This book, which is extremely amazing and you should read it! It’s steampunk/magical New York, and it’s romantic and scary and fabulous and just about 100% my idea of what a perfect YA book should be.
This designer, who made my wedding dress (I’m getting married in three weeks), and whose entire Etsy store I want to buy!
The Stratford Festival, which has long been one of my favourite ever things! We came every year for a hefty part of my older child/teen years (thank you Grandpa!) and now I go with my parents (or now my Mom and my soon-to-be-wife, now that Dad is dead and I have a partner) every other year or so. This time we saw Guys and Dolls, Tartuffe, and Twelfth Night, and it was all very good! Do go sometime, if you live in reasonable distance, it’s always worth it!
Walking. I have driven to and from work for the last five years, and I finally got rid of my car and am now walking/taking the bus, and it’s great! 4 km of exercise per day, and an hour of reading on the bus each way!
Sorry, been a crazy, crazy Fall/Winter, and I may just have to give up on this blog thing. However, for now, here are the 2016 reviews that I wrote for my library’s website, and one bonus 2017 review that hasn’t been published yet–I know, such a gift 😉
As a 2nd bonus, the ones I absolutely, 100% recommend unreservedly from a personal perspective are asterisked–I read a lot of books that I don’t love, but I know someone will.
*Clover’s Luck, by Caillie George
Despite her name, Clover has always felt decidedly unlucky. So when she stumbles upon a mysterious cottage in the Woods, she can hardly believe her good fortune. It’s the Magical Animal Adoption Agency, and it houses creatures of all kinds. Fairy horses, unicorns, and a fiery young dragon are just the beginning! Mr. Jams, the Agency’s owner, agrees to hire her as summer helper and Clover hopes her luck has finally changed. But when she’s left alone to care for the Agency, a sneaky witch comes after the magical creatures! Will Clover outsmart her in time to protect the animals?
Ramona Forever, by Beverley Cleary
Did you know that Beverly Cleary turned 100 years old in April? So it’s the perfect time to read her books! In Ramona Forever, Ramona is in grade 3, and starting to feel more grown-up. She and Beezus still stay with Howie Kemp’s grandmother till their parents get home, but now that Beezus is almost a teenager, the girls convince their parents that they can be at home alone after school instead of going to the Kemps. That’s only the first of the many big changes coming to the Quimby family, but while things get different with weddings, funerals and new babies, there’s one thing you can always count on, which is Ramona being Ramona forever!
*Catwings, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Mrs. Jane Tabby can’t imagine why her kittens were born with wings. Cats don’t have wings! But Thelma, Harriet, James and Roger do, and soon it becomes clear that cats with wings can’t live underneath a dumpster the way ordinary cats can. Fortunately, cats with wings can fly, so the Catwings fly away, till they reach the country, where things are very different, and where maybe James, Harriet, Roger and Thelma can find a place where they belong.
The Dogs, by Alan Stratton
Cameron and his mom have been running away for years. Cameron never knows if he’ll come home from his new school to find his mom in the car, all ready to move to a new town in another part of North America. Cameron’s dad is looking for them, and Cameron’s mom knows he mustn’t find them. Cameron isn’t sure though. Was his dad really that bad? Then they move to a remote haunted house in the Prairies, and as Cameron unravels the mystery of what happened to the boy whose ghost haunts the property, he starts on a terrifying path that may end in his becoming the second ghost to haunt the house. This is an atmospheric, frightening, and gripping Canadian title.
Trouble is a Friend of Mine, by Stephanie Tromley
Zoe has just moved to a new town, and somehow she’s already acquired a friend, Digby. The only thing is, she doesn’t want to be Digby’s friend. Somehow, though, she ends up helping Digby investigate a mysterious disappearance eight years ago, an investigation which includes a lot of things Zoe would never in a million years have done before she met Digby, including a lot of things that aren’t exactly legal. Is Digby crazy? Or could he be a hero? One thing for sure, Zoe’s life will never be the same, no matter which it is.
