Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monarch Round-Up Part Four

I am down to the final five contestants for the Monarch Award.  For more Monarch fun, see parts one, two, and three, and see the full list here.  I'll be back tomorrow with my top five picks.  Then, it's a long wait until the award announcement in March and we'll see just how right (or terribly wrong) I am.

Monarch Round-Up Part Four!

Contestant Number Sixteen:  The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin. A former rescue dog is called to save some chicks that have been taken hostage by the inside dog, but there is more to this crime than meets the eye.

My thoughts:  It's a hard boiled (ha!) mystery for the younger crowd, but it runs a little long for the youngest Monarch voters.

Odds:  20-1
Contestant Number Seventeen:  Chicken Big by Keith Graves.  A giant chick is born to some very confused chickens and proves himself quite helpful.

My thoughts:  This funny story is not only great for read-a-louds but it can also be easily adapted for a simple reader's theatre and retellings.  Great for the classroom.

Odds:  8-1
Contestant Number Eighteen:  Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by John Katz.  All the dogs on the farm appear to have a job to do, except Lenore, but her's just might be the most important job of all.

My thoughts:  Loved it.  My parents have a border collie named Susie and she's wonderful.  Dog lovers will adore this book.  But kids will likely just think it's okay.

Odds:  10-1
Contestant Number Nineteen:  The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barbara Rosenstock.  The fictionalized story of the creation of our national parks and the friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist, John Muir.

My thoughts:  It's a nice book with good facts and a tight plot, but it's not going to stand out against the rest of the field.  This is a teacher book that made the list to give a lesson.

Odds:  20-1
Contestant Number Twenty:  Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider.  A picky boy gets some very interesting lessons in eating your food.

My thoughts:  This Geisel winner hits the right note.  It's accessible for solo reading, it's funny, and it can lead to further stories from the child.  Have your reader say why they should eat lima beans, or pot roast, or liver (shudder!).

Odds:  5-1 (I love it for a strong finish!)

And that's how you finish a children's book award list!  I have such a feeling of accomplishment right now.  Come back tomorrow for my official predictions.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bluestem Round-Up Part 1

I should be finished up with my Monarch Award Round-Up this week, so I thought that I would go ahead and get a jump start on the next award, the Bluestem Award.  Basically, the Bluestem was created to fill a gap.  The Monarch (grades K-3) were too young, the Caudills (grades 4-8) were too mature, our solid middle grade readers needed something just right.  Enter the Bluestem Award for readers in grades 3-5.  This award was first given in 2011.  It has had some growing pains, which you can see by this year's list, are still being worked out.  Nominees can come from any genre, any year, any topic, so there is still some crossover with the Monarch and Caudills and some of the books are old enough to be the reader's parent.  It should all shake out in the next few years, but let's take a look at some of the books that I have already read from this year's list.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  A girl finds a dog at the local grocery store and he brings together an entire community.

My thoughts:  Everything by Kate DiCamillo should be on the Bluestem list.  Well to be fair, that's already true.  This book has heart, it's not too childish, and it has a dog.  It's the 3-5 sweet spot.

Odds:  5-1

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  A classic holocaust story as told from the viewpoint of a ten year old girl.

My thoughts:  I read this ages ago for grad school.  But, I do not reread war books so I am going with my gut.  This already won the Caudill over 20 years ago and while I'm pleased to see few war books on this list, and this is a classic, I just don't think it's the right fit.  I'll be proven wrong I'm sure, but I did not relish reading war stories as a child, nor do I relish it today.  I'm too sensitive for such realistic cruelty.  Give me a fictional President Snow over Hitler any day.  I will now step off my soapbox.

Odds:  12-1, although I'm probably totally wrong and it will win.

Knight of the Kitchen Table:  The Time Warp Trio 1 by Jon Scieszka.  A gang of boys discovers a time traveling calculator and finds themselves in King Arthur's court where they must solve a historical conundrum to get back home.

My thoughts:  It's funny, it's Scieszka, it's got a chance.  I would like to see this series get some more attention because it's much better than the dreadful Infinity Ring series.  Although if we are getting readers into King Arthur again, I would much rather see The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great:  The Knights Tales by Gerald Morris.

Odds:  10-1

Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  Auggie goes to school for the first time as a 5th grader despite his facial deformity and not only learns about being a friend, but teaches the entire school about friendship.

My thoughts:  I adore Wonder!  I do, really and truly, but, it's a better Caudill book.  To me, this is not an easily accessible book for most 3rd graders or your average 4th grader.  Again, prove me wrong.  There is nothing I would love more than to see this win the Bluestem and Caudill, but I think it has a better shot with the Caudill.

Odds:  15-1 (but I love you, Auggie!)

