Friday, January 30, 2015

A List of Things That Didn't Kill Me: A Memoir by Jason Schmidt

Youth non fiction is not something I read a lot so when I picked up this book it as partly to fill that void and expand my horizons and it was partly because the name of the book was so intriguing I actually thought it was a fictional tale and I had to look at the call number a few times to convince myself that it wasn't.

This boy's life was harrowing almost from a very young age. His parents' divorce affected him financially as his father's erratic behavior and anti-establishment nature lead him to constantly uproot them and even when they settled somewhere it was usually next to other people with substance abuse problems and dubious parenting skills.

The events in this story occurred in the late seventies and early eighties and while I am not saying things in this book don't occur now, the advent of technology certainly makes it easier for behavior to be monitored and addressed.

The book is heart wrenching at times and you really feel for Mr. Schmidt. He writes about things in such a matter of fact, dispassionate manner that it makes it even more difficult to read. He mentions few details about school in his formative years and as a former teacher I am quite shocked that he didn't need counselling and/or  lengthy visits with the school social worker. It is a testament to his natural intelligence and drive that he was able to pick up his schooling later on despite having missed a fair amount of instruction due to his father's reticence about the education system and Mr. Schmidt's own behavioral issues.

In addition to being a coming-of-age story, this is a story about a deadly health crisis, its toll on a family and on the psyche of a young boy. I imagine that writing this book must have been very cathartic for Mr. Schmidt as his father dealt with a host of issues which he struggled to deal with adequately. Because of the strong language, drug references and other strong content I recommend this book for ages 13+.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Valentine's day crafts

I will soon be in charge of weekly crafts at my branch so I am searching high and low for crafts. Thank goodness for the internet. Here is a selection of crafts that I will do at my branch's Valentine's Day program next month.

This heart headgear/crown should be a hit with the young ones. Their parents will have to help them somewhat with the sticking and /or stapling it together. A model of this is sure to serve as a visual enticement for the little ones. They are going to want one "just like that".

Animals made of hearts, how cool is that?! I did this craft last year and it was a huge hit. Some pre-cutting and preparation is needed though as you need to cut the big hearts for the ears as well as the small hearts for the flair and the trunk.

I must have been really amped about Valentine's Day last year because I also did this craft (to great critical acclaim I might add. Using paper plates and pre-cut hearts in different colors I made a love fish. The little ones really loved this one.

Toddler Valentine Craft

I submitted this huge button heart to the craft committee at work. On a piece of plain canvas I used glue and stuck various buttons on. I first traced a heart shape lightly in pencil so I would have lines to follow. I did find however that the buttons as they accumulated began to make it look bulky but the overall effect of the pink hearts on the white or off-white canvas was very nice.

Below is a smaller version of the craft that you can use if you find yourself pressed for time.

Cards for the big day are all the rage but this card not only allows you to put your own touches on it but when it is opened it gives a cool 3d effect that is sure to wow your special someone.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thrones and Bones-Frostborn by Lou Anders

Thrones-and-Bones-Frostborn.jpg (551×784)

   Masters of the fantasy genre like Tolkien and George RR Martin have set the bar very high for this genre but Lou Anders' book, the first in a proposed series is an excellent addition to the genre. This however is a book for the young ones so there are no convoluted plot lines and innumerable characters to keep track of.

The book's title refers to a game that is the favorite pastime of the main character, a Norse boy called Karn. Karn has big dreams but none of them involve becoming the head of his family's large farm, a job which has been passed down in his family for generations. He likes to play Thrones and Bones with his uncle Obi and he enjoys their chats. His father, though slightly disappointed in his son is not overly harsh or unpleasant towards him, a fact that I admired as I am tired of seeing the "harsh dad" trope.

In a parallel story, a giantess called Thianna wishes she were taller so she wouldn't be teased by the "regular" sized giants. Some in particular are very rude and bully her simply because she is smaller (even though she is seven feet tall). She knows little about her mother except what she looks like and other small details but soon her mother's past comes back to haunt her and she must make tough choices as she faces a new frightening reality.

As the cover hints, both of these characters meet and journey around various lands together on an adventure, the details of which I will let you discover for yourself.  Anders does a good job of conveying the awkwardness that the characters feel around each other. In a YFIC version of this story I would expect them to fall for each other but in this story the height difference probably precludes such a thing from happening. Tolkien's Smaug is one of the most evil yet endearing creatures in fantasy, but this book has a creature that while not as feared or well known as Smaug is important to the story line nonetheless.

