Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ridiculously Good Reads: March Edition

March is nearly over, so I thought this would be a good time for another "Ridiculously Good Reads" post. Every month or so, I'll round up my favorite reads published in 2015. (The first post featured a book published before 2015, but now that the 2015 books are pouring in, I don't need to do that anymore).

A tragedy has occurred; SOMEONE has eaten someone's sandwich. The narrator tells an impressive story of a sandwich stealing bear who somehow leaves the forest, stumbles into the city, and just happens upon your sandwich. Quite a story, isn't it? (High school literature teachers who need to explain the concept of "unreliable narrator" should read this book to their classes.)  I'm definitely adding The Bear Ate Your Sandwich to my list of awesome read alouds for K-3 students.

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat is GORGEOUS and already one of my favorites for the 2016 Caldecott, Through four American families making the same dessert, Blackberry Fool, Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall brilliantly depict the evolution of food technology over the course of four centuries. Kirkus Reviews interviewed the pair about their research and creation of this stunning picture book; definitely worth a read. I was bowled over by the intense research and care taken to accurately depict the times in which each family lived.

I Was Here is an authentic, moving, and realistic YA novel about the aftermath of suicide. After her best friend, Meg, commits suicide, eighteen year old Cody attempts to retrace her steps in order to understand why she took her life. For mature teens.

Kadir Nelson made his name for his extraordinary illustrations and writings on African-American history and biographical figures. He took a marked departure last year with Baby Bear, which some adored and which some were rather indifferent. I think even those who weren't that pleased with Baby Bear will fail to resist If You Plant a Seed. The illustrations are divine, and the moral lesson about kindness is never saccharine or preachy. The pictures and story are beautiful; this would be both a fine addition to an Easter basket and the Caldecott Medal canon.

I adore everything by Marisabina Russo (The Bunnies Are Not in Their Beds is one of my all-time favorite read alouds), so I immediately scooped up Little Bird Takes a Bath. Little Bird is seeking the perfect after-rain puddle for a bath, but somehow gets interrupted each time. Eventually, of course, he finds a fine bath in this pitch-perfect read aloud for a bird/weather/spring story time.

March: Book Two continues and expands upon the astounding achievement created by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell in March: Book One. March: Book One ended with the rise of the student protest movement in Nashville; the second volume highlights the Freedom Riders movement and the March on Washington. As with the first title, this is presented as a flashback on Barack Obama's first inauguration day. It's remarkably moving (Lewis reflects upon the fact that out of the "Big Six" of the civil rights movement--Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young--he is the only one still alive), and I felt that the scenes involving Obama's inauguration day were more effectively sewn into the narrative (especially the final pages in which Obama's presidential oath is juxtaposed with the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing).  Although this graphic novel trilogy is written for adults, teens interested in the civil rights movement should definitely read this (wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger than that).

Ilyasah Shabazz was only two years old when she witnessed her father, Malcolm X, assassinated (she has no memory of it). X: A Novel, co-written with notable YA author Kekla Magoon (author of the excellent The Rock and the River and How it Went Down), is a fascinating novel centered on Malcolm Little's chaotic childhood and early adulthood, ending with his first imprisonment and growing awareness of the Nation of Islam.  It's a gritty and mature read (but truthful); a unique addition to YA historical fiction. I'm hopeful that these two authors write a sequel!

Spring 2015 children's and YA titles are rolling in! Check out this Saturday's edition of Wowbrary for many enticing titles.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Slimy Scaly Stories: Books About Reptiles and Amphibians

I love reading books with animal characters for story time, but I get a little tired of adorable animal antics from time to time. Since my previous story time was all about baby animals, I wanted something that wasn't so sweet and cute. I have many story time plans that I've revised throughout the years, but nothing was really inspiring me until I decided to combine my outlines for a frogs story time and a snakes story time.

I'd only presented these story times once or twice, and frankly, they weren't that successful. Gathering fingerplays wasn't a problem; I had some fun fingerplays for both themes. The truth was that I was really only excited about two books in my list for each theme. Experienced children's librarians know that presenting a book that you're rather "meh" about is a recipe for disaster. You should only include books that you really love to share. I usually include 3-4 books per story time session, so I decided to create a new "reptiles and amphibians" theme. I found new fingerplays and presented the story time this past Wednesday. 

