Thursday, March 19, 2020

How It Feels To Be A Boat, written by James Kwan, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: This is an interesting book for young children. The author uses a boat to describe and explain emotions in a way that young children will understand. The parts of a boat including levers, pulleys and corridors are examples of what people feel inside. The smells from the galley and the big-hearted furnace are in the belly of the boat. The illustrations, by the author, are lavish and fill 2-page spreads. When the boat crashes it is put back together in pieces and becomes even stronger. The story will be great for discussion on comparisons between objects like boats and human emotions. Recommended.

Straight Talk for Librarians: A good story for discussions on emotions.

Day So Gray, written by Marie Lamba, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: Two young girls explore a wintry day and see very different things. One girl sees only "boring white snow" on a gray day while her friend points out that there is more than gray skies and white snow. She sees specks and streaks of many colors but has a tough time convincing her friend that it is not boring. The illustrations by Alea Marley are beautiful as they stream across the glossy book pages. It is a nice story about friendship, nature and attitude. Recommended.

Straight Talk for Librarians: A good book for young children. Great for a read aloud.

My Little Sister and Me, written by Maple Lam, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: This is the story of a big brother and little sister on a special day. Their mom has allowed the big brother to take his little sister home from the bus stop all by himself. The author has written a very nice story of how this unfolds. The little sister is all over the place but the big brother is patient and kind throughout. He also shows concern when she chases a big dog or may have needs like needing a potty. The illustrations are great and demonstrate each event in such a cute way that small children will, very much, enjoy the story and adventures of getting home from the bus stop. Small children will like the book and, if they have siblings, will get a kick out of the little sister's shenanigans and how her big brother copes. Recommended.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This would be a fun read aloud book for small children.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day, written by John David Anderson, reviewed by Kalie Mehaffy

Summary: Ms. Bixby is Topher, Brand, and Steve's sixth grade teacher, and according to them, she's one of the 'good ones'. Unfortunately, she won't be able to finish out the school year because she has cancer, and the boys are devastated, but they console themselves with the knowledge that at least there is going to be a going away party before she has to start her vigorous treatment. Her cancer progresses faster than anticipated, however, and she has to leave before her going away part. Topher, Brand, and Steve decide to skip school to throw their beloved Ms. Bixby the best going away party ever, no matter what tries to stop them.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I loved this book. It was funny, thoughtful, and tone appropriate for sixth graders. John David Anderson did an amazing job combining real life, heavy topics with the language of eleven year old boys. I really liked that Anderson never treated his audience like they could not understand heavier topics. I think this book is a must-have for any library, be it classroom, school, or public. I think it would be an amazing read-aloud for sixth grade classrooms. There are multiple perspectives, but they are each labled and seperated by chapter. If there are students who have had personal experiences with losing someone they love to cancer, you might want to check in with them as they read, as the ending is a bit sad, but I think the language that Anderson uses to discuss it is amazing. I am absolutely going to add this novel to my library.

Glitch, written by Sarah Graley, reviewed by Kalie Mehaffy

Summary: Izzy and Eric are two young girls who cannot wait for the school week to end so that they can play the most anticipated new game - Dungeon City. They are planning a huge sleepover weekend while Izzy's parents are out of town where they'll eat an entire pizza and play the game together, and Izzy promises to not play the game until the weekend, so that she can play with Eric. The temptation of a shiny new video game, however, is too much for Izzy to resist, and she boots up the game the night it arrives at her house, but as the game starts, she finds herself sucked into the game! The rest of the story follows Izzy as she plays the game while in the game, while alienating her best friend Eric due to guilt and slowly realizing that things may not be as they seem in the game.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I thought that this was an amazing graphic novel! The art style is bright, colorful, and fun; and the story manages to be humorous while still touching on serious topics. For example (spoilers ahead), Izzy and Eric have a falling out - Izzy feels guilty that she is lying to Eric by playing the game, and lashes out at Eric while refusing to admit that anything is wrong. This, of course, upsets Eric, but by the end, after Izzy comes clean and apologizes, Eric tells her that it was okay, because Izzy made a call that in retrospect was wrong, and that since Izzy admitted she made a mistake they were going to be okay. It was heartwarming, and a mature way to look at arguments with friends. I think it is hugely important for anyone, but especially a middle school student, to see examples like this one. I think that you could use it in the classroom if you were teaching a social skills lesson, but this is absolutely a graphic novel that I will be putting into my library. I think my students will love it as much as I did.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bossy, written by Caroline Cala, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Malia, Dot, and Bree are back again in the second installment of the “Best Babysitters Ever” series, with new challenges. Dot is worried about the upcoming science fair, and her new arch nemesis Pigeon, is a steep competitor in the upcoming school event. Pigeon, a new student from New York, seems to be good at everything, and is not shy about rubbing it in Dot’s face. Bree is excited to get a new (hairless) Sphynx cat whom she names Veronica, but Veronica, who is actually a he, goes ballistic in the house and Bree cannot seem to control him, or his messes. Malia is trying to balance her schedule with a new internship for a demanding and crazy boss, and her mom won’t let her quit, even though she’s not getting paid for the job. All three of the girls are trying to face these new challenges, meanwhile keeping their babysitting business going, and trying to raise enough money to buy tickets to an upcoming music concert that the whole school seems to be going to. When they decide to hire temps to keep up with their babysitting jobs and new demanding life events, will they be able to maintain their own business, and still make money? Readers will be eager to find out!

