Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fun songs for kids

It is never easy finding songs that kids will like. It is even more difficult to find songs that kids of different ages will like. These songs are tried and tested by two of the pickiest critics I know-my sons aged 7 and 4. On some of our many long trips these songs have had them singing and grooving along and asking for them to be played (over and over and over). This list will feature some popular songs as well as some that unless you actively search out music for kids you probably may not have heard about.

I hadn't heard of the Dream Jam band but I picked up their cd at the library a while ago and this song quickly became one of our favorites, listened to at least four times a day going to and from work and school with the little ones. It tells the story of a kid's hilarious attempt to get his hair to behave. It has good lyrics and a great beat. Oh yeah!

Lots of young kids are fussy about food but this song is a surefire way to at least sing about how much food they will eat. Yo Gabba Gabba songs are always well produced and this one called "Party in my Tummy"  is no different. The bass in this song is tremendous, so you may want to turn it down just a tad.

Another song that is on heavy rotation in our playlist is "Lots of Little Pigs" by perennial favorite Laurie Berkner. It is rather long and it is a story song but I think this is why my little one likes it so much. The storytelling aspect of it keeps them enthralled and the singing parts are catchy as well. It is not on youtube but here are the lyrics and it is found on this cd.

The song "Six Months on a Leaky Boat" is a classic and I did not even realize that before I began looking things up for this post. The Wiggles have made the song their own in this hilarious rendition.  My wife thinks that were it not for Captain Feathersword's funny interjections from time to time the song could easily be played on an easy listening station due mainly in part to Greg's soothing voice.

This is another quiet song that usually has the kids listening. The beautiful Christine Anu's voice is so mellifluous and although we can't make out any of the words besides the title,"Taba Naba" we enjoy it immensely. Check it out here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Manhunt by Kate Messner

I totally judged this book by its cover. It features three kids in a foreign city in all-action poses. They seem to be on the trail of some bad guy and they look determined to get him.  I thought to myself that it was worth a try.

The three main protagonists Henry Anna and Jose all know each other from other and are  junior members of the Silver Jaguar society, an awarded bestowed on them due to a case they solved together involving a stolen Star-Spangled Banner. They are all related in some way to full-fledged members of the society as well. As one would expect from some tweens their involvement with the dangerous criminals is minimal. Truth be told most of their involvement with the bad guys involves running from some goons.

The book started off really well with a spate of art thefts across the globe triggering panic in the art world. This causes an emergency meeting of the society in its Boston headquarters. Henry, Most of the action occurs in the city of lights, Paris. Although how they get there does seem a bit far fetched.  There is another member that they meet but he seems to know too much for a kid. I found this character a bit snooty. As you would expect there are some twists along the way but there is a happy ending to the story.

I have a few gripes about this book. First, the kids are not actually on a manhunt. They are looking for stolen loot and following some cryptic clues along the way. They have an unbelievable encounter with a relative of the main antagonist of the story that left me shaking my head. Another gripe I have is that there are too many threads that are not explored. Messner mentions something that piques reader interest and then whizzes on to a next detail leaving the reader hanging. I suspect though that we may learn more about Henry's background in further editions.

To its credit the book features excellent descriptions of Paris (food, places, small cultural tidbits) as well as many literary references (one of the characters is a bookworm). The language is accessible and the description of the gamut of emotions Henry experiences is well done also. Overall this is an ok read for a nine to twelve year old.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Soccer is unquestionably the world's game and its legions of fans experience the highs and lows of each game and discuss the team feverishly all week. Some of the biggest stars of today came from humble backgrounds but they have used their skill to create a better life for themselves and their families. The game is not immune to real life concerns however and sadly sometimes politics becomes entwined with sports as occurred recently. Wars have been fought over results in soccer games and people have been killed over the outcome of matches.

In Eugene Yelchin's book Arcady's Goal, the title character lives in a rough camp for orphans in the Soviet Union in 1945. His parents have been deemed enemies of the state and he has been sent to live in a camp, guarded by tough armed guards and under the rule of the despot Butterball who organizes soccer exhibitions for Arcady to show off his skill. It is in one of these exhibitions that Arcady is spotted by an inspector called Ivan Ivanych. To his surprise the inspector returns to the camp with papers to adopt the young boy.

Historical fiction novels can sometimes have gross inaccuracies but I think the fact that the author's father was a Soviet who loved and played soccer gives him some credence. His description of Arcady's fist impressions of Ivanych's house and food is heartbreaking. Arcady convinces his new father of his love for the game and Ivanych agrees to find a team for him if Arcady will agree to learn to read. The first time Arcady plays with boys his age his skill is breathtaking but due to political differences he doesn't play on that team.

