Monday, February 08, 2016

Let's Celebrate Valentine's Day!

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, it's time to grab these awesome books and read (and craft!) about this fun holiday for all: 

National Geographic's Holidays Around the World is incomparable in its wide-ranging, inviting, and diverse celebrations of holidays. Celebrate Valentine's Day: With Love, Cards, And Candy  illustrates the history and traditions of Valentine's Day with the series's standard focus on engaging text and photography.

Although I love Pinterest for finding and pinning crafts and activities, children's craft books that employ simple materials and instructions will always be welcome resources. Kathy Ross's many craft books, including her Crafts for Valentine's Day , have oodles of craft ideas that many ages can create.

Did you know that Valentine's Day is actually named for a third century Christian martyr? We have two excellent children's biographies about St. Valentine: Ann Tompert's biography and Robert Sabuda's biography are both great introductions.

My all-time favorite Valentine story is the charming and tender Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch (unfortunately, it's a little too long to share with our story time groups, but would be perfect for an elementary classroom/Scout troop/etc). Mr. Hatch keeps to himself most days, but a surprise valentine that tells him that somebody loves him has the power to change his outlook and behavior. As Mr. Hatch searches for the identity of the valentine sender, he becomes a friendly and positive neighbor to all. If you have a child or a group that will listen to a lengthy story, this is a beautiful way to discuss the real reason for Valentine cards and the importance of treating everyone with kindness (without being preachy or saccharine).

Happy (early!) Valentine's Day!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, February 01, 2016

Ridiculously Good Reads: January 2016 Edition

How's your reading year going? Read anything awesome yet? While waiting for the avalanche of new 2016 books to arrive, I've been catching up on 2015 books (and even older):

I adore the Bad Kitty series, but I must confess that I was rather disappointed with Bad Kitty: Puppy's Big Day. It was fine, but didn't have the truly laugh-out-loud moments that the previous Bad Kitty books had for me. How happy I was when Bad Kitty Goes to the Vet turned out to be super funny (with a bizarre twist in the middle!). As you can guess, this chronicles Bad Kitty's unfortunate visit to the vet (good thing the vet is a pro when dealing with skittish kitties), along with Uncle Murray's fun facts about cat care and veterinarians.

The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York ranks as one of the oddest books I've read in a long time; ultimately, I loved its unpredictability and its unexpected endearing message. Jonathan York is your average worker bee who finds himself in a creepy forest with some unusual inhabitants and is dismayed to learn that the innkeeper requires an incredible story as payment. When he is unable to provide such a story, he is cast into the unpredictable forest and onto an amazing journey. Although this doesn't entirely read as a children's story (the protagonist is an average middle-aged man, and some of the humor might go over a young person's head), there's nothing that is inappropriate for readers who want to embark on a deliciously weird heavily illustrated fairy tale.

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is a hilarious, endearing, and adorable graphic novel about an alien boy (who looks like your average blond kid) who crashes on Earth and befriends two young friends. With a touch reminiscent of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, readers will root for this appealing and diverse trio; as Hilo himself would say, it is "OUTSTANDING!" Cannot wait for Book #2.

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death; as such, there are many exhibits, activities, and more planned throughout the year. With this anniversary and Black History Month in mind,
Ira's Shakespeare Dream is a perfect read for this time of year. Born in 1807, Ira Aldridge received a classical education at a New York City school for African American children; he quickly caught the acting bug and after many obstacles, traveled to Britain in hopes of establishing a theatrical career. He soon became known as one of the best Shakespearean actors of his day; his tomb in Poland is still maintained by a Polish acting society, and he is one of 33 actors memorialized at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

We often get asked about books that talk about appropriate behavior for toddlers and preschoolers; while they may have good intentions, some often miss the mark in terms of appeal for young listeners. When we received titles in the Little Dinos series, I was excited to see that they had tons of charm and were written on a level perfect for two and three year olds (Jane Yolen's How Do Dinosaurs...? series is perfect for 3-4 year olds). As I expected, they have been supremely popular at all library locations.

