Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Misadventures of Max Crumbly; Locker Room Hero by Rachel Renée Russell

Image result for max crumblyRachel Renee Russell's ubiquitous Dork Diaries fly off the shelves at most libraries and bookshelves. Not to have the boys feeling left out, she has a new illustrated series aimed at middle grades. The Misadventures of Max Crumbly-Locker Room Hero introduces us to another lovable loser.

As is now standard practice in most of these books, our hero is a quirky kid (in this case an eighth grader) who has the usual issues (bullies, parents and girls) although not in that order. Max doesn't take himself too seriously at all and some of his flashback revelations are hilarious.

Max is new at his school and is not adjusting well to the social cues as well as to the overall structure of the institution. Worse, he soon draws the ire of the school bully, Doug Thurston. It is while fleeing his nemesis that poor Max winds up trapped with no seeming escape in sight. I can't wait to see how Max gets out of this jam.

This is another excellent addition to the burgeoning middle grade illustrated novel field. Read alikes to this would be Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Lenore Look's Alvin Ho, James Patterson's Middle School series and Stephan Pastis' Timmy Failure.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Best multicultural books 2016

What a year it has been!  There have been highs and lows but overall I have grown and  learned so much. The past few weeks have shown me that there is so much to do in terms of people getting to know about other cultures. I think that one way we can do that is through finding books that speak about cultures and experiences that are different to our own.

Early on Saturday morning someone sent me a link to the best off books compiled by the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children's Literature (CSMCL). I am ashamed to say that I have not read as many on this list as I should have.  Kwame Alexander's Booked made the list and if you liked his 2015 Newbery-award-winning Crossover, this is a good follow up and deals with similar issues that middle graders will enjoy.

Jason Alexander's All-American Boys was stirring and timely and I am glad to say that my library system will be one of the stops next year on his book tour/talk. He has two middle grade books on the  CSMCL list as well; As Brave as You which deals with two boys who spend summer in Virginia and discover that their grandfather is blind and another called Ghost which sees four kids from various backgrounds brought together on an elite track team that could see them qualify for a major competition if they can get their acts together.

Tis the season for best of lists and another that I found worth sharing is from Kirkus Reviews. They have best picture books to make you, but I want to share the Best Picture Books about Friends and Community.  Yes, some of the books in this list. Check out their best of middle grade list here.

In terms of music I have recently come across a few cds that contain tracks that can be used in dance parties, story times and the like.  When my kids were younger Putumayo's "Sesame Street Playground" cd was on heavy rotation as we traversed our city.  With songs in languages as diverse as Hindi, Russian and Hebrew I found that even though for some songs I did not understand a word, the beat was so catchy that it didn't matter.  As a matter of fact Putumayo has a treasure trove of cds with great music from across the globe!

Feel free to add your own best of books and/or music in the comments and have a great holiday season!!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Memoirs of a Sidekick by David Skuy

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Told entirely from the perspective of a somewhat shy seventh grader named Adrian, this is the story of Adrian and Boris who have a secret hideout, code names and dozens of escape plans for when danger is near.

The book is divided into sections each with its own theme. There is an overarching plot however and the sections each contribute to the book's resolution. I admired the boys' naivete and good intentions (they are socially and environmentally conscious) although as a parent of young sons I did find myself shaking my head now and then.

Bullies are always bad especially the sneak bullies, the ones who are model kids and somehow manage to charm grownups. One such bully is the boys' antithesis, Robert. Like many bullies he has his cronies who tag along with him and laugh at his tired jokes and gags.

Politics is a facet of life that cannot be escaped and we find that in this novel the same is true. Boris decides that he wants to be Student Council President and the two hatch a series of operations designed to win the support of key voting blocs in their school

Recent elections have shown that pools cannot be trusted and Adrian feels the same as B-ster (one of Boris' many nicknames) prepares for what is perhaps the most important election in the school's history. The ending is somewhat predictable but this is after all a book aimed at middle grades. I recommend it for kids in grades 3 and above.  Some realisitic fiction read alikes to this book are Chris Rylander's The Fourth Stall and Amy Rylander's The Popularity Papers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Empathy, Diversity, Cultural Awareness and the Political Process...for kids!