Ivanych himself has secrets as Arcady begins to discover. All is not lost however as they learn of a tryout to be held by the Red Army team, on which Arcady's hero, Fedor Bruko plays. A special pass is needed just to go to the tryout however and one thing becomes certain, the tryout is of tremendous importance for both of them. Ivanych has his own reasons for adopting the young kid. Arcady's goal has been transformed from an on field one to an off field one as well.

In the afterword of the book Yelchin gives a personal account of the after effects of the Communist Stalinist regime and the way in which it destroyed generations of families systematically. Relations between the United States and Russia are somewhat frayed now but it is fascinating to learn about this nation's sad past and to see how even today citizens are struggling with the legacy of decisions taken well before they were born. I recommend this book for those aged 11+.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Watched by CJ Lyons

    Technology has created avenues for exposure and at times overexposure. At times this can lead to making and breaking reputations. There are armies of hackers across the world who live by finding incriminating information about people from all walks of life and then blackmailing or extorting them. Celebrities usually have the resources to fight off these allegations but the average person does not.

 Jesse is a teen who lives with his uncle. His father walked out on the family and so his mother was forced to seek refuge at her brother's.  There has been a string of arsons in the town and Jesse's uncle, a firefighter, is kept busy. This is not the only thing on his mind however as Jesse is virtual slave to a mysterious person called King.

King discovered something that a family member did to Jesse when he was younger and spread it across the internet. Now he has Jesse at his mercy- Jesse has a phone that he must answer anytime King calls or else people in his life can suffer. Jesse is at the end of his rope and sees a bleak future for himself until he gets in touch with Miranda a skilled hacker who is on a mission to trap King and expose him. Both these kids have complicated back stories and differing motives for wanting King caught.

Though the second half of the book read somewhat like an espionage thriller with high tech gadgets, manhunts and inter agency task forces it did make for an engaging read. This novel is a fictional tale but it cyber bullying is a very real occurrence which in some extreme cases has caused kids to commit suicide. This is a timely book by CJ Lyons and while it is not exactly a cautionary tale it would still be a good read for those 14 and up.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Real Life by Lawrence Tabak

   Whenever I think about a gamer kid the image of a socially awkward pimply kid comes to mind. Seth (called ActionSeth online) is a gaming and math prodigy from the Midwest. He loves the game Starfare and spends hours playing in order to achieve his goal of turning pro and living in Korea. For all his mental abilities he is awkward in school and  although he has a crush on a pretty girl called Beth he never does anything to show her how he feels.
 Seth's parents are divorced and his brother is a jock college basketball player. Seth lives with his dad, a travelling salesman who seems to love to berate poor Seth whenever he comes home from one of his business trips. When his dad encourages him to get a job so that he doesn't have to go live with his mom (they have an awkward  relationship) he does so at a local pizza parlor. It is there that he meets Hannah, a girl he develops an instant crush on. Hannah seems intrigued by Seth's gaming prowess and academic talent. Seth for his part admires Hannah for her artsy side and free spirit.
Seth had entered a gaming contest where he was beaten soundly by the Koreans. His play attracted the attention of a top Korean gaming team and before he knows it Seth finds himself overseas. Everything does not end happily ever after however and Seth soon finds that the pace of life, his difficulty adjusting and the fact that he misses people back home interfere with his overall play. He must then make some very adult decisions despite the fact that he is only sixteen.
Tabak's book is an in depth look at the life of a teenager who achieves his life's goal early. Some people don't do so until they are many years older and some don't even know what their goal is in life For that I applaud Seth because he was offered an opportunity and he reached out and grabbed it. He did not neglect is studies though so even when things got rough he knew that he had other options. This, I think is the most important takeaway from the novel.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

   Jfic books rarely deal with sensitive topics but Kadohata's book Half a World Away deals with something that I have rarely discussed with other adults-adoption.  I do not know how many couples enter into a relationship intending to adopt but I would love to see those stats. In this book, told through the eyes of young Jaden we meet a family that is just now coming to terms with Jaden's behavior. He has hard a hard time adjusting to life and has some weird behavior patterns for which he has seen several therapists.
     Although his parents love him very much they don't feel complete and are determined to go Kazakhstan to adopt a baby. Jaden himself was adopted from Romania as a young child and he vaguely remembers his mother before she abandoned him. He claims not to love his parents and truth be told, his parents, or at least his adopted father may love him but seems not to like him very much.
    Jaden realizes how charmed his life is when he interacts with locals. The driver, Sam is my favorite character in this book and I like his sly digs at American culture. In essence he shows Jaden that for all their wealth Americans sometimes lose sight of the simple things in life.  The family traveled halfway across the world intending to adopt one child but due to the bizarre nature of the process that child ends up going to a German family. As it so happens after the family is shown some babies the parents and Jaden end up liking different babies. Both children seem to have special needs and I applaud Jaden's parents for even considering adopting them as many parents probably would not have done so.
     This book is not a feel good book, it is very moody and deals with some difficult subject matter and emotions. Mature children would probably get into this book but it is so different from a lot of the standard jfic fare that is out there that I would not readily recommend this to patrons.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Death Coming Up The Hill by Chris Crowe


