Saturday, June 27, 2015

Short and Sweet: Chapter Books for the Beginning or Reluctant Reader

Young readers often make the jump to chapter books in the summer. It's a huge deal to move from easy readers like Henry and Mudge or Green Eggs and Ham to full-fledged chapter books. Finding something that challenges yet doesn't overwhelm can be tricky.

Critter Club series is a must read for young animal fans. This group of animal helpers encounter mystery, friendship issues, and family issues (age appropriately handled) while caring for the animals in their community.

Readers not quite ready for Judy Blume's Peter Hatcher stories should check out Friend or Fiend? With the Pain and the Great One. Trademarks of Blume's fiction for young readers--sibling conflict handled with humor and heartfelt resolution--are abundant here.

I Don't Believe It, Archie! is perfect for those who like their humor wacky and offbeat. Weird things are always happening to Archie: escaping a runaway piano, trapped in a house with a lion, and other outrageous things are everyday occurrences for Archie (usually while on his way to do an errand for his mother). Luckily, he manages to make a narrow escape each time. Some Briticisms (money, etc) may be unfamiliar to readers, but they don't get in the way of the story.

Need more ideas for easy chapter books? I wrote a post on the ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children) blog about recently published easy chapter book series.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dad Reads

I have a very critical eye when it comes to books about fathers. Books that feature a father character as a dumb overgrown child get on my last nerve. If you're tired of stories that feature incapable dads, take home these books during your next visit to the library:

A Beach Tail is frequently checked out during the summer, as you can imagine! This sweet picture book not only highlights a fine father-son bond, but it also celebrates the importance of imaginative play.

Nancy Tafuri's books are perfect reads for very young children; her picture books are staples in my Baby Steps story time (at the Warrenton library every Monday at 10:30!). Daddy Hugs is a gorgeous and adorable read about animal daddies.

Allen Say has had a long and distinguished career as a children's author-illustrator; he often draws upon his Japanese-American heritage for his stories, as he does in The Favorite Daughter. As a blond biracial (Caucasian and Japanese) child with a distinctly Japanese name, daughter Yuriko often received stares and comments during her childhood. Not wanting to draw that much unwanted attention (as many children would), Yuriko attempted to retreat from her Japanese name and heritage. Her father's loving and gentle guidance led her to be proud of her unique heritage, as chronicled in this sensitive and sophisticated picture book (which ends with photographs of a young adult Yuriko visiting Japan).

Fortunately, The Milk is a rarity in science fiction: it's short and funny! While on a trip to the store to pick up milk for his family, a father is abducted by aliens (or, so he tells his captivated children). This would be a great family read aloud!

Papa and Me is a deceptively simple story about a young Latino boy and his father. Papa only speaks Spanish, but he and his son share a deep bond. It's a true reflection of many young bilingual children's experiences.

Surfer Chick is hilarious and adorable; it also has a darling father-daughter story AND features a girl surfer (yes, she's a chicken, but that makes it even funnier).

Attending the Father's Day car show in downtown Warrenton? Take a break from the heat and enjoy our Dudes and Donuts program from 1-4 on June 21. Make a craft for dad, build with LEGOs, and enjoy some refreshments!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

It's a Bird...It's a Plane....

It's Superman Days!

Did you know that the town of Metropolis, IL celebrates "Superman Days?"  For the past 37 years, this small town has hosted a festival celebrating Superman and other superheroes. As you may know, our summer reading program theme is "Every Hero Has a Story." We're celebrating all kinds of superheroes this summer: animal superheroes (and their superhero human caretakers) and superheroes in our family, as well as superheroes in movies and books.

Your vacation plans might not include a stop in Metropolis, but you can celebrate your own Superman Days with some cool books and DVDs:

Finding books appropriate for little superhero fans is difficult. Comic books are too complicated, and even the easy readers can be too long for very young attention spans. Luckily, DC Comics has started a line of board books featuring their superheroes. Superman Colors and Superman to the Rescue have been extremely popular! (Yay!)

The life stories of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, are incredible and heartbreaking tales. I reviewed Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero way back in 2012. Pop-culture connoisseurs would love this fascinating adult nonfiction read about the ups and downs of Superman's legacy. Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster  is an adult nonfiction biography of Superman's creators (have not read it).  Young readers would enjoy Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman.

