Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few pics:






















Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Developing motor skills and alphabet knowledge through crafts


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




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




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



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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Finding Mighty by Sheela Chari


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Posted by John David Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Ernie and his brother Genie are from Brooklyn so they've seen it all and then some. That is until their parents pack them off to a small town in Virginia one summer to stay with their grandparents. Rural Virginia is a lot different from the big city for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that for one, they live out near woods where all kinds of critters (and snakes) live.

26875552.jpg (318×474)Genie is younger and he looks up to his older brother Ernie who is cool, always wears sunglasses and unfailingly sticks up for Genie, especially when other kids call him names like Geenie Weenie. They share a close brotherly bond and they need that bond more than ever since their parents are going through a bit of a rough patch-the summer trip to their grandparents' is meant to be a chance for their parents to work some issues out.


Everyone is scared of something but grown ups are usually better at hiding that from kids. For a kid like Genie this is a coming-of-age moment in his life since he isn't used to seeing grown ups have such visceral reactions to things that scare them. Grandpa for his part, although he is blind does not hesitate to do things around the house, the fact of which astounds the boys.

Reynolds deftly intertwines various topics in this novel, among them the complicated nature of family relations, the dichotomy between city and country and others which I won't divulge so I don't leak spoilers.

Being brave in most books for this age group involves kids finding the strength to do (or say) things. Reynolds inverts that dynamic and shows us that it's ok not to do things that scare us. Some read alikes to this book are Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing, Andrew Clements' The Jacket and Daphne Benedis-Grab's Army Brats.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

How to Avoid Extinction by Paul Acampora

28697361.jpg (314×475)Road trip!  I love road trip books and this middle grade novel by Paul Acampora is one of the better ones I've read in a while. Leo lives a very conventional (some would say boring) life in Pennsylvania. His grandfather has recently passed leaving a gap that his grandmother and mother are still trying to fill.

His grandmother has recently begun to wander off and poor Leo has been tasked with making sure no harm befalls her. Granny has other plans however and when she decides to take off in her vintage Buick from their home in Pennsylvania, Leo, his cousin Abbey and a big, gassy dog called Kermit hop along for the ride! (much to Leo's mother's chagrin)

What a ride it turns out to be as they journey across the plains and westward in search of dinosaurs. As with any road trip there are hijinks along the way but these serve to make their bond becomes even stronger. Like any family, they have secrets and long-simmering resentments that threaten to boil over but I won't reveal any spoilers here.

Another thing that I love about this book is that Abbey and Leo are open-minded enough to embrace other cultures and cuisines and experiences. The description of champorado makes the dish sound absoutely divine and I intend to find a place that serves it here in my city. Acampora's message overall is that because of its large size we need to try to learn about other people and how they see life. Some read alikes to this novel are Jack Cheng's See you in the Cosmos, and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Hunt.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

King of the Bench

y648.png (396×600)Just when you thought that the middle grade lovable loser category was filled along comes Steve Moore with No Fear, the first installment in the King of the Bench series. If you have read all the Timmy Failure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Misadventures of Max Crumbly series then you should make a beeline for this book.

Steve is an average middle schooler with great (if not somewhat overprotective) parents. He desperately wants to be a sports star and baseball is his sport of choice. He has a few problems however: he's not exactly a star athlete, he has a paralyzing phobia and the team already has a few star athletes already, one of whom happens to be a girl he finds attractive.

Steve's weird tryout to get on the team, his daily school routine, his unorthodox pets, his crazy friends and more are all detailed in this laugh-out-loud book (the sporting goods store episode is particularly hilarious as is Carlos' gas issues).

Books like these are formulaic to some extent but I think part of their continuing appeal is that many more athletes than not are average and most kids are average and there's nothing wrong with that.  The fact that the main character is named Steve suggests that there may be some autobiographical details
in the book (or not, maybe I'm trying to read too much into it). This is a fun, quick read for grades 3 and up.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

STEM on a Budget- Things that Move

 Budget cuts affect everyone and the climate since the turn of the year has not been friendly to libraries to say the least what with threats to various funding sources and the like. Conversely however, STEM and STEM-based programs have gained traction in schools and libraries as educators seek to make science fun again.

These programs however cost money and a single magnetic set for example can cost well into the hundreds on Lakeshore and similar sites. This post  is  snapshot of a recent STEM program for babies and toddlers that I put on at my library. I work in a multi branch system and we have a library of materials available for check out so this enabled me to use materials free of charge. I did make some simple ramps using some cheap posterboard I got at the dollar store.

