Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

images (715×1080)Nationally stats on homelessness are stark especially in cities like mine where increasingly there are less units that low income people can afford. In my library system we sometimes see families in transition who are temporarily displaced and are sleeping in their car in our parking lot. Some branches in my system have created packets for families, single moms and single men as each one of these groups has different needs.

Kate Messner is the author of novels such as Manhunt, The Seventh Wish and All the Answers. In her newest book, The Exact Location of Home, we meet Kirby "Zig"Zigonski who has settled into a routine that he loves. He mostly hangs out with Ruby and Gianna and he loves tinkering with simple circuits and electronics which he finds at yard sales and around the neighborhood.

His dad does't live with the family and his mom burns the candle at both ends trying to make ends meet while also finishing school. Zig is convinced that his mom is deliberately preventing him from seeing his dad (it's been more than a year since he's seen him) and when he finds some geocaches left by someone who seems to bear many similarities to his father he determines to follow the clues -even if he puts himself at risk. Zig's determination to find his dad increases when he and his mom have to leave their rental and wind up at a homeless shelter.  Zig learns some valuable life lessons in the process and is also able to teach what he learned to other-which is important.

These issue oriented novels are important for kids to read first because they may have a friend or classmate who has experienced homelessness or displacement and second because even if they haven't, reading books such as this helps create empathy in kids. Some read alikes to this book are Jewell Parker Rhodes' Towers Falling, Joan Bauer's Almost Home and Nicole Lea Helget's The End of the Wild.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

Image result for the wizards of onceSprites and snowcats and bears...oh my!  Cressida Cowell has created a middle grade fantasy that is very entertaining, provides a character lesson or two and has some spooky illustrations to boot.

We meet budding wizard Xar in the Badwoods on his way to capture a witch. He has a talking raven called Caliburn  assigned to him.  Caliburn serves almost like a Jiminy Cricket figure to Xar, constantly trying to keep Xar out of trouble, a thankless task to be sure.

By pure coincidence he meets Wish, daughter of Queen Sycorax of the warriors. Wizards and warriors have been sworn enemies for generations so at once the two young'uns have a disagreement. Wish's bodyguard Bodkin, himself only a child, tries valiantly to defend the young, quirky princess but with little success. Thus begins a wild adventure involving enchanters, giants, sprites and other magic beings.

Both characters are thirteen and Cowell does a masterful job of showing how they are coming into their own and coming into conflict with their respective parents while simultaneously struggling to measure up to their older siblings. Xar's older brother Looter is especially mean to him.

Much of the marketing of this book talks about the fact that Cowell is the author of the immensely popular How to Train your Dragon series but this book is good enough to stand on its own. Kids aged 9+ will enjoy this tale.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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I try not to review authors more than once but every so often a book comes across my path that is so intense, so good and so gripping that I bend that rule. I had reviewed another of Kelly Barnhill's works, The Witch's Boyhere and her latest The Girl who Drank the Moon is the subject of this review.

As you may have heard this novel has won the 2017 John Newbery Medal (awarded by the Association of Library Service to Children to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) and with good cause. Barnhill has created a world that speaks to the reader on many levels.

There is a witch who steals babies and a young boy determines to find the witch and kill her. Except...the story is a bit more complicated than that. Xan is an old witch who lives with a happy young dragon and a great big creature near a Bog. Xan, in addition to doing witchy things like learning and casting spells, happily takes babies left in a spot every year and delivers them to the Outside Cities. Then one night she accidentally enmagicks a young babe, Luna after giving her moonlight.

Meanwhile in the town from where the babies come, a young lad is trying to make his way in the world and after several false starts he becomes a craftsman and soon settles down with a family. After it is determined that his baby is to be the one sent for the witch he determines to end this once for all. Thus begins an epic quest involving many characters.

The story takes many twists and turns and is certain to thrill readers of all ages. Barnhill deftly weaves in various topics such as conservation, philosophy and even patriarchy. There is one scene near the end of the book involving the dragon that is sure to leave manya reader misty-eyed to be sure. Highly recommended. Some read alikes to this book are Alice Hoffman's Nightbird, Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs and Chris Colfer's The Land of Stories series.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Let 'em play: Building Creativity in Young Children through Self-Directed Activities

Some of my library colleagues here in Colorado, Katie O'Brian and Kristen Bodine and Andrea Cleland both did presentations at CLEL's recently concluded conference in which they talked about child-centered programs.

