Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: It's a Boa Constrictor! It's a Chimpanzee! by Tessa Kenan, Bumba Books by Lerner

Last week we looked at Lerner's Let's Explore Countries series for beginning readers. Any teacher or librarian can tell you that animal books are a sure hit for the younger ages, so I was pleased to see this series as well.



Like the country series, these attractively illustrated titles include simple but informative text, with questions designed to spark critical thinking (Why do you think boas can be different colors? How else might chimpanzees use tools?) A good basic introduction to each animal, and interesting enough to motivate young readers. Another set I strongly recommend for school or classroom libraries. Other animals currently available in this series include the jaguar, chameleon, red-eyed tree frog and vampire bat. We will be purchasing all of them!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Family Fright Night 2017

We looooooooove Halloween here, and our Family Fright Night is one of my favorite annual programs! It is a popular program as well, and last year the crush of people was a bit overwhelming. I ended up have to rearrange the schedule as we went, shouting stories to a packed room, and didn't get to really visit with anyone. We made a few adjustments this year, and it went much more smoothly.

I am mad at myself about one thing, though - I didn't get pictures of any of the food! Just these absolutely adorable mini jack-o-lanterns that my volunteer created:

We also had:

Poisoned Apples (plain old apples)
Jack-o-lantern Seeds (cheese balls)
Toasted Bones (pretzel sticks)
Dried Skin (chips)
Eyeballs (grapes)
Witch's Teeth (harvest candy corn)
Used Band-Aids (vanilla wafers with a smear of white frosting and red jam)
Blood Dough Cookies (red velvet Chips A'Hoy)

This year we set up the refreshments outside. In previous years they were in the same room as the stories, and people would grab a plate and sit down for the stories. Advantages to having them outside: stories could start without waiting for everyone to get snacks, and no spills inside. Disadvantage: adults filling "to go" bags!! Seriously, people. Sigh. I was afraid there would be a lot of trash left outside, but I only found one styrofoam cup.

In the space where snacks were last year, I put a row of tables with Halloween books to check out, and these characters giving their sales pitches.

In years past I learned an open tub of candy brings out the worst in people, so I make up goody bags now. Each has EXACTLY the same amount of candy and toys. I asked parents to let me know of allergies ahead of time, so I could have some specially tagged and sitting next to me. They looked the same as everyone else's bags, so nobody felt singled out. (The skeleton is holding bags that are purely toys, no candy at all).

I gave out 108 goody bags, so with adults I would say we had at least 200 people. I gave out the treat bags after each of two story times. Splitting it up worked MUCH better - our room is only supposed to hold 70 people, and we definitely went beyond that (shh!) for the first story time, came very close the second. Everyone was super at listening to the stories and 'helping' me with different parts. I had set up a microphone, but didn't end up having to use it.

The bucket of "bones" was for a "Skeleton Says" game, to get some wiggles out, but there wasn't time or need for it. 

Btw, if you are a new librarian, start hoarding large swaths of black material - sheets, tablecloths, whatever. They come in handy for any sort of holiday, as backdrops, or to cover things you can't move:

The cabinet where our story time crafts go...

20 cases of water...

Two boxes of rocks for the next painting party...

Even the ugly chair that hasn't made it to storage! I told everyone she was caught dog-earing pages.

I had this cool bubbling water thing, and totally forgot to turn it on.

I DID test out the fog machine earlier in the day. Which set off the fire alarm in the whole building. Good news, our staff jumped up and did everything they are supposed to in a fire! Great...er...drill, guys.

I had brought this mirror from home for a program last week, so I just added some decals:

Huh...I don't see my reflection...that is so weird.

For scary stories I read: 
Guess? by Mem Fox (no coaching needed for all the "yes" lines!)
The Doghouse by Jan Thomas (I had the kids whisper in a scary voice, "the doghouse" every time it came up)
The Little Old Lady Who Wasn't Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams (kids helped with all the sounds)
Who Took My Hairy Toe? by Shutta Crum
Games and Crafts! Since we were using the entire library, inside and out, I couldn't set them up until it was almost time, so I used the chairs as a staging area:

Having a box for each made clean-up easier, too - I just told everyone helping to sweep everything into the box, and I would deal with it in the morning. (Instead, I am posting these pictures...I'll get to them in a bit!)