I did not want to forget babies since they often are the furthest ones from our mind when we think of every program except baby storytime. However if we provide simple directions to the parents and caregivers and provide an inviting space, the little ones can indeed have a great time. One thing I would change for next time is to make a few small 3x 5 laminated cards with simple instructions for activities parents can do at home with their little ones.






In the next few months we will do Texture, Size and Shape. That should provide lots of fun learning opportunities for families.












Friday, April 7, 2017

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

61lNbRTlzwL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (331×499)Is it ever too early to encourage kids to become active in their community? From an early age some parents teach their offspring about volunteering, fundraising, canned food drives and the like. Some kids however become influenced by what their parents and guardians don't do and this is part of the story in this novel for middle grade readers.

Jin's grandparents run a bodega and make kimchi and she is content to help out in the store and journal her observations. Then two weird things occur. One night an older gent buys a goat's head pez dispenser and then later a kid from her school comes in and leaves metro cards on the shelves. Thus begins some new friendships as her world opens up.

Jin along with a reticent classmate named Alex and a newcomer called Elvin are drawn into a decades old mystery that involves history, friendship and art. In the process they learn about each other, about themselves and about the wonderful borough in which they live.  The author Tarpley lived in Harlem and her love for the borough shows in her descriptions of the streets and various sections of the borough.

Gentrification is not something you see covered a lot in middle grade fiction, neither is the Harlem Renaissance but Tarpley manages to do so without being heavy-handed. I recommend this book for ages 8+. Some read alikes to it are The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg, Blue Balliett's The Wright 3 and Kate Messner's Capture the Flag.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

Image result for the evil wizard smallboneMagic, young apprentice...evil wizard...seems pretty straightforward right?  Well not so much. Set in a coastal Maine town, Sherman's novel mixes realistic fiction with fantasy in just the right amount to enthrall both lovers of fantasy as well as realistic fiction in equal measure.

Nick is a tough cookie. he has to be, he lives with a bully older cousin and an uncle who doesn't know how to spare the rod. Could Nick help his case by not getting into trouble at school so much? Sure. Nick doesn't learn his lesson though so he seizes his chance one bitterly cold night and runs away and ends up in a strange house with an even stranger old dude who just so happens to be a wizard-an evil wizard if you believe the denizens of Smallbone Cove.

Before long Nick is learning a thing or three about magic and beginning to tolerate life with Smallbone, his quick temper and his menagerie of animals. Journeys to Smallbone Cove are exciting too and You can't escape your past though and Nick finds he has big choices to make when his former life catches up to him.

This is a slightly irreverent read as you may expect. Insults and barbs fly back and forth regularly so I would recommend it for ages 9+ simply because I think most kids at that age have enough sense to know not to go around repeating the stuff they read in books. Some read alikes are Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase series, Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Holly Webb's Rose.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

Image result I judged this book by its cover (really cool, vibrant and eye-catching).  Plus, I love books about kids who are into music. I think there is just so much boy/girl drama that one can take. Not that this book doesn't have any...but more on that later.

Girls aren't into drums right? I used to think so years ago until I saw a music video with Lenny Kravitz's drummer (will never forget how cool she looked in one of his videos, afro flowing and drumsticks flying). Some of the characters in this book think girls shouldn't play drums either. It's a good thing that the protagonist is no shrinking violet

 Sam (short for Samantha) is a sixth grade drummer who  desperately wants to get better at the drums. However all is not well with her family and her dad is always mad...the last thing he wants to hear about is noisy (and expensive) practice. Sam chances upon a drum tutor and thinks up ingenious ways of earning cash.

Sam has other issues at school however, some of which  she may not be able to solve by herself. My take away from this book is that it is never too late to ask for help. I think even as adults we sometimes hesitate to ask for help lest we be perceived as weak or a screw up. This book is apt for kids in grades 4 and up.  Some read alikes are Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban and Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far) by Ann M, Martin.



Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

images (710×1080)I am part of a committee at my library system that plans social book talks- we find books that speak to pressing social issues and then we host an event inviting the public to come in and discuss the book and the issues. This month we partnered with a local book store and  we were able to bring in the authors of All American Boys last Saturday for an inspiring conversation. Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds are two great guys. Reynolds in particular is on a hot streak and  his latest book is Ghost.

Set in the city it deals with a young tween called Castle Crenshaw who describes himself as having "mad and sad feelings" which sometimes leads to altercations at school.. He has had a hard life and now he and his mom eke out a hardscrabble existence in a less than desirable neighborhood. His mother works long hours to provide for them both and she has high expectations for him.

