Monday, August 31

Bug in a Vacuum

Bug in a Vacuum
Written and illustrated by Mélanie Watt

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1770496453
Publisher: Tundra
Date of publication: August 25, 2015
Age: Grades K - 4

Themes: the 5 stages of grief, a fly, cleaning, change

A fly buzzes through a house, minding its own business, when its entire life changes with the switch of a button. Sucked into the void of a vacuum bag, this one little bug moves through denial, bargaining, anger, despair and eventually acceptance—the five stages of grief—as it comes to terms with its fate. Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel?

This book has such a fine subtle humor—the illustrations, especially. Each page of art has something hilarious adding to the storyline (keep an eye on the dog, especially). The plot, of course, is clever and original, dealing with the five stages of grief. I mean, it's really an all-around great book. But, I would say it's definitely for older kids. Besides the subtleties and more mature plot, the book itself is long. It's a chunk of a picture book. I wouldn't read it in storytime for my preschoolers, but I'd still recommend it.

As for readalikes? Watt has a bunch of awesome books that deal with different anxieties or life changes (eg Scaredy Squirrel), and this fits right in to her collection.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, August 28

Flowchart Poster Display

Well, I thought I'd show you my set up for the poster I made last week. Nothing too surprising here, but I do love the look!

Fills up a good amount of the end cap, and I left half of the space open for book displays and also a bookmark booklist with the call numbers of all the books in our library.

So there you have it! Inspiration to print and hang your own! The file can be found on the original post from last week

Thursday, August 27

The Swap

The Swap
Megan Shull

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062311696
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Date of publication: August 26, 2014
Age: Grades 6 - 9
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Fantasy

Themes: family relationships, middle school, friendship, self-discovery, puberty

As middle school starts, popular Jack Malloy is thinking girls have it so easy. Shy Ellie O'Brien is wishing she could be anyone but herself. And BAM! With one random wish, Jack and Ellie are living life in each other's shoes. Ellie finds an impossible-to-please father and acting like everything's cool is way tough to handle. Jack finds that facing mean girls at sleepovers and getting grilled about your period is way harder than taking a hit to the face at sports practice. They soon find that the best way to learn about yourself is spending some time in another person's shoes. But how will they ever change back?

This book is HILARIOUS. And I'm saying that in all caps because I honestly laughed out loud (rather loudly, actually, to the embarrassment of those around me) multiple times throughout the book. But guess what? I also teared up. It's heartwarming and hilarious all-in-one.

Shull does a fantastic job of revealing the depth of her two main characters through the eyes of each other—that Jack is still struggling with the death of his mom and that Ellie's lack of confidence may stem from the abandonment of her father. But Shull also manages to keep it totally lighthearted when dealing with the raging hormones and other maladies of adolescence. Be forewarned, plenty of talk about periods, boobs, peeing, and Jack's "morning tent pole" are scattered throughout. Again, hilarious, but I have trouble picturing my seventh-grade-self appreciating it.

The lack of a fifth star stems mainly from some plot mistakes. The nurse who originally "casts the spell" to switch Jack and Ellie completely disappears from the rest of the book. Also, I felt the ending dragged, and may have even been too sweet (read: hardly realistic). The dialogue as middle-schoolers really talk like that? I mourn the next generation if that's the case. I gagged a bit every time Sassy Gaines said "awk."

So I'll recommend it, but probably to the older middle-school crowd, or even to parents. The empathy learned, the love gained, and the confidence built is pretty inspiring. It's a great for fans of Wendy Mass (it's a good step up from 11 Birthdays) and Goodbye Stranger.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, August 26

Storytime Preview

Guess what? Storytime finally starts up again next week! We take the summer off to concentrate on summer reading and collection management. So, preschool storytime prep is fully underway this week!

For this post, then, I thought I'd just show some of the themes I'm planning for this semester, and the fantastic new and favorite books I'll be using for each. Maybe it'll get your brain going for some ideas of your own!