I got these hands at the dollar store, and had a plastic graveyard fence to go around them, but the ground was too hard to push the fence in! As you can see, we just got the hands in enough to stand up, but they worked. We had glow-in-the-dark necklaces to throw, ring one hand and get a prize. Gabe Professor Snape ran that one.

Maui, here (who made the hook himself) ran the spider races.

Cheap game, you just need two plastic spiders and a bag of straws. Make a line down the middle of a table with masking tape. Two competitors each get a (fresh!) straw, and at the signal, try to blow their spider to the end first. Winner gets a prize.

We also had the web grab, run by Ellie:

This is the "after" picture! It was full of toys and candy, and you had to use the tongs to get just ONE thing out through the web.

Trick or Treat:

Run by Bianca, a first time volunteer. Roll the "die", if it lands on "treat" you get a prize, if it lands on "trick" you have to do what it says first. (Quick: what book contains the robot monkey line?)

And, Feed the Monster:

Your basic toss-the-ball game. I was originally using bugs, but since we did it outside I was afraid Senta, who was running the game, would spend half her time hunting in the grass for them!

This Candy Corn Puppet craft was more popular than I expected:

Even zombies like to craft!

Make your own treat bags:

Followed by, clean up your own mess:

Day of the Dead Masks:

Very popular!

Monster faces:

Adult coloring and Halloween trivia:

Last but not least, all the cuties in costume! I only got a few, because I was mostly reading stories, but:

A very spirited Supergirl and Batman

Mom MADE these!!! Even their treat bags!!!

Cutest witch EVER.
Ballerina Panda

Pirate - I want that shirt! And the boots! And...

Malala Yousafzai. With a newly missing tooth.

Psst - don't EVER tell a 2-year-old Rainbow Dash that she looks like a beautiful flower. It will not go well for you.
Even a furry pumpkin!

with painted nails.

I'm assuming a service dog, extremely well-behaved. For those who do want to bring their pets for something special, though, keep an ear out for details about Santa Pets in December!

I hope everyone had a great time! I loved seeing all the costumed wee ones (and adults). Have a fantastic Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: Pout-Pout Fish Far, Far from Home by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna


Mr. Fish has prepped and packed,
And he’s made big plans to roam.
He’s ready for adventure
On his trip away from home!
But sometimes trips have detours
And not everything goes right.
Without his favorite toy,
Can he fall asleep at night?

No children's librarian is a stranger to The Pout-Pout Fish. With some popular picture book series, it can begin to feel as if the author has started phoning it in - or in the worst cases, letting other writers churn out the text in their name, driven more by marketing than by character.

Not so with the Pout-Pout Fish! I am finding I like him more now than I did when his first title came out a decade ago. Diesen's rhymes and cadence are crisper, making this loads of fun to read aloud. The text is peppered with vocabulary words that might be unfamiliar, but which are easily understood in context (prepped, maneuvered, reflected). Hanna's illustrations, as usual, are full of fun little details to explore with your little one.

I love the messages in this title - that, just because plans don't go perfectly, that doesn't mean anything is ruined. That going outside your comfort zone can have great rewards. That being apart from the things or people we love may mean we miss them, but  it also means we have more to tell them when we are back together.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Guest Review: White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Reviewed by Alexandra R.


White Oleander was written by Janet Fitch in 1999; it is a fiction novel.  There are three main characters in the novel:  the daughter, Astrid Magnussen, her mother, Ingrid Magnussen, and her new boyfriend Barry, who they refer to as “Goatman” because Ingrid is repulsed by him, she says.   
Astrid and her mother live together in Los Angeles; Ingrid is a poet and an artist and inflicts all her beliefs onto Astrid. Astrid is 12 and doesn’t have much outside influence and because of that she doesn’t fit in much at school; she doesn’t mind though, she looks up to her mother and wants to be like her.  Ingrid, even though she has rules about men, she continues to go out with Barry and their relationship escalates.  Both Astrid and Ingrid are fond of Barry; he takes them places and makes them both feel special.  
Barry tried very hard to get close to the self-centered, eccentric, and cold-hearted Ingrid, but as he did he became unfaithful and started lying to her.  When she found out, she went into his home and violated his things out of hatred and pleasure.  She soon poisoned him with a White Oleander and killed him.  
Not long after, the police were knocking on her door and took her away to jail; they forced Astrid to pack a few things and took her to another home.  She lived the rest of her childhood in different foster homes wondering why her mom left her alone.  Astrid goes through 5 dysfunctional foster homes where terrible things happened to her, and a girl’s home throughout the last 6 years of her childhood.  She struggles, and she grows up knowing all these terrible things exist and are possible.
This book was amazing to read.  It really makes you think about all the tragedies that can happen to you and how there are people who will put you through those tragedies without even a thought. It makes you question humanity and whether or not you have someone, or you are alone.  You feel and you read what she went through and it makes you understand the way those struggles change your mindset.  By the end of the novel she talks to her mother and get the closure and answers she wanted, and then she moves on, and starts her life. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Guest Review: After by Anna Todd

