Monday, April 25, 2016

Ridiculously Good Reads: April Edition

Oh, I have some books to talk about. Late March-April brought many intriguing titles my way! Let's begin:

I do love a good YA survival story. Not fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian survival. Straight up survival in nature's harsh elements is what I'm talking about. If I get my hands on something like Trapped, The Living, or Peak, it's not unusual for me to finish it in two sittings. Adrift grabbed me right away: teens from two different social classes (and countries) must fight to stay alive when they become lost at sea. Plenty of drama, hair-rising suspense, sorrow, and bittersweet elation makes this a first-rate choice for anyone looking for high-stakes adventure under 300 pages. It gets rather gruesome at times, but no one reads survival stories for descriptions of high tea with the Queen, do they?

Want something that has adventure, mystery, science fiction (with science facts), and humor in one story? Pick up Beetle Boy, the first in a planned trilogy about a young son of a famed British entomologist searching for his father, who mysteriously disappeared. If genetically engineered beetles and a mad scientist (School Library Journal compares her to Cruella de Vil, which is apt) peaks your interest, you'll definitely enjoy this.

The Bitter Side of Sweet might not fly off the shelves, but for readers who seek books set in other countries or books that tackle contemporary topics, it might be one of the most memorable YA novels they read this year. Following young teens kidnapped and enslaved at cacoa farms, this is an eye-opening and unforgettable story that is a horrid reality for too many children and young adults. Remarkably, it is also full of friendship, courage, and hope. A brief afterword gives further information on this issue and how it relates to the worldwide chocolate industry.

I've long wanted to read a book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer that wasn't a devotional, but the sheer size of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy kept me away. This phenomenal biography of the Lutheran pastor who openly defied the Third Reich and was eventually murdered at the Flossenburg concentration camp (two weeks before Allied troops liberated it) is a heavy tome, but an extraordinary read of this courageous pastor. In addition to giving a moving account of Bonhoeffer's life, Metaxes delves extensively into Bonhoeffer's writings (which later greatly inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.), which are not your average inspirational writings meant to soothe the reader. Metaxes also deeply examines German Christianity and the German church under Nazi rule (which by default was the Lutheran Church), including its collaborators and Bonhoeffer's fellow opponents. The vast majority of this was totally new to me (such as the "Germanification" of the Sermon on the Mount and the banning of tithing to the local church), and not something that is covered at great length in other books about the Third Reich. It is an inspiring, harrowing, and heartbreaking read (the framing of the beginning and conclusion of the book, which observes Bonhoeffer's parents listening to a British memorial service in honor of their son, is devastating) that is worth the patience and time it takes to read it.

I finished Hamilton: The Revolution the day it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Even if you don't follow Broadway, you've probably heard of the (mostly) hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton (largely performed by actors of color). If you love books about the production of Broadway musicals (me me me, even if I don't like the show), you need to read this. Not only does this contain the show's libretto (with insightful and occasionally funny annotations from Lin-Manuel Miranda), it is gloriously stuffed with essays about the show's cast and crew, as well as the creation of the show. A must read for any Broadway fan.

My Family for the War ,winner of  the 2013 Batchelder Award (which honors translations of children's/YA books originally published in a language other than English), is a captivating YA historical fiction novel centered on a ten year old German girl of Jewish descent (although her family converted to Christianity generations ago, the Nazis consider her family Jewish) who embarks to England on the kindertransport. When she eventually settles in with an Orthodox Jewish family, she rediscovers her Jewish heritage as she hopes for reunification with her parents. This is a sensitive, beautifully rendered tale that deals with heritage, loss, survivor's guilt, and love. It's one of the better historical fiction books I've read in several years, and a fascinating look at British life (and British Jewish life) during the height of the war.

I never thought I would love an easy chapter book series about animals living in an apartment building, but I adore Sprout Street Neighbors. A New Arrival returns to this diverse group of animals, who meet their new neighbor from Hawaii. Although the books are short, there is plenty of humor and tenderness that enrich the stories (most chapters are individual stories).

