Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The secret of black rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

White-haired Erin Pike and her dog Archie live in a small, colorful house near a village. The main source of income is fishing and Erin would love to go to sea with her mom, but the legend of the terrible Black Rock keeps her on shore. Fisherfolk say it moves from place to place and crashes ships. But Erin is not afraid and continues to sneak onto her mom's boat. Then one day she is swept overboard - and meets Black Rock! It's nothing like what the fisherfolk think. In fact, it's alive and a haven for sea creatures. But can Erin save Black Rock from the fisherfolk when they come to destroy it?

While the text does not particularly shine, and ends rather abruptly with the sentence "After that night the Pikes built a small lighthouse on Black Rock, so it would always be safe from passing ships." the real star of this book and the reason I fell in love with it is the illustrations. Vibrant color splashes the pages, in the yellow of Erin's slicker, her red and yellow house, and the flashing fish that surround Black Rock. The rock itself, although first shown in various frightening guises in local legend and as a menacing black shadow in Erin's first encounter, slowly takes on a friendly look as Erin takes the chance to explore it and see it as a sentient being.

I'm really looking forward to using this in my book club for 1st - 3rd grade. The vocabulary will be a challenge for my younger readers, but it's one they can easily enjoy with a parent or older sibling. The art will spark all sorts of connections - we can focus on painting, creating layers, using glitter, and creating the same image from different perspectives. Of course, there's also the discussion it can spark - talking about facing fears, listening to others, and making new friends.

Verdict: Lovely art and plenty of food for thought, this is a strong addition to any picture book collection.

ISBN: 9781911171256; Published 2017 by Flying Eye Books; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

Monday, January 22, 2018

Hockey then to wow! created by Sports Illustrated Kids

I've previously looked at volumes in this series on Baseball and on Football and I am still not particularly happy with their presentation. So, it's a history of the sport with lots of photographs, interesting facts, and player bios. The breakdown of each spread is as follows.

The introductory material includes a comparison of the original sweater and modern jersey, table of contents, brief history, and a timeline of the changes in the rules. This is followed by several pages of history of equipment, skates, sticks, uniforms, etc. There are several pages on arenas and players (most of them are Canadian). The chapter on the players covers historical and current players, all in the NHL so either American or Canadian. Players with quirks, players with famous records, statistics on size, and length of career. A page on "hockey dynasties" analyzes the sport including coaches, strategies, the international scene, records and one spread (2 facing pages) on women's hockey. Then there are famous goals, team dynasties, and the Stanley Cup. The final chapter covers wacky antics by the fans and team players from growing beards to tossing things on the ice.

Did you miss that? Because I nearly did. ONE spread, 2 facing pages, on women's hockey. A WHOLE CHAPTER on people growing beards and throwing dead fish on the ice. The only other mention of women is in the spread on international hockey, which briefly mentions the Canadian women's hockey team. Every single reference to players in descriptions of strategy, rules, equipment, and traditions is to male players. Every timeline, every profiled player, all male. The publisher's description ties this book in to the centennial of the NHL. Fair enough, that makes sense they'd focus on NHL players. But nowhere in the book itself is this mentioned - it's titled and presented as a history of hockey. And women get 2 pages and a couple sentences out of 80 pages.

Will this circulate? Yes. Do I personally care about women's sports (or sports at all)? Not really. Does this book annoy me? YES. Would I be willing to spend money on books profiling male and female athletes and players equally? Absolutely. Would they check out? Maybe. While I have many girls who play and read about sports, the entertainment industry centered around sports is heavily male-centric, which influences what the kids read about and ask for. But if I don't even have the books to offer, we'll never know, will we?

Verdict: It's paper over board so it will fall apart fairly soon anyways. I'm still annoyed though.

