Review: Whoops! by Suzi Moore

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She went to look at her big spell book.

She cast a spell and the whole house shook.

The wind blew in,

and the rain came down.

Then the tumbledown house turned around and around.




What happens: Cat, dog, and mouse have quite a problem–none of them can make the right sound! Cat can’t meow, dog can’t bark, and mouse can’t squeak. But don’t worry. Owl knows just what to do. He send the trio to a little old lady with a spellbook who is sure to make things right. Except that this particular old lady isn’t very good at choosing the correct spell. What ever could go wrong?

The good: This is a funny, interactive book for toddlers and up. Filled with repeated phrases and tons of animal sounds, it lends itself to a hilarious reading done by anyone willing to give it a shot. If you’re new to children’s librarianship or reading aloud to children, I’d pick this one up and give it a go. It’s sure to boost your skills and confidence. In addition to having a fun, simple story, each page features minimal illustrations with bright, high contrast background which make it easy for children to see clearly what is happening on each page.

The not so good: I expect the majority of people aren’t going to have a problem with this, but this book does feature a character who is a witch, though she is not referred to as such, who does magic out of a spellbook. Know your community before you read this one.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

Citation: Moore, Suzi. Whoops! Illustrated by Russell Ayto, Templar Books, 2015.

Broken Preschoolers

Preschool is my least well attended program, largely due to the fact that our community is extremely affluent and the majority of preschool age children here attend a formal program. On any given week, I have anywhere between 2 and 10 children. This week, one of my regulars, who is usually super ready to participate, well…wasn’t. When her mom asked her if she was going to join in during our opening song, she said, “No, mom, I’m broken.” And so it goes.

Kids feed off the energy of the other kids in their group as well as their parent’s. That’s why caregiver enthusiasm can make or break a program and it’s also why having smaller storytime numbers can contribute to kids clamming up and refusing to participate. This can happen to ALL kids, even those that we see on a regular basis.

Sustaining the right amount of energy during a smaller storytime is a one of the biggest challenges that I face on a regular basis. Too much energy and the kiddos break away from the tiny hive mind and start running all over the place. Too little energy and a 30 minute storytime winds up feeling like an hour of pulling teeth. Here are some things that work for me in striking the balance so that I can have a successful program.

  1. Get to know the kids by name. You should try to do this with storytime regulars no matter what, but it becomes particularly useful when there is a smaller group than is desirable because it allows you to ask questions and engages kids one on one. They’re much more likely to open up to you if they know your name and you know theirs. Kids don’t enjoy being called “hey, you” any more than we do.
  2. Be as energetic with 5 kids as you would with 50. Enthusiasm is catching. So is the opposite. It’s extremely tempting to dial things down when you’re not trying to hold the attention of a massive group. While there is something to be said for a more informal, one on one experience in storytime when the situation allows, it’s not my preferred tactic. While storytime isn’t a performance, I think the librarian or staff member has a certain responsibility to provide top notch programming and, in storytime, that usually includes getting as crazy excited about books, singing, and movement as you possibly can. This also sets a precedent for caregivers. We can’t expect them to show up and stay engaged if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves.
  3. Watch your pace. Don’t feel like you need to rush through the program just because the room isn’t filled to capacity. Try to resist the urge to do that. Take the time to tell a great story. Have conversations about the book that are harder to do when you’re dealing with a lot of kids shouting over each other. Repeat movement activities and songs just like you normally would even if the kids have the damn thing down the first time.
  4. Go with the flow and keep the flow going. This is the golden rule of any program. Sluggish caregivers? Keep going. Reluctant kids? Keep going. Smile. Laugh. Be silly. Trust your professional judgment and change gears when you need to. Shorten a story or expand on it as needed. Give good tips to caregivers even when it seems like they’re dragging their feet. They’ll thank you later. I promise.

2016 Year in Review: Work

2016 was an eventful year for me professionally. I left my first library job because the system that I worked for was, to put it mildly, fucking dysfunctional and the city where I was living is a complete shithole. I started 2016 as a Teen Services Librarian living in Texas and I’m ending it as a Youth Services Manager living in Northern Virginia. It is a massively positive change.

My second librarian gig has been everything that I hoped being a librarian would be. I get to work with a variety of ages, doing a lot of different programming, and I pretty much get to drive the bus however I want (within reason). Management is supportive and open to new things. Unlike my previous employers, they have some modicum of understanding regarding quality library services. They’re good at their jobs and it makes it a hell of a lot easier to be good at mine.

I’ve done so many new things since I started this position that I never would have been able to do had I stuck around Houston. Among them are:

  • Doing school visits for SRP
  • Doing weekly storytime programs
  • Hosting programs by outside performers and groups
  • Managing youth volunteers
  • Doing book displays (that people actually look at)
  • Doing readers’ advisory
  • Answering actual reference questions
  • Organizing an author visit
  • Hosting a book club
  • Working with local preschools for outreach events
  • Having lots of new programs (All Hallows Read Party, Family Dance Party, Crafternoon, Noon Years Eve, American Indian Culture Day, Origami, Playdate Café, Legos, and more!)