I'm a huge fan of Joan Bauer; her realistic YA novels have lots of heart and tackle serious subjects (illiteracy, homelessness, etc) without being too dark or hopeless. Her latest, Soar, stands out as one of her best. Jeremiah has not had an easy life; abandoned by his mother at birth and adopted by his loving and offbeat single father, his heart defect and eventual heart transplant cause him to live a life different from his peers (and unable to fully participate in his obsession, baseball). A move to a baseball-obsessed town brings new friendships, even if people are oddly tight-lipped about the reason about the lack of a middle-school baseball team. When a high school baseball star suddenly dies, the small town is rocked by grief and accusations against his coach. Jeremiah's quest to assemble and coach a middle-school team is jeopardized by antipathy and his health condition, but he is so not a quitter. Bauer grasps the multi-faceted experience of a chronically ill adolescent; Jeremiah has an almost adult sense of humor and vocabulary (not uncommon among children/teens who spend a great deal of time in the hospital and surrounded more by adults than children for great lengths of time) and the adults in his life are torn between wanting him to live as much of a normal life as possible yet painfully aware of his limitations. Jeremiah is an instantly appealing and approachable character; you can't help but immediately root for him and empathize with him. The funeral for the 17 year old is sensitively and achingly described, as is the trauma and shame felt by the community over the allegations surrounding the coach. Just outstanding, and one of my 2017 Newbery picks.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, January 18, 2016

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let's take a look at some of the best children's and YA books we have about the legendary civil rights leader and the time in which he lived:

We have several picture book versions of King's March on Washington speech, but my favorite is Kadir Nelson's exemplary depiction. Nelson's unforgettable illustrations are top-notch, and a recording of King's speech is included.

Although March: Book One and March: Book Two were not created for YA audiences, mature teens interested in learning more about the civil rights movement should definitely pick them up. Told from the perspective of Congressman John Lewis remembering the long and difficult struggle for civil rights as he prepares for President Obama's first inauguration, these graphic novels are startling, moving, and unforgettable.

Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song is a gorgeously told and illustrated dual biography of King and the great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson.

When librarians and teachers recommend children's biographies about Martin Luther King Jr., Martin's Big Words is often one of the first titles that they mention. This 2002 Caldecott Honor is somewhat sparse in text, but rich in emotion, gravitas, and hope.

If you need a read aloud for elementary school students, Angela Johnson's A Sweet Smell of Roses should be at the top of your list. This fictional picture book follows two young girls as they attend a march led by King.

I was super thrilled when Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March  was named one of this year's Sibert Honor books. It's a poignant look at the Selma Voting Rights March through the eyes of a 15 year old participant.

Finally, What Was the March on Washington?  is an engaging overview of the historic march. If you're not familiar with the Who Was series or its spinoff, What Is, you are missing out! We actually have quite a few kids who ask for these books by name, which is not often the case for biographies and history/geography!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, January 11, 2016

And the Winners Are...

The Golden Globes may mark the beginning of the awards season for films, but the Youth Media Awards announcements mark the end of the children's/teen book awards season for the previous year. Youth services librarians, school librarians, teachers, and other fans of children's/YA literature eagerly anticipate the announcements with hopes of their favorites being recognized (or at least having the titles in their collections!).

We are fortunate to have MANY of the titles already in our collection, including all honor and medalists for the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Schneider Family, and Sibert Medals! Because there are so many awesome awards that were announced today, I'm just going to highlight the ones that are my favorites: 

Newbery Medal ("for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature"; awarded to the author, who must have residency in the United States) 

Hello! Surprise! "Last Stop on Market Street" is a picture book. Yes, picture books are absolutely eligible for the Newbery, as the age criteria only states "up to and including fourteen." "Roller Girl" is a fun graphic novel, and "Echo" is sublime. I can think of three different books that I would have chosen for the Medal, but I'm not a committee member. (I think the illustrations are definitely Caldecott worthy, and I admire Matt de la Pena's previous works very much, but I need to reread this book before I make a final conclusion.)  

Caldecott Medal ("for the most distinguished American picture book for children"; awarded to the illustrator, who must have residency in the United States)

I adore "Finding Winnie." Fabulous choice. The author is the great-granddaughter of the captain who cared for the actual bear cub that inspired A.A. Milne to write his Winnie stories. "Trombone Shorty" has a New Orleans connection, so I'm a big fan. And did you notice that Last Stop on Market Street also received a Caldecott Honor? This is only the second time in both awards' history that this has happened; it first happened with A Visit to William Blake's Inn, which won the 1982 Newbery Medal and was also a Caldecott Honor recipient that same year. 

Schneider Family Book Award ("for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability community")
Middle School (ages 11-13): Fish in a Tree and The War That Saved My Life (tied)

The Schneider is one of my favorite awards, so I'm pumped that we have all winning titles!