Tuesday, August 25

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence
(The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins #1)
Written by Holly Webb, illustrated by Marion Lindsay

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0544339286
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: September 2, 2014
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre: Mystery

Themes: detective work, sidekicks, thievery,

Twelve-year-old Maisie is a noticing sort of person. She's convinced she would make an excellent detective if she ever got the chance! But instead, she spends her days polishing the banisters at her grandmother's boarding house or fetching fish for the lodgers' dinner. Finally, Maisie's big chance to prove herself arrives when her friend is falsely accused of taking money from his employer. While the grown-ups turn a blind eye to the whodunit and justice goes un-served, Maisie and her canine sidekick, Eddie, search the streets for clues to crack the case.

This is a fantastic simple mystery that really has some charm. The setting in Victorian England definitely lends it a "Sherlock Holmes" air, but the characters keep it approachable for kids of all ages. Maisie is spunky and smart, but not afraid to own up to mistakes. And Eddie is just plain adorable. There may be a few challenges in the vocabulary here and there (I got to look up what a "hansom carriage" was and now I know it wasn't a mispelling of "handsome," ha!) but it's great for beginning readers and as a read aloud. Also, the illustrations are adorable--not overwhelming; a great addition.

I recommend it, especially to the budding detectives out there. I think it's a step up from Cam Jensen and all the charm of A Little Princess. Also, it's a good precursor to the Enola Holmes Mysteries (Nancy Springer).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, August 24

3 New First-Day-of-School Picture Books

It's that time of year! Kids are readying themselves to exercise their brain! But what about the newbies? How do you prepare a child for (the sometimes scary prospect of) formal education? Here's three books that I particularly enjoyed that were just published about what kids can expect when they start school. 

Ally-saurus & the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey

ISBN: 978-1454911791
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Date of publication: May 5, 2015
Age: 4 - 7 years

Ally prefers to be called Ally-saurus, because she's a dinosaur at heart. She stomps and chomps and loves to ROAR! But when Ally-saurus starts school, she finds that her classmates all have their own personalities, and that making friends is a bit harder than she thought. Especially with a bunch of know-it-all princesses...

This is a great book that can be targeted towards slightly older kids, as well. Those who may be starting at a new school, not just starting school for the first time, will also wonder about making new friends. Ally is perfectly precocious and a good mix of outgoing and shy. The story has just the right amount of humor, too. But what really wins me over are the inventive illustrations; each child "wears" their imagined personality and it's adorable. Seriously, you should pick this one up and give it a try so you know what I'm talking about.

(It's at the library or on Amazon)

Go to School, Little Monster
Written by Helen Ketteman, illustrated by Bonnie Leick

ISBN: 978-1477826362
Publisher: Two Lions
Date of publication: August 4, 2015
Age: 3 - 6 years

Little Monster is going to school for the very first time. That means he’ll be meeting all the other little monsters, including one who has really big teeth and draws scary pictures. Who will ride the ogres and dragons with Little Monster at recess, and listen with him during story time? And what happens when Little Monster realizes he forgot his lunch?

This is a really endearing first-day-of-school tale—if you don't mind a touch of creepy. These monsters do go to monster school, after all, and eat some pretty interesting monster foods. But with the rhyming scheme of the text, and the fact that the narrator is talking to little monster, it comes off pretty darn cute—with illustrations to match. Even if the teacher may drool a bit. 

(It's at the library or on Amazon)

If an Elephant Went to School
Written by Ellen Fischer, illustrated by Laura Wood

Publisher: Mighty Media
Date of publication: August 11, 2015
Age: 2 - 6 years

Would an elephant learn the ABCs if she went to school? No way! She would learn to use her trunk as a nose, a straw, a hand, and a hose! What about an owl? Or zebra? Yep, each animal would learn something unique. So what do you learn if you go to school?