I also have a desk! And co-workers who consistently act like actual adult human beings! While we have our eccentric patrons, I haven’t had my life threatened over a fine or the cost to print something in nearly the year. That’s a good feeling. I’m actually looking forward to next year and I have no desire to start looking for a new place to work anytime in the next year. I still have a lot to learn and I hope to have a lot of fun doing it.

There will be a post coming in the new year about my work resolutions and goals for 2017. Stay tuned for that!

2016 Year in Review: Books

The most overrated book I read this year: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard. This was my most anticipated read for 2016. I got an ARC from our juvenile selector and was so excited that I could barely stand myself. I figured I’d go home, plop down, and happily read until I’d finished what was supposed to be an awesome YA fantasy novel. Instead, it took me a long, painful week or so to finish this sucker. If you’re looking for a fantasy with annoying characters, unbelievable romance, and zero (and I do mean zero) world building, then this is a book you’d probably love. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in reading something with an interesting magic system and strong female characters, I’d skip straight to Mistborn instead.

Most enjoyable: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. This was just such a fun read for me. It was a while since I’d read a well constructed, well paced, original fantasy novel. I definitely plan to continue the series in 2017.

Most disappointing: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. The Raven Cycle is one of my all time favorite series. I love the world, the characters, the mythology, the writing style–everything. Books 1-3 are perfection. I expected book 4, the concluding novel, to deliver. There was nothing in the previous 3 books that suggested this wouldn’t be an epic ending to an amazing series. Unfortunately, a lot of the book fell flat for me and I feel like Stiefvater took the easy way out at several key points in the story. I feel like this book doesn’t even belong in the series. I’m still going to read the yet to be release tribology Stiefvater is writing from Ronan’s perspective (because, obviously) but I’ll probably never get over how disappointing this book was.

Most surprising: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. The first book was okay. It was fine. It was good enough to get me to pick up the second book. And man, am I glad that I did. There was so much intricate world building and the character development was insane. The romance was believable and I am obsessed with Rhysand as a character. I’m pumped for the third installment of this series (A Court of Wings and Ruin) that’s set to publish in spring of next year. I don’t have my hopes up too super high because I’ve been let down by Maas before, but this second installment is so good that I feel it can stand by itself.

Laziest: Still Life by Louise Penny. I think I discovered that I’m just not into cozy mysteries. I like a little more grit with my murder, thank you very much. While I liked the setting and some of the characters, things just plodded along a little too nicely for me. I kept waiting for something, anything, interesting to happen and it never did. It feels like every other not-too-dark mystery in the world and I’ll be passing on the rest of the series.

Most enlightening: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book was a totally new perspective for me. It’s well written, engrossing, and the writing is beautiful. I’d recommend this to just about anyone.

Saddest: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Ah, Chris Cleave. This man broke my hear with Little Bee and he’s done it again with this novel. I think this one hit me particularly hard due to the circumstances of dumpster fire that has been 2016. I realize we aren’t in a world war by any means but it sure does feel like one bad thing after another keeps slamming into us just like it does in this novel. In the end, the characters find some solace but they don’t find any kind of redemption. Perhaps we will all be as lucky. Perhaps not.

Most hopeful: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. I’ve been a military spouse for four years now. My husband and I were once a very young, unmarried couple going through some of the same issues in this book. I also grew up poor and with parents who sometimes had a hard time keeping their shit together and had several bouts of addiction and mental health issues. Basically, this book resonated with me on a lot of levels. I found the story unflinchingly honest but also trending upward with hope for the future. Does anyone know if this is getting a sequel? I need a second book!

Most useful: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. In college, I worked with several nonprofits that either directly or indirectly served the homeless population. As a public librarian, I’ve certainly worked with a lot of people facing housing insecurity. Even so, I was unaware of a lot of the cyclical factors that effect poverty and homelessness. This is a great book that’s well researched and well written. I think everyone who works with the general public, many of whom will face homelessness at some point in their lives, should read this and think about how we can apply its lessons to our work in public service.

Most ominous: The Outpost by Jake Tapper. I’m currently reading this but I think I’ll have it finished by the end of the year. It’s a more in depth investigation of the events leading up to the events in Red Platoon. I am amazed at Tapper’s journalistic skill and attention to detail. There is so much information, so many detailed and nuanced stories to tell and Tapper does so in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating. It feels like reading a novel that you know has a really bad ending. Except this is real. The people who die are really dead. The bad choices made have real consequences for soldiers and their families. As someone who is very close to the military, I can say that some of the attitudes that led up to the deaths of so many soldiers aren’t going to be changing anytime soon. If there’s any hope in this account, I haven’t found it yet.

Most irritating: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. God, I have never, and I mean NEVER read a main character that was so insufferable. This book was hard for me to get through. I can see the appeal that it has for kids (especially the insufferable ones among them) but it’s a nightmare to read as an adult.

Smartest: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. I don’t mean smartest in the academic sense here, obviously. What I mean is that this book, and in fact the whole duology, was incredibly plotted and (mostly) well paced. I thought the first half of this installment was quite slow but that all of the loose ends were wrapped up nicely, with just the right amount of tension maintained throughout the series to keep things interesting.