Straight Talk for Librarians: Albeit predictable, this is simply a great series to have in the collection for young female readers. The first book in the series has high interest, and the second installment is sure to follow. Cala does a great job with the three main characters’ narration, so that the chapters and story as a whole flows, despite jumping around to different story plot points. This is  a great pick for discussions on responsibility, peer pressure, innovation, and managing stress. It is an easy to follow book, and luckily, there is a third book (“Miss Impossible”) that will round out the collection. Unfortunately this series most likely won’t appeal to young male readers, but it is one that is recommended to have added to library shelves for its leading popularity with young female readers.

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, written by Catherine Thimmesh, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: What do kevlar, Scotchgard, LuminAID, windshield wipers, chocolate chip cookies, and paper bag folding machines all have in common? They were all invented by the female gender and featured fantastically in this book. Appropriately read during March’s Women’s History Month, “Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women” by Catherine Thimmesh features 17 females who have developed and created inventions used today. Shockingly, many women were not allowed to patent their own inventions in their names until 1809 because they were not allowed to even own property and were considered to be owned by their husbands. Thimmesh does a fantastic job of featuring a variety of women of different diverse backgrounds and ages, and features young inventors in their teens, which will inspire young readers to try their own innovations. Under each person’s story, the description of the process, patents, struggles and retrials, and biographical information are all featured, complete with illustrations. Also featured is a timeline of women inventions, bibliography, index, and glossary, which makes it a great non-fiction selection.

Straight Talk for Librarians: A great pick for upper elementary and lower middle school, “Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women,” is a near perfect nonfiction selection. It does a great job of showing the process of innovation including trial and error, and helps readers understand that inventing is not just thinking of a good idea, then becoming a millionaire. Thimmesh also does a great job showing the discrimination many women inventors faced in the past based on their gender. Inspiring for sure, many students will enjoy this title for its interesting information, and a final chapter entitled ‘Your Turn,’ walking readers through the process of protecting their ideas and moving forward with their own designs. The only critique is it would have been nice to have each woman’s life span years featured at the beginning with the year of their actual invention, and some more biographical background on each inventor. Don’t let the pink lettering fool you, this book would be beneficial for both male and female students to read for discussions on history, innovation, and STEM related topics.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Snail and Worm All Day, written by Tina Kugler, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Best friends Snail and Worm return for three short stories in this second collection. From Snail’s excitement over his friends’ best day ever (although he himself is not having a great day), to a silly misunderstanding over a turtle’s shell, to a bedtime story, the clear bond between excitable Snail and calmer Worm is a heartwarming example of friendship and love.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This simple, colorful picture book portrays Snail and Worm’s friendship with humor and fun, teaching life lessons about the importance of caring for others along the way. Large text and short sentences allow early readers to take a stab at reading to themselves.. The lack of a narrator also makes this an excellent choice to practice voice in reading aloud; the story is told in dialogue only, the color of the text alternating to make it clear which character is speaking. A great choice for early reader and picture book collections.

Mr. Wolf's Class: Mystery Club, written by Aron Nels Steinke, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Mr. Wolf’s irrepressible, eclectic group of animal students is back with more true-to-life elementary school escapades. During one rainy recess, enthusiastic Randy starts a Mystery Club with her friends. Their first case: What happened to Mr. Greens, their teacher last year? Interviewing experts results in conflicting reports - he was eaten by rats! Abducted by aliens! - until they learn the actual answer is less than exciting. Amid solar system projects, rat-infested lockers, and balls kicked over the fence, each student has a moment to shine in this full-color graphic novel, until the mystery comes full circle with the appearance of Mr. Greens at Randy’s birthday party.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Every young reader will be able to see aspects of themselves in one of Mr. Wolf’s students, from the constantly-in-motion Abdi to perfectionist Penny. The story meanders throughout different storylines and characters, with just enough connecting them to feel like one cohesive story. From the kindergartener asking someone to tie his shoe to the student who makes ten stops on their way to the office, Mr. Wolf’s Class is hilariously true to life and will resonate with any elementary school student. Any graphic novel fan will love this series!