ISBN: 9781683300113; Published 2017 by Time Inc/Sports Illustrated Kids; Review copy provided by the publisher

Sunday, January 21, 2018

RA RA Read: Stories without words

While I'm not an unqualified fan of wordless books, I do have some beloved favorites, both for personal reading and for storytimes, and some that I like to recommend for use in classrooms and for family enjoyment. I've included suggestions here to get you started in the wonderful world of wordless books, plus some tips on using them in storytime.

Wordless books for storytime
When I'm looking for wordless books for storytime, I look for larger formats and art, which the audience can see easily. I also like to find a clearly sequential storyline. When I read books in storytime, I have never stuck strictly to the words. Especially in longer books, I skip, substitute words if I've forgotten, interject comments, and ask questions. This is the same technique I use for wordless books, just expanded. Some of the questions I'll ask the kids:
  • What is happening on this page? What is this character doing? How do you think they feel?
  • What do you think will happen next? What do you think the characters are saying?
It's hard to remember, but younger kids especially need more time to respond to these questions. I try to always wait several beats longer than I would naturally, rephrase and repeat questions, and let the dialogue move naturally instead of worrying that it's throwing off the schedule. These are some of the books I've found work best in storytime:
  • Chalk by Bill Thomson
    • He has two other titles, Fossil and Typewriter, which follow the wordless format and work well too. I just use Chalk more often - the dinosaur and the exciting surprises in the story elicit a great reaction from kids.
  • Umbrella by Dieter and Ingrid Schubert
    • This is the story of a little black dog who finds a red umbrella and sets out on a marvelous journey. There's one iffy scene where the dog floats over a jungle and what appear to be locals throw spears up at him - I usually just skip this scene as my audience is too young to discuss it.
  • Stick by Steve Breen
    • This is not strictly a wordless book, but I mostly ignore the text so as far as I'm concerned it counts. It includes panels and tells the hilarious story of a little frog whose ambition (and sticky tongue) take her on a wild adventure. 
  • Inside, Outside by Lizi Boyd
    • This title, and the companion book Flashlight, are great for encouraging dialogue, comparisons, and talking about what we can observe in nature around us.
  • Hank finds an egg by Rebecca Dudley
    • The art is a little detailed on this one for larger reading, but the sweet story makes it a good choice. Hank, after finding an egg, works hard to return it to its nest. There is a second book, Hank has a dream, but I've found it doesn't work quite as well in storytime.
More wordless books (and authors)
  • Snow rabbit by Camille Garoche
    • This is a lovely book, illustrated with cut paper illustrations. It's not quite right for storytime though, as the details are harder to make out.
  • Tree house by Marjorie Tolman
    • An oversize book with reflective, philosophical pictures. Another good choice for a small group, classroom, or one-on-one reading.
  • Sebastian Meschenmoser
    • These titles are not exactly wordless, but they alternate brief text and dialogue with wordless spreads. I often read them without paying much attention to the words anyways.
  • Alison Jay
    • While most of her work is as an illustrator, she created a series of concept books and a few other titles that feature only her distinctive cracked eggshell art. The details and hidden pictures make them a better choice for one-on-one reading.
  • Suzy Lee
    • This might be the "best" wordless book author, purely from a literary (or should it be artistic?) viewpoint. Her exquisite titles transcend words and her skilled pen makes stories come alive without words. They don't always work well in storytime though and sometimes they're a little too high concept to really click with most kids.
      • Shadow
      • Wave
      • Lines
      • Mirror
  • Stories without words
    • This is an imprint from Enchanted Lion. They don't work well in storytime, as they're very small in format. Some of them are, frankly, too weird for my taste (or that of my patrons). But there are some that are lovely, funny, and popular.
      • Fox and Hen series by Beatrice Rodriguez
      • Giant seed and Ice by Arthur Geisert
      • Fox's garden by Princesse Camcam (Camille Garoche)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

