Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gobble Up These Awesome Thanksgiving Books

With Thanksgiving fast approaching (how did that happen?), I'm sure many of you are busy with meal and/or trip preparations. If you're running errands this weekend, stop by the library to pick up these Thanksgiving titles that are guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit: 

If your family watches the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, you'll want to read Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade. Tony Sarg's "upside down puppet" creations were innovative for their time, and are now the highlights of the parade. Although this is not necessarily a Thanksgiving title, it stands out among the standard turkey-and-pumpkin pie books that crowd the field. 

Celebrate Thanksgiving (part of National Geographic's excellent Holidays Around the World series) is one of the best nonfiction Thanksgiving titles for young readers; brief sections on the history, diverse celebrations (we see celebrations at school, a prayer service, families cooking their traditional cultural foods, meals served to service members and the homeless, etc), an acknowledgement that Thanksgiving is not a celebration for some Native Americans, and more give this a thorough but child-friendly approach to the holiday.

While Feast for 10 is not specifically about Thanksgiving, I use it every year in my pre-Thanksgiving story time. Although the family is preparing a chicken dinner instead of a turkey feast, this counting book that observes a large extended family shopping for, preparing, and enjoying a big meal is a great way to celebrate the family togetherness aspect of Thanksgiving.

If you have a short trip planned for Thanksgiving, I Spy Thanksgiving: Riddles would be a fun way to pass the time. Jean Marzollo's easy to read riddles and Walter Wick's appealing photography makes this a fine choice for reluctant readers.

Such a sweet story! This is a darling read aloud about a family preparing for the big Thanksgiving meal; everyone has a job to do, even baby (who mercifully sleeps quietly during the busyness). Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story is one of my new favorite Thanksgiving reads.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Ridiculously Good Reads: November Edition

With the end of the year fast approaching and an early date for the announcement of the ALA Youth Media Awards (January 11), I'm trying to fly through the books that have been prominent on my to-be-read list. We've received a ton of fabulous books; here are my favorites (since September):

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower: Or John Howland's Good Fortune is a gorgeously illustrated and hauntingly written account of an indentured servant's experiences on the Mayflower and in the New Plymouth colony. The harsh reality of Mayflower and Pilgrim life, as well as the strong faith of the Pilgrims, are brought to life, which makes this a memorable read for young elementary school students.

I usually stay far away from animal detective stories (there are more of them than you would think), but since we're nearing the end of the year, I'm reading a bunch of short chapter books to boost my total number of reads for 2015. At 92 pages, I figured I could tolerate it well enough. Well, I'm here to tell you that I LOVED Detective Gordon: The First Case. I usually HATE anything that smacks of twee, but this worked for me, for some reason. Detective Gordon's investigation of stolen nuts from a frantic squirrel is both sweet and hilarious. Publishers Weekly compared it to Frog and Toad, which is apt: it has a similar witty and old-fashioned (but not outdated) feel. I hope that Gecko Press USA/Lerner Books will publish #2 soon! Ulf Nilsson is one of Sweden's most prominent children's authors; there's very little up-to-date information available on the Internet.

The Disney Book's subtitle, "A Celebration of the World of Disney," should be your clue not to expect a critical interpretation of Disney films (i.e nothing about stereotypical characters in Dumbo and Peter Pan; Song of the South is not even discussed, save for a throwaway mention about live-action films). It's a beautifully designed and engrossing volume that gives intriguing information about the creation of Mickey Mouse and friends, as well as the major Disney movies (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Bambi, The Lion King, Frozen, etc). The creation of Disneyland and the theme parks that followed is a highlight; just as his daughters' enjoyment of P.L. Travers' books was the catalyst for creating Mary Poppins, Walt Disney's experience taking his daughters to a "Daddy's Day" event at a local amusement park inspired the creation for Disneyland (while he sat on benches waiting for his daughters to finish their rides, he brainstormed ideas for a theme park in which children and parents could both enjoy the attractions). Unfortunately, the lack of acknowledgment that the company fell on hard times artistically during the 1980s demotes the importance of The Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/The Lion King/Aladdin in the 1990s. Most regrettably is the non-existence of any extended discussion of the importance of music in Disney films and to Walt Disney; this is an egregious oversight. (And why no mention of Newsies in the live action movies section?) For all that, this is an engaging and fun read for Disney fans; those that want a more in-depth look at Disney should read The Art of Walt Disney (time for another revision!).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in less than a month (EEEK!), so I'm catching up on my Star Wars books in preparation for a future post to be published around that time. A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel, And the Farm Boy is the opening title to the novelizations of the original trilogy. Don't think that this series is your typical junior novelization of a movie; these books are written by fantastic children's/YA authors. (And for those of you who care about this: Alexandra Bracken makes sure that Han shoots first. Star Wars geeks will know what I'm talking about.). The book is divided into three sections, which chronicle the events of A New Hope through Leia's (The Princess), Han Solo's (The Scoundrel), and Luke Skywalker's (The Farm Boy) perspectives. Great for both children and adult fans of Star Wars! They really make you think about the characters in a different light.