Empathy is a buzzword nowadays and with good reason. When we empathize with someone we can imagine what it is they are feeling and we can better understand their point of view. I am an avid public radio listener and I heard a story not too long ago about what parents wanted their children to know versus what teachers wanted. For young ones games that are inventive and relevant are excellent teaching tools. Here we find several games and apps that do just that.

My own children are feeling much better now but the results of last week's election left them saddened. I know that many children are still coming to terms with what happened. I have searched for some reads that parents and caregivers can use to help. The past few months have seen many difficult issues come to the forefront and although as parents we often try to shield our little ones from the ugly truths, there will come a time when we have to talk. This site lists many good books that can be used to help talk about many of life's difficult issues.

My children are one of a few ethnically diverse children in their school. Thus from time to time we often have some very deep conversations at home about race. This site talks about teaching kids about people who may look or do things differently than they. A big part of that is also understanding and respecting similarities and differences. Lately it seems that people who are "different" have been in the news a lot. For adults who want to gently broach the subject, picture books are a good way to do so and this website has some books that talk about diversity and inclusion.

I have been as surprised as anyone with the level of vitriol spewed in the campaign. It is no wonder that a week later there are still protests and rallies nationwide. Commonsensemedia has a great set of tools to help kids of all ages navigate the campaign season (don't forget, midterm elections are around the corner!) as well as deal with the negative aftermath of an election.

These are just a handful of resources however and if you wish to find more head to your local library!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

STEMmy books for younger readers

 I have been reading books to my sons at night before bedtime. I like chapter books that way we can continue a story for a few nights but since I have a nine and a six year old I usually choose books that are just long enough to get through with a week's time, so that usually rules out really in depth ones with lots of characters and plot points. There are lots of books with hijinks galore but I searched high and low to find books with some action but a little bit of science or scientific thinking in there as well..

The DATA set are a group of kids who like Danger, Action Trouble and Adventure. In March of the Mini Beasts we see the club encounter an eccentric scientist called Dr. Bunsen. He is working on an invention called a growth ray and when the ray accidentally hits some figurines, these come to life. This book has short chapters but they are packed with a ton of action, chuckles and a bit of suspense as well. Author Ada Hopper has created a great new series here.

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Cari Meister's Buzz Beaker series features a young boy who tries to solve problems by using various inventions. At last count there were nine books in the series. Some of my favorites are  Buzz Beaker  and the Race to School in which perennially late Buzz  must figure out a way to get there on time.

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Another good juvenile fiction series featuring an inventor is J.C. Greenburg's Andrew Lost series. In No. 1, On the Dog, ten-year old Andrew invents a shrinking machine and is sucked into it only to end up on his dog's nose.

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With a name like Eliza Boom you can't not be an inventor and this is the case with this young girl whose father is an inventor (and perhaps more) and whose dog is called Einstein. In My Explosive Diary, when her father loses some very important document, Eliza, Einstein and her brand-new assistant Amy are called into action.

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Patricia Reilly's Zigzag Kids is another good series that talks about the exploits of various kids at a   place called the Zigzag Afternoon Center. Book 3 in said series, Flying Feet  we meet Charlie, a kid who often thinks of  inventions that seldom work. His latest idea just might be able to help Jake the Sweeper get rid of a big pile of trash and save "Come as a Character" day, too.  

These are just a tip of the iceberg and with STEM being a buzzword more and more of these books
are coming on the market. Feel free to share some of your faves in the comments!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

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When I first started reading this novel it reminded me of the old Famous Five book by Enid Blyton that I devored growing up. These books consisted of a team of siblings and their strong-willed cousin and a dog that got into a variety of scrapes.

Saunders' novel starts in a similar way with a close knit family featuring children of various ages discovering a cute sand fairy called the Psammead. Psammead however is a being that has lived for millennia and as such has lived a very colorful life. In his present state however he is greatly diminished and is forced to reflect upon his previous exploits.

The novel is set in London at the start of the First World War and at first the childrens' lives continue as normal. Things change however and their older siblings find themselves involved in the war.

Saunders does a good job of showing how the children strived to find a sense of normalcy despite the chaos around them. The Psammead may very well have been an imaginary creature (no one but the kids could see him) but he served his purpose well.