This week at the library; or, My head hurts

What's Happening
Random thoughts
  • New week, new projects! Also, headaches. I blame the weather. 
  • Big project this week - getting the teen pop-up maker space back in order. When I get it updated it will be on the Read 'n' Play blog. 
  • Also baked a ridiculous amount of cookies for the bake sale, reorganized the play area, and got started on the school-age maker space. 
  • My headache went away on Thursday, just in time for the leg of my office chair to snap.... now I have bruises. Ow. 
  • Our big activity for Book Explosion was unboxing and the kids went wild about the new books!
  • The first outreach visit on Friday was to the special education school. Then I did three classes at a 4K. It was awesome (and I lost my voice from so much yelling!)
  • Only one kid at Anime Club - but I belatedly realized it coincided with the "Snowball Dance" at the high school, plus various other craziness.
  • It was really crazy, that's all I'm saying.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Beatrice Zinker upside down thinker by Shelley Johannes

Beatrice does things a little differently. She likes to hang upside down, think upside down, and follow her own path! This was fine in second grade - she even got a certificate for her creative thinking. But now it's third grade. Her best friend, Lenny, has been visiting family in the Philippinnes all summer and when she comes back to school she doesn't follow their agreement to wear ninja suits! She seems to want to be best friends with a new girl, Chloe, who likes things just so. Beatrice's new teacher doesn't like her upside-down thinking either and Beatrice is wondering if there's anywhere for her to fit in anymore.

After many difficulties and misunderstandings, Beatrice comes to realize that she hasn't necessarily lost a friend, but she has to be willing to be accepting of differences, just as she expects others to accept her unique outlook on life. Although a friendly adult neighbor gently reminds her that friendships change and may not last, Beatrice knows she has successfully negotiated this change, at least, in her friendship.

Although this tackles the familiar story of changing friendship, it adds in a Dahlesque flavor of humor, with over-the-top characters, including Beatrice's family who, although disapproving of her odd ways are certainly weird enough in their own right. Orange and black cartoons sprinkle the pages and Beatrice's quirky behavior, while understandably annoying to adults, is sure to make readers giggle. At over 140 pages this is long for a beginning chapter book and will appeal most to readers who are fans of Ramona, Clementine, Junie B. Jones, and other slice-of-life stories. The additional illustrations and humor may also add a little more interest and I think my fans of Bea Garcia might be interested in trying this title.

Verdict: If you're looking for more books in this vein, this is an acceptable addition. However, it doesn't particularly stand out from the many, many beginning chapter books featuring spunky girls with friendship troubles and the diversity - centered solely in Beatrice's best friend (i.e. sidekick) is minimal.

ISBN: 9781484767382; Published 2017 by Disney-Hyperion; Galley provided by publisher at ALA 2017; Borrowed finished copy from another library in my consortium

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Elberti and Scott Wegener

I reviewed the first book in this series, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring, last year. I've since bought multiple copies (for use with classes and book clubs and not because the pieces have gone missing!) and I've had, to be honest, mixed responses from the kids. In general, the more reluctant and lower level readers enjoy it the most. As I'd suspected, fans of Magic Treehouse are a big audience. The more fluent readers I've offered it to haven't been as interested - the brief story seems to not be of much interest to them (I also had one complain that the different-sized fonts made it confusing, but I put that down to an episode of extreme sassiness at book club that night).

So, the next title is out now (or will be in about five days - I've ordered it so that counts as out to me!). I had a galley and a finished copy from the publisher and have already preordered two more copies.

This book focuses on Victor Dowd, a member of the Ghost Army of World War II. This was a tactical deception unit, which focused on misleading the German army. Their history was only partially declassified in the 1990s and there's been a recent surge of interest, especially in children's literature.

The story focuses mainly on the movements and tactics of the unit, only using Dowd as a generic framing device. Having never seen combat, like most of his unit, they are moved into the aftermath of D-Day and spend several exciting, dangerous, and miserable months using all their artistic ability and imagination to mislead the German army. Confused orders, mistakes, and unexpected dangers befall the unit, but they finally triumph in the final invasion into Germany, their tactics saving the lives of thousands of American troops.