The Wrong Side of Right is rather improbable, but if you need a light (but not brainless) and fun contemporary YA novel, check this one out. When Kate Quinn discovers that she is the daughter of the prominent Republican candidate for president, she is suddenly thrust into a world of campaign events, benefits, and a summer with her new-found family. This is Thorne's debut YA novel, and I'm looking forward to her future novels.

Need more ideas for books? Check out my recent ALSC blog posts for National Memoir Writing Month and National Field Trip Month.

Previous Ridiculously Good Reads:

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Happy Picture Book Month!

It's Picture Book Month! According to the official website, "Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November." If you think picture books are only for toddlers and preschoolers, think again! Picture books should not be tossed aside once a child starts reading; many have vocabulary that is far more sophisticated than your average beginning reader or chapter book. Children's auditory comprehension is often more advanced than their print comprehension in the early years of school, so using picture books is a great way to expand their vocabulary. Not only are picture books for elementary school students great for vocabulary building, but they are also great for expanding awareness of the community and world around them. Quite a few of my favorites have humor that is incomprehensible to the toddler and preschool crowd.  If you need suggestions for great picture books for K-3 students, here are my favorites:

If you ate nothing but chicken feed day after day, you would probably hunt for something to spice up your meals. That's exactly what the chickens in Chicks and Salsa do when they get a craving for southwestern cooking. Unfortunately, the day of their fiesta looms with disaster! Will the chickens ever get to enjoy something with some flavor? The companion book, Buffalo Wings, is equally hilarious. 

When I am asked to read picture books to elementary school students, I often include folktales in the stack of books that I bring. Folktales involve wild adventures, but they also impart values that are universal across many cultures. It Could Always be Worse, based on a Yiddish folktale, tells the tale of a man desperate for some peace and quiet in his crowded home. When he goes to his rabbi for advice, his rabbi tells him to invite a host of animals into his home. How will this alleviate the situation? This is a funny but wise tale about appreciating your surroundings and the gifts that you have been given.  

Imagine having to build your own school from mud. That's exactly what the teacher and children must do on the first day of school. Once the school is built, the children are eager to learn their lessons. Based on author-illustrator James Rumford's experience in Chad, Rain School is a remarkable look at the difficulties and challenges schoolchildren face in an African country (but related in a very positive manner). 

The Rumor: A Jakata Tale From India is another of my all-time favorite folktales. A nervous hare is convinced that the world is ending. He warns the other animals in the forest, which causes an increasing fury. When the lion demands to know how the rumor got started, everyone learns a lesson in not jumping to conclusions.  

What! Cried Granny  is a rambunctious bedtime story about a young boy spending the night at his Granny's house for the first time. When Patrick informs Granny that he has no bed, blanket, etc, she fixes the very elaborate and time-consuming ways! The ending is a great surprise. 

Happy Picture Book Month! 

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hail to the Chief: Presidential Biographies

It all started with the 2012 presidential campaign.

Half of my attention was on one of the debates, while the other half was focused on Ron Chernow's relatively new biography of George Washington. While I've been a presidential history fan since I was a child, it had been a long time sine I had read a single biography of a president. "Why not," I thought to myself, "read a biography of each president?"

Well, here we are, three years later, and I am DONE. Thank goodness.  When people found out that I was embarking on this project, the question that was inevitably asked was, "Which president is your favorite?" Now, that is a LOADED question. I don't have a favorite president. What I do have is a list of the top 10 biographies I've read, followed by an honorable mention list:

The actual narrative of Washington, A Life is around 800 pages, which I normally have no patience for, but Chernow delves so brilliantly into Washington's psyche and the birth pangs of the new nation that I was lost in it.

