Review: Do NOT Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Andy Elkerton

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A dragon is sometimes a very rude beast. At story time he’ll take up ten spaces, at least!

 

 

 

 

What happens: There are some rules that you need to remember if you plan to visit the library. You’ll need to respect the books, be ready to have some fun in storytime, and use your library card to check out your items. Most importantly, though, you must never, ever, no matter WHAT, bring your dragon to the library. You see, dragons are too big, too loud, and entirely too fiery to come to the library. But, there is a way to bring all of the magic of the library to your dragon waiting patiently at home…with your library card!

The good: I’m a sucker for a good library themed book. This is the second one this year that I’ve enjoyed (the other is The Not So Quiet Library). If you knew me on a personal level, you’d also know that putting a dragon into a book is a sure fire way to get me read it. So, I had high hopes for this one. And it paid off! The prose flows nicely and the use of end rhyme is nice if a bit sing-song.

The full page illustrations, though, are the highlight of this picture book. The best way that I can describe them is expressive. They portray the story well enough that you don’t need the words to tell the story. The best part of the illustrations, though, are the diversity that they highlight. We have BROWN PEOPLE! YES! We also have a disabled child and the person of authority in the book (the librarian) is a female POC.  Here’s a massive thank you to Andy Elkerton (the illustrator) and the folks over at Capstone Young Readers for publishing this book.

Obviously, I’m also happy that the book addressed all of the cool stuff that you can do at the library and the fun that you can have at home by using your library card.

Did I mention there are dragons in here….?

The not so good: Nada.

Rating: 5/5 stars!

Review: Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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What happens: Amina is new to middle school and is busy wading her way through the problems that plague this stage in life: making new friends, working on group projects, dealing with budding romantic relationships, juggling family dynamics, and figuring out where she fits in her family, school, and larger community.

Amina hoped that the only worry she’d have in middle school would be getting the guts to sing a solo at her school concert. But things haven’t gone according to plan. Her best friend is making friends with a girl who used to make fun of them, her brother is acting weird (he’s a teenager), and her uncle is coming to visit from Pakistan. As Amina forges her way ahead, she has to deal with issues of culture, faith, and prejudice.

The good: Everything in this book is so genuine. Not all middle graders in middle grade books feel quite right but Amina does. She’s sweet but she can be petty. She wants to do the right thing but she makes mistakes. Every character in this book is imagined complexly, from Amina to her conservative uncle from Pakistan. I also liked that the book struck a wonderful balance between making it clear that we’re all human and have a lot in common without veering into assimilation territory.

In the end, it’s a bit difficult to say exactly why I loved this book so much. For me, the tell tale sign that I love something is that I keep thinking about it days after I’ve put it down. This is one of those books. It’s timely, important, poignient, sweet, diverse, and heartfelt. Do not sleep on this one.

The not so good: It felt like event at the mosque came a little too late and felt rushed. I don’t believe that this book is getting a sequel (though I would love to see a YA title from Amina’s brother’s point of view) and it felt like the end of the book functioned more as a lead up to a second book than as a real ending.

Rating: 4.75/5 stars.

Just end it, already…

I have just endured the worst storytime I’ve ever been a part of. Since I’m a big believer both in learning from professional failures and from sharing semi-traumatic experiences with unknown strangers on the internet, here is my story.

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It’s preschool day here at the library. Our preschool storyime age range is 4s and 5s. Everyone else has their own, developmentally appropriate programs. We call this one Little Learners because, although everyone learns in storytime, this is more obviously trying to hit all of the educational bases to get kids ready for Kindergarten. Ordinarily, this is my favorite age group for storytime. They’re finally getting old enough to be actual people and not demon spawn hopped up on Red Bull (I’m looking at you, toddlers)!

This is my smallest storytime. Most kids of this age group are in formal preschool here because everyone has hella $$$. I do usually have a core group of about 7 kiddos who have been coming for the past year or so. Every now and then we have a few new kids mixed in but I can pretty much plan on seeing mostly the same faces every week. These little dudes know me, they know the routine, and they’re pretty willing to try new stuff.

This week, every single kid in storytime was totally new to me. All 10 of them. Not one familiar face. This was also the week in which I planned to do some experimenting with our structure by introducing more participatory games and two big books, one of which was a wordless book. Shit.

Most of these kids had never been to any storytime before, much less my storytime. On top of that, everyone was either too young (still in diapers) or too old (young school age). It irks me when people bring kids to the wrong storytime when I offer developmentally appropriate programming for all ages in multiple sessions every single week (another post, another time). I never turn kids away based on their age but things inevitably don’t go nearly as well when we’ve got a bad mash up.