Sibert Informational Book Award ("for most distinguished informational book for children")

I'm always impressed with the choices for the Sibert. If you've read my blog, you know that I'm a huge admirer of "The Boys Who Challenged Hitler." Duncan Tonatiuh is one of my favorite illustrators, so I'm pleased that "Funny Bones" won. 

While I'm satisfied with all the award winners, there are inevitably favorites that were looked over, but the one that I missed seeing the most was The Bear Ate Your Sandwich. Such a funny and unexpected twist! "Emmanuel's Dream" is a fine book (and a positive story from Ghana), but I'm sorry that My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay was not recognized by the Schneider Family committee. Overall, I'm fine with the results. Not ecstatic happiness like I did in 2013 when The One and Only Ivan won, but it's very rare to attach yourself to a book that much and then have it win. (That's why it's special when it does happen.) 

A complete list of all awards can be found here.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Favorite Books of 2015

Happy New Year! I hope you read some amazing books in 2015. With the Youth Media Awards announcements being only nine days away, there's no better time to talk about my favorite reads of the previous year (the last time my #1 favorite read won a medal was when The One and Only Ivan won the Newbery in 2013, so I don't have a great track record).  Without further ado, here are my top five reads in a variety of categories. Since there are 31 titles (I allowed six for adult fiction/nonfiction because it is a combined category), I'm just going to list each title and briefly discuss my top choice.

Picture Books: 

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich

If You Plant a Seed 

My Pen 

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay


Top choice: This was very hard to choose, since all five are fantastic. But The Bear Ate Your Sandwich is so funny and has such a fabulously delightful ending that rivaled no other picture book I read last year.

Children's Novels: 

The Empire Strikes Back: So You Want to be a Jedi?

A Handful of Stars 

Tiger Boy

Top choice: It was a tough decision between Echo and A Handful of Stars, but minor quibbles with thematic details with Echo make me choose Cynthia Lord's latest impeccable novel. It's a deeply moving and beautifully rendered  book about two unlikely friends against the backdrop of rural migratory life.

Children's Nonfiction:

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Petersen and the Churchill Club

Earmuffs for Everyone: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs

Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution

Mahalia Jackson: Walking With Kings and Queens 

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

Top choice: All five are brilliant portrayals of inspiring people, but The Boys Who Challenged Hitler absolutely blew me away with its depiction of a group of very brave teenage boys who protested against the evil regime of Nazi Germany.

Young Adult: 

I Am Princess X


Red Girl, Blue Boy

Scarlett Undercover

These Shallow Graves

Top choice: Very close between I Am Princess X and These Shallow Graves, but Jennifer Donnelly's latest is pretty pitch-perfect in every way: the murder mystery investigation, the atmospheric setting of 19th century aristocratic New York and the seedy underworld that co-existed, the dramatic romance ...this is why Jennifer Donnelly doesn't churn out YA novels year after year. Her books exist in a high stratosphere.

Graphic Novels (children's, young adult, and adult):


Lost in NYC

March: Book Two 

Roller Girl

Sunny Side Up

Top choice: It's not fair to have adult, YA, and children's graphic novels lumped together, but I didn't read enough adult graphic novels to justify separating them. Sunny Side Up is my choice; it is a sensitive and honest account of how a family struggles when an older child gets into serious trouble, but told in an age-appropriate manner. Although it's quite serious at times, the friendship between the two main young characters (who bond over their love of comics) is charming and heartwarming.

Adult Fiction/Nonfiction:

Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

In the Unlikely Event

Something Must be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle

The Wright Brothers

Top choice: Very difficult, because I am very choosy about the adult fiction/nonfiction that I read. If I am not enthralled right away, I won't finish it. Therefore, every one of these books is an  extraordinary read, in my opinion. However, Ashley's War was quite incredible from beginning to end (and absolutely heartbreaking, but definitely worthwhile). You'll hear more about Ashley's War in the near future; Reese Witherspoon's production company bought the film rights.

We're not quite done with 2015 books! The ALA Youth Media Awards (including the Caldecott and Newbery medals) will be announced on January 11 at 8 AM EST.

In the meantime, get an early start on your 2016 reads by checking out this week's Wowbrary. Some last-minute 2015 additions to our children's and young adult collections, in addition to some spectacular early 2016 titles will be included in this edition. Subscribe to Wowbrary to be among the first to know about new additions to our collection.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library