David McCullough's John Adams was a monster bestseller and a popular HBO miniseries for all the right reasons; Adams is a fascinating character who was often  unfairly overshadowed by Washington and Jefferson.

Hopefully, the renewed attention to John Adams will spill over to John Quincy Adams, who deserves to be better studied and known. John Quincy's childhood was quite chaotic; as the son of one of the Founding Fathers (and a very popular First Lady), expectations for him were sky-high. His political career began in his teen years, and his presidential term ended in defeat; his later Congressional career, in which he fought against the slave trade, deserves to be better known (the movie Amistad has definitely helped in that regard). John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life is a must read for American history fans.

If I had to make a top 5 list, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House would absolutely be included. Jackson's place in history is undeniably tied to the forced migration of Native Americans; he was a provocative and scandal-ridden man in his day, but also devoted to his family (he had three adopted children, including a Native American child).

Although James Garfield was only president for nine months (and incapacitated for most of it), Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, And the Murder of a President is a captivating account of his early political career and the dazzling changes in the late nineteenth century. Fans of medical history would love this.

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris is the second entry in Edmund Morris's trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt; as I am mostly interested in reading about the actual presidential term(s), I chose this one for my TR book. This begins with Roosevelt's shocking ascendant to the presidency after William McKinley's assassination and details his advancement of the national parks system, his controversial meeting with Booker T. Washington, and his own assassination attempt on his life (this part is incredible reading, as he continued with his speech while Secret Service agents were desperate to get him to stop).

The Bully Pulpit: Theordore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, And the Golden Age of Journalism was the first of two Doris Kearns Goodwin doorstoppers that I read. She wrote an engrossing account of the friendship between Roosevelt and Taft, and how Taft's abrupt dismissal of Roosevelt's policies led to the near-destruction of their friendship.

Having a bewildering amount of biographies to choose from is quite dizzying; luckily, I don't think I could have chosen better than Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Although this was written before the full extent of FDR's extramarital affairs was discovered (Goodwin does discuss them in detail), it stands the test of time as a thrilling account of an extraordinary life and lifetime.

David McCullough's Truman is a classic in presidential biographies, and an enormous read. Truman's Missouri boyhood, his faithful devotion to his wife and daughter, his unbelievable second-term victory and humiliating conclusion of his presidency is an amazing read.

Being Nixon: A Man Divided is a stunning biography (and a brand new 2015 title!). Evan Thomas explores the weird, tragic, and unbelievable life of Richard Nixon in a fair and eye-opening read.

Honorable Mention: 

These books were superb reads in their own way:

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is a very fair and illuminating biography of our third president. Very political in nature rather than strictly biographical.

Choosing a biography of Lincoln introduces you to an embarrassment of riches. Ronald C. White's  A. Lincoln isn't innovative in terms of presentation, but his clear and empathetic writing is a fine soup-to-nuts biography of our 16th president.

Oy. Books about Reagan. Think he was the greatest president ever? You have plenty of books to choose from? Want books about how he ruined everything for all time? Plenty of those as well. As well as books by adult children, friends, enemies, fans, and 100th birthday retrospectives. But if you want a fairly balanced biography,  Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands is definitely the way to go. I would have possibly included it in my top 10 if Brands didn't meander so much into old Hollywood history (apart from Reagan's contributions), which bogs down the actual narrative.

Arrrrgh. Kennedy books. Same problem as Reagan books. If you pine for the days of Camelot, you can find many like-minded books. If you're anti-Kennedy, you can find many books that affirm that belief. If you want salacious gossip, you're in luck. However, those of you who want a comprehensive and fairly objective look at John F. Kennedy should put  An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek at the top of your list.

The remaining list: 

These books are not poorly written; on the contrary, many of these biographers did not have the extensive research available to them as did the biographers included in the previous two lists, but wrote fine biographies of their subjects. You'll notice that many books are in the American Presidents series; these thoughtful and concise biographies  (few are well over 200 pages, not including research notes, citations, etc) are often the only choice for modern biographies of one-term nearly forgotten presidents. They are also welcome alternatives to overstuffed and overwhelming biographies (Lyndon B. Johnson in particular). The Reagan title will be out in early 2016; the Clinton title has been delayed for obvious reasons. (Plans for the Obama title have not been announced, as far as I know.)

