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!

Monday, April 24, 2017

On the Move Part 2

I don't want to give a negative impression of our new home by just talking about work we need to do. Besides the house being roomy and well-built, the yard outside is AMAZING. My mother in law was a Master Gardener, and spring is just a fabulous time here! Every day I find a new surprise - today it was these:

Fifty years of vinca has carpeted the whole area.

The top to the bird feeder is somewhere under the flowers...
The lilacs smell heavenly,

both purple

and white.

There are other treasures!

This will be righted and filled with something flowery that can spill over the sides. For right now, it is holding these egg sacs:

Walking sticks, maybe? Anybody know?

Whatever this is:

the deer sure like it.

This is...another plant of some sort.

A little rose bush I discovered when I raked away the dead leaves!

And a fairy door buried in another corner!

Daylilies, maybe?

And decades worth of vines:

I have been pulling out dead parts and retraining vines that are trying to climb through things. Like these:

You're pretty, but you really can't stay there! Fortunately, neither can the half-rotten plywood you have wiggled through, so your release date is coming up soon!

Friday, April 21, 2017

On the Move - the Kitchen (with Guest Contributor Sheridan)

There was a movie out some time back, based on a popular kids' book, that started out with the mother declaring in wonder that she was "done" with the house. The last bit of decorating, the final curtain in place, everything in the house was the way she wanted it.

So, of course, the husband immediately announced that they were moving.

I can't say that I was finished with the house we have lived in for almost 8 years, but my 'to do' list was down to things like "finish trim in bathroom". Little stuff. So, of course, what idea did a certain husband come up with?

On the other hand, when you get a chance to trade a 4 bedroom 2 bath house for a 6 bedroom 3 bath, you can't really complain too much - even if it means your 'to do' list now says things like "replace entire septic system".

My New House by Sheridan

You all ain't going to believe this stuff.

We are moving to our Grandma's house. Deer go to our Grandma's house. She died in August. It was close to Thanksgiving when she died. We still miss her. We are sad she died.

Now let's just get back to the good stuff. She has a lot of flowers at her place. It is very nice. There are a lot of toys there. 

The end.

This was the house my husband and his sisters grew up in - the family built it themselves when the kids were tiny, living in a trailer on the property the entire time. I love that it has such a personal history, and the 'bones' of the house are great, but of course after 50 years any house needs a few updates. If you have followed me for any amount of time, it won't surprise you that the first room I tackled was the kitchen!

Here are some 'before' pictures:

While I like natural wood, the cabinets were a bit too dark for my taste. The kitchen is also on the small side, so I needed to brighten it and make it at least feel bigger.

The miscellaneous wires on the top were also a tiny issue (they had conduit around them, so they weren't dangerous, just not pretty!)

The above wall was between the living room and kitchen, and while I wanted to be able to see what the kids were doing in each room, I didn't want to lose cabinet space.

The ceiling was dry walled a while ago, but the taping never got done. Or, obviously, the painting. That was not helping the general darkness of the room. There were several lights plugged in under the cabinets, adding illumination but taking up half the outlets.

So...the cabinets. We completely removed the cabinet on the wall between kitchen and dining room, and set that aside for later. Next I took all the doors off the upper cabinets. Five minute task, right?

Two words that should be banned from the English language: flathead screws. Tiny ones. My cordless screwdriver, and even my regular old manual, couldn't get a grip. I ended up using a small knife to take every. single. screw. out of every. single hinge. Did I mention I only had a couple hours at a stretch to get anything done there?

FINALLY, after the doors were off and many years of grease had been scrubbed away, I was able to fill in holes and paint them. I love Behr, it covers everything beautifully! It also dries quickly, so by the time I got to the end of the cabinets with the first coat, I was able to go right back to the beginning and apply the second coat.

Of course, that made the walls look REALLY bad.

I CAN paint neatly, but if I know I'm doing the walls anyway, I'm not going to bother. I took a piece of the blue and white Pfaltzgraff that belonged to my mother in law to the paint store to match the color, and used that on the walls.

While I was painting the cabinets, walls and ceilings, Mike was covering them all with dust. That wall between the kitchen and living room? All gone! Except for a 2-foot wide strip to hold my spice racks, because that was one part of last year's remodel that I refused to give up!

Just a teensy bit of rewiring to do, too.

Now, since the original counter had a back splash, it wasn't going to work without a wall to back it up. Fortunately, some 8 or 9 years ago, I bought a 14-foot conference room table...which has been sitting in our garage since then, because our floors wouldn't support the weight. The top is in two pieces, and they are HEAVY. I should mention that this is about the time I got sick, and my muscles were like rubber. I wasn't much help wrestling a piece onto the sawhorses,

and did absolutely none of the measuring and cutting! Mike did a FABULOUS job, cutting it so perfectly on the first try that we didn't need to cover the gaps with trim like we expected (there weren't any!)

