Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Review: Night Job by Karen Hesse and G. Brian Karas


When the sun sets, Dad’s job as a school custodian is just beginning. What is it like to work on a Friday night while the rest of the city is asleep? There’s the smell of lilacs in the night air, the dusky highway in the moonlight, and glimpses of shy nighttime animals to make the dark magical. Shooting baskets in the half-lit gym, sweeping the stage with the game on the radio, and reading out loud to his father in the library all help the boy’s time pass quickly. But what makes the night really special is being with Dad. Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse’s quietly powerful story of a boy and his father is tenderly brought to life by G. Brian Karas in this luminous tribute to an enduring, everyday sort of love.

As an adult I can feel the bone-aching exhaustion of what is likely a second job to help make ends meet. I can guess the struggles and frustrations of a single dad who probably wishes he didn't have to keep his son out late, even as he tries to make this time together interactive and fun.

A young child reading this, however, will simply sees it as the child in the story does. How cool to be able to shoot baskets all by yourself in that huge gym! Sweeping the stage with one of those big huge dust mops! Eating a sandwich outside in the dark with Dad! Wooshing over the bridge on dad's bike in the dead of night! Karas's (too many familiar titles to list) illustrations are from the child's perspective as well, with Dad sometimes disappearing off the page. Dusky tones to match the evening light, but never somber.

In the end, reminding the adult me that how our kids see our time together is the important thing. Come, whisper the school, the chair, and this book.

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the Fiction Picture Book category. I am one of several panelists, and my opinions should not be construed as inclusion in or exclusion form the final shortlist.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Review: Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein


It’s homework time for the little red chicken, who has just learned about something every good story should have: an elephant of surprise. Or could it be an element of surprise (as her amused papa explains)? As they dive in to story after story, looking for the part that makes a reader say “Whoa! I didn’t know that was going to happen,” Papa is sure he can convince Chicken he’s right. After all, there are definitely no elephants in “The Ugly Duckling,” “Rapunzel,” or “The Little Mermaid” — or are there? Elephant or element, something unexpected awaits Papa in every story, but a surprise may be in store for the little red chicken as well. Full of the same boisterous charm that made Interrupting Chicken so beloved by readers, this gleeful follow-up is sure to delight fans of stories, surprises, and elephants alike.

Chicken reminds me here of a certain little girl who MUST be right about everything, even when she is clearly wrong. Stein's original Interrupting Chicken is a staple here, as in most libraries, so I was excited when I saw this title. Personalities are the same, but the concept is different enough to be fresh. The blue cartoonish elephant jumps out from the otherwise old-fashioned, somewhat sepia story illustrations, allowing even small readers to point him (her?) out and say "there it is!"

My only qualms with this are that the traditional fairy tales, while just an excerpt of each, are a bit wordy for a read-aloud. I found myself skipping to the last lines of those, to get to the expected elephant. And since it was expected, was it really an elephant of surprise?  An elephant of silliness, at any rate, and that never goes wrong in a children's book.

***This book has been nominated for a Cybils Award. I am just one of many judges in this category, and my opinion should not be construed to mean inclusion on or exclusion from the final short list.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Phase 2

So, I have made it past the "Can I donate a kidney?" phase, and now we are moving on to, "Who will I donate it to?" Not that I will know the person's name (unless they want it shared with me), but there are over 100,000 people on the waiting list - how do they decide which one gets mine?

The UNOS list has rankings based on several different factors such as:

- urgency
- location
- time the recipient has waited
- compatibility
- age (in the case of pediatric patients - they are more likely to receive from pediatric donors)

So obviously, the list is not a static thing, and changes according to the donated organ in question. A computer determines the list order, not a human.

From their web site: "Only medical and logistical factors are used in organ matching. Personal or social characteristics such as celebrity status, income or insurance coverage play no role in transplant priority."

My blood type, O positive, means it's a good candidate for just about anyone on the list (positive and negative Rh are not a factor with the kidney - new thing learned this month!). Blood type is not the only important match, though.

Tissue typing is done next. That sounds like they are taking a sliver of you from somewhere to examine, but it's just another blood test! While I was at UNM in October, blood was taken to find out which antigens  my blood has. There are six, and the more of those that match the recipient, the more successful the transplant is likely to be.