Another guest review from one of the local schools! This reviewer wishes to remain anonymous. We have this series in our collection, but I haven't read it myself yet - guess I know what's going with me on my next lunch break!

My favorite book that I’ve ever read is called After by Anna Todd. It was started off as fanfiction on Wattpad with over 1 billion reads online. Then they decided to publish it. 


The story takes place at Washington Central University with this new freshman named Tessa. Tessa is considered to be a good girl, always listens to teachers, does what she is told, never gets into trouble, and she has a perfect boyfriend, Noah. Tessa’s mom is very protective and has high standards for her daughter but that all changes when Tessa meets Hardin. 

The tousled brown hair, cocky British accent, tattoos, lip and eyebrow pierced boy, who is different from what Tessa has seen. Tessa should hate him with his rude, sometimes cruel, attitude but something about him captivates her. Maybe it’s his dark moods or when they kiss it ignites a passion she’s never experienced. With his mood swings and the reckless way he treats Tessa, she can’t seem to stop thinking about him. Her love only grows for him despite all the horrible things Hardin would say he can’t stay away from her either. Tessa has to decide if her love for Hardin is worth losing her perfect boyfriend and her relationship with her mom.

In my opinion, this book is perfect and greatly written. The story really captures your attention with the complex characters. Hardin’s character would be my favorite because he is unpredictable and you want to find out why he acts the way he does. It was crazy with the development of the story line and how everything turns out in the end. 

This book is a series with this being the first. Then there’s After We Collided, After We Fell, After Ever Happy, and Before. I would recommend this series because it could relate to a lot of people with their complicated relationships and you can relate to either Tessa or Hardin with their mindset and how they deal with situations. I think it’ll be worth the time to read it and see for yourself.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review: Halloween Titles from Harper Collins

Quick break from reviewing Cybils nominations to take a look at some new Halloween titles! While my biggest problem at Halloween is narrowing down my read-alouds, it's always good to have something fresh in the mix.


What do you do before you go to bed at night?
Bigfoot hugs his wooby extra tight, while aliens have pillow fights.
Nessie gets a drink, then swims down deep.
But in the end, everybody needs to sleep . . . even monsters!

The little cutie on the front cover is being chased by a very determined, and much harrier Daddy on the back cover. I like the illustration details like the little bits of torn wallpaper and the claw marks. Looks like my house! The alien children are adorable in their fuzzy one-piece sleepers, and the expressions on the dragon parents' faces as Logan the baby dragon chatters away is just perfect! The kitten playing with Frankenstein's big toe...and I think I once had the same slippers as Yeti!

Back-cover-Daddy is reading to front-cover-cutie in rhyming lines of varying length, each ending with "Even ___ needs to sleep." Perfect for our monster-themed story time next week, when I need to engage my audience!

One of my favorite monster read-alouds is "Bunnies", written and illustrated by this guy:


The rhythm is a bit tricky on this one, so you'll want to practice it a bit before a read-aloud. It would be even better read one-on one, but I wouldn't suggest it for bedtime - too funny! Expect your little one to pick up on a favorite line or to. You'll be hearing for the next few weeks that he loves you "as much as blood-sucking ducks".


Remember when I said something about a series driven more by marketing than by anything else? Yeah. Just stop. Please.


With the right spell Grimelda knows she can make her cat Wizzlewarts spooktacular in seconds. But when her spell book goes missing in her untidy room, will Grimelda find another spooktacular pet to win the prize, or will her magic make an even larger mess?