 Those who do not learn from the events of History are doomed to repeat it. I always think of that saying whenever events transpire that give me a sense of deja vu. Those who lived long enough to see the fall out from the Vietnam War may have been saddened by the nation's involvement in two wars we could not win in Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember when the Iraq wars first started how sad it was to see the daily count on the news and see the bodies being brought home. With our twenty four hour news cycle, coverage was much more in depth than it was forty odd years ago yet still I felt a sense of detachment from the events over there.

The book Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe is a small ode to the soldiers who perished and/or went MIA in Vietnam. Told completely in haiku form the book relates one year in the life of a teenager called Ashe who lives with his parents in Arizona. Theirs is a loveless marriage although they both love Ashe dearly.

Ashe has a vibrant English teacher Mr. Reed who does not shy away from the realities of what is happening to the young men fighting in Vietnam. He gets very emotional about the subject but this is because he has a strong sense of right and wrong and knows that what is going on there could never be right.

Ashe also meets a kindred spirit with whom he can talk about the war as well as his turbulent family life. As his home life unravels Ashe has some tough decisions to make and eventually decides to do what will benefit his mom the most.

I flipped this book open when it came in and I saw the haiku and assumed it was a poetic ode to the war but only after examining it closely did I discover that it was indeed a novel. The verse form did not impede the narrative and it flowed smoothly. As I reflect on how hard it is to compose haiku, this is some feat.  Despite the fact that the book deals with happenings from the 1960s it is still relevant today due to the fact that many of these same issues are still unresolved and in some cases are even worse today.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Library news November 2014

Russia has been in the news often over the past few months what with their incursions into the eastern part of Ukraine. Now the Russian Presidential Library has been tasked with creating a "Russian-focused alternative to Wikipedia". So far they have collected more than 50,000 books and archive documents from 27 regional libraries. Read more here.

It seems that budget cuts have hit libraries worldwide. I admit that I was not following the goings on closely but as I browsed through the UK's Public Libraries News I noticed the compromises and policy adjustments that were made, among them having libraries taking over by a council and cutting money from other areas to fund libraries. In Southampton there have been protests by residents to save libraries. This article describes how protesters want councillors to go and not the libraries-five city libraries are in danger of being closed.

The BBC is reporting that a court in India has ruled that it is against the country's constitution for female students to be banned from a main university library. This after several thousand female undergrads were banned from the Maulana Azad Library in a university in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

In Canada, a recent report cited urban-rural library technology divide as well as decreased accessibility to archival material. Also Canadians can now search their family's First World War history online. Library and Archives Canada has a Soldiers of the First World War database which is an index to the service files held by LAC for the servicemen and women who served during that era.

It is no secret that today's libraries are community hubs. The Twin Cities' oldest library (in existence since the 19th century) is being reborn as a job skills center for Emerge. The 13,000 square foot building's programs are expected to help make a dent in the region's high unemployment rate.  Read more here.

We are smack dab in the middle of NaNoWriMo and this article talks about the efforts by two librarians to push this program at their library in Oregon. The program was so popular last year that they even published a collection of writings from many of the participants.

Finally, do you want to prove that you are Native American or have Native American ancestry? This blog by the Denver Public Library shows you just how the process goes, and believe me when I say that it is not easy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fall crafts

I have focused a lot on the books part of the blog of late so let me try to highlight some cool ideas that I intend to submit to my library's craft committee and/or use in my own weekly storytimes.

 Paper plates are so handy, easy to manipulate and cheap and these cute crafts are simple to create with some glue, felt, paint, markers and googly eyes.
Top 10 DIY Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids - Top Inspired

This owl uses a few paper plates as well as some paint. This may be a bit too much for a story time craft but looks ideal for a day care craft for toddlers, for an after school program or even for a rainy/snowy day outside.

I found a  website called Classy Clutter that has a host of crafts for the little ones using a variety of materials such as popsicle sticks, paper and leaves.  I noticed that they had a few crafts on there where the kids traced their hands. That is a well worn craft but they also had a craft where the kids made a handprint turkey hat. I have not seen many of those done and it should be well worth a try for those tired of the same old. Here are the directions and this is what the finished product looks like:

For the Thanksgiving season many people like to have the little ones make things to show how thankful they are. Hand crafts are always in vogue and on this site they give directions to make a nifty hand print wreath full of precious little hands.

Another thankful craft I found on Learn Create Love's site had the kids trace and cut out their hands, write something thankful on them and stick them on a tree template. An excellent way to celebrate the thankful season.

