2017 ALA Annual Thoughts

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ALA Annual was amazing this year, filled with big names like Hillary Clinton and Brené Brown. It was inspiring and uplifting, encouraging and full of lots of books too.I’m not here to gloat about the bags of books I got, though many will grace this blog as I try to read them all. I have piles of pins to decorate my office tack-board, pads of paper and post-it notes to use for the year, and trinkets for co-workers to share.
Since I can’t share the physical books and trinkets with you, I want to share seven pieces of wisdom I heard at the conference that I’ll carry forward in my work at the library:
  1. If you are silent, you are part of the problem. – This was said about LGBT, diversity, management, teamwork and social justice in general.
  2. Advocacy – the importance of libraries not being neutral but also having a social justice position is crucial. In order to serve our entire community, we need to advocate for them.
  3. Customer Service is changing, including the no service desk model in Gwinnett County and Open+ being used to extend hours in a staff-free way.
  4. Change is constant, and we need to be part of it. Making bold changes in library service keeps libraries relevant and responsive to community needs. Changes should be done with your own specific community in mind.
  5. Communication is crucial. Communication is important not just by leadership but from staff too. It needs to be two-way and compassionate. Staff need to feel safe and supported in order to embrace change and enjoy their work.
  6. Management needs to focus on earning trust and supporting staff whether through major changes or changes in culture. Control needs to lessen, hierarchies are problematic, and staff need to have a voice. Management needs to give staff enough power that it makes management uncomfortable.
  7. Books are back – more physical books than ever were on the exhibit floor. The move away from e-book samples and timed ARCs was vividly different from three years ago.

The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora (9781484743645, Amazon)

Mr. Stricter, the teacher, has always wanted a pet. So when the class hatches tadpoles, he tells them that they can keep one. They choose Bruno who grows very quickly and unexpectedly. Soon he has left the fishbowl and entirely taken over the classroom. He farts, eats furniture, and munches school supplies. He also hasn’t turned into a frog at all! But Mr. Stricter can’t see how troublesome Bruno is until one day Bruno proves it once and for all.

Rissi uses plenty of humor in this picture book that turns the tables on teachers and their responsibility. The class of children must be the ones who see the problem and then rescue their teacher from his own blindness. This twist makes the book all the more exciting and fun to read, especially for children. Add in the humor of what Bruno actually grows into and you can expect when you share this aloud with children for them to be delighted at the huge creature and call out warnings to the oblivious Mr. Stricter.

Ohora’s illustrations are filled with bright colors that zing and zap. He plays the colors against each other with orange-yellow floors and deep red walls. This adds a lot of energy to the book and gives Bruno a dynamic background to appear against in all of his vastness.

The power of children is embraced in this picture book that will have everyone laughing along. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Disney-Hyperion.

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner\

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (9781626723313, Amazon)

Fox is always trying to sneak into the henhouse at the farm and steal a chicken. He’s so hungry, and so very tired of the turnips that the pig provides him after every defeat. No one on the farm is scared of him, particularly the chickens themselves. Fox turns to Wolf to get some tips on being more frightening and getting chickens. Wolf comes up with a plan to steal some eggs from the chickens and hatch their own meals. But Fox gets a lot more than he bargained for when three little chicks hatch from the eggs and suddenly think that Fox is their mother!

This graphic novel is exceptional. Renner uses perfect comedic timing throughout the book. He melds slapstick comedy with real heart throughout the book and gives readers a villainous but incompetent Fox that they can root for. Readers will adore the rabid little chicks who consider themselves foxes rather than chickens. It’s the Wolf that continues to be a shadowy dark force and one that will eventually have to be dealt with.

Renner’s illustrations are done in watercolor and don’t use traditional comic book framing or speech bubbles. Instead he keeps them very simple, using lines to show who is speaking and open spaces to convey a sense of framing each image. The illustrations are energetic and funny as well with the expressions on even the tiny chick’s faces easily understood.

A great pick for children’s graphic novels, this one is very special. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Christine Grove (9780399554551, Amazon)

Amanda knows just how she wants her first day of Kindergarten to go. She will print her name large on the blackboard, she will build the tallest tower, and she will run faster than everyone else. But when she gets to Kindergarten, it doesn’t go exactly as planned. Amanda’s favorite color is brown, but another girl dressed all in pink won’t leave Amanda alone. In fact, Bitsy is the one who gets to put her name in the middle of the blackboard. Amanda is scolded for building her tower too tall and she isn’t the fastest either. So she decides to head to her brother’s 2nd grade class and just skip Kindergarten entirely.

