Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Favorite books of 2009

There were many great books for children and young adults in 2009, and the various ALA awards committees are busily making their final decisions.

In the meantime, here are my favorite books of the year, linked to their reviews: 

Young Adult Fiction
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Juvenile Fiction
The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

Picture Book (for older readers)
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

Picture Book (for young readers), Easy Fiction
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Non-Fiction (for older readers)
Truce by Jim Murphy

Other favorites (in no particular order):
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino, Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly by Sue Macy, Always by Allison McGhee and Pascal Lemaitre, All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems, Faith by the Global Fund for Children, My Sister, Alicia May by Nancy Tupper Ling, Spoon by Amy Krause Rosenthal, Anne Frank: Her life in words and pictures from the archives of The Anne Frank House by Menno Metselaar, The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum by Candace Fleming, The Problem with the Puddles by Kate Feiffer, Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman, Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth by Sarah Weeks, Scat by Carl Hiaasen, and If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States by David J. Smith.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the new Warner Brothers interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.

An older friend of mine warned me that the movie does not measure up to the original. Although he did refer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I think perhaps, that he was recalling the original screen version of Sherlock Holmes, played by Basil Rathbone in the 1930s and 40s - a tamer portrayal than the current incarnation, to be sure.

In my opinion, however, the current film version does justice to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock, who first appeared in print in the 1890s. Robert Downey, Jr. is alternatingly brilliant, seedy, humorous, indulgent, depraved, and eccentric. The setting, too, is authentic, featuring a squalid, industrial London, dotted with the enclaves of the “haves,” the Grand Hotel, Parliament, upscale restaurants. (My daughter did point out that the exterior views of the Houses of Parliament appeared to be modern images with an overlay of horses and buggies and other period accoutrements. I didn’t notice.) Watson, played by Jude Law is perhaps a bit more dashing and vigorous than Conan Doyle’s original (it is Jude Law after all), but the chemistry and humor between the two is pulsating and energetic.

Also in keeping with the original stories, are two recurring characters, the wily and beautiful Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams, and the unseen and mysterious arch-villain, Professor Moriarity.

The movie is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material. (more humorous than suggestive)

If you prefer your Sherlock Holmes off–screen, I suggest The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (2005 by Leslie S. Klinger), a hefty volume with extensive notes, historical background, photos, drawings, and a chronological timetable.

Or if you prefer audio, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes I, read brilliantly by David Timson, and produced by Naxos Audiobooks.

Sherlock Holmes in any format is suitable for teens and adults. I'm heartened that the movie has increased the circulation of Sherlock Holmes books at the library. If you've never read one, do. They're short and brilliantly written in the old style of detective novels - fantastical crimes solved through deductive reasoning. Begin with "A Scandal in Bohemia" to acquaint yourself with the mysterious Irene Adler.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

A look at Nook?

A look at Nook?
Not yet...

I was given a Nook for Christmas, but, due to the overwhelming demand for Barnes & Noble's competitor to Amazon's Kindle, I'll have to wait until next month to receive it.  Still, I'm excited!

So, by embracing the e-reader, am I contributing to the death of my own profession or embracing the technology of the future? I hope it's the latter.

As famous American inventor, Charles Kettering said, "We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there." Seed for Thought [1949]

And here's food for thought
Interested in the Kindle vs Nook match-up? Check out NPR's story here
Want the librarian view of Kindle vs Nook ? Check out this post from the ALA TechSource blog

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

StoryTubes Contest

Kids from grades K-12 can enter the STORYTUBES contest from January 20 - February 28, 2010.
Put your creativity and love of books to work for you, and you could win a prize!
Create a short video promoting a favorite book.  Enter alone or with a group. Prizes will range in value from $25 to $500. 
For complete details, check out the storytubes site.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I'm not much of a snow person, but I have to admit that there's something special about it.  This morning I appreciated the way that it blankets the world in quiet.  Even the dog sleeps late on a snowy morning!  But more importantly, as a big snowstorm rages outside, I enjoy the fact that snow can remind us that we're not quite as important as we think we are, that we are not always the ones who define our role in this great big wonderful world.

If you're lucky enough to be tucked up at home with children on snowy day, here are a few of my snowy favorites - two older classics and a great new non-fiction title:

My favorite snowy day book!
Snow by Uri Shulevitz, a Caldecott Honor book from 1999

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, a Caldecott Medal winner from 1963

 If you don't want to go out and play after reading this one, you don't know how to have fun!


and The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino
a new non-fiction title

Cassino, Mark. 2009. The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder.

In thirteen simple sentences,

"This is the story of snow.
Snow begins with a speck. ... ,"

The Story of Snow explains the science behind the snowflake. But there is more to this book - smaller print on each page offers a more detailed explanation of the simpler text,

"Clouds are mostly made of air and water, but there are also bits of other things, like tiny particles of dirt, ash and salt...A snow crystal needs one of these "specks" to start growing."

Accompanying this short (32-page) "story," are diagrams, watercolor backdrops, and striking photographs of snowflakes. Directions for catching snow crystals wrap up the book.