Finally, for someone looking for a craft that could be done at home and would be big enough to decorate a wall, this craft is fantastic for that.  Using construction paper, leaves, string, marshmallows and other materials, you can make a sign that says just how you feel about this time of year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Sometimes when an incident occurs eyewitnesses have a different take on what exactly occurred. What they see is often colored by their experiences and prejudices. That is the case in Kekla Magoon's fantastic book for teens called How It Went Down which deals with the fall out from the killing of an unarmed black teenager called Tariq by a man named Jack Franklin. As (bad) luck would have it Franklin just happens to be white.

The premise appears ripped from the headlines what with the recent unrest in Florida and in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the better drawn characters is the preacher Pastor Sloan who is conflicted with his role. On one hand he is scoring political points which help bolster his campaign for office, on the other hand he has a son of his own with whom he does not have the best relationship. the Pastor also has to resist the temptations that come with his standing.

Written in small first person vignettes that slowly reveal the characters' relationship if any with the victim, Magloon paints a picture of a neighborhood trying its best to deal with the aftermath of the youth's killing.  This killing is especially hurtful because while Tariq was no angel his death was completely unavoidable. The killing reverberates in several other ways too and causes the beautiful Jennica to examine her relationship with gang member Noodle. At first she is aghast at his callous reaction to the Tariq's death but gradually she begins to examine her life and what she wants out of it.

Tariq was flirting with joining a gang and the gang's leader Brick feels that he was closer to joining than he really was. Through the eyes of the youngest member of the group, Tyrell we see how he Tariq, Sammy, Junior and youth were close knit but drifted apart as the call of the streets became too strong.  Junior is in jail serving a long sentence for a crime that he took the rap for. Sammy is afull-fledged member of the group and is determined to climb the ranks.

The role of fathers is underscored and by far the most fatherly figure is Steve Conners who seems to care more about his step son than Tyrell's own biological dad. To say the two enjoy a frosty relationship putting it mildly. Tyrell is academically gifted and is determined to go to college and become the first one in his circle and his family to do so. Though it is not overtly stated it seems that his father feels threatened by his son's upward mobility. Besides the father-son dynamic there is also a class divide apparent. Steve implores Will not to return to the hood and his disdain towards the denizens of that part of town is apparent.

This is a fantastic read that rings to light many societal ills and many issues within the African-American community. It is telling that the older African American males who are in a position of power and influence make no attempt to mentor or provide some sort of guidance for these at-risk youth. Also Pastor Sloan himself admits that were the shooter another young black male he most likely would not have been as visible and as vocal in the press and on tv.  This is a timely read and while it does not delve deeply into issues that need to be addressed, it at least starts a discussion.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ellray Jakes Rocks the Holidays by Sally Warner

I have not seen many books for the 2nd-4th grade set that had an African American main character and is not set in an urban setting. So when I stumbled upon this series I was pleasantly surprised. Lancelot Raymond "EllRay" Jakes lives with his genius dad, mom and younger sister in California. His dad is a professor and his mom is a writer and they live a comfortable middle class life.

In this particular book Ellray is having a normal day until he accidentally offends the other 'brown" kid in class, Kevin. He then must do a set of challenges prescribed by Kevin in order for them to be even.

Although the book is aimed at young readers it still explores themes such as race and class. EllRay's dad for example explicitly tells him that he should make nice with Kevin since in his mind people of color need to stick together especially when they live in communities that are predominantly white. A non POC reader might find this hard to believe but this is completely true. Even EllRay's teacher Ms. Sanchez shares some of her story growing up in a different time.

EllRay is a shy kid and it just so happens that one of Kevin's challenges is to go up in front the school and emcee the winter holiday program. The debate over the name of the program is pretty funny and illustrates how pc life has become. As you would expect things do work out in the end without too much fuss-this is a Christmas adventure after all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

 From the title of this book I assumed for some reason that the main character would learn magic at the hand of a good witch to whom he was apprenticed.  I wasn't too far off in my guess as he does end up learning magic but not quite in the way that I imagined. Ned, the aforementioned witch's boy was one half of a twin until one day he and his brother take to sea in a flimsy craft and end up stranded. Ned himself only survived due to his mother's heroic use of magic. Circumstances soon conspire to bring big trouble to his neck of the woods though as the bandit king and his army raid their village and try to steal the magic which Ned's mother has safeguarded.

Set in a time far off when kings and queens ruled we see the level of ignorance and distrust that exists among people in the same town and between peoples of different towns. Ned's people for example don't think that there is anything beyond the mountain. Aine's people think that Ned's people are simpletons. Even Ned's people are afraid of his mother despite the fact that she is called upon to help them when any misfortune occurs.