Now, I am not guaranteeing that I will read all of the Bluestems, but I'm going to do my best to get a wide selection.  I just put another four on hold at the library, mostly the non-fiction titles that tend to be a little shorter, but usually very informative.  Are you a fan of this new award?  Let me know and maybe you'll enlighten me why we still need a quota of two WWII books per list.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween:  A Safety Guide for Scaredies
by Melanie Watt
Kids Can Press, Ontario, Canada, 2013
Format:  Picture Book
Ages:  Elementary School
ISBN:  1894786874
Publication Date:  August 1, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel has tackled many frightening events, but none as terrifying as Halloween!  He takes readers through all of the basics like costumes and decorations and through some more advanced tips like party games and candy transportation in a effort to make this Halloween the best and least surprising Halloween ever.  As always, Scaredy Squirrel's fears are unfounded, but he does add a spooky new twist to playing dead.  Since Halloween books are popular all year long, and Scaredy Squirrel is a delightful character, this is sure to be a hit.

You know by now that I love Scaredy Squirrel, see the round-up here, the Christmas review here, and the camping review here.  His over-the-top safety lessons are funny to readers and leave the impression that you need to be careful, but not that careful.  Personally, I wish that I had his tips for going through a haunted house when I was a kid.  

Again, there are some great programming possibilities here, especially since Scaredy Squirrel walks you through planning a non-threatening Halloween party.  You can start by taking the scaredy quiz, then work through some decorating, attempt to crave a pumpkin with a plastic knife, then do a real jack-o-latern craft and finish up with a costume parade and games as described in the book.  

Or, you could just recommend this book to every child that walks into your life.  That's my plan at least.

Now that Scaredy Squirrel has made Halloween completely safe and harmless, I'm wondering what holiday he will tackle next?  Valentine's Day?  Mother's Day?  Talk like a pirate day?  I could personally use some help getting through Arbor Day, but I might be the only one.

Did you notice all of the official publication information?  Things are starting to look very professional around here!  

Happy Safe and Non-Frightening Halloween!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Monarch Round-Up Part Three

Two months ago I started my quest to read all 20 of the Monarch Books.  The Monarch Award is a children's choice award here in Illinois for readers in grades K-3.  So it's mostly picture books and some beginning chapter books.  Which means I have no excuse for taking so long to read them.

For the full 2014 Monarch Award List, click here.

For Parts One and Two of this round-up, click here and here.

Now for part three!

Contestant Number Eleven:  One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo.  Elliot, our polite and well dressed friend, finds a kindred spirit at the aquarium and brings him home to stay.

My review:  This quirky take on "like father like son" will leave readers laughing.

Odds:  5-1
Contestant Number Twelve:  Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming.  What do you get the girl who has everything?  A cake and a story are a good bet.

My review:  This is a sweet tale with a folklore twist and will be great for classroom read-a-louds and reenactment.

Odds:  8-1
Contestant Number Thirteen:  Perfect Square by Michael Hall.  This square was happy being perfect until he saw all that he could be.

My review:  While this will make a great jumping off point for an art project, there is just not enough story to carry this to the winner's circle.

Odds:  15-1
Contestant Number Fourteen:  Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.  Two boys learn that their lives are very similar despite their differences.

My review:  This is the type of multicultural lesson book that teachers and librarians adore, and while children will like it, it's not memorable or funny enough for the win.

Odds:  15-1
Contestant Number Fifteen:  Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet.  Learn how marionette maker Tony Sarg went from small puppets to giant balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

My review:  A great book to show that history is not just dry facts, complete with vibrant illustrations and factual footnotes.  It's bright, fun, and true.  It has a chance.

Odds:  8-1

Only five more Monarchs to go!  But one of those is still checked out so I am patiently waiting for my hold to come in.  (It's like waiting for my prince to come, but without so much singing)  With any luck, I'll be back with the final five and my top picks next week.  Then it's a long wait until March 2014 to hear the winners.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Christmas in July

Hatchette Publishing did this amazing, mind blowing thing at ALA this year-they let you fill out a form, pick five books and they would ship them to you!  Why this is so exciting you ask?  Because you don't have to find room in your carry on or ship them back yourself.  And you're not walking around with ALA-shoulder because they send pre-release books straight to your door!  This is the kind of thinking that is going to bring world peace.

It really might.  Let's all think about this for a minute.  If Hatchette sends out a free book to everyone and we all stop fighting and bickering and tweeting and just read it, then we all discuss it, wouldn't that make the world a better place?

Okay, it might not.  What if that book were Mockingjay (and I know that Hatchette did not publish Mockingjay but I'm going for a metaphor here) and someone thought that Katniss should have ended up with Gale.  So wrong.  Peeta is perfect for her, and how dare you think she should be with Gale?