James Madison: James Madison by Gary Wills (American Presidents series)
James Monroe: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness by Harlow Unger
Martin Van Buren: Martin van Buren by Ted Widmer (American Presidents series)
William Henry Harrison: William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins (American Presidents series)
John Tyler: John Tyler by Gary May (American Presidents series)
James K. Polk: A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent by Robert W. Merry
Zachary Taylor: Zachary Taylor by John S.D. Eisenhower (American Presidents series)
Millard Filmore: Millard Filmore by Paul Finkelman (American Presidents series)
Franklin Pierce: Franklin Pierce by Michael F. Holt (American Presidents series)
James Buchanan: James Buchanan by Jean H. Baker (American Presidents series)
Andrew Johnson: Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed (American Presidents series)
Ulysses S. Grant: Ulysses S. Grant by Josiah Bunting (American Presidents series)
Rutherford B. Hayes: Rutherford B. Hayes by Hans L. Trefousse (American Presidents series)
Chester A. Arthur: Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell (American Presidents series)
Grover Cleveland (also 24th president): Grover Cleveland by Henry F. Graff (American Presidents series)
Benjamin Harrison: Benjamin Harrison by Charles W. Calhoun (American Presidents series)
William McKinley: William McKinley by Kevin Phillips (American Presidents series)
Woodrow Wilson: Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House by Phyllis Lee Levin
Warren G. Harding: Warren G. Harding by John W. Dean (American Presidents series)
Calvin Coolidge: Calvin Coolidge by David Greenberg (American Presidents series)
Herbert Hoover: Herbert Hoover by William Edward Leuchtenburg (American Presidents series)
Dwight D. Eisenhower: Dwight D. Eisenhower by Tom Wicker (American Presidents series)
Lyndon B. Johnson: Lyndon B. Johnson by Charles Peters (American Presidents series)
Gerald Ford: Write it When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Cuff Conversations With Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank
Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter by Julian E. Zelizer (American Presidents series)
George H.W. Bush: George H.W. Bush by Timothy J. Naftali (American Presidents series)
Bill Clinton: The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris
George W. Bush: George W. Bush by Jim Mann (American Presidents series)
Barack Obama: The Obamas by Jodi Kantor (read in 2012; this and Destiny of the Republic were the only two books that I read out of order; the Clinton and Obama biographies that I really wanted to read have not yet been written. Waiting for their American Presidents books!)

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

One Week Until Halloween!

Halloween is exactly one week away! Do you have your costume ready? Have you decorated your house (or your car if you're going trunk-or-treating)? If you're still doing errands for Halloween preparations, stop by the library to check out some terrific Halloween books!

Galaxy Zack, starring a human boy living on the planet Nebulon is one of my favorite new easy chapter book series; A Haunted Halloween features Zack attempting to track down the mystery of ghost apparitions.

Nina Laden's board books are must haves in any board book collection. Her latest,  Peek-A-Boo, encourages children to make predictions about the (not-so) spooky creatures hiding throughout the story.

I discovered the History of Fun Stuff and Science of Fun Stuff series several months ago; I had a feeling that they would be instant hits, and I'm so pleased that I was right! The subject matters appeal to many children, and the concepts are explained creatively and succinctly.  The Tricks and Treats of Halloween  is a fun look at the history of this unique holiday.

If your family attends a harvest festival or a trunk-or-treat event instead of Halloween activities, Trunk or Treat is for you! It's a sweet and simple look at a super fun event. This obviously takes place at a church; you can see the steeple and some children are dressed as Biblical characters; readers are free to emphasize these subtle illustrations or mentions as much as they wish.

Happy Halloween!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Reptiles Rock: October 17th is Reptile Awareness Day!

If your interest in animals leans more to the scaly and slimy than cute and cuddly (although a mama alligator carrying her baby in her wide open jaws or large snout is pretty cute, as long as its in a picture!), take heart: October 17th is definitely a RAD day for alligator admirers, snake supporters, and affiliates. To celebrate Reptile Awareness Day, let's look at a handful of our reptile-themed reads:

There are many version of Aesop's fable about the arrogant hare and the steadfast tortoise, but Helen Ward's The Hare and the Tortoise remains my favorite for read-aloud purposes.