Once a good candidate is found on paper, a final test (called cross-matching) is done to make sure the antibodies in the recipient's blood aren't likely to take one look at this foreign object from my body, decide it is a dangerous intruder, and attack it. A small amount of the possible recipient's blood is mixed with a small amount of my blood, and we (well, the people with the microscopes) watch to see if they try to kill each other, or if they invite each other over for coffee.

Or something like that.

Of course, it wouldn't be very convenient for anyone for me to run up to Albuquerque every time they need a sample, so The National Kidney Registry sent me a cute little kit in a box. 

I had eight vials of blood drawn at a local lab (not the same one that said I was pregnant),

Hooray for easy veins!

and those vials were overnighted to their lab in California lab. They will be stored there, and used as needed until they have a match for sure.

Once that is settled, the next steps of the chain can be put in place, and more people will be getting the phone call they have been waiting for! Exciting!!

And here's a cool video I found when I was showing the kids what is going to happen!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Review: Mirror Play by Monte Shin


Did this book get printed backwards?? While we do get some weird misprints at times, this cover is exactly right - as long as you look at it through the handy foldout mirror!

In this creative wonder, artist Monte Shin uses shape and symmetry to turn what look like random squiggles into recognizable forms. This uniquely interactive book needs the reader's help to finish the pictures, because they can only be seen using the attached fold-up mirror. Once the mirror is in place, readers can spin the central art on each page to reveal not only an array of fun abstract shapes, but a delightfully surprising final image. 

While this is a fantastic concept, I will probably save it for some Toddler STEAM programs rather than putting it out on the shelf. The flap with the mirror seems fairly sturdy, but the rotating images inside feel extremely flimsy. I don't think they will last very long at all - especially since you need to turn them to see the correct image (which isn't clear if you just pick it up with out seeing directions), and toddlers are likely to just grab the edge and pull.

Durability aside, this is a fun book to play with (it completely distracted the page who was supposed to be shelving books - my fault!) You can even create your own pictures and slide them underneath the mirror, to see what happens with the reflection. A good book for an individual child who isn't too rough on things, but not for a collection used by many. A QR code on the back offers a demonstration video on Youtube.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Family Fright Night 2018

The rain (seriously, I think it is STILL coming down) kept a lot of people away this year, but I was still too busy to get more than a few pictures!

Cutest zombies EVER.

Magic pictures

THANK-YOU to the volunteers who helped run games!

Cowboy Catnip Kid 

Angry Anglerfish

Is that not the sweetest smile?!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review: This is a Taco! by Andrew Cangelose and Josh Shipley


Taco the squirrel is really excited to be in a book that is going to teach you all about squirrels! That is...until he finds out he's supposed to be eating tree bark rather than tacos. Yuck! And...wait, what's that about predators? Okay, this story needs some editing, fast!

Alternating between nonfiction text and cheeky (pun intended) commentary, readers will both learn and laugh as they follow Taco to the conclusion that, if you want good things in your story, then you need to take charge of it! A perfect extension, of course, would be to offer students a story that does not seem to be going well, then let them take control of it - either individually or as a class project. Hmm, I happen to have some 5th graders coming for a field trip soon...

***This book has been nominated for a Cybils award. I am but one of several judges in this category, and my opinions should not be assumed to mean inclusion or exclusion from the final shortlist!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Review: Royals by Rachel Hawkins


Meet Daisy Winters. She's an offbeat sixteen-year-old Floridian with mermaid-red hair; a part time job at a bootleg Walmart, and a perfect older sister who's nearly engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy has no desire to live in the spotlight, but relentless tabloid attention forces her join Ellie at the relative seclusion of the castle across the pond. 

While the dashing young Miles has been appointed to teach Daisy the ropes of being regal, the prince's roguish younger brother kicks up scandal wherever he goes, and tries his best to take Daisy along for the ride. The crown—and the intriguing Miles—might be trying to make Daisy into a lady . . . but Daisy may just rewrite the royal rulebook to suit herself. 

By the description this looks like what I would call a "cotton candy read". Kind of fun, but no substance, and if you take in too much either your head or stomach will suffer.

The author, however, is Rachel Hawkins - she of the Rebel Belle series, which I adored and wish there was more of. That means that yes, there are swoon-worthy boys and embarrassing klutz moments and so forth, but also that it is So. Freaking. Funny.

I picked this up off the YA shelf to read on a lunch hour, and then snuck it back to my desk to hold open on my lap and sneak peeks at. Memories of my high scool math classes. I finished it up at home, bursting into loud laughter at several points, then having to explain to my kids that " --- just punched ---, which is totally awesome." (No names here, that would be a complete spoiler.)