The Kiss of Deception, by Mary Pearson
Lia is a princess on the run from an arranged marriage. After her escape, she gets a job as a barmaid in a seaside tavern and enjoys life as a nobody greatly. When two young men, Kaden and Rafe arrive in town, she finds herself taken with both of them. What she doesn’t know? One of them is the prince she was supposed to marry, the other an assassin hired to kill her. The thrilling and romantic first book of a planned trilogy, the Remnant Chronicles.
*You Know Me Well, by Nina LaCour and David Levithan
Mark and Kate are classmates, but they’ve never spoken. Until they meet at a gay club during San Francisco Pride, where Mark and his best friend (and secret crush) Ryan, are celebrating their first Pride, and where Ryan seems to be getting on very well with another boy. Kate, on the other hand, is running away from a meeting with the girl she’s wanted to meet forever. Their friendship is sudden, but everyone needs a friend in time of trouble, and for now, Mark and Kate are exactly what each other needs.
Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy
Willowdean Dixon knows she’s fat, and that other people are made uncomfortable by that. But she isn’t. She knows who you are is more important than what you weigh. Unfortunately, in Clover City, Texas, home of the oldest beauty pageant in Texas, it can feel like people don’t know that fat doesn’t matter. Especially when your mother is a former beauty queen, and runs the annual pageant. But Willowdean does her best to ignore that, and lives her life, going to school, hanging out with her best friend, and working at a burger joint with her crush, Bo. But then Bo and Willowdean kiss, and she finds herself suddenly uncomfortable with her size. Willowdean has always had plenty to deal with, and now is no different, but she’s never felt uncomfortable with herself before. Can she find a way to make peace with herself, get the guy, and still be the fabulous person she is?
*Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Six messed up but super talented, outcast kids, members of The Dregs, a criminal organization. One giant mission: to rescue a prisoner from the world’s most secure prison. And maybe save the world, too. This is an incredible, cliff-hanger of an adventure/fantasy/mystery crossover, and you should not miss it! The sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is out and is a worthy successor.
And the bonus review!
*The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz
The story of three possibly miraculous children and their saintly dog, told by many people assembled in an inn, all of who have met the children, and seen the miracles they perform. But are they miracles, or tricks and lies, or something evil? No one is quite sure: Jeanne the peasant girl who sees visions, William, a hugely strong monk-in-training who’s the child of an African woman and a European crusader, and Jacob, a Jewish boy who seems to have healing powers seem an unlikely group of saints, to say nothing of the dog, Gwenforte, who is rumoured to have returned from the dead to look after Jeanne, seem an unlikely group to have miraculous powers of good.
This is a beautifully illustrated tale of medieval times in France, of truth and lies, of three brave children, their dog, and a (bonus!) farting dragon.
Things are crazy at work (everyone’s sick, including me), but here’s a couple excellent new/recent picture books!
The Night Gardener, by the Fan Brothers.
This picture book is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in ages. I don’t buy many new picture books (no kids of my own and I can get most of the books I need at work), but I am totally buying this. It’s a touch creepy, I guess, but it is SO beautiful! You need to read it.
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, pictures by Sue deGennaro.
Prince Henrik’s older brother found his princess by placing a pea under a pile of mattresses, but Prince Henrik finds his sister-in-law kind of ridiculous. He wants a princess who isn’t so sensitive, one who will play hockey and go camping. So he tries putting a packet of frozen peas under one mattress, and all the princesses whine and complain and get bruised–until his old friend Pippa shows up for a sleepover. A charming and funny happily-ever-after story for those of us who wouldn’t notice a pea under a pile of mattresses!
Some 2015 Children’s and Teen books that I really liked. Neither complete nor based on anything other than the fact that I liked them a lot.
Anderson, R.J. A Pocket Full of Murder. Charming, steampunk-ish mystery/fantasy. Fantastic strong female character, the only thing I didn’t like is that the language of the invented world is a bit clunky at times. (Children’s, ages 10+).
Beaton, Kate. The Princess and the Pony. Go and get this hilarious and delightful picture book about a Viking princess who’s trying to stop getting crappy princessy presents and wants some real Vikingy presents right now! (and while you’re at it–if you’re an adult–save yourself some time and buy Kate Beaton’s books of cartoons, because you want to read them) (Children’s, ages 4+)
Bradley, Sandra. Henry Holton Takes the Ice. Henry Holton’s family is all hockey-mad, and Henry loves to skate, but somehow hockey just doesn’t feel right. A sweet, funny book emphasizing that there are other things to do with skates than play hockey (a lesson many Canadians may need). (Children’s, ages 4+).
