Monday, July 29, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares For Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies

Oh, I love Scaredy Squirrel :-D  Not as much as my co-worker, but I have been known to sit my husband down for an evening of cautionary squirrel tales.  We've had those storytimes with Walter The Farting Dog, too.  Guess which one he liked more. 

Anyway, the Scaredy Squirrel series by Mélanie Watt is great.  So far in this series, Scaredy Squirrel has overcome leaving his home, going to the beach, having a birthday party, and making new friends.  Now, it looks like it's time for some October 31st celebrations!

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for Halloween: A Safety Guide for Scaredies is an 8-chapter guide on, well, preparing for Halloween.  It's less of a story and more of a how-to, but is still hilarious.  Kind of a kids' version of Amy Sedaris' I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence.

It starts with a warning to avoid reading the guide during the full moon, and includes a quiz on how "scaredy" you are of Halloween.  There's a Jack-o-Lantern guide (only friendly!), and a black & orange decoration guide (black forest cakes, and orange flotation vests for example).  There's also a costume guide with  a Scare-o-meter, for your convenience.  Scaredy has a handy approach to candy inspection, and lets you know why the apple is a particularly scary fruit.

Honestly, I think this would be great for an actual kids' party, on top of being just a fun read.

If you haven't read this series, probably best not to start with this one; but don't let that deter you from reading it.  And remember, if all else dead!

Scaredy Squirrel is published by Kids Can Press.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 08.01.2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Hypnotize Me (The Hypnotists #1)

Librarian Fail. I never read a Gordon Korman book.  I recommend the heck out of him to boys looking for something that will interest them...but have never, ever looked at anything more than the spine (okay, maybe the cover) of a Korman book.  However, when Scholastic sent me an ARC for the first in a new series called The Hypnotists, I figured I should give it a shot...and I'm so very glad I did.

Jackson Opus is twelve years old, and has always been persuasive.  He won the student council election without even running, he got the other team's star basketball player to shoot like a toddler, and can get any bus to stop for him.  What he doesn't realize is, he's descended from a long line of very talented hypnotists.  When he's accepted into the esteemed Sentia institute, he's very excited- and his parents are very proud. Soon he's learning to bend minds, and his best friend Tommy thinks it's the coolest thing ever! However, things are darker and deeper than they seem, and soon Jax is in over his head. Will Jax be able to control his powers, or will Sentia control him?

This is a great read, especially for middle-grade boys.  I'd say probably 3rd-7th.  The dialogue is funny, and there's just enough challenging vocabulary to make it educational, too.  The characters are well-written, and not just one-dimensional.  There are some great moments of hypnotism gone awry- one of my favorites occurs in the school cafeteria, and also some heart-stopping action-y moments.  

I'm always on the lookout for books to sell to boys.  It's not that I'm not on the lookout for books to sell to girls, too, but, truthfully, girls are an easier sell.  Girls don't care, usually, about the gender of the protagonist, etc.  I think boys definitely love stories about guys their own age being chosen to do extraordinary things (like Horowitz's Alex Rider series, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, even the 39 Clues series...which also has books written by Korman!)  

Full of action and adventure, fantasy, and humor, this book gets two thumbs up from me!  There's even some political intrigue thrown in for good measure!

Hypnotize Me (The Hypnotists #1) is published by Scholastic.  ARC provided by publisher.
Release Date: 08.2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This Is How I Find Her

A very good book on a topic that needs to be discussed more openly-

This Is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky is a YA novel about a Sophie, whose mother suffers from bipolar disorder and has just tried to kill herself.  Sophie is the one who finds her.  She's spent her life caring for her mother, and keeping the situation secret from everyone.  After her mother's incident, she stays with her aunt, uncle and cousin while waiting for her mom to be released from the hospital.  She hasn't had anything to do with these family members in five years.  Now, with nowhere else to turn, Sophie learns more about her mother, and how to build her own life.

This was gutwrenching- having  had two friends go through with suicide while being in mixed state, it threw me back.  Somewhere I didn't particularly want to revisit.  This Is How I Find Her deals with mental illness in a way that is real, but also accessible to teens.  It is a very hard topic, but this novel conveys the issue from very many angles.  From dealing with mental illness and crappy insurance, to the side effects of a drug that's supposed to help, to how the illness affects those around you. There's learning to let others in, as well as becoming the person you're meant to be.  Being broken, and the process of hope and healing.

I would recommend this to anyone interested in or affected by mental illness, as well as anyone interested in heavy YA fiction.  There's also some good stuff regarding art, architecture, and photography.

