Friday, July 28, 2017

BlastBack: Vikings by Nancy Ohlin, illustrated by Adam Larkum

I was really excited about the first book in this series, Ancient Egypt, but when I tried another I was a little disappointed.

This book follows the format of the other titles. It starts with a brief history of the Vikings, then explains their history in different countries, culture, politics, and family structures. There's also a chapter on the Icelandic sagas and the legacy the Vikings left. Larkum's line drawings decorate the pages, illustrating ships, clothing, and battles.

Somehow, even though this is a favorite topic of mine, I found it really...dull. It just didn't have the pizzaz and humor of the first title I read. It felt more like a textbook than narrative nonfiction. I can't really say why; maybe it's because I have more familiarity with the topic, maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

Regardless, I'm still recommending this series. Even if one entry is a bit more blah than the others, it's still a great choice for beginning readers who like Magic Tree House and history. I'm going to see if I can get some feedback from readers and find out if they felt the same about this title or if I was just having a bad day.

Verdict: A strong purchase for your beginning chapter sections.

ISBN: 9781499803853; Published 2017 by little bee; Purchased for the library

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Azalea, Unschooled by Liza Kleinman, illustrated by Gideon Brook

I'm in two minds of this title. I really wanted to read it; there are very few books featuring homeschooled kids and even fewer featuring non-ex-hippy homeschoolers. On the other hand, no library in my consortium or the entire interlibrary loan system had it and it's from a small press so is a little more expensive. I ended up purchasing an ebook on sale and settled down to read it with an open mind.

Azalea is used to picking up and moving every year or even every few months. She mostly enjoys being homeschooled and she likes the relationship she has with her parents. She's not so sure about her increasingly grouchy teen sister though. When the family moves up to Portland, Maine, for her father to start a new business driving a tour bus, Azalea at first things it's business as usual. But this move is a little different. For one thing, instead of joining up with the local homeschooling community her mom has gotten them into a different group; unschoolers. Azalea isn't sure about this whole unschooling thing. She's also starting to have some doubts about her father's life choices and his business acumen. Finally, for the first time in her life she's making friends and when her sister starts talking about their inevitable move, Azalea realizes that she doesn't want to move, yet again. On top of everything else, someone seems to be sabotaging her father's new business. Is it her new friend's old friend? Azalea is determined to find out.

There's a lot going on in this book - a mystery, familial struggles, changes for both the girls as they become older and start seeing their parents in a different light, and at times the unschooling part of the plot seems plopped on top of everything else. Some of the explanations of it are an info dump (and it's not a new movement - it dates back to John Holt's writings from the 60s and 70s - which is reflected in the unschooling group's leader's hippy persona). I did appreciate the positive spin given to Azalea's family's school choices and the way the family chooses to blend different methods in the end. One thing I am always firmly against in homeschooling is thinking that there's only one way to school children correctly - different methods and choices work for different people.

Verdict: It's not a bad story, if a little heavily packed with plot trails, and Azalea is a fun and interesting character. I'm not sure it's so riveting that it would grab the average reader though. A good choice if you have unschooling families in your area.

ISBN: 9781939017581; Published 2015 by Islandport Press; Ebook purchased for review by myself

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Bears are big by Douglas Florian, illustrated by Barbara Bakos

I first saw this series advertised at BEA and fell in love with the bright, busy colors. I've been waiting eagerly to buy them for the library and, while they're not a typical board book, I think they're a great addition to the collection.

A simple sentence on each page describes opposite attributes of various animals. "Sloths are slow./Cheetahs are quick./Eels are slippery./Tree frogs stick." The real star of these little books are the illustrations. A rotund purple hippo perches on flattened leaves and flowers, surrounded by apple cores and munching contentedly on an apple. A blue rhino grins mischievously while proudly displaying her tall horns and perky blue ears. A brilliant yellow snail sports a stripped orange shell and a natty mustache, not to mention a couple little eyebrows floating above its eyes. Each creature is surrounded by colorful flowers, leaves, and branches.

Verdict: The cheerful colors, simple text, and attractive illustrations make this a delightful new addition to any board book collection.

ISBN: 9781499803662; Published 2017 by little bee; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Charlie's Boat by Kit Chase

I really love Kit Chase's "Playtime with Friends" series. Sometimes you just need that sweet, gentle picture book for a cozy read.

In this latest installment, Charlie, Oliver, and Lulu are all fishing. Oliver is big enough to wade and fish with his trunk, Lulu can flutter and fish with her claws, but all Charlie can catch from the river bank are sticks! He's feeling very down about his pile of sticks, until he comes up with a solution - building little boats! But when Lulu and Oliver come to join him, they're much better at building boats. Will Charlie ever get to fish - or be good at anything?

Chase's delicate watercolors show a landscape reminiscent of Ernest Shepard's famous illustrations for Winnie-the-Pooh, complete with little stick boats, a friendly rushing river, and cozy small animals with rosy cheeks.