He is a tough kid but not tough enough to escape frequent taunts at school from a bully. He stumbles into a track meet one day and although he isn't impressed by the coach's gruff manner and reptilian appearance (Castle thinks he has a "turtle face") he tries out. Lo and behold he discovers that he is a runner. Coach invites him to join the team and thus begins a new phase in Castle's life.

This book covers a lot of topics. I like it's hopeful tone however. Castle is a kid with many flaws but he is resilient, he knows right from wrong and works hard. With those qualities he will go far in life. This is the first in Reynolds' Track series so I will definitely keep my eyes open for future installments. I recommend this book for ages 9 and up. Some read alikes are Coe Booth' s Kinda Like Brothers and  Andrew Clements' The Jacket.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trouble Next Door by Karen English

Image result for carver chronicles trouble nextTrouble Next Door by Karen English is an installment in a great little series called The Carver Chronicles. The characters are for the most part people of color but the setting isn't necessarily urban. The series is set in Carver Elementary school in

In this book,we meet an ordinary kid who sometimes has trouble doing his homework and who is having even more trouble thinking of a great idea for the science fair (something he desperately wants to win). At school he sometimes has to evade a big, gruff kid everyone calls Monster Boy. Then one day Calvin gets a new neighbor-Monster Boy!

Calvin must decide whether or not to accept Monster Boy as his friend as his dad wants him to or to completely ignore him despite the fact that they're neighbors. His friends would recommend the latter option.  Doing so would go against everything his parents taught him and besides...it's hard to avoid him when their bedroom windows face each other!


This book covers a lot of subjects (such as different families, bullies, science among others) but in a nice understated manner that is just right for  kids in grades 3 and up. I reckon it has some hi-lo potential as well. Highly recommended and I am going to check out the rest of the series as soon as I get a chance. Some read alikes are The Buried Bones Mystery by Sharon M. Draper, Nikki & Deja by Karen English and Sally Warner's EllRay Jakes series.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg


images (1875×2550)Novels in verse have surged in popularity over the last few years and this is another excellent addition to the genre. Set in pre-Civil War America we meet Grace just as she is told she has to go to the Big House and leave her family whom she loves very much.  Her light skin is the reason she has been chosen for this new job.

At the Big House she meets some other slaves including Jordon, the man servant; Anna, a girl who sleeps on the floor of the master bedroom to help the Mistress and Aunt Tempie the cook. Aunt Tempie takes Grace under her wing and teachers her about the duties in the kitchen as well as the whims of the masters.

Grace is by nature a passionate person who has a strong sense of justice and this sometimes gets her into trouble. At the Big House she is exposed to many slights and microaggressions in a more direct way than when she was in the field and she finds it hard to contain her emotions. Of course impudence can lead to serious consequences and soon she finds that she must grow up a lot faster than she would like.

Aunt Tempie and Grace's mother are, to me, the voices of reason and it is their example that Grace ends up following in the end. Though at first she is tempted to blame all whites for the bad things done to herself and other slaves she soon realizes that such thinking is dangerous. To the author's credit she does introduce one person, Ms Charlotte, who is sympathetic to the slaves' plight. This may be a hard book to read for some but it is well-written. Some read alikes to it are Lisa Fowler's Snakes and Stones and Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

Image result    I don't judge books by their covers but this book by Elizabeth Eulberg not only has two children of different ethnicity but the title is also a nod the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.  John Watson is new to the great metropolis and just as he and his mother are settling in to their new digs on Baker Street he meets a quirky kid called Shelby Holmes.

 Shelby is a preternaturally gifted child and she spends her time solving various petty crimes in the neighborhood, something which has made her somewhat of a celebrity.  Watson is amazed at the way grown ups treat her. Most grown ups that is, except police officer Lestrade...

 Mixing themes such as non-traditional families, current events, urban decay and so forth. Eulberg captures the atmosphere of the city of New York. There are various other nods to the great detective throughout the book that I won't reveal, I will say though that they add to the story and provide a good chuckle for Holmes fans.

    Holmes is awkward to say the least but Watson has his own health challenges and I liked that Eulberg incorporated that into the story as well. In the end this is a book that a variety of kids can relate to because these are not perfect kids. Some read alikes to it would be Sharon M. Draper's The Buried Bones Mystery, The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley and Elise Broach's The Wolf Keepers.