Actually, this might cause more wars than it prevents.

Back to the point.  This darling little package was on my doorstep when I went home for lunch and I started screaming "It's Christmas in July!" and skipped to the kitchen to grab the scissors and skipped to the table (should you really skip with scissors?) to open my package all while my husband rolled his eyes and watched The Golf Channel.  And I rolled my eyes that he was watching The Golf Channel.

And there they were-five precious little books just waiting to be read.  Perfect!

I'll share my reviews when it comes closer to the release date.  I wouldn't want to give anything away too soon, and more timely reviews have become my new resolution, although I'm terrible at keeping resolutions.

How are you celebrating Christmas in July?  Was I the only one getting packages from vacation Santa? Hopefully not!

Happy Reading!


Do you ever wonder if there really is such a thing as a "normal week"?  I'm starting to think that some weeks just contain less weird than others.  This has been a week full of weird.

That said, I do not have the final two Monarch Round-ups ready for you yet.  (See Part One and Part Two.)  This is mostly because I haven't had time to read my last 10 Monarchs yet, but also because I can't get a hold of Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm.  Please return it to your local library so I can read it!  Unless you live in Oklahoma or something because then we do not share a library.

While I don't have a proper post for you today, I can direct your attention to an adorable story about an upcoming book.  Dozer's Run is in the works and is about a dog that escaped his backyard and ended up running in a half marathon benefiting breast cancer research.  How adorable!

Maybe tomorrow I'll have a real post to share!

Happy Reading

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

I did it.  I started on Friday night while Doug golfed and I finished on Saturday.  Not once did Doug find me catatonic in the chair because of it, I would like to add.  I didn't weep uncontrollably or throw the book across the room when things didn't work out.  I was a good little reader.

By now you know the story.  Hazel Grace meets Augustus Waters at a teens with cancer support group.  Hazel is a miracle of sorts, living on a drug that doesn't work for many, while Augustus has suffered through a type of bone cancer that boasts an 80% survival rate.  They fall in love while discussing books and oblivion and cancer and life and death.  Hazel thinks that she is the grenade that will destroy Augustus, but she has it backwards.

I have been thinking about The Fault in Our Stars all weekend trying to decide what to say about it.  First of all, it lived up to my expectations as a story.  It was funny and warm while being thoughtful and sad.  I did over-hype the depressing factor, which was good for me.  It wasn't as gut wrenching as I expected, so it didn't leave me gasping for breath between tears like The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I do think it was honest in it's portrayal of cancer patients.  The world has this view of patients suffering valiantly and proudly against this unfair disease.  It makes it all seem so much more heroic and brave than what is really is.  In reality, when you see cancer up close, the person is broken and scared, but that's never the face that is shown to people.  You only see that face when it is truly someone you love suffering.  Cancer does turn patients into completely different people and John Green showed that very well.  Augustus' school friends no longer knew him as they only knew him pre-cancer, not toward the end.

Speaking of the end, this book is going to be a movie and I wonder how far and how honest the movie will be.  Augustus is completely broken by the end and I would be extremely surprised to see him covered in vomit pulled over at a gas station while Hazel, in her pajamas and oxygen tubes, tries to soothe him while she calls 911.  I don't see Hollywood going that far.  It's not just that it's unglamorous, it's that a scene that is downright obscene to most viewers.  People would rather believe that cancer patients are hopelessly optimistic and brave, like the hero in a Dicken's novel, than broken and sad.

But for all of the cancer insight in this book, to me at least, it's really a love story.  It's about Hazel and Augustus finding each other and finding a companion.  It really is about Hazel getting a life and being a teenager.  The scenes where her parents are surprised that she is acting like the angst driven girl she is meant to be are hilarious.  She should get in fights with her parents about a boy and staying out too late, despite the fact that she is sick!  That's what growing up is all about, even if you don't know how long you have in this life.

Oh, and Peter Van Houten!  What a trip.  An Imperial Affliction brought together Augustus and Hazel and somehow they even managed to make a crazy louse of a writer into a lovable character.

In the spirit of endings and wanting to know what happens next, here are my theories:

Issac, Augustus' best friend who loses both eyes to cancer, lives a normal life once he learns to be blind.  He gets a job, has a family, but doesn't spend every minute of his life trying to live for those friends he lost, because that's not how real life works.  Issac does on occasion remember Augustus and Hazel and feel unworthy that he got off so easy, but that's the randomness of this disease.

Hazel's mother does get her Master's in Social Work and she does start counseling families suffering from childhood cancer.  Hazel, reluctantly at first, does come to support groups lead by her mother, but then she goes more easily and happily.  And she makes sure that at least these kids have some better food.