Here is what I gathered:
-focus on the process rather than the product. It is not helpful to anyone to have parents and caregivers yelling at their little ones just because they aren't doing it right

-let children explore a material. If they want to talk about the clay or wood then let them do so. The goal is to expose them to a variety of materials that they may not necessarily see each day

-it's not necessary to provide a sample or a template and there is not necessarily a right answer...whatever kids do is the correct answer. Many schools prioritize teaching to the test so often library programs are one of the few places kids can have some spontaneity and autonomy

-some developmental benefits are increased motor skills, greater self expression, sensory exploration, spatial ability, decision making

For highlights from these and other great presentations check this link, we should have most of the session materials loaded here soon.

Here are a few pics:

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Developing motor skills and alphabet knowledge through crafts

Here are some crafts my team either have done this year or plan to do. One of the first things kids will learn in school when they start to write is the difference between upper case and lower case letters. This awesome ice cream craft can be used as part of a craft package in an early literacy space.

This last one is not as time-consuming as others but is just as rewarding. All you need are a small cardboard box, some popsicle sticks, foam or some other type of letters and. In addition to working on fine motor skills it also helps little ones learn alphabetical order. If you want to jazz up the box some craft paper should suffice.

Keeping with the theme of popsicle sticks, puzzles are another good way to help little ones with their motor skills, reasoning, thinking and in some cases letter and number skills. The examples below are just a sprinkling of the many, many ways these sticks can be decorated and made into cool puzzles for little ones.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari

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I grew up in the 80s and was always fascinated by the emergence of the hip-hop movement. From afar I watched as b-boys used the tenets of the movement (rapping, djing, b-boying and graffiti) to express themselves in the dawn of a new era. Thus, when I saw Sheela Chari's new book, Finding Mighty I was instantly drawn to the cover and the book did not disappoint.

Chari is of East Indian descent and the main protagonists are of East Indian descent as well, something that I had not seen in many middle grade novels but which was a refreshing change as I feel it is critically important for kids to read about different perspectives and cultures.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints- Myla, Peter and his older brother Randall, and centers around the mysterious death of the boys' father, Omar. Randall has joined a group of graffiti artists who tag different parts of the city at night. One night Randall disappears and leaves cryptic clues to help his brother find him. Peter starts to search but soon realizes that he can't do it alone.

In addition to all of the above, Myla and Peter have to deal with being new sixth graders and the transition that this entails. Myla for her part feels invisible and in one interesting exchange between her and Peter they reflect on the pros and cons of the different neighborhoods. Chari does a wonderful job of touching on some deep issues in a very sensitive manner.

There are more characters too including the boys' weird uncle, an ex-con called Scottie Biggs and a nosy reporter called Kai Filnik who has a knack of popping up in the most unexpected places. This is a mystery with twists, turns and a great deal of heart. Highly recommended.  Natasha Tarpley's The Harlem Charade is is another great mystery set in the Big Apple. Blue Balliett's Chasing Vermeer series is a wonderful series of intricately plotted mysteries for middle grade readers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Posted by John David Anderson

x500.png (500×757) Disclaimer: My oldest son is going to middle school in the fall and I am concerned about bullies and general meanness. I know I am not the only one, quite a few parents had questions about bullying in the open house last month.

Middle school is an awkward time for kids. They are coming into their own and finding a tribe to protect themselves from wolves. The schisms between tribes are usually difficult for middle schoolers to navigate since they haven't experienced anything like that before.

John David Anderson's Posted explores what occurs in one such tribe at Branton Middle School when the principal bans cell phones. The story is told from the viewpoint of Eric, an awkward, somewhat nerdy but decent kid who hangs out with fellow misfits nicknamed Bench, Deedee and Wolf. They eat at their table every day during lunch period and play Dungeons and Dragons on Friday nights.

The cell phone ban at school forces the kids to go old school to communicate and they start using post-it notes in class and worse, on lockers. Anderson explores what happens when kids say things that are downright mean and also what happens when kids unintentionally hurt others. Eric's tribe must deal with turmoil in their own family life, mean kids at school, a new kid called Rose and the sudden stratospheric rise of one of their own on the sports field.

Anderson's characters are ones you root for instantly and the antagonists made my blood boil although I couldn't help wondering what they were dealing with in their own lives. This is a great little book although some of the themes explored might go over the heads of younger readers. I recommend it for fifth grade and up. If you have read every Wonder book and spin-off try this novel.