It really is a shame that Superman vs. the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate has such a boring cover (it's a YA nonfiction title, too!). I also first reviewed this in 2012; it's a well-crafted look at a little-known aspect of Superman (radio) history.

Fallout is high on my list of books I want to read this summer.  This YA novel focusing on Lois Lane's high school years sounds like a super fun read! (If you're not a Superman fan, I doubt you've read this far, but just in case--Lois Lane is Superman's love interest.)

Of course, we also have the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, as well as the memoirs he wrote after he became quadriplegic.

Today is our official kickoff of our summer reading program! We have many fun activities planned!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Ridiculously Good Reads: April-May Edition

Although I posted about some of my favorites reads (so far) for 2015, I left out several awesome books that didn't quite fit the intent of that post. If you are in the market for new summer reads (children and adult), look no further:

A Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl is a charming introduction to our feathered friends. How do chickens fly? What does a chicken embryo look like? Do chickens come in different colors? All these questions (and more) are answered in this excellent nonfiction picture book.

Without naming names, I can name two picture book series that started off clever and charming, but quickly sold out to become predictable and boring. Fortunately, Deborah Underwood's mischievous and goofy cat has not succumbed to that. Each book (Here Comes the Easter Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat) features unique scenarios. Her latest, Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat, finds Cat running errands with a competitive Mouse (whom he received as a gift from the Tooth Fairy). Utterly hilarious.

Another easy chapter book series to follow! Rescue on the Oregon Trail introduces the Ranger in Time series, which features a dog that time travels (yes, it's a bit goofy, but it's fun). In his first adventure, Ranger finds himself travelling with a family seeking a new life out west. Ranger flunked search-and-rescue school because he finds squirrels too irresistible; his keen rescue skills endear him greatly to his temporary family. One of the families that Ranger meets is a Mormon pioneer family, which adds an aspect of history not often found in children's historical fiction (many Mormon pioneers traveled on the Oregon Trail).

Summer is the season for family trips to amusement parks, so The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks arrived just in time. The dynamics of roller coasters, bumper cars, fun mirrors, and more are explained in a fun and understandable manner for young readers. Even the laws of probability for winning carnival games is included!

The first half of 2015 has produced some astonishing adult nonfiction titles. In the mood for some engaging and accessible nonfiction? These books are remarkable:

Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield  is an amazing read. Read it now before the movie comes out (it hasn't been made yet, so you have time), so that you don't end up on a long waiting list. Warning: this story will rip your heart out. Ashley White's strength and courage is unforgettable, and reading it over the Memorial Day break made it even more poignant and powerful.

(Speaking of books with probable long holds: grab a copy of The Astronaut Wives' Club and A Walk in the Woods while you can! I adore The Astronaut Wives' Club and hope the miniseries will be awesome. I haven't read Bill Bryson's memoir of walking the Appalachian Trail, but I have it checked out and am looking forward to seeing the movie in September).

Thank you, thank you to David McCullough for writing a history book that isn't bloated with minutiae! The Wright Brothers clocks in at 320 pages, which includes author acknowledgements and citations. This is popular and accessible history writing at its best. Although McCullough does turn his attention to the many lawsuits and controversies that surrounded Orville and Wilbur Wright, he firmly states that they are to be recognized as the first to make flight possible (as Earmuffs for Everyone teaches us, being the first is not always the most important!). Their reception in France, which was the United States's main rival in aviation (France paid more attention and interest in the Wrights before their own country did), is fascinating to read, as is the importance of their sister, Katharine, in their lives (they wrote to Katharine about their work and she accompanied them to France, where she charmed Parisian society and media). A must for history fans! If you're looking for a Father's Day gift for a history buff, buy this one! (Check it out for your reading pleasure, but buy the book for Dad or Granddad.).

Speaking of summer reads....our summer reading program has started! We have a fun-filled summer planned. Mark your schedules!