Additional information about the unit and their tactics is included throughout the book. An envelope pasted in at the beginning includes codebreaking clues; a sheet of red vellum, a coding wheel, and several other clues. Readers can follow clues throughout the book (explained in a sealed section at the back) to find the secret message. I freely admit I skipped that part - I've never had any patience for clues.

On the one hand, I always have a lot of kids wanting WWII information and this is a new and interesting story. On the other hand, I was disappointed - I had hoped to see more minorities in this series, not just another white soldier. Several of the illustrations, including a "photo" of soldiers at the end show what appears to be an African-American man. In the photo he's simply labeled as SG. I want to know more about him! Did he really exist? What was his name? How did an African-American end up as part of a unit when the army wasn't desegregated until 1948?

Verdict: This is a fast-paced and interested work of historical fiction. It will definitely grab the interest of Magic Tree House and World War II fans who aren't ready for more intense fair. I'm a little disappointed by the questions I was left with after the story, but that will just get kids to do a little research on their own, hopefully. (I still want to know who SG is though!). I've had no problem with the pieces disappearing - you can still enjoy the story without them and if you circulate the -Ology books these have fewer pieces and less issues in my experience so far.

ISBN: 9780761193265; Published January 23, 2018; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library; Two copies purchased for the library

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Dogs by Dr. John Hutton, illustrated by Doug Cenko

This quirky little book was an unexpected hit for me and I look forward to introducing it to my patrons, especially in baby storytime.

Each page in this little board book encourages dialogue about dogs. In bold, colorful panels, the dogs bark, lick, and run across the pages. One spread, showing the smiling yellow dog from the cover, asks "What color is this dog?" and answers "It's yellow. Yellow and furry. Let's say yellow, furry dog!" A dalmatian pops up in the corner to add "I have spots!"

I've seen a couple different board books that encourage dialogic reading with children, but this one does an excellent job of creating a book that babies and toddlers will love, pointing to dogs and parroting the words, while encouraging parents to dialogue with their children in a simple, non-patronizing way.

The back cover adds some simple early literacy tips from the author, a pediatrician. I'm definitely going to be looking up more "Dr. Books" to add to our collection and use in storytime. The only slight drawback with this title is the small format, about 4x4 inches. I'd love to throw this up large on a projector or slideshow to use with a group, as I don't have the funds to purchase multiple individual copies for each attendee. I'll have to suggest it to my colleague though, she sometimes has more funds.

Verdict: A great addition to your board book collections and, if you have the funds, would make a perfect bulk purchase for storytime.

ISBN: 9781936669457; Published 2017 by blue manatee press; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mouse by Zebo Ludvicek

An adorable little gray mouse, with big ears and a shy, charming smile, generously shares her cherry with a mischievous letter M. Who promptly eats the whole thing! What can M share with mouse? Only himself....which transforms him into an N with a Nod, and a Nibble. As mouse and M play together, M changes to a Z, L, C and more.

The art is simple, just the black letter with white eyes and mouth, and gray mouse with her pink ears and checked bowtie. M is often part of the words of his half of the story, and sometimes those words are shown in a light gray font. The mouse has cheerful red dialogue and gradually the two share their words until they end with the sweet sentiment that there can't be a mouse with an M.

The art is clever and the story ingenious. It doesn't quite have the appeal of the other alphabet books I've used in storytime or recently reviewed - Trasler's Caveman, McDonnell's Little Red Cat who ran away, or silly favorites like Kelly Bingham's Z is for Moose - but it's quite a good debut effort. It's not quite an alphabet book, with the consonants moving in random order as the M transforms and there are some mildly creepy moments, when the mouse first starts eating the M for example.

Verdict: If you need more quirky alphabet books, consider this a good addition to your collection. Otherwise, stick with the staples.

