"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 May 2015

Break for Summer Reading

Our library's summer learning club (formerly known as the summer reading program) will begin on Monday. I have spent the last month preparing and promoting the programs for this summer.  I will be spending the next two months up to my eyeballs in programming and kiddos and prizes and story times and crafts and performers, etc. etc.

Mondays: kids crafts in the afternoon, family story time in the evening
Tuesdays: toddler story time in the morning, science club in the afternoon
Thursdays: visits from the city child care group for story times and tours in the afternoon, book club in the evening
Fridays: our Maker Space will be open for patrons (including children) to use
Saturdays: a performer or special event every week - puppets, animal shows, etc.

In short, I will be busy.  To quote a friend of mine, "I am not legally responsible for anything I say or do until after August 1st."

I might have glimmers of free time in which I can write blog posts.  More likely, however, this blog will gather dust until August, at which time I can tell about all the things we did in the summer and how they were awesome (or how they could be made to become awesome).

27 May 2015


Littman, Sarah. Backlash. Scholastic Press, 2015.

Lara's online crush told her the world would be better off without her. On her Facebook wall. When others start to chime in, Lara decides he's right. The doctors are able to pump the pills from her system before they kill her, but soon the police are investigating this incident. Who is this online crush, and why did he say things that would make Lara do something so drastic? Lara's family and friends have to deal with the backlash after Lara's suicide attempt.

I picked this book up and immediately thought of the after school specials I used to watch while waiting for my mom to come home from work. The lesson in this book is obvious, but there's enough mystery and drama that many readers will be drawn into the the story even if they can already guess what is going to happen. I had already guessed at many of the "plot twists," and I didn't even find any of the characters likable, but I found myself staring at the pages as I turned them, much the way passing motorists will find themselves compelled to look at an accident site. The main character, her ex-BFF, and their parents and younger siblings are all pretty deplorable people. I don't like them. I don't think you're supposed to like them. But the message of this story is a needed one, and this is a book that will be on the shelves at my library and will be easy for me to book talk to middle school and high school students who attend our programs.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: suicide attempt, bullying, mild language issues
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

25 May 2015


Arnold, David. Mosquitoland. Viking BYR, 2015.

Mim lives with her father and stepmother in Mississippi, but when she hears her mother has been hospitalized, she steals money and sneaks away on a Greyhound bus so she can be with her mother. The bus crashes, she's nearly raped, and many other crazy mishaps happen along the way.  This is definitely a book that is more about the journey than the destination.

Confession: I really didn't like this book. I didn't hate it, and I have hated some books, but I did NOT like this one. Mim is not a likable character, and I find it disturbing when I read a book and can't sympathize with or identify with the main character at all.  I find it hard to believe that Mim was able to steal all of that money and run off with no one looking for her.  I find it equally hard to believe that the Greyhound bus would crash and everyone would get a free hotel room and then GET ON ANOTHER BUS WITH THE SAME DRIVER THE VERY NEXT DAY.  I don't like the way this book treats the beliefs and rituals of Native peoples.  I don't like the way this book treats a character with Down syndrome. It was very difficult to be inside Mim's head on this very unbelievable journey.

It's pretty obvious by now that mental illnesses are the next "big thing" in young adult literature, but I think there are better books out there. Read if you must, especially if you believe all the 5-star reviews this book has gotten, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Mim struggles with a mental illness and is medicated for much of this book. She discusses her medication (which has a very similar name to a medication currently on the market IRL) and takes a very anti-meds stance throughout the book. Mim is nearly raped by a creepy man on the bus; this event happens suddenly enough that rape survivors should take gentle care.
Overall Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars - some of the writing is pretty, even if it is pretty unbelievable

Read-Alikes: Challenger Deep, Cameron and the Girls, All the Bright Places, Every Last Word

22 May 2015

Book Club: Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy

This month my Page Turners book club (9-12 year olds) read Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy, which is the first book in a seven-book fantasy series.  The story follows five dragonets (baby dragons, to the unenlightened) who are part of a prophecy that is supposed to end the war between different dragon factions. Most of my book club kids loved this book, and many of them said it was their favorite of the books we have read so far this year.

