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beetle boy

Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey

Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him.  Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk.  But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer.  Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles.  She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming.  She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories.  She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him.  She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?

Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood.  At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well.  The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind.  Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic.  She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so. 

Charlie is a very interesting protagonist.  He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that.  He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress.  He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself.  He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness.  One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie.  The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces.  Perfectly done.

A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.

julias house for lost creatures

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

The author of Zita the Spacegirl has created his first picture book and it has all of the charm and zip one would expect.  Julia lives in a house carried on the back of a turtle.  They arrive on a quiet beach by the sea where Julia quickly settles in, but it is far too quiet.  So Julia makes a sign that says “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures.”  She didn’t have to wait long before something is at the door, and then more and more creatures.  Soon she has a house full of odd beasts, including a dripping troll, a patchwork cat, a dragon, a ghost, and a mermaid.  Things quickly get out of hand as they all make themselves at home.  Now Julia needs another plan, and maybe another sign or two.

Hatke’s jaunty protagonist is what makes this book work.  She moves quickly and with plenty of determination and is filled with ideas.  One can almost see her thinking on the page.  Perhaps the best part of the book is when she becomes overwhelmed and has to rethink.  The book has been galloping along and then pauses as Julia does, slowing to a pace that lets one catch their breath.  It’s a wonderfully done moment just like many others in the book.

Told very simply, the book relies nicely on the illustrations to show much of the action rather than the text explaining it.  This makes for a very readable picture book, but also one that is better for lap reading than for a group.  Listeners will want to look closely at the page even before the amazing creatures fill them.

An exceptional picture book debut, one hopes that Hatke keeps created both picture books and graphic novels for children.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

who was here

Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks by Mia Posada

The riddle of animal tracks is deciphered here in a fun guessing game.  The tracks of each animal are displayed along with information about the tracks and the animal that left them.  Readers then turn the page to see whether they guessed right about what animal left those tracks.  The pages with the animal have scientific information about the animal, their size, weight and their tracks.  Tracks are left in mud, snow, sand and more.  These too are hints about the animals, making the book speak to habitat too.  This interactive book will have children embracing science and learning about animals without even realizing it.

Posada encourages children to learn more in the final pages of her book.  She gives hints to decode animal tracks, offering ideas of what to look for in unknown tracks to help identify them.  The book ends with links to websites and recommended books to read.  Posada uses the page turn to great effect in this book, allowing the reveal to be a big part of the delight of reading this book.  The guessing game element will be popular in story times but also for single readers. 

Done in watercolor and collage, the illustrations have dimension and texture.  The animals pop on the page and their tracks are clear and beautiful.  When Posada has two creatures from the same habitat, their tracks are well defined and clearly different from one another.  This adds to the fun of the read.

A nonfiction picture book that children will enjoy, this readable and accessible book will be a hit at any story time.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Millbrook Press.

miss brooks story nook

Miss Brooks’ Story Nook by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley

A sequel to Miss Brooks Loves Books, this picture book celebrates story telling.  Missy loves going to Miss Brook’s Story Nook right before school each day.  She takes the long way to school, because otherwise she has to go past Billy Toomey’s house and he steals her hat and yells at her.  Then one day at Story Nook, the power goes out so they have to tell their own stories.  Missy though insists that she’s a reader not a storyteller.  But soon she is telling her own story, inspired by Billy Toomey.  It is the story of an ogre named Graciela who has a pet snake that escapes.  The trick is that Missy needs to figure out a satisfying ending to her story of an ogre and a bully.

Bottner has created another engaging story filled with humor and clever solutions.  Miss Brooks is inspiring with her enthusiasm for books and stories and the way she encourages the children to keep making their stories better.  It’s a joy to see Missy tell her very creative story, struggle with some of it but persevere and create a satisfying tale for the entire class to enjoy.

Emberley’s illustrations add a lot of zing to the book.  He captures moods so clearly in his characters from the jaunty excitement of Miss Brooks to Missy’s ever-changing moods.  They are told through expressions and also body language. 

Smart and funny, this is a book to inspire young readers to create their own stories just like Missy.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.

forget me not

Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

This look at the impact of Alzheimer’s is personal and touching.  Told in the first person, the book looks at the changes of Julia’s grandmother.  Her grandmother used to make favorite foods, have her house just so, and even smelled of cinnamon and lilac when they cuddled.  But as time passed, her grandmother started forgetting more and more.  She made mistakes and even started to forget who her family members were.  A little later and Julia’s grandmother started to forget what they had done together in the past, she wasn’t allowed to drive anymore, and her cooking wasn’t the same.  She got worse and worse until she had to be given special care in a home.  Julia and her family have to make the best of it, and that means that Julia has to find a way to continue to connect with her grandmother even though she can’t remember her.