This Is How I Find Her is published by Albert Whitman & Company.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 09.01.2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself

You know that proverbial handbook you think every child should get on his/her 13th birthday?  This would be it.

Break These Rules is a collection of essays from authors like Sara Zarr, Gary D. Schmidt and Jennifer Nielsen (who is Skyping with my awesome library teens at the end of August!)  These essays are written to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers on how to approach the "rules" of adolescence. 

This collection is fantastic, encouraging teens to be themselves.  Reminding them they don't have to choose between being a nerd or a jock, that quitting can sometimes be the right choice, and not to fixate on being someone else's (unrealistic) ideal.  There are essays on religion, travel, and figuring out what will work best for you after high school.

Wendy Mass's essay on Daydreaming was (my Mom likes to reference my being in Sarahland...I think it's a pretty fun place, I won't deny liking to go to there).  As a teen, I liked what I liked- even if it wasn't popular- but could've used the reaffirmation of this collection: that it's okay to be yourself.  As my friend once put it- "You're very 'This is what I like! And I hope that's okay with you...' when you should be 'Yeah, this is what I like! and if you don't like it, screw you!"  Sara Zarr's and Gary D. Schmidt's essays on religion hit home a bit, too.  I think anyone reading will relate to the situations and emotions put forth by these authors.

A heartfelt and funny anthology, Break These Rules is a must-read for teens, those who were once teens, and especially- those who were once teens who are currently working with teens...and tweens...and 20-somethings.  I dare you to read it and not feel empowered to go forth and do great things.

Break These Rules is published by Chicago Review Press. Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 09.01.2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

Star Wars: Jedi Academy

Star Wars: Jedi Academy was so fun!  I ran into a couple at ALA who had gotten a copy, and gotten it signed/illustrated by Jeffrey Brown.  They were so geeked out about meeting him, I HAD to look into it more.

Told from the perspective of artistic young Roan, we see the galactic universe through the eyes of a middle-school boy from Tatooine.  Roan wants to get into Pilot Academy, like his Dad and older brother Davin.  However, he is rejected.  Resigned to attending the local Agricultural School, he is surprised to get an acceptance letter from Master Yoda to...Jedi Academy!  Through entries in Roan's journal, and graphic panels, we see Padawan Roan hone his skills in light-sabering and using The Force (as well as dealing with bullies, his first crush, and trying to understand Master Yoda!)

I love how Brown used so many mediums to tell this story.  There are the journal entries, and the panels...but there are also bits from the student newspaper, Jedi Academy FAQs, yearbook-esque staff pictures, report cards, sign-up's like a journal-scrapbook (instructions on how to make your own at the end!)  It was kind of like...Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, but still its very own thing.

And it's funny!  There are so many little quips, and especially drawings that made me snicker.  There was something about algebra being used in real life (I hate math, so I liked that one).  And the light saber teacher is also the Home Ec teacher. There are lots of Ewoks...and pictures of Endor.  I have a bit of an Ewok obsession, so that made me happy.  And the Librarian is Librarian Lackbar (sadly, no "It's a TRAP!" exclamations, though).

I can already think of about 20 middle-grade boys I'll be recommending this to- as well as a few adults. Brown has two other graphic novels out, too, that I need to check out now: Darth Vader and Son, and Vader's Little Princess.

Also, I dare you to read it without getting this stuck in your head:

I'd recommend this to middle-grade (and younger...and up) guys, fans of Star Wars, and those who'd like to learn a bit about Star Wars' more obscure characters.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy is published by Scholastic.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 08.27.13

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Love in the Time of Global Warming

I remember my first encounter with Francesca Lia Block.  I was in 4th grade, and was wandering around the Calais Free Library in Calais, Maine.  I saw a short, pink book, and the title was so fun to say: Weetzie Bat.  Unfortunately (or, I guess maybe fortunately), my parents were still monitoring my reading materials at that point (not as much two years later when I picked up Insomnia), and I wasn't allowed to check it out because of language.

Well, I did indeed end up checking it out at a later time, along with the rest of the Dangerous Angels, and then found one of my favorites of Block's: Girl Goddess #9.  I don't know why that book is so comforting to me, but at least once a year I check it out from the library, and sink into it like a familiar hug.  I should probably just buy it :-)  Actually, I can't seem to read any of her books just once- I've returned to them all at one point or another.

Ms. Block was at ALA this year, and I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this novel. I also got to meet her, and have her sign it.