We met cutie pie Grimelda in The Very Messy Witch. As you can see from the description, her home is not any neater, but her illustrations and rhymes are great! As adults will predict, Wizzlewarts turns out to be just the right pet in the end, but with a few fun twists along the way. Another fun read-aloud, especially paired with the earlier title!

Three out of four isn't bad! What is your favorite Halloween read-aloud?

***with apologies to illustrators Diana Murray and Chris van Dusen because I ran out of characters and couldn't tag everyone. Dang Blogger.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima


Growing up in the ocean, Kelp has always assumed that he was a narwhal like the rest of his family. Sure, he’s always been a little bit different—his tusk isn’t as long, he’s not as good of a swimmer, and he really doesn’t enjoy the cuisine. Then one night, an extra strong current sweeps Kelp to the surface, where he spots a mysterious creature that looks just like him! Kelp discovers that he and the creature are actually unicorns. The revelation leaves him torn: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? But perhaps, if Kelp is clever, he may find a way to have the best of both worlds.

I have seen some interesting book trends come and go, but...narwhals? That is definitely an interesting one! We have two narwhal titles on our list of Cybils nominations, and a quick search comes up with at least six children's titles published in the past year!

Well, they are cute buggers, and this title combines narwhals with the unicorn, a topic we can never seem to satiate little ones' appetites for. Your kids will understand right away that Kelp is a bit misplaced (although the logistics of that happening are not really explained). There are more questions than surprises (How does he eat with the helmet on? How does he get more air? How does he know what he looks like? How is he reading a paper book UNDER THE WATER?), but for those willing to overlook technical details, it is a cute story about friendship.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Egg by Kevin Henkes


This masterful and stylistically original picture book introduces young children to four eggs. One is blue, one is pink, one is yellow, and one is green. Three of the eggs hatch, revealing three baby birds who fly away. But the green egg does not hatch. Why not? When the three birds return to investigate, they’re in for a big surprise! What will happen next?

Billed in places as a graphic novel for the younger set, this title is heavy on illustration and light on text. The repetition and prediction make it an excellent confidence-builder for the beginning reader - or even a child who is not reading yet, but who can tell a story with the pictures, and remember the few words read to him. (Yes, Shane, I mean you!)

It is also just a sweet story of friendship, with illustrations that belong on a nursery wall somewhere. Tuck it in an Easter basket for that special little one, or grab it from your library and plan some time to cuddle up together.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: Goodnight Numbers by Danica McKellar, and Alicia Padron


This deceptively simple bedtime book, the first in the McKellar Math line, gives your child the building blocks for math success. As children say goodnight to the objects all around them—three wheels on a tricycle, four legs on a cat—they will connect with the real numbers in their world while creating cuddly memories, night after night.

Our kids are all way too young to remember Winnie from The Wonder Years, but that is how most of us first 'met' McKellar. I love, love, love this video telling when she first 'discovered' who she could be outside of that role:

McKellar has written several math books for the middle school age, explaining various math concepts in ways that are aimed to be more accessible and fun than your typical dry textbook. Here, she has branched out into picture books (and soon, for this title at least, board books) to spread the fun of numbers at an early age.

This isn't the only counting and/or bedtime book out there, but it certainly can't hurt to add another to your repertoire. Padron's soft illustrations are colorful and diverse. Children will have fun spying other sets of the same number in each spread - are those six flowers on the tent? Six musical notes? And, can you find all six bunnies? I will be interested to see how it translates into board book form - will the pictures be too tiny to pick details out? Other than that, I think the text will work out perfectly in that format!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen


Meet Triangle. He is going to play a sneaky trick on his friend, Square. Or so Triangle thinks. . . . With this first tale in a new trilogy, partners in crime Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen will have readers wondering just who they can trust in a richly imagined world of shapes. 

Barnett and Klassen are two of my one of my go-to authors for field trip read-alouds. A little bit snarky, a little bit (okay, a lot) irreverent - one might even say subversive. I just realized, however, that I have never reviewed anything by either one of them! Perhaps because it doesn't take long for their books to become such widespread hits that the world really doesn't need my commentary added.

To be honest, this one isn't my favorite by either, but if I was still teaching I would probably use it in a classroom lesson or two. There are discussion possibilities (When are tricks funny and when are they not?) as well as art (What kinds of landscapes and characters can you create using just simple shapes?) 
Klassen is a whiz with facial expression, especially those eyes! 