ISBN: 9781101996362; Published 2017 by G. P. Putnam's Sons; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, January 15, 2018

Finding the Titanic: How images from the ocean depths fueled interest in the doomed ship by Michael Burgan

Interest in the Titanic is never-ending, but it wasn't always that way. Interest in the major disaster was quickly eclipsed at the time by the events of World War I and only briefly revived by the 1958 movie, A Night to Remember. Not until Robert Ballard's discovery of the wreckage in 1985 did it become a subject of fascination to the general public. This fascination was largely fueled by the images brought up by Ballard and later excavators and creates the focus of this book.

The story begins with the story of the Titanic and then moves into Ballard's expedition and later discoveries. However, while there is a thorough exposition of Ballard's methods, feelings, and work, there is an extra focus on the technology used to capture images and the subsequent improvements made in the undersea robots used to film the wreckage.

Burgan covers the controversy over how the wreck should be handled and the discussion around the collection and use of artifacts. There's also new evidence about the causes of the sinking and additional discoveries made about the wreckage. Burgan goes into additional discoveries and scientific advances made by Ballard, including the real reason he was able to discover the Titanic - he was searching for Navy submarines that had wrecked in the area.

Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, and resources as well as sources, bibliography, and index.

Verdict: A worthy addition to your Titanic resources for young fanatics, add this to get the latest information and a unique perspective. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780756556402; Published 2017 by Capstone; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, January 14, 2018

RA RA Read: Cozy Mouse Stories

This is adapted from a list I made for several specific families at our library. They like cozy, old-fashioned stories, the readers are young but very fluent and eager readers, and the parents are looking for stories with limited or no fantasy elements, no frightening adventures, and an emphasis on family.


  • Heartwood Hotel by Kallie George
    • This new series is already a firm favorite. It's the story of Mona the mouse, who, having been orphaned and lost in the woods, finds a new home and family at the Heartwood Hotel. I love that she works as a maid and her life doesn't magically become easy and comfortable. The descriptions of tiny details and food are lovely too.
  • Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn
    • This British series features a mouse couple and their adventures in the woods and in various houses. The one drawback is that the individual titles aren't available in the US, you have to purchase big collections of 3 stories at a time. However, for eager readers this is not a hardship!
  • Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
    • Most people are at least vaguely familiar with this classic, but fewer realize there's actually seven books in the series! Availability can be an issue here and my library only owns the first title, but we have a lot of small libraries in our consortium and I've been able to find all of them.
  • Poppy and Friends by Avi
    • There's a little more peril in this series, with a tyrannical owl who is eventually killed, but kids who are ready for some more adventure will enjoy it.
  • Miss Bianca by Margery Sharp
    • If you're only familiar with the Disney movies, these are very different! Miss Bianca is an elegant mouse who belongs to a diplomat's son and writes 18th century verse. She, Bernard, and a third mouse venture to the Black Castle in their first adventure to rescue a Norwegian poet. Her adventures are sometimes macabre and one, involving evil dolls, is rather frightening. The villains are also quite Dickensian. However, they are beautifully written and exquisite gems. The first title, The Rescuers, has been reprinted but you'll have to hunt for the others.


  • Henry Cole
    • Although better known as an illustrator, he has written several chapter books featuring small animals. These tend to be cozy stories with a philosophical bent. They don't fly off the shelves, due to a combination of the quieter plots and length, but they're perfect for this specific reader's advisory request.
  • Robert Lawson
    • This is an older author and many of his books are out of print. There are also several instances of troubling racist depictions in some of his more famous titles. However, I prefer to mention these and let parents discuss them with their children. He had a series of historical fiction featuring animals around the time of the American Revolution and some of them are still in print. He has many other titles that are out of print.
      • Rabbit Hill; Tough Winter
      • Ben and Me; Mr. Revere and I


  • Song of the Christmas Mouse by Shirley Murphy
    • Out of print. A library in our consortium still owns it though.
  • Christopher mouse by William Wise
  • Mousewife by Rumer Godden
  • Abel's Island by William Steig
  • Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  • Evergreen Wood by Alan Perry
    • This is a retelling of Pilgrim's Progress with mice. It's out of print and not very easy to find, although it is inexpensive online.