Another good theme that I found in this work is that of the strong woman. I read something recently about staying away from the damsel in distress trope and  Barnhill does a good job of this. There are three main characters in this book  and non can be classified as "weak": The Queen,  Sister Witch (Ned's mom) and Aine, daughter of a red-haired bandit king whose name we never learn. The Queen, despite her advanced age is in control of her faculties and is a kind and just ruler. Ned's mom exercises her office and uses her power wisely-many times she uses herbal remedies instead of magic-and is a good bridge between Ned and his father. Aine for her part has been taught well by her father and can defend herself if need be. It is she who takes pity on Ned when they first meet because he has no experience living in the wild and is dependent on her for instruction.

Power corrupts is another theme and we see it in the machinations of the Queen's family who try to usurp the throne many times. The boy King is another character who abuses his power and Aine's own father cannot curb his baser instincts and returns to the life that he lived before he met Aine's mother. Aine for her part tries to make sense of the abrupt change her father seems to have undergone. She out of all the characters struggles with some very heavy issues. She is a brave girl indeed. Life must go on and loss is a part of life and I thought that Barnhill did an excellent job with dealing with the loss of loved ones in this book. Older readers aged 10+ would grasp what she is trying to convey.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake

I am continuing my look at jFIC books with a female protagonist. Some that I have read have likable personalities but
 deal with issues that though important to them are not important in the grand scheme of things. of  Set in the Midwest in Jim Crow 1950s Octobia May lives with her aunt Shuma who runs a boarding house. Octobia has a vivid imagination and along with her best friend (a boy) is on a crusade of sorts against one of the boarders, Mr. Davenport who she thinks is a vampire. To be fair, Mr. Davenport does walk around mainly at night and she also glimpses him skulking around at the graveyard.

Octobia's aunt Shuma is very permissive and allows her a lot of leeway. Some times she gets herself into trouble and one night she follows Mr. Davenport downtown hoping to catch him turning someone into a vampire, she does see him and a lady get into a fight and then the lady winds up in the river. Davenport is no fool however and becomes more stealthy in order to evade Octobia's prying eyes.

Things get even stranger when Aunt Shuma in an attempt to get some capital for investment purposes asks Mr. Davenport for a favor. Octobia sees firsthand the choices a spinster must make in that day and age. Aunt Shuma to her credit had tried various ways to get social and cultural cachet.

In addition to the vampire theme the book explores various social themes in the African American community such as the role of soldiers in the segregated army of World War II, the phenomenon of "passing", the strong sense of community that existed in the fight for civil rights. There is also a brief mention of the role of Jewish refuge scholars at black colleges.

I like the dual meaning of the word freedom as employed in this book. Aunt Shuma tirelessly underscores to Octobia that some children in other parts of the country cannot go to school. Aunt Shuma is also seeking but one senses that Octobia will have to find this one for herself. At the end of the work Octobia shows personal growth and a burgeoning political awareness which bodes well for her. I would not mind reading one or two more books about this incredible little heroine.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Interesting library news -October

I am falling a little behind on my reading this week (don't worry I have some cool books to review very soon) so in an effort to keep to my twice a week posting  schedule I am rounding up some of the best library-related stories of the week.

1. Who would have thought that even the Vatican could get in on the digitization bandwagon.

2. Think libraries will soon go the way of the dodo? Thing again. This article explores how libraries are competing in the digital age.

3.  Want to get the latest or special kitchen gadgets for your kitchen. Have no fear, there is a new lending library based in Toronto

4.I am not sure how I feel about this story considering the myriad issues that our library has with just a vending machine. The board of trustees narrowly approved for a bar and restaurant to encroach into the rear patio of this library.

5. I am passionate about access to various books covering all sorts of themes so I am miffed taht according to this report some of the more frequently challenged books are those covering issues of poverty and social class.

6. Finally Denver Public Library's Western History and Genealogy department has a channel on youtube and this week they uploaded footage featuring survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The recording was from the early 20th century and featured actual survivors and not actors.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz

   I am seeing many new books featuring girl heroines. Of late, Amulet, Zita the Spacegirl and Maddie and the Tongue Taker come to mind. This book is another with a brave child heroine. Jocelyn is a privileged girl who lives with her stodgy grandfather Sir Charles and loves spending her days tormenting her various tutors.  Her mother is dead and her father just happens to be the infamous Captain Hook.  In the first few chapters of the book I couldn't help but think, "oh boy, is this girl going to be this bratty for the entire book" but when she proves incorrigible she is sent to a finishing school where she rooms with girls even brattier than she. At finishing school she meets a boy called Roger whose father was also a pirate and the pair soon spend much time together sharing dreams about the sea.

