Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recipe: Pomegranate White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I made these up last year when pomegranates first appeared in my Bountiful Basket, and they disappeared almost immediately! As soon as I saw the poms again I knew I needed a repeat - it just took me a while to get to them. Fortunately, pomegranates keep pretty well just out on the kitchen counter (and make a pretty decoration in the meantime!)

First up is getting the seeds out. Now, before you send me the link, yes, I have seen the video of the attractive young man playing whack-a-mole with the pomegranate halves to get the seeds out. I've tried it, and I usually end up playing whack-a-thumb. This method works just as easily for me - slice off the very top, just so you can see where the sections are:

slice down each section:


and rub your thumbs over the seeds to get them out. Easy-peasy.

This is seven pomegranates-worth of seeds, and I only used a cup for the cookies - they freeze really well if you end up with more - or, just eat them while you bake!

For now, set them aside and mix:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening

Sift in and mix:
1 1/2 cups flour*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

3 cups rolled oats

Stir in just until mixed:
1 bag white chocolate chips
1 cup (or more) pomegranate seeds

Drop spoonfuls on cookie sheets and bake at 350 until golden brown on the bottom. These stay pretty soft and chewy, and can stick to the pan, so removing them quickly is important but tricky. If a few crumble, don't sweat it - you now have a bag of yummy granola to keep in your car! Those that make it off in one piece -

- may not be especially attractive, but boy do they taste good! A little bit sweet, a little bit tart, and a whole lot of yum. The red makes these a festive addition to your Christmas platters, or you can convince yourself the pomegranate seeds make them healthy, and just eat them year-round.

*I am at an extremely high altitude, so I actually use 2 cups of flour

Monday, November 24, 2014

28 Shopping Days Left! Review of Work, Dogs, Work by James Horvath

Wait...did that say 28? Gah!!! I am so not ready! If you are, I don't want to hear about it. If you are not, I hope the ideas I am posting are helping!

Work, Dogs, Work: A Highway Tail

I reviewed Horvath's Dig, Dogs, Dig last year, and a quick check tells me it has circulated 14 times so far - in fact, it just came back a few days ago. At 3 weeks (possible) per circ, that means it is checked out more often than it is checked in. No big surprise to anyone who has spent more than thirty seconds in the company of small boys!

I had to laugh at the first page spread - the construction dogs are racing around a coffee shop, getting their caffeine hits before they start their day. Fun details for parents to chuckle at - one barista had a studded collar - does that make her a goth dog? - while the other has two earrings and a nose ring. The black cat from the first book is lapping up cream in the kitchen area (don't tell the health department), and the bulletin board features a business card for our canine crew!

As in the first book, each spread features a bright, colorful, and busy scene, with 4-8 lines of rhyming text. The rhythm and pacing of the words make it impossible to read aloud without enthusiasm in your voice. The smiling dogs seem to be enjoying their jobs thoroughly. Vehicles and their jobs are explained simply as we go along (and the very obviously female dog drives most of them). More fun details are in each illustration - kids watching the construction with a parent, the cat getting into the paint. I don't really have to tell you to buy this for your library, do I? You probably filled out an order card as soon as you saw the cover. This will be going directly into the story time line-up, and will be a huge hit as a Christmas gift for your truck-loving giftees!

Gifting Ideas:
I have been a huge fan of Melissa and Doug toys ever since Uncle Mike and Aunt Shannon sent half their inventory one Christmas. Good, sturdy toys that stand up to lots of play and encourage imagination! How about this trailer and excavator?
or this role play set?
Even better, if there is a construction site going on near you, bundle up with a thermos of cocoa and go watch for a while (from a safe distance, of course.) We have had a new grocery store going in across from the library for the past six months, and they are working on the parking lot now: 

so much fun to watch! (Especially since every step puts us closer to having a coffee shop within break distance...)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tween Program - Christmas Decorations from Paper Towel Tubes

We hold our Tween (grades 4-7) program on the last Monday of each month during the school year, and weekly during the summer. Participation is higher when school is out, but there is still a fairly steady handful who will come out on a school night.

Mr. Cliff runs this program, with the assistance of his lovely significant other, and this week they tried one of those Pinterest crafts that I know I would completely mess up. There are a million tutorials out there, but this one is from Chasing Fireflies, one of the blogs I loosely follow:


Yeah, I envisioned a gluey, misshapened mess when I first saw that, and I didn't even try. Fortunately, middle schoolers are more coordinated than I am.

Such focus!

Huge thanks to all the staff members who have been dropping bags of toilet paper/paper towel tubes on Cliff's desk (you can stop now!). The finished products look fantastic!