If you have been reading too much dark and gloomy, and you're ready to put a few high-and-mighty folk in their place, this is your next read! Escapist and fun, without making you feel like you have lost brain cells along the way. A refreshing and needed addition to your YA shelves.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Do You Want a Piece of Me???

Many people think librarians get to read a lot.  Hardly! Add in having five kids at home, and much of my reading time happens sitting in my car in slow drive-through lines.

I'm sure many people (read: Moms) are in the same position, not having nearly enough time to read, uninterrupted. Can you imagine having a few days to just lie in bed and read? Bliss! I'd give my left kidney for that!

Or my right. Whichever. Which is how I found myself, a little while back, spending two days with some very nice people at UNM Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I have registered for things such as bone marrow donation over the year, but I have never been contacted. When I came across information about the National Kidney Registry, I went online and filled out the forms, thinking it would probably be the same.

I was pleasantly surprised when I soon got an e-mail asking if I would be willing to take some initial tests. They sent me a urine collection kit, I peed in a bucket for a day, I dropped it off at a nearby lab and they took some blood - took about ten minutes of my time.

About a week later, I got a call at work from a delightful woman named Ana Maria at UNM in Albuquerque. She asked if I would be willing to drive up some day for further testing. She was more than willing to work around my schedule, and since I am off every other Friday, it was easy to pick a date that worked for everyone. She and Mila, another woman I quickly became acquainted with, were wonderful about answering any questions I had, and even those I didn't. They helped arrange for lodging, and sent me a detailed schedule, complete with maps and names and directions, both by e-mail and by snail mail.

What struck me most about that first conversation was how surprised she seemed to be, to be talking with someone who was willing to be a living donor, and who wasn't a friend or relative of a kidney patient. That made me sad. Yes, it's a bit more than just donating blood, but you are talking about saving a life! Why don't more people at least take the first steps and look into it?!

Seriously, I have always tried to teach my kids to help people whenever they can. Heck, it's the second thing written on our stairs.

 Sometimes that means bringing someone a meal. Sometimes it can mean something bigger.

So, back to my visit. I ended up taking one day off work and went up Thursday, so that the psychiatrist wouldn't have to come in on his day off. Yes, they want to make sure you aren't completely crazy. I guess my brand of partially nuts was deemed acceptable (I did get him to actually use the term 'batshit crazy' by the end of our session, although he refused to say it described me.) Basically, he asked a little about my life, made sure I had thought things through, had decent coping skills and a support system, etc. He went over some of the physical and psychological risks, which everyone does at every single step of the way - they want you to be SURE, and well-informed. He told me several times to ask as many questions as I could think of, of anyone I talked to.

I got a child-free night in a hotel room, long enough to confirm that I have not missed a single thing on TV in the past ten years, write a few book reviews for Cybils, and get 10 months of photographs in order in an album.

Friday was the busy day. I had a fasting blood test at 7, so I gazed longingly at the free breakfast being enjoyed by balloon crews (Balloon Fiesta weekend in Albuquerque!) before leaving the hotel. I was first in line when the lab opened, which was good because they were short-staffed and almost immediately running behind. Two pokes I didn't feel, 14 vials of blood, and a fill-this-cup-please, then I finally got to go meet Mila and Ana Maria, the living donor advocates at UNM. They are just as sweet in person as they are on the phone! Another very nice woman was there hoping to donate to someone she knew, so we went through the initial class together, taught by Mila.

Again, they want to make sure you are VERY well informed, about benefits and risks. Mila provided UNM's stats, which are better than national averages, and either answered our questions or told us who to ask along the way. Throughout the rest of the day, people would randomly ask us what we had learned about the risks, down to percentages - they want to be SURE you are sure, and you are not going into anything blindly. (There is a .03% chance I could die on the table. Getting back on I-25 was riskier.)

We both went down to get our EKGs, which took approximately three minutes each - no exaggeration. Then we took turns with the dietician Christine and Ana Maria. The dietician seemed happy with everything but my two sodas a day habit. I promised to TRY to drink more water, and she had to be content with that. Ana Maria went over more of what to expect, again making sure I had plans and support in place during my recovery.