Hazel does die.  In my mind, she lives another five, maybe six years.  She does try to get out more and hang out with Issac and her former high school friends, but she never meets anyone like Augustus again.  The end is not pretty for Hazel, but she knew this day would come, she knows her parents will stick together and she's ready.  Augustus' eulogy is read at her funeral.

So, those are my thoughts on the scariest book of the year.  In my opinion at least.  I could go on and maybe I will when I find some one else that has read this book.  I'm not so sure that I would recommend that other adults read The Fault in Our Stars because it is pretty accurately written in a teen voice, and that annoys so many adults.  It's like some people have completely forgotten what it was like to be a teen.

But for everyone else that remembers the sweet highs and crushing lows and would like to combine all of that with a serious illness wrapped up in pretty snappy dialogue, then please read The Fault in Our Stars and then call me.  We have a lot to talk about.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Just Weed It!

I love weeding!  I seriously love it but I feel like it is such a taboo in library land.  Say it with me people, public libraries are not archival collections!!  It is not your job as a public librarian to keep and cultivate a collection of every book published on every subject.  Hoarding is not a collection development policy!

But, you do need to know your policy.  Personally, when I was tending my lovely garden of middle grade chapter books, I said if it hasn't circulated in five years, it's gone.  There were of course exceptions of the Newbery and Caudill winning variety, but for the most part I stayed strong.  Occasionally I would find a book that I loved growing up, like Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, that would get a year's pardon while I worked harder to book talk them, but for the most part, I was just plain mean.  And I loved every minute!

Then there were the paperbacks!  Ugh, those red-headed stepchildren of literature.  I made it my mission to weed a Mary Kate and Ashley series every summer regardless of circs.  I reasoned that Hannah Montana and Lizzie MacGuire were serviceable readalikes and newer at that.  Sadly, my mission was not complete and I fear that if I returned I would still find Mary Kate and Ashley pb's all over the place, but I did what I could.

Why weed?  Simple--to show off the good stuff!  Shelf space is valuable and most libraries do not have the room to accommodate shelf-sitters so when buying and when weeding, I wanted to know that the books in my collection would live fantastic lives adventuring at reader's houses.  This is also why I never fretted over a damaged book.  I saw it as a life well lived.

If you are interested in actual weeding methods, I suggest that you check out Awful Library Books helpful list of weeding resources.  And while you are there, you should check out what awful gems are sitting on library shelves.  Then, after you are sufficiently horrified, go weed your own collection.  You'll be glad you did!

Happy Weeding!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Navigating Early

Jack's mother recently passed away and his military man father doesn't quite know what to do with him, so he takes Jack from the only life he's known in Kansas and enrolls him in a preppy boarding school in Maine.  This is an entirely new experience for Jack but he manages to make one friend, the eccentric and strange Early Auden.  Early is pretty much left alone at school, only coming to class or activities when he feels like it, and spends most of his time rattling off strange statistics and trying to solve the mystery of the number Pi.  But to Early, Pi is more than a mathematical concept, it's a story full of danger, mystery, and hope.  Then, over fall break, Jack finds Early getting ready to go off on an adventure of his own and joins him and the two boys learn about being lost, the value of family, and the power of redemption.  

I must be getting old.  This is the type of meaningful and beautiful book that would have had me gagging a couple of years ago and now I feel lightened and more hopeful because of it.  The story starts out quietly enough, with plot lines mostly revolving around Jack's feeling of listlessness, but when the adventure starts, readers will have a hard time putting down the story of Pi and of Jack and Early.  Getting to that adventure might be hard for some readers though.  You are nearly a quarter of the way through the book before it becomes compelling and that could turn off some readers.

But those that stay will be rewarded with a rich story full of unforgettable characters and lush description.  Once Jack and Early's journey really starts reflecting the story of Pi, readers will be hooked, and will be interested to see what will happen next.  There are many ways that this book will lead to class discussion and writing prompts.  One big question is, who was most like Pi?  Jack, Early, Fisher, Jack's father?  There are good reasons to say each of them.

Navigating Early is the type of lovely piece of children's literature that might be a hard sell at first, but keep trying.  It would make a great classroom read-a-loud and would also be a wonderful addition to the Caudill list in a couple years.  It's not the kind of book that will hold every reader, but those that do read it will be changed.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why I'm Not Allowed to Read The Fault in Our Stars

I've mentioned numerous times that I'm not allowed to read The Fault in Our Stars (click here for a full recap of every mention).  But it's about time that I get over my fear of this book.  It's just a book.  A book about teens with terminal cancer sure, but a book none-the-less and if I can read marginal books about teen pregnancy and werewolves, I think I can handle one little book about teen cancer.