This story is one of those rare books that will appeal to both girls and boys. The themes explored: wanting to fit in with one's peers, dual heritage, wanting to chart one's own course different from your parents are universal. Although we learn little about Karn's four sisters and his mother except in one small mention, Thianna for her part has an important female mentor who teaches her important skills. I highly recommend this book for grades 4-7.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Troubles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell

  Can a book for younger readers (middle school aged) combine aspects of  the  Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War and Cuba and still be entertaining? After reading The Troubles of Johnny Cannon I would definitely say yes. Johnny Cannon is an original character who is a tad irreverent but underneath his rough exterior is a kind person and genuine friend.

 The Troubles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell

 The book is set in 1961, a heady time in America to say the least. Cullman, Alabama is a small town some fifty miles north of Birmingham. We learn though that the town has some big personalities and even bigger secrets. Johnny Cannon lives with his dad, a war veteran and his older brother who is his hero. Soon his brother leaves for a stint with the military and Johnny is left to help his dad with the day to day running of the house.  He has a lot to deal with including the weird behavior of his dad, not to mention school where he has daily face offs with his nemesis, Eddie.

I couldn't help but detect echoes of American classics such as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Johnny is a boy who is usually left to his own devices and he does things that were they done today would be frowned upon (and Social Services called). That is one advantage to a historical fiction such as this one, things can be said and actions done that would be totally out of place today.

I have to admit that the historical setting and the authenticity of the main character's voice was refreshing. As is the case with most well developed characters he grows and matures by the novel's conclusion. He is not the smartest or most academically inclined person but he has a good people radar which he uses to good effect.  I recommend this book for students in grades 6-8 and I think it is a worthwhile read for students partly due to the historical time period covered and partly because of the accurate descriptions of some of the civil unrest that characterized this period in America's history.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Learn to play an instrument

Many people have New Year's resolutions and chief among them are learning to play an instrument. In story times songs on a cd are cool but sometimes the volume is too high or low, a low quality radio wrecks the sound or the cd itself skips. There is something about a singer/performer that just gets the crowd moving and grooving. With this in mind I have resolved to learn the ukelele so I thought I would find as many resources as I could that could help with this. So without further ado here are some resources I found:

                                                 Five effective strumming patterns

                                                      Ukulele for dummies

                                              How to play really easy ukulele part 1

                                             How to play easy ukulele part 1a

The ukulele may not be everyone's cup of tea and so another "easy" instrument to learn is the drum. Drums are a really easy to pick up and can be an integral part of story times, library cultural celebrations and so forth.

Djembe drums are from West Africa and capture attention when they are played. Also I have met few people who can't help shake an arm, leg or other body part when the drums start playing.

Here is another teacher giving his version of beginner Djembe drum patterns

I heard that some folks in my library system plan on giving a ukulele workshop this summer so I may revisit this blog post in a few months time. Whatever instrument that you decide to play however, know that lots of practice will be required before you achieve mastery.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Black Stars by Dan Krakos

 Sci-fi, and kids don't always go together but Dan Krakos decided to mesh the two and did a pretty good job of it.  Now before I go any further I would like to state that this novel is the follow up to an earlier Krakos novel called The Planet Thieves but is still good enough to be read by itself since Krakos does nifty flashbacks every so often.

     Apparently in The Planet Thieves Mason helped bring peace between humans and another alien species and the result is that he is famous throughout the galaxy. However bullies and any punk with a point to prove wants a piece of him. Earth as we know it is different. Mason and his kind live in another time where contact with other races is not only common but necessary. The other kind is a species known as Tremist who are similar in appearance to humans but have way cooler technology and weaponry. One of their most powerful weapons has been lost for centuries. Mason, though young, is a formidable warrior so he is selected to go to live with the Tremist in order to train and be ready should there be a need to fight other wars. As you can imagine, there are some awkward moments and Mason has to adjust his thinking in order to live in a strange place but I would equate that to the adjustments a normal teen would have to make were s/he to live in another country.

  I found that Krakos could have done a better job showing Mason's relationships with other characters male and female. He came off as being almost android-like in his interactions and in his reactions to battles and pain. The plot twists were handled adequately but the epilogue was far too long and a tad unwieldy. With that being said, I liked the book because hidden underneath all the action and suspense are some valuable messages for the age group the book is aimed for (middle grades).

In no particular order and without revealing too much f the plot here are my takeaways:
-growing up is hard
-nothing is ever black and white, there is almost always some grey
-don't judge by appearances