Love in the Time of Global Warming is a story about Penelope.  After a major earthquake, she is on an Odyssey-like quest to search for her family.  Like Odysseus, she must make a journey. Faced with monsters and madmen, banding together with an unlikely group, she recognizes her own strengths and holds on to hope.

This story is told with Block's distinct, magical, almost-dreamlike style.  I feel like I'm watching a live painting when I read her (does that make any sense?  Each sentence is like a written brushstroke).  Dark and ethereal, Pen's journey is absolutely captivating.  She and her three companions encounter giants and other obstacles, and we are swept away into their experiences.

I particularly loved all the mythological references, and Pen's guide to this new world being a copy of Homer's The Odyssey.  I had fun making the connections to the epic tale- I did the same thing with O Brother, Where Art Thou?

So, I really liked this book.  Beautiful, sensual and haunting, and like her other books- one I will keep returning to.

I would recommend this to those who like or are interested in Block's other books, mythology, LGBTQ protagonists, and post-apocalyptic stories. 

Love in the Time of Global Warming is published by Henry Holt & Co (a divsion of Macmillan).  ARC copy graciously provided by Macmillan.
Release Date: 08.27.13

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Taste Test

What happens when Iron Chef, Master Chef & Top Chef meet Drop Dead Gorgeous?

You get Taste Test by Kelly Fiore!

Nora Henderson's a small-town girl from North Carolina, who's grown up in her Dad's barbecue restaurant.  When the opportunity to compete for $50,000 and a culinary trip to Paris arises, she has to take it!  She leaves her Dad and best friend Billy, hops a plane to Connecticut, and is thrust into the world of Reality TV cooking shows.  Personalities clash, judges are acting shady, and there are many too random accidents on the set.  Will Nora figure out what's going on, while still putting forth her best dishes?

I enjoyed Taste Test!  As I said in one of my earlier posts, I'm kind of addicted to cooking competition shows (tonight, even, I caught up on all my Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen episode backlog).  -And I just love experimenting in the kitchen.  

The book starts with an explanation on regional dialects, and how barbecue has its own regional dialects (St. Louis, Kansas City, Texas, etc).  My sister, like Nora, lives in North Carolina- and that barbecue is hands down the best I've ever had.  There's a lot of food explanations included in the novel, so you're learning a lot while reading it, too.

To me, it kind of read like a manga (without, you know, the pictures).  You have the jerky boy wonder, the feisty girl, the snotty princess, almost an entire book's worth of chemistry build up (like "Oh! OH! Here it comes! HERE IT-! Oh....crapdammit, c'mon!")  There's a love triangle thrown in, too.  With the love, drama and food aspects, it reminded me a lot of Kitchen Princess.  Which made me like it even more.

Then!  To add to its awesomeness- RECIPES AT THE END!!!  So, there's that.  All in all, it's a really fun, entertaining read.  

I would recommend Taste Test to anyone who likes teen dramas, reality TV, cooking shows and mysteries.

Taste Test is published by Bloomsbury USA Children's Books.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 08.09.13

Friday, July 5, 2013

Living with Jackie Chan

"A true Karate Man is one with a god-like capacity to think and feel for others; irrespective of their rank or position. One who possesses ideals so lofty, a mind so delicate, as to lift him above all things base and ignoble, yet one who strengthens his hands to lift those who have fallen, no matter how low. The ultimate aim of Karate, therefore, lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." 

-Master Gichin Funakoshi 1868-1957

Confession: I love Jackie Chan movies.  I blame my parents.  So, when I saw the book Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles, I had to see what it was about.

It's Josh's senior year.  After fathering a baby during a one-night stand, he moves four hours away. Staying with his eccentric, karate-loving Uncle Larry (who calls him Samurai Sam), Josh tries to deal with his guilt.  However, there's a baby in the upstairs apartment, always reminding him of his past.  He meets Stella, and the two begin taking karate lessons with Larry.  Through these lessons, and the katas, Josh finds a community.  He and Stella share a connection, but she also has an extremely jealous boyfriend.  Through this hilarious and heartbreaking story, we see Josh's journey to becoming a "True Karate Man." 

I wasn't really sure what to expect with this book- it wasn't until I finished that I realized it's a companion to one of Knowles' other books: Jumping Off Swings (which I now have to read).  Knowing too many kids in this similar situation, I appreciated the perspective and way in which it was told.  Most books are from the girl's perspective, and the boy is  portrayed pretty negatively.  Granted, there are sometimes good reasons for that, but they seem to be  Josh is a complex, sympathetic character; a real kid. He made a mistake, and has to find a way to deal with it, heal from it- but not be totally defined by it.