Looking for more suggestions? Check out recent and back issues of Wowbrary to read about the latest and greatest books ordered/added to our collection.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tutus and Tap Shoes: Books for National Dance Week

If you have a budding ballerina or Broadway performer in your life, or just enjoy the art of dance, National Dance Week is a special week just for you and your family! Established in 1981, National Dance Week (April 22-May 1) promotes dance education in schools and expands community awareness of the fun of dance. Dance comes in many forms and is celebrated across many cultures, as is evidenced by these outstanding books for children:

Andrea Davis Pinkney's and Brian Pinkney's picture book biography of Alvin Ailey, who founded the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater to bring an African-American perspective to modern dance, is a vibrant and intriguing look at this dance pioneer.

Ballerina Dreams is a sweet and inspiring look at five children who learn ballet in spite of their physical disabilities.

Young independent readers should definitely read Ballerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer for its eye-opening look at ballerina Michaela dePrince, who was adopted from Sierra Leone as a young child and made her way to the top of the ballet world, despite battling issues with vitiligo (a skin condition that causes depigmentation). Older readers might be interested in her YA memoir, Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina.

You've undoubtedly heard snippets of Appalachian Spring in commercials and other media, but do you know the creation of this uniquely American composition and ballet? Modern dance pioneer Martha Graham and composer Aaron Copland created a ballet with a distinctly American theme, unlike the classic ballets that told stories of European fairy tales and stories.  Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring tells the story of this famed partnership and dance, which celebrates the American pioneers of the 19th century.

Through the perspective of a young African-American daughter of a ballet company's seamstress, A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream introduces readers to Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina. This is a beautiful and joyous tribute to a young girl's heroine.

Emma and Julia Love Ballet is already one of my favorite picture books of 2016. Written and illustrated by picture book master Barbara McClintock, this follows a young dancer and a professional ballerina as they take classes at the same ballet school and prepare for a special night at the ballet. The fact that Emma is Caucasian and Julia is African-American is not a point of discussion in the story; this is just a charming and gorgeous story about an aspiring dancer and the ballerina she admires.

One of the best (and authentic) Native American picture books in our collection is Jingle Dancer, which follows a young member of the Muscogee/Creek nation as she prepares for her jingle dance performance at an upcoming powwow. An author's note includes further information about the jingle dance and the special clothes worn by the dancer.

Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan's Chinese New Year also features a young dancer, Ernie, as he practices his lion dance for the Chinese New Year celebrations.

If you've seen Shirley Temple movies, then you're already familiar with the great tap dancer, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who was her dancing partner in many movies. Rap a Tap Tap--Here's Bojangles--Think of That is a joyous and rhythmic salute to one of the greatest tap dancers of all time (but without touching on the injustices he faced during his lifetime).  Consider this for a dance-themed story time.

With so many picture books only featuring grandparents if they are incapacitated or dying, Song and Dance Man remains one of my favorite picture books featuring grandparents. Although today's children will not have a grandparent who performed in vaudeville (this won the 1989 Caldecott medal), they will still delight in this loving, active, and fun grandfather who recreates his adventures on the stage for his grandchildren.

Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina is a brilliantly illustrated and told picture book biography of the childhood and career of Maria Tallchief, the first Native American prima ballerina. Starting with her childhood on an Osage reservation, this is a humbling and memorable story of one of the ballet world's greatest dancers.

As you can see, dance is enjoyed and performed by people of all ages and backgrounds; check out one of these remarkable books when you next stop by the library!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, April 11, 2016

Count on It: Books for Mathematics Awareness Month

Did you know that April is Mathematics Awareness Month? Established in 1986 as Math Awareness Week, it grew to a month-long celebration in which colleges, student groups, and other associations hold math activities and programs for students and/or the general public. We're celebrating in our own way at our Fauquier County libraries; we will incorporate math fun in our What's Up Wednesday program on April 20th, and we will read counting/numbers stories during my toddler story time this Wednesday. It was hard to narrow down four counting stories for story time; I can't wait to share these books with our story time patrons:

Like most of Denise Fleming's picture books, Count!  has minimal text, with the focus being on her bold, large, and vivid illustrations. Count! is not just your ordinary counting book that merely shows a number plus pictures representing that number on each page; the concept of counting by 10s is also introduced, and there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate large motor play while reading the book (there's not an actual story line), such as "4 kangaroos. Bounce, kangaroos!"

