Review: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by the Fan Brothers

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Why do some songs make you happy and others make you sad? Do islands like being alone? And what’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

 

 

 

What happens: Marco the fox has a lot of questions. They’re not your average fox questions and he’s having trouble getting answers. When the antlered ship shows up on the shores near his home, Marco hopes this will be a way to get answers. Deer, pigeons, and Marco embark on a great adventure to a wonderful island. Those aboard soon find out that some journeys are more complicated than you expect and that the journey is, in fact, the destination.

The good: Our main character, Marco the fox, is weird and wonderful. He will appeal to any child who has ever felt a little out of step in their lives (aka, me as a child). His questions are so beautiful that Dashka could have just overlaid the illustrations with the one liners and I still would have loved the book.

Let’s talk about the illustrations–they’re gorgeous! I’m not sure if I love Marco’s questions or the illustrations more. This is one of those books that could also have been wordless and been great. It’s a one-two punch. What I especially love about the illustrations is the way in which they bring so much character and emotion to the characters. As much as I love animals, I often find it difficult to connect with complex animal characters in books (which is why I still haven’t read Redwall, in case you’re wondering). These animals, however, are so expertly drawn and expressive that it’s impossible not to get sucked in and identify with them.

The not so good: There’s nothing that I didn’t love about this book.

Rating: 5/5 stars!

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Reading Aloud to Big Babies

I had an interesting experience in June when I was doing our annual summer reading booktalk visits. When I told the kids (boys and girls alike) that I was going to spend a little bit of time reading to them, they got REALLY excited. Of course, there was the odd kid who seemed to think the whole ordeal was going to be boring. But that’s not how I tell stories so they were in for a treat.

Something interesting happened, though. Once I hit the fifth graders, the excitement started to wane. Sure, they were cool with me (because I’m nothing if not cool) but they were not really down with being read to. They endured it. They humored me. But it wasn’t like anyone was having a blasty-blast.

Sixth graders are, in my opinion, already of the middle school variety. I have no idea why they’re lumped in with elementary schoolers around here. They’re just too old at that point. The same approach doesn’t work for them. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I was going to bother reading to them at all. And then, I found Scythe.

I knew as soon as I opened that sucker up that kids would be down for that book. It’s creepy, eerie, and it sucks you in with the first chapter. Boom! When I said that the kids were about to be read to, they all did the obligatory roll of the eyes. By the time I was done reading my little segment, they were staring at me open mouthed, waiting for more.

I couldn’t go more than a few days without a kid coming in to ask if we had the book in. Of course, it was almost always gone. I ordered 10 copies to keep at the branch during the summer and I only saw it on the shelf a couple of times.

I wish we didn’t stop reading to kids when they got older. I wish we had the time, energy, and dedication to work hard finding books that the kids want to hear and not just reading books that they “need” to know about. The busier kids get, the less time they have to do anything for fun, much less read. Seeing the spark in those should-be-middle schoolers’ eyes made it very clear to me that kids both want and need us to take time to tell them stories. We should care enough about them to do so.

 

Toddler Time #1: Lots of Laughter

This post is numbered because I don’t generally theme my storytime programs. Numbering the posts makes it easier for me to blog about them. I’m starting from #1 simply because I haven’t blogged consistently about storytime programs…until now!

I love toddlers. Toddler Time is so unique and fun. I look forward to doing it every week. This week was mostly attended by new families. It’s always interesting when that happens because you never quite know how the group dynamic is going to play out. Lots of kids new to storytime could mean we end up having a very reluctant, shy group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but my Toddler Time program is super high energy and that quickly dissolves into pulling teeth if the kids are more content sitting on someone’s lap than having a dance party with a strange lady.

Lucky for me, this particular group was ready to rock! At one point, we were laughing so hard that we had to pause during 5 Little Popcorn Kernels to catch our breath. Man, I’m lucky I get paid to do stuff like this!

Here’s my program outline, for those interested:

Opener: Hello Friends sign song

Movement: Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

Book: What is Chasing Duck by Jan Thomas

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Action Song: 5 Little Popcorn Kernels

Fingerplay: 5 Fat Peas

Book: Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

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Movement: My Left Foot Has the Wiggles

Closer: Goodbye Friends sign song

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