Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grading in is! Yahoo!! I am taking the weekend off before I start preparing Fall semester course materials. I am sure I will hear from the students who want reading lists so I know I can't let it go too long.

So, I'm going to enjoy the rest of the day by going through new books. I love Kitten's Autumn by Eugenie Fernandes. The illustrations have a 3D feel as the critters and other elements in the illustrations are made out of clay. Laying them on top of collages made from paper, yarn and other materials results in illustrations kids and parents will pour over time and time again as little ones listen to, and soon join along with, the simple rhyming text. "Leaves tumble, Kitten mews. Porcupine snacks, Chipmunk chews." What a delightful way to introduce forest animals and what they eat. I love the "Skunk slurps" illustration - he is eating a wiggly worm. Make sure you also get Kitten's Spring to help little ones learn farm animals. These two Kids Can Press are a fun way to introduce animals.

The latest in Frank Serafini's Looking Closely nonfiction series, Looking Closely in the Rain Forest draws you in with both the stunning color up-close photographs as well as the text - "Look very closely. What do you see? A spaceship? A sea slug? What could it be?" The "spyglass illustrations" certainly looks like a green slug but when you turn the page and see the full photograph, it is the toe of a web-toed red-eyed tree frog. The text accompanying the full-page photographs offers basic details about the rain forest animals and plants. A stunning book for any children's collection.

You know how sometimes you fall in love with a book, but there is one "little" discrepancy that bugs the heck out of you? That is my problem with Pirate's Guide to the First Grade by James Preller and illustrated by Greg Ruth. B&N has the title just as First Grade so it didn't immediately come up when I searched for it. What pirate fan wouldn't be intrigued with a first page that states - "Arrr! Shiver me timbers, what a slobberin' moist mornin'!" The illustration shows just the top of a red-haired boy's head with his eyes squeezed closed. Of course, the "slobberin' moist" comes from his bulldog licking his face. In the background are the ghostly figures of "real pirates" who accompany the boy to school. When he gets to school, this is where my problem begins. The boy looks too old for first grade and is putting his backpack in a HS looking locker and the books piled on desks in the classroom room are much thicker than we would see in a first grade classroom - they look the size of a NYC phonebook! The teacher gives him what appears to be a hall pass (treasure map) and the last picture shows him with "me treasure!" The boy, who truly looks at the youngest upper elementary, is sitting reading a copy of Treasure Island with stacks of very large books around him. Had this been a guide to third grade even I would have been a little less jarred out of the story but the illustrations, as gorgeous as they are, just don't work for me. It has to be difficult for picture book authors who are not also illustrators as their text is interpreted by an illustrator the publisher has chosen to visually bring the story to life.

Steve Jenkins has done it again - a nonfiction title children won't be able to put down. This time his subject matter is the skeleton of humans and animals - Bones As always, concise text accompanies the intricate cut paper collage illustrations that beg the reader to start at the beginning. I love the fold out spread of a smiling skeleton with text that reads: "Congratulations! You are the proud owner of a complete human skeleton!" Additional bone facts will appeal to the older reader, including a discussion of how the Cyclops, the one-eyed giant of Greek mythology, may have come about from the skull of the now extinct dwarf elephant as the hole where the trunk had passed through looked like a single eye socket of a giant.

Speaking of bones, well not plural, but singular - Bone, the wonderful fantasy graphic novel series by Jeff Smith has a new title Tall Tales This one of the few graphic series that appeal to all ages. Ten books in the series, but the fun isn't over. A new graphic novel series set in the world of Bone will arrive in 2011 - Quest for the Spark: Book One. So don't despair, more fun and fear is coming your way Bone fans.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Well, now I know it was a Thursday night that I did the vampire entry as I'm watching The Vampire Diaries as I type this. I am finally feeling a bit better. Steve thought it was something he ate at Bella Notte that made him so sick. I think it was the sliced ham we bought as I've spent the last couple of days dealing with the same symptoms. Yuck!! All that sounds good right now is Fresca. Stomach cramps woke me at 5 a.m. so I slept for quite awhile this afternoon. I was running a fever and exhausted - talk about weird dreams!!

