Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!  

Today I'll be Medusa, hosting the annual preschool Halloween storytime and parade at the library, but on the way to work, I'll be enjoying Neil Gaiman's Halloween gift to the world, Click-Clack the Rattlebag.


Today is your last chance to get a free download of Neil Gaiman's scary short story, Click-Clack the Rattlebag. It's available only through Audible.com.  Get yours before your time runs out! 

Have a great day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus - good bye and thank you


Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.

Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).

Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids.  In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success.  Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda).  He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible.  Kids love him and he loves them right back.

     

Back to Emperor Pickletine... so, I entered the Recorded Books contest because I hoped to win something for my book club members. With rare exception, after I've read them, I give away any book I receive gratis. Lucky me!  Not only did I receive the audio book, I received an Emperor Pickletine standee, some origami paper, and the biggest hit of all - pickle stickers - and boy, did they stink!

I was a little unsure about an audio book version of an illustrated book, however.  Would it be as good?  How can a narrator explain a comic? Will kids like it?

I discovered that, yes, it is as good.  The Origami Yoda books are written as "case files" with multiple students from  McQuarrie Middle School contributing to each file. The audio book version enhances that format because there is a cast of narrators, making it easy to differentiate between the student contributors.  

It's difficult to explain exactly how the printed illustrations from the book are narrated, because I don't have a transcript, but I can assure you that they retain their humor and flow easily into the narrative.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Will kids like it?  My book club meets next week, but I already have two kids who have let me know that they are already audio book fans.  I'm sure they'll like it. I did.

In the final chapter, Origami Yoda (voiced by none other than Tom Angleberger himself!) is heard to say,
"The end this is not,"  
however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.  

A fond farewell, Origami Yoda!  You'll be sorely missed.

My reviews of other Tom Angleberger books:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls.  Jacqueline Woodson's memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.

Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming.  And, I'll pose a question on memoirs in children's literature.

First, the links:
And now something to ponder:

As a librarian who often helps students in choosing books for school assignments, I have written many times about the dreaded biography assignment - excessive page requirements,  narrow specifications, etc.

Obviously, a best choice for a children's book is one written by a noted children's author. Sadly, many (by no means all!) biographies are formula-driven, series-type books that are not nearly as engaging as ones written by the best authors.  Rare is the author of young people's literature who writes an autobiography for children as Ms. Woodson has done.  When such books exist, they are usually memoirs focusing only on the author's childhood years.  This is perfectly appropriate because the reader can relate to that specified period of a person's lifetime.  Jon Sciezska wrote one of my favorite memoirs for children, Knucklehead, and Gary Paulsen's, How Angel Peterson Got his Name also comes to mind as a stellar example.  These books, however, don't often fit the formula required to answer common student assignment questions, i.e., birth, schooling, employment, marriages, accomplishments, children, death. Students are reluctant to choose a book that will leave them with a blank space(s) on an assignment.

I wonder what teachers, other librarians and parents think about this. Must the biography assignment be a traditional biography, or can a memoir (be it in verse, prose, or graphic format) be just as acceptable?  I hate to see students turn away from a great book because it doesn't fit the mold.  If we want students to be critical thinkers, it's time to think outside the box and make room for a more varied, more diverse selection of books.



Friday, October 17, 2014

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel - a review

Davis, Kathryn Gibbs. 2014. Mr. Ferris and his Wheel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.

Though written in a fully illustrated, engaging and narrative nonfiction style, Mr. Ferris and his Wheel is nevertheless, a well-sourced and researched picture book for older readers.

The story of the 1863, Chicago World's Fair debut of the world's first Ferris wheel (or Monster Wheel, as Mr. Ferris originally named it),  is told in a flowing and entertaining style,
     George arrived in Chicago and made his case to the construction chief of the fair.
     The chief stared at George's drawings.  No one had ever created a fair attraction that huge and complicated.  The chief told George that his structure was "so flimsy it would collapse."
     George had heard enough.  He rolled up his drawings and said, "You are an architect, sir. I am an engineer."
     George knew something the chief did not.  His invention would be delicate-looking and strong.  It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal—steel.
and

it contains sidebars that impart more technical information that might otherwise interrupt the flow of the story,
George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy.  Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements.
George Ferris' determination is a story in itself, but it is the engineering genius of his wheel that steals the show.  A "must-have" for any school or public library.

Some facts about the original "Ferris" wheel:
  • 834' in circumference
  • 265' above the ground
  • 3,000 electric lightbulbs (this itself was a marvel in 1893!)
  • forty velvet seats per car
Ferris wheel at the Chicago World's Fair c1893.
 Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division[/caption]

STEM Friday

It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See all of today's STEM-related posts at the STEM Friday blog.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

news for a Wednesday

Just some odds and ends for a Wednesday ...


  • Today is the final day to nominate books for the 2014 Cybils.  These are the awards for us, the blog writers and blog readers. Please nominate your favorites.  I'm a judge this year.  I'd love to see what's tops on your list!