It was a hit! Two stories were a bit longer than what I normally read, but we had no problems sitting and listening to the story. They even elicited impromptu feedback, which is always wonderful. This story time is a keeper! Here's what we enjoyed: 

I introduced Lauren Thompson's Little Quack in my baby animals story time (a bit hit), so I decided to bring back this darling duckling one more time. Little Frog invites the little ducklings to play, but since he's so different (green and says "ribbit"), they're a little hesitant...except for Little Quack! When the ducklings see how much fun they are having splashing, squishing mud, and ducking their heads in the water (the illustration of the ducklings bottoms-up is precious), they know that having friends who are different is super cool. Little Quack's New Friend is not only a super-cute story, but it has a quiet little message about the universality of play and friendship.

Want to add some drama to your story time? Snip! Snap! What's That? will definitely bring it. An alligator invades the home of three unsupervised children; although they are initially scared (who can blame them?), they drum up enough courage to boot the alligator out. One of my all-time favorite read alouds.

I begin story times with my longest story first; Turtle Day was the perfect way to end the read aloud portion of my toddler story time. It's a simple story of a turtle waking up, quenching its thirst, sunning itself, protecting itself from a snake, and crawling inside its shell at the end of the day. It's also a good "cause/effect story"--because turtle is thirsty, it drinks water. Because it is scared, it goes inside its shell, etc.

We have many excellent children's nonfiction books if  you want informational books on reptiles or amphibians.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cute Overload: Books About Baby Animals

Who doesn't love books about baby animals? With spring on the horizon, I have several spring themes lined up for story time: flowers/gardens. rabbits, and baby animals! There are so many adorable and intriguing books about baby animals that I had a hard time narrowing down my selections:

Babies in the Bayou is unique among the "baby animal books" in that it features animals that are not cute and cuddly. Rather, we see a mama alligator (who are very protective mothers--a baby alligator stays with mom for about two years), baby turtles, and even raccoons. Jim Arnosky is a naturalist, so this isn't just an oddly sweet story; the animals are often arranged together to represent their predator/prey relationship (although not remarked upon). I frequently use this to balance the fuzzy-wuzzy titles in my baby animals story time. (If you're reading this outside of  the Gulf Coast, you may want to explain that a bayou is a lake with water that moves very slowly or not at all)

D'AWWWW SO KYOOT. Sorry. Il Sung Na's books tend to do that to me. LOOK AT THE LITTLE DUCKY. If you want a huge dose of adorableness, you need to check out his books. A Book of Babies. A baby duck observes other baby animals is the basic jist of the story. Very simple text and big, bright, and bold illustrations; perfect for babies and toddlers.

Click, Clack, Peep is Doreen Cronin's latest Click Clack saga, just in time for spring! The barnyard animals are stoked over the arrival of a baby duckling....until the baby refuses to sleep. How will they--and Farmer Brown--ever get the duckling to sleep? Funny, cute, and a great read aloud!

Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? is a must for babies and toddlers. Hold off on The Very Hungry Caterpillar if you can (I couldn't when my niece was born; she got the board book and the toy right away) and get this one for your next baby shower (or just get a bunch of Eric Carle board books). A mother animal and her baby are featured on each spread (Does a X have a mother too? Yes, a X has a mother, just like me and you), ending with an assurance that all animals love their babies, just like yours does too. So wonderful. A glossary of scientific names is included at the end of the book if you want to extend this beyond the baby/toddler stage. (Not sure if the board book version includes this glossary.)

Little Quack is not just a darling story about ducklings, but it's also a great little story about facing your fears and trying new things. Mama Duck is anxious for her ducklings to learn to swim, so she coaxes them out of the nest, one by one. Although they are reluctant to do so, they test the waters (literally) and learn that swimming is pretty cool. All except Little Quack, who holds out the longest, until he is persuaded by mom and siblings to jump in the water. And what do you know? He likes it too. A counting activity runs across the bottom of the pages, but it is not crucial to the story.

Owl Babies is one of my all-time favorite read alouds. I have been using it in story times for nearly 11 years, and I never tire of it. Three little owls awaken to find that their owl mother is gone. Although they tell each other that she'll be back soon (except for Little Bill, who repeatedly says, "I want my mommy!"--if you're reading this aloud, start the desperation level low and work it up), their worry increases. Of course, she comes back, and all is well. Although very sweet, the eating habits and perils of owl life are touched upon (they imagine that she'll "bring them mice and things that are nice," and one wonders if "a fox got her."), which adds authenticity and a little drama to the story.

Want books that have a more definite springtime theme? Check out my recent post on the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) blog.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Play Ball!

Baseball season is here! Okay, it's still pre-season, but games are happening! I don't know about you, but my football teams had dismal seasons, so I am so ready to cheer on my Nationals. If you want books that will inspire a future MLB player or fan, we have many fantastic books that you need to read! So grab your peanuts and  Cracker Jacks, and read on.  I had a hard time whittling down my choices, so each book will have a brief annotation.

