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

30 March 2016

We Are the Ants

Hutchinson, Shaun. We Are the Ants. Simon Pulse, 2016.

Henry is trying to be the good kid. His good-for-nothing older brother just dropped out of school, his grandmother is slowly losing her memories, and his mom really needs him to keep it together. So when his boyfriend commits suicide, seemingly without warning, and then aliens abduct Henry and offer him the chance to save the world or allow it to be destroyed, he doesn't tell his mom. When he is tormented at school by bullies, he lets his mom berate him all the way home, because Henry is supposed to be the good kid, and he's thinking about letting the aliens blow up the world. Maybe it's not worth saving.

I started reading this book and though I wouldn't finish it, but Henry's story grew on me. Some of the characters irritated the fire out of me, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This story is honest and raw and real, and I hurt for Henry as I was reading. This would be an easy book to book-talk to kids who enjoy sad stories or stories where the character has a lot to deal with. It will be on my library's shelves, and I will be book talking it when I have opportunity.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: underage drinking and drug use, suicide of Henry's boyfriend, homophobic slurs, bullying of Henry, violence toward various characters, Henry is nearly raped, language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Five Stages of Andrew BrawleyI'll Give You the Sun, Every Ugly Word, The Art of Being Normal

28 March 2016

Librarian Toolbox: Preschool Outreach

One of the biggest problems we face in the public library is how to best serve the people who never darken the door of the library. In the children's department, this usually means kids who can't come to library programs because their parents are working or don't have reliable transportation or perhaps don't know that the library has programs for their children. This is where outreach can be very useful. By doing regular outreach to various organizations, a librarian can widen their service population and ensure that more people are benefitting from library services.

If you don't already have a partnership with local daycares, preschools, youth centers, etc., this is a good place to start. Find a few organizations that might benefit from a librarian visit and give them a call to see if they are interested and if it is possible on their campus to have an outsider bring a storytime. Emphasize that your programs are free - most daycare room leaders and classroom teachers love to have a free educational and fun thing for the children to enjoy. If possible, arrange to meet multiple teachers or visit multiple classrooms on the same site on the same day. One of the centers I visit has the rooms combine during my storytimes so that twice as many kids can hear the stories.

Ask if you can bring your children's programming calendar or event flyers for distribution. In some cases, this may take advanced planning. Our school district, for example, requires all flyers to have approval first, so we have to send one copy to the district office, then wait for an okay in order to distribute them to the children. Sending flyers to the classrooms or home with the children means that kids who don't come to the library regularly will still be made aware of any special programs you have. I have had numerous families join my family storytime once they saw our calendar.

When possible, schedule a regular time to visit each location. Perhaps that daycare center would love for the second Monday of each month to be library visit day. Maybe they can let you visit the three year-old room, then the four year-olds, then the toddlers, so you'll see many, many kids in just a few hours.

Outreach is a great way to see what it's like to be a kid in a classroom or daycare center. What kinds of things are the teachers focusing on, and how can you best support them? What services can you provide that they cannot? I often bring any leftover prize books from our summer learning club and give them to the teachers to add to their classroom libraries or distribute to their students. They often ask me to do a storytime on a particular theme, and then I make sure to bring copies of my song and rhyme lyrics so the teachers can repeat them later with the children. I've also had the opportunity to sign up teachers and daycare room leaders for our teacher library card, which allows them to check out books for their classroom without fear of overdue fines.

All of these things can increase the library's usefulness to the community and build bridges between organizations. And if you haven't had the experience of entering a room, only to be inundated with preschoolers running toward you and screaming your name, then you definitely need to do outreach. It can make you feel like a rock star.

25 March 2016

Storytime: Spiders

One of my storytime attendees is obsessed with bugs, particularly spiders, so I did a "storytime by request" and focused on spiders.

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: It’s a Good Thing There Are Spiders by Lisa M. Herrington

Rhyme: Big, Black Spider
The big, black spider made a web in the tree.
It was big and round, you would agree.
She might catch a bug; she might catch a bee.
But the big, black spider cannot catch me!

Book: Just Itzy by Lana Krumwiede

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

Book: Are You a Spider? by Judy Allen

Song: "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"

Book: The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

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

Book: Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric Kimmel

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: Climbing Spiders. I photocopied a spider picture onto cardstock. The kids and their parents did the rest. The parents especially appreciated this craft, as it was fairly simple but enjoyable for the wide range of ages I get at storytime. Even the littlest storytime kids could help color a spider. 

23 March 2016

Zero Day

Gangsei, Jan. Zero Day. Disney-Hyperion, 2016.

Addie was kidnapped when she was eight years old. Eight years later, she shows up in a police department and insists that she is indeed Addie Webster, daughter of the current president of the United States. She is vetted via blood test and sent home to recover in the White House. But is Addie really back? And what happened to her during those eight years away?