Summer semester is just about over and I couldn't be happier. I am waiting for the books I added to children's lit for the Fall semester to come in so I can start working on updating course content. The one thing I love about teaching youth literature/materials courses is also what makes teaching them so time consuming - reading new titles as well as revisiting older titles so that I am up to date.

I don't know how many of you ever heard of Mutual of Omaha's AHA Moment website but I certainly had not before I was contacted by them. The rep. emailed me that she had read my blog and that she was sure I had an AHA moment to share. So, I agreed to be interviewed and filmed talking about an important point in my career.

I talked about how the challenge to Judy Blume's Forever resulted in the completion of my PhD in Library Science and focusing on young adult literature. Sometimes I still chuckle when I remember how the principal,who attempted to remove the book from a HS library, couldn't figure out why he was getting so many letters and phone calls about how wrong he was in trying to remove this well known and beloved young adult novel that had been in the library since it was initially published in hardback format in the mid 1970s. This was the early 90s and I had replaced the falling apart hardback with a bound paperback edition - the one that has a locket on the front.

What he didn't know is that I knew who to contact for support. Being able to handle a challenge to a book effectively is being prepared. It is all about being active in your professional associations. I had been a member of the American Library Association and the youth divisions - American Association of School Librarians , Association of Library Services to Children and the Young Adult Library Association since the 1980s so I knew to contact the Office of Intellectual Freedom Since Forever had been on the list of challenged books many times and Judy Blume is one of the most challenged authors of the 21st Century
they sent me a packet of articles and other materials addressing the book. Too bad the folks supportive of removing the book wouldn't read them. Many never read the book - they just knew about the selective excerpts the principal shared with them. That is a technique of censors - focusing on excerpts out of context.

I was also active in the Wisconsin Library Association and librarians from around the state were contacting the principal with their concerns. I was not alone in standing up against this censorship attempt. It wasn't just my colleagues around the state, it was also many of the teens themselves. Attempting to censor a book often has the opposite impact the censor intends - the very people who the censor doesn't want to read the book hear about it and wonder what the big deal is and read it. Almost every teen in the small high school had read the book by the time the school board decided to put it on a newly created reserve shelf for it - requiring a signature for teens younger than 18. The censors make a whole lot of money for the authors of books they want removed from libraries!

I don't wish a challenge on any librarian but it is important to remember that most people who challenge a particular title are concerned parents. And, when the librarian explains the selection policy and the reconsideration process, the potential challenge stops right there. Most parents just want confirmation that they do indeed have the right to control what their children/teens read. The true censors falsely believe that is also their right to control what other parents' children read.

Someday I'll write about that experience and how it impacted my life as I have all the letters to the editor, the newspaper articles and my journal from that very difficult time, but not yet. Off my soap box for today. :-)

Monday, July 26, 2010

I wrote this on June 3rd and it never got posted. I just found it on the desktop of my laptop. I was certainly "on a roll" that night! I haven't watched any of the vampire shows since then. Just hasn't been time. I rarely ever watch a show when it is actually airing as we TiVo it and we can delete the commercials. I watch NCIS in real time once in while but we often catch up on favorite shows when on the weekend. Steve doesn't like the way Gibbs slaps the agents on the back of the head in NCIS so he isn't as keen on the show as I am. I think he is just "jealous" as I like "old gray haired guys" and he is now beginning to resemble that description! :-)

June 3rd
Guess it is my night for vampires. I'm on my second vampire TV show for the night. Was sitting on the bed going through cards and play bills from the Broadway shows we've seen since we moved to Lexington. Mama Mia is my favorite. Time to do some cleaning and sorting again so I don't look as much like a pack rat as I am. All women walk into the walk in closet to see how big it is and when it is stuffed with "stuff" and clothes it doesn't look as big as it is. Boy did I do a weeding of clothes. If I actually do lose the weight I've gained I am going to be so excited I will want new clothes anyway. But, it was sad to set aside all of the beautiful dress suits I bought for conferences and realize it may be a long time, if ever, that I can do the kind of conference traveling I did for so long. Most of me misses it, but there is part of me that does not. I've become a major home body unless I am traveling with Steve to watch out for me.