  • Please be sure to enter my contest for a free copy of My Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely.  The publisher was nice enough to offer me a free copy, so why not take advantage of the chance to win it for your child, school, or library? It's easy to enter - just a comment on the appropriate blog post will do.  Details here. 

  • In many states, today is the last day to register to vote in the November election.  If you want to earn the right to complain about the way things are, you should vote.  You really should.



  • Did you know that I'm a member of ALA's Great Websites for Kids Committee? We spend a lot of time curating and evaluating great websites for kids.  If you haven't tried the site, please check it out - Great Websites for Kids.  If you have any comments or suggestions for new additions to the site, I'd love to hear them.



That's it.  Have a good day, all.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Zombie Hamster - interview and giveaway

With Halloween just around the corner, it's a good time for a zombie book - even better yet - a free zombie book for a lucky winner.  Even if you don't win the book, you can enjoy my interview with Havelock McCreely, author of  the very funny, My Zombie Hamster

Havelock McCreely was kind enough to answer three questions for me.  Here goes ...


Three questions for Havelock McCreely, author of My Zombie Hamster:

1. I’m shocked that MS Word will highlight McCreely as a misspelled word, but not Havelock. Do you need three syllables, or can you get it done in two?
HM:    The name is Irish in origin, so the correct amount of syllables for authentic pronunciation is eight. (Or nine. It depends if you have all your own teeth or not.) But for our purposes, three will suffice.
2. I can find little about you on your “official” bio, other than “Teller of Tall Tales. Adventurer. Swordsman. Discoverer of the Fountain of Youth. Author of many great works, the latest of which is My Zombie Hamster.” Did your discovery of the Fountain of Youth pique your interest in longevity, thus inspiring your interest in zombies, or did another path bring you to zombies? I’ve drunk from your Fountain of Youth, by the way.  It tastes terrible. One does wonder though, what would be the effect of the Fountain of Youth on a zombie?
HM:    Many good questions there. My discovery of the fountain of youth is a story that would put Indiana Jones to shame. And perhaps it will one day be told. Many are the times I’ve thought about writing down my own adventures in a series of easy-to-read volumes aimed at the younger audience. Thrilling is not the word. Well, it’s one word. But there are many others. Exciting. Dangerous. Death-defying. Amazing. (For instance, there’s the time I took up with the traveling circus as they crossed the planes of Africa. This is where I saved one of my young protégés from a life of mind-numbing boredom cleaning up after hippogriffs. Then there’s the time I saved an entire city from the Witch King of Mallidar. And this is where I saved my second protégé. They booth accompanied me on my many adventures and were with me when I discovered the fabled city of Shangri-La (which lead directly to my discovery of the fountain of youth.) Perhaps someday these tales will be told. 
As to the taste, yes, I agree.  Like rusted metal filtered through an old sock in which cabbage has been boiled. It’s not pleasant. 
Finally, as to my discovery of the fountain possibly inspiring my interest in zombies, yes. You are indeed correct. The fountain was guarded by a village of zombies who had all drunk from the fountain. It brought back their minds and consciousness (but did not repair their bodies.) That was where I got the idea of my little twist on zombies.
3. And of course, the most important question, what will Anti-Snuffles do next?
HM:    Never fear, he will be back. I have recently put down my fountain pen and completed the second book in the series, Attack of the Zombie Clones. It features everything from the first book, but bigger, better, and undead-er. 

Thanks for being a good sport, and best wishes to you for continued success with My Zombie Hamster.



Monday, October 13, 2014

My Zombie Hamster - a review

Put some fear of the undead into your October reading!

McCreely, Havelock. 2014. My Zombie Hamster. New York: Egmont.
See below for print copy giveaway details.

Zombie Zappers and constant vigilence keep Matt and the residents of his community safe from "deadbeats" - the zombies that live outside the town's protective walls.  So on Christmas Eve, December 24,  Matt Hunter isn't thinking about zombies; he's thinking about the new video game he wants for Christmas.  His mother, however, had a more educational, more nurturing idea. On December 25,  Matt  receives Snuffles the hamster—a dumb, boring, little pet.  At least it was—until it died.

     I'll say one thing for zombie hamsters.  They don't move as slowly as their human counterparts. ...
     Snuffles had curled up and was rolling down the stairs like a bouncing ball.  I raced after him.
     He bolted along the wall.  Dad was carrying a huge pile of firewood inside so the front door was wide open. I tried to get ahead of Snuffles to slam it shut, but I tripped on one of the stupid throw rugs Mom insists on leaving everywhere and landed on my stomach.
     I pushed myself to my knees just in time to see Snuffles dart through the door and out into the front yard.
     Was it my imagination, or did I hear a little undead squeak of triumph as he did so?

In chapters titled with the days beginning on December 24,  Matt chronicles all the events until everything comes to a head at the annual town pet show on Saturday, February 4.

