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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Banned Books Week

It is timely that Banned Books Week is here because in a school district near where I live there have been protests and walkouts today and over the past week due to a school board proposal to change the way History is taught in schools. Supposedly they want to make it friendlier and less about rabble rousing, in their words  focus on " positive aspects of the United States and its heritage and avoiding material that would encourage or condone "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."" Thankfully the parents and students are not having that and are letting the whole world know it too.

Many books have been challenged over the years and this list provided by the American Library Association has the most challenged classic books. I read this list and could not believe some of the books that were on there. I mean To Kill a Mockingbird...come on.  As for recent publications that have made many school board member foam at the mouth this list shows the top ten frequently challenged books by year. I must say though that I am not surprised that Captain Underpants is there, I looked at one of them years ago and could not believe how plain silly it was. Even the words were silly, I think the boys took pride in spelling words incorrectly. However, as much as I don't like the book personally a book like that is gold for a school teacher or a librarian or literacy coach who is searching for any way to get students to pick up a book. Sure Captain Underpants probably wouldn't give other civilizations the best idea of us if somehow the book were to wind up in another galaxy but you know what, it gets kids reading. They learn about plot, suspense, irony, sarcasm etc.  I don't like the book but far be it from me to prevent the neighbor's child from reading it at school.

As I look at the main reason why books are band the words "sexually explicit" come to mind. These parents must want to cocoon their children- I can understand if you want to keep your 6 year old from looking at the latest Nikki Minaj video but an older child probably has friends who have phones and has probably seen that (and worse) online.  As for "offensive language" again, unless your kids are home schooled I think they have probably heard a cuss word or two or three in school. I remember learning about the birds and the bees in school...and that was way back when before technology exploded as it has.  At work I see kids elementary school kids playing computer games after school where people are shot and killed. Even uber popular Minecraft has some not too savory aspects at times.

I have always thought that those who want to ban books want to prevent their kids from thinking. Those parents are so set in their worldview that they don't want anything to spoil it. I am sorry to say but it is a cold, hard world out there and technology being what it is has made so many things accessible to our children. So go ahead, read a banned book (or two or three) and go out there and rouse some rabble :)

Friday, September 19, 2014

I've been Snarked!

 Well, well well. In trying to assemble a display set for Talk Like a Pirate Day I came upon Snarked by Roger Langridge. Yes, I know I am late and this Eisner award winning trilogy has been out for two years now but wow what a cool series. It is based on a Lewis Carroll poem called "The Walrus and the Carpenter" in which a walrus and a carpenter trick some oysters into accompanying them on a walk and then eat them and that oyster reference is a running gag throughout this series-on the very first page of the book we see the shack has a sign with the words 'room to let-oysters welcome" on it. Later on, the walrus is tracked down due to the smell of "oyster moustache"

The main character, a walrus called Wilburforce J. Walrus is an animal of leisure (he rises at four in the afternoon) and on one particular day he reads that the king is away on a trip so he inveigles Clyde McDunk a slow-witted but faithful sidekick to go to the palace with the aim of procuring food. Thus begins a saga where the feisty eight year old princess Scarlett solicits the walrus' help in rescuing the king after we learn that the three mean advisers have spirited him away on Snark island.

We meet some cool characters in the book and though there is a bit of violence in some scenes it is mostly comedic in nature. There are so many literary references in this book that it is hard to name them all. Lewis Carroll seems to be a major influence what with a Cheshire cat, a Mad hatter and a mean man-hunting Gryphon making appearance;  there is a butcher and a baker, a White Knight with a horse called Rocinante, and the voyage that the characters undertake reminded me of the Canterbury Tales and their voyage to find the snark bore echoes of the dwarfs from the Hobbit travelling to find Smaug (the Snark turns out to be very similar).