Wars have been fought throughout history for various reasons, some fair and some not. More often than not it is the young who bear the brunt of it. Whether or not young people experience harm or not they bear some toll. I recommend this book for children in third grade and up. I think it is an excellent conversation starter and a great way to generate dialog about thorny issues.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

School's in!

  The summer is over, leaves have started turning yellow and here in Denver the temps are already dipping into the sixties. That can only mean one thing, school's back in!  Parents and caregivers fear not, I have scoured the interwebs for resources to help your little ones with even the most obscure assignment.

I love abcya, there are sections devoted to each grade level and the site is optimized for use on mobile devices which is a big plus.

Starfall has lots of great math activities and they are aligned with Common Core standards. Speaking about said standards, teachers now have to teach math concepts in very different ways. It helps to be able to have a reliable video that can show both parents and caregivers how to work out those sums. This is why I like Khanacademy's early math page.

Coolmath has lots of math and math-based games that provide good extension activities for kids who have mastered their basic math operations and want to move on to pre algebra and so forth.

Do you have a kid who loves to spout random facts all day long? Fear not, I have a site that can satisfy even the most voracious reader-Factmonster.  There are also online quests and handouts for homeschoolers and classroom use.  Infoplease has a trove of information about the US and the links on the top of the page have info on the world at large.

Most readers will recognize the name Scholastic from the many book fairs they put on at schools. Their website also has excellent resources on all sorts of topics.  Time for kids is another one that I highly recommend as well, as it has relevant content and accessible articles on current world events.

World languages are becoming more and more useful and with the ease of global travel it helps to be able to speak a language or two or three. I like to use Noah as he is a funny, well-meaning kid who because of his struggles with Spanish gets into all kind of scrapes. He repeats words and phrases just enough so that they stick. The site has practice activities as well.  Onlinefreespanish is another site that I have used for years and it is fun for younger language learners.  Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's fantastic Storyplace is another good resource for early learning in Spanish.  The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has some excellent resources for a variety of languages for example French and Mandarin.

Learning to work with computer code is a good skill for young ones to have and there are some sites I have used with my young'uns.'s site has several great resources to help kids learn the basics of coding. For those who want something that explains things in more detail try Khan Academy's Hour of Code.

Have a great school year!!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Books to help discuss difficult topics

Recent events have shaken the country to the core. There are many people who are hurt and angry for various reasons and rightly so. Little children, even if they don't watch the news or listen to the radio can still be exposed to the goings on through friends and talk at school. They may then come home with questions about matters that parents are not ready to discuss. Books then are a way for parents and caregivers to broach difficult subjects.

As a bonus, drug use and abuse is rampant across the United States. For those who may have been the victims of this or who may have seen family members suffer due to addiction, Zetta Elliot's book Bird is a book that deal with addiction in a touching way without giving too many details and which ends in a somewhat hopeful way.

Carol Swartout Klein's book Painting for Peace in Ferguson uses verse to tell the story of the events in Ferguson and how the community came together to paint for peace. The before and after pictures are amazing to look at as well.

In terms of books that help kids solve problems Keeping the Peace: The Kids' Book of Peacemaking by Anders Hanson is a wonderful resource. It teaches kids to recognize when a problem has occurred and then proceeds to give them the tools to work through problems.

We are not all the same and we are not all equal. Regardless of parents' best intentions and the lessons they impart at home kids will realize that some kids are different. Those differences may be readily apparent or they may be mores ubtle. Susan Martineau's Dealing With Differences is a wonderful little book in which she gives examples and provides some role playing situations that can be used in the classroom or at home.

These books are mostly centered on events here in America but if you are looking for books that deal with issues worldwide this blog has some excellent resources.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Olympic-themed crafting for kids

For those who love crafts with an athletic theme this summer is something that they have been eagerly awaiting. The Olympics start in early August but I have already seen a nearby library with a craft program based on the Olympics. At our branch we are fortunate to have a big green space in the front of the building which is perfect for games such as running tic tac toe and so forth.

For me, I love to see the Olympic flame enter the stadium. Crowds line up on the streets just to cheer whoever is carrying it.  The craft below allows any child to pretend that just for a moment they are the ones with all the glory. How cool would it be to have kids make this in a program and then parade through the library.