This sweet and gentle story of friendship and helping each other out is the perfect choice for a cozy storytime or a quiet bedtime story - perhaps to be followed by creating your own stick boats to float or thinking about how different friends can work together.

Verdict: Not an absolutely necessary choice, but a strong addition to any picture book collection on friendship, working together, and thinking outside the box.

ISBN: 9780399257025; Published 2017 by G. P. Putnam's Sons; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Monday, July 24, 2017

Nonfiction Monday: My first book of Soccer by Beth Bugler and Mark Bechtel, illustrated by Bill Hinds

Well, that took long enough. I've long noticed that Sports Illustrated Kids books seem to mostly forget the existence of contemporary female athletes and that's been extremely obvious in their Rookie series. I've added review copies and purchased the ones I needed, but I have been extremely annoyed at the lack of women in the previous three titles on Hockey, Football, and Baseball. I hope that publisher will revise those previous titles to include women more equally (or at all).

The narrators are a confused (white) boy, who doesn't quite get the rules of soccer (or that most of the world calls it football) and a sparky, enthusiastic, dark-skinned girl. The book follows the format of the previous titles, explaining how the game works, the rules, functions of the players, scoring system, and a few traditions of the game. It's illustrated with pictures of real athletes, captioned with humorous dialogue, against a background of colorful pages. The big difference in this book is that a good half of the athletes pictured are women.

Verdict: These books are very popular and check out constantly, but this is the first one I'm actually happy to put on the shelf. Now, if the publisher just does the same thing with Basketball and goes back and fixes the previous books, I'll be buying extra copies asap.

ISBN: 9781683300021; Published by Sports Illustrated Kids/Capstone; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Read 'n' Play: Woodworks: Old MacDonald Had a Farm; The Wheels on the Bus

I don't normally review books with additional stuff as it were, but I'm always refreshing and updating my library's circulating toy collection so I've started including a few more things that I use in that area on my blog. I do have a full blog that's all of these items, Read 'n' Play, but I don't review them, more just list them.

These two kits from Silver Dolphin sounded like a good addition to a storytime kit or Read 'n' Play bag, so I agreed to take a look at them. Each one includes a sturdy cardboard carrying case, a wooden vehicle, small board book, and vinyl road map.

The board books are small and chunky, about 3x4 inches. The include the text of the song, which can be a bit crowded on the pages, along with bright, colorful digital illustrations.

The wheels on the bus includes a variety of races and genders, although the driver is a white male. It changes the song slightly to be a school bus. The wheels go around, the wipers go "swish", the horn goes "beep", the children say hi to their friends, and the doors open and shut, leaving out the parents and crying babies.

The wooden vehicles are a small green tractor and a yellow school bus. They look pretty much the same in the picture - they seem to be well-made and the wheels appear to be on a solid bar through the toy, which is good for little fingers that tug.

The play mats are interesting. Both are made out of a thin vinyl materials - a little thicker than a plastic bag, but not very sturdy. I tested a corner and it twisted and started to rip easily. They have multiple fold lines from being tucked into the boxes. The mat that accompanies the school bus shows a road through a typical town with police station, school, stores, and houses and the farmer's mat shows a gravel road through a farm yard.

The carrying boxes are a very sturdy cardboard - the front opens and the side clicks shut with a hidden magnet, I would guess. They have a nice little woven ribbon handle to carry them by. There's just one problem. The initial packaging has a plastic form inside that holds everything in place. However, once you open the item and remove the packaging, the clear window at the top to see the vehicle through is empty - and the toy falls right out. You can pack everything into the bottom, but it takes a little maneuvering.

Verdict: I'd like to circulate these on their own, but the open window in the top makes that problematic. I don't think the play mat will last long, but it's an easy item to replace with a print-out or felt mat. The vehicle and board book should be sturdy enough for many uses. I think they will make a good addition to a kit on nursery rhymes for use in daycares and at home.

Old MacDonald had a farm; ISBN: 9781626869554

The wheels on the bus; ISBN: 9781626869561

Published 2017 by Silver Dolphin; Review copies provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Saturday, July 22, 2017

This week at the library; or Summer Week 7

What's Happening
  • Monday
    • Read with Pearl
  • Tuesday
    • Toddlers 'n' Books (2 sessions)
    • Storywagon: Bubble Guy
  • Wednesday
    • Explore Elkhorn field trip
    • STEM learning lab: Coding with Legos
  • Thursday
    • Books 'n' Babies
    • We Explore Favorite Artist Michael Hall (3 sessions) (offsite)
    • Library on the Go
    • Mad Scientists Club: What Floats? What Flies?
  • Friday
    • Maker Workshop: Brushbots
It has been a week. I will update the program blog later. One more week to go.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Magic Animal Rescue: Maggie and the flying horse

I've been going through a whole slew of beginning chapter books and was interested to take a look at this new series from E. D. Baker, especially since her Frog Princess series has recently enjoyed a revival at my library after we read it in book club.