I Don't Like Snakes introduces us to a little girl who doesn't like snakes; unfortunately, her parents keep snakes as pets! Luckily, she learns that snakes are super cool...and super important!

Lyle, Lyle Crocodile was first published in 1965 and remains quite popular! After a cranky neighbor puts Lyle in a zoo, he has a change of heart after Lyle rescues him from a fire.

National Audubon Society First Field Guide: Reptiles is a must for budding herpetologists. Young naturalists will learn about subspecies, diet, behavior, and other characteristics of reptiles familiar and uncommon.

Sea Turtle Scientist is part of the outstanding Scientists in the Field series, which introduces readers to scientists and laypeople working together to save animals and habitats.  Sea Turtle Scientist follows Dr. Kimberly Stewart as she works to ensure the survival of sea turtles.

Nic Bishop's books are unlike any other nature books out there; he has an amazing knack for in-depth photography and writing that grabs both reluctant and voracious readers. Snakes is a must read for those curious about what makes a snake poisonous, how they hunt, and more.

Looking for some awesome websites for young reptile experts?

The Virginia Herpetological Society has great identification resources for Virginia reptiles (click on "Animals").

National Geographic's reptile section is also a fine resource.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kidlitcon 2015

Last month, I was asked to moderate the "Exploring STEM Through Gripping Stories" at the 2015 Kidlitcon conference in Baltimore. Although I've heard of the Kidlitcon conference (going strong since 2010!), I've never had a chance to attend. I was super thrilled (and quite a bit nervous) that I was asked, so I booked my train ticket to Baltimore and prepared like mad!

Kidlitcon is a grass-roots conference for children's literature bloggers; although a small conference due to its niche audience, everything was arranged professionally, smoothly, and perfectly. I wish I had time to stay for the entire conference to meet more bloggers (I did have a chance to say hello to Ms. Yingling after her excellent panel on horror books for middle school horror books and spotted Liz Burns - I think I saw Ms. Burns there! - at the fun panel on nonfiction books moderated by Cybils judges).

The authors on my panel were very approachable and encouraging in our emails prior to the panel (we discussed several questions that I would ask them, which everyone made feel much more at ease!). We discussed their backgrounds in science and writing, talked about the highs and lows of writing for children/teens (mostly highs!), and much more in our 50 minute panel. One of the things that I found most interesting is that they all confessed to reading their reviews (both in print and online)!

I had not read Dr. Ellen Prager's Tristan series, but now that I have, I am definitely adding them to the collection! This series about a young summer camper who can communicate with fish was hailed as a "splashy startup with a promising premise" by the notoriously sharp Kirkus Reviews, and is a fun read for marine life enthusiasts (Dr. Prager is a marine scientist). Dr. Prager is the only panelist who came to writing as a second career, and her joyful enthusiasm when talking about writing for children/tweens and  receiving feedback (both positive and direct, as only children can critique books!) was absolutely delightful.

Mark Alpert's  The Six is a thrilling read ideal for teen gamers, and has received very strong reviews, including one from School Library Journal ("a well-researched, hardcore science-fiction joyride"). Although he has written many books for adults, The Six is his first YA novel (a sequel is currently in the works), and his views on the differences between writing for adults and teens were insightful. I had the chance to chat with Mr. Alpert about visiting New Orleans while I was waiting for my shuttle back to the train station; I am looking forward to his further YA novels!

Erin Hagar's Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life ("Full of Julia's trademark gusto" according to School Library Journal) is a remarkable read about the famed chef (we will receive a copy soon!). Ms. Hagar's discussion of how Julia Child's method of cooking was scientific and precise was a highlight of the panel. I am eagerly awaiting her forthcoming nonfiction titles on the LEGO creators and on the women's land army during World War II.

Elissa Brent Weissman's Nerd Camp ("a humorous story that will help [kids] understand that it is okay to be who you really are, even if that means being different" praised Library Media Connection) has been a popular title in our libraries; learning about her background and how she feels about reviews was very intriguing! I look forward to adding Nerd Camp 2.0 and The Short Seller to our collection.

Finally, major thanks to Sheila Ruth and Paula Willey for organizing such a fun and worthwhile conference! Everything from establishing contacts with my panelists, sending me review copies of their books, offering encouragement, choosing our hotel location, and more was brilliantly arranged. I was honored and delighted to be a participant.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library