The book I’d most want President-elect Trump to read: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. I’m very confident that Trump has absolutely no idea how the characters in this book perceive the world. It’s a hefty dose of reality that I think he desperately needs to choke down before taking office. Of course, he doesn’t read so this will never happen. One can hope.

And the best book I read this year: It’s a three way tie, folks! We have All American Boys, A Court of Mist and Fury, and Red Platoon coming in first place. I loved all of these books for different reasons. All American Boys is an honest, unflinching look at race relations in America. A Court of Mist and Fury is an impeccably plotted fantasy novel with stellar world building and character development the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in recent publications. Red Platoon is a sobering, utterly human meditation on war and what is costs us, not only those of us involved in the military but our society as a whole.

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Review: Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha

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I’ve read a lot of war novels this year. And by “a lot” I mean three. I read two in 2015. And zero before that. This is particularly interesting to me because I spent 2013-2015 as the wife of an active duty infantryman. That soldier, my husband, has since gone on to change his MOS and transitioned from active duty to reserves. It’s not impossible that we will be back into the active duty fray sometime in the near future. You kind of never know what life is going to throw at you.

So, I have a certain personal, visceral reaction to books such as Romesha’s that plop me right into my husband’s shoes. It’s not a perspective that I want. I don’t want to think about how he earned his CIB. (That’s Combat Infantryman Badge for those not well versed in endless military acronyms). And yet.

I picked up this book having pretty much no idea what it was about. Before reading it, I spent a good deal of time jumping on the bandwagon of the beloved infantry pastime of making fun of Cav Scouts. I’d never heard of Romesha, Keating, or even Nuristan, though my husband spent a decent amount of time near there when he was deployed. I asked him if he had ever heard of these places and he, too, was ignorant of them. It seems as though the Army isn’t too keen on discussing how it screwed over its own soldiers.

This book is hard to distill for me. I can’t write you a paragraph synopsis because so much happens in terms of plot and nuanced character development that it’s impossible to summarize. You need to experience the book for yourself.

Romesha’s writing is authentic while not getting bogged down in terminology and military slang terms. Even those not super familiar with Army culture will likely find this account accessible. You may feel daunted by all of the different names for the weapon systems at first, but push through. Being able to picture exactly which system is being used is less important than the feel of the battle and the character sketches that Romesha draws for us. Although, if you’d like to look up what some of the weapons look like, I’ve been assured by my husband that the Dragunov is a “sexy weapon.”

To borrow a phrase from the book, it doesn’t get better–you’re not going to find a more relevant, more well written account of the trials and triumphs that the US military encounter in our current combat engagement. It truly doesn’t get better than Red Platoon. Don’t pass on this one.

For further reading:

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The Outpost by Jake Tapper

Redeployment by Phil Klay

I’d Walk with My Friends if I Could Find Them by Kesse Goolsby

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Storytime Update

I’ve been doing a ton of storytime work since I started at my new library back at the end of April. The previous Youth Services Manager only had 3 storytimes a month: one for babies, one for preschool, and one for families/all ages. Since it was a couple of months before I could make any changes to programming, I worked that schedule for a while. I quickly found that only having three storytime programs a month and outsourcing all of your other programs to outside performers wasn’t for me. It takes me about an hour to plan a solid storytime that I’m happy with. That’s three hours of work per month. I found myself bored and having to manufacture things to do so that I wasn’t sitting at my desk and staring at the walls all of the time.

One of the reasons that I didn’t stay in technical operations was because I need to be busy at work and I need some kind of human interaction to keep things interesting. Me and a computer screen for nine hours a day, day in and day out just does not do it for me. I am a hardcore introvert who generally prefers to be alone but spending too much time just interacting with technology leaves me exhausted and looking for some kind of real connection at the end of the day.

I asked the community if they wanted more storytimes. They said yes. So, I changed the schedule. Instead of having monthly programs, we would be having weekly programs: babies on Monday, preschoolers on Tuesday, and toddlers on Wednesday. We’ve had that schedule for a couple of months now and things are going well. I’m getting to know regular parents, meeting new little ones every week, and keeping my skills sharp while staying busy (but not swamped) at work.

Now that I feel like I’ve got my in-house programming for the under 5 set squared away, I’m starting to expand into outreach storytimes. I work in a very wealthy community in which pretty much everyone can afford to send their children to preschool once they come of age. There are several preschools and daycare centers in our tiny town. I’ve reached out to all of them to see if they were interested in having me drop by to offer storytimes. I contacted 4 centers and 3 are already on board! I’m excited to start offering regular offsite storytimes in January!

It amazes me that some of these daycares have never (and I mean NEVER) been contacted by anyone from the library to come and do storytimes on site. Everyone seems kind of blown away that I’m the only Youth person on staff at my branch and I manage to get all of this stuff done. Really, I feel like I could be doing much more! 2017 is going to be the year of foraying into school age, tween, and teen services like they’ve never done here before, which is going to be a much greater challenge than simply offering storytime on a daily basis.

Wish me luck.