Need more titles? Perhaps my "Ridiculously Good Reads" for March or early 2015 might help.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Halfway Mark: Reading Through the Year

Can you believe it's nearly June? Summer reading is approaching, which means that youth services librarians across the country are gearing up for a hectic summer of programs. We are no exception at Fauquier County; if you are a resident (or one of our friends in neighboring counties), keep a look out for the schedule of events to be posted very soon!

June also means that the awards committees for the Newbery, Caldecott, and other Youth Media Awards meet in person (at the American Library Association conference) to discuss their readings and criticisms for potential 2016 winners (January 11 is the big day!). They will communicate privately throughout the year and have their final intense face-to-face meetings in early January. Award committee meetings are held behind closed doors and they do not release nomination lists. However, that doesn't stop children's/YA literature fans from speculating about potential winners! As it is only June, and the Fall 2015 books have not been published, it's way too early for us commoners to speculate on the entire year (I'm assuming that committee members have received many, if not most, Fall 2015 books by now). 

I blogged about a few of my favorites (so far) for 2015 on the Association for Library Services to Children's blog; those posts have a certain length, posting style, and audience (children's/youth services librarians and administrators) that differs from this blog, so I wanted to expand upon my favorites reads (so far!) for 2015. (I have a LOT left to read before the Fall 2015 books arrive!)

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich was one of my favorite reads for March; it still has one of the best (and most unexpected) endings you will read in a picture book this year. Guaranteed. 

I reviewed The Detective's Assistant for School Library Journal several months before it was released; I can't discuss reviewed books before the review appears, which makes it hard when I think a book is fantastic. As I wrote on the ALSC blog, historical fiction can often be rather sobering and serious; the amount of funny historical fiction is small.  The Detective's Assistant, based on America's first female detective, is a madcap romp full of humor, heart, and humanity.

Earmuffs for Everyone!: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs  has received five individual starred reviews, which is incredible! Meghan McCarthy doesn't just relate the story of Chester Greenwood; readers learn about patents, and how several people might have the same idea for an invention before it finally gets patented.

When people comment on the number of books I read, I shrug and smile. What they usually don't know is that I have low patience for very long books. When the "best books" lists come out at the end of the year, I get mad at myself because they inevitably include all the brilliantly reviewed books with "rich language" and "epic fantasy" story lines (if I like a fantasy novel, it's a big deal, because having 450-500 pages in them is not unusual) that I've avoided throughout the year.  I deeply empathize with reluctant readers, because I know what it's like to be required to read something that seems intimidating and overwhelming (I have to read outside of my interest and comfort zone in order to effectively do my job). So when Echo came out, with its amazing reviews about a harmonica that links three children with its "fairy tale" like atmosphere, and its 585 pages, I balked. I checked it out and had to return it at the end of the three week period because I didn't even open it. It's already being touted as a strong contender for the Newbery, so I tried it again. I adore Pam Munoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising, so it's not like I was unfamiliar with her work.

I read it in two days. I rarely even read a shorter book in two days.

This book is heartbreaking and joyous. It is powerful and profoundly sad in some parts (it takes place in both Germany and the United States during the 1930s-50s), but the ending is glorious, I will promise you that. I've found my Newbery hopeful for 2016, and it's going to be hard to find something as deeply moving and unforgettable as this one.

I love finding terrific nonfiction read alouds for elementary school kids, so I was delighted when Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution turned out to be a fascinating read aloud about an unknown figure in the American Revolution. I will definitely use this for our Celebrate America program on July 3.

All the Bright Places received a great deal of attention and praise when it was released, but I feel that I Was Here (which also received a ton of attention and praise; it is a Gayle Forman novel!) is a stronger and more realistic depiction of survivors left behind in the wake of suicide. After her best friend commits suicide, eighteen year old Cody retraces her steps to hopefully find answers.

Deborah Underwood consistently creates unique and fun picture books; Interstellar Cinderella is her latest (look for Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat very soon!) This is obviously the story of Cinderella, with significant twists (instead of meeting the prince at the ball, she fixes his spaceship). Very funny, and it puts a modern twist on Cinderella without being preachy.

Little Bird Takes a Bath is sweet and charming without being saccharine; this little bird is on a mission to find the perfect puddle in New York City. This is a darling read aloud for anytime, and perfect for a "nature in the city" theme.