As I sat down and reflected on the ending of the book my take on it was that true friendship is golden and should be treasured, and that childhood memories are good to hold on to even as adults when we become more wise to the ways of the world and perhaps more cynical. The Walrus certainly grows as a person due to his adventures and by the end of the book he is still a rogue but he is less of a rogue than he was at the book's onset if that makes sense. The White Knight has a great quote near the end of the book: "when you get to be my age you come to realize that our generation's job is to get the next generation into a position where they can make their own decisions" Amen to that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bike Thief by Rita Feutl

        If there is anything to learn from this book it is that you must be careful of the friends you keep and that one bad decision can lead to a snowball effect and serious trouble. Nick and his sister Katie  live in foster care and because of past transgressions they are determined to be n their best behavior for fear that they will be split up, something they don't want to see happen at all. When Katie breaks a tv set in the house, afraid of what will happen when his foster parents find out Nick talks to his friend who tells him that he knows how to make easy money. Before long Nick finds himself deeper and deeper in debt and is forced to pull more jobs together with a group of "runts" (younger kids) who don't quite understand what they are getting into.
          Quite by coincidence the one girl he meets that he likes and that likes him is the very person whose bike he stole and he must then find a way to return her bike since it is her only means of getting around (this is no Romeo and Juliet story). The guys running the bike chop shop are mean and don't think twice about roughing up. Nick wonders if bikes are all they are into and his suspicions turn out to be valid when the head honchos reveal that they were just training the kids with small jobs before they could be trusted with big jobs.

Bike Thief

    I am a bike fanatic myself so I enjoyed reading a book where the  story revolved around bikes of all sizes. It was a little strange how we saw absolutely nothing about Nick's life in school (classes, homework etc.) until the very end of the book and I felt that we could have at least seen some scenes between him and his foster parents throughout the book as I felt that surely they would have suspected that something was up.
     Books with a preachy tone are not always useful for teens as most of them can see right through it and I was glad that this book was not one of those. In this book we see that Nick's choices are bad and we get a sense of his unease with certain situations. He can tell right from wrong but he feels that he must make certain decisions in order to get the money he needs. In the end he can reflect and think about his choices and ways in which he could have done things differently. Overall, this was a good fast read and I recommend this book for ages 11-16.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day is officially on September 19th but I am celebrating it a week early at my library. I have scoured the usual internet sites to get ideas and inspiration.  At first I was all gung ho and wanted to do it like a story time with an opening song/activity/craft/song/activity BUT after I ran the idea by my supervisor she gently reminded me that the way we are celebrating it (as part of our Super Saturday series) will be more free-flowing. I decided to set up the meeting room at my library like this with the squares representing one section of the room:

       Cannonball sea battle                                            Pin the patch on the pirate

Display of pirate themed materials Captain Hook

Craft station Refreshments

I chose that mix of activities because I have noticed that the majority of patrons that attend these events tends to be families with young (<10) children and there is always a sprinkling of unaccompanied minors as well. For those older siblings there are word searches, coloring sheets galore and a craft.

This worked: I noticed some older kids coloring and making the pirate mask that I got on Oriental Trading. I would say that was definitely one of the more popular items. I observed that some of the gaming crew kids and even a few tweens were excited about the Captain Hook station. Basically they put the hook on their hand and had to see how many pretzels they could hook in 30 secs. I think the competitive aspect of this is what got to them. The record was 14 by the way.

Here are the other stations:

For future Talk Like a Pirate Days I will do the following things:  1. Buy more punch. I only bought two containers and they ran out quickly.

2. Make the hooks out of a different material. The foil was very aesthetically pleasing but they bent very easily.

3. Enlist more volunteer help. I ended up manning the hook pretzel station and while I had fun I would have been much better served roaming around and helping out at other stations where needed.

4. Put less materials on display. I ended up putting a second display table between the refreshment table and the craft station and hardly anything was touched.

All in all though the day went very well and major fun was had by all!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Knightley and son by Rohan Gavin