Next up was a chest x-ray - I may actually learn my way around UNM by the end of all this! - about ten minutes, you just have to take bra and jewelry off and stand in a couple different positions. From there I drove around the corner to a different buildings (about 5 minutes, counting stop light) for my CT Scan. That took a little longer, and was...interesting. Heads up: the contrast dye will make you think you peed your pants. You didn't. Probably. But the bed part was so soft and comfortable, I would have happily ridden back and forth for an hour, taking deep breaths and holding them for the disembodied voice (which also belonged to a very nice lady. Seriously, kudos to UNM for having such amazing, friendly staff all over!)

Back to the main hospital for a visit with the nephrologist, Dr. Argyropoulis. My spellcheck says his name is spelled wrong, but it also doesn't recognize 'nephrologist', so... Everyone told me I could "just call him Dr. Christos", because "nobody can say his name." Challenge accepted! I practiced it all day, and he says I said it right - he may have just been humoring me.

There I got the bad news that my blood sugar test from that morning had been a touch high. That meant I have to take a blood glucose test later this week, so I don't know anything for sure yet. My kidney function was good, though (95), as well as all the other results they had, so - fingers crossed!***

If all goes well, I will be starting what is called a chain donation. My kidney will be given to a waiting recipient who is determined to be the best match. I am told getting the call that you have a living donor match is like winning the lottery - any viable kidney would be great, but one from a living donor is so much better!

A friend or relative of that recipient, who wasn't a good match for them, instead donates their kidney to someone else on the list. That chain continues for as long as they can stretch it out, but the final kidney donation in the chain comes back to the originating hospital. So instead of saving one life, you can be a catalyst to saving many!

Some questions I got answered:

What kind of timeline are we looking at?
If the rest of my tests go well, it is sent to committee. They look over all the information and decide together if I am a good candidate. At that point, we can pick a date. Mila said there are two dates available in November and two in December. I am hoping for early December, as that works best with work/family/vacation schedules.

Surgery is done on a Wednesday, at UNM. They transport the kidneys (complete with GPS tracking), not the patients. Usually, the donor goes home on Friday.

In one week, you come back in for a follow-up visit, then they see you periodically over the next two years. You are out of work for 4-6 weeks, although the last donor they had was back at work after two.

Will I know anything about the recipient?

If the donor and the recipient both agree, information can be exchanged, otherwise no. (I will be giving my consent, but I understand if they don't want to.)

Can I still donate blood? I am scheduled to later in October.

Probably should skip it this time around, but I should be able to in the future.

And some stats I got through googling and through my visit:

- At any given time, there are over 100,000 people waiting for a kidney transplant. That's 100,000 people who will DIE if they don't get what most of us have an 'extra' of. Imagine you are standing on a boat holding two life jackets, and the guy on the boat next to you has none - and his boat is sinking. Are you really going to stand there and clutch your extra life jacket while he drowns?
- 20 of those people die every day.
- Almost as many people become too sick while they are waiting to qualify for a transplant.
- To donate you need to be 18 and healthy. I am not too old at all - in fact I am in the median age group!
- One kidney functions the same as two. You don't pee any more than you did before. You can still play sports, still get pregnant, etc. Not that I plan to do either of those two, but it may be of interest to other people!
- Kidneys from living donors last much longer than those from cadavers (deceased donors) - approximately twice as long. Many recipients go through the emotional and physical stress of one transplant, only to have to face another a decade later - at which point the transplant may be less likely to succeed.

More great reading:

***Phew! After some questionable results from the local lab (which also said I was pregnant and completely messed up my name), I am cleared to go! My surgery is scheduled for December 19, which will give them plenty of time to get a chain organized. That coincides nicely with the start of Christmas break for the kids, which is also a break from programming at the library, so good timing all around!

I am going to be posting updates along the way, but please please know it is not for any sort of pat on the back. I am doing this because it is something I want to do. What I am hoping is that someone somewhere will become familiar with the process, and think maybe they want to do it too. Could that someone be you??

Friday, October 19, 2018

Review: My Best Friend is a Goldfish by Mark Lee and Chris Jevons


After arguing with his best friend about which game to play, a boy decides it's time to find a new best friend. So he tries to becoming the best of friends with his other pets. He learns to eat on the floor with his dog, take naps with his cat, and watch the world from underwater with his goldfish. But none of these animals measure up to his true best friend. He may just discover that being different from each other is okay after all.

Ah, the childhood squabbles. I have five kids at home. Sometimes they get along like siblings, and sometimes they get along like siblings. At the end of the day, though, I'm sure they wouldn't trade each other for someone else...right?