E.K. Johnston. Prairie Fire. Sequel to The Story of Owen (a Excellent Canadian teen book of 2014). Fantastic, heartbreaking, will make you want to strangle the author AND worship at her shrine. Oh lord it’s good (but be prepared to stay up all night weeping). (Teen, ages 14+)
—. A Thousand Nights. You know you want to read this fantastic and mysterious retelling of the 1001 Arabian Nights–not the 1001 stories, but the linking story of the girl who tells stories in order to save her life. This one will merely make you want to worship at Johnston’s shrine, not strangle her. (Teen, ages 12+)
Juby, Susan. The Truth Commission. A funny but powerful story about three friends at an arty high school and their attempt to allow their classmates and teachers to experience the freeing power of the truth (and how everything goes wrong). (Teen, ages 12+)
Oppel, Kenneth. The Nest. Absolutely fantastic and horrifyingly creepy. Do not read this right before bed, it may lead to terrifying dreams. Prepare yourself if you have a deep fear of wasps. (Children’s, ages 10+)
Tromley, Stephanie. Trouble is a Friend of Mine. Oh my this is funny! Absolutely read this if you think teen books about serious things are always depressing, because this is, and it isn’t. Don’t give up if you read a hundred pages and go “meh”; I did too, but I promise it’s worth persevering! (Teen, ages 12+)
We’re redoing the booklists at my library, and finally my manager had the sense to assign me the fantasy and sci-fi ones (in both genres I am the queen of readers’ advisors for middle grade/middle school/YA). So I’m going to cheat and share my fantasy list, because it’s really so awesome (IMHO, at least).
Alexander, William. Goblin Secrets
Rownie is the youngest child among Graba’s stray children. Graba is a witch with mechanical chicken legs, and she uses the children to run errands for her. Rownie is stray because his older brother, Rowan, disappeared after performing in a play. Acting is illegal in Zombay, unless you’re a goblin, one of the Changed, because acting changes who you are, as the Change does. Rownie sees a goblin play while on an errand for Graba, and finds himself on stage, as a giant who turns into a bird. When the goblins promise to teach him their secrets and help him find Rowan, he leaves Graba and her strays behind, and starts a quest to discover Rowan and the secrets that lie in the heart of Zombay.
Fforde, Jasper. The Last Dragonslayer
In the old days, magic was freely available, magic users (wizards, sorcerers, soothsayers, etc.) could do spells without even thinking about it, and everyone used all the magic they liked, any time they liked. Until the magic started draining away, no one knows why. Now magic is strictly regulated, and can only be used if you’ve received the proper approvals. Jennifer Strange works for Kazam, an employment agency for magic users. Need a Soothsayer or a Magic Carpeteer? Call Kazam. But strange things are happening at Kazam and in the world around them. The soothsayers are predicting strange things, and even people who don’t usually see visions are seeing them, and all of them make it clear that something big will happen soon, something involving Jennifer and lots of Big Magic, magic of a kind for which you definitely can’t get approval!
Goodman, Alison. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
Eon has a secret. On the surface, Eon is a twelve-year-old boy with a limp who can see the Imperial Dragons and who therefore, limp or not, can enter the contest to become a Dragoneye, apprentice to the human embodiment of one of the twelve dragons, and one of the most powerful men in the empire. But what no one must ever know is that Eon is actually a sixteen year old girl, not a twelve year old boy. There are no female Dragoneyes, but nothing can change the fact that Eon sees the twelve dragons better than anyone else, so she must enter the contest as a boy. Magic is uncertain, perhaps Eon can be chosen, girl or not. If she isn’t, certainly there’s not much to look forward to in life as a servant girl with a limp.