After a brief discussion (I found my questions here), we started in on our activities:

1.  Dragon corner bookmark.  Corner bookmarks are relatively simple to make, and I like that they can be personalized to match the topic at hand.  In this case, I set out a sample, a couple of templates, and a stack of craft supplies.  The kids didn't need much more in the way of direction.

2.  Seven Dragons Game. I always like to incorporate card games or board games, because most of my young patrons don't have enough opportunity to play these with anyone else.  There happens to be a dragon card game that has a regular version and a simplified version. I wrote up the simplified version directions on a paper and set those out with just the necessary cards instead of the entire deck.

3.  Jointed Dragon.  This was way more popular than I thought it would be. I found a paper dragon online that can be colored, cut out, and attached with paper fasteners so that the various joints actually move.  The kids loved this activity, even though it took most of their time just to cut the dragon out.

Although this month's activities were not as, ahem, explosive as those we did last month, we still had a great time and the patrons (and I) are looking forward to next month.

20 May 2015

Prairie Fire

Johnston, E.K. Prairie Fire. Carolrhoda Books, 2015.

This second installment in the Dragon Slayer of Trondheim series follows Owen, a dragonslayer, and Siobhan, his bard, as they join the Oil Watch.  Those who enjoyed The Story of Owen will also enjoy this sequel.

I enjoyed The Story of Owen, although it wasn't a book I would have picked up based simply on the cover. I also very much enjoyed Prairie Fire. The characters are relatable, the jabs at the differences between Canada and the United States are amusing, and the story moves along at a good pace with plenty of action. I would recommend keeping tissues nearby, though.  Any further details would constitute a spoiler, so just take my word for it.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, Eragon, Seraphina

18 May 2015

Thickety: A Path Begins

White, J.A. Thickety: A Path Begins. Katherine Tegan Books, 2014.

Kara's mother is killed for being a witch; Kara narrowly escapes the same fate, but is derided by the villagers for being the daughter of a witch. Her puritanical village is thrown into upheaval, though, after Kara discovers a grimoire and the village leader's daughter steals it to use for her own devices. Can Kara save everyone from destruction? After the way they've treated her, does she even want to?

This book would make an excellent read-alike for kids who have read and enjoyed Harry Potter or any of the Rick Riordan series. The book is thick, but the story is filled with intricate details and descriptions, and there is enough action to keep it moving. I will note that readers who are sensitive to violence may wish to read something else; there are several instances where characters are killed or injured rather suddenly, so it would be difficult to skip over the violent bits just to read the rest of the story.  The second book in this series is on my to-read shelf, and I am looking forward to further adventures with Kara.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: violence - Kara is nearly stoned, several characters die in a violent manner
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Night Gardener

15 May 2015

Book Club: Where the Wild Things Are

My Book Munchers book club (ages 5-8) read Where the Wild Things Are last month.  There are enough kids and families interested in this book club that it actually meets twice on the same night. I start book club at 4:00 PM, then take a break after the first session, only to do it all over again at 6:00 PM.  The nice thing about this is that I only create one set of activities with double the amount of supplies. The not-so-nice thing is that one day of every month is nothing but book club for me at work, and I'm usually exhausted by the time I go home at night.

We discussed the book, and afterwards, it was time for activities.  There are lots of activities available online to go with this book, but here's what I did:

1.  Make a Scene.  I found some reproducible Wild Things backgrounds and characters online, and I allowed kids to color them, cut them out, and stick them on the background.  This was made especially fun because I included the upcycled crayons our library had made for Earth Day.

2.  Make a Face.  Paper plates, string, markers, glue sticks, and construction paper.  Make a mask for your own Wild Thing, with or without eye holes.