A simple message for a perennial problem. Not delivered in any sort of preachy way, but with examples and illustrations that will tickle children's funny bones. And, if they are anything like mine, will soon see them eating off the floor like the dog, or shoving food in their cheeks like the hamster. Consider yourself forewarned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: Amazing Migrators Series


I don't believe I have any books about wildebeests. (checking) Okay, I have two. But one is ten years old, and the other is part of a series on baby animals. Obviously a hole in my collection I needed to fill.


Dragonflies I have. But these aren't JUST books about the particular animals:

With such small, thin wings, it's hard to imagine dragonflies flying long distances. But some dragonflies are migrators! Some dragonflies even travel for thousands of miles. From egg to adult dragonfly and then on through their migration, follow the journey of migrating dragonflies!

Usually when we think of migrating, birds and butterflies come to mind.  It is interesting to hear about other animals that move large distances throughout the seasons. In addition to the expected monarch butterflies and the above titles, we can read about arctic terns, salmon, and whales.

In the first title we learn that baby wildebeest are walking within minutes of birth, so they can keep up with the rest of the herd. Minor quibble - it says the wildebeest "eats grass with its black snout." Since every dictionary I checked agreed that the snout is the nose and mouth, I think that could have been said a little better.

Dragonfly babies (or nymphs), by comparison, spend a lot of time as nymphs, and don't migrate until they are fully formed adults. I remember once when I was young, rowing my little inflatable boat around a pond, when some water washed in and I was suddenly sitting in what seemed like hundreds of dragonfly nymphs. I like bugs as a general rule, but nymphs are not as pretty as their parents, and...well, let's just say it still makes me shudder 40 years later. They are still fascinating creatures, and I think kids will enjoy the extreme close-ups of these very fast-moving animals!

End pages of each title include fun facts, more (related) migrators, glossary, index, and links for further reading.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Review: Me and My Cars by Liesbet Slegers


Toot-toot! Cars are everywhere. Some drive superfast, others are very big, some transport things and others have a siren. Which cars do you recognize?

The small size and square shape made me think this was a board book at first, but the inside pages, while slightly stiffer than paper, are definitely more suited to the picture book shelf - not sturdy enough to stand up to much mishandling! Fortunately, the length and text are more suited to picture books as well. (We will choose to ignore the grammatical error in the title.)

Approximately 2 dozen vehicles are featured, divided into groups such as helpers or workers. Each has 2-3 short lines of text, simply telling what the vehicle is called and what it does. Very young readers will find the pattern comfortable. Bright colorful illustrations, some with photographs adding a little textural depth, may inspire similar artwork on the reader's part.

A fun read for any little one obsessed with things that go!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb


This is one of those books that made me go "Ohhh!" at the end, then immediately hand it to my coworker, so she could cry, too!

The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.

Imagine if, on an ordinary day, after a morning of studying tadpoles and drawing birds at school, war came to your town and turned it to rubble. Imagine if you lost everything and everyone, and you had to make a dangerous journey all alone. Imagine that there was no welcome at the end, and no room for you to even take a seat at school. And then a child, just like you, gave you something ordinary but so very, very precious. In lyrical, deeply affecting language, Nicola Davies’s text combines with Rebecca Cobb’s expressive illustrations to evoke the experience of a child who sees war take away all that she knows.

When your child starts hard asking questions about things they see or hear on the news, this is the book you want to have on hand to help you find the words. Both people and locations in these illustrations could be anyone, anywhere, making it easier for children to relate. The spare text is from the perspective of the child, and adults' faces are often not even shown. Some horrors are hinted at, allowing adults to delve into them more or just let them pass for now (...then up a beach where shoes lay empty in the sand...)

Just when it seems there is no room for hope, it comes from another child, and then other children. And that is, indeed, where our hope lies - that our children will grow to see a need, and to respond instinctively in the simplest ways. A sad but beautiful volume that deserves a place in every library.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: Kids in War series


In November 1942, twelve-year-old Calvin Graham found himself in the midst of an intense battle on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. An explosion damaged his ship and wounded many of his shipmates, but Calvin acted quickly to do his duty and help those around him. Join Calvin aboard the USS South Dakota and experience the story of one of the youngest people to serve in World War II.