Grove, S.E. The Glass Sentence
Almost a 100 year ago, the Great Disruption occurred. The world, which in 1799 had all been moving along normally, suddenly broke apart, and now countries and even entire continents are moving in different times. You might find yourself among the dinosaurs in one country, only to encounter the year 3005 in the next. Sophia Tims comes from a family of renowned explorers and cartologers (map-makers of the post-Disruption world), and so knows these difficulties well, especially since her parents disappeared on their travels between worlds and times. Now she lives in Boston, with her uncle Shadrack, the most famous Cartologer of them all. Unfortunately, someone sinister seems to need a cartologer, and that someone has kidnapped Uncle Shadrack. Now with only the help of Theo, another child, a refugee from the West, Sophia must try to rescue her uncle and save the world from the power of the Glass Sentence.
Haskell, Merrie. The Princess Curse
Reveka, a herbalist’s apprentic, is drawn into a mystery which involves twelve princesses, a charming and unsettling stranger, and a dying land. Can she save the princesses, the land and live happily ever after? Only if she can break the mysterious curse that lies on the land and the stranger, and that could take everything she values from her, and still not allow her to win. A wonderful mix of fairy tales and myths with a fabulous heroine and an excellent romance.
Ibbotson, Eva. The Secret of Platform 13
Platform 13 is an ordinary train platform in King’s Cross station, London, England. Or is it? Actually, it’s a long-forgotten doorway to a long lost magical land. And if you encounter it on the one day in every nine years when it opens, you might meet a wizard, an ogre, a witch and a fairy who have come looking for a young prince, who was stolen the last time the gateway was open. Unfortunately, since then, the prince seems to have become a horrible brat named Raymond, and it’s going to take all the magic this quartet can call on to take him back to the lost island and make him behave like a fairy tale prince!
Meloy, Colin. Wildwood
Prue (Prudence) McKeel is an ordinary kid with an ordinary life. Until her baby brother is kidnapped by a crow and carried off to the Impassable Wilderness that surrounds Portland, Oregon. The worst thing? It’s kind of Prue’s fault. So of course Prue sets off to rescue her brother, with the help of a boy named Curtis. What they find in the Impassable Wilderness is impossibly wild: magic both good and bad, talking animals both friendly and not, and some very exciting bandits. A fabulous, scary, intriguing adventure! Book 1 of an excellent trilogy.
Nimmo, Jenny. Midnight for Charlie Bone
Charlie Bone is a normal kid, except that he isn’t. He comes from a long line of magicians, and when his father’s family discover that Charlie has magic of his own, they send him to Bloor’s Academy, a school for wealthy smart people, but also for magicians in training. Suddenly appearing at a wealthy genius school when everyone knows you’re poor and thinks you’re stupid isn’t easy, but mysterious voices are telling Charlie that he has a quest to fulfill, and so clearly the only thing to do is ignore everyone and get on with learning magic so he can complete the quest. Book one in a fabulous eight book series that is the perfect thing to read if you couldn’t get enough of Harry Potter.
Pratchett, Terry. A Hat Full of Sky
Tiffany Aching is a witch, or at least she will be when she’s been trained. Unfortunately, the nasty things that lie in wait for girls who have untrained power aren’t going to wait. When one of them takes over Tiffany’s body, she’s very much left out in the cold, and it isn’t clear that even with the help of some real witches and Tiffany’s notorious but loyal friends, the Nac Mac Feegle (little blue fairies with Scottish accents who love fighting and stealing), that Tiffany will ever get herself back.
Valente, Catherynne M. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making
When the Green Wind comes and offers to carry September (a girl from Omaha) to the gates of Fairyland, of course September says yes (wouldn’t you?). Whatever September expected (and she isn’t sure what that was) Fairyland isn’t it. Fairyland has rules and regulations, forms that must be filled out, and procedures that must be followed, or at least it does since the Marquess took over. September is not a rules and regulations kind of girl, especially not if they include chaining the wings of her new friend A-L, a Wyvern (cousin to a dragon), because only leopards and licenced ragweed stalks are allowed to fly in Fairyland under the new rules. So of course, September decides to rescue Fairyland from the Marquess, and of course, she meets new friends (and a few enemies) and has many adventures, which continue in books 2 and 3 of this fabulous series.
