Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: The Summer of Bad Ideas by Kiera Stewart

If your upper elementary/middle school reader is looking for the perfect summer read, I have it right here!


In this funny, big-hearted friendship story, perfect for fans of Wendy Mass and Linda Urban, twelve-year-old Edie and her impossibly cool cousin, Rae, set out to complete a mysterious list of “Good Ideas for Summertime” that their eccentric late grandmother wrote back when she was their age.
But good ideas? Most of them seem like bad ideas. Reckless. Foolish. Ridiculous. Still, by accomplishing everything on the list, rule-abiding Edie feels certain that she can become the effortlessly brave adventurer she dreams of being, just like her daring cousin and bold grandmother. For this one summer at least, bad ideas are the best shot she has at becoming who she wants to be.

We've got friendship, we've got personal growth, we've got family relationships, we've got a cute boy, mystery, adventure, fried pickles, and testudinal conversations! 

While many themes are familiar to other coming-of-age stories, the twists they take sometimes mirror Edie's attempts at completing the list, giving this a freshness that the genre needs. Grab it for your library now, and expect to see it on a few awards lists down the road!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: Splinter by Sasha Dawn


Sixteen-year-old Sami hasn't seen her mother in ten years—and neither has anyone else. The police suspect Sami's father had something to do with her mom's disappearance, but Sami's never believed that. Her mother chose to abandon her and start a new life. It's that simple. 

But now, evidence has emerged about another missing woman who used to be involved with Sami's dad. Coincidence—or evidence that the cops have been right all along? 

As Sami investigates, she's forced to question everything she thought she knew about the dad who's always been there for her and the mother who supposedly abandoned her. And if her dad didn't kill her mother, what did happen? 

This psychological crime thriller has plenty of second-guessing and red herrings to keep readers engrossed. I figured out a certain character's involvement WAY before the main character did - and told my dental hygienist so rather forcefully while reading it in their office (it's okay, they already think I'm crazy). It's sometimes hard to have perspective on things that are close to you, however, so that part was realistic. 

Also keeping things real were the flawed characters and multiple teen issues Sami had to deal with along with the actual mystery. Sami's continual self-doubt and coming to terms with the truth added to the plausibility. The sudden coincidental coming together of all the clues, complete with requisite cute-boy-next-door may turn off the hard-core mystery fans, but all in all an enjoyable, fast-paced read!

The one thing I did not get...where in the world did the title come from??? I was waiting for a split personality or something to emerge, but if there was a reference that makes the title word important, it was too subtle for me.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Fancy Party Gowns: the Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, by Deborah Blumenthal and Laura Freeman


I had never heard of Ann Cole Lewis before reading this book, which was kind of the point. Despite creating such iconic dresses as Jackie Kennedy's wedding gown, she remained an unknown figure most of her life, struggling financially: because she was African American. 

I am not terribly interested in fashion myself - my idea of getting fancy is wearing black jeans instead of regular blue denim. I am, however, interested in people doing what brings them joy, and in stories of people not giving up despite huge setbacks. This story brings both of those things in spades - and pretty dresses to boot! I may not like to wear dresses often, but I don't mind looking at pretty ones, and Lewis created some masterpieces.

Check out this beautiful debutante gown:

and head over to Zena Martin's blog, while you are at it, for a great deal more information about Lowe AND a yummy brownie recipe. Because everything is made better with a brownie recipe.

Blumenthal's book is just the right amount of information for a class read-aloud, however, and Freeman's illustrations make you want to find a party you can wear one of those dresses to. Struggles and injustices are not glossed over at all, but the prevailing theme is of perseverance and enjoying what you do. An excellent addition to any library.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review: Kids 30 Seconds series from Quarto (distributed through Lerner)

I have noticed over the years in evaluating and weeding the nonfiction section that, while kids are still very interested in nonfiction subjects, it is hard to get them to read the thicker books with a lot of text. They tend to want things broken up into chunks and presented in an entertaining style. It can be hard to find books that balance the presentation kids look for with the substance parents and teachers want, but I think Quarto has done a great job with these.