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Whenever we see images of Greek gods they are often wearing a toga and one of those cool wreaths. Little ones may well want to put one of these on after gluing and sticking it together.


The Olympic rings are iconic symbols known the world over. Here are some ideas I found across the web to represent said rings.

Instead of the rings perhaps little ones can use hand prints (be careful with the mess!)

                           Cool glasses that the kiddos can use to show their Olympic spirit.

These are just a few of what's out there but they are a good starting point. The Olympics only come around once every four years so it's perfectly fine to be hyped about them!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Librarian's Summer of Reading pep talk

Here in the city of Denver the Summer of Reading program gets underway today and I wanted to pause for a moment before the craziness starts (besides the increased numbers of folks at the branch and the adjustments made to schedules, one of our prizes is a ticket to Elitch Gardens and this can cause people to line up outside the library on the day we start distributing them).

With all that going on it's easy to lose sight of the reason for a summer reading program in the first place- to help combat the summer slide, to foster a love of reading etc etc so I have been searching for some vids, blogs and so forth that can be a source of hope and encouragement for librarians young and old for the inevitable low points this summer.

I love TED talks and I keep telling myself that I need to watch one of them a day and in some cases watch some every day in order to fully gleam what the talker is trying to convey. Check out these talks that accurately convey the importance of libraries- one of them talks about why books are like secret doors.

I love feel good stories about the library helping people. I follow this blog on tumblr and this story made me swell with pride. Sometimes it takes someone from a different country to help us see what we have here in North America.

A library without books?!?!  Yes! It has 3-d printers and powerful pcs and free access!  This is the future of libraries right here. The Denver Public Library's idealab already provides a space space for kids and teens.

Libraries are fun places to work most of the time but this town takes it a step further. I have always wanted a red car but I guess I may have to settle for a red library cart.  It sure beats the dull beige all our carts are painted.

Have a great summer!!


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo by Brian Falkner

How would dinosaurs have affected the course of history assuming they had managed to survive and coexist with man. This is the premise of this great new YA novel by Brian Falkner set in early nineteenth century Europe.

Willem's dad was a magician who was well-known to general Napoleon but fell out of favor with him and the family was forced to flee. Willem now lives in a small, provincial town called Gaillemarde where he goes under an assumed name so no one will know of his family origin. The fruit does not fall far from the tree however and soon he begins to display magical gifts.

Word gets out about this powers and soon Willem finds himself with big decisions to make. His cousin Jean and friend Francois are all young, strong, brave lads but will they be able to fight against the entire French army with the might of gigantic weapons of war behind them?

This novel is not only about senseless violence and there many different themes covered including family love, small town politics and man's relationship with wild creatures. There is some blood and gore in the book so for this reason I will recommend it for ages 11+.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson

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This book is written by Robinson's daughter Sharon and is loosely based on a family friend's experiences with Jackie and his wife in Brooklyn, New York during the time when Jackie played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Told as one long flashback it recounts a year in a young Jewish boy called Steven's life when Jackie's family moved into the neighborhood.

At first there is some opposition to the Robinson family from the current residents, all of whom are Jewish. Steven is surprised when his best friend, a girl called Sena expresses some doubts as well. Thankfully his family, and his father in particular are reasonable adults and are determined not to see the lessons of history repeated.

For Steven however, getting to meet Jackie is perhaps the highlight of his life and their families quickly form a strong friendship and celebrate holidays together another way in which they end up sharing their own unique cultural celebrations.

Recent events in our country have shown that there is still a lot of prejudice and ignorance to combat and that if left unchecked there are people with nefarious intentions who will try to enact legislation to discriminate against any group they dislike. Hopefully through reading books such as this one young kids will see that discrimination in any form is wrong and that when faced with it the right thing to do is to stand up against it. I recommend this book for kids 8+.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

Guantanamo boyMost Americans probably don't even give the prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba a second thought. Why should they? Supposedly it's filled with enemy combatants, men who, even if they aren't guilty of plotting against the U.S. and its allies probably know something.  They deserve whatever they get don't they.

