. This is a book to be savored, not devoured.
  8. Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire. This is a thick book, but it's well worth the journey.
  9. Lair of Dreams (Diviners #2) by Libba Bray. This book also makes an excellent audiobook, and it had my spouse sobbing as we listened to it.
  10. The Princess Bride by William Goldman. If you haven't read this book yet, watch the movie first. Then read the book. Then watch the movie again and appreciate all the back stories you don't get in the movie, since you've read the book. 
Did I miss one you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments!

08 September 2016

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes


White, Wade. The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes. Little, Brown, 2016.

Anne is an orphan, and she is looking forward to the day she turns 13 and is kicked out of the orphanage, because she hopes to join a quest and find her family. The day before her 13th birthday, though, she is accepted as a student at a minor quest school and immediately sent on a special quest. Thus follows a hilarious adventure story involving a book that changes what's printed on its pages, a rainbow sparrow, and a giant robot named Rokk.

This book is funny and silly and enjoyable. It would make an excellent read-aloud book for an upper elementary classroom, and fantasy fans will lap this one up in a hot minute. I enjoyed the story, although I did find the inevitable "final battle scene with a villain" to be a bit drawn-out. Middle grade readers will love following Anne's adventures, and as this is possibly the first book in a series, this is a great book to give a child who has read everything and is hoping for something else.

Recommended for: middle grade readers
Red Flags: minor fantasy violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World, The Bad Beginning, The Edge Chronicles 1: The Curse of the Gloamglozer: First Book of Quint, Dragonborn;The Mysterious Benedict Society
I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for the purposes of review.

06 September 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: TV edition


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Confession: I confuse cable providers whenever they call me, because even though I like television, I don't have cable. I only got cable in my last apartment because cable+internet was less than just internet, which is an equation that still doesn't make sense to me. In any case, Netflix is my go-to source for television viewing, which seems to work just fine for me. If I'm desperate to see something recently aired, I can always check online and watch it there.

That being said, when I do have access to television, or if I'm binge-watching reruns on Netflix, these are the shows I usually choose:

  1. NCIS. I have watched this show since its beginning, and Abby is still, hands-down, my favorite character on television. 
  2. Bones. Ditto on this show. I especially liked the first several seasons when Bones and the other "squints" were more socially awkward, but it's still a favorite.
  3. Criminal Minds. So apparently I really enjoy what my spouse calls "bang, bang, shoot 'em up" shows, but I actually like listening to the "why" behind what a person did, rather than watching the crime-committing parts. 
  4. Hart of Dixie. This show is funny, and the small-town life that Zoe is trying to fit herself into describes some of the places where I've worked.
  5. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I've written before about the similarities between Kimmy and me, and that's probably a lot of why I like this show. Unfortunately, since it gets released all at once on Netflix, I end up binge-watching the entire season, then slowly rewatching it as I wait for the next one.
  6. Dr. Who. Confession: I don't like the current Doctor. I liked #10 and #11, but I am just not a fan of #12. Also, I miss Amy and Rory, so watching this on Netflix works well for me since I want to see the old episodes anyway. 
  7. Star Trek. In answer to the inevitable question: Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, in that order. I can't really stomach much of either of the other two iterations. 
  8. Cutthroat Kitchen. Why are "reality" shows so fun to watch? I particularly enjoy cooking shows, and Cutthroat Kitchen is a favorite just to see what weird things Alton Brown is going to do to the contestants and how they'll be able to make something amazing even having to work with their hands tied behind their backs or using tinfoil as their only utensil or whatever.
  9. MasterChef Junior. The regular version of this show is also mildly entertaining, but I like watching the kids cook. First, they're adorable. Second, they're usually pretty nice to each other. Third, the judges are so much nicer to them than they are to the adults. It amazes me that the Gordon Ramsey on this show is the same one on Hotel Hell. 
  10. My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic. I hadn't seen any of this MLP reboot at all until I met a colleague who was very interested in the entire franchise and was indeed writing a book about it. She recommended the ten episodes I should watch if I wanted to be able to have an intelligent conversation about the show, so I watched them, then I finished the rest of the first season, then I watched the first season in proper order, and before I knew it I had watched the entire five (now six) seasons as well as the movie spin-offs. I still like it, and now I know enough about it to talk with my young patrons. 
Is there a particular show you can't live without? How about a show that your spouse/roommate/partner/friend loves that you can't stand? 


01 September 2016

The Inside of Out


Thorne, Jenn Marie. The Inside of Out. Dial, 2016.

Daisy is excited when her friend Hannah comes out. Hannah is her best friend, and Daisy wants to be the best ally anyone has ever had. She's ready to join the campus GSA and take on the world, including abolishing the school's rule about not bringing same-sex dates to dances. Things soon spiral out of control, though, and Daisy has to choose between staying in the spotlight and doing what is right.

Wow, this is an odd book. While I applaud the idea of a character like Daisy who wants to be super supportive of her best friend, I had more than a few problems with this story:

1. The GSA isn't really a GSA. They don't allow non-queer students join their group and they're very adamant about this point. In trying to make this a safe space for queer teens, they failed to make it a safe space for allies.

2. Hannah's relationship with Daisy's enemy. Hannah starts dating a girl who used to be Daisy's best friend but then became a bully and teased her. There's no way that Hannah didn't know about this after being such close friends with Daisy, and if she would definitely have taken this into consideration when choosing whom she'd date.

3. Daisy's personality and privilege. Can we just acknowledge that Daisy is the most self-absorbed, over-enthusiastic, flighty, impulsive, privileged person ever? She jumps into projects only to not ever finish them, decides to do things without thinking about the consequences, and she can get away with this because she's white, cisgender, hetero, and has money. Everything is about Daisy, even getting the school to let kids bring their same-sex dates to dances. I wanted to slap her so many times throughout this book.

4. This last one is the biggest, most important problem I had with this book. Daisy wants to join the GSA, finds out that there's no "S," then promptly declares herself to be "asexual" so she can be a part of the group. While I never would insist that anyone "prove" they have any particular label before embracing it, it's painfully obvious that Daisy grabs the only label she thinks she can appropriate and then insists on being part of the group because of it. This does a disservice to people who are genuinely asexual, as there is no exploration in this book of true asexuality, and it certainly goes deeper than Daisy's flippant "Well, I've never really dated anyone, so yeah, that's me!" mentality.

The purpose of books with LGBTQ+ content is to provide windows and mirrors to readers, and this book only provides a window into the life of a flighty privileged white girl. It has offended members of the LGBTQ+ community, and while I can forgive Daisy's flighty nature and sell it as a book for some readers but not myself, I can't in good conscience ignore the appropriation of an identity for the sake of having that identity. With my library's very small collection space, I will not be adding this particular book. I need that room for better options.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: mostly Daisy's appropriation of the label "asexual;" other than that, this book is fairly clean
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

30 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Back to School


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Every August I have to resist the urge to buy massive quantities of pencils, notebooks, and especially crayons. I was/am one of those nerdy types who is excited for school to start. Since I went to college, then grad school, then taught, my life revolved around a school year schedule for 25+ years, so it's weird now to know that September doesn't mean a new notebook and freshly sharpened pencils and cute erasers that I won't use because it will "ruin" them.

Here are my top ten favorite school stories, in approximate age-appropriateness order:

  1. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. I love Chrysanthemum. I love her music teacher and her parents and this whole story. I make my storytime kids listen to it every year because it's such a sweet story. Henkes's other works are equally adorable and appropriate for this topic. 
  2. Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard. I remember loving this story as a child, and as a former teacher I can somewhat relate to Miss Nelson's troubles and admire her solution.
  3. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. This book, amazingly, was popular when I was a child and remains popular today. 
  4. Ungifted by Gordon Korman. This book; I love it. The story is funny and sweet and has plenty of lessons embedded in it without being preachy, and the main character is adorably hilarious. This one would make a great classroom read-aloud.
  5. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. This is an excellent book for kids who have read everything or think they are super "advanced" for their age or just for kids who like clean reads. 
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. I still remember where I was sitting when I read the first book in this series. The magic of Hogwarts and the wizarding world still sucks me in every time. 
  7. The Wednesday Wars by Garry Schmidt. I read this book out loud to my seventh grade students, and they loved the way the main character thinks and all the hijinks he gets up to. 
  8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is a hard book to read, but it's important and it's good and necessary. I have needed this book, and I make sure to recommend it as appropriate.
  9. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. This book is right up there with Harry Potter in my list of books that I love and often re-read. Just as many people imagine themselves being Harry, I think many people can imagine themselves as Ender, too.
  10. The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This book is another one that I have savored, as it's magical like Harry but definitely darker than Harry and has many allusions to Narnia as well. 
What is your favorite school story? Do you have one you read every year?

25 August 2016

The Evil Wizard Smallbone


Sherman, Delia. The Evil Wizard Smallbone. Candlewick, 2016.

Nick finally escapes his abusive uncle's home, only to find himself on the doorstep of an evil wizard who makes Nick his apprentice, which makes it impossible for Nick to leave his house. Smallbone has Nick cooking, cleaning, and caring for his animals; meanwhile the town around him is falling apart because they have not taken care of the magical protections the wizard had placed there. It takes the natural magical talents Nick has working together with Smallbone to save the town from someone even more evil than Smallbone himself.

This was an adorably magical middle grade story, and kids who enjoy fantasy worlds like Harry Potter would likely enjoy this one as well. The characterization and world-building are well done without completely hiding the plot, and the action scenes will keep readers turning pages to find out what happens next. This book would make an excellent classroom read-aloud as well. Recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: fantasy violence; the wizard often threatens Nick and has in fact threatened his previous apprentices as well
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

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

23 August 2016

Learning to Swear in America


Kennedy, Katie. Learning to Swear in America. Bloomsbury, 2016.

Yuri is a genius. At 17, he already has a PhD and has unpublished work that will probably win him a Nobel prize. So when scientists discover that an asteroid is headed toward Earth, Yuri is high on their list of people they want on their team. He is flown in from Russia and placed in a group to solve the asteroid issue. Because of his age, few people will take him seriously. He doesn't fit in with the scientists, so he finds some teens and attempts to assimilate American culture through them, meanwhile continuing to try to convince adults that his idea is right.

This book was truly a good read. Yuri is a very sympathetic character, and I love that he simultaneously dresses in suits because he's around adults all day and also sneaks out of his hotel at night because he is a teenager. He is often frustrated by the adults around him who fail to take him seriously. Meanwhile, there is an asteroid heading toward Earth and that tension builds as the reader knows that, one way or the other, by the time the book is over they'll know whether the scientists' plan worked or not. This is a delightful story that would appeal to a wide range of readers.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Yuri does eventually learn to swear in English (there is also a small amount of Russian profanity); he talks about having sex but never actually does, at one point while watching the asteroid, a scientist chooses to urinate in a cup so he doesn't have to leave the room
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

18 August 2016

It Looks Like This


Mittlefehldt, Rafi. It Looks Like This. Candlewick, 2016.

Mike is the new kid in school. His family has relocated, and Mike's dad is trying his best to make sure Mike doesn't turn out "soft." Mike's friendship with Sean soon turns into something more than friends, though, and Mike's parents have to decide how they want to respond to the person their son is becoming.

After a very slow and stilted start, this book picks up and becomes interesting about halfway through. The characters are not very fleshed out, and the mention of church in the blurb is a bit of a misnomer, as church does not feature prominently in the first two-thirds of the story. The family could not accurately be described as evangelicals or religious or anything of that nature. I continued to read this book mainly out of obligation as I intended to write a review, but not because the pace or characters were interesting enough to keep me going. The story seemed to be told almost without emotion, and the flat, short sentences did not draw me into the story at all. As there are other books on this topic that are better written and more enticing to a reader, this one is not recommended to any but the largest libraries or those with extensive collections of LGBT literature.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: bullying, teen alcohol use, teen sexual experiences, drunk driving, a teen is sent to a conversion therapy-style camp, at said camp there is a creepy almost molest-y director, mild language
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

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

16 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Set in Space


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

Space: the final frontier ... Here are the top ten books set in space:

  1. Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. The author's personal beliefs aside, I really liked this series.
  2. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. This book is set on Earth, but a comet/planet/something from space - they call it Calamity - comes to Earth and sets the whole story in motion.
  3. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman. This was an excellent book to listen to as an audio selection. I don't know that I would have enjoyed the print version as much as I enjoyed the audio, which was excellent.
  4. Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay. Beauty and the Beast set in space on another planet. Shut up and take my money.
  5. Cress by Marissa Meyer. This is book #3 in the Cinder series, and Cress is a Rapunzel-esque hacker trapped in orbit of earth. 
  6. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett. To be fair, I'm not a big fan of the rest of the series, but this first book in the Long Earth series is really good.
  7. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Love this one. 
  8. Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires. Binky doesn't technically go into space, but he does build himself a rocket ship and prepare to leave orbit. In the end, though, he doesn't want to leave his people behind.
  9. The Martian by Andy Weir. I still love this book. I have read it maybe five times already and I haven't gotten bored yet.
  10. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Again, the author's personal beliefs turn my stomach, but this is by far one of my favorite books ever. The movie was on the yucky side of "meh," but the book is excellent.
Have you missed one of these excellent titles? Then add it to your to-read list. Is there one I'm missing? Let me know in the comments.