General Awesomeness of Baseball: 

Baseball Is is a fabulous tribute to the history of baseball and its great stars; it ends with tantalizing the reader with dreams of his/her favorite team winning the World Series. This would be a great read aloud for elementary school students.

Baseball has a great literary tradition, with Casey at the Bat and Take Me Out to the Ballgame being two of the most famous poems/songs.

I love cross-cultural books, so Take Me Out to the Yakyu is a top favorite. Through the eyes of an American child with Japanese and Caucasian parents, readers learn how baseball is both similar and quite different in Japan and the United States.

Sports fans and novel readers should definitely seek out books by Tim Green and Dan Gutnam's Baseball Card Adventure series.

Heroes of Baseball History: 

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man is a poignant picture book biography of the great player who showed strength and courage in the face of ALS.

Sharon Robinson has written several books about her father, Jackie Robinson;  Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America is a comprehensive and personal account of the great player.

Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major League Leaguer William Hoy introduces young fans to William Hoy, the first deaf player to have a lengthy career in professional baseball.

I'm a big fan of the Who Was (and its offsprings) series, as are many patrons; they are ideal for young elementary school students. Who Was Roberto Clemente? is a fine overview of the player/humanitarian who was tragically cut down in his prime.

Jonah Winter's nonfiction titles are witty but with tons of facts crammed into a respectful manner; You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax and You Never Heard of Willie Mays? are two critically acclaimed kid-friendly reads (that would work well as read alouds for elementary school students) about two players that showed integrity in the face of adversity,

Pride Through Play: 

Barbed Wire Baseball, Baseball Saved Us, and A Diamond in the Desert are moving and eye-opening tales of the vital importance of baseball games in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.

The Bat Boy and His Violin, We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,  and Fair Ball! 14 Great Stars From Baseball's Negro League are must-reads for those wanting to learn more about the Negro Leagues.

A League of Their Own

The short-lived all-women's league is one of the most fascinating aspects of baseball history. Mama Played Baseball and A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League are memorable reads perfect for National Women's History Month! And yes, we do have one of the BEST sports movies ever, A League of Their Own (There's no crying in baseball!)

Here's to another exciting baseball season!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Oink Oink! March 1 is National Pig Day

When I'm at a loss for topics to blog about, I consult the Brownie Locks website. I'm guaranteed to find something that will inspire a post. When I learned that March 1 is National Pig Day, I immediately knew that I had tons of fabulous children's books to discuss!

If you think Babe (the movie) is adorable and clever (which it is!), you need to read the book upon which it was based. Although a story about a pig saved by the cleverness of a fellow farm animal sounds awfully familiar, Dick King-Smith's tale of a sheep-herding pig is hilarious, charming, original, and has one of the most satisfying endings in children's literature.

Charlotte's Web is inarguably the ultimate children's novel about a pig (and perhaps the biggest upset in Newbery Medal history).  If you reread it, you'll be struck by its timelessness and maturity. E.B. White's recording is worth a listen. If children's literature history is an interest, you need to read The Story of Charlotte's Web  to learn about the creation of this modern classic.

Who's the best pig detective in the world? Mercy Watson, that's who! I regularly recommend the Mercy Watson series for families who want to start chapter book read-alouds as well as independent readers ready for chapter books.

Elephant (also known as Gerald) and Piggie is one of the most consistently funny and clever couples in children's books. Although they are quite different (Gerald is a bit more high-strung and goofy at times), they are forever friends. My favorite is We Are in a Book, which is quite meta.

Olivia (the original is a 2001 Caldecott Honor book) turns 15 this year, but this spunky pig (who's very good at "wearing people out")  is still going strong!

Piggies in Pajamas is one of my favorite "not so sleepy" bedtime stories. This rollicking and rhyming story of a bunch of rambunctious pigs who are definitely not interested in bedtime requires some practice if you don't want to trip over your tongue while reading it aloud.

Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore! is a great read aloud for preschool and elementary school children; they will love this tale of partying pigs and the hapless man whose house they invade.

Finally, if you're in the mood for some porcine-related nonfiction, check these out:

Dick King-Smith's novels often included pigs, but did you know that he wrote an adorable nonfiction title about one of his favorite animals?  All Pigs Are Beautiful is suitable for newly independent readers who want to learn about the habits of these fascinating creatures.

Gail Gibbons's books are ideal for young independent readers. Pigs teaches readers about the typical characteristics of pigs, their life cycle, and their intelligence.