With some very minor adjustments to the text, I'm confident that Count the Monkeys will be a huge hit with my toddler group. With Mac Barnett's trademark clever humor, the reader/listener attempts to count monkeys on each page, although he/she/they are constantly interrupted by characters that scare off the monkeys. 

Here's a chance to add diversity to a counting story time! (I would also include Feast for 10, but I read that not too long ago.)  Nikko is supposed to be taking a rest, but he'd rather imagine that he's wrestling luchadores on his bed! Unfortunately, there's no information about lucha libre, the very popular Mexican wrestling style in which the wrestlers wear masks (definitely a shortcoming to this otherwise adorable and fun book), so do some research if you plan to share this with a child or a group (I'm just planning to tell my group that lucha libre is Mexican wrestling and that the wrestlers wear really cool masks, and leave it at that). Lucha libre has also been featured in some outstanding recent titles, including Dino-Wrestling, Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask, Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel, and Nino Wrestles the World.

I'm honestly not a huge fan of the more recent Pete the Cat books, but I can't leave out Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons in a counting story time. Like my other favorite Pete book, I Love My White Shoes, Pete the Cat keeps his cool even the most confounding situations (while singing a very catchy tune). 

We have many more counting books available at our libraries; just ask us for our (other) top recommended titles! 

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, April 04, 2016

Superman and Friends

I, along with millions of my fellow Americans, saw Batman v. Superman in its opening weekend. Prior to the movie, we saw previews for Captain America and X-Men (and also the Ghostbusters ladies movie and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). My questions of "What's his deal?" "Can he fly? Oh, he doesn't fly?" during the previews, not to mention "why are they fighting?" during the drive to the cinema proved that I have a lot to learn (I know the basics, but my true nerdoms are reserved for Broadway musicals and Star Wars), especially after it was established that the last Batman movie I fully remember seeing was Michael Keaton's take on the Dark Knight. And as entertained as I was by the movie (although I thought the reasons behind their fighting and resolution were really weak), I'd rather read about superheroes than watch a bunch of movies (I enjoy graphic novels and all things pop culture).  Whether you're a newcomer to superheroes or have geeked out over a favorite character since you were seven, these books should keep you busy until the next superhero movie comes out:

I love superhero origin stories. Not where the superheroes come from or about their childhood, but about their actual creation by actual humans. Superman, in my opinion, has one of the most fascinating and tragic creation stories, which is why I inwardly cheered when "Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster" flashed on the screen. Having read the incredible Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero, I knew that the men who created the Man of Steel when they were teenagers had a long and bitter fight with DC Comics in order to be credited as Superman's creators. Rereading my 2012 review makes me want to read it again (I have so many books that I want to read, however, that I rarely reread). If you're a fan of pop culture history, you should read this. Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman is a great choice for younger readers. Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was published not long after I finished Larry Tye's exhaustive overview of Superman, so I wasn't very interested in treading the same ground at that time. I'm also intrigued by a novelization of Superman's early days (in the comics).

Batman has evolved in many ways since he first appeared in 1939; if you want to check out his earliest comics, Batman: The Sunday Classics , 1943-1946 looks like a great place to start.

Batman: The Ultimate Guide to the Dark Knight is published by one of my favorite companies, DK, so I know this is a super-detailed and comprehensive history of the Batman franchise.  Batman's allies, enemies, special talents, and his story line are explored through terrific pictures and captivating text, as all DK books are.

Although Study Hall of Justice won't give any insights into the origin and history of DC Comics characters, it looks SUPER CUTE and fun (and it's a 2016 title!). Bruce Wayne, Clark, and Diana (aka Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) form a detective agency in order to discover the strange goings-on at their school.

I know Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are DC Comics characters (and Spider-Man is Marvel), but other than that, I'm not sure who else is DC Comics or Marvel. DC Comics; A Celebration of the World's Favorite Comic Book Series appears to be an outstanding guide to who's who and what's what in the superhero universe. Published in 2003, this is an expansive overview of the publisher's history and comic book characters, including their movies and television shows. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and Marvel Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to the Characters of the Marvel Universe look to be thorough insights into DC's rival company.