3.  Count Your Steps. Using painters' tape, I marked a spot on the floor that was Max's bedroom, then labeled our auditorium's stage "the jungle." Kids had to count their steps from Max's room to the jungle.  I then suggested trying giant steps, baby steps, robot steps, etc.  I also made a chart for them to fill in, complete with areas for their grown-up to join them. This was a sneaky way to get parents involved in the activities and to get the kids to do MATH without knowing it.  If I had thought enough ahead, we could have made a giant chart with everyone's numbers and even turned it into a graph or some other visual aid.

This third activity turned into "everyone should wear a Max crown and run around with it on," but I didn't mind because 1) the crown made the activity relate to the book, right? and 2) kids do need to move around and get some exercise. The stage in our auditorium makes a very satisfying thumping noise when jumped on, so many of the kids got to Max's jungle and decided to stage their own wild rumpus.

These three activities were more than enough to keep everyone happy and busy.  I also let younger/older siblings join in the activities. My book clubs, including both activities and discussion, generally last about an hour, then everyone is happy and ready to go home. I always offer the opportunity to sign up for the next book club as well, and I have found the parents have been talking to their friends, so popularity continues to grow.

13 May 2015

Challenger Deep

Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. HarperCollins, 2015.

Caden is in high school and is afflicted with a mental illness that makes him think he is on a ship in the middle of the ocean, traveling toward the Marianas Trench. His parents and teachers are concerned about him and he ends up spending time in a hospital where he is cared for while his medications are adjusted. Caden's struggle to trust his parents and doctors as well as his desire to break free from his illness are evident throughout out both stories.

The chapters in this book alternate between Caden's adventures on the high sea and his real-life adventures as people work to help him control his illness. I will definitely say that this is a powerful book and that it was well-written, but it is definitely not my thing. The ocean adventures seem very random, and it's very difficult to flip back and forth from reality to fantasy. I understand that this was likely the author's intention as it gives a better glimpse into the life of a person struggling with mental illness, but I did not enjoy or appreciate the two separate stories, in spite of their connections. We have a copy in our library's collection, and I will still recommend this book to strong young adult readers or to those interested in mental illnesses, but it's not for me.

Recommended for: young adults
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Ruining, Cameron and the Girls, Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets

11 May 2015

All the Rage

Summers, Courtney. All the Rage. St. Martin's Griffin, 2015.

Every day Romy puts on her war paint: bright red nail polish and lipstick. Her shields, however, are no defense when she is constantly bullied at school. No one in her small town believes she was raped, especially when the rapist is the sheriff's son. When another girl disappears, however, Romy has to decide whether it's worth it to tell her story one more time in the hopes another girl might be spared.

The description of this book makes it sound a lot like Speak, and that was one of the main reasons I picked it up. Unfortunately, aside from a rape that occurred before the story began, the two books could hardly be more dissimilar.

I didn't like Romy at all. I didn't sympathize with her, I didn't root for her the way I rooted for Melinda in Speak, I didn't cheer for her or really understand her at all. Also, the "spooky intense mystery" aspect of the book included in the blurb, where Romy had better tell the truth NOW or no one will find the missing girl, that isn't even accurate. Romy tried to tell about her rape after it happened, and everyone covered it up or chose not to believe her. The townspeople and Romy's classmates especially are all a bunch of jerks, but Romy isn't that saintly, so there isn't much to make her stand out. When I read Speak, I wanted to walk in front of Melinda and be her bodyguard against all of her horrid classmates; with Romy, I just want to sit her down and force her to actually deal with things instead of stuffing everything inside.

This is an important story, as there are girls who are raped and not believed or who are raped and don't tell right away, and as a rape survivor myself I am glad this story was told. I just wish it was told in a way that made me like the main character more.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: fairly graphic description of rape, language, bullying
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Speak, Inexcusable, Girls Like Us

08 May 2015

Upcycled Crayons

I was digging in our craft supplies closet at the library the other day when I came upon the box where crayons go to die.  You probably have seen its twin: a large plastic tub full of brand-name and generic crayons in a wide variety of colors and conditions.  This is a great box to have if you are doing a craft involving crayons, but most children will avoid digging through such an overwhelming pile of crayons just to find the one they want.