Back to vampires. I caught an episode of Vampire Diaries based on the series by L. J. Smith. Very interesting. I think I am hooked as I was a major Buffy and Angel fan. Went onto B&N and saw that the books have been reissued in paperback format with the actors on the cover. Smart marketing move for those teens who watch the show first. Or, for collectors. The Awakening is the first in the series. Will have to see if I can find some of them at Half Price Books.

Right afterward came Moonlight. I think I have seen an episode of this before as I recognize the blonde reporter. The TV listing shows this as the very first episode "There's No Such Thing as Vampires". Maybe I can catch the whole set of episodes if CW is running reruns of it. Sixteen episodes during 2007-8. Guess that may be why I remember it - I probably saw an episode back then. Oh man - the reporter is the little girl he saved 20 years ago. Okay, I'm more hooked on this one!! No book, though initially it was conceived as a book Isn't it amazing what you can find on Wikipedia. And no - I am not going to debate the accuracy of Wikipedia entries!

I have more than my share of problems with insomnia so I relate to little Sylvie in The Sleep Sheep by Anna McQuinn and Hannah Shaw. Sylvia had gone through all of the usual rituals - even three bedtime stories and she still can't sleep. Mom tells her to count sheep but they just aren't following her "orders" - they are all over! How is she supposed to count them at that. She needs them in a line - oh now, now they are dancing - no way to count "rumbaaa-ing" sheep. Cute! Then they hit the sleep sheet equipment rental and headed out on bikes, skateboards, scooters, etc. Sylvia is having trouble keeping up with them, let alone count them. They end up at the beach and engage in all kinds of activities - playing cards and game called Sheep and Adders! You have to look closely at the illustrations to catch some of the really humorous stuff. I love illustrators that add these wonderful details that the kids might not catch but the parent who has read the book a hundred times does. The sheep eventually fall asleep and that really frustrates poor Sylvia as she's the one who is supposed to fall asleep, which she eventually does so the oldest ewe covers her up and comments on how exhausted she is as she thought Sylvia would never nod off. A very cute book. There are book covers showing in Sylvie's room like Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown which makes sense as it is a classic bedtime story, but not Tom's Midnight Garden. It's a middle grade mystery by Philippa Pierce about a young boy who is sent off to stay at his aunt's when he gets the measles and discovers a playmate when the clock strikes thirteen. Mattie ensures Tom's summer away from home is adventurous but he isn't sure he wants to be her "forever" friend. I wonder how many other librarians will notice this title on the last page of The Sleep Sheep and it jars him/her out of the story as it did me. Would this stop me from sharing this delightful book with little ones - nope! I wouldn't say a word about it.

I received a box of ARCs from Disney/Hyperion and found myself with tears in my eyes as I read Jack's Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Tavares. It won't hit bookstores until October and there isn't even a picture yet on B&N and what a wonderful headshot of a smiling Kennedy. Rappaport covers his life from birth to his death and inserts Kennedy's own words to compliment her text. What a beautifully done picture book biography. Tavares' Illustrator Notes share his visit to John F. Kennedy Presidential Library to find photographs he would work from for the illustrations. Although he did not use them, other than one with the note, he was touched by the informal photographs that were clearly taken by the Kennedy family. They helped remind him that the Kennedy family was "normal" - like any other family and not the bigger-than-life "royalty" of the Boston area. An absolutely beautifully done biography, but this is no surprise as Rappaport is known for her well researched, picture book biographies including Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln See a pattern here? Although a unique biography, Rappaport and Tavares have teamed up before with the excellent Lady Liberty which I would assume can be found in every children's collection. Basically, there isn't anything Rappaport has written that I wouldn't consider a "gotta have" in every elementary school library. I would also consider them for middle and high school collections as excellent ways to introduce these historical figures and their important words.