We got through our first book okay. One of the kids was frustrated that I was reading somewhat slowly (in order to read clearly) and kept trying to read ahead of me in a super loud voice. I stopped several times to ask him to whisper the word to himself if he wanted to read aloud with me but to no avail. His caregiver tried to help out but he just wasn’t down for cooperating.

Since the kids were mostly new to storytime, they were quite reluctant to participate in the activities so it was mostly me, going through the motions as enthusiastically as possible. As anyone who has ever done a storytime can tell you, the energy in the room impacts performance. As much as I try to keep things upbeat, pulling teeth for 30 minutes to kids who have zero interest in being there quickly grows frustrating.

By the time we got to our second book, things were not going well at all. I figured I’d at least try to get through some of the book and see what happened. It was Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert. We got through letter A-C before a kid came up and yanked the book out of my hand, ripping the page out as he went. Oooookay then.

I stopped right then and there and quickly transitioned into our goodbye song. We skipped the customary free play session after the program and I sent them on their way.

I genuinely hope that these kids come back to another storytime session and get the full, good experience. I certainly need a do-over.

On My Radar: Late Summer & Fall 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these On My Radar posts. If you don’t know what they are, these are basically my version of a TBR post. There’s no guarantee that I’ll ever get to any of these books, but they’re the ones that I am currently looking forward to and hope to read before 2018 is upon us. Here we go!

Picture Books

A Stick Until… by Constance Anderson

And the Robot Went… by Michelle Robinson

Grumbles from the Town: Mother-Goose Voices with a Twist by Jane Yolen

Henny, Penny, Lenny, Denny, and Mike by Cynthia Rylant

LMNO Pea-quel by Keith Baker

Do NOT Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman

Giraffes Ruin Everything by Heidi Schulz

One Lonely Fish by Andy Mansfield

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

Share, Big Bear, Share! by Maureen Wright

Little Elliot, Fall Friends by Mike Curato

Milo’s Museum by Zetta Elliott

Elementary & Middle Grade

This is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

Brambleheart by Henry Cole

Katana at Super Hero High (DC Super Hero Girls)

Young Adult

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin

Bad Romance by Heather Demitrios

Lucky in Love by Kasie West

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Adult

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: a Memoir by Sherman Alexie

 

TLDR; Underutilization

I have officially made it to the halfway point of Summer Reading. It’s been a lot of hard work, problem solving, book recommending, OverDrive helping, and YAS QUEEN-ing myself at the end of some interesting days.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been having what I’ve been thinking of as my second quarter life crisis. I’m a millennial, I’m entitled to having more than one quarter life crisis, mmmkay? I had the first one when I graduated from undergrad and realized the only place that was going to hire me was Walgreens. Basically, I found out really fast that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, was even LESS personable than I thought I was, and much, much less employable than the girl who spent four years in a trade straight out of high school while I wrote mediocre poems in the Berkshires to the tune of $24,000 in debt.

I made the mistake that lots of Americans make. I derived pretty much all of my self worth from what I was ~doing~ rather than the kind of person I was. No longer a high achieving undergrad, I become a cog in a wheel. And I was miserable. So, I did what many people do: I went to grad school.

Now, I was lucky in the sense that I actually sat down and thought about a way to combine both my interests and my skills in a way that was going to keep the lights turned on. Did I envy my friends who went on to PhD literature programs at ivy league schools? You fucking bet I did. I still do. But I went to library school because I loved books, kids, and helping people and I knew I’d have better luck finding work in a library than finding a tenure track professor position. I’ve been poor my entire life. I wanted more for myself and my family. So, I made the choice. And for three years, I didn’t look back. Until now.

I’ve talked a lot about how my first job sucked horribly. I was in survival mode that entire first year of professional librarianship. There was no time to even look around and consider that there might be something more out there for me that wasn’t public librarianship. Then, I landed this job. With these amazing co-workers in this beautiful area. And I learned a shitload in the first year. I got to do things that I didn’t even know I wanted to do and now love. I ran some great programs. I also failed a fair bit. It’s all trial and error.

Things have become quite easy of late. Maybe that’s something that I’m supposed to aspire to but I’m not a big fan of sitting around and staring at the walls. I like to work. I like to try new things and do old things with a new approach. I like to make big goals and do everything I can to meet them. I know what you’re thinking and, yes, I am a Capricorn.

Unfortunately, the more I look around the more I see people who just want to fulfill the status quo. Have the same storytimes for the same age group month after month, year after year. Invite outside programmers to do all of your summer reading programs. Toss in a craft and be done with it. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is year 3 of my career and I can’t imagine working within that mindset for another 30 years or so.