This begs the question: what does a librarian do with a giant box of unused crayons? My answer was simple: make them into something people will use.  I began this project in time for Earth Day, which isn't a holiday we make much of in the library, but which I thought tied in well with what I was doing.

First, I peeled a bunch of the crayons.  Then I broke them into smaller pieces.  I melted these crayons in a muffin tin in a 250 degree oven for about twenty minutes before allowing them to cool on the counter.  Once they were cool, I flipped over the tin and out popped some crayon disks, each composed of crayons that are generally the same color.  Once I made several of these crayons, I started making mix-up crayons, each composed of a variety of colors, so that kids who want to could color in blue, yellow, red, orange, green, purple, and black all at the same time.

I now have a box of upcycled crayons that my patrons can use at programs. I also set out a representative sample on our passive craft table, along with some scrap paper for coloring and a flyer explaining to the parents how to make these crayons at home. I will definitely be bringing these out at our toddler story time, since the disc-shaped crayons are much easier for little hands to hold and use.

Things to Note:

  1. As with all programs involving fun things, I would avoid placing too many crayons out on a table unsupervised, as fun library things tend to disappear when no one is around to watch them. I put out a small representative sampling of our crayons and have saved the rest for programs or other times when I can keep an eye on them.
  2. Have someone else peel the crayons for you. Maybe make that part of a program - help peel the crayons and break them apart, and next time you can color with the new crayons!
  3. Our muffin pan now has some semi-permanent crayon stains on it.  These can be eliminated through several washings, but if that will bother you, use muffin papers or get a muffin pan that you don't mind being the "craft pan." 
Have you found any ways to "upcycle" items in your library? 

06 May 2015

Eden West

Hautman, Pete. Eden West. Candlewick Press, 2015.

Jacob and his family moved to Nodd, a religious compound in the middle of Montana, when he was just 5 years old. This world is almost all he has ever known. He does not question his beliefs or his role in the world, until one day when he speaks with a girl through the fence surrounding Eden West. Her experiences make Jacob question everything he's ever believed in. Is his faith strong enough to keep him inside the compound?

This book had a bit of a slow start, but I did end up enjoying it. I was glad to watch Jacob's thought processes as he tried to make what he was experiencing match with the beliefs he had held for most of his life. It was neat to see him interacting with both the boy who was brought in to the cult from outside and also the neighbor girl who spoke with him through the fence. This book paints an accurate picture of how easy it is to simply go through the motions and not question what you've been told, and also how painful it can be when your beliefs disintegrate. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: minor violence - two boys get into a fistfight, Jacob self-flagellates as an act of repentance, Jacob shoots a wolf
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Keep Sweet, Alis, Godless, The Giver

04 May 2015

Scarlett Undercover

Latham, Jennifer. Scarlett Undercover. Little, Brown BYR, 2015.

Scarlett graduated from high school two years early, and while she waits for her peers to catch up, she's running a private investigation business. She left business cards at all the local schools, and most of her cases are fairly simple. But when a young girl contacts her because she believes her brother was involved in the recent, highly publicized death of another boy, Scarlett is soon dealing with a case that may make her wonder if she's bit off more than she can chew.

This is a classic gumshoe novel, right down to Scarlett having her own office and visiting less-than-classy neighborhoods in order to get information. Scarlett is also Muslim, and her faith and its accompanying mythos play into the case she's trying to solve.

What I liked: Scarlett is a strong character and she fits well into the role of gumshoe detective. The story itself is a classic gumshoe story and would be a great "gateway novel" for teens who enjoy mysteries and may want to read adult gumshoe novels. I love that Scarlett is a not a white man who solves crimes and that the mythos behind the object she seeks is not European- or Christian- centric.

What I didn't like: I didn't get enough backstory. Why is Scarlett allowed to run a private investigator business, including having her own office, when everyone else her age is still sitting in geometry class? This doesn't jive with her sister's adherence to their Muslim faith. Scarlett even mentions at one point that, as a Muslim girl, she should not be alone with a man who is not part of her family, and yet her sister, who is Scarlett's guardian, is letting her run a business? I don't buy it. And where do they get the money to do that, anyway? Her sister is in residency at a local hospital, so she certainly doesn't have a lot of money.

My other big gripe is the absolutely painful use of figurative language. In Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, the main character says these really horrible similes and then has to explain them to other people, but it's part of his character and is only used in his dialog. Scarlett, however, apparently thinks in bad metaphors and similes. I know she's a teen, but she doesn't have to think the way a teen might write. Here is a small sampling of the figurative language from this book:

"And everything seemed to run smooth as fresh-shaved legs."
"It made Reem about ashappy as a cat in a kennel when I skipped [school]."
"Because I wanted him keeping track of me like I wanted a fresh paper cut."
"So I stood and walked away, weak as a prom night chastity pledge."

I could forgive the plot holes, but not the painful figurative language. With some editing, this book could easily achieve the full five stars.

Recommended for: teens, fans of mystery
Red Flags: minor language, some violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

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

01 May 2015

Book Club: Into the Volcano

The Page Turners at my library read Into the Volcano last month, which was an unusual choice in that it is - gasp! - nonfiction. One of the girls picked it up and actually said, "How can I read this? It has PICTURES. I don't read books with PICTURES." She didn't actually show up for our book club meeting, either, so it could be that she really doesn't read books with pictures.

 I am intentionally varying the types of books we read so that the kids are exposed to current, popular books as well as classics, fiction as well as nonfiction, graphic novels, poetry, and everything in between.  So I was not bothered by the fact that this was a different kind of book, and to be honest, it's about volcanoes.  How could I not have a book club meeting with a volcano theme?

At our meeting we discussed the book as is usual, then instead of having four different activities the kids could choose from, there was really only one.  Well, there were two, but no one was really interested in the second one.  So we spent the last half of book club making baking soda volcanoes, because blowing things up is awesome, and being allowed to do that in the library is even more awesome.

The supplies for the baking soda volcanoes.
I prepared for this by making large quantities of brown/grey homemade play-dough, mainly because it's super cheap and I could get all the volcano-y colors I wanted.  Then I bought one bottle of vinegar and one box of baking soda.  I used aluminum foil trays that we already had at the library and added red food coloring from home.  I also grabbed a bottle of dish soap because I read somewhere that adding soap makes the volcano foam a bit better.

The kids made their volcanoes in the foil trays, which helped contain most of the mess.  When they were done making the volcanoes, I let them add baking soda, food coloring, and soap.  If I did this again, I'd have them stir those items together with a craft stick before proceeding.  Next we added vinegar, and because I was feeling adventurous I let the kids pour their own vinegar, which they thought was pretty much amazing.

Poor dinos. They never knew what hit them.
The end result?  A huge vinegar-y and play-dough-y mess and a bunch of very happy kids.  We also had a few kids who tried to sneak into book club because it looked so interesting.  I ended up letting them each make a volcano, too, since I had enough supplies, and then convinced them to sign up for next month's club. I am glad that I added the soap, because it not only had the promised foam effect, but it also made the room smell better than vinegar alone would have and made clean-up a piece of cake.

The second activity I had was a home made LEGO game similar to the LEGO pirate plank game that can be purchased in any local big box store.  I made a LEGO volcano and used the micro figures and the die from the pirate game and also co-opted the rules.  Instead of walking a plank, though, these micro figures were heading up the volcano.  This probably would have been a popular game had it not been for the baking soda volcanoes.

Have you ever done a messy project in your library? How did you balance the kids' enthusiasm with the potential for disaster?