This book is a pretty straightforward lesson, perfect for the slightly younger crowd. Not only does it help with what happens at school, but you get some fun animal identification and traits practice in there. Plus, the illustrations are pretty darn cute (detecting a trend?).

(It's at the library or on Amazon)

Friday, August 21

Flowchart: What Books to Give a Middle-Grader

I had a lot of fun with this one. So much so, that even though it was supposed to be posted on here yesterday (Thursday being my normal middle-grade book day), I spent a few more hours tweaking it and posted it now (obviously). So—without further ado!—a flowchart of middle-grade book recommendations!

Turns out it's hard to narrow down recommendations. This could have been SO much longer (heaven forbid). But hey, it works. So I'm hanging it in my library (see it here!). If you want to, too, here's the link to the .pdf printable in Google Drive.

If you want a full list of what books are on the flowchart, continue on, muchachos.

Wednesday, August 19

New and Ideal Books for Storytime (Vol. 2)

Hello, and welcome back to my (now) continuing series of new and ideal storytime books, with this the second post (see my first one here). Sure, we all have our favorite, go-to storytime books. But how about all the new and fabulous books being published? Well, here are some of my favorites that just seem perfect for storytime and read alouds.

Tuesday, August 18

Digby O'Day in the Fast Lane

Digby O'Day in the Fast Lane
Written by Shirley Hughes, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0763673697
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: August 26, 2014
Age: Grades K - 3

Themes: cars, dogs, races, perseverance

Digby O'Day and Percy are best friends and they've just entered an All-Day Race! Digby is sure he can win, especially with Percy as his co-driver. But when the race starts and Digby and Percy are quickly left in the dust, it seems like they don't stand a chance. They meet peril after peril and worst of all, Digby’s archenemy, Lou Ella, will stop at nothing to win the race. Who will come out ahead?

In a rather charming (read: thoroughly British) way, this book is old-fashioned. The monochromatic color scheme of the hand-drawn illustrations is reminescent of Frog & Toad and Little Bear. The characters and story are classic in their own way, as well; not many kids may be familiar with the lure of a relaxing day drive in the country. They also may not be as familiar with British terminology, such as "petrol station." So it's charming...but it's not necessarily going to sweep young kids off their feet.

The typography and layout may be a tad confusing, as well. There's a cursive font used throughout the "extras" that's hard for me to read, let alone beginning readers. The extras (an interview with Digby, quizzes, car information) themselves are a tad distracting and superfluous. The vocabulary, like I said before, is thoroughly British, but simple enough for those just starting chapter books.

So, it's cute, really. Just cute, though. Not groundbreaking in any fashion, nor massively appealing to a wide range of kids. Some make like it, though. Especially those who are fans of the classics.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, August 17

Ninja Bunny

Ninja Bunny
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Gray Olson

My rating: ★★½

ISBN: 978-0385754934
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: June 9, 2015
Age: 3 - 6 years

Themes: ninja, rules, friendship, bunnies

Our little bunny is ready to embark on his path to becoming a super awesome ninja! His how-to book tells him he must work alone, be super sneaky, and possess all sorts of ninja traits. But is he cut out for the ninja life? Especially if it means leaving his friends behind?

The story is told solely through a list of rules and some pretty adorable illustrations. However, I was really hoping that it would be another totally awesome ninja book—one that I could add to my ninja-storytime-repertoire. I mean, it's cute, but that's about it. The whole book is about the irony between what the rules say the bunny should be doing, and what the illustrations actually depict (which is usually failure). And that's a bit hard to communicate to a group of kids in a storytime. It'd be better for one-on-one reading, but still not my favorite. Maybe you could try it out and see what you think.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, August 13

Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
Cassie Beasley

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0525428435
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: June 2, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: grandfather/grandson relationship, faith, magic, magicians, circus

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

Oh, it's such a beautiful book. I don't really know how else to describe it. I was worried that it would be cheesy—the whole "believe, Micah! Believe in the magical circus!" vibe made me nervous. But it's about so much more than that! Beasley celebrates the innocent, trusting faith of children in a very Peter-Pan-esque way (more like Finding Neverland, actually, not the snot-nosed Peter Pan of the actual book). The magic is not cheesy, but something deeper. Something amazing. Okay, enough of the sappiness...