What if there are teens at that prison however.  Teens who are innocent and are being held there while their rights are being denied. This is the premise of  Anna Perera's teen novel Guantanamo Boy in which Khalid a fifteen year old second generation Pakistani immigrant living in Rochdale is taken to Cuba in the most bizarre circumstances.

As you would imagine, Khalid's journey is a rough one and it is heartbreaking reading to see what he endures during his time in confinement. Perera spares no detail so be warned if you are easily grossed out or are faint of heart. Confinement, even under the best conditions is a trying experience for any being and that is definitely the case here. Guantanamo prison is in many ways a sort of limbo place both due to its location and due to the often extreme measures required to capture the folks that are housed there.

I definitely recommend this book for teens looking to broaden their view of the world. This book would also be an excellent read in high school social studies and current affairs classes. A read alike to this book in the sense of covering topics that force teens to think about the wider world is The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Liccle Bit by Alex Wheatle

Growing up as a fourteen year old is hard in any country. There are hormones, peer pressure and of course schoolwork to deal with. For Lemar his height is also a major disadvantage and he is sometimes called many nicknames (none of them complimentary) but the worst of them all is Liccle Bit ("liccle" being the Jamaican patois from of "little").

As if he didn't have enough problems, Lemar's older sister Elaine has just had a baby with Manjaro the baddest gangster around much to his parents' chagrin. Even though Lemar knows he shouldn't associate with Manjaro (his friends and family repeatedly warn him) he doesn't have the courage to say no when Manjaro asks him for a favor. That's when the trouble starts.

Wheatle's prose is razor sharp and Lemar's descriptions of his estate (known as housing projects here in the US) convey all the dreariness and hopelessness the residents feel. Lemar's friends to me served as both comedic foils and the differing sides of his conscience as they gave him advice on everything from family matters to matters of the heart.

I am going to be making many interlibrary loan requests for Wheatle's books (he's been writing for some time now) as they are a great perspective on  life outside North America and particularly on life for young people of color in London. I recommend this book for tween and teen readers worldwide as it shows how the power to choose rests within every individual.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander shot to fame with his book in verse The Crossover so when I saw this book on a list I decided to check it out. I confess that I am an über soccer fan so that influenced my decision as well. I was curious as to how Alexander would incorporate the soccer elements into the narrative.

This book is also in verse and features a middle schooler called Nick whose dad is a studious but loving man and whose mom loves horses as much as she loves people.  Nick loves soccer and he and his best pal Coby obsess about the game when they are not stressing about school work and other trials of middle school life.

Alexander loves to write about youths who have some sort of family issues going on and this book is no different. Nick however must learn to deal with his family turmoil as well as his issues at school.  I do wish however that he had explored the characters' diversity somewhat more instead of just briefly touching on it.

Perhaps my favorite character in the book is the cool librarian Mr Mack. As a former teacher myself if I had half of his cool factor I think I would have related better to my students. Mac for his part does his best to get the kids to read by being gentle but persistent, by meeting them where they are and by choosing things they might like to read about. This novel, Booked should be added to reading lists for the very same reason. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero

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If you're like me you read the inside of the front and back covers of a book that looks interesting. This particular book, Show and Prove's  back cover says that the author, Sofia Quintero is an "Ivy League homegirl". That for me was more motivation for me to pick this book up.

Set in the South Bronx of the 1980s the book traces the events in one hot summer of two friends, Smiles and Nike. Both have family who came to the city from somewhere else and both share a love of hip-hop.  Like any good coming of age story their relationship morphs over the course of the book and there are some bumps along the way.

Though the two are best friends Smiles has been doing a lot of introspection and finds that his life should be more purposeful. What this purpose is he doesn't know. As for Nike, he has all the purpose he needs with his Nike sneakers, fresh clothes and boom box. During the summer they work together at a neighborhood center and the interactions they have with each other, with the kids and with two other counselors will forever impact their lives.

As a fan of break dancing I especially liked the battle scenes in the book but the political awakening of the characters is to me even more important. Often times I hear people say that Americans aren't aware of what's going on (or at least not as aware as they should be) and that to me is disheartening.  Quintero does a masterful job however of not being too preachy but still presenting her views in an accessible way. This book could be a good primer into a variety of urban issues such as race relations, urban decay, immigration, the working poor and neighborhood uplift. I highly recommend it for ages 13+.

