Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Shape Song Swingalong

Some fun with shapes today!
Stevesongs. 2011. The Shape Song Swingalong. Ill. by David Sim. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.
(with included DVD)

With the new year approaching, my thoughts turn to storytime series. I know that there are proponents of storytimes without themes, as well as those with themes. Personally, I often offer the themed variety, and I have great fun with the theme of "shapes." 

This new book from Barefoot will definitely be a new addition to my "shapes" session.  I never pass up an opportunity to dance in storytime. (I once developed an entire chicken-themed storytime just to accompany a "Chicken Dance" lesson. Next time they're invited to a wedding, they'll be prepared!)

So what's the big draw in The Shape Song Swingalong? Besides the brightly-colored, multicultural illustrations?  Why, it's the dance, of course!  A "YMCA" styled dance, featuring lines, triangles, circles and squares.

Pair this one with a few great shape-centered books, Hap Palmer's song, "Triangle, Circle or Square" song, and the opportunity to create pictures from pre-cut shapes.  Words, dance, music and art together - the home run of storytime!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wish I’d read that

Today is Nonfiction Monday, and while I’m not ready to contribute today (still gathering my thoughts on Titanic Sinks! - should fact and fiction be blended so expertly?), you can enjoy today’s roundup at Jean Little Library.  I’ll be hosting Nonfiction Monday on January 23rd.

And now that the year’s end is fast approaching, it’s time to think about all the books we didn’t have time to read this year.  Bread is on my mind.  I didn’t get around to reading Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder or Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, though it’s on hold for me at my branch, so I may still squeeze this one in.  Are there any books on your “wish I’d read that” list?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Favorite Juvenile Fiction 2011

There were so many great books this year, but without a doubt,
my favorite Juvenile Fiction book of 2011 is:

 by Catherynne M. Valente ( Feiwel and Friends)
 (my reviews are linked to book titles)

"Tell me the rules," said September firmly. Her mother had taught her chess when she was quite small, and she felt that if she could remember which way knights ought to go, she could certainly remember Fairy rules.
"First, no iron of any kind is allowed. Customs is quite strict on this point. Any bullets, knives, maces, or jacks you might have on your person will be confiscated and smelted. Second, the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays --"
"I was born on a Tuesday!"
"It is certainly possible that I knew that," the Green Wind said with a wink. "Third, aviary locomotion is permitted only by means of Leopard or licensed Ragwort Stalk. If you find yourself not in possession of one of these, kindly confine yourself to the ground. Fourth, all traffic travels widdershins. Fifth, rubbish takeaway occurs on second Fridays. Sixth, all changelings are required to wear identifying footwear. Seventh, and most important, you may in no fashion cross the borders of the Worsted Wood, or you will either perish most painfully or be forced to sit through a very tedious tea service with several spinster hamadryads. These laws are sacrosanct, except for visiting dignitaries and spriggans. Do you understand?
 This is a rich, complex, and thoughtful story, yet it reads as a delightful and enchanting romp through a bizarre Fairyland, where we may be frightened, but not terrified, and joyously giddy, but on guard nonetheless. Don't wait for an invitation from the Green Wind. Read The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making today.

... and barely missing out as my favorite are all of the following:

 Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (Clarion)

Wonderstruck by Brian Zelznick (Scholastic)

Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger (Amulet)

As usual, a very mixed bag.

Wishing everyone a peaceful and joyous holiday season.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Favorite Nonfiction 2011 *

At this time of year, I usually have plenty of nonfiction titles to choose from for my "best of" lists.  This year, however, my nonfiction list comes with an asterisk.

 * I'm looking forward to serving as a 2nd round judge in the 2011 Cybils Non-Fiction Picture Books category, and while I've read many of the nominated books, I haven't read them all, and won't receive the "shortlist" until next month. My personal reading list to date did not mirror the Cybils nominees and there is a possibility that I may have missed a great nonfiction title.  When the shortlist comes out, I will certainly give each book careful consideration.

That being said, to date, my favorite 2011 nonfiction titles (linked to their reviews) are:

Additionally (in no particular order)

 Adult Nonfiction

I read/listened to only three major works of adult nonfiction this year.  Here are the two that I loved!  They cannot be more different.

(I did not review Bossypants, but will mention here that it is smart, insightful and hilarious - much like Tina Fey herself.  Contrary to what one might think, there is no political agenda in Bossypants. Despite her Saturday Night Live parodies, Fey speaks well of Sarah Palin. There is, however, much adult language which may be off-putting to some.  The audiobook is read by Ms. Fey herself and contains audio clips from SNL, and numerous asides to the listener of the audiobook.  It is clear that many passages were added specifically for the audiobook version.  Very funny!)
Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Practically Paradise.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Planet Middle School - a review

Grimes, Nikki. 2011. Planet Middle School. New York: Bloomsbury.

Ever since I heard Nikki Grimes read "Breathless" in New Orleans at the 8th Annual Poetry Blast, I've been waiting to read Planet Middle School, the book inspired by the poem.