Although there may not be any pig-related books in this week's edition of Wowbrary, I can guarantee that there are some awesome titles to discover.

I participated in Grace Miller Elementary's Family Reading Night last Tuesday and had a fabulous time. I wrote about several of my read aloud choices in an ALSC post about funny read alouds for elementary school children. Check out the comments for more great suggestions.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ridiculously Good Reads: Early 2015 Edition

How's 2015 working out for you? Have you read any fantastically awesome books so far? As a youth services librarian, I need to read books outside my personal interests. (If I didn't, I'd read nothing but realistic fiction, historical fiction, and biographies). I also need to remind myself to not focus on the bright and shiny new reads, but to go deeper into the collection and find titles that I missed. Happily, this often turns up some welcome surprises!

For 2015, I'm going to start a "Ridiculously Good Reads" feature. This will be similar to Reading Roundup, but it will only focus on books that I thought were outstanding. Not just in a literary sense, but books that, for whatever reason, weren't forgotten the second I returned them. Here are my Ridiculously Good Reads for January and February: 

I recommend Annie Between the States whenever possible for middle or high school historical fiction assignments; not only it is a fantastic Civil War era read, but much of the action takes place in Fauquier County (Upperville and Warrenton) and the surrounding areas. Across a War-Tossed Sea has joined my top recommended reads for historical fiction, as it's a moving, gripping, occasionally funny, and occasionally heartbreaking tale of British brothers living in the Tidewater region during World War II. Not only do the brothers struggle with homesickness and guilt over leaving friends and family behind in Britain, but they have to deal with cultural differences, especially segregation laws and customs.  A subplot involving a nearby German POW camp is tremendously affecting and startling; Elliott's research notes on German POW camps and the importance of the Tidewater region during World War II are informative and fascinating.

I've become more and more impatient with epic 400+ children's/YA novels and endless series. Ugh! Enough! You better have a really good reason for having such a huge book and for extending the story into a trilogy (or more). Thankfully, there are still authors and publishers out there who haven't forgetten about reluctant readers, or readers who just want a quick read every now and then. Bridge is part of the Alternative series, which is set at Rondo Alternative High School. This is Jose's last chance to graduate; family issues such as his dad's unemployment (due to medical issues) and difficulty concentrating in class due to his work schedule make school a challenge. At 92 pages and written with reluctant readers in mind, this is a realistic and empathetic look at situations that befall many high school students. Patrick Jones worked with teens at juvenile detention centers and alternative education centers, so he's very familiar with the issues and situations that these young people face. I'm definitely planning to add more books in the Alternative series. 

I'm a huge fan of Lucy Knisley's graphic memoirs; Displacement, in my opinion, is her finest so far (and I thought it would be hard to top Relish). As always, family relationships play a huge part in her latest graphic memoir (food is also a Knisley trademark, but less so in this one). As her grandparents are dealing with the physical and mental realities of aging (as Knisley includes her musings on twenty-something issues, this is a remarkable juxtaposition), this cruise is probably their last big trip. Her sorrow over their decline, her befuddlement over typical cruise activities, and the differences in her relationships with each grandparent are sensitively, humorously, and achingly depicted in both art and prose. Excerpts from her grandfather's World War II memoir are included throughout the memoir, which adds a poignant and admirable touch. This is graphic memoir writing and drawing at its finest.

I'll bet you're anxious to find spring. (Pitchers and catchers report this week, so it's on its way!) Finding Spring is a charming beauty of a picture book. This little bear cub is dismayed to learn that he has to hibernate during winter before spring arrives; when he sets off to find the mysterious spring, he finds something quite marvelous, indeed.  This sweet book has constantly been checked out since we received it early this year; it's a superbly created book that's perfect for late winter.

Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution is one of our staff's early favorites for 2015. 2015's summer reading program is "Every Hero Has a Story," and this unique story ties in perfectly! Christopher Ludwick's story shows that everyone has talents and qualities to contribute, even in unexpected ways. Finding picture books about historical eras that are excellent read alouds is rare; there are plenty of fine historical fiction picture books, but not many that are suitable for reading aloud. This is a terrific read aloud for elementary school students studying the American Revolution.

I was extremely hesitant to read Noggin. I wanted to read all finalists for the National Book Award (Young People's Literature division), but I had a hard time getting past the premise of the story. Once I decided to read it, I was completely engrossed. It's a mature, unsettling, unforgettable, and provocative science fiction novel that raises tough questions about scientific advancements and mortality.

Supertruck is another early 2015 title that has been constantly checked out since we received it (and very appropriate for winter reading!). A blizzard has overpowered the city; luckily, an unlikely hero in the form of a garbage truck saves the day. So adorable and clever!