Batman v. Superman was a teeny bit too long, in my view, so after an extended period of time in which Batman and Superman beat each other up (arrrgh), I was pumped when Wonder Woman finally appeared on the scene (she's very cool in her small and late-in-the-movie role). Although Wonder Woman's origin story has changed over the years, Wonder Woman Archives, which collects the early Wonder Woman comics, looks as bright, zany, and fun as any comic would in the Golden Age of Comics.

A Wonder Woman movie is coming out next summer (her first solo movie in her 70+ year history), so we will probably see more books and media tied to that franchise. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High is the first book in the DC SuperHero Girls series (awww!). Readers follow Wonder Woman as she deals with the ups and downs of life at Super Hero High School. I'm thrilled that copies at all locations have been super popular; Lisa Yee is the supremely talented author of the Millicent Min/Stanford Wong books, so I've had this on my reading list since we received it.

No matter who your favorite superhero is, he/she is probably featured in The Superhero Book: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Comic Book Icons and Hollywood Heroes, . The Superhero Book not only contains detailed entries for over a thousand superheroes (!!!) but it provides an overview of the pop culture phenomenon's history.

I blogged about books for April Fool's Day on the Association for Library Services to Children's blog; take a look if you're interested in stories with trickery and unexpected endings.

Need more reading ideas? Check out current and past issues of Wowbrary and discover new titles to put on your reading list!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Ridiculously Good Reads: March Edition

How's your springtime reading going so far? I'm constantly overwhelmed by the number of amazing books we have in our collection. Instead of whittling down my To-Be-Read list, I find it growing all the time!

What's the hottest show on Broadway right now? It just happens to be a (mostly) hip-hop musical about Founding Father and the first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.  Tickets are sold out until infinity, and the cast (along with creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda) have been hosted at the White House, featured on 60 Minutes, and stole the show at the Grammy Awards. It all started when Miranda happened upon Ron Chernow's biography at an airport bookstore, and identified strongly with Hamilton's immigrant background and ascendancy to the top through hard work and luck (Chernow served as advisor during the creation and rehearsal periods). Alexander Hamilton is a hefty read, though immensely readable, addictive, inspiring, and tragic. I wasn't quite in the mood for a 730 paged biography (the remaining pages are research notes), but when I found that Chernow was also the author of the fabulous Washington: A Life (one of my top 10 president biographies), I was immediately enthused (he's currently working on a biography of Ulysses S. Grant!). If you've been swept up in Hamilton mania, make sure you hop on the holds list for Hamilton: The Revolution, which chronicles the creation of this unique show (and read Chernow's biography if you haven't).

If I had read Crenshaw last year, it would have been on my Newbery list. Katherine Applegate is the author of one of my favorite Newbery books of all time, The One and Only Ivan. For some reason, I never got around to reading Crenshaw until this year.  As with The One and Only Ivan, Applegate captures hard truths (unemployment/underemployment, constant moving, etc) sensitively, acutely, and accurately without resorting to melodrama and pathos. Jackson's family dynamics are realistic, but strong and dynamic; the appearance and disappearance of his imaginary friend (Crenshaw, a cat) works perfectly.

Emma and Julia Love Ballet is a joy and a much-welcomed addition to our ballet picture books. Emma and Julia both love ballet and work hard at their ballet lessons that they take at the same ballet academy. Emma is very excited to attend a performance of the school's professional ballerinas, and to meet Julia backstage. The fact that Emma is Caucasian and Julia is African-American is not remarked upon; this is a perfect book for all budding ballerinas.

Although Mai is a tween who can't imagine living anywhere except California, the legacy of the Vietnam War continues to haunt her family. She is definitely not looking forward to accompanying her grandmother back to Vietnam in order to finally discover her grandfather's fate. Mai barely speaks Vietnamese and feels awkward and out of place with her relatives in Vietnam. Although it's a major struggle, Mai eventually learns to appreciate her Vietnamese heritage.  Listen, Slowly straddles the divide between children's fiction and YA fiction (there's some talk about boys and underwear, but it's quite mild), and would appeal to readers who feel caught between two different cultures as well as readers who enjoy reading about cultures and countries. As most children's fiction set in Vietnam takes place during the war, this is a much needed addition to Asian and Asian-American books for children.