Speaking of authors who write nonfiction for children whose name you should recognize is Ken Robbins. He has written over 25 books for children and you should find a good many of them in your nonfiction children's section. I have his newest title - For Good Measure: The Ways We Say How Much, How Far, How Heavy, How Big, How Old in front of me. I don't like math or working with measurement but this is a very visually attractive book and even I enjoyed paging through it and seeing what he used from "real life" to help define the terms. His superb photographs visually define the measurement terms along with the concise defining text. Did you know that the gem measurement of a carat comes from the term carob? A carob seed was supposedly so uniform that they were considered a good standard of weight. The diamond ring laying on top of pile of carob seeds sure makes it clear to this jewelry lover which one I'd choose! :-) The kids who grow up in the northern states will know what a cord of wood is but I wonder how many kids who live in warmer climates even know what how much a cord of wood is. Just ask my older brothers - they would all know after splitting more than their share of wood for our wood stove and furnace growing up.

Even though the fact that the beret in Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld is not black as the text says it is, it is a very cute book and one to share with the art teacher. I really dislike when a color is stated and the item supposedly that color is a muted tone and could, as I did with the beret, be considered a grayish purple instead of black. Bridget loves to draw but when she loses her beret, she has artist's block. It isn't until she unwittingly begins to draw again a she helps with a lemonade stand sign she is back in the flow and soon the neighborhood is covered with her art. While the neighbors enjoy the art show Bridget is where you'd expect her to be - back drawing on her own. There is a really cool concluding double page spread with advice on how to start your own art. I love that he used O'Keefe for the short section on Looking at Things Differently. She certainly did!
Well, I made it through 2 1/2 days without Steve and I haven't fallen on my face! The knee brace is on when I'm not in bed and the cane is in my left hand. He's calling to check on me in the a.m. and p.m. and via email so I think I am going to be okay. I don't know who is more disconcerted by being alone, Sophie or me! It is going to be an early night as I am exhausted. Who knew a person sleeps better when someone is snoring next to you? :-)

Since we will most likely be moving to Plantation, Florida soon (near Ft. Lauderdale) I couldn't resist the debut novel, Candor, by Pam Bachorz which is set in a fictitious Florida town. The plot came from the author's time in a "model" small town in Florida. I've always found Florida towns to be very unique, but it may be the ones we love to spend our time in as Steve and I are both quite unique if I do say so myself! :-)

Candor is a dystopian tale set in current day Florida. The town has been created for families who want to control their wayward children. Oscar's father created the town and controls/micro-manages everything - including how much orange juice Oscar drinks for breakfast by marking the level of fluid with a pencil. For some reason that one really made the hair on my arms stand up. But, it is a little thing compared to the Messages - the subliminal messages that flow from every nook and crannie of Candor, especially the schools. Residents who must leave Candor take subliminal tapes with them. If they don't - suicide. What Oscar's father doesn't know is that his son is blocking the Messages with his own subliminal messages and if he catches a new teen resident before the programming is set, he can give them his tapes and stop the process long enough to secret them out of town. Oscar is making a lot of money with his scheme and then Nia shows up. He knows he should get her out of Candor before she loses her uniqueness and her artistic ability but, selfishly, he wants her near him. I am about 1/3 of the way through and I am intrigued and then some. The Publishers Weekly review hints at a chilling ending - I can't wait!! Egmont has really cool books!! Offer this one to the teens who liked M.T. Anderson's Feed

On a much lighter tone is Elizabeth Eulberg's debut The Lonely Hearts Club Offer this one to every Beatles' fan you know as well as the females who are dealing with a broken heart and swearing to give up guys forever. It doesn't matter if you are a teen, like 16-year-old Penny, or an adult woman, the feelings Penny is dealing with are all too real. But, Eulberg knows how to add just the right amount of humor so this is not a teen angst fest. I found myself laughing out loud at her parents - rabid Beatles fans who name their children after Beatles' songs - hence Penny Lane. Their doorbell is even a Beatles song! Don't know when it will be published but I wrote a review for this book for VOYA. Check out the cover art - if you are a Beatles fan you will recognize the album cover that is supposed to come to mind! :-) Adults will recognize it but I am not sure how many teens will. Albums? What are those?