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder follows a trend that I've seen a lot lately in children's non-fiction. The book is almost as multi-faceted as the snowflakes it describes - picture book, science book, story book, activity book. The simpler text may be read as a story to young listeners. Older children will benefit from the more detailed explanation. Everyone will enjoy the stunning photography. Teachers should like this one!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Rotten Life

Lubar, David. 2009. My Rotten Life. (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie, Book 1) Read by Matt Brown and Kathleen McInerny. Macmillan Audio.

About 3.5 hours.
An audio excerpt is available on the Macmillan website.

My Rotten Life is the first book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series.  When Abigail's uncle's science experiment goes awry, Nathan begins to lose the ability to do things he has always taken for granted - feeling, breathing, and eating to name a few!  But the possibility of life without these abilities offers some interesting possibilities too!  While Abigail rushes to concoct a cure, Nathan and his goofy pal, Mookie, try to come to terms with his new "zombie" lifestyle.

Have a reader who is too old for Captain Underpants? (are we ever too old?) Looking for a new series to tickle the funny bone?  Nathan Abercrombie may be what you're looking for. For ages 8-12.

Fans of this quick-reading chapter book may also enjoy David Lubar's, Punished , Herbert's Wormhole by Peter Nelson, or Cyberia by Chris Lynch.  There is a book for every reader - if only we can find it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth

Weeks, Sarah. 2009. Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth! New York: Beach Lane Books.

Kids deserve to know the truth about having a sibling, and Sarah Weeks tells it in Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth!

"Babies are not sweet. Babies are not precious. Babies are not cute. Babies are... YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE! Here are some true things about babies:

1. If you try to sell one, nobody will buy it.
2. If you try to pick one up, BEWARE, they leak."

(imagine the baby in a cardboard box in the yard with the FOR SALE sign, or Sophie carrying the leaking baby with a diaper hanging down to his knees!)

As if these problems arent' bad enough, WATCH OUT if

"he starts calling you something really cute because he can't say your name right..." "SOAPY!" "...and he always cries when you go off to school...You might actually start to LIKE him."

Robert Neubecker's illustrations are priceless - comically and colorfully depicting the alien newborn, complete with huge eyes and head, the fumes emanating from his car seat, and of course Sophie's alternating expressions of anger, disgust, horror, and eventually - love. Even the font is clever - changing in size and orientation, often appearing as childish scribble.

A humorous and engaging look at the age old problem of the new sibling. Loved it!

The Whipping Boy

Fleischman, Sid. 1986. The Whipping Boy. New York: Greenwillow.

Once I while, I take time out to catch up on older classics. To that end, I recently read Sid Fleischman’s Newbery Medal winning book from 1986, The Whipping Boy. I’m not sure if it would win a Newbery Medal if it were published today, because later stories (like Kate DiCamillo’s, The Tale of Despereaux and The Magician’s Elephant), perhaps inspired by this comical, yet moving adventure story, have set a new standard for this style of writing. Nevertheless, The Whipping Boy is an amusing tale with plot twists and turns, as the kindly whipping boy is forced to accompany the hated, Prince Brat as he flees from King and castle. Lies and deceptions, murderous thieves, and compassionate peasants will keep the reader guessing about fates of Prince Brat and his whipping boy. Unlike DiCamillo’s stories, The Whipping Boy is a tale of historical fiction, revealing the lifestyles of both medieval royalty and peasantry. And yes, if you’re wondering, according to the author’s end note, “some royal households of past centuries did keep whipping boys to suffer the punishments due a misbehaving prince. History is alive with lunacies and injustices.”

A quick read with black and white illustrations by the renowned Peter Sis, The Whipping Boy is still relevant today, more than 20 years after its debut.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Vampires, etc.

Still reading Vampire Island ...

So, once again, I've found that it pays to read books that aren't classics, award-winners, or even ones that I really like.  I have been in the midst of reading the short book, Vampire Island by Adele Griffin for a long time.  It's about a family of fruit-bat/vampire hybrids that have relocated to New York City from the Old World.  The three children, Maddy, Hudson, and Lexie, are having a difficult time transitioning to human life.  Maddy is a bit too bloodthirsty for her new vegetarian lifestyle, Hudson has retained the ability to transform into a bat, and the oldest, Lexie, spouts the words of doomed poets and has little in common with school friends who lack her bat-like abilities.

It's a cute little book (only 120 pages) with a sense of humor, but really not my preference.  Tonight, however, a very young girl came up to me looking for Stephenie Meyer books.  It's certainly not my job to dissuade her from her book of choice; but I can tell you that when all of our Twilight books were checked out (no surprise!), she was very pleased when I offered to let her check out my very own Vampire Island book.

So, I still haven't finished it, but I was reading the right book at the right time, and made someone happy. Now I'll have to place a hold to see how it turns out. Vampire Island is the first book in the Vampire Island series, and fills the vampire craving for those too young for the Twilight series.

In other vampire-related news, I went to see New Moon with my daughter over the weekend. So depressing!  Neither boy can make Bella happy.  Even when she has what she wants, she is the picture of misery and angst. Another peeve about the movie? The dizzying scenes with the spinning camera angle - nauseating, really!  Finally, as for the Edward /Jacob debate, put me in the Jacob camp - I'd rather have a dog than a bat any day! 

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...