At 990 pages of text, Truman is an enormous biography (took me nearly seven weeks to get through it), but it's one of the best presidential biographies I've ever read (I've been reading a biography of each president--off and on-- since October 2012). Truman's late-in-life political career, the chaos of the 1944 Democratic convention (where it was an unspoken understanding that Roosevelt would likely die in office, thus making the VP nominee more critical than it had ever been), the decision to launch the atomic bomb, the firing of General MacArthur and the Korean War crisis, the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy, the enormous loss of popularity and calls for impeachment, and much, much more are brilliantly brought to life. Moreover, his undying love for his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret, is touchingly depicted. Truman was a complicated character (his views on civil rights did not mean that he was incapable of making unsettling statements) at an extraordinary time. An outstanding biography. The Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy biographies era is very reminiscent of the Washington-Adams-Jefferson-Madison biographies era; their political careers intertwine with each other on a greater scale than other eras in American history (Roosevelt to a lesser extent, since he was an established icon by the time Truman began his political career) but definitely true for Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy). Very intriguing to observe!

Looking for some brand-new reads! Check out our latest and back issues of Wowbrary.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Celebrate and Remember: Books for Black History Month

History, biographies, and historical fiction are among my favorite things to read, so I'm excited to tell you about some of my favorite books that are perfect for Black History Month. If you're looking for a book to fulfill a Black History Month assignment, or just want some awesome recommendations for personal reading, these books will definitely engage, entertain, and inspire readers from many ages and backgrounds. All books highlighted were published in 2014 or early 2015.

I haven't read this brand-spanking new 2015 book because it's been checked out so many times! (Yaaaay!) 28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World covers history-making African-Americans from Crispus Atticus to Barack Obama.

Russell Freedman (1988 Newbery Medal winner for Lincoln: A Photobiography) is a champion writer of young people's nonfiction. Throughout his 85 years, he has created outstanding biographies on Benjamin Franklin, Babe Didrikson Zacharias, Confucius, Lafayette, Crazy Horse, Louis Braille, Marian Anderson, Marco Polo, and the Wright Brothers. His history titles cover well-known aspects of history such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and  World War I, but also investigate the plight of children during the Great Depression, the daily lives of children during the Western Expansion, early 20th century Asian immigration, the vaqueros (Mexican cowboys) in the southwest, the fight against child labor, and pre-Columbus explorers of North America. The man is a giant and pioneer in children's informational books, and many of his history books focus on everyday heroes in extraordinary moments in history.  Because They Marched: The People's Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America is an eye-opening and powerful look at the struggle to ensure that African-Americans have equal representation at the voting booth. Although it's written for children, teens and adults who have seen Selma and want to learn more about the fight for voting rights will definitely benefit from reading this. If you want more titles about African-American history by Freedman, check out his 2006 account of the Montgomery bus boycott and his Marian Anderson biography (mentioned above).

I've discussed Brown Girl Dreaming many times on this blog; if you haven't read this memoir-in-verse about Jacqueline Woodson's childhood experiences in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York during the days of Jim Crow, you are missing out! It's won the National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, is one of two 2015 Newbery Honor books, and a spot on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream is a gorgeously illustrated and told tribute to Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina. Told through the perspective of a seamstress's daughter, this is a touching and memorable look at a little-known pioneer.

If you want Virginia history as well as African-American history, look for The Girl From the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement. (It's also on the Middle School Battle of the Books list.) Barbara Rose Johns was a teenager when she organized a protest against the deplorable conditions of her segregated school in Prince Edward County. As part of Brown v. Board of Education, the community's fight against segregation helped to bring about integration in the public schools.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker  is a brilliantly (and dazzlingly!) created biography of the fascinating dancer/actress, Josephine Baker. Although Baker was stunningly sophisticated, her poverty-stricken childhood in St. Louis was a far cry from Paris.  The enormous racism during her lifetime is sensitively and factually presented for young readers.

Pre-civil rights history intrigues me. I'm automatically interested in any black history title that's NOT about slavery or the 1960s civil rights movement (as important as it is to keep learning about those eras). The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, And the Fight for Civil Rights is a sobering and difficult read at times, but an important one to read. I reviewed it last August.

We have a number of related 2015 titles on order or just recently received:

Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation's Capital
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage 
Mae Jemison (a biography of the first African-American female astronaut)
Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March
X: A Novel (YA novel about Malcolm X co-written by daughter Ilyasah Shabazz and acclaimed YA author Kekla Magoon)

For recommendations of pre-2014 books on black history, see these posts.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library