I guess I’ve been feeling underutilized lately and I’ve been considering what I should do to remedy that. People always say that they want to be liked. I’ve never particularly wanted to be liked. I’ve wanted to be useful. I’ve been thinking of ways to maximize my own utility. Am I doing myself and everyone else a disservice by sitting in this small community library? Should I go back to school? For what? When? Where? How will I translate my current skillset into a new career? Do I even want a new career? What about my husband’s career goals? Do I really want to sacrifice creature comforts for the greater good? How far can I push myself in pursuit of this ideal before something has to give?

There are a lot of questions there. I haven’t answered many of them. I suspect that I probably never will. For now, I’m setting new goals for myself and working toward them with vigor until they’re complete. Once that’s over, I’ll find some new goals. If there aren’t any new goals to be had or I start running into a lot of resistance, I’ll look for a new opportunity.

Hopefully I’ll know when it’s time to move on.

Review: A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human by Kay Frydenborg

51dhyckpavl-_sx331_bo1204203200_The direction in which we look tells those who can read this signal something about our intentions. And here’s where dogs come in: it turns out that dogs can follow the human gaze, too, and they’re very good at it…Tellingly, dogs also understand our gaze far better than our closest relative in the animal kingdom, the chimpanzee. So why did modern humans evolve the white sclera, and when did it first develop? We don’t yet have the answer to the latter question, but dogs’ innate ability to read the human gaze suggests…something remarkable: in domesticating dogs, humans may have inadvertently evolved another feature that makes us unique among primates.

 

What happens: This is a book about the coevolution of dogs and humans. It tells the story from the very beginning of our recorded history with domesticated wolves and examines several aspects of the canine-human relationship throughout the book. Using scientific studies and scholarly opinions in genetics, biology, zoology, and anthropology, Frydenborg tells and compulsively readable and fact based tale of the interdependent relationships between humanity and our best friend.

The good: There is some real science here. Too often, books for the juvenile/ young adult set don’t get specific enough when it comes to a current scientific conversation. Frydenborg avoids the vagueness and conjecture that you might see in other texts for these age groups. She relies on classic research by people like Darwin while situating herself in the current scholarly conversation with new research and the opinions of current experts in the field.

The book flows nicely and doesn’t read like an article in a journal. This is readable, so much so that I intended to skim this puppy (ha) but ended up reading the whole thing. The chapters are nicely separated and the narrative moves from one point to another without feeling disjointed.

The not so good: I wish there had been just a bit more counter evidence presented here. A lot of what the author was propping up is pretty contentious. Where a hypothesis wasn’t proven, the author said so. That said, I wish there could have been, like, an end chapter talking about the different theories for some of her points–not to bog down the narrative but to let the readers know that there’s a wealth of information out there on this topic if they’re interested in exploring further.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Review: Mrs. Patty is Batty by Dan Gutman

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Teachers are always telling us to stay “on task.” That means we have to talk about boring stuff instead of interesting stuff, like candy bars.

 

 

 

 

 

What happens: It’s Halloween at Ella Mentry School! That means the weirdness is about to get even weirder than normal. Mrs. Patty, the school’s Halloween enthusiast, is giving away candy at her house. The weird part? You have to face somet spooky tricks to get your treat.

The good: This is my first Weird School title. Yes, I know of the series. Of course I do. But I’ve never actually ready one until now. I definitely see the appeal from the child’s perspective, especially male* children. The book is funny in the crude childhood sort of way. It’s not something that I think adults will be particularly attuned to but it is something that will go over well with the kids. I think this would be a nice series for reluctant or emerging readers.

The not so good: Let’s just get this out of the way: I did not like this book. I think it has a lot of flaws and that it’s pedaling the same old bullshit to kids without providing anything original or particularly interesting. I found the not so subtle misogyny here really off-putting. Will kids notice that this book is sexist? No, and that’s the problem. Since this is the first book I’ve read from this series, I don’t know if the boys are always the main characters are not. Maybe in other installments the girls get to talk nonstop shit about the boys. But that’s not the case here.

Andrea is presented as an annoying know it all deserving of outright bullying. Emily is portrayed as the typical hysterical mess. The bitch and the crazy lady–the whole cast is here, folks. The boys hate the girls without question. There is even a scene in which the male main character disrobes Emily in public. This happens accidentally but it does happen. Jesus Christ.

If you want to give a book to kids that teaches them it’s cool to be misogynistic little bullies, then this is the title for you. If not, steer clear.

Rating: 1/5 stars. Yucky.