Maggie lives in the Enchanted Forest and loves the magical creatures she sees there. But her woodcutter father is working far away and she's stuck with her mean stepmother, Zelia, and rotten stepbrother, Peter, neither of whom believe she can see the magical creatures. When she accidentally injures a tiny flying horse, Maggie is determined to take it to Bob the Stableman, who she's heard takes care of magical creatures.

After a long and dangerous journey, Maggie finally arrives and her life immediately takes a turn for the better. For the first time she has someone on her side, someone who can also see magical creatures. Bob not only promises to take care of the little horse, he's impressed by Maggie's resourcefulness and how she risked the dangers of the forest. Now Maggie has plenty of excitement and magic to look forward to in the future as she observes and helps magical creatures with Bob.

This is definitely a beginning chapter book, with a large font, short, choppy sentences, and simple black and white digital illustrations. I can't really say why it didn't appeal to me. It has Baker's trademark blend of contemporary and fairy tale life, and the magical creatures were interesting, but it just didn't have that spark. Maggie is rather a dull character when all is said and done and the "mean stepmother" trope is so worn out.

Verdict: An acceptable addition, especially if you have E. D. Baker fans, but I think I'll go with Paula Harrison's new series instead, which had more memorable characters.

ISBN: 9781681193120; Published 2017 by Bloomsbury; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Until the end of fourth grade, Winnie was just an ordinary kid, along with her friends. Then her parents got divorced and decided to share her. Equally. This means that she spends three days with her mom, three days with her dad, and one day in the treehouse between their homes. At first, she's fine with this arrangement. The treehouse is especially cool and lots of kids' parents are divorced. But when her parents' competitive nature gets out of control, she finds herself not only miserable but failing fifth grade as well.

[SPOILERS]

With the help of her uncle's advice, Winnie comes up with a solution - live in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses. To her surprise, she's quickly joined by her friends, who have their own grievances with their parents from annoying younger siblings and cousins to not enough phone time. Soon they are the Treehouse Ten and it's a media circus. Then lines are drawn within the treehouse and Winnie finds herself stuck in the middle - AGAIN. It will take some more advice from her uncle and some thought on her own part before she discovers her true strength and solves the difficulties she and her friends face.

This isn't a new plot device; I was reminded vividly of Felice Holman's Blackmail Machine, which involves a group of children trying to save a swamp. Like Winnie's friends, they have to compromise in the end, learning that growing up entails not getting exactly what you want. Graff handles the plot with a deft hand though and the various characters all have strong personalities that shine through, although we don't get to know any of them as well as Winnie.

Although Winnie's situation is over the top - she can't get her homework done because her parents are insistent on celebrating random wacky holidays to prove that they're "more fun" than the other parent - the real root of the problem is that no one is listening to her and her parents are trying to force her to choose sides. The concerns of Winnie and the other children are definitely of a suburban, middle class nature. They are trying to be more independent, to be listened to by their parents, to learn how to negotiate familial and community relationships. There are no concerns about money, none of the children particularly struggle in school, and Winnie's parents are both successful enough that they can afford to purchase a new house to put their wacky plan into motion. The group includes a range of racial diversity but the kids all have roughly the same stable, suburban life.

This may not necessarily resonate with kids whose home life is less stable and who have more immediate concerns and struggles than annoying siblings or obsessed parents. However, it will definitely strike a chord with kids who have the same longing to be more independent and are making that difficult transition into middle school. It's wish-fulfillment with a gentle dose of practical instruction on thinking about what you really want and need, just like Winnie helps her friends realize that, for example, they really want more independence not unlimited time on their phone. The format of the book, short chapters, transcripts, and notes from the different characters, keep the story moving briskly and will attract readers who don't want to tackle a hefty chapter book

Verdict: While not particularly unique in plot, Graff's writing ability and deft touch at characterization as well as the humor and understanding she introduces throughout the book are sure to make this a popular addition to any library. Kids will devour this book with enjoyment and perhaps think a little about their own relationships with their parents afterwards. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780399175008; Published 2017 by Philomel; Review copy provided by the publisher; Donated to the library

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Read, Read, Read, said the Baby: Look & Learn: Big Cats by Ruth A. Musgrave

I have a soft spot for National Geographic's children's books in any form, but I love their bright and colorful photographs in board book format. This might or might not be good.

Each spread in this book shows a different big cat performing an action, then invites the reader to mimic or perform a similar action. When we see a fluffy snow leopard in the snow, we learn that "Thick, soft fur keeps the snow leopard warm." Readers are invited to touch the snow leopard (a disappointing exercise since this isn't a touchy-feely book) and then rub their own hair. A tiger licking itself gets a suggestion to find the tiger's tongue, then your own.

The spreads show photographs that pop out from the page, set against bold blocks of color and simple text. The board book is a slightly smaller format, about 5x5 inches.

Verdict: I do love the photographs, but the heavier text and smaller format of the books doesn't click well with the toddlers I've tested this on. Sadly, I will probably strike these off my series to purchase for the board books.

ISBN: 9781426327018; Published 2017 by National Geographic; Purchased for the library