Matt doesn't do it alone, however.  He enlists the help of his friends,
(excerpt from "Thursday, January 2")
I emailed Charlie and told her to come over.  I couldn't keep it a secret any longer.
     "So let me get this straight," she said after I'd explained it to her. "Your dad bought you a hamster from a sleazy store and now it's turned into a zombie?"
     "Yes!"
     "And it's escaped?"
     "Yes!"
     "And you called it Snuffles?" she asked, trying not to laugh.
     "I didn't call it Snuffles! The name sort of came with the hamster.  But now he's called —" I paused dramatically.— "Anti-Snuffles."
At 208 pages, this is a quick read, but despite the adorable cuteness of the cover, it's a suitable choice for older kids, too.  My Zombie Hamster should appeal to grades 3-7.  McCreely does a great job of combining the fear factor with humor.  Matt and his friends are believable middle-schoolers - a little bit snarky, funny, sure of themselves, and prone to making poor choices. This is the first in a series that should have wide appeal.

Want your own copy of My Zombie Hamster?  
Check back tomorrow for an interview with Havelock McCreely
 and a chance to win a print copy of My Zombie Hamster.



(digital review copy provided by the publisher)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A bookish microcosm of Russia

My family often wonders about my propensity to jump from one seemingly unrelated topic to another, often within seconds.  What they usually don't realize is that in my mind, the topics are connected; I've merely forgotten to fill them in on the links.

With that in mind, I offer you three new books on Russia that in my mind, are dramatically different and yet completely complementary.  A young adult nonfiction book, a young adult fantasy, and a children's picture book a microcosm of Russia in history, magic and dance.

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Candace Fleming's, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Imperial Russia (Random House Audio, 2014).  My review and an audio excerpt are linked here.

You can read my review or any number of stellar reviews, but I will sum up  by saying that whether you listen to the audio book or read the print copy, The Family Romanov is a fully immersive experience into the final years of tsarist Russia - the time, the place, and  the tragically doomed family.

I was happily mulling over this excellent book when I immediately received an opportunity to  review Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Brilliance Audio, 2014).  I had received a galley copy of Egg & Spoon in the spring.  I thought it looked intriguing, but hadn't had time to read it.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is a folklore fantasy that takes place - of all places - in tsarist Russia.  I couldn't believe my good fortune.  The book was enhanced by my recent reading of The Family Romanov.  With the history of modern tsarist Russia fresh in my mind, the location and historical setting was vivid, leaving me more time to ponder the story's underpinning of Russian folklore, of which I was mostly ignorant.  I knew little of the witch, Baba Yaga and her peculiar house that walks on chicken legs, and I knew nothing of the magical Russian firebird.

My reviews are linked here and here.  Again, you can read my review or any other, but I will sum up by saying that Egg & Spoon is grand and magical - a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.

I was so happy to have read these excellent books in tandem and was recommending them at every turn, when I happened to hear an interview with Misty Copeland on the radio speaking about her experience dancing in the Russian ballet, The Firebird. What a coincidence, I thought - the firebird flies again in my milieu. A greater coincidence ocurred at work when I received my new copy of Misty Copeland's, Firebird. (Putnam, 2014)  Reading Egg & Spoon gave me an historical context for The Firebird ballet, and Misty Copeland tied it all together - a modern and immediate manifestation of history's struggles and stories - all rising like the mystical firebird.

So there you have it, my serendipitous encounter with Russian history, folklore and culture.  As our two countries struggle with our relationship, may we always remember that there is more to a country than its leaders and politicians.  There is always us, the common people. And as Egg & Spoon and Firebird will show you, there is always hope.



Monday, October 6, 2014

The Map Trap - a review

Move over, Frindle. A new classic has arrived!

Below is my review of The Map Trap by Andrew Clements, as it appeared in the October, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

CLEMENTS, Andrew. The Map Trap. 2 CDs. 2:29 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2014. $14.99. ISBN 9781442357013. digital download.

Gr 3-6 -- Alton Ziegler is crazy about maps. He particularly loves the way they can visually display any manner of information in a variety of ways. Surreptitiously, he collects data and creates humorous maps detailing such trivia as the popularity of lunchroom tables (depicted as a topographical map of the cafeteria) or a weather map of a teacher's clothes. Striped tie today? Look out -- the probability of a pop quiz is high. He never meant for anyone to see his collection, but when it's "mapnapped," there's no telling where the road might lead. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the narrator. He creates a pensive Alton that fits the mood of the story. Clements's (In Harm's Way) use of subjective third-person narration is interesting in that the listener is privy to the inner concerns not only of Alton but of his teacher Miss Wheeling as well. Rarely is a teacher's perspective presented with such honesty and clarity in a middle grade novel. Though Nobbs's voice sometimes cracks when portraying female characters, his delivery, nonetheless, is still pleasing and believable. The Map Trap is a thoughtful, holistic look at the middle school environment that will have wide appeal. 

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.


The publisher's website contains an audio and a printed excerpt from The Map Trap, as well as a video with author, Andrew Clements.