But maybe I can't and here's why:

My mom and dad both had cancer.  Here they are at my wedding in 2009.  That's almost 6 years past my dad's second round with cancer and three years before my mom's diagnosis.  Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2000 and liver cancer in 2002.  Mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2012.  I should have a huge ALFAC cancer policy right about now, but I don't.  Kim does because she's the smart one.

Dad's first round of cancer caught us all off guard.  He was 47 and otherwise healthy so he was treated very aggressively.  It's not fun to talk about, but I saw my big strong dad reduced to skin and bones and laying in a hospital bed for weeks at a time.  I was a senior in high school and staying at the farm by myself while my mom stayed in the hospital with him.  It made me tough and it made me appreciate my family in a whole new way.

Dad's second round hurt because we thought this was over.  The diagnosis came right before Christmas and shortly after New Year he had 75% of his liver removed.  I was away at college during the worst of it, but I came home for Spring Break and he was back down around 120 pounds.  Being over six feet tall, that's not much to go around.

But he rallied.  It wasn't easy on him or my mom or our family.  It's still not easy today because there are some everlasting complications that give him pain, but he's here.  He walked my sister and I down the aisle, he met his first grandchild and now he gets to enjoy retirement with his wife of 40 years.

Then right before Christmas again, mom was diagnosed with cancer from a routine pap test.  It's amazing really that a simple test like that actually detected her cancer, but she got lucky somehow.  To deal with her diagnosis, mom repainted the house.  I'm not kidding.  She painted all but two rooms in her three bedroom ranch, and only left two alone because Doug and I had painted one last summer and the other got a paint job recently too.  If the weather had been fit she would have been out painting sheds and silos.

I went with my parents when mom had her surgery this February and that was a tough thing for a daughter to do.  I couldn't help but think who had it worse, my mom or dad.  Dad knew exactly what she was going through and now mom had a better understanding of what it was like for dad.  And I just sat on the outside and watched and tried to keep it together.

To say that my mom was a trooper is an understatement.  She was actually pretty incredible at this whole thing.  She had the surgery then found out that she would have to have chemo.  She took several six hour rounds of chemo with time off in between treatments.  My sister and I had to schedule our visits around her treatments because the week she was just too tired for company.  But when we did finally get to see her, she was doing great.  The only giveaway was that she lost her hair.  Dad managed to keep all of his through his treatments, but mom lost hers.  My brother in law shaved his head for her, and then my little nephew shaved his head too.  I am still letting my hair grow out because I want to donate to Locks of Love again (and let's face it, I'm not brave enough to be bald).

I've known plenty of other people with cancer-friend's parents, church members, other family-but this is how it effected my most private life.  And this is why cancer is a tricky subject for me.  It's not something that I have experienced at a distance and it's not something that I can take lightly.  I know that even a book-just words on a page-about this subject will reduce me to tears in no time.

So, I'm counting on you, John Green, to make this worth my time, effort, and tears.  I'm going to read The Fault in Our Stars this summer and I'm going to let you know how it goes.  I can't hide from a book just because the subject scares the bejesus out of me.  Although I'm still not reading any books about zombies.  Or opossums.  They're just really stupid overgrown rats.  Why aren't more people terrified of them!

If you are reading this, then I encourage you to hug your family and hold them tight.  Today might look beautiful and bright, but tomorrow might be full of clouds.  Excuse my while I call my parents to tell them how much I love them!

I love you mom and dad!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Truly Madly Deadly

Sawyer's boyfriend was just killed in a drunk driving accident and she should be sad, but she can't help but feel relieved by his death because he was abusive and she has finally escaped him.  Then she finds a note in her locker that says "You're welcome" and suddenly she is looking over her shoulder has more and more people in her life are hurt and somehow all of the clues point back to her.

This is a quick plot driven novel that will leave some readers on edge.  I'm pretty easy to scare so I was definitely a little jumpy while reading this book.  Also, I honestly didn't see the ending until the very end, although if I had watched more Scream movies in high school I might have predicted it earlier.

If you are looking for a fast paced thriller, then Truly Madly Deadly is for you.

A quick review for a quick read!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ALA Swag

The reason why I fell off the grid for a week there was because I was at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago.  And just to prove to you that it was all worth it, here's all the free stuff that I got!  Well, I paid for one thing, but it was worth it.  

ALA Swag falls into three categories:  Bags, Books, and Other.  Let's see the booty!

First up BAGS!  Librarians love a good bag and with all of the books that we get, you need to carry several per day.  The blue one was actually free with the conference admission.  Free stuff already!  The Scaredy Squirrel bag is my favorite, since you know that SS and I would be best friends if we ever left our respective houses.  The Read with the Stars bags will actually be going away as gifts as will the Baker and Taylor cat bag.  Those are a favorite at the conference and I swear some librarians collect them like baseball cards.  Oh, I also picked up a cool Dork Diaries messenger bag, but that one has already found a permanent home with my friend Sarah, the school librarian.