As an added bonus, here is an interview with the author in which she talks a little about the creative process involved in writing this book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

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One thing that is certain about life is that we will lose loved ones. However despite this fact when we do lose someone there is always a mourning period of some sort. This is the premise of this great novel for young adults written by Jason Reynolds.

We meet a young man called Matt grieving after the loss of his mom. Matt was an only child and was very close to his mom so of course he takes her loss very hard. His dad, grieving himself doesn't quite know how to communicate with Matt. Then Matt gets a job at a local funeral parlor and finds that wearing the black suit is he begins to wear it all the time.

Though he is grieving, Matt never really lets it out and continues life as usual, going through the motions more than anything else and hanging out with his best friend Chris. Matt does develops a strange obsession though, at the funerals he attends he starts searching out the faces to find the one person who is really, truly sad. This is comforting for him and he develops an eerie sense of who this person is. Then at one funeral he meets someone who will change his life and help him to deal.

Reynolds takes a tough subject but adds enough humorous touches here and there so as to not make the book totally depressing. In fact as we read the book we discover people who are grieving for many things and who have never really gotten over their grief but who make an effort day after day. This, I think is an excellent lesson indeed. I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Green Bicycle by Haifa Al Mansour

515WhW2bKTL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (231×346)   The Green Bicycle is a debut novel as good as any I have read in some time. The spunky young protagonist Wadjda loves to throw rocks, records the latest pop songs, wears cool sneakers and makes mixtapes which we gives to friends at school.  The thing is her behavior is not that of the typical Saudi Arabian girl she is constantly at loggerheads with both her mother and her teachers at school.

Her mother works hard, often leaving very early in the morning for an hours long commute to work (I will never complain about my 45 minute slog again!) and her father works on an oil rig. Her parents are loving, doting parents but something seems to be causing a rift between them which Wajdja determines to fix.

Wajdja's life is changed when she sees a bike in a storefront one day and she schemes to get the princely sum to purchase it despite the fact that culturally it is forbidden for girls to ride bikes

Mansour gives us a glimpse into various facets of life in the kingdom such as the influx of foreign workers (something that seems to be a global phenomenon), the Muslim custom of marrying second and third wives and the tribal vestiges that still exist even in this modern country.

The overall tone of the book is very positive and I could not help but get the impression that for a young girl in the West, reading this book should be inspirational due to its hopeful tone and the fact that despite all Wadjda encounters she never loses hope and views each new day as an opportunity.

The book is an adaptation of a film that Mansour worked on so I am going to have to put this on my to-see list as well. I recommend this book for ages 10+ due to some sensitive topics discussed however.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Seuss celebration!

Last week was Theodore Seuss Geisel's (better known as Dr. Seuss) birthday. Libraries across the country if not the world.  Most libraries start planning these events months before and at our branch this was the case. Thank goodness for Google Drive and Pinterest. In our library system we use Drive to create documents for programs and share with each other. One of my coworkers has been almost begging us to use Slack as well so perhaps we may start to use this platform in the future.

The actual celebration was a bit more low key than in other years but I still wanted to share some of the pictures. This was not the best picture I could find of the Seuss hats we made but kudos to our volunteers who cut and cut and cut to get all these pieces ready.  If you are reading this and you work in a library and don't have volunteer help, try to get some as soon as you can. They take some of the load off you and your staff.

My sons enjoyed themselves at the Seuss silly photo booth. We had a variety of props that have accumulated over the years and we store these in a big storage box.  We thought about using the curtains you see in the picture as a backdrop but decided not to. The library system has a green screen that could be used for a program such as this so that may be an option to pursue in the future.

These thing 1 and 2 stick puppets were my favorite thing on the day itself. What surprised me was that kids young and old made them. I think the cuteness must have factored into it. Googly eye clean up afterward wasn't too bad either

Til next time!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Music for kids from Africa and the African diaspora

I love to do the standard American favorites, Head, shouders, knees and toes, Five little monkeys etc. etc. Sometimes depending on my audience, the event or my mood I may switch up a song, use a different beat or sing a song a different way. It is always good to try new songs, listen to different cds and explore what's out there. I think that kids especially need to be exposed to different cultures to develop an appreciation for them.