Want to see Nikki Grimes reading "Breathless?"  Click here to watch the video at Poetry for ChildrenNote: "Breathless" is the 4th video down from the top.

I finally received a review copy from a colleague and was pleased that the book did not disappoint!  Was is disappointing, however, is the fact that in the midst of moving between library branches, I've misplaced my book. 

So, in short, without benefit of quotes or notes, this brief review will have to suffice.

In Planet Middle School, Nikki Grimes proves that she has the gift of distilling the entire range of adolescent emotions into an easy reading novel in verse.  With a brevity of words that belies the depth of content, Nikki Grimes takes us into the heart and mind of 12-year-old Joylin Johnson as she navigates middle school, changing friendships, uncomfortable family dynamics and her first crush.

This is a short and quickly read book that contains enough intensity to satisfy older readers.  A perfect choice for poetry fans, reluctant readers, and young teens who may find themselves in similar situations. And yes -  also for the reader who waited too long to choose a book for her book report - a perfect opportunity to help out a student, spark an interest in poetry, and introduce a reader to Nikki Grimes.

Read reviews from Kirkus, Hornbook, SLJ, and Booklist on Bloomsbury's website.

Another review @
Abby the Librarian

A Teacher's Guide is available here.

ARC supplied by a colleague.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best Historical Fiction 2011

Best Historical Fiction 2011

McCaughrean, Geraldine. 2011. The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen. New York: Harper. 

Yes, we had Dead End in Norvelt, Okay for Now, Wonderstruck and other greats this year (those will receive their due, I’m sure!), but for the sheer joy of being plunged into another era and loving every minute of it, Geraldine McCaughrean’s, The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen has my vote for Best Historical Fiction of the year. It’s also one of the funniest books I’ve read this year.

"Yesterday I was a butler, Miss Cecelia.  Today I seem to be the Prime Minister of England, ... Sometimes life has a way of asking us to take a step up."
And step up they do!  To the direst, funniest, most improbable situations that might be found on a dilapidated paddle steamer plying the 1890 Numchuck River, calling on such colorful ports as Salvation, Patience, Plenty, Woodpile, Blowville, and Boats-a-Cummin. The Glorious Adventure of the Sunshine Queen is not for the reluctant reader; the reader who struggles with contextual clues.  Rather, it is for the reader who glories in wordplay, colorful language, and magnificent adventures.  Ms. McCaughrean does not stop to ensure that the reader has "gotten," the joke (and there are many!), she keeps on moving, toward greater exploits downriver.  Get ready to be swept away from Salvation to Golden Bend on an exuberant trip with the Bright Lights! Highly recommended.
(Click to read my full review

Other reviews 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dead End in Norvelt - a review

Gantos, Jack. 2011. Dead End in Norvelt. New York: Macmillan.

I don't know how much of Dead End in Norvelt, featuring the fictionalized Jack Gantos, is true and how much is not, but I'll venture that the author Jack Gantos had a secure (albeit austere) childhood with two well-meaning, working-class parents, a tendency for nosebleeds, and a few very quirky neighbors. 

Bomb shelters, WWII surplus equipment, a dying town, the Hell's Angels, a local newspaper, the sharp-tongued elderly neighbor, Miss Volker, and of course, Jack Gantos and his family are the foils for a very funny, yet affecting book of life in rural, post-war America.

The story begins as young Jack is grounded for the summer due to an unfortunate incident involving a loaded firearm and the drive-in theater. Things get progressively worse as Jack, following his father's orders, mows down the cornfield to make room for a bomb-shelter, which in actuality is merely cover for a private airstrip. The usually kindly and practical Mrs. Gantos quickly takes charge of her two wayward men,

"Well, mister," she informed me with no trace of sympathy in her voice, "I'm going to march your father into this room and make him cut you down to size. And when he finishes with you I'll make him wish he had already built that bomb shelter because he might be living in it."   ...  It took two days for Dad to march into my room and cut me down to size.  He knew he had gotten me in trouble with Mom and so he quickly wrangled a construction job in West Virginia for a couple days of paid work.  He thought Mom might cool down, but he could have been away for two years and she would still have been just as angry.  It was as if she could preserve her anger and store it in a glass jar next to the hot horseradish and yellow beans and corn chowchow she kept in the dank basement pantry.  And when she needed some anger she could just go into the basement and open a jar and get worked up all over again.
 Throughout the long, hot summer, Jack's only respite from digging the bomb shelter and reading in his room are the frequent calls from the elderly Miss Volker, the town medical examiner and writer of obituaries for the local paper.  Her arthritic hands prevent her from typing and Mrs. Gantos, ever solicitous of neighbor's needs, sends Jack to help. In doing so, Jack learns much more than the history of his town, founded by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Realistic fiction with a humorous and historical twist, Dead End in Norvelt is one of the year's best novels. 

Best for grades 6 and up.