I may actually have to try this at home after all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

35 Shopping Days Left! Review - Ode to a Commode: Concrete Poems

Ode to a Commode: Concrete Poems

Poetry books in general don't do very well here, but concrete poems are fun, and what kid won't pick up a book with a toilet on the cover?

What is a concrete poem? Why, I am so glad you (or your young patrons) asked, because that is the very first sentence in the book. It is followed by a quite serviceable explanation, with a concrete (ha!) example, and some suggested topics for writing your own. 

The poems are mostly witty and humorous, and I found myself reading several lines aloud. From "The Last Piece of Halloween Candy": The caramel treats have been enjoyed, the nutty chocolate savored/ but no one wants a candy bar that's 'Tuna Salad' flavored." 

Complementing the forms of the concrete poems are different fonts, and the little people you see on the cover reacting to the subject matter.

This would be a great book to read aloud to your class, a couple poems a day, to lead up to a poetry unit. If I were still in the classroom, I might reproduce a few to post on the wall or project on a smartboard, depending on my classroom's technological capabilities. Or mine. They would definitely be an enticement for a child who hates poetry to maybe dip her toes into it after all.

Gifting Suggestions: I would put this with a nice pad of drawing paper and some colored pencils, in hopes of inspiration striking.

Or, there are dozens and dozens of magnetic poetry kits out there, with nearly every theme you could imagine. How about this one
or this?
How can you say you don't like poetry with THAT tucked in your stocking?!

Monday, November 17, 2014

37 Shopping days Left! Review of Lark Ascending by Meagan Spooner

Lark Ascending

The thrilling conclusion to The Skylark Trilogy: Revolution is brewing in the city within the Wall. The city stands divided, and war is imminent. The rebels need a leader. After months beyond the Wall, Lark returns with Oren by her side, prepared to overthrow the Institute once and for all. But Lark's triumphant homecoming is short-lived when another leader emerges to unite the rebels: Eve, a mysterious Renewable. Lark wonders if Eve's powers will bring them strength—or bring humanity's final downfall.

It's always nice to see a writer hone her craft through a series. While I enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, Skylark, it felt like it could use some tightening in areas, and the secondary characters needed some fleshing out. The second, Shadowlark, was better, but still left me feeling something was lacking. In this final title, however, things come together nicely - both in the writing skill and in the story line. 

Surprises abound in Lark Ascending, as old friends - and foes- reappear, sometimes not on the same side they once were, and we learn more about the ancient disaster, Lark's powers, and Kris's past (yes, he's back too). And, then there's Eve - the tortured Renewable who urged Lark to escape and "follow the birds" - how did she come to be captured to begin with? What are her plans once free? What is her connection with Lark?

While new questions are raised almost faster than the reader can keep track of them, the mostly-satisfying ending wraps the majority of them up. There are still enough loose threads to make one wonder if this is really going to be just a trilogy after all (scroll down to *** for some examples if you don't mind spoilers). 

This is definitely not a stand-alone novel, you will need to read the first two to have any clue what is going on. In a way it reminds me of one of my favorite trilogies when I was younger - at the risk of dating myself, the Green Sky Trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The first two each give an accounting of a different part of the world, then the third brings those worlds together in a climactic moment.

Gifting Ideas:
An origami bird figures heavily in the first book of the series. Gift this with an origami how-to book and some origami paper.
Descriptions of The Machine make me think of one of these plasma balls:

Close this window

Christopher has one in his room, and it makes a great night-light!

Or, give the whole trilogy together, with one of these adorable nightlights:

They come in different colors, and I spotted them last week at Sportsman's Warehouse - totally going in the kids' stockings this year! And a perfect combination of the semi-steampunk technology (Nix!) and the need for non-magical lights in each of the books.


***WHERE THE BLEEP IS TAMREN??? Who tore those people apart? Was it Oren? If so, what fallout was there for him - does he realize it was him? If not, who or what was it? What about Lark's parents? Did she look for them, or just assume they were dead?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

42 Shopping Days Left! Review: Perfectly Good White Boy, by Carrie Mesrobian

Perfectly Good White Boy

I received this review copy from Lerner some time before the Cybils nominations began, and had already started reading it when it popped up on the Young Adult list. I have since finished it, and am not at all surprised that it made the list, but it has taken me a while to process it and decide what I want to say about it.

I'll start with, I liked it - a lot! (Whew, I'm sure Ms. Mesrobian was worried for a minute). This is definitely a character-driven novel, happening entirely in the thought processes and emotions of the main character. We do get to know other characters, as Sean gets to know them, but it's the peek into Sean's psyche that pulled me in.