     Jocelyn gets a bit of a reputation at the school because she is the daughter of the most feared pirate on the seas but she harbors dreams of one day sailing with her father. This ends when a crow arrives one day with a letter confirming that Hook is indeed dead. The crow carries her to Neverland where she hires a crew that is not the greatest (to say the least).  In her first encounter with the crocodile she realizes just what a mess she has gotten herself into and this is when it dawns on her that this is not a game.
    The book borrows some of the Neverland lore and there are brief interludes where Jocelyn meets Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and a few of the lost boys. Peter is left flummoxed every time they meet however. I was wondering how come the lost boys didn't attack her and her crew but Schulz explains this away with the fact that the lost boys don't know what to do with a girl who isn't mothering them.
    Later in the book Jocelyn gets her own fairy, a prince named Meriwether. This is after a run in with some cannibalistic savages, the part of the book that I didn't like because it fell into the old trope of the savage people who had to be "civilized" by an interloper from Europe. Thankfully this section did not last long. Jocelyn's big nemesis is the crocodile who ended her father's life and I couldn't help but think that the crocodile stood for facing one's fears. She certainly had to face her fears in this first book. The end sees her with a map and there are a few other loose ends that I am sure will be tied up in a future book or two.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Stupid by Kim Firmston

 For a father to call his son "stupid" constantly is perhaps the worst thing imaginable but this is the word Martin's dad constantly uses to describe his son. Martin is sixteen and is not exactly an A student. It bothers him that his younger sister Carly makes good grades and is the apple of his dad's eye. Besides his struggles in school, Martin isn't good at sports either which is one less thing his dad can brag about. What he is good at is filming and it is on one nighttime filming shoot at an abandoned brewing company that he meets Stick, a parkour enthusiast. The pair quickly bond and Martin tells stick that he can film he and his friends doing parkour.  Stick encourages Martin to enter the film into a contest to which the latter reluctantly agrees.

   Martin's academic woes at school continue which leads to frequent fiery encounters with his dad who doesn't seem to be the most patient individual. His dad is a frequent Googler and then acts on whatever the search results turn up. This is why poor Martin has a ton of Ritalin which he doesn't take. The story is written from Martin's point of view so we see how he describes his study routine and we share his disappointment when after all the effort he expends his grades still don't go up. After one particularly fiery argument with his dad he tries to confide in Stick but Stick's reaction is not what he expected and Martin learns that Stick does not exactly come from a nuclear family.
Stick proves to be a good influence on Martin though and it is he who helps Martin develop a plan for dealing with his academic woes. Martin begins equating life struggles with parkour obstacles and developing strategies to overcome them. I like that the book talked about issues both social and personal. Martin as it turned out had a problem that could be easily detected and fixed. From the various descriptions in the story I guessed what the problem was and I was a bit ticked off in the end because no one around Martin detected it earlier. (I suspect that in real life this may not have happened but it served as an effective plot device in this book). There is some inappropriate language used so I would recommend this book for ages 14+.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

      I rarely see juvenile fiction booths with young African-American males on the cover so needless to say I was intrigued by this title. The main character Jarrett is a rising seventh grader from Newark, New Jersey who lives with his mom, a Guyanese immigrant. His mom is a foster mom who works with social services to take n kids for varying lengths of time. This is how Kevon and his little sister Treasure come into their lives. Kevon's father went missing and so the two are placed with Jarrett's family for the time being.
     Jarrett is not pleased with this arrangement since Kevon has to share his bunk bed and his living space. Kevon also ends up going to the rec center with Jarrett since it is summer time and there is a lot going on there. Jarrett is also dealing with some health issues as well as some academic difficulties (he has to go to summer school for remedial help). He is a budding Romeo as well even though he can't muster up the courage to tell his friend Caprice that he likes her.  The boys are two headstrong characters so it doesn't take long for them to butt heads over various issues.

    Even though the book is set in Newark it isn't necessarily about the harsh reality of urban life, at least not for Jarrett. He and his mom live a relatively comfortable life and he is exposed to a lot more things than Kevon (at one point in the book Kevon mentions never having tried tacos). The book explores a bunch of issues some more in depth than others. Jarrett learns for example that his best friend is gay but he is ok with this. There are issues about mental health, coping with grief and anger, as well as proper conduct as an African-American male when stopped by the police.  The author also introduces elements of Caribbean culture and briefly mentions the generational and cultural differences that exist between Caribbean immigrants and their offspring who are often more finely attuned to the nuances of American culture.
    One would think that all these issues would bog the book down but Booth skillfully weaves short but powerful vignettes into the narrative. Perhaps more importantly for me was the role of positive male  role models for the next generation of African-American youth I especially liked the fact that she made a passing reference in the book to stepping and the role of such in the black community.