Next, the BOOKS!  That was pretty much the entire purpose of going.  Well that and to learn more about modern librarianship and make connections, but the books are super exciting.  I'm most stoked for The Dream Thieves, sequel to The Raven Boys; Cress the third in the Lunar Chronicles; Dangerous which is supposed to be wildly different from anything by Shannon Hale; and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black.  I've never read Holly Black before because gothic horror isn't my thing, but I saw her speak on an author panel and she was so sweet that I couldn't help but pick it up.  Plus, there's The Fault in Our Stars on audio which I scored for free!  

As a subset of the books category, there are signed books.  Admittedly, I paid for Up! Tall! and High! by Ethan Long and had it signed for my nephew (but I'll review it first because I'm a good aunt like that), but Every Day in hardcover signed was free!!  I stood in line for about 45 minutes and missed a session lead by Cory Doctorow, but I personally think it was worth it.  I love Every Day and while David Levithan and I aren't best friends now (all I could manage to squeak out was Hello and Thank You!), it was still super exciting to meet him.

He signed it!!

Then there's other.  You wouldn't believe the weird stuff that is given away.  But this is all that I came away with-a shirt, magnet, two frisbees and a mini book cart!!  No pens, no post it's (even though I entirely could have used those), no stickers-just the essentials.  One of the frisbees will actually go to my nephew and the other I actually played with at the exhibit hall with the vendor, which was so fun!  Plus I'm thinking about trying this method to make the shirt feel vintage so I'll let you know how that works out.

And you may wonder why I am so excited about a mini book cart.  Well, because I am obsessed with book carts and really want one of my very on.  The Center for Children's Books at U of I had a bright pink book cart and if I could have figured out a way to carry it up the narrow stair case from the basement and then up to my prison cell sized dorm room, it would be mine right now.  So, a bright pink book cart is the dream and I'm almost there!

So, that's it.  All of my booty from ALA and I didn't even try that hard!  Imagine if I had planned a little better and been more bold while asking for galleys.  Actually my hubby would have likely taken away my library card if I acted like that.  But now I know what I'm in for next time!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gadget's Garage Vacation Bible School

I alluded to VBS here, but today you'll get a peak at VBS in action.

It all started in January when I started looking for the Concordia theme for this 2013 which was Tell it on the Mountain, all rock climbing and mountains and such.  Plus the lessons were really out there and as you'll see from the pictures, most of our VBS kids are six and under, so it's a bummer to have to explain complicated Bible stories to theme.  Then my pastor pulled out an old kit called Gadget's Garage.  It meant that we wouldn't have the Concordia materials available, but we rarely use those anyway, so I jumped right in.

Our VBS was held Monday, June 17 to Thursday, June 20 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  Yes, it's a little shorter than a traditional VBS, but it works out well.  Four days is perfect to me.  Five days can really wear you down and three days don't even like enough.  Since our church sanctuary isn't air conditioned, we raise a tent outside and do half our activities outside and the other half in the air conditioned basement.  

We followed a basic outline of events:  registration and passive play, music and opening, lesson, craft, snack, game, music and closing.  For the most part, it worked out great!  Let's dig in!

The first day is always the hardest!  I had spent Sunday fretting over the details and getting everything to church, including plenty of garage-type decorations that I just swiped from my garage and basement.

Then, while we were getting ready, we found this little guy-a tiny baby bunny.  He's so fuzzy!  He actually hung out with us for half the week, but we did manage to relocate him away from the tent, just in case the kids got a little handsy with him.

Like I said, we opened everyday with song.  My pastor played his guitar and played songs from the Gadget's Garage CD.  Since most of our kids aren't readers yet, we didn't worry about song sheets, rather we just used some big poster boards if we needed words up.  But the songs are catchy and most of the kids caught on.  Even the adults have to get in on the action because you are never too old for VBS! 

Next up, lesson.  This year our lessons focused on Creation, Jesus' First Miracle, the Parable of the Sower, and the Transfiguration (try explaining that to 6 year olds-oh wait-I did!).  As you can see, the lessons were pretty interactive.  For Jesus first miracle, we played out the whole wedding at Cana.  I explained Creation and Transfiguration with a flannel board and Kathy threw popcorn to demonstrate the Parable of the Sower.  I have to say that Kathy might win for most delicious presentation of a parable.  