Van Laan uses a delicacy of language her to weave her story.  Since the entire book is about loss of memory and the loss of a grandparent to Alzheimer’s, this delicacy sets a lovely tone for the book.  As the changes start to happen, Van Laan describes them: “But ever so slowly, like a low tide leaving the bay, a change came along.”  Filled with constant change, the book captures moments along the way, showing how Julia’s grandmother is worsening but also how they continue to keep her spirit alive and well during the changes.

Graegin’s illustrations show the changes in the grandmother but also maintain a sweetness that never leaves the story.  Despite the grandmother’s decline, the light remains bright in the illustrations and the family stays close knit in a visual way.

There are many books about Alzheimer’s available now, but this one takes just the right tone and gives information that young children are looking for.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley from Edelweiss and Random House Children’s Books.

sisters

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Released August 26, 2014.

The exceptionally talented and incredibly popular Raina Telgemeier returns with a sequel to her beloved Smile.  This is the story of Raina and her little sister, Amara.  Raina was desperate to have a little sister, but Amara is not working out the way she had pictured.  Now Raina is stuck on a road trip with her sister, little brother and her mother.  They are all stuck in a van traveling from San Francisco to Colorado for a family reunion.  The relationship between the two sisters is tense, not only because they have very different personalities but also because they are both artists.  Then you add in the clear issues of Raina’s parents and you have a dynamic view of a family on the brink of big changes.  It’s just up to Raina and Amara as to how their relationship with one another will change.

Telgemeier has created another breathtakingly honest graphic novel for elementary and middle grade readers.  Through her illustrations and humor, she shows a family at the crux of a moment that could change things forever.  The book though focuses on flashbacks showing the family and how relationships have altered.  Readers may be so focused on the story of the two sisters that they too will be blindsided along with Raina about the other issues facing their family.  It’s a craftily told story, one that surprises and delights.

As always, Telgemeier’s art is fantastic.  She has a light touch, one that invites readers into her world and her family and where they long to linger.  Her art is always approachable and understandable, more about a vehicle to tell the story than about making an artistic statement on its own.  It is warm, friendly and fantastic.

Highly recommended, this book belongs in every library that works with children.  A dynamite sequel that lives up to the incredible first book.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

blind

Blind by Rachel DeWoskin

When Emma was 14 watching fireworks with her family, a rocket backfired and hit the crowd, burning Emma across her eyes and leaving her blind.  Emma has to learn how to live as a blind person, pitied by everyone but mostly by herself.  She learns to walk with a cane after months of sitting on the family couch not doing anything at all.  She is sent to a special school where she learns to read braille and yearns to be back with her best friend at normal high school.  After working hard for a year, Emma manages to progress enough to be allowed to return to normal high school, but everything has changed.  Not only is it difficult being blind there, but a classmate has been found dead.  Now Emma has to figure out how to process the girl’s death without becoming the PBK – Poor Blind Kid again.

DeWoskin has written a complex book here.  The heart of it, Emma’s blindness is brilliantly captured.  Readers will learn about the limitations of being blind, but also how it makes to listen differently and with more attention than before.  The small coping mechanisms are fascinating, such as always wearing a tan bra so that you know it won’t show through any of your shirts and the fact that blind girls still wear makeup, but theirs has to be labeled in a way you can touch. 

Emma is a great heroine.  Her grieving process is clearly shown as is her determination to return to normal.  She is strong but not too strong, so that she is fully human on the page.  When Emma creates a group of students who meet secretly to deal with the girl’s death, the book slows.  While it is an interesting device to show how teens can come together to help one another grieve and heal, it is far less compelling than Emma’s own journey. 

A book that will reach beyond those interested in visual impairment, this teen novel shows the resilience of a girl suddenly blinded but who discovers an inner strength she had never realized she had.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.

tickly toes

Tickly Toes by Susan Hood, illustrated by Stephane Barroux

This playful board book looks at infants’ interest in their own toes, whether it is when they are being tickled by someone else, or when they see them in the bubbly bath water.  Written as if a parent is addressing the baby directly, this book will read aloud well to the smallest of listeners.  With illustrations that invite counting, this book is also an invitation to count baby’s own toes right now.