No, you aren't going to learn everything there is to know about space in 30 seconds. What you can get, however, is an introduction into The Big Bang, Types of Stars, Jupiter, or many other subtopics in a two-page spread. Each also includes a 3-second sum-up (No aliens have been found...yet.), and some include a 3 minute mission with some really great activity suggestions (Imagine you are designing an image to be beamed out into the universe to make contact with alien life forms. What information would you include? How would you show it? Aliens will not understand English. Think about symbols, signs, and images that could show them humans, the Earth, and its place in the universe.)

The series also includes:
The Human Brain in 30 Seconds
Oceans in 30 Seconds
Inventions in 30 Seconds
Earth in 30 Seconds
Science Ideas in 30 Seconds
The Human Body in 30 Seconds
Weather in 30 Seconds

The illustrations are bright and colorful, in cartoon form but accurate where needed, and the binding is ready to stand up to heavy usage. I can see these being a hit for browsing students, as well as a super fun addition to a home schooling curriculum!

Monday, May 1, 2017

On the Move Part 3

As we finished up the kitchen, I made the mistake of remarking to a few people that the kitchen was the only room that really needed a lot of work.

We knew that parts of the deck needed to be replaced before we could move in - because furniture for the entire second floor needs to come across it, and it was a bit spongy in places.

Just tear off the old plywood, put down new plywood, and seal it, right?


Okay, plan B: Tear off definitely-not-just-soft plywood, replace floor joists...throw back out...THEN replace plywood.

Then rest! The sealing can happen another day...after it finishes raining...

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: Space Adventures Series from Cloverleaf (Lerner)

We received two of the titles from this series to review:



Other titles so far include Planet Earth, the Stars, and the Sun. I am excited to see Earth included, because sometimes it gets skipped over in talking about the planets and our solar system in general!

Written around a second or third grade reading level, this series should appeal to any independent readers who want to read about "true stuff", but who also have a sense of adventure. The main character in each dreams of visiting the title location, where Avery meets the Mars Rover and finds evidence of water, and Neil collects moon rocks with an android named Luna.

Planet-shaped blurbs of information pepper the pages of bright, friendly illustrations. I actually learned a few things I didn't know, involving fairly recent discoveries or discussions about place. Factually current, and attractive to the intended age group. A great addition to any library serving elementary age children!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mother's Day Story Time

Mother's Day doesn't happen for a couple more weeks (so don't panic!) but we don't run preschool programs in May. Besides, any day is a good day to celebrate our grown-ups!

Some of the books I chose are specific to moms, others will work for any caregiver. This is where it helps to know your parents, and where there might be a sensitive topic, so you can switch things around if needed. We read:


My monster mama loves me so! Let me tell you how I know: When I wake up, she tweaks my nose, tickles all my pointy toes,combs the cobwebs from my bangs,and makes sure that I brush my fangs....At once tender and funny, this monster bedtime story is guaranteed to generate giggles, tickles, and plenty of monster hugs.

Did your mama make you cookies with bugs this morning? She didn't??? Well, then tell her you want some for supper!


In this sweet, rhyming book, toddler and (Mother? Grandmother? Aunt? Nanny? It's open!) go through a fun day together, ending with the narrator saying how lucky she is to spend it with her. 


Seven bitty baby birds are hungry, hungry, hungry—and they’re letting Mama know. “Feed us! Feed us!” the little ones chant, and Mama calms them as only a mother can—before she frantically flies away to gather more delectable worms. Readers can count with Mama Bird as she zooms back and forth across the pages, going from seven hungry babies to none…until one by one the babies wake up again…hungry!

Mamas and Papas can both identify with the feeling of, "I just FED you, how can you be hungry again?", while the kids enjoyed yelling "FEED US! FEED US!" along with the babies. At the end, Mama bird tells Daddy it's his turn, so we talked about how grown-ups share the work, rather than let it be a Dad-bashing moment.

Our craft this year was a lot of fun, thanks to someone else's trash! A local businessman found himself in possession of a stack of old machine parts trays he didn't need, and graciously donated them (probably wondering why on earth I wanted the old things!) I gave each a coat or two of spray paint, and set out t-shirts and acrylics:

I love when an art project is aesthetically pleasing before you even start. Look at all the pretty colors:

Those became pretty flowers,

and people

and...other things.

I'm not sure what it was, exactly, but she was VERY serious about it!

And the only person who got paint on the tables was Miss Ami. Now everybody has trays to make Mom breakfast in bed!