Certainly not a debut author, but one I always pay attention to when a new book comes out is Leslea Newman. Can you believe there is a 20th anniversary edition of Heather Has Two Mommies now available? You would think this wonderful book about a loving family would not still be causing controversy but it is.

When the Abrams' review books arrived I immediately opened up Newman's Miss Tutu's Star and found my laughing out loud at Carey Armstrong Ellis' illustrations that tell their own sub-story about the moms and dads who attend their children's ballet lessons. In rhyming text, Newman shares the story of Selena who doesn't walk, she prances, so Mom puts her in ballet classes. Selena ends up on her tush more than a few times but she keeps at it and finally she has her debut stage performance. The parents are in the audience including the mom who was busy knitting a scarf at lessons that now went around the neck of more than a few parents in the audience. :-) As a cat lover I delighted in Miss Tutu's cat who was an active participant in the ballet lessons but hooted over the final illustration - it shows Selena taking a bow - from behind. This is a must have for all primary level collections and for any mom/daughter pair who just have to dance. I say to Selena - Dance like no one is watching!!

Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? I don't remember having one as I had all my "book friends" as I read so much. But lots of kids do and their sidekicks become a bit of a problem in school. Erica S. Perl's Dotty is the perfect first day at school book for story time in Preschool or Kindergarten. Julia Denos' illustrations bring the imaginary friends of the kids to life. Oh yeah - and even the teacher's sidekick! Ida starts her first day at school with confidence, a new lunch box and her blue string that connects to Dotty, her imaginary (perhaps more real than we realize) friend. The other kids come back after the holiday break and there are less buddies along with them, but not Ida - Dotty is still there. The next year of school starts and Ida arrives with a new lunchbox and the blue string. No one else has a buddy anymore and they are teasing Ida about hers. But, not the teacher who walks out with Gert, on a red string. I wish I had Ms. Raymond had been my teacher!

That's it for today.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oh my - over a month since I blogged last. I was doing really well for awhile with the occipital headache going from feeling like I had been hit in the back of the head with a 2x4 to being hit with a small branch due to the occipital nerve injections. It wasn't touching the headache around my eye but I was in good spirits as any relief was a blessing. Steve even noted I had more energy and was more upbeat. Then I landed flat on my face and left knee on the hardwood floor. The short bookcase I normally use for balance coming out of my office and into the living room had been removed to make the living room look bigger and there was nothing to grab onto when my left knee gave out. I didn't even get my hands out. I hit so hard I flattened my glasses and when my head bounced they flew off. I thought I had broke my nose but I "just" made a hole in my upper lip with my front teeth. I had the Goldie Hawn Death Becomes Her plump upper lip without having to pay a penny for it! Since Steve was home I didn't have my cell phone on my hip but he was out mowing the lawn. So I lay there and cried until he came in and helped me up and to bed with frozen veggie bags on my face and knee. What a mess! So, I took two steps forward and then four back as the doc said I had re-injured the occipital nerves and the whiplash damage from the fall in Denver. So now I'm wearing my knee brace more and using a cane and waiting for the Worker's Comp. approval to buy a walker to use on the really bad days and when Steve isn't home. Thank goodness he works from home! Boy is this all making me feel old but I now admit how helpful the cane actually is for balance.

And, teaching three sections of Children's Lit this summer has "eaten my cookies" and then some. Grading assignments for that many students is more than a bit time consuming as I spend a lot of time offering input as I want my students to leave my youth materials courses with a strong skills set for how to locate both award winning and "just fun" reading for youth. And, they read - a lot!!

I treated myself to a day off - today - as I actually caught up with the assignments turned in as of last night. It is so different to sit at a computer and grade papers via the Word track changes option so I can "talk" to them as I grade. No more carrying around a briefcase full of papers but I feel like I am attached to the computer or cell phone that checks email 24/7.

