"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 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Back to School

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

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

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

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

25 August 2016

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

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

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

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

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

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

23 August 2016

Learning to Swear in America

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

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

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

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

18 August 2016

It Looks Like This

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

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

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

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

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

16 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Set in Space

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

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

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

11 August 2016

Teen Programming: National Night Out

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

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

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

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

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

09 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I've Never Read

The Red Badge of Nope

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

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

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

04 August 2016

The Other Boy

Hennessy, M.G. The Other Boy. HarperCollins, 2016.

Shane loves baseball, drawing and writing his own graphic novel, and spending time with his best friend, Josh. Shane hasn’t told anyone at his school that he is transgender, but when a classmate finds out Shane’s secret and spreads it to the rest of the school, Shane has to deal with the consequences in his friendships and especially with his crush.

A middle grade novel in the vein of George and Gracefully Grayson, this book features a middle school student who is transgender. Unlike the protagonists of George and Grayson, however, Shane is already out to his family and has begun treatments including visiting a therapist and receiving hormone blockers. He plays on the boys’ baseball team at school and uses the boys’ locker room, just like everyone else on the team. Shane’s best friend, Josh, is amazingly supportive of him throughout the bullying incident(s), walking with him to class like he is a bodyguard and responding to those who are teasing Shane.

While bullying is absolutely a reality in school, particularly for those who are transgender or gender nonconforming, it is handled gently in this story, which makes Shane’s tale a perfect fit for a middle grade audience. Considering the dearth of middle grade stories featuring transgender characters, this book is a must for public library collections. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: Shane is bullied when it is discovered he is trans; there is a scene where Josh, not knowing Shane is trans, brings him to the locker room to "prove" to the rest of the team that he's a guy [Josh is trying to help at this point and doesn't realize how traumatic this situation is for Shane]
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Gracefully Grayson, George, Wandering Son, Vol. 1, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island

02 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Buy

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

If someone handed me a fully loaded gift card right now and sent me to buy books, I'd be at a loss.

Here's my secret: I am a librarian, I am a bibliophile, but I am not a book hoarder.

I'll give you a second to digest that.

It's true. I love books, I love reading, I love connecting other people to books and talking about books I've read or books that are similar to other books, but I don't collect them around me like a dragon's treasure.

One reason behind this is that I've moved a lot in my life, and it's never been a "couple miles down the road" type of move, but usually a "to another state / country / time zone / continent" type of move. That means downsizing. That means only your very best books or toys or whatever come with you. [If you like sad stories, ask me about the stuffed animal box routine my mom had for us, where we had a Hunger Games-esque reaping of our stuffed toys before a move.] So the books I have, I've kept for a long, long time. And new books? Well, I'd be lying if I said I didn't like books, but I usually donate any books I receive to the library after I've read them, and I don't make a habit of purchasing any new ones, because I know they won't last on my shelf.

The other reason is simply this: I believe books are meant to be shared. If it's on my shelf, that means you're not reading it. The kid down the street isn't reading it. The lady in line behind me at the grocery store isn't reading it. I want books to be read and loved and used and beat up and dog-eared and talked about. And they do all of those things much better when they don't stay on my shelf.

That being said, if I were able to purchase ten books right now, and money and publication dates weren't issues, I'd purchase these ten soon-to-be-published books, and after I read them I'd donate them to the library or mail them to a friend or stick them in a Little Free Library somewhere unless they joined the small group of Books I Do NOT Give Away:

  1. Heartless by Marissa Meyer. Cinder's author writing about Alice in Wonderland. WANT
  2. the graphic novel version of Kindred by Octavia Butler. I just read the print version of this and can't wait for the graphic novel version
  3. As I Descended by Robin Talley
  4. The Bronze Key by Holly Black
  5. Spindle by E.K. Johnston (actually, anything by E.K. Johnston would be on this list)
  6. Three Truths and a Lie by Brett Hartinger
  7. We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
  8. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
  9. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
  10. When the Moon was Ours by Anna Marie McLemore
These books have been on my TBR pile since I first heard of them, and I am *patiently* waiting their publication so I can read them and pass them along to others. 

What book would you buy right now if money and publication date weren't issues? Are there any books on your "I absolutely must keep these forever" shelf?