This is an excellent read and I recommend it for readers aged 11+. Even though the main characters are of color the issues are universal and timely. There is no happy ending to this story and we know that both boys will eventually argue about one issue or the other the beauty lies in the fact that they can admit their wrongs and move on peacefully- a good life lesson. I am looking forward to more reads from this author.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Aurora and Zita!

It is not often that we see graphic novels where the hero is actually a heroine. And it's even rarer for the heroine to be a well-developed character who does not spend half the panels in various stages of undress. This week I came across two graphics aimed at the younger set. The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is actually the third installment in a series by author Ben Hatke and The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope is also the third installment in the Battling Boy series.

Set on an unnamed planet powered by a leviathan The Return of Zita the Spacegirl shows Zita captured by evil forces and thrown into a dungeon where she meets Femur and Ragpile. A mysterious ally then sets her free but then the real adventure begins with planet-moving consequences.  Along the way there are some characters who cooperate to help Zita's quest. Some of them are from the two previous installments in the series but like most good trilogies the book keeps moving even though you are not sure what transpired before. This book is epic like Saga (but without the raucnhiness) and action-packed like Amulet. I like the fact that Zita's flaw is that she cares about other people and about all living creatures. As is often the case with any good series even though she saves the day and returns home the door is left open to future adventures. I highly recommend it for young readers.

I had read Paul Pope's other two books in his Battling Boy series a while back and found them to be excellent. When I heard that there was a prequel in the works I simply had to read it. The Rise of Aurora West sees her still under the tutelage of the inimitable Haggard West. She is still coming to terms with the death of her mother under mysterious circumstances a fact which almost destroyed Haggard from the grief and the feeling of powerlessness it left him with. In Battling Boy Haggard is killed and in this book we see the back story behind the villain whose rogue gang terrorizes the city stealing children. Aurora also discovers that her imaginary friend when she was a kid, a being called "Mr. Wurple" was a very real being who has returned now in a more sinister form.

The book is in black and white, very rare for a graphic novel these days but the writing is so compelling that you can't help but turn the pages. Although I thought Aurora would be much more kick ass, this shows however that the journey from teen-aged girl to full-fledged heroine is not without speed bumps.  The series' style is a throwback to the golden age of comics and I remember when I read the first book I kept checking to make sure that it wasn't an old series I had somehow overlooked or never heard of.

This book is in the teens section of our library and rightly so. There is some comic violence and weapons used and some of the subject matter could be a little heavy for younger readers.  It is so well written though that I for one am on pins and needles waiting for the next installment in the series. In our library it is classified as YAurora1 so I am wondering if this means that there will a series based around her and how she developed into the crime fighter that Battling Boy meets when he arrives on earth. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Great fall crafts

Fall season is upon us so I thought I would share some great crafts that would work in story times, pre schools, day cares and the like.

The site dltk-kids.com has some excellent crafts for a virtually any lesson plan, curriculum unit, holiday or feast. This is a cute Autumn leaf hat that can be made with construction paper, chenille sticks, tape and a few other supplies.
autumn leaves crown photo

Scarecrows re always cute and scarecrow crafts are always a hit. Most places have paper plates left over from a potluck or some other event so what better way to use up some of the surplus. This craft is good for ages 3+ and can be made with the plates, various colored construction paper and some paint if you'd like.
Paper Plate Scarecrow

Keeping with the paper plate theme you may want to use the plates to make suncatchers. These are made with clear contact paper and you can use leaves, draw with markers or do both. Very nifty indeed.

Kids Crafts with Fall Leaves - Autumn Nature Suncatchers

Fall is pumpkin season so why not make a cute pumpkin frame for a loved one. The little ones love to make something for mom or dad. This can be made with a wooden frame, pipe cleaner, glue, foam and a few other accessories.

Another twist on the picture frame is to use a square or rectangular frame, unfinished wooden leaves and then using paint. glue markers and such to accessorize it as shown below. Of course you can modify and adjust according to the age level of your children.

Finally, this craft on babble caught my eye because of the sheer simplicity of it. Using a simple twig and red, orange yellow and similar-hued buttons the kids can create an eye-catching creation that they can keep for years.
fall kids crafts 05

This is a cute song that I intend to try soon in two year old story time at my library. It incorporates numbers, rhythm, colors and helps the little ones learn about the seasons.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sherlock and vampires and Wrenchies oh my!

 Any casual Sherlock Holmes fan knows that the master detective can solve even the most difficult case put to him. What if he has to fight immortal, super strong creatures though? That is the premise of the graphic novel Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London by Sylvan CordurĂ© and Laci. It starts after Sherlock's defeat of Moriarty at Reichenbach falls. He has returned to London unknown to his faithful companion Watson. Watson is newly married and Sherlock doesn't want to endanger the couple. A strange being is attacking Londoners of all social strata and soon Holmes and his brother Mycroft find themselves under attack which they barely escape.