11 August 2016

Teen Programming: National Night Out


National Night Out is always the first Tuesday in August. Interestingly enough, my Teen Advisory Board (TAB) meetings are also always on the first Tuesday of the month. This year we decided to combine these events and have the teens take care of the library's table at National Night Out.


At the July TAB meeting I asked the teens what type of thing they would like to do at the table. I suggested a craft or something simple, since we would have to transport everything there and there would be lots of other things for people to do. The teens suggested face painting, which is easy enough to manage, so I approved their suggestion and lined up teen volunteers to take care of face painting that night, provided that I brought supplies.

I purchased three Snazaroo face painting kits, three extra packs of brushes, two sets of hand mirrors (from the dollar store), and one package of baby wipes. I was hoping to keep things relatively clean this way and allow the teens to keep face painting as we sent someone to clean brushes. The Snazaroo paint is kid-friendly and cleans off easily. I also made sure to pack the library's table cloth as well as some bookmarks, pens, pencils, and other library paraphernalia so that people would have a takeaway even if they didn't want to have their faces painted.


The set-up was very simple, and once the event started, our table was extremely popular. The teens were kept busy painting faces and hands, and those who were not painting were rotated through brush washing duty and "go look at interesting things happening tonight" duty. Everyone did work and everyone got a break, too, and we had a busy table for most of the night. At the end, we put away the face paint, bundled up the brushes (to be brought home and sanitized in my dishwasher), wrapped up the table cloth and we were good to go. Set up and clean up each took about five minutes, so we got to focus most of our time on what we were doing, and in between customers I was able to chat with the teens and get to know them a bit better.

I will definitely be doing this activity again next year if the teens are still interested, as it was the best combination of simple and successful I've seen so far.


09 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I've Never Read

The Red Badge of Nope

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.

According to my Goodreads profile, I've read nearly 4,000 books so far in my life, and that's only counting the books I've added on Goodreads. I read across a wide variety of books - picture books, young adult novels, adult nonfiction, etc. Even so, there are a few books that "everybody" has read that I just haven't. Without further ado, here are ten books that everyone has read that I have not and probably will not:

  1. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I am not a horse fan. I never went through a horse phase as a child, and although I read books where the main character was a dog, I never got into the horse stories.
  2. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. I never read this one as a child. I'm not sure why. 
  3. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I think I would have liked this one as a child, but I never read it, either.
  4. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I recommend this one regularly to kids who enjoy adventure stories, but I've actually never read it. 
  5. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Everyone was talking about this book a while back, and I still see it circulating occasionally, but it's not for me.
  6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. My mother loved this book and the movie that followed. I couldn't possibly be interested in either. 
  7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Nope. I didn't read this one, either, and I know people who loved this book.
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In college I assisted a high school teacher by marking her students' papers so she could grade them more quickly. I read through a large stack of papers written about this book without ever having read it. 
  9. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I taught senior English for one year, and I had to teach this book, but I was less interested in reading it than the kids were, so I didn't. I discussed it with them, I wrote quizzes over it and gave them projects, but I never actually read the book. In fact, I didn't even try.
  10. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. This book is the first book that was ever assigned to me where I did not finish it. It was not my cup of tea then and it still isn't now. I even completed a final project on this book - for which I received an A - and hadn't read more than two chapters. What's more, I taught this book to my 11th grade students for six years in a row, and I still never read through the entire book. When kids would ask questions in class about a particular point in the book, I would pretend I was a really good teacher and turn it back to the class: "What does everyone else think about this?" 
I could attempt to go back and redeem myself by reading these books, but honestly my to-read pile is large enough as it is, and I need to keep up with current children's and teen books for my job, so it's not likely that I will read any of these books any time soon.