Third Grade Mermaid and the Narwhals, written by Peter Raymundo, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: When outspoken mermaid Cora’s fictional narwhal story gets her an entry into the Ocean Writes contest, she is prompted to write about her “greatest adventure ever.” She struggles to decide on an idea until glamorous, self-obsessed Vivian Shimmermore insists that narwhals don’t actually exist. Cora and her friends embark on an adventure across the ocean to prove Vivian wrong and witness the narwhal migration firsthand. After stopping to get directions from giant jellyfish, being kidnapped by sea-pigs, and taking some wrong turns, Cora and her pals - and Vivian Shimmermore - finally reach the sea-caves and the narwhals.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This second installment in the series is a marked improvement on the first, and fantasy fans looking for illustrated early chapter books will love Cora and her eclectic group of sea-creature friends. Blue and black illustrations depict Cora as a pudgy, expressive mermaid, and the other characters - particularly the earless, eyeless, fingerless sea cucumber, Larry - are comical and well-drawn. Cora’s journey outside of her comfort zone and into self-empowerment is inspiring to follow, and the lessons she learns along the way - about brainstorming, the difficulties of putting your experiences on paper, and animal migration - could make for a great companion to either a writing or science lesson.

Fierce 44, The: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World, written by the Staff of The Undefeated (Website), reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: With a striking blue cover, and vivid illustrations inside to match, “The Fierce 44” is a well done compilation of influential African American biographies for young readers. It features concise one page biographies on each name, some more well known such as Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, and Maya Angelou, and others less familiar like Mary McLeod Bethune, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Henrietta Lacks. Each profile features a fantastic illustration by Robert Ball with the title and name, as well as reason why they are featured in the book, like Jesse Owens: “Because he was the athlete who humiliated Hitler,” and Simone Biles: “Because the most dominant gymnast ever is still inventing new moves.” The biographies are not sugar coated, citing positive and negative aspects of each individual’s life when it applies, so there are references to drug use, AIDS, and sexual abuse. This is a great pick put together by the staff of a website owned by ESPN called “The Undefeated,” for readers looking for an anthology of African American biographies that are broad and quick, but also unique in content.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Overall, this is a great purchase for upper elementary/middle school aged students to get a quick overview of 44 important African Americans. The biographies are concise and have a conversational tone which young readers will appreciate. This is not a title intended to be used for serious research, but does a great job giving a swift general overview of facts of lives to pique readers’ interest. Some mature content about a few persons might prompt younger readers to need an adult to discuss with, but this is something I would recommend for purchase, even though there are a plethora of African American biography collections out there, for the main reason that writing is done in an interesting and hip way, and the collection holds profiles of unknown individuals that many other books don’t feature. Good for upper elementary, better for middle school, add this title to your non-fiction section.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Meet the Bobs and Tweets, written by Pepper Springfield, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: The messy, slobby Bobs and the neat, clean Tweets clash in this Seuss-like illustrated early chapter book. Of the seven Bobs, only one “does not quite fit in their mix” - Dean Bob stays neat, wakes up early, and doesn’t like to cause a scene. Lou Tweet, also, does not fit in with her family, the rest of whom are constantly sweeping and “love to wash”. When both the Bob and Tweet families, wanting to find a place where they won't be bothered by their neighbors, are directed by a real estate agent to move to Bonefish Street, they quickly clash at the neighborhood pool. Amidst the brawl, Dean and Lou bond over their misfit status and appeal to the lifeguard for help in stopping the fight. The easily manufactured truce certainly won’t last, however, as the Bobs and Tweets storm off angrily to surely meet again in the next installment of the series.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Full-color illustrations and a rhythmic rhyme style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ early reader texts fill these short chapters. From the opening lines - “A mob of Bobs lives like slobs. A mob! Of Bobs! Oh, such slobs” - readers will be curious about the boldly drawn characters. While the families themselves are fairly one-dimensional caricatures, and a simplistic compromise solves the book’s main conflict, there is a lot to like in this quick read. The repetitive rhyme scheme makes this a perfect choice to teach poetry and vowel sounds for young readers, and the differences between the families could serve as the foundation for a class discussion of compromise and conflict resolution.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Race Against Time, written by Geronimo Stilton, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Geronimo Stilton returns for his third journey through time with a new and improved machine: the Paw Pro Portal, designed to take Geronimo and his friends through three different time periods before returning to the present. Accompanied by his self-absorbed and self-proclaimed “scientist” cousin Trap, along with fan favorites Thea and Benjamin, Geronimo travels through time at a breakneck pace. They bring a mammoth dinner to a Neanderthal village, write a tragedy (that is mistaken for a comedy) in Ancient Greece, and test out da Vinci’s inventions in the Italian Renaissance. When it’s time to go home, a portal malfunction speeds them through Ghenghis Khan’s attack, Blackbeard’s ship, and the opening of a railway before finally landing in New Mouse City. Each page is colored with Stilton’s trademark illustrations and bright fonts that make words pop off the page.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The almost frenetic pace of the crew’s journeys can be a lot to keep up with, but adrenaline seekers (and of course, all Geronimo fans) will find a lot to love about this book. Geronimo’s natural clumsiness leads to slapstick humor, and there is certainly never a dull moment. Each time period is introduced with factual blurbs explaining important people, events, and customs, including traditional wardrobes for all walks of life. Readers will learn a lot about history without even realizing it! The travel journal appendix includes quizzes, crafts and activities to extend the learning on the three time periods visited in the book. Use as an extension for strong readers looking to learn about history, or hand to those who have graduated from “Magic Tree House” that are looking for a similar read.