I remember when I discovered Asheba. Not only was I surprised that there was a dreadlocked dude doing Caribbean versions of classic children's rhymes but he is also from my homeland of Trinidad. Here is his version of Five little monkeys. Be warned that this version is very upbeat!  If you are looking for an African-themed call and response song though, try this song from South Africa. Featuring instructions such as to the left", "to the right" and "wiggle your tail in the moonlight" this song is sure to make it onto your playlist.

I frequently refer to the now defunct Noggin tv station. The more I think about it, that station was aimed directly at Gen X parents who had grown up on certain types of music and may have wanted to share it with their offspring. Bob Marley for example is perhaps everyone's favorite reggae singer. And in this video the animation truly gives the song a different dimension. Gee, I wish Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller and others had more children's songs.

When Noggin became Nick Jr they introduced many children's shows featuring diverse casts. One of them was Gullah Gullah island a terrific little that show featured a ton of good songs such as the West African influenced Fungal Alafia shown below. The version below is a little less percussion heavy but I found another version of the song as performed by this  group and it is fantastic. It is a great intro to a Black History Month or Kwanzaa program.

If you never knew Kermit was cool, know that he once did a sing/rap of the alphabet together with with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Check it out, it is mellow and catchy at the same time. I used to watch it growing up and can still remember it after all these years.

Finally what's better than a song that's catchy, has simple lyrics and incorporates simple movements to keep the kids engaged. I present to you the Zimbole song. The video shows kids from all over the world performing it and I must say that it gives me hope for the future. Enjoy!  Bye!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Night on fire by Ronald Kidd

It is amazing how a well-written story can enable one to see how a point of view that we now know is wrong could have seemed right not too long ago. This book is told from the perspective of a southern Caucasian girl during the heady 1960s and I like the fact that it does not shy away from introducing tough questions. I think sometimes children know more than we think they do  and to shelter them from life's injustices is perhaps not good for their development.

A spirited young girl called Billie Sims lives a typical life in Alabama in the 1960s. The family's longtime maid is called Lavender and although she doesn't always receive the best treatment from them, they would not be able to function without her help. Billie is just at that age when kids begin to question the world around them and she begins to wander into different parts of town despite her parents' admonitions...and much to Lavender's chagrin. This is how she discovers that Lavender has her own life...and her own family.

Fiction such as this is necessary because despite what some would have you believe discrimination is not a thing of the past. This book looks at a time when discrimination was de jure and tries to show the kind of thinking that perhaps still exists in some quarters. Every time I hear someone make a disparaging remark about one ethnic or racial group or the other I am reminded how such thinking is still prevalent and we must do all we can to educate people.
Another positive aspect of the book was the use of non violent protests to achieve aims, very important to remember especially when civil rights for certain groups in our nation are being infringed upon. This book's cover image is very compelling and makes this book perfect for displays and hand selling in the library. In terms of the book itself I recommend it for children ages 9 and above.  This is a good read for African American History Month in particular.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Losers Take All by David Glass

9780374301361_FC.jpg (1400×2100)Wow, wow wow is what I kept saying to myself after reading this novel. Mr Glass has put his finger on something that has been brewing in the American psyche for years.

Jack Logan's dad used to be called the Logan Express back in his day as a student at Fremont High. Fremont, also known as Muscles High is a place where jocks rule and have ruled for decades. Jack's two older brothers were also football stars at the school and his dad has always tried to encourage his sons. Jack, like most sons, desperately wants his father's approval.

When a drill sergeant principal is appointed principal things get weird for Jack and his athletically challenged friends as they are forced to join a sports team. They choose soccer and soon are the talk of the town. There are some at the school who don't take kindly to the lovable losers however and that is when things get really exciting.

I for one like football and cheer my beloved Denver Broncos (Super Bowl 50 champs!) on weekly but I would never allow my sons to play the game and many of the parents I know feel the same. Though soccer is portrayed in the book as a sport that is manly than football those who play it know that this is not necessarily true (Google Football's wildest tackles and fouls if you don't believe me).