Knowles wrote the characters in such a great way- we all have that one friend who's a bit too inappropriate, the odd uncle, the parents who have their own issues, the opposing lives of in-school strangers vs after-school friends...

I also loved the importance placed on finding a healthy outlet- finding a community, a good community.  Not dealing with problems with unhealthy substances. With martial arts Josh finds he isn't alone.  He moves in sync with a group, and they are all trying to be better people (True Karate Men).  I have found this with things like dance classes, or kickboxing. Everyone finishes, exhausted, but with a "Look! We did this! We finished together!"  Haha, like the song from Lion King II: "We are more than we are, we are one." (Gosh, I'm such a dork...)

I would recommend Living with Jackie Chan to anyone who enjoys kung fu and karate films, martial arts, and wants a realistic teen male narrator/protagonist.

Living with Jackie Chan is published by Candlewick Press.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Release Date: 09.10.2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ALA 2013 Chicago: Epilogue (long, but with pictures!)*

What an exhilarating, exhausting, whirlwind of a conference!!!

While I didn't force my business cards on every person I came in contact with- I traded with a few select folks.  I even attended a session on bragging/selling yourself- and couldn't even bring myself to give those in attendance the card with my blog on it.  Sarah Dawn Fail.  I used to be so good at talking to strangers.

Cliffs Notes version, with pictures:

Went to opening session. Watched our Board Member get an award. Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics) spoke. Exhibits opened- mass chaos. 

Went to a dinner at The Gage, hosted by Scholastic publishers. Networked with some other Illinois Children's Librarians. 

Got up bright and early. Saw Spotlight on Gene Yang, with Thien Pham. Got their autographs (and got my copy of Saints signed!)

Went to a session on Crossover Fiction, and got to meet Amanda Sun of INK! (review here)

Wandered the exhibits, got my copy of Stitches signed by David Small, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. And finally bought Hugo and got it signed by Brian Selznick.

Went to Fearlessly Leading session (where I failed to sell myself, as mentioned earlier). Then went to my UWM-SOIS reunion.

Woke early again, went to session on Caldecott books for storytimes; Buzz Books featuring VIZ media (they're coming out with a Hello Kitty graphic novel series!) and then met the lovely Francesca Lia Block (Girl Goddess #9 is one of those books I could re-read forever).  

More sessions, and then- oh, and then- the Newbery Caldecott Wilder Awards banquet!  Clad in a cocktail dress and grey Chucks, I walked over to the Sheraton where it was being held.  With a Calde-cocktail in hand, I accompanied my boss to the VIP reception where I got to hobnob (aka stare in awkward fangirl glory) with ALA Past Presidents, and folks like Jon Klassen (This is Not My Hat, Extra Yarn), Mac Barnett (Extra Yarn), David Small (One Cool Friend), Brian Selznick (Hugo, Wonderstruck), and Peter Brown (Creepy Carrots).  Then got to talk to Brian Selznick about my friends' son, who is a huge fan. And laughed til I cried at Jon Klassen's Caldecott acceptance speech; same for Katherine Applegate's Newbery speech (One and Only Ivan).  Then fell in love with Katherine Paterson, who received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. 

[with Brian Selznick- and his awesome outfit]

Woke early again, attended a session, got in line for a Jon Klassen signing- they had sold out of This is Not My Hat (sad buckets...). Got another book by him, and got it signed; then stood in line for Extra Yarn. Jon remembered me from the previous signing (a relief, since it was a mere 45 minutes earlier). 

[Me, Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen]

Attended a session where my friend Nick was quoted on a slide (we've known each other since the pre-librarian days- college and grad school together; realized we work a mere 20ish miles apart; didn't realize we were in the same session til the next day). Went back to hotel- had a burger and Bloody Mary and crashed for about 3 hours.

Woke early for the last time- took the shuttle to McCormick Place and captured the week in a picture. 

Attended Closing Session with ALA President and Octavia Spencer, who has a middle-grade children's book coming out!  

Took cab to train station, grabbed the essential bag of Garrett's Chicago Mix, and took train home to my husband and Boston the wonder-dog (who greeted me with a simultaneous sucker-punch to the boob and giraffe tongue lick to the face).

An amazing experience.  Though they probably don't know it, I have mentors within the library field now.  People I know I can contact for advice and such.  I have so many ideas for my library now, and am overwhelmed with excitement/terror at implementing them.  But first...sleep.  Some much needed sleep.

Have a Happy 4th of July!!!  Book reviews to resume soon!

*clearly I need formatