"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

29 April 2015


Ryan, Pam Munoz. Echo. Scholastic Press, 2015.

A magical harmonica is passed down throughout decades until those trapped within can be released. This summary doesn't really say anything, but it's hard to describe this book. The beginning and ending are parts of a fairy tale, and between that are three stories told in 500 pages that link together because of the aforementioned harmonica.

This is, without a doubt, a beautifully written book. I could easily get lost in the language and the stories. I enjoyed each story by itself, even without the connective summary at the ending. This book will definitely reside on my library's shelves, and it will be easy to book talk to my stronger readers who have conquered all of the Harry Potter novels and others of similar length. However, I think the sheer length itself is going to be problematic when it comes to convincing any but the strongest readers to pick this book up. It's thick, and it's heavy, and it doesn't have the benefit of illustrations a la Hugo Cabret. That being said, it is indeed a beautifully written book.

Recommended for: strong middle grade readers
Red Flags: some intense situations for each character, but no violence/language/etc that could pose a problem.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

27 April 2015

Under a Painted Sky

Lee, Stacey. Under a Painted Sky. G.P. Putnam BFYR, 2015. 

Samantha hates Missouri and wants to move back to New York, but her father insists that they will soon head west. When her father's shop burns down with him inside, and Samantha is captured and nearly forced into prostitution, Samantha and her new found friend Annamae are forced to flee for their lives. They disguise themselves as boys and head West, Sammy looking for her father's friend and Andy looking for her brother. They soon find themselves neck-deep in their lies and hoping to save their own skins.

It took me a little bit to get into this story, but once I did, I was hooked. I like stories of people traveling West, and the added element of two nonwhite girls disguised as boys was intriguing. Historical fiction isn't usually a super-popular category for teens, but this particular book would be an easy one to book talk.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Sammy is nearly raped near the beginning of the book, several people are shot and/or die throughout the story.
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

24 April 2015

Open-Process Art: A Different Type of Library Program

I have seen, taught, led, and participated in countless craft programs, both craft programs for children and also those for adults.  Many craft programs begin with a specific end product that everyone will make, like the dancing leprochaun craft the kids at my library did on St. Patrick's Day.  There's nothing wrong with these types of craft programs per se, but there is another type of art program that can be done in a library: open process art.

This type of art involves creating for the sake of creating and doesn't necessarily have an end product or goal as the focus. It can be difficult to convince those who work with children to run a program that doesn't end with everyone carrying out their carefully crafted creation, but giving kids (and adults) the opportunity to explore and enjoy and experience can also be a great program.

I recently had a group of children visit my library. I gave them my standard library tour, read them a story, and then instead of giving them a construction paper and glue stick craft, I let them try their hands at a project: given dry spaghetti noodles and mini marshmallows, what kind of structure can you make?

It was a lot of fun to watch the kids making a huge mess with this project. Some of them took to it right away, while others had to fiddle around a bit to decide what to do. Some kids worked in groups and others worked alone.  The best part, though, was that none of the results looked at all alike. Kids made big buildings and tall ones, rectangular ones and triangles and pentagons.  One kid made a giant pile of marshmallows and jammed a few spaghetti noodles in it and called it good. Kids made parts that moved, watched their structures collapse, and asked people to help them stabilize bits.  They were concentrating, they were learning, and they had a great time.

I won't always do this type of project; there definitely is a place for craft-y things that produce actual items for people to take home and enjoy, but the looks of intense concentration I saw on the faces of the children tells me that this was a project worth repeating.

22 April 2015

Ghosts of Heaven

Sedgwick, Marcus. Ghosts of Heaven. Roaring Brook Press, 2015.

Four different stories, all involving spirals. The first story tells of ancient people, the second takes place during the witch burnings of the 1700s, the third in an insane asylum in the early 1900s, and the final story is in the future. Three historical fiction stories and one science fiction combine into one very strange novel.

I generally enjoy Marcus Sedgiwck's writing, and this book was no exception. The stories are beautifully told, even though it took me a very long time to get interested in the first one, which is told in free verse. I enjoyed the second and third stories and was excited for the connection I was sure would come from the fourth one. Unfortunately, even though there are hints of previous stories in each successive tale, the fourth story didn't tie the whole book together for me as neatly as I'd have hoped. I would recommend this book for strong teen readers who don't need everything tied up neatly at the end.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence in all four stories
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

20 April 2015

Bone Gap

Ruby, Laura. Bone Gap. Balzer + Bray, 2015

Finn and his older brother Sean are on their own. Sean gave up his dreams of medical school when their mother left, so now he cares for Finn as best he can. When a mysterious girl appears in their barn, Sean offers her their spare apartment. When she leaves, everyone assumes she ran off with someone else. But Finn is sure something sinister has happened; if only he could remember what the man looked like, the man who took Roza.

This book alternates chapters telling Finn's story and Roza's, and some of it tells of Roza's time before coming to Bone Gap and some of it tells what's happening in the present, so it can be hard to follow. It was interesting and weird and unusual, but I wouldn't say it was compelling. This would be a good book to give to teens who like both fantasy and contemporary works in order to introduce them to magical realism.

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

17 April 2015

Passive Programming: Scavenger Hunts

My library frequently has passive programming for the children, usually in the form of a craft that they can do while they are at the library.  The limit to this type of program, though, is that it has to be something kids can do independently with the materials we feel comfortable leaving out, so we try to avoid anything requiring pointy scissors, liquid glue, glitter, paint, etc.

This time I wanted to give the kids something fun and different to do in the library that didn't involve making a paper sheep or a dancing leprechaun. I choose The Adventures of Beekle: An Unimaginary Friend as my subject, both because it recently was awarded the Caldecott Medal and also because Beekle is just too cute not to appear in a library program.

I took ten Beekle pictures and printed them large enough to be easily visible from fairly far away - about six pictures to a standard sheet of paper.  I posted these pictures around the children's area of the library, always in places where kids could see them, but usually in places where they would not end up being moved, either accidentally or intentionally. I made a check sheet with smaller versions of the same pictures so kids could keep track of which ones they'd found.  Then I used a large board near the children's reference desk to explain the scavenger hunt. Kids could take a sheet and a golf pencil and hunt around the children's section of the library to try and find Beekle.  There was no prize for finishing; rather it was a fun activity to do while in the library that hopefully would encourage the children to look in different parts of the children's department and might even get their parents involved.

The big sign says, "Can you find Beekle?" 

This week I have observed multiple children using the Beekle scavenger hunt, and I have also seen them drag their parent/guardian into the hunt as well, usually with cries of, "But I just need to find two more!" When they turn in their papers, I congratulate them on a job well done and offer them a high-five. I will definitely use this program again as it gets people walking around the library and talking about books and enjoying their time here. Smiling, happy patrons are patrons who will return.

Have you ever done a scavenger hunt in your library?

15 April 2015


Carriger, Gail. Prudence. Orbit, 2015

Prudence, daughter of both Lord and Lady Maccon (a werewolf and a soulless) and also adopted daughter of Lord Akeldama (a vampire) is a metanatural: she can take on the supernatural powers/properties of another person just by touching them. She is given her own dirigible and sent on a mission to India to recover a particular new type of tea, but she soon finds that there is more than tea to deal with.

I didn't find myself liking this book as much as I liked the original series or the Etiquette & Espionage series, but the story picked up when they started talking about weremonkeys. There also seems to be a bit of debate as to where this book should be shelved in the library. Probably the most appropriate spot would be "new adult," if your library has such a category, but it would easily fit within a YA collection as well.

Recommended for: teens, adults, fans of steampunk
Red Flags: Whenever Rue changes shape, she loses her clothing, so there are lots of mentions of her being naked, but the Victorian setting dictates that these scenes are not remotely graphic or descriptive.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

13 April 2015

Every Last Word

Stone, Tamara. Every Last Word. Disney-Hyperion, 2015.

Sam is one of the popular girls in her class; she and her besties, "The Crazy Eights," have been friends since kindergarten. Sam has kept a secret from the Eights, though: Sam has OCD. When Sam seeks refuge in her school's theater, she meets Caroline, who introduces her to a completely different group of friends in the Poetry Corner. Sam isn't sure how to balance her friendship with the Eights and her new-found friends in the Poetry Corner. She's feeling closer to "normal" than ever, but will she ever be able to tell everyone the whole truth?

I can't reveal much more about this book without divulging spoilers of an epic proportion. The author clearly did her research into purely-obsessive OCD, and the twist in the book genuinely surprised me. Sam's struggle between staying with her lifelong, controlling friends and branching out on her own is clear, and teens will enjoy reading about a secret poetry group meeting on a high school campus. This book will definitely be a part of my library's teen collection and will be an easy book to book talk.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: underage alcohol use, mild profanity, bullying, Sam is intimate with her boyfriend at one point, although it is not described in detail
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

10 April 2015

Book Club: Dinosaurs Before Dark

My BookMunchers discussed Dinosaurs before Dark this month in book club. This book is considerably longer than the typical picture books I choose, but it was still something that a parent could read to/with a child in the span of the month between book club meetings, and it would help the kids to be familiar with the Magic Tree House series once they got old enough to learn to read independently.  Some of the parents actually checked out some of the other books in the series once they had read this one, which has now empowered them to find this series in the library and to share it with their kids.

Clifford the Dino lives at the library, and he insisted on coming to this book club meeting.

We had a small discussion about the book itself, and magic treehouses in general, and dinosaurs in general (because everyone has a favorite dinosaur, right?).  After that it was time for activities.  I had four, two of which were insanely popular, as you'll see:

1.  Dinosaur hidden pictures. I found this picture on the Highlights website and printed out copies for the kids to take home.  Most of them did, and a few looked at the picture while at the library, but most of them were busy with other things.

2.  Dinosaur memory game.  This is also something I found online. I printed the cards, mounted them on construction paper, and laminated them.  This way I can use them again if (when) we have another dinosaur-related book or program. Only three children (out of twenty between my two book club meetings) used these.

3.  Play-dough and plastic dinos.  This was the second most popular station of the night. I had homemade (because it's cheaper) play-dough in baggies and a giant pile of plastic dinosaurs.  Each child could have one baggie of play-dough and could choose two or three dinos to keep.  They didn't want to keep the dinos, for the most part, but they had fun walking the dinos through the play-dough, smushing them into it to make "fossils," or coming up with their own creative ideas.  It was fun to watch them play and the play-dough didn't actually make much of a mess. And I gave the extra bags of play-dough to my coworkers, which made them happy, too.

4.  Dinosaur eggs.  This was far and away the most popular station of the night. I took plastic dinos (the same ones I used with the play-dough, actually) and put them inside water balloons. I then filled the water balloons with water and stuck them in my freezer.  The result, when the water is frozen and the balloon is peeled off, is something that looks like an egg.  Each child was allowed to choose one egg to "hatch."  I brought in a Crock-Pot and filled it partway with water, then set it on "keep warm." By the time book club started, the water was about the temperature of bath water.  I had slotted spoons for the kids to stir their dinos, and when there was a break I would scoop some of the extra water out with a pitcher.  I could have used just this activity and the kids would have been perfectly happy.

08 April 2015

Book Scavenger

Bertman, Jennifer. Book Scavenger. Henry Holt & Co BYR, 2015.

Emily's family is moving to San Francisco on their quest to have fifty homes in the fifty states. Emily is looking forward to this move, though, because it puts her closer to her hero: Garrison Griswold, a man who is hailed as the Willy Wonka of books and who has created a website called Book Scavenger where players hide books in real life and leave clues on the website, earning points when they find books or others find books they've hidden. But when Emily stumbles upon a copy of Poe's The Gold-Bug in a BART station, she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a real mystery: why are those two men following her everywhere, and what's so special about this particular book that they could want it so badly?

I loved almost everything about this book. I loved the literary references, of course, and the nod to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which is one of my more recent favorites and one of the few books I refuse to give away. I loved that Emily makes a friend and learns to be interested in other people's interests, too. I adore the fact that James named his cowlick; I'm considering naming mine now, too. The only reason this book got 4 1/2 stars instead of 5 is that some of the SF references were not exactly spot-on. There is no cable car that leads to the Ferry Building, and no self-respecting local would use a cable car for transportation, either: they cost more than twice the price of a bus ticket and only go nine miles an hour. The rest of the local references were excellent, however, including the mini park that happens to be located on the western side of Hyde Street relatively near Lombard Street - it even has the teepee that is mentioned, although it smells rather like dogs enjoy it, so I would not have crouched inside it like the characters did. Overall, an excellent book and I will certainly be purchasing a copy (or two or three) for my library's collection. Perhaps it will inspire the next generation of cypher-ers.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens
Red Flags: Mr. Griswold is shot, the kids are threatened with a gun but not harmed
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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

Read-Alikes: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library,Masterminds, Greenglass House

06 April 2015

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Kelly, Jacqueline. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Henry Holt & Co BYR, 2015.

In this second installment in the Calpurnia Tate series, we get to watch Calpurnia and her family as they react to a hurricane that hits the coast of Texas. Calpurnia is up to her usual adventures - spending time with her grandfather, getting into trouble with her younger brother, and being forced by her mother to learn to be a lady. Calpurnia is even more aware of the inequities between the way she and her brothers are treated, and it is grating on her. She wants to go to veterinary school, but her father wishes for her to get a teaching certificate.

I enjoy Calpurnia's curiosity and her thirst for knowledge. I was glad that Calpurnia noticed the inequities in her life and was frustrated along with her that she was unable to change them. I am looking forward to additional installments in this series and will definitely recommend it to my young patrons.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: none - this is a great book to give to patrons who want "clean reads" for their kids
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Stella by Starlight, Paperboy, Little House on the Prairie

03 April 2015

Book Club: Rain Reign

My Page Turners book club met again last month and discussed the book Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.  We met in our library's picture book room because our auditorium is undergoing renovations.  This meant that I didn't have as much space for us to spread out and also that we would be dealing with distractions from other programs and patrons in the library, but it was also good to get more visibility for the book club, and it was easier for parents to feel free to wander in the library and keep an eye on their kids who were with me in the picture book room.

First, we had our discussion. I got the discussion questions here, which made things easy. I always ask if the kids liked the book more or less than our last book, and I ask how many stars they would give it, and what kinds of kids they think would like to read it.  And we always talk about the book itself - this time our discussion centered around Rose's unusual behaviors and her choice to give Rain back to his original family. I was glad that this book had a character with a disability, as this gave my book clubbers a chance to talk about how Rose didn't do the things she did on purpose and how they could choose to be friends with a person like Rose even if that person did things like collecting homonyms and shouting prime numbers.  The kids all recognized that Rain was helpful in gaining friends for Rose at school as well.

Then it was time for activities.  I had several items the kids could do, and this time I watched every kid try every different activity, which I thought was pretty neat:

1.  Make a lost dog poster for Rain. As seen below, some kids made posters for other dogs, or other things.

2.  Guess what items you should take in a disaster.  This is from the Ready.gov website's information for kids. I had a handout for the kids to take, and pictures of different rooms in the house that they could use to guess what things to take with them if there was an earthquake or other disaster.

3.  Homonym memory / go fish.  This was a bit difficult, since each homonym in my list was part of a group of three (like there, they're, their), so the kids made up their own rules about how the game worked, which was fine by me.

4.  Hexicards.  These cards are fun to use as dominoes or really for whatever a person would want to do with them.  I left them out to see how the kids would take to them.  They weren't super-popular, but I did have some younger kids invade the book club afterwards, and they LOVED the hexicards.

Book club became very crowded near the end, since there were other children in the library and they saw that we had snacks and activities.  The upside of this is that my book clubs are now completely booked for this month.  The obvious downside was crowd control, but I assured my Page Turners and their parents that we would be back down in the auditorium soon. I am glad that the other patrons were able to see what our book club is about and how it works.

I gave the kids a nonfiction book for next month.  Several of them complained: "But it has PICTURES! I don't read books with pictures!" "What? A nonfiction book? Why?"  I told them we will read a wide variety of books in book club and that this one just happens to be nonfiction.  Then, because it is about volcanoes, I told them we could do baking soda volcanoes in the library when we met.  We'll see how well that works out.

01 April 2015


Hellison, Cat. Beastkeeper. Henry Holt & Co, 2015.

Sarah's family moves all the time, but this time it was Sarah's mom who left and the family who stayed. After a while, Sarah's father said he needed to go to "a special hospital" and dropped Sarah off with her grandmother who lives in a spooky old mansion in the middle of nowhere with no internet and no electricity. Stranger still, Sarah finds herself bound in a family curse that will continue to haunt her and the generations after her unless she can find a way to stop it.

This book was delightfully spooky.  The atmospheric details are what give this book its fairy-tale-gone-wrong feel.  With surprisingly little violence or other red flags, this book would be an excellent suggestion for kids who want to read scary books but aren't quite ready for adult themes. It could also make a good classroom read-aloud.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens, teens; Sarah is in 7th grade, but this book could easily appeal to adults as well
Red Flags: minor violence (some characters are creatures who happen to be carnivores, so they kill smaller animals to eat); one character drinks brandy
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Darkest Part of the Forest; The Sisters Grimm, The Night Gardener