After lesson we took off for Craft Time!  Since we do an all ages VBS, we have different ability levels, so I have four craft stations:  Special Craft, Poster Coloring, Use What Ya Got, and Card Coloring.  The Special Craft changed daily and included sand art, mask creation (seen above), a lace-up heart, and sun catchers.  The posters were the daily memory verse and the cards are invitations to the Ice Cream Social which is held on the Friday right after VBS (these invitations will be used for next year).  The Use What Ya Got station is just a place for kids to get creative and use any type of random supply on the table to create what they want.  Not exactly rooted in the lesson, but it keeps them busy and engaged.

Snack time is always a hit, and Diny made sure that it was fun and delicious this year, like always.  Each day she had a mini lesson that connected to the snack in some way, and a really yummy treat.

VBS just wouldn't be complete without a few mishaps and Miles smooshing his cupcake and knocking over his juice was too cute not to capture on film before jumping to help.  He's a really good helper though because he wiped up his mess too!

After snack we played some games, most of which were of the run-and-scream variety, but this one was of the get-really-wet variety.  We had two buckets and a line of kids in the middle.  The goal was to fill your cup with water and pass it down the line to the other bucket thus filling that bucket with water.  You can see how well that worked.  I guess I should say this was of the scream-and-get-really-wet variety.

We finished up the day with more singing, prayer, memory verses and releasing these crazy kids back to their parents.  It was a long four days for me with working 8 hours at the office then another 3 at VBS, but it was worth it.  We had 25 kids total, which was exactly my goal.  That means next year I will be shooting for 30.  The kids at VBS were all really kind and loving and had a genuine love for Jesus that we were able to help grow a little more.  Plus it was fun!  For a children's librarian with no library, this is kinda my fantasy camp.

The 2014 theme has already been released and I'm actually excited about it.  It's called Gateway to Gailee and you can get more information about it here.  If you can't wait to see what I'm going for next year, you can follow up my Pinterest board to see what I'm planning.  

A big thank you to everyone that volunteered and taught and prayed and generally kept me from ripping my hair out.  And a big thank you to the kids and parents that participated because you are why we do this.  And a big thank you to Immanuel Lutheran Church for letting me be in charge of this craziness!!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Out of the Easy

Josie never had the luxury of a normal life.  Her mother is a prostitute and is always chasing men with money, and this search led her to Willie Woodley's brothel in New Orleans.  Josie found herself surrounded by "nieces" in the care of Willie until she started working for bookstore owner Charlie Marlowe at a young age.  Now as a young woman, she meets Charlotte in the bookstore, an upper class girl that attends Smith College, and a kind man named Forest Hearne who leaves a quick bright impression with Josie, although he ends up dead later that night at a French Quarter bar.  Then, Josie's mother is connected to the death, and her abusive boyfriend Cincinnati is back in town.  This is a full story about a good girl leaving a bad situation, but some of the worst parts have nothing to do with fast living and brothels.  It is a moving story that will leave readers cheering for Josie and her friends.

When I say this was a full book, I mean it.  The story revolves around Josie, but the side characters are all honestly fascinating.  There's Charlie, the bookstore owner who is losing his mind and his son Patrick who is hiding a dangerous secret.  There's Willie, the brothel madame, and her group of girls who are all genuine and well rounded characters.  There are upper class men that come to the brothel for a good time, but get there own in the end, there are mob bosses that pose real danger.  Then there's the French Quarter itself that is both beautiful, exciting, and threatening.  The setting and characterizations are so rich that readers will be completely absorbed.

This is a mature book, but it is not smutty.  The business of the brothel is talked about frankly, but not in a crude manner.  Willie was running a smart business, and even though Josie has plenty of offers to go into that business, she can't do it and that scene will leave readers cheering.  Despite the initially unsavory nature of the brothel, it feels wholesome on some level, since everyone wants more for Josie than they have for themselves.

The ending ran off the rails a little for me.  Suddenly there was a lot of drama and heartache that I felt was unnecessary.  But the ending gave Josie a choice and means to make that choice.

This book is so much more than this review.  It's a beautiful, unexpected story that will capture readers. I have to say that anyone that loves New Orleans should read this and anyone that doesn't think they like historical fiction should give it a try too because this will make a history fan out of anyone.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Code Name Verity

As a Nazi prisoner, "Verity" buys herself some time by giving out code and then by writing her story complete with details regarding her assignments working for the Allied forces in England.  At first being a female operative in a man's war is glamourous, not only for Verity, but also for her best friend and fearless pilot, Maddie.  But as both girls become more deeply involved in the espionage and violence, they each start to fear more for the other than for themselves.  Verity continues to fight her captors and continues to write and fear for Maddie's life while knowing all along that she will likely lose her own battle.