Micah has an amazing amount of depth for the main star of a children's book about a 10-year-old. His fear of losing his grandfather works its way into everything, making the story that much more moving and heartfelt (and realistic). Even the cruel Great-Aunt Gertrudis has quite back story to back up her would-otherwise-be-cliche character. And then there's the Grandpa, who you can't help but love. Really, all the characters were fantastic.

The reason it didn't get the five was my bit of a disappointment in the ending. The book builds up this emotional journey that I just wanted to have explode in a ultra-feel-good firework of an ending—but it sort of fizzled. It was still a happy ending, but one that dragged a bit and lost the magic behind it with that drag. Still, maybe it's more realistic.

In the end, of course I'd still recommend it. It has a bit of the classical whimsy of Chronicles of Narnia and Peter Pan, and is a good readalike for All the Answers (by Kate Messner).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, August 12

New and Ideal Books for Storytime

Sure, we all have our favorite, go-to storytime books. But how about all the new and fabulous books being published? Well, here are some of my favorites that just seem perfect for storytime and read alouds.

Tuesday, August 11

What Pet Should I Get?

What Pet Should I Get?
Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0553524260
Publisher: Random House
Date of publication: July 28, 2015
Age: 3 - 7 years

Themes: decision making, rhymes, siblings, animals

What happens when a brother and sister visit a pet store to pick a pet? Well of course it's too hard to choose just one! Both find all sorts of animals to love. But in the end, a decision on one pet must be made. What will they choose?

Well, prepare for some disappointment. Okay, maybe that is a little harsh, but I do wonder if Dr. Seuss is rolling a bit in his grave now that this long-lost manuscript is published. Maybe it was lost for a reason.

Basically, while the text still had Seuss' famous rhymes and an odd animal thrown into the mix, it wasn't particularly well done. There were a few hop and skips in the rhyming scheme that would make it a tad difficult to read aloud without some practice. The vocabulary isn't necessarily the best for beginning readers (again, a made up animal or two, plus some longer words). Actually, the story overall is hardly engaging or interesting; the brother and sister are looking at pets. And more pets. And yet some more pets.

And then there's the ending. Which, I won't spoil for you, but it was a bit of a let down. Really, I won't be in a huge rush to recommend this book. I was pretty disappointed, as a Dr. Seuss fan. Sure, there's the novelty of it being "the long-lost manuscript!" but that's about it.

If you want, find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, August 10

Rude Cakes

Rude Cakes
Written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins

My rating: ★★½

ISBN: 978-1452138510
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date of publication: June 2, 2015
Age: 3 -5 years

Themes: manners, bullying, cakes, politeness vs. rudeness

A not-so-sweet cake is pushing the little cakes around—never saying "please," "thank you," or "sorry." It takes what it wants without asking and is never wrong. But what happens if a giant cyclops comes around? Will the little rude cake get its just desserts? Even the rudest cake can learn to change its ways.

Yes, I said giant cyclops. Because why not. And why wouldn't multi-tiered, fully iced cakes play on the playground and take baths.

...Okay I'm being a little sardonic. It came off really random and strange to me, but that may be humorous for others, like children (it is a pretty childish sort of humor). The illustrations are cute, and I do appreciate the little asides and speech bubbles adding to the story. But man, it's kind of weird.