This is a standard thriller except that it's targeted at teens. I read it in mostly one sitting, and even though I had figured out a lot of the twists beforehand, I still enjoyed the story. This would be an easy book to book talk and I could place it in the hands of even the most unwilling reader and convince them to just try it out. The fast pace of the story will keep many people turning pages, but stronger readers may be bothered by the cardboard-cutout characters, since the focus is on the action. Nonetheless, a good story that is already gracing the shelves of my library.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence, minor language, teens spike their milkshakes with alcohol
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Naturals, The Rules for Disappearing, This Is Where It Ends

21 March 2016

Storytime: Dr. Seuss

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss

Rhyme: "Put Something In" by Shel Silverstein
Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That wasn’t there before.

Book: In a People House by Dr. Seuss

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

Book: I Wish that I Had Duck Feet by Dr. Seuss

Rhyme: "Don’t Think About a Zebra" by Kenn Nesbitt

Don't think about a zebra
no matter what you do,
for, if you ever think of one,
then soon you'll think of two.

And, after that, you'll think of three.
And then you'll think of four.
Then five or six or seven zebras.
Maybe even more.

And then you'll think of zebra herds
stampeding down the street,
and zebras wearing tutus,
disco-dancing to a beat.

You'll think of flying ninja zebras
practicing kung fu.
And zebra clowns from outer space.
And robot zebras too.

And zebras in pajama bottoms
bouncing on their beds,
and maybe even zebras
wearing diapers on their heads.

You'll wish you'd never thought of them,
so do it starting now:
Don't think about a zebra.
Only think about a cow.

Book: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

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

Book: The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: Dr. Seuss hats! I found this craft online, and it was a nice and simple tie-in to the stories. The kids and parents loved making hats and wearing them as they left at the end of the craft. 

18 March 2016


Backderf, Derf. Trashed. Abrams ComicArts, 2015.

This book alternates between the story of a fictional trash collector going about his daily tasks and factual information about trash collecting, its history, recycling, etc. There is good information about the amount of trash people create each day as well as a good peek into the life of a trash collector.

I've been a cafeteria worker, a retail employee, a cashier, a college dorm custodian - all of which were low-paying, high stress jobs involving lots of "yucky" work, but I've never been a trash collector. That being said, I enjoyed the fictional parts of this story the same way I enjoy reality TV - it's fun to glance at a world completely different from my own, but it's easy to zone out and ignore it, too. The informational parts were not remotely surprising, and I do wish that there were an additional section about ways to reduce the amount of trash we create or organizations that are working on that very problem. Overall, this book was well-written, well-illustrated, and I could see this being a great book to give to reluctant teen readers.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: language, some new-employee hazing, alcohol use by adults
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

16 March 2016

Symptoms of Being Human

Garvin, Jeff. Symptoms of Being Human. Balzer + Bray, 2016.

Riley is gender-fluid, but they aren't out to their parents, or really the world, yet. They're hoping that at their new, public high school, they can blend in enough and just be allowed to be themselves. This proves difficult, though, because Riley is the teenage child of a politician and is always, always in the spotlight.

Like other reviewers, I am glad for a young adult book depicting a gender fluid character. I'm glad for Riley's description of how they see themselves, how their gender is like a compass that sometimes points feminine, sometimes masculine, sometimes in between. Not once in this book is Riley's biological sex mentioned or hinted at, which emphasizes Riley's point: what's in their pants is none of our business.

I found the plot of this book to be very similar to older young adult books about gay and lesbian teens: Teen is different, teen hides and tells no one, teen is outed by circumstances beyond their control, teen and teen's family must recover. Does this type of situation still happen today? Definitely. I appreciated that Riley met some very accepting people who did not care about their gender identity/expression and also some of the unfortunate jerk-type people who decided to judge them because they are different. This wasn't a book that I loved, but it is an important one, because all of my patrons deserve both mirrors and windows in the library, and LGBT teens are the ones most lacking in that area.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Riley mentions two incidents where their pants/underclothing are removed because another person wants to know what parts they have; more than a few transphobic and homophobic slurs as well; the jerk in the story does not magically learn his lesson and become a better human by the end of the book
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: None of the Above, Golden Boy, What We Left Behind

14 March 2016

Book Club: From the Black Lagoon

This month I did something different: each of my book club meetings had a different book. Usually, all of the 5-8 year olds read the same book, but I had enough copies of two different books to run two different clubs: Valentine's Day from the Black Lagoon and Friday the 13th from the Black Lagoon. The activities for each were fairly similar, which made it easier for me to transition between the two groups:

1. Make your own party hat. Each book features a party, so there was a station where kids could craft their own party hats out of construction paper.

2. Write to our flat visitor. I have a Flat Stanley visiting me from Nebraska, so there was a spot for kids to write letters to the student who sent him.

3. Memory Game. I had two versions, one with hearts and heart-related pictures, and one with pictures of lucky and unlucky items. I switched them out depending on the book we were discussing.

4. Penny Cleaning and Penny Toss: This one was a bit of a stretch for the theme, but the kids enjoyed doing the "clean pennies with salt and vinegar" science experiment, then I had an area where they could try doing a penny toss with their clean pennies (which I let them keep).

5. Balloons and hula hoops. I reprised this activity from a previous book club meeting. The kids choose a balloon, inflate it, and try to get it through the hoop their parent is holding. The kids played really well together with this one, coming up with different challenges to do.

And that was it. Nice and simple activities after a short discussion of each book.

11 March 2016

The Iron Trial

Black, Holly. The Iron Trial. Doubleday Children's, 2014.

Callum has been warned by his father not to pass the admissions exam for the Magisterium. The mages are dangerous and deadly, his father has said. Unfortunately, Callum fails at failing and is forced to attend school at the Magisterium in spite of his attempts to fail. Once there, Callum hears a very different version of history from the one his father has told him, and as secret after secret is revealed, he has to decide what he's going to do.

I honestly don't know how I missed this book when it came out. It is definitely, obviously very similar to Harry Potter, but there are enough twists and differences that even the most die-hard HP fan would be interested in this series. I am definitely interested enough in this story to continue reading the series, which, considering the glut of "special kids who have special powers and have to save the world" type books out there, is saying something.

Recommended for: tweens, fans of Harry Potter
Red Flags: some mild fantasy violence
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Lightning Thief, Midnight for Charlie Bone, The School for Good and Evil

09 March 2016

Storytime: Mo Willems

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Book: Cat the Cat, Who is THAT? by Mo Willems

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

Book: Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems

Rhyme: Five Little Monkeys

Book: That is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

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

Book: Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Goodbye Rhyme

Our craft for the evening was writing a letter to Mo Willems, which I then mailed to him. I also found instructions on how to draw the Pigeon on Mo Willems's website, which I printed out for the kids and parents to try. 

07 March 2016

Lair of Dreams

Bray, Libba. Lair of Dreams. Little, Brown BYR, 2015.

This follow-up to The Diviners follows Evie, who outed herself as a diviner in the first novel, along with Henry, Ling Chen, and a cast of supporting characters as well. In addition to being a creepy paranormal story with a mystery element to it, the historical aspects of this story are excellent, including both race issues and issues of closeted LGBT characters.

I listened to this book on audio, and the narrator did a superb job differentiating between the various characters. It would have been difficult to follow the stories of the different characters without a great narrator, who did such a phenomenal job that my wife and I brought this book into the house to finish over the weekend when we knew we wouldn't be driving anywhere. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: racist and homophobic comments from various characters, all historically appropriate
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Black Dove, White Raven, Lies We Tell Ourselves, In the Shadow of Blackbirds

04 March 2016

Storytime: Love

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: Love Monster by Rachel Bright

Rhyme: Hearts
Make a heart up in the sky.
Make it tall; make it wide.

Make a heart close to the ground.
Make it small, then sit down.

Book: Slugs in Love by Susan Pearson

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

Book: Hands Say Love by George Shannon

Rhyme: Love Bug
It begins with a grin (smile broadly)
It turns to giggle (put both hands on mouth and giggle)
You start to laugh (throw head back and laugh out loud)
Your legs start to wiggle (put feet in the air and shake)
You look all around for someone to hug (move eyes back and forth)
What can you do (shrug shoulders)
You've caught the love bug (hug another child or yourself)

Book: Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon

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

Book: Love Monster and the Last Chocolate by Rachel Bright

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: We made love monsters. Using a pompom for the body, glue on googly eyes, pipe cleaners for antennae, and a craft foam sticker for the feet. The kids were very creative with this craft and had a great time making their little monsters. 

02 March 2016

The Girl I Used to Be

A great way to hook mystery readers into reading thrillers; not recommended for reluctant readers.

Henry, April. The Girl I Used to Be. Henry Holt & Co BYR, 2016.

Olivia's mother was murdered when Olivia was just a small child. After aging out of the foster care system, Olivia finds out that her father's remains have been discovered as well. It was always thought that Olivia's father murdered her mother, but what if they were murdered by someone else entirely? And what if that person knew that Olivia was searching for the truth?

Like many of Henry's works, and many procedural crime shows, this book starts in the middle of a chase scene, then rewinds to the events leading up to the chase scene. Unlike many crime shows and Henry's other works, though, this wasn't the page-turning thriller I expected. The entire book exists only to explain the dramatic chase scene that happens in the second-to-last chapter, right before the final "everything is fine and we're all happy now" scene. I would recommend this book to teens who enjoy mysteries and procedural crime shows, but unlike Henry's other works, I wouldn't give this book to reluctant readers, because the bulk of the novel moves to slowly to keep the reader turning pages.

Bottom Line: Bypass this one in favor of books by Nick Lake, James Patterson, or others.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alike Suggestions: The Name of the Star, The Rules for Disappearing, The Naturals

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