I downloaded Code Name Verity almost two years ago from NetGalley and never read it.  It was released to great reviews and fanfare then it starting winning awards and showing up on best books lists.  And I still didn't read it.  I tried picking it up a time or two, but this isn't the type of book that you can pick up and put down at your leisure-at least not for me.  I needed a large chunk of time to devote to becoming immersed in Verity and a four hour train ride to Chicago seemed like the perfect time.

Once I got going, I could tell that this was not a typical WWII story.  The biggest plot point is the relationship between Maddie and Verity and it is the type of friendship that turns into family.  Despite being quite different in terms of education and upbringing, both girls become as close as sisters and it is that love that keeps them going.  The war only intensified those feelings as each needed to lean on the other for support.

While this is a heartfelt story about friendship, it is still a war story.  And a brutal one at that.  Verity knew her fate and it was bleak.  All she was doing was adding one day to her life, but she was bound for death.  Even some of the torture is described in terrifying fashion.  Honestly, the cruelty in The Hunger Games was easier for me to read because that never happened, but this type of abuse did happen.  This is a mature book that will make readers think about the cruelty of war and imprisonment.

The ending was incredible.  That's all I can say.  Not at all forced or predictable (to me at least) or an easy ending.  I personally read this at the ALA conference and was holding back tears.  I don't know why I had to hold them back because I was surrounded by librarians and book lovers that would have understood.

If you are looking for a historical fiction book with heart and depth, then Code Name Verity is the book for you.  And be on the lookout for the next book by Elizabeth Wein, Rose Under Fire.  I have also downloaded that book on my Kindle but let's all hope it doesn't take me two years to read that one too.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Brief Overview of the Past Week

I didn't disappear.  Although I did get lost several times.  Turns out I don't know north from my elbow.

I was in Chicago for the American Library Association Conference.  I had mentioned that I was going, but the time finally came and I was busier than I'd ever imagine.  Quick run down:

Thursday:  Boarded the train at 7:00 am for Chicago and arrived at 11:00.  I napped a little but mostly read (Code Name Verity-Review to come!).  Met my sis-in-law for lunch and to grab her condo key (She moved in four days before I came!). Dropped my stuff at her place then took the train downtown.  Did I mention that the Stanley Cup was everywhere?  It was, and it made getting around even more confusing.  Little shopping, back to her place, sushi for dinner at a great BYOB spot by her condo.

Friday:  First day of conference and the Blackhawks rally.  Holy cow.  That's what 2 million people looks like.  The bus wasn't running so I had to grab a cab and head down to McCormick.  Went to a YA Lit Bloggers Summit with Joella from Cinjoella (and quite possibly the greatest librarian/person in the world).  So much fun!  Skipped the opening of the exhibit for an OAR concert.  It poured on us but was so fun, until we had to find our way home.  Got back to the condo at 12:30 and set my alarm to go off in 6 hours-great!

Saturday:  Hauled down to McCormick to get in line for Cress by Marissa Meyer, release date January 2014!  Then went to a YALSA book feedback session.  Wandered the exhibit hall floor most of the afternoon marveling at the crazy and picking up random galleys.  Then went to a session on leveling systems that involved math-boo!  Had dinner with Joella and Lisa from library school.  Exhausted, but I had my very own book cart!

Sunday:  Had to sleep in then once I got to McCormick, I was so overwhelmed, I got in line for the second Raven Boys book an hour early.  But I got the book!  Sunday was mostly spent on the exhibit floor being amazed and frightened.  It's crazy what librarians will do for free books.  I did manage to check out the Pop Top Stage for some great storytelling.  And I received a free, signed, hardcover of Every Day by David Levithan!  So cool!  Plus met a ton of great people.  It's fun to sit in line as long as you're with cool librarians.  Then off to a mixer for the #1 library school in the country, my University of Illinois!

Monday:  Last day of conference so I had to accomplish something!  Made it to McCormick bright and early for a discussion panel about the New Adult category.  Interesting and hilarious.  I will be reviewing some New Adult books soon.  More from the exhibit floor-it's addicting.  Had a book signed for my nephew and grabbed some other swag.  Then I worked the YALSA booth for a couple hours before the whole hall was torn down.  Then I went to the Odyssey Awards for best audiobook.  Not only was it funny, but I came away with a free audio copy of The Fault in Our Stars-maybe a bad choice since I'm still not reading that book.  Maybe I should have picked up The Ghost Knight, but there you have it.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were recovery days.  I needed the rest.  I was up early and out late everyday, but it was worth it and I can't wait to do it again.  Luckily ALA is scheduled to be back in Chicago in 2017, 2020, 2023, and 2026!  I know where my vacation days will be spent those years!  

Now you can look forward to some great posts about what I learned at ALA.  And maybe that Lit Bloggers Summit will improve this blog.  A girl can dream!

Happy Reading!