Ransom has depicted a certain type of child, one that is vastly confident about school and then realizes that what they have dreamed up is not actually reality. It’s a great variant on the typical Kindergarten picture book about the fear of starting school. It also shows that overconfidence can be just as difficult as being worried. Ransom tells an entire story in her picture book, allowing Amanda to feel big emotions and work through them in her own unique way.

Grove’s illustrations add a large amount of appeal to the book. Amanda remains appealing to the reader even though she is prickly, thanks in part to the way she is shown on the page. From her brown cardigan to her red high tops, she is a vibrant character on the page even as she makes plenty of mistakes.

A nice twist to the typical starting school books, this picture book shows everyone has a lot to learn in Kindergarten. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo

Renato and the Lion by Barbara DiLorenzo (9780451476418, Amazon)

Renato loves living in Florence, Italy. He particularly loves all of the art throughout the city, both in the museums and on the streets. His favorite statue is the stone lion in the piazza. As war approaches Florence, everything changes. Brick shelters are built around the statues to protect them. Renato wants to protect the lion and has a dream that the lion and his father helps him. Their family flees to the United States and Renato doesn’t return for many years. Has his lion been safe through war and time?

In her author’s note, DiLorenzo talks about how she has melded history and fiction together in this dreamy picture book. World War II did threaten Florence and they did protect the statues in this way. The lion statue exists, but Renato himself is fictional and the timeframe has been altered to work in the book. DiLorenzo’s prose is very readable and the story is immensely strong and well structured.

The art adds to the dreamy effect with the softness of the watercolors. The dream sequences are particularly nice, as they show even more of Florence than the story could have otherwise. Readers will love the lion as Renato does thanks to the wise and gentle look on its face.

The power of art and dreams come together in this wonderful historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

Chirri & Chirra in the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi

Chirri & Chirra in the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi

Chirri & Chirra in the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi (9781592702251, Amazon)

This is the second book in this series that has come to the United States from Japan. In this adventure, sisters Chirri and Chirra ride their bikes into a tall stand of grass. Once inside, they follow a bee to its home where they get to taste honey sponge cake. From there, they follow some flower chafers to their home where the chafers share some leaf juice with them. When a lizard passes by, the girls follow him to his home and they make candies together. As darkness falls, the girls return back home.

Doi’s books are completely unique. The two characters react to nature and the foods offered them with wonder and curiosity. There is no fear here, just adventure and joy. The books celebrate nature and investigation. There is a strong element of fantasy as well as the creatures talk and cook, but that whimsical part just strengthens the honesty of the natural pieces.

The illustrations are filled with small details that make these books better for one-on-one sharing. These are books to pore over and enjoy together, discussing the details. The illustrations show close ups of the food and drink, small touches making them all the more appealing.

Look forward to book three this fall, this is a delicious Japanese import. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

 

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (9780373212316, Amazon)

Elloren has led a sheltered life with her uncle, making violins and creating cures out of herbs. Now she is being sent to university, something her powerful aunt doesn’t agree with. Her aunt attempts to have her paired with a seductive young man who seems eager as well, but Elloren has promised her uncle not to wandfast until after she graduates. At university, Elloren is exposed to more other races than ever before, including lupines, elves, and some hidden Fae. In an attempt to force Elloren to marry, her aunt has set up the worst possible quarters for her, sharing a room in a drafty cold tower with two Icarals, born with wings and considered to be cursed. Elloren slowly learns of her own biases and racism as the book continues, figuring out that her upbringing has been slanted and that her own history may be questionable.

I must address that this book was the subject of a huge situation at GoodReads where its star score is still low because people saw the book as racist. While colors of skin do play a role in the book, this book is all about a sheltered girl with a heritage that is filled with glory and blood figuring out that she is entirely and unquestionably wrong. The book made sure not to leave statements of Elloren’s bias on the page without a counterpart and does exceptionally well at having other perspectives always presented. There are no simple answers here, since Forest has created a complicated and intricate world that bears little resemblance to our own.

Forest’s characters are entirely flawed and that makes the book so much better. Elloren may or may not be the next Black Witch. Readers will know there is a well of untapped power within her and see clues about it. They will also be infuriated by Elloren at times, as she flirts with a man who is clearly dangerous and using her. Elloren grows at a natural pace, her perspectives shifting with research, lectures, and personal experience. There is a lot magical about this fantasy novel, but her growth remains steady and understandably human-like.

A strong book in a new series of magic, dragons and legendary creatures, this book is unafraid to ask deep questions about morals, ethics and bias. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.