My Pen is a gorgeous tribute to the power of the pen; I expect to see this bandied about for Caldecott on many blogs and Goodreads groups.

With the advent of El Deafo receiving the Newbery Honor (and receiving thumbs up from both children and adults), I'm expecting that middle grade graphic novels will become even more popular. Roller Girl is a must read for El Deafo fans or Smile fans. Astrid and Nicole have been best friends since they were little; as it happens frequently in middle school, their interests diverge. Nicole has always been more traditionally "girly" than Astrid; when Nicole decides to sign up for ballet camp instead of roller derby camp (and befriends one of the mean girls at school), it causes complications in their friendship.  When you've had the same best friend for as long as you can remember, it's a difficult learning experience to let that go and to find new friends; Astrid's journey will be an authentic read for readers who have experienced that or for middle school readers who don't fit into the traditional world of ballet, makeup, and boys.  It's an insanely fun and moving read, and a great peek into roller derby!  It's received 5 individual starred reviews, and worth every one.

X: A Novel is an honest, raw, and engrossing fictionalization of Malcolm X's adolescence and young adulthood; if you need historical fiction for a mature teen (especially for reluctant readers), consider this one.

We've ordered a bunch of new children's/YA books recently; check out back issues of Wowbrary for more details!

Calendar and information about our summer reading program is now available. We are looking forward to an awesome summer!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fallen Heroes: Books for Memorial Day

Looking for something to read over the Memorial Day weekend? Consider these excellent children's books:

America's White Table is a must for anyone wanting Memorial Day or Veterans' Day picture books. In honor of their Uncle John, young girls set a table in remembrance of fallen or missing servicemen and servicewomen.

If you're planning a visit to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, Eve Bunting's The Wall is a must read. This moving picture book captures the emotions of a young child and his father who look for his grandfather's name on the wall.

DK's Eyewitness series explores a wide variety of topics in a graphic-heavy format that many children enjoy: its American Revolution, Civil War, World War I, World War II, and Vietnam War details the causes, battles, effects, and issues of each war, with a dizzying array of photographs and illustrations.

Although I haven't finished Ashley's War as of this post's publication, I already know that it will be one of my favorite reads (adult nonfiction) of 2015. Absolutely a story and a life that needed to be told. If you gravitate to military stories that are more about the people fighting than battle tactics or whatnot, or a fan of recent brilliantly written women's history accounts such as The Girls of Atomic City or The Astronaut Wives' Club (excited about the miniseries adaptation starting on June 18!), you will definitely want to read this.

Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, everyone!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Books on the Go: National Transportation Week

It's National Transportation Week! We have no shortage of awesome books to satisfy even the most ardent transportation fan. Here are some of my favorites:

If I had to choose my all-time favorite train picture book, I would pick All Aboard! A True Train Story. Its short length and large but clear pictures make it a hit with young listeners (I've used it in my Baby Steps program with babies 12 months and younger, and they were riveted), but its usage of sophisticated words sprinkled throughout the narrative also make it appropriate and enjoyable for preschool and kindergarten students.  Readers observe a steam train making its way across bridges and through mountains before coming to rest at the end of the day.

Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars is an enjoyable and accessible biography for elementary school students. Biographies of Asians are few and far between, so this helps to fill a huge gap.

Byron Barton's body of work has a strong transportation streak; My Car is one of my favorites. We follow a driver who pumps gas and takes care of his car in order for him to have transportation to his job (which involves another form of transportation!). Although I'm not generally a fan of board book editions of picture books, Barton's picture books, for the most part, make for excellent board books.

I use Donald Crews's School Bus for both my toddler story time and for our annual Kindergarten Kickoff story time program. Although the text is sparse (as it is for Crews's books that actually include text; many are wordless), the attraction of school buses make it appealing for both 3 year olds and for big kids ready for kindergarten. We see a school bus traveling across town to pick up schoolchildren, bring them to school, drop them off, wait for school to end, and bring everyone home at the end of the day.

We have many more fabulous transportation-themed books at our libraries! It's one of our most frequently requested recommendations, so ask the children's reference staff next time you visit.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library