Also, that little cake is really mean. And its parents (parents? I think so...) are pretty idiotic (look for the dad on the monkey bars). So I don't fully appreciate that the way this rude cake learned its lesson was through the threat of giant cyclops. Not through its (completely inept) parents. I did like the cyclops' manners—which provided a nice lesson—but, yeah. I don't think I'd ever use it in storytime and won't be in a huge rush to recommend it. Unless I find that children are loving it. Hard to say.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, August 6

Favorites Thus Far for Mock Newbery & Caldecott 2016

Before the rush of beginning-of-the-school-year book publications, I thought I'd examine some potentials for the Newbery/Caldecott 2016 published so far. Heck, I'm just guessing (although I'd like to think they're educated guesses) but I'm thinking there's some definite winners already out there. Here are my predictions. Or, favorites, more like.

Wednesday, August 5

My Favorite Storytimes (So Far)

August at our library is our break from most programming, including storytime. We need to recover from summer reading and get our collection presentable again. So since I won't have any new storytimes over the next couple weeks, I thought I'd just take the chance to share a list of my favorite past storytimes. If you're looking for some ideas or whatnot, try these on for size.

1 - Ninjas

High-flying action? Check. My first ever solo-designed and created felt story? Check. Kids yelling "HIYAH!"? Check. Let's face it, ninjas are just that cool and this is a great storytime for having some fun.

Tuesday, August 4

What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig

What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig
Written and illustrated by Emma J. Virjan

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062327246
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: May 12, 2015
Age: 4 - 7 years

Themes: rhymes, friendship, animals, fun

This story has a pig in a wig on a boat in a moat. She's having fun in the sun, but what about some more friends? Like a skunk, dog, goat, panda, mouse, elephant... It may be getting a little too crowded. They may need a bigger boat.

I'm on the verge of saying that this is book is the perfect beginning reader. It has simple text with rhymes and word families, helping to build vocabulary through phonetics and repetition. But it also has the emotion and humor of a good Elephant & Piggie book (which are my usual go-to, favorite easy readers). I would say it's as though Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems had a love child. And it was the combination of the good parts of both.

The illustrations are pretty simple as well, but there are still some pretty priceless facial expressions and emotions that let the reader infer what Pig is feeling. I also like how saturated it is, so the colors feel extra bold. Overall, I like what one reviewer on Amazon said: "One of those picture books that makes them look so easy to write—sort of like watching an olympic figure skater do an axel." Simple, yet complex at the same time.

I would recommend this to young readers as great practice for their budding reading skills, but it's also a fun read aloud for parents with their kids. Readalikes would be the obvious Cat in the Hat and it's a good follow up after the very simple (but awesome word-building book) Pig Wig (by Harriet Ziefert).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, August 3

The Night World

The Night World
Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0316188227
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date of publication: June 16, 2015
Age: 3 - 6 years

Themes: night, sunrise, light, color, exploration

Everyone in the house is sleeping, but outside, the night world is wide-awake. It's a wonderful night to explore! Sylvie the cat wakes up her boy and takes him into the night where the flowers have lost their color and the animals eagerly await the arrival of...what? What's coming? It's almost here!

This has been on some Caldecott watch lists, which is why I originally picked it up. However, I am not a fan. Neither the illustrations nor the story impressed me. In fact, in came off a bit creepy and weird. The animals—which are only dark silhouettes, since it is nighttime—gather outside, each murmuring and whispering "it's coming!" white the cat leads the boy to who knows where (see where the creepy element comes in?). I didn't appreciate the talking animals. The ending (don't worry, it's not actually scary) was satisfying, but didn't make up for the rest of the weird story.

The illustrations are...unique. It is reminiscent of Flashlight, which was on the mock Caldecott lists last year, with the world in the black silhouettes of night. But at least Flashlight looked like the illustrator tried. Gerstein's illustrations just feel lazy and rushed. It's sloppy in a non-artistic sort of way. Especially when compared to his previous Caldecott-winning book. Basically, I was not impressed in the least. Some may feel different, but to each their own.

If you really want to, find it at your library or on Amazon