I’m sure we’re not the only library around that continually needs Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan generally readalikes. Such books are one of my guilty pleasures, so I’m here to share what I consider is a pretty good list. I read a lot of this kind of thing, and I enjoy it, so here goes. These are all highly readable, amusing, exciting, boy-friendly books, all of which share something with the Percy Jackson books. Undoubtedly you and your readers will be familiar with some of these, but hopefully not all! Links are to Amazon, because where else will you find so much information, useful and not?
Sorry if the spacing is off, it seems to work fine in some browsers some of the time, and others not at all!
Armstrong, Kelly and M.A. Marr, Loki’s Wolves
Virtually indistinguishable from Percy Jackson except that it’s about Norse mythology and has more female presence (and may be slightly better written). It’s book one in an ongoing series.
Sadda, Charwat. The Savage Fortress
Indian myths and demons, for a nice change! All my Percy Jackson loving kids have gobbled this and the sequel right up!
Collins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander
Also really good for kids who want to read the Hunger Games, but their parents aren’t ready for all the YA stuff.
Gregor thinks he’s an ordinary New York City kid, until he’s contacted by giant cockroaches who live in a world under the city, and who believe he can save their world from destruction.
MacHale, D.J. The Merchant of Death
Bobby Pendragon is a pretty normal middle-schooler. Then he gets swept into a multi- dimensional adventure and learns he may be the guy who has to save the universe.
Mebus, Scott. The Gods of Manhattan
Rory discovers the alternate world of Manhattana, where giant rats, kung-fu-fighting squrrels, and long-dead people co-exist. However, the world of Manhattana is out of balance, and soon Rory’s world may be too, if he can’t rescue some trapped spirits and set them free.
Neff, Henry. The Hound of Rowan
Max McDaniels is a mostly ordinary kid, until he sees things in an old tapestry and then finds himself studying magic and combat at Rowan Academy, preparing to fight an ancient and incredibly powerful demon. Very Percy Jackson, but with an international cast of folkloric characters.
Ursu, Anne. The Shadow Thieves
Cousins Charlotte and Zee must save the world from the denizens of the Underworld and a really nasty guy named Phil.
There are more, but those are my favourites, and those that work best for readers 9-14.
So today, let’s visit my current specialty (in that it’s the program I do most often at this job), story time for two year olds. We call it Tales for Twos, and you can too (it’s not like we invented it)!
The main thing I notice about two year olds (as opposed to their younger or older selves), is that they have discovered shyness in a big way. And quietness. So sometimes story time with twos is very quiet at first (not necessarily, and usually not for the whole time, but they often take some warming up to get participatory). So let the parents know that they really have to participate, or even more than usual, you may be singing all by yourself, which is a little lonely!
As always, good opening and closing songs or rhymes that you repeat every week are necessary items on your program, my regular song is something I learned at my last library, and I’m not familiar with it anywhere online, but you can find lots of other good ones on youtube, or you can make one up! A colleague of mine at my first library made this opening rhyme up:
Touch the sky,
Touch the ground,
Very simple and you can do actions as big or as small as you like!
As to a story time format, my twos ones usually go like this:
Name tag song (where we hand out name tags, since our program is pre-registered)
Short, interesting book
Noisy, active song
Quieter song or rhyme
Sometimes another book here
Then a very simple craft, usually colouring with stickers or something
Then some parachute time, or sometimes a simple obstacle course
Then our goodbye song.
It is, of course, open to change and sometimes we only read one book because they’re so crazy, and sometimes we read four, or have two or three and a flannel board (because I’m kind of a flannel board diva–not making them, but telling stories with them).
A couple of good themes (with books and some songs or rhymes):
Things that Go
Byron Barton, My Car and My Bus
Babs Bell, Sputter, Sputter, Sput
Jane Cabrera, The Wheels on the Bus
Songs/rhymes: there are various I’m a Little Pickup Truck, I’m a Train, etc. songs and rhymes out there, but I’ve never found any that work really well with my Twos. The best I’ve used is “This Little Train” from SurLaLune Storytime’s Train theme, but even it didn’t work too well. My favourite for this theme, other than the Wheels on the Bus, is to sing “If you’re a car/truck/train and you know it” (honk, stop, go, get a wash, etc.)–all my Twos seem to know If You’re Happy and You Know It, so we sing variations on that a lot.
Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Denise Fleming, In the Tall, Tall Grass
Petr Horacek, Butterfly, Butterfly: a Book of Colors
Songs and rhymes: Eeensy, Weensey Spider, the Ants Go Marching, Little Miss Muffet
Okay, I’ve decided I need to become serious about this. I will post something children’s-library related at least once a week, because otherwise having a blog is just silly!
We’re in the middle of summer reading club promotion at the moment. Like many Canadian libraries, we use the TD Summer Reading Club, and at my library, we launch on the day school ends, which here in most of Ontario is this Thursday. Tomorrow I have my last class visit to promote the club, and by the end of my visits, we will have seen over 1,000 students, mostly grades K-3, but a few older kids as well. Judging by previous years, we are likely to end up with about 100 new participants from that 1,000 (not counting all the returnees), which is not bad at all. What do we do at school visits? I don’t really know what my staff does, but I make a fool of myself, which is exactly what the kids seem to enjoy! I tell jokes, I ask them what their favourite books are, and I read as many silly books (Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems and Weasels by Elys Dolan are this year’s favourites for grades 2 and up) as I can cram in. If possible, I also drop things a lot, wear large cool earrings and/or a bobbly headband, and otherwise behave in a manner entirely suitable to a children’s librarian, but not many other people. The awesome thing about visiting in schools is that you do not have to be authoritative. Leave that to the teachers, your job is to be amazingly fun!
So, in my professional life, I’m a children’s librarian. And what’s more, I’m a children’s librarian who does a pretty awesome story time. My favourite thing is to walk into a room full of kids anywhere from 4-10 with a bag of books, and give them more fun with reading and singing than they ever knew was possible. If you’re an experienced children’s library staff person, you probably won’t learn much from me, but if you aren’t, yet need to read aloud to groups of kids, keep these things in mind.
1. Silly is always a good thing. My favourite brand of silly is Mo Willems (especially Elephant and Piggy) or Jan Thomas: you can read aloud There’s a Bird on my Head or The Doghouse to almost anyone, so long as you do it dramatically enough, and you will be a rockstar. I’ve done both books with kids up to grade six, and they all always think it’s awesome. This leads to my next thing:
2. A little (or a lot) of drama never hurts. Unless you’re reading aloud to infants, you should always really scream, shout, yell, roar or sing when the character in the book does. This works especially well with school groups, who aren’t used to apparently normal grownups suddenly making tons of noise.
3. You need to take Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes to every story-reading event you do for children four and up. And you need to make sure you know the song, really well, and be prepared to read this more than once. This is a book that gets grades K-3 classes on their feet screaming for more.
4. For grades 2 and up, Once Upon a Motorcycle Dude is a pretty awesome title.
5. With babies, sing. Especially if it’s in a daycare setting where the babies outnumber the adults. Even if you aren’t much of a singer, learn some simple songs and just sing your heart out.
6. Never underestimate the power of the parachute: they are awesome things to have at story time, and any old nonsense will do as a parachute song: I just sing things like “we wave it very fast”, “we wave it very slow”, etc. to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell, and everyone thinks it’s fabulous. A lot of baby bouncing rhymes work really well, too.
7. For a large group, a dramatically told flannel board story is a must. Just remember to be really loud, gesture a lot, and try and get some jokes for the adults to laugh at in (and I don’t mean inappropriate stuff, just little digs that the kids won’t necessarily understand), and have a good sappy happy ending. It doesn’t matter what your flannel board pieces look like, it matters how you tell the story.
8. For large story time groups (50+), have as many action songs as possible (and use a recording to sing along with if you can), do things like singing ABCs and spelling or counting on a flannel board, and don’t try to read too much–a couple of simple books like Brown Bear, Brown Bear… or I Went Walking plus a flannel board story are the limit. I did very successful story times for 50-250 people for several years in the US, and if you’d like a more detailed idea of what to do if you’re looking at crowds like that, don’t hesitate to contact me.
9. Never be afraid to just stop if something isn’t working.