Rumor has it this is the first of a series, like I Want My Hat Back, so perhaps the next title will bring things together more - as it stands right now, the ending felt a bit abrupt - the energy suddenly came to a full stop. Still, a worthy addition to your library shelves!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: 7 Ate 9 - the Untold Story, by Tara Lazar and Ross MacDonald


6 has a problem.
Everyone knows that 7 is always after him. Word on the street is that 7 ate 9. If that's true, 6's days are numbered. Lucky for him, Private I is on the case. But the facts just don't add up.
It's odd.
Will Private I put two and two together and solve the problem . . . or is 6 next in line to be subtracted?

This seems to be my week for punny books. My kids LOVE the old "7 ate 9" joke, and this takes it a dozen steps further. 

"Numbers. They're always stuck in a problem."
"My days are numbered."
"I...ordered a slice of pi."

Groooooan! As expected, the kids devoured it, and were soon repeating half the lines in it. Logan even came up with a couple new puns himself! (Can't imagine where he gets that from). That lines thing up nicely for a language arts/math extension. Can your students think of more number puns? How about letters? (Notice the private "I"!) Shapes? Other math terms?

A fun addition to the home or classroom library, and one you will probably be reading aloud more than once.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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


"I hope you’re wearing your BATTLE PANTS!
You’ve played the game. Now read the legend of the three great warriors who started it all . . .ROCK! PAPER! SCISSORS!"
If Escargot must be read in a French accent, this one requires a good announcer's voice! Each of our mighty ones is the undisputed champion of his domain - but where is the challenge when everyone else is so easily defeated? 

"I will beat you, Rock, with my tart and tangy sweetness!"
"Ugh, I am smooshed!"
"And yet, smooshing you has brought me no joy."

Enough tongue in cheek humor to keep even the most exhausted parent ready to "read this one again!" Enough plain old silliness to make this a crowd pleaser for all ages. And only Adam Rex could get this much expression and emotion out of a - well, a rock, paper, and scissors. A must-have for every library!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Escargot by Dashka Slater and Sydney Hanson


Bonjour! Escargot is a beautiful French snail who wants only two things:
1. To be your favorite animal.
2. To get to the delicious salad at the end of the book.
But when he gets to the salad, he discovers that there's a carrot in it. And Escargot hates carrots. But when he finally tries one—with a little help from you!—he discovers that it's not so bad after all.

If you do not immediately start reading this book (aloud or in your head) with a heavy French accent, then I have absolutely no hope for you at all. I mean, the very first word is "Bonjour", and just LOOK at that wee beret! And the scarf! Is this not the most adorable snail you have seen all week?

Escargot knows he is beautiful. He even offers, "You can kiss me if you want!" Readers are also invited to stroke Escargot's shell and to make a fierce face, making this a wonderfully interactive story time addition. I can see this becoming a favorite with many children - in fact, it has already circulated three times in three months, meaning Escargot has not spent much time on the shelves looking for a new friend! I even brought it home and read it out loud to my crew and a few visiting friends, and the wild rumpus they had been engaged in came to a screeching halt. When a book can calm a wild rumpus, you know it's a keeper!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Guest Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

At a recent visit to a local school, Academy del Sol, I invited the students to write guest reviews, and a few have taken me up on it! Here is our first, a review of a perennial favorite, written by Arturo B.:


The book Holes by Louis Sachar is a fiction book about a boy named Stanley Yelnats and his experience at Camp Green Lake which was a camp for boys who have broken the law and did not want to go to jail. Camp Green Lake was in the middle of nowhere: a dry desert with nothing but mountains in sight that were miles and miles away. A boy named Zero became friends with Stanley along with some of the other boys at camp. X-ray was basically the leader to Squid, Armpit, Zig Zag etc. Stanley’s whole time at camp was destiny. He went there for a reason and in the book you find out about his family curse and how he searches for Zero through the desert.

I really enjoyed this book. I have never read it before but I know about most of what happens from the movie, but I would highly recommend the book before the movie. The book has more parts to it so it gives you better details and lets your brain imagine every little detail. My favorite character in the story was Mr. Sir. He was threatening to the kids and he was also kind of funny in the book. His character brought a more stern theme to the book whenever he was around.