 This book is a not so veiled commentary on American sports culture and I can see it being discussed in many schools across this country. People on both sides of the spectrum will of course have differing views but no one deny that sports, important as they are just games at the end of the day. Producing students with big character should be the focus of high school sports programs because as has been mentioned time and time again only a small portion of these athletes will go on to play in college and an aeven smaller amount will make the pros. Good food for thought. I recommend this novel for ages 13+.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

This is a clever novel unlike many I have seen before and I won't be surprised if it gets on many "must read" lists. I say that because while it mentions many of the popular YA tropes of the past few years, the overall theme is that real life is a much scarier proposition for teens to navigate.       
23830990.jpg (314×475)Mike and his older sister Mel have their own problems for which they have sought help. Their mom is determined to achieve her professional goals and perhaps this has caused her to shirk some of her motherly duties. Their dad is little help since he has his own demons to manage. 
Mike's best friend Jared, a giant teddy bear of a kid is a loyal and supportive ally even though he has his own issues. Mike is also experiencing the classic teen conundrum- how to tell someone you've known alllll your life that you may have feelings for them. While all this is going on, there are some weird happenings in the town and some weird flashing blue lights are seen at night. 
 I admire Ness' forthrightness. The characters in this novel are on the cusp of adulthood but they are just as scared as little kids.  They do however have a variety of coping mechanisms some good some bad and they will have to learn to distinguish between the two.  Dealing with feelings is perhaps the most difficult part of adolescence and even smart kids have a tough time with that. Ness' characters do end up much better for their experiences however. This was a great read but because of some language and other sensitive material I think this book is best served for kids 13+. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall

I picked this book up because of its title and appealing cover image. While I would not have been disappointed if the story dealt with an American kid from the suburbs taking a trip out West, this book exceeded my expectations because it features Native American protagonists.

Jimmy Mclean is proud of his Lakota heritage even though despite his mixed ancestry he doesn't look like a full-blooded member of the tribe. Two of his peers remind him daily of this fact as well much to his dismay.  He confides in his grandfather and the latter decides to take him on an epic road trip.

The pair visit various monuments in several states in an effort to follow Crazy Horse's path and along the way grandfather gives his perspective on the many adventures the famed Lakota warrior had in his life. As with most famous individuals whose deeds were larger than life, Crazy Horse's life was filled with highs and lows and Marshall makes sure and provide some insight into why the Lakota and their allies did what they did in some cases.

Sherman Alexie may have the market cornered for fiction based on Native Americans for teen and older readers but Marshall may just be on to something here with this sensitive, honest portrayal of Native Americans. It is not every day that children and younger readers can read a book that is a labor of love and in which the author is actually sharing a piece of himself in the process. This book is one such novel and I highly recommend it for readers of all races, colors and creeds. I firmly believe that literature is one way in which we can learn about each other.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes:In Real Life You Need Real Friends by Randy Ribay

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So a black kid, a white kid and a nerdy kid walk into a park. No that's not a joke but it is one of the turning points of this great new novel by Randy Ribay in which he brings together a diverse group of friends who are entering senior year in high school and life chooses just this moment to throw some curve balls at them all.

Feelings for the opposite sex are perhaps the most difficult obstacles to navigate since teens are just coming into their own as individuals and have so much other pressures (schoolwork, family etc.)  In this novel, Archie's parents have just divorced and he suddenly finds himself attracted to Mari, a girl with whom he plays a board game with every Monday (and has done so since middle school). Mari for her part has her own issues bubbling up as do the rest of the group, gentle giant Dante and the odd couple Sam and Sarah.

It is the latter two persons who propel the narrative forward and the book turns into a road trip of epic proportions. Some of the supporting characters are unforgettable to say the least.  As the old saw goes, travel broadens one's horizons and I would add that travel with friends does this even more and can either make or break a friendship.

Ribay doesn't sermonize or come off as preachy but he makes his point. Life is hard but turning away from those who genuinely love us and care for us makes no sense and may very well ends up hurting us.  Adolescence is fraught with many dangers and kids, for some reason try to move away from the very people who most want to help them (their parents) and move closer to the people they think can empathize and help them. While I don't think that many parents would be as permissive as the ones in this novel I do think that as parents we learn when to step away and let kids learn lessons for themselves. This is a good read for older tweens and teens due to some of the topics covered and the language used.