Incredible - not only was he able to fool enough people to join the ranks of the Navy (and sure, they were probably willing to look the other way for kids who weren't quite 17...but 12?!), but he also showed poise and dedication beyond that of many adults. And then to have his awards stripped from him when they learned his true age (thanks a lot, Mom)! Nothing fires up a middle schooler like righteous indignation - history teachers can use this title to introduce anything from World War II to Veterans' Rights. This would be a fantastic book to read right before Veteran's Day, giving some context, and hopefully some deserved respect to those grizzled old veterans who come to the schools to speak.


Gunfire rang out across the countryside as fifteen-year-old John Cook watched his unit struggle during the Battle of Antietam. Union troops were falling fast as they tried to push Confederate forces out of Maryland. With only a few soldiers left standing, John knew he had to do something. Follow John as he joins in, fighting against all odds to defend his unit during the bloodiest day of the Civil War.

By comparison, Cook was an old man at 15 years old. He began serving as a bugler or messenger, but at Antietam he was needed to actually fight. What struck me on the timeline is that it took 32 years before Cook was awarded a medal for his efforts - almost the same amount of time it took for Graham's medal to be returned to him.

Both of these titles were very quick reads, engaging and quick-paced without resorting to gore and sensationalism. Get this series on your shelves for those reluctant readers and watch them fly back off! Other titles include:

Johnny Clem's Civil War Story
Momcilo Gavric's World War I Story
Sybil Ludington's Revolutionary War Story
Tillie Pierce's Civil War Story

Monday, October 8, 2018

Review: Laugh Your Socks Off Series



Who's there?
Lettuce who?
Lettuce in already!


What do you get if you cross a frog and a Popsicle?
A hopsicle.

The joke book section is one of those most librarians know by heart (818), along with dinosaurs (567.9) and fairy tales (398.2). They go out so frequently, they are often tattered beyond repair, so we are always looking for new ones. I was especially happy to see this series offered by Lerner, because I have never ever had to repair a binding on one of their books!

Knock-knock jokes were very big at my house for a while, and my children are perennial punsters (I blame their father), but there were still many jokes I have not yet heard. Fresh and new is good when we are talking children's humor! They may even learn some vocabulary and science in spite of themselves:

Why did the shellfish lift weights?
He wanted to have big mussels.

Other jokes will work better in specific contexts:

Who's there?
Warren who?
Warren any green today? It's St. Patrick's Day!

Either way, I predict multiple circs (and much groaning if they make it to my house.) We will be purchasing the others in the series as well:

World's Best and Worst Puns
World's Best and Worst Riddles
World's Best and Worst Spooky Jokes
World's Best and Worst Sports Jokes

Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love


While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.

Ack! Why did this book sit on my TBR (to-be-read) pile for so long? Not because I didn't want to read it: I was intrigued as soon as I got the description from the publicist. I think it was mostly because I wanted to give it my full attention, which is somewhat scattered at most times! It is getting quite a bit of buzz and award discussion already, though, so it was time to open the pages and see if it lived up to my expectations and the chatter.

It did! The very first thing I noticed were the opening end page illustrations, of Julian's Abuela and the other ladies in the pool together. All those different, NORMAL body types, not bikini-model teenagers! I think I fell in love right there*.

Given the premise, I was a little worried the story line would come across as a heavy-handed political agenda. Not that I object to messages in children's books, it's the heavy-handedness that will make me toss a book aside in disgust.

No worries here! Julian sees something that captivates his imagination (and how beautifully are his imaginings rendered!), he uses that imagination to replicate it, and Abuela encourages and supports his creation, through actions more than words. A sweet and important message about individuality and expression that anyone can enjoy. Even those wonderful end pages support the idea of beauty in individuality. All the more impressive when you realize it is Love's first book!

(*The closing end pages feature the same people in the same pool, but envisioned as graceful watercolor mermaids now. Gorgeous!)

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Toddler STEAM - Animals

This week we had our first Toddler STEAM of the year. We have been learning about different classes of animals, so this program tied some of that together. Since we have so many new faces, I went 'easy' this time around, nothing terribly messy.

Although I did have dead things.

Feathers, porcupine quills, and a few different pelts. Magnifying glasses to take a look at how the coyote's fur is different close to the skin, or how the feather parts fit together like Ziplocs. A few adults were squeamish, but the kids had no qualms.

Be a Bee! Use your proboscis (or an eye dropper) to transfer nectar (water) from flower to hive.

That can be a tricky fine motor skill to pick up, but this young lady was a pro!