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy is one of the saddest books I have ever read; Sue Klebold's agony and grief drips with every word. Her son, Dylan, was one of the two students at Columbine High School who murdered 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide. Klebold painfully recreates the confusion, horror, shame, and grief that have followed since that dreadful day, as well as her attempts to work through her trauma and her advocacy for familial survivors of suicide and mental health reform (all proceeds from this book will be donated to mental health research and charities dedicated to mental health). Klebold is brutally honest about what she would have done differently, her complicated grief, and the breakdown of her marriage to Dylan's father. This is a painfully difficult read that will linger with you long after you finish it (for further reading, I recommend Dave Cullen's Columbine, which clears up the rumors and half-truths that emerged about the tragedy, as well as Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, And the Search for Identity, in which Klebold is interviewed; Solomon also wrote the introduction to Klebold's book).

Need more reading ideas? Check out Wowbrary, a weekly newsletter that provides information on the latest and greatest books (print and electronic), DVDs, and more ordered/added to our collection.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian

Monday, March 21, 2016

Time to Celebrate: Books for Purim, Easter, And Passover

The arrival of spring means the celebration of important holidays for both the Christian and Jewish faith. With Purim falling on the evening of March 23, Easter on March 27, and Passover from April 22-April 30, this is the perfect time to read our beautiful and fun books centered on these celebrations:

On Purim follows a family as they prepare and celebrate the Jewish observance of Purim, during which they wear costumes and masks as they act out Queen Esther's rescue of the Jewish people (as told in the Book of Esther). While making and eating hamentashen (pastries filled with poppy seeds and honey), playing games at the carnival, and wearing costumes is fun, a young girl wonders and eventually learns the real meaning behind the festivity. This is a fine read for all backgrounds, even those not familiar with the celebration.

Celebrate Easter With Colored Eggs, Flowers, And Prayers is part of the best nonfiction holiday series for children, Holidays Around the World. This is a multicultural exploration of the holiday, including both secular and religious observances throughout the world.

Intricately designed eggs are a well-known aspect of Ukrainian culture, which is explored in Patricia Polacco's gorgeously written and illustrated Rechenka's Eggs. This tender story of Rechenka, a goose that breaks a Ukrainian woman's elaborate eggs and later lays a dozen brilliantly colored eggs has an ethereal quality that makes it ideal for a quiet read-aloud for patient listeners.

If you are in search of a Passover-related book that goes beyond the basics of the observance, check out ABC Passover Hunt. Readers/listeners will search for clues based on each letter of the alphabet (for B, which stands for Baby Moses, readers will search for Moses's boat). As this is published by a Jewish press (Kar-Ben), and not for a general audience, those not familiar with the holiday might struggle with some of the puzzles (an answer key is included)

If you'd like more suggestions for Easter and Passover books, check out my post from 2014. (My favorites: Here Comes the Easter Cat; The Passover Lamb; and The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah. Top-notch reads for these special holidays.)

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library

Monday, March 14, 2016

Celtic Pride: Books for St. Patrick's Day and Irish-American Heritage Month

Shamrocks and all things green will be sprouting this Thursday for St. Patrick's Day, so let's look at our fabulous children's books about the holiday and Irish-American history!

Tome dePaola's Jamie O'Rourke folktales are among his most popular stories, so the fact that he wrote a children's biography of St. Patrick is no surprise. DePaola presents the known facts and even legends associated with St. Patrick; this is a good read-aloud for elementary school children.

Gail Gibbons's nonfiction picture books are ideal for elementary school readers; she manages to make each subject informative and interesting at the same time. St. Patrick's Day is a succinct overview of the history and traditions behind the holiday.

All nations have a storytelling heritage, but Ireland ranks among the top for the sheer vastness of stories about legendary figures. A Pot O' Gold: A Treasury of Irish Stories, Poetry, Folklore, And (of course) Blarney is a handsome collection of tales about fairies, leprechauns, and an Irish version of the Cinderella story (also available as a separate story).

When I get asked for children's historical fiction recommendations (especially if it's for a specific period), I often point them toward the Dear America series and the My Name is America series (also the Royal Diaries series). These series present important periods in history that are appealing and age-appropriate for a broad range of readers. So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl and The Journal of Finn Reardon: A Newsie follow two Irish-American children during times in which an enormous amount of children, particularly immigrant children, worked under harsh and dangerous conditions.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library