Father son books are always interesting to read because depending on the age of their son there is always some subtle tension in the relationship. For young sons the father prods his progeny, trying to get him to be a better player, athlete etc. Older sons, in trying to carve their own niche and explore their individuality are often at loggerheads with their fathers. In this book, the relationship is somewhere in between.
 Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin is an unusual detective story. Alan Knightley ex ace private detective, is not grooming his son as a potential successor for the family business (as is usually the case in novels of this type), as a matter of fact he has gone out of his way to conceal information about past cases and about the one big case he was working on before he went into a coma. Knightley's obsessive nature and devotion to his cases took a toll on his marriage and he and his wife divorced.
     The book opens with Darkus Knightley trying to make sense of a dossier of cases his father has worked on. In the time that his father has been comatose, Darkus has sharpened his skills and is very calculating and composed the way he thinks his father would want him to be. Though there are a few twists and turns along the way, the case is pretty much standard fare with it being resolved yet leaving the door open for possible sequels or villainous returns.
     The book touches on  very important theme-the influence of a father on an impressionable young man. Darkus has had to form his idea of what his father would want him to be, first because his father's long convalesence and also because his father is not the most communicative person. This I felt was a theme that could have been explored more.  Another small gripe I had is that Darkus Knightley is portrayed as a type of automaton, he seems unaffected by his parents divorce, he patiently deals with bullies who make fun of him in class. Yes he is very smart but even the most intelligent teens are capable of displays of emotion.
    Despite these minor flaws this is a good book and I recommend it for readers aged 10-13.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

   The main character in The League of Seven is a boy with hair white as snow and he is accompanied by another tween with electric power who has moving tattoos on his body and a heroine who is the best fighter of the three (in one of the epic battles in the book she goes toe to toe with a killer ninja robot). They travel around an alternate United States in a flying dirigible and in one scene battle a giant mole rat creature underground. How did all this come to pass?

    Twelve year old Archie Dent goes on a routine trip to the top secret headquarters of a secret society that his parents just happen to belong to when he makes a horrific discovery-a strange mind-controlling creature overpowers them both turning them into mindless zombies. Archie and his trusty robot Mr. Rivets, a sort of nanny-cum-valet travel through an alternate United States in order to save them. They meet Hachi, a fiery Native American girl and Fergus a boy who is obsessed with ¨lektricity" and pays a terrible price. The trio winds up together somewhat reluctantly but soon depend on each other for their very survival against powerful forces bent on destroying civilization as they know it.

Though Archie fancies himself as the leader of the group my favorite character was Hachi- a spiky young lady who is bent on revenge. She has trained herself to be the ultimate warrior and in the various fights she inevitable is the one coordinating the team. She also has some curious little toy animals that can battle bad guys or entertain a restless toddler.Gratz peels off the layers of each character just enough and does so with perfect timing as well. Nothing happens too soon and when we do learn a detail about a character it fits seamlessly into the narrative.  He uses elements from a variety of mythologies and also includes lots of historical references that will have young, inquisitive readers searching for the answers.

Read this book for the ninja robot, easily the coolest villain that I have seen in any novel fr quite some time; there is also a hilarious interlude involving the Nigerian 419 scam. This is the first in a trilogy -so far we have met three of the league seven-and if the foreshadowing is anything to go by then the other four characters are going to be awesome as well.  I cant wait for the second and third installments to arrive. I will also not be surprised if this isn't made into a movie-the robot ninja alone would be worth the price of admission.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Octopus paper plate craft

  Some folks don't like to do crafts in their story time but I do. I find that it helps the children to , the parents or myself can use it as an added incentive to pay attention during story time and the manipulation of the small parts helps kids develop good motor skills.

  I am always amazed at the things that can be done with paper plates, they are so versatile and with a little paint, thread glue and some odds and ends you can really make some amazing things. These are the materials we will need for this craft:

-paper plates
-chenille sticks
-googly eyes
-pom poms

1. I punch holes in the plate. I didn't want to do too many because it would get too difficult to manage.

2. I inserted the chenille sticks into the holes. I decided to cut the sticks in half so the tentacles wouldn't look too long

3.  Next I add the googly eyes

4. Last, I put the pom poms on the plate and voila! An octopus!  This is a great supplementary craft to a story like Kevin Sherry's I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean.

This one made by a story time attendee came out really nice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Little green men at the Mercury inn by Greg Leitich Smith

This is a cool little book that I stumbled upon (I think it was in the new book cart at work) and I was glad that I did read it. Aliens walk among us is the overarching theme of this book which details the adventures one summer of a twelve year old Aidan who lives in a motel that his parents own. The motel is open to the public but also has its share of long term residents.  Cocoa Beach is in close proximity to and the hotel occupancy rate increases whenever there is a rocket launch as curious folk want to see the goings on. Neeedless to say Aidan has seen a lot of weird things and if you ask him some of the motel guests are as weird as any extra terrestrial!