Are you ready for the "after" pictures? Here they are with the befores again:

Still need to box in that vent and paint it, then finish the trim around the ceiling.

The dishes (brown) that go on the bottom shelves are still at the old house. Yes, the cabinets are slightly bowed (but strong and solid), which was not noticeable with the doors on, and which is driving Mike crazy. I don't care, I think it adds character. The plates aren't on the outlets yet because we are switching the off-white out with white ones.

Obviously still some finishing to do, but what a difference!

Of course, now you can see how much needs to be done in the other rooms, but that's mostly finishing work (ceilings and flooring) as well.

When we sent pictures to my older daughter, who grew up there, her first comment was, "Holy WOW!" Just a bit of a change! I'm glad she (and the others who have seen it so far) approve, that was very important to me. I love that I can see the living room, that everything is so open, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE having a 4x6 foot counter top! That is going to be so perfect for parties!

Speaking of parties...we still have the rest of the house to do...who is up for a how-much-furniture-can-you-fit-in-your-truck fiesta???

***Bonus treasure hunt: How many times can you spot my travel mug in the pictures???

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors, by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex


You’ve played the game. Now read the legend of how it all began . . .
Long ago, in an ancient and distant realm called the Kingdom of Backyard, there lived a warrior named ROCK.
Meanwhile in the Empire of Mom’s Home Office, a second great warrior sought the glory of battle. And his name was PAPER.
At the same time, in the Kitchen Realm, in the tiny village of Junk Drawer, lived a third warrior. They called her SCISSORS.
These three were the strongest, smartest, and fastest in all the land. Time and again they beat the most fearsome opponents they could find: an apricot, a computer printer—even frozen, breaded, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets! But when the warriors finally meet each other, the most epic round of battles begins . . . and never ends. That is why, to this day, children around the world honor these worthy adversaries by playing ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS!

Suggested subtitle: "To be read out loud, with voices". Think deep, serious voice-over tones: 

"I hope you're wearing your battle pants, rock warrior."
"If by 'battle pants' you mean 'no pants, but I'm willing to fight you,' then yes...yes, I am wearing my battle pants, weird scissory one!"

If you don't have this one yet, you need to hurry out and get it before your end-of year field trips begin, because this is a sure crowd-pleaser for all ages! If you have time, a fun extension would be to toss out some other traditional kids' games (hopscotch? tic-tac-toe?) and challenge kids to write their origin legend!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds and Floyd Cooper


It seems like any other winter day in Montgomery, Alabama. Mama and child are riding where they're supposed to, way in the back of the bus. The boy passes the time by watching his marble roll up and down the aisle with the motion of the bus, until from way up front a big commotion breaks out. He can't see what's going on, but he can see the policeman arrive outside and he can see Mama's chin grow strong. 
"There you go, Rosa Parks," she says, "stirrin' up a nest of hornets. Tomorrow all this'll be forgot." But they both know differently.
With childlike words and powerful illustrations, Aaron Reynolds and Coretta Scott King medalist Floyd Cooper recount Rosa Parks' act of defiance through the eyes of a child who will never forget.

There are dozens of children's books about Rosa Parks, but I have never thought about what it might have been like to be another passenger on the bus, much less a child. Reynolds' text gives the familiar but important tale freshness, while Cooper's soft illustrations and the angle of his pictures reinforce the child's perspective. Every page is chock full of discussion starters. This is a beautiful book that needs to be part of every library.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Flowers - Story Time and Craft

Here's a little secret about library programming: sometimes an entire program or craft is designed around a particular craft item you have on hand and need to use up.

I have been trying to thin my storage closet out a bit to make room for summer reading supplies, and I came across this tray of red flower petals.

At 25 cents a box during an after holiday sale, they were just too good to pass up...two years ago. And then I remembered that I still have a couple bags of pink petals left from our Fancy Nancy Tea Party, which was...also a long time ago.  It was time to actually do something with them. So...what, exactly?

The colors made a Valentine's Day craft the obvious choice, but all I could come up with was filling in a heart shape with them. That was a possibility, but since we have quite an age range at times I wanted something...more.

Googling "flower petal crafts" was giving me ideas way too complicated for preschoolers, until I came across this flower fairy craft at Artful Kids, complete with fairy template. 

Isn't she just gorgeous?! I printed out and enlarged the template, put out petals, markers, and glue, added a stick to poke it in next to a plant, and voila!

I picked these four books for our read-aloud:

Monday's group was the first after Spring Break and they were WOUND, so I didn't read the last - but I did read it to the (equally wound) fifth graders who came after lunch. Both age groups had a blast with the fairies, especially the glitter part! The custodian, not so much. Thank goodness for community service workers. 

A few fairies were forgotten in the drying process, so they are keeping watch over the library plants until their owners come back to retrieve them!