I made good use of my day off - I wallowed in the NY Times and chuckled over an old b/w Cary Grant movie and sat down to go through the 14 paperbacks in Christine Feehan's Dark series from Half Price Books. Of course, I am missing the first book - Dark Prince which is no longer available from Barnes and Noble and back ordered on Amazon and Borders. I found it on Boy could I spend a lot of money on that site as shipping is free even if you are buying one paperback. :-) I did end up buying the 6th in the series too but I don't think I will get these Carpathian vampire books read anytime soon. Mary has read them all and is working her way through my favorite Drake Sisters series by Feehan. Feehan is a wonderful beach read author but I wouldn't give these to a teen as they are quite racy!

Speaking of vampire series, I read the first 6 titles in the YA level House of the Night series They are written by a mother/daughter team, P.C. and Kristen Cast. I ordered the 7th title, Burned today and it will be my treat when I get the final grades in for the summer session. I read all of the Twilight series but I didn't think they were very well written as they dragged, really draaaaggggged, for me. I just wanted Edward to bite whiny Bella and be done with it! I am devouring the Cast titles as they focus on a strong female protagonist - Zoey Redbird, a Native American from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who is in the process of becoming a vampire. She is progressing faster than the other fledglings but she has a great group of friends who are there for her. Stevie Rae is her roommate, best friend and the first red fledgling. Then there is Aphrodite who started out as Zoey's archenemy and is now one of her strongest supporters. And the other "insiders" are a kick - a gay guy and his guy pal and "twins" (one white and one black who grew up no where near each other) who finish each other sentences. Lots of teen angst, romance, and a really great storyline that I am happy to follow for as many more books the mother/daughter team want to write about the inhabitants of the House of Night.

There was no way I could not dive into Lisa Desrocher's debut Personal Demons It is a page turner and then some! Imagine an angel and a demon fighting over your soul, but somehow both have fallen for you. That is exactly what happens to 17-year-old Frannie, a "good" Catholic girl who have never forgiven herself for her twin brother's death when he fell out a tree when they were seven. She blames herself for his death and doesn't believe she deserves to go to heaven. So in steps Luc, a sexy looking demon, who Frannie falls for. The feelings are reciprocated. Frannie has the ability to "sway" people's (demons and angels too) minds and emotions and Luc has no defenses against what she doesn't even know she possesses but both God and the devil do. Who should arrive next in Frannie's high school and work his way into her heart as well? Gabe, the angel who is to tag her for heaven. One would never believe an angel and demon would work together to save Frannie from herself, but they do. And, in the process Luc is becoming human and that isn't going over well with his boss. What a wild ride! I laughed, I cried, and I gasped - all of the emotions an author wants to elicit in a reader and Descrochers sure accomplished that as far as I am concerned. She may be a physical therapist in her "real life" but she is one hell of an author and I think Luc would agree! If this is what she can do in a debut novel, I can't wait to read her next book.

I'm not a big nonfiction reader but I could not resist the chilling photograph of the KKK hood on the front of Susan Campbell Bartoletti's They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of An American Terrorist Group The subtitle took my breath away as I realized we are so intent on foreign terrorists that we often forget that our own South is the birthplace of a vicious group of men who terrorized and murdered African Americans. The realization that these men would ride through garden parties in the South and the attendees would chuckle over their costumes made me shiver. I'd like to think they didn't know what occurred in the dark of the night but I am sure many did. The time period illustrations and Bartoletti's impeccable research make this a must have title in any level library, but more importantly, she doesn't shy away from making the dark side of U.S. and world history accessible to young people. She is also the author of Hitler Youth and Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845 -1850 which won the Sibert Award for nonfiction. Like Russell Freedman, Bartoletti is a nonfiction author who not only is an excellent writer, but a superb researcher.

That's it for me today. I still have the local Sunday paper to enjoy. Please excuse my typos - I seem to be making a lot of those these days.