It's interesting that many of the best books in recent memory, including Dead End in Norvelt, prominently feature a wise, older or elderly non-relatives (Moon Over ManifestOkay for Now, Wendy Mass' Birthday series, I'm sure there are more).  Unfortunately, although these books are realistic fiction, there are far too few of these older, helpful, non-relatives in reality.  If you are in a position to be one, please do!

There is an abundance of resources available for Dead End in Norvelt.  Enjoy!
  • An audio excerpt is available here.
  • Read an excerpt here.
  • Teacher's Guide here.

Other reviews @

Mary and Her Little Lamb: The True Story of the Famous Nursery Rhyme - a review

Moses, Will. 2011. Mary and Her Little Lamb: The True Story of the Famous Nursery Rhyme. New York: Philomel.

Most children in America will grow up learning the rhyme or the song about Mary and her little lamb, but few will give it any serious thought. We may similarly prattle about Old King Cole, Wee Willie Winkie, or Jack Sprat, but we don't expect to know anything more about them than their propensities for pipe smoking and music, late night excursions in inappropriate clothing and a distaste for high-fat diets.

 Luckily for children, however, we can know a little more about Mary and her little lamb.  Will Moses' detailed folkart paintings (many double-spreads), are a perfect accompaniment to the true story of Mary Sawyer of Sterling, Massachusetts, circa 1810.  The pastoral images of 19th century Sterling and the simple features of the one-room schoolhouse are beautifully rendered in colorful oils. The story is somewhat lengthy, but Moses employs artistic license to add story enriching details that create a fast-paced, enjoyable read-aloud story.  Delightful in words and pictures!

Earlier this year on the KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month blog, I highlighted Laurie Halse Anderson's book, Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was a fascinating woman.  Not only did she almost single-handedly create the national Thanksgiving Holiday, she was also a writer, editor and a poet.  I noted that she penned the ditty, "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which I learned from the back matter in Thank You, Sarah. However, there is apparently more to the story.  According to the afterword in Mary and Her Little Lamb, John Roulstone wrote the first stanza of the now-famous poem in the 1810s.  Sarah Hale published the poem in 1930, apparently adding three more stanzas.   Later, musician Lowell Mason, set the rhyme to music, adding the repetitive lines that we all sing today. Regardless of its evolutionary process, it's amazing that a  4-line ditty about a girl and her lamb could  so enchant the schoolhouse visitor John Roulstone, the accomplished writer Sarah Hale, and the famous musician, Lowell Mason. How much more simple life must have been in the early 1800s!  There is no end to the things one can learn from picture books.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Geo Librarian.

Note: If you're a regular Nonfiction Monday contributor, you'll want to make note of the roundup schedule's new location.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thursday news

I’m blogging at ALSC today about one of my favorite storytime props.
Please join me for “It’s a Wonderful World."
By Stefan Kühn (Own work) [GFDL
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (,
 CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (
or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
In other Thursday news, time is running out to nominate works for consideration for the 2012 ALSC Notables lists for books and DVDs. December 15th is the deadline, so click on over if you’re interested.

If you’re a book blogger, you might want to check out this recent article from the LA Times. At least one publisher thinks we’re not doing enough.  Mr. Morrow forgets, perhaps, that book bloggers do not work for publishers.  In most cases, book blogging is a labor of love - done in our spare time because we enjoy sharing books.  If I don’t review a book that a publisher provided for me, it may be that I’ve been busy, or that I didn’t like it, and I’m being kind. Why waste my time (and yours) writing a review of a bad book?  Many publishers are happy to send out advance copies of their books for review.  If they’re not,  I just wait for the book to arrive at the library.  Either way works for me.  I’ll keep blogging.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Books that will change your world view

My posts have been few in the last week or so.  We are in the midst of renovations and the house is in chaos.  Without cabinets or counter tops, I have been without water in the kitchen since last Friday.  Even now, with the new cabinets in place, I am still without water, waiting for the counter top installers and plumber to install my new sink and dishwasher.  It’s a hassle.  I’ve been complaining.  I’m washing dishes in the bathroom.   Why am I sharing this?  Because as I make my “best of” lists for 2011, I am reminded of the two books that I read this year that will remain with me throughout my life.  Both concern water.

So here they are, my 2011 choices for

"Books that will Change your World View”

(One children’s book and one adult book)

Park, Linda Sue. 2010. A Long Walk to Water. New York: Clarion. 

Fishman, Charles, 2011. The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. New York: Free Press. 

The book titles are linked to my earlier reviews.  I sincerely hope that if you haven’t read either of these books, you will consider it.  A Long Walk to Water, in particular, is a book that will stay in your mind for years to come - both haunting and hopeful.  Both will change the way you think of water forever.  Shame on me for complaining about my sink. 

It’s Nonfiction Monday again.  Today’s round-up is at Gathering Books.  Please stop by.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Frog and Friends

Favorite Easy Reader for 2011

 Bunting, Eve. 2011. Frog and Friends. Ill. by Josée Masse. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

I don't like too many easy readers.  This one's great!

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 ...