Things get stranger when the vampires summon Holmes to find one of their own who has gone rogue killing indiscriminately and damaging the fragile alliances that the vampires have with London high society. Holmes reluctantly agrees to help them even though he doesn't trust the vampire king Selymes. Holmes devises a cunning plan to rid London of the vampire menace forever.

Though this work is a speculative Holmes adventure I was fascinated to learn that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a contemporary of Bram Stoker and wrote a few vampire-inspired tales. You can check them out here.

This was a good read and it was told in an epistolary style with Sherlock relating the events in his will to be delivered to Watson should he not survive his encounter with the vampires. I couldn't help but notice that Sherlock bore more than a passing resemblance to Jeremy Brett, star of the Sherlock series that aired in the 80s and my all time favorite tv Sherlock. I recommend this book for teens and adults.

20575438I often read Kirkus reviews to see what is new in graphic novel land and I came across a new book called The Wrenchies. To be honest the review did say that due to the graphic nature of this book (the creatures enter through the kids' eyeballs) that it was not for everyone. My gripe with this book is that the story seems to fragmented. I wasn't sure how if parts were a dream or if the characters were travelling through dimensions.

Even though the first part was set in some dystopian future where kids battle daily with weird creatures and live in fear of Shadowsmen I enjoyed this part more than the latter parts with a kid named Hollis who walks around dressed in superhero garb. Later parts of the book just involved too many characters and it became hard to track who was who and to make sense of what was happening. I did like the whole meta-textual nature of the book though because the cahracters stumble upon a copy of a book called The Wrenchies and use that to figure out what relevance the book has to their present situation.I am guessing that there would be teens who might like this book because that is who I would recommend it for. It is too graphic and obtuse for younger readers to comprehend.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Al Capone Does My Homework

The title of this book totally sucked me in when I saw it on the new books shelf at work. I later found out that the author Gennifer Choldenko has a series with similar titles. I like these historical fiction books that older kids and tweens can get into. If however you are expecting Scarface Al Capone to be shootin' up the place you will be in for a let down.

Al Capone is Alcatraz island's most famous resident, so says the main character Moose whose father   has just been named associate warden. This however makes him a target for the prisoners who have a points system for things like spitting at a warden and even maiming or killing one. Moose finds out  and is determined to protect his dad.  One great takeaway that I got from this book was that the island had residents who lived there and were in essence trapped there along with the cons. Moose describes having to take certain boats to the mainland to do this and that.

That is not Moose's only job however, his sixteen year old sister Natalie is autistic (the book doesn't say this but from her behavior it seems that she is) and whenever she is home from boarding school Moose has to take  of her and help her navigate all the social situations that she can't or won't.

When a night fire destroys their apartment Natalie is blamed by another warden and soon the small community starts treating Moose' family differently. Moose and his friends endeavor to find the real cause of the blaze. Al Capone only appears in this novel for a short bit but his cameo is important.

Choldenko did a lot of painstaking research and in the end notes describes how she gleaned inspiration from various sources to form the characters. Some of the prisoners are based on real people and she explored facets of how she thinks they might have behaved.

This book is a good yarn that kids will enjoy and hopefully it will inspire them to read a bit ore about some of America's greatest villains and rogues and the time period in which they lived.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

More great stuff for banned books week

I have been scouring the web all this week for good blurbs about BBW and I have found a few good ones that I will proceed to share. If you were a banned book, which one would you be? Hm, take this quiz and find out. (I got Slaughterhouse Five by the way). This post from Book Riot is a talk back that uses quotes from the book themselves to deliver some rebuttals against those who would seek to censor them.

The always funny buzzfeed has this collection of books with a slider that allows you to make them "normal". Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for example could be known as Harry Potter and the Completely Normal Childhood That Was in no Way Magical. Hilarious!

Graphic novels are often among the list of challenged and banned books and NPR explores this topic further.
Dav Pilkey eloquently explains how you can express your concern about a book or graphic novel without undermining the freedom to read of your fellow citizens.


Some banned books have had a profound and lasting effect on generations of American youth and are staples of summer reading lists. (In my library for example we can never have too many copies of A Catcher in the Rye). Even though I moved to the US at age twenty reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X was a a profound experience for me because I could feel his frustration. Even though I did not agree with his way of acting towards the world I could understand why and many others like him felt the way they did. This list contains those books that have helped shape the America we know.

Finally I came across a fascinating collection of beautiful quotes from the Huffington Post that almost made me tear up (I stopped reading them before I did). This one from Sherman Alexie's wonderful The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is my personal fave. "The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know"   Wow.

If you'd like to find out more about BBW events, check here.

Follow them on Twitter @BannedBooksWeek and on Facebook.

Tape yourself during the Virtual Read Out