Hood avoids being too sing-songy in her rhyme, instead keeping it jaunty.  Even when baby pulls of his booties and flings them away, the tone remains entirely positive and encouraging as baby finds his feet all on his own.  The illustrations by Barroux are bright and large.  They show the ten toes on many pages as well as a loving family environment around him.

Get your toes wiggling with this bright and bouncy board book.  Appropriate for ages birth to 2.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Kids Can Press and NetGalley.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:

Keep calm... seriously, you're in a library

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Angry parents criticise Julia Donaldson for ‘inappropriate’ smoking scarecrow – Telegraph http://buff.ly/1ouooGZ #kidlit

Author and illustrator Ashley Bryan comes of age – The Portland Press Herald – http://buff.ly/1u0YNco #kidlit

‘Creepy’? New ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ book cover confuses readers – Books http://buff.ly/1okdAM8 #kidlit

George R.R. Martin’s children’s book gets re-release http://buff.ly/1o8gzae #kidlit

It’s time to rethink what children’s non-fiction could be – Telegraph http://buff.ly/V1Q3mS #kidlit

J.K. Rowling reaches out to shooting survivor who quoted Dumbledore – CNET http://buff.ly/1r67xsS #kidlit

Picture a Novel from Lane Smith http://buff.ly/1xwhxOm #kidlit

Starred reviews, September/October Horn Book Magazine – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1y61Cq7 #kidlit

Top Ten Novels in Verse by Katie Strawser | Nerdy Book Club http://buff.ly/1ouoD4I #kidlit

What are the best books for children who feel ‘weird’ or different? | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1ugyOec #kidlit

http://lisnews.org/how_a_new_dutch_library_smashed_attendance_records

LIBRARIES

Macmillan’s Full Catalog of Ebooks Now Available to Public Libraries | American Libraries Magazine http://buff.ly/1nnUlfl #ebooks #libraries

The Way Upward | Design4Impact http://buff.ly/1rWn0Qj #libraries

PUBLISHING TRADE

Google partners with Barnes & Noble for same-day book delivery | The Verge http://buff.ly/1ogxg4m

James Patterson: If I were Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (Opinion) http://buff.ly/1u1wE4T

TEEN READS

How Rainbow Rowell Turned A Bomb Into A Best-Selling Novel http://buff.ly/1nw59bq #yalit

WILS WORLD

"Attention is a scarce resource in this century" #wils14

Don’t just do things right, do the right things. #wils14

Don’t sacrifice good for the perfect. #wils14

If you aren’t risking failure, you aren’t moving the library forward enough. #wils14

Innovation can happen in a time of reduced funding. You don’t need additional resources. #wils14

Measure success via serendipity rather than productivity – look at things in other ways than industrial measures. #wils14

People overwhelmed by choice and full library shelves. #wils14

Relationship with publishers – do libraries pay more or walk away? #wils14

Start very small and very quickly to hear immediately from potential customers and react and reprioritize – #wils14

Your library catalog is very expensive real estate so use it to promote library events. #wils14

uni the unicorn

Uni the Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Released August 26, 2014.

Do you believe in unicorns?  One might expect the main question of this book to be just that, but instead it’s a question of whether unicorns should believe in little girls.  Uni was a normal unicorn in most ways.  She may have had extra sparkly eyes and her mane may be extra luxurious, but she could heal with her horn like the others and make wishes come true too.  But the one thing that made Uni different was that she believed that little girls were actually real!  Her parents just smiled at her when she insisted little girls were real and her friends laughed at her.  But Uni just knew that somewhere in the world was a little girl just for her.  And out in the world, there was.

Rosenthal has written a book with a surprise twist that makes it fresh and radiant.  Using the unicorn as the heart of the book and indisputably real is a delightful way to approach this mythical beast.  Rosenthal writes that both the unicorn and the girl are looking for a friend who is “strong smart wonderful magical.”  The emphasis on that rather than beauty is appreciated, particularly in a book about unicorns. 

Barrager’s art is lush and colorful.  Her digital illustrations feel like pop art with their modern edge.  Showing Uni longing for her little girl by reading books and drawing pictures is a clever and clear way to tie her to the little girls who may be longing for a unicorn.

I’m not a huge unicorn fan and hate drippy books that are too sweet.  Unicorn fans will adore this book and those of us on the lookout for books that are saccharine will be pleasantly surprised.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Random House Children’s Books.

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