"You never know where we'll end up. There's so much possibility in life, you know?" Hallie said. Sean Norwhalt can read between the lines. He knows Hallie's just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she's off to college, and he's still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and "possibilities" isn't exactly comforting. Sean's pretty sure he's seen his future and its "possibilities," and they all look DISPOSABLE. Like the rental his family moved into when his dad left. Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift-store job. Like everything good he's ever known. The only hopeful possibilities in Sean's life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he'd go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.

Just in case you are expecting this to be about his experiences in the Marines (I was), it's not - the book ends with him leaving for boot camp. It is a whole lot of things I was NOT expecting, which may be why I have been finding it hard to articulate my review. I was not expecting to feel so in tune with the thoughts and mindsets of someone who is so completely different from who I am in real life, and that can only be the result of some amazing writing skills. While I have never met Carrie Mesrobian, a quick scan of her Twitter patter tells me that, a) She bears little resemblance to Sean herself, and b) She is freaking hilarious.

Tights? Socks? Boots? Cardigans? These are all essential questions when one is speaking to librarians, yall. 

Did you know there's a thing called Manhole Renewal Services? Drove by a truck fully engaged in such. *waits for jokes to pour in*

"Please attach your curriculum vitae..." *curls up into pillbug form, hides under desk*
Oh, and this one: 
"First book was better," Old Man Mesrobian told me recently. "Second book's all sex. No plot." 

Okay, yes, there is a LOT of sex - and quite a bit of swearing - in Perfectly good White Boy - so, probably not a book you want to hand to your father. Even if you wrote it. Just an FYI for your reader's advisory needs. BUT, if we are going to pretend that teenage boys don't think about sex pretty much all the time - well, we probably shouldn't be trying to do reader's advisory to teens to begin with.

Honesty is definitely the key word, here. Everything about Sean's relationships, feelings, decisions, mistakes - everything is gut-wrenchingly honest, and I will not be surprised to see this on the Cybils short list come january 1. The only thing that might keep it off is that there are a few places where I was sure I had missed a few pages - things jump in time with little to no explanation, and that may be jarring for some readers. It's not a huge thing in the scope of the novel, but I know how tight the race is for those short list spots!

No gifting suggestions to go with this one, but it would be a great gift all alone for any young adult in your life, male or female. I also expect to see it picked up and devoured by many older adults in the near future! (Picturing some "I don't normally like to read, but this book..." conversations).

Monday, November 10, 2014

44 Shopping Days Left! Review of Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone, by Rebecca L. Johnson

I lived in Ukraine in 1993 and 1994, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My station was in Dnepropetrovsk (say THAT three times fast), in the southern part of the country, but our initial training was held in Kiev. There were times when one volunteer would look at the other and wonder aloud how the cold war ever happened - when we saw a soldier bent over a short-handled broom, sweeping the dirt (not sweeping dirt off of something, sweeping the actual dirt); or when the phones, as usual, were useful only as fishing weights; or when Ukrainians told us, in all seriousness, that sitting on cold cement would cause us to become infertile.

Much of the former Soviet Union was what I would call a mix of advanced technology and redneck rigging.

Construction stupidity (93 pics)

So, a nuclear reactor in a place where you fix leaking plumping by wrapping an old rag around a wooden block and hammering it into the time I arrived, I don't think it was the cold cement causing infertility (or drinking Pepsi that caused kidney disease.)

All that to say, the fallout and later effects of the Chernobyl disaster hold a place of special interest for me. I remember watching military personnel waving a Geiger counter around the back door of our kitchen area, smiling and telling us there was nothing to be concerned about, as if we couldn't hear the device beeping wildly. 

Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom: Life in the Dead Zone

While much has been written about the initial disaster, scientists are still studying the effects on plants and wildlife in the 'Dead Zone', as it is commonly called. That very name illustrates the belief most people had, that nothing would survive in that 30km radius. As you can see from the cover photo, however, wild boar - once scarce in the area - are thriving. Lush vegetation is pushing through the abandoned streets. There are more moose in the Dead Zone than anywhere else in Ukraine. Stray dogs, beavers, wolves - even a herd of endangered Przewalski's horses, released into the zone as a - get the irony, here - safe place to live and breed.

How are these plants and animals doing so well in the face of radiation? Or, are they doing well after all? What of the people who have defied the law and moved back into their homes? Even the scientists studying the area don't have definitive answers yet.

At a time when post-apocalyptic novels are quite popular, this could be an interesting nonfiction companion - sort of the YA version of the Magic Treehouse companion books. Rather than giving a gift with this book, it could be the gift that goes with a novel such as The Line by Teri Hall, or Enclave, by Ann Aguirre. Then again, it is an interesting read all by itself!