She even matched the flowers. Totally planned.

Cutting out animal pictures to keep on hand, by the way, is an excellent activity for a bored volunteer.

I have never seen a badger looking quite this friendly before:

For some large motor fun, we had one of these:

and a large coned-off area:

THAT was pretty exhausting (because of course I had to do it with them), but it got some wiggles out.

Sorting and classifying:

As I told the parents, it wasn't that important that the kids got things into the right containers, more that they were using words to compare and contrast. Some pulled out all the penguins and practiced counting up, others sorted by color. Whatever! Still STEAM!

Then I made the grown-ups do math.

If I were a grasshopper, I would be able to jump about 1,033 feet. I can jump two. More practice needed.

Shane, on the other hand, can jump three!

He does happen to be one of my favorite little critters.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review: Open the Suitcase by Ruth Wielockx


Horse, Cat, Piggy and the other animals all have important jobs to do. They carry their belongings in suitcases. Which bag belongs to whom? Open the suitcases and take a look inside.

These characters are adorable, and look so soft you want to run your finger across the pages. Children will find it easy to guess which one each suitcase belongs to based on matching outfits. Predicting each one's profession (named on the following page) based on the suitcase's contents can lead to discussions about different jobs and tools. 

With few exceptions, lift-the-flap books do not belong in libraries. This is not one of those exceptions. The flaps do not seem especially sturdy, and the set-up of the book requires much going back-and-forth as children search the following pages for items that are in each bag. 

This would, however, be a fun one-on-one book for laptime with your own child or grandchild. The latter would be especially appropriate, as the final character is packing for a trip and Grandma and Grandpa's, and the text asks the reader, "what would you put in your suitcase?" A perfect gift for a child's first sleepover!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Cybils Suggestions

It's that time of year again! Unlike awards such as the Newbery and Prinz, YOU have the power to make sure your favorite book from the past year is seen and considered for an award! Absolutely anybody can nominate one book for each of the Cybils categories - but, only one! In case you are having trouble with some of the categories, I have listed some of my favorites below - too many for me to nominate them all myself. If you have a few minutes, head over to and look over the categories, then consider giving some of these a nod!

(click on title link for Amazon information)

Board Books:

Can You Hear a Coo Coo? by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh - 9781512444438 (my review here) NOMINATED

Peek-a-Who? by Elsa Mroziewicz - 9789888341573 (my review here)

Middle Grade Fiction:

Bat and the Waiting Game by Elana Arnold - 9780062445858 (my review of the first Bat book here) - NOMINATED

The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse by Nicholas Gannon - 9780062320971 (my review here)

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo - 9780763694630 (my review here) - NOMINATED

The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Jacobson - 9780763694746 (my review here) -NOMINATED

Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction

Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones by Sara Levine - 9781467794893 (My review here)

Secret Lives of Insects series by Ruth Owen (pick one!) - 9781788560108

Americans by Douglas Wood - 9781416927563

Benedict Arnold: Battlefield Hero or Selfish Traitor? by Jessica Gunderson - 9781476534077

Meet My Family by Laura Purdie Salas - 9781512425321 (my review here) - NOMINATED

Magnetism Investigations by Karen Kenney - 9781512440058 (my review here)

Fiction Picture Books

Don't Wake Up the Tiger by Britta Teckentrup - 9780763689964

Holes in the Sky by Patricia Polacco - 9781524739485

A Heart Just Like My Mother's by Lela Nargi - 9781512420982 (my review here)

Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival - 978168119852

Ready or Not Woolbur Goes to School by Leslie Helakoski - 9780061366574

Don't Eat That by Drew Sheneman - 9781101997291 (my review here)

I'm Sad by Michael Ian Black - 9781481476270 (my review here) NOMINATED

Your Hand in My Hand by Mark Sperring - 9780545806428 (my review here)

The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan - 978-374301231 (my review here)

I Got a Chicken for My Birthday by Laura Gehl - 9781512431308 (my review here)

Come Home Already by Jory John - 978006270976 (my review here)

Three Little Monkeys by Quentin Blake - 9780062670670 (my review here)

The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies - 9781536201734 (my review coming 10/12/18)

YA Speculative Fiction

The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand - 9780062318503 (my review here)

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland - 9780062570604 - NOMINATED

***Disclaimer - I have not double-checked all of the publication dates. To qualify, they must have been published since October 15, 2017.