"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 May 2016

The Art of Being Normal

An unbelievable story of two transgender teens who support each other through high school.

Williamson, Lisa. The Art of Being Normal. Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, 2016.

* Because both David and Leo present as male throughout this book, I will be using male pronouns for both, although I realize that David (soon to be Kate) will eventually identify as female.

David is an outsider at school. His family and classmates think he's gay, and he's bullied endlessly at school. But David isn't gay; David is transgender, and he is working up the courage to tell his family that he wants to transition. Leo, on the other hand, has left his old school to start a new school and new life. He's hoping to fly under the radar at his new school, in spite of the rumors about him. David is desperate to be friends with Leo, which would prevent Leo from remaining invisible.

This was an interesting enough story, but it doesn't stand out among novels about trans* teens. David's story was pretty typical: he hid women's clothing in his closet, had already come out to a couple of close friends, and was working up the courage to tell his parents, who ended up being very supportive. Leo, on the other hand, was an oddity: his family was not well-off, he didn't seem to have a good relationship with his mother, but somehow he was able to go stealth and present male at school. He also had regular meetings with a counselor and was on hormone blockers, but his family couldn't afford to have food in the cupboard? Unless Leo had some sort of wonderful government medical assistance, I don't buy it. Hormone blockers are expensive, and there was never any mention of his family choosing to starve so he could transition. That, along with the magical coincidence of two trans* teens meeting at school and not at a trans* therapy group, made this book a bit too Disney-esque to be a good reflection of reality. However, there are few enough books featuring trans* characters, so this one will appear on my library's shelves.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: bullying, the teens go to several pubs/bars - nothing graphic is mentioned about anyone's transition; transphobic and homophobic slurs
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alike Suggestions: Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen, Run, Clarissa, Run,Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

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

27 May 2016

The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island

Levy, Dana Alison. The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. Delacorte BFYR, 2016.

This is the second installment in the Family Fletcher series. This time the four boys and their dads are headed to Rock Island for their annual vacation. When they arrive, they discover their beloved lighthouse has been cordoned off with chains and a "keep out" sign. Who would do this to their lighthouse, and what will they do with their summer without their favorite place to play? Each boy has his own struggles throughout their vacation, but together the Fletcher family is unstoppable.

This book is just as adorable and delightful as its predecessor. Frog tries to teach the family cat to swim. Sam is cast in a play, which makes him excited until he sees his costume. Eli is shocked to discover that his new friend Alex is a girl, even with short hair, a baseball cap, and an interest in sports. Jax learns some hard truths about people and prejudice. This is a great laugh-out-loud clean read that will delight families. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: kids of all ages
Red Flags: some readers may object to the two dads in this family, but the book is otherwise free of language, violence, or other objectionable content
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

25 May 2016

My Favorite Things: Go-To Young Adult Fiction

A teen, or a teen's parent, is standing in front of you and wants a stack of books to bring home. They don't know what they like, but they want something interesting. What do you give them?

  1. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The author notwithstanding, the book itself is so much bigger and better than the movie by the same name. There's an entire universe spawned off of this one little book, and many teens who read this first book are hooked on the remainder of the series. 
  2. Game of Minds by James Dashner. Video games that result in real-life murders. This book will keep kids who game turning pages faster than you can imagine. It's by the same author as The Maze Runner, so those who enjoyed the movie may have extra motivation to try this book. 
  3. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman. If you can get your hands on the audio version of this book, DO IT. The audio is so well done, if I still had a middle school library to tend I'd be playing this loud and proud to get all the kids hooked. As it is, this is an excellent science fiction story told from multiple points of view.
  4. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray. Again, if you can obtain the audiobook, do so immediately. Even without, this magical historical paranormal story will keep readers hooked. It's entirely possible to read this second installment in the Diviners series without reading the first one, and there's great information about the history of racial discrimination and homophobia in the United States. An extremely well-done story.
  5. Rose Under Fire by Elisabeth Wein. This is another historical fiction, but its focus is World War II in Europe. It's well-written and well-paced.
  6. A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. Looking for a book that takes place on another continent? How about one with excellent, lyrical narration? Look no further. This is a great fantasy story that will hook readers in and keep them coming back for more.
  7. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. I had way too many kids come up to me and say they wanted books "about kids who deal with really hard stuff." The main character in this story is in jail because she killed a person after she escaped a cult where her hands were cut off by her father as punishment for attempting to escape before. Kids who like books about tough stuff won't be able to put this one down.
  8. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. This is a great strong-girl pro-feminist book about a girl who refuses to bow down to the fat shamers, and once she tries to take on the pageant world, finds herself facing more of her fears than she expected. Also, there are Dolly Parton drag queens. 
  9. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. For teens who enjoy procedural shows like Bones, CSI, NCIS, etc., this will be a perfect match. The story is a bit predictable but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. A less "adult" thriller for teens.
  10. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is not a book for everyone, but it's an important book that should be ready by everyone. The fact is that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be assaulted by the time they turn 18. Melinda's story is everyone's story, and since it's practically a guarantee that every reader will be a Melinda or know a Melinda, this book is a must-have.
Teens have a lot of opinions about what they do and do not want to read, so I much prefer to speak with them and hand them a stack of books more suited to their preferences, but this is my backup list in case I don't get much information on what they enjoy. What are your go-to teen books? 

23 May 2016

My Favorite Things: Go-To Graphic Novels for Teens

When a teen wants a graphic novel, what do you recommend? In our library, the teen graphic novel collection is fairly limited, so I generally recommend that teens spend some time pulling books off the shelves and browsing through them to see what they like. If they insist on a recommendation, though, and especially if an adult is looking for things to bring to a teen who isn't there to speak with me, these are the books I recommend:

  1. Wandering Son by Takako Shimura. This is a manga-style story that follows two students, both transgender-identified, as they sort through their identities and make their way in the world. The innocent, almost playful tone makes this book very accessible even to the graphic novel novice.
  2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The Ender series has been turned into a series of graphic novels, and I recommend these to teens who enjoy action movies or books with lots of action and a fast-moving plot. They can be read alongside or independently of the Ender novels.
  3. Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang. These books follow the history of the Boxer Rebellion, one from the side of the boxers, and one from the side of the missionaries. The pair of books was really eye-opening to me and taught me about both sides of this conflict. 
  4. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson. A female superhero who is also not white! It's a miracle! Honestly, though, this is a great series, and I highly recommend it both to fans of superhero comics and to those who like stories with strong female characters.
  5. Trashed by Derf Backderf. This book is part fiction, part nonfiction, The fictional story is the tale of a man who begins working as a garbage collector. The nonfiction part contains facts about the way our garbage is dealt with once we bag it up to be hauled away, as well as information about landfills, recycling, etc. It's an interesting look at an unusual topic. 
  6. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I love Nimona. I loved the art, I love the humor in the story, I love the characters themselves. I loved the way this story poked fun at typical superhero tropes. This is a great graphic novel that could be enjoyed even by teens who claim not to like graphic novels. 
  7. March by John Lewis. Mostly historical / autobiographical, this is the story of the march on Washington to call attention to the racial difficulties our country was (and still is) facing. Historical information in a very digestible format. 
  8. Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks. This book is good even for younger teens, as it avoids some of the graphic fantasy violence of superhero novels or adult themes that are apparent in other graphic works. 
  9. Good Neighbors by Holly Black. Who doesn't love a good Holly Black story? This trilogy is no exception, and the fantastical elements in this story are wonderfully imaginative.
  10. Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen. The geeks face off with the popular kids in a timeless tale of high school rivalry, now with robots. 
What graphic novels do you gravitate toward when recommending books to teens?

20 May 2016

My Favorite Things: Go-To Middle Grade Fiction

There are few books I can wholeheartedly recommend to every child, regardless of interests, but these are my go-to books for kids who need something new (or new to them) to read:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. The first HP book is relatively short, and the story is interesting enough to keep most readers engaged. I have found a few kids who are very uninterested in reading anything Potter-related, but they're pretty few and far between.
  2. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger. This is a great book for Star Wars fans, Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans, or kids who just like unusual stories. It's also the first in a series, so kids who like this book can read the rest of the adventures as well. 
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry. I love to give this book to kids who haven't seen or heard of the disaster that was the movie by the same name. The book itself is one of the first dystopian stories for kids, and the open-ended final chapter leaves much for discussion and debate.
  4. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This is a great book for 3rd-5th graders, as it deals with school, but also time-travel, and then ending is so weird and wonderful that many kids decide to start over and read the story again now that they know how it ends. 
  5. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. This is a good story in that it follows a young girl with Aspergers syndrome, it involves tough choices that even kids have to make, and there's enough action to keep even reluctant readers involved.
  6. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. This book takes place in San Francisco and involves lots of puzzles and brain teasers, so readers who enjoy puzzling things out will love this story.
  7. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. This book is library fun! The kids in the story are playing a game that involves - you guessed it - finding a way out of the new library. It's fun, it relates to libraries, and it's a good "clean read" for patrons who need that type of book. 
  8. Ungifted by Gordon Korman. This book is funny and celebrates kids who are average, rather than the uniquely talented special snowflakes who get so much press in other books. This is a funny story, and a heartwarming story, and it would make a great classroom read-aloud as well. 
  9. any book by Roald Dahl. I love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I love James and the Giant Peach, but I have found that just about any Dahl book, especially if it includes the illustrations by Quentin Blake, will get kids hooked and keep them reading. The books are short enough, too, that kids who can't quite tackle tomes like Harry Potter can still enjoy them.
  10. Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo. Squirrels that write poetry, superheroes, a kid who insists he's blind? There's tons to love in this unusual story, and kids will eat it up and come back for more. 
These are the middle grade books that I keep on hand in case I ever need something for a kid who just can't find anything to read. What are your go-to books for middle grade readers?

18 May 2016

My Favorite Things: Go-To Graphic Novels for Kids

It happens all the time. A child comes up to me and asks for a very specific title, and I discover that while my library owns that title, it is currently checked out. I hate to leave a child disappointed and without a book, so I always want to put something else in their hands. When we don't have the book a child wants, here are my top ten graphic novels that many kids enjoy:

  1. Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires. These adorable books are easily readable by even the youngest readers, and Binky is pretty funny.
  2. The Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka . There are enough books in this series to keep most elementary school kids happy for a long time, and the familiar school setting makes these books accessible to all readers. 
  3. Graphic adaptations of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. This is a great series to recommend to kids who have read the novel versions of these stories or who like their graphic novel storylines to be a bit more involved.
  4. Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiku Asuma. I am not usually a fan of manga, but I could not put this one down once I read it. The stories are cute and simple and avoid many of the red flags that turn parents and teachers off of graphic novels. 
  5. Chi's Sweet Home by Kanata Konami. This one is also very cute. Chi is adorable, and his cat adventures are fun to follow. There are also quite a few books in this series already, so it's a good one to recommend to a kid who needs several books in line to keep them happy.
  6. The Wizard of Oz adaptations by Eric Shanower. Like the Percy Jackson books, this is a great series for a kid who is familiar with Baum's original work or who wants a story that's more involved and complicated.
  7. Cardboard by Doug TenNapel. I love all of Doug TenNapel's work, but Cardboard is a great stand-alone book for kids who like things that are a bit weird or who haven't found just the right book yet. 
  8. Graphic adaptations of Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton by Geronimo Stilton. Some kids have caught up with all of the currently published Stilton stories, and the graphic novels are a good thing for them to work through while they wait for the next installment. 
  9. Non-fiction mythology books by George O'Connor. These are an excellent read-alike for the Rick Riordan stories, and most kids I've talked to who may not even be graphic novel fans devour these books because of the mythology angle. 
  10. Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale. These books give accurate historical information in a kid-friendly readable format. They are very popular at my library, and as the librarian I am glad that I have first dibs on them so I can read them, too!

16 May 2016

My Favorite Things: Go-to Picture Books

I am responsible for the weekly family storytime at my library, and I also frequently host elementary school classes that visit the library or visit classes at preschools and daycares. While I usually follow a theme for my storytimes, I do have a few books that are my go-to resources if I can't think of a particular theme, or if I just want to read a variety of books that I know the children will enjoy:

  1. The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak. This book is guaranteed to get a laugh from students, both those who have heard it before and those who are new to it. I recommend that anyone reading this out loud ham it up as much as possible, because kids love nothing more than watching grown-ups be ridiculous.
  2. Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester. Tacky is hands-down my favorite picture book character. He's silly, he's different from the other penguins, but he has a good heart and he always saves the day. I also love that his companions, while agreeing that he is different, don't tease him for being different, and they realize how helpful his differences can be.
  3. I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry. This is another silly one, and it works well with an ocean theme, a fish theme, a whale theme, etc. It's also fun, and the kids enjoy the surprise ending of the story.
  4. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. This is an older book - I remember reading it when I was a child. I also remember how much I loved it, and the kids I see at the library share this love once I introduce them to this book. They think it's hilarious to watch the antics that Grover gets up to in attempting to stop the reader from getting to the end of the story.
  5. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. This may seem like an odd choice, but it's a great, quiet book to place in between more rowdy books, or to use with an older group. The reason for the yarn's disappearance is never explained, so I love asking the kids at the end of the book what they think happened to the yarn. They all have interesting explanations, and it's neat to hear how many different answers I can get from one class.
  6. Any of the Love Monster books by Rachel Bright. Love Monster is adorable and he learns good lessons about friendship.
  7. Any of the Anansi books by Eric Kimmel. Anansi is a trickster whose tricks often backfire on him, and these stories are good for older groups of children who are ready for a longer, meatier story than many picture books provide.
  8. Meet Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle. This interactive book is great for a younger crowd who need a shorter story that keeps them engaged. Also, Dizzy is adorable. 
  9. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Yes, this is a classic that many children have already heard, but a familiar book can be a comforting book, and the counting and life cycle parts of the story are really good for young pre-readers. Also, there are big book versions, flannel versions, and puppet versions of this story, which makes it great when you need some variety. 
  10. Bats at the Library by Brian Lies. This rhyming story introduces children to the library itself and also ties in well with a storytime about the night, bats, nocturnal animals, etc. 
If you have to do a storytime on the fly, what are your go-to books? 

13 May 2016

The Way I Used to Be

Smith, Amber. The Way I Used to Be. Margaret K McElderry Books, 2016.

Eden wakes up after a nightmare, but the blood on her sheets and the bruises on her thighs belie the truth: her brother's best friend, the "adopted son" of her family, raped her last night. She is too frightened, to confused, to tell anyone about it in the days and years following the rape. She struggles with redefining herself as a survivor. Will she find the courage to tell the truth and save another person from the same fate?

I really, truly wanted to love this book. I loved Speak, LOVED it, but the sympathy I felt for Miranda isn't there for Eden. Yes, it is true that some rape survivors respond by becoming hyper-sexual and sleeping around, as Eden did, but this book was frustrating in its sameness to a thousand other stories, in its way of glorifying the horrors in Eden's life, not only over a brief period, but for four long years as we watch things continuously spiral downward in her life. Her family doesn't know what's wrong with her; she loses interest in her hobbies; she starts to sleep around; she loses her friends. All these things are believable reactions to a rape, but this story doesn't go anywhere. Eden is a stable flat line throughout the entire book. She doesn't change. She doesn't grow. She doesn't develop. If Exit, Pursued by a Bear tells the fairy-tale version of a rape where everything is wonderful afterward and happens the best way possible, this is the twisted version, where everything happens in the worst way possible and stays that way for the entire book.

I agree with other reviewers who posit that we've read this story before, because we have in countless other books. As an abuse survivor myself, I gravitate toward these stories, hoping that I can add them to my stack to pass along to other survivors to help them find healing and strength. This story is the same as a hundred others, and is not in my "to recommend to survivors" pile. It's much too long for a story where nothing happens and then nothing happens and then later, still nothing happens.

Recommended for: teens, fans of Ellen Hopkins or books "where the main character has LOTS of problems" as my tween patrons say
Red Flags: rape, drug use, alcohol use, language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: All the Rage, Girls Like Us, Speak, Exit, Pursued by a Bear

11 May 2016

Red Queen

Aveyard, Victoria. Red Queen. HarperTeen, 2015.

Mare Barrow has red blood and is a commoner. Those with silver blood are the elite; they each have some sort of superpower, and they use their powers to rule over the red blooded common people and keep them in line. Then it's discovered that Mare, although red-blooded, also has a superpower. The Silvers want to keep her secret and avoid revolution. Mare is trapped between a new Silver life and loyalty to her Red family.

Have you read The Hunger Games? Then you've read this book, from the "girl with special powers who alone can save the poor people from the rich people" to the typical love triangle. It's not a new story. It's not a bad story, especially for those who love dystopian literature, but don't expect anything new, because it's not new.

For me, this book was saved by the narrator. The narration on the audiobook is awesome, and I continued to listen to it on my commute because of the narrator, not the story. If you have a long commute and enjoy dystopian YA lit, I'd recommend this one. Otherwise, I'd pass.

Recommended for: teens, fans of dystopian lit
Red Flags: violence
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, The Selection

09 May 2016

Con Academy

Schreiber, Joe. Con Academy. Houghton Mifflin, 2015.

Will is the newest student at Connaughton Academy, an elite private school for the extremely wealthy. Will, however, is on a scholarship: his church raised money for him to be there after his parents, missionaries to an island in the Pacific, were killed. At least, that's what Will wants you to believe. In truth, he's from New Jersey, his dad's a con artist, and Will is following in his footsteps. But what if a con artist tries to con a fellow con artist? Will they be successful?

This book is on YALSA's Teens Top Ten shortlist for this year, and has also been fairly popular at my library, so I thought I'd check it out. I did manage to finish the book, and although it wasn't my favorite, I can see how it is popular with teens.

What I liked: The book is funny. It's a page-turner. Will is a fairly likeable character in spite of himself. I also like the boarding-school setting because there's a part of me that's still waiting to receive my Hogwarts letter.

What I didn't like: The plot twists, if they can be properly called twists, were too predictable. I don't understand what it's like to be so rich that $50,000 can sound like a "rounding error," as the main antagonist calls it. And Will's family members have few, if any, redeeming qualities.

Overall, the book was entertaining, if not surprising, and would make a good, light beach read.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: underage drinking and gambling; Will's father is an alcoholic; Will drugs a fellow student at one point; one girl is kidnapped; a boy is duct-taped naked to a statue and photos of this stunt are posted online
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Etiquette & Espionage, Beauty Queens, The Mockingbirds

06 May 2016

Missy Piggle Wiggle

An updated take on a classic story that will delight children and parents alike. 

Martin, Ann M. Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure. Feiwel and Friends, 2016.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone off to find her husband, so she asks her grandniece Missy to take care of her house and animals while she is gone. Of course, Missy also helps the neighborhood children and their parents with their various problems.

This book reads just like a classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle story, with each chapter focusing on a different child, his/her problem, and Missy's solution for them. The updated book removes some of the obvious gender stereotypes and other dated language from the original series, making it universally appealing and a great read-aloud for a home or classroom. Recommended.

Recommended for: children, parents, fans of the original Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Red Flags: none - this is a good, clean read for those who prefer books without red flags
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

04 May 2016

Book Club: A House for Hermit Crab

My younger kids book club read A House for Hermit Crab, and after a discussion, we had two activities to do:

1. Perler Bead Art. Hermit crabs decorate their shells to provide camouflage, and I set out our Perler Beads for the kids to make their own sea creatures or creations of whatever they wanted. I controlled the iron, although I let the kids watch as I ironed their beads to melt them together. This was definitely a popular element, and the parents noted that the kids were very focused on finding the beads they wanted to use.

2. Smell Test. Hermit crabs find their food using scent, so I placed ten cups on the table. Each cup had a coffee filter (with holes punched in it) covering the top with a rubber band, and inside was a cotton ball with some sort of extract or flavoring on it. I used a wide variety of scents, including vanilla extract, lemon juice, pickle juice, ginger, garlic, etc. The kids had a paper to write their guesses on, and I let them check it against my answer key once they were done.

02 May 2016

Storytime: Spots

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: Spectacular Spots by Susan Stockdale

Five blue polka dots lay on the floor,
One sat up and then there were four.

Four blue polka dots got on their knees,
One tipped over and then there were three.

Three blue polka dots stood on one shoe,
One fell down and then there were two.

Two blue polka dots started to run,
One stopped quickly and then there was only one.

One blue polka dot rolled toward the door,
When it disappeared, there were no more!

Book: The Big Blue Spot by Peter Holwitz

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

Book: Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier

Around we go and around we go
A-whirling with the wind.
Around we go and down we go
A (color) spot to find.

Book: Whose Spots Are These? by Sarah Wohlrabe

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

Book: Spots in a Box by Helen Ward

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: This craft was much more open-ended than I typically do at the end of storytime. I had BINGO paint markers and die-cut circles set out, as well as glue sticks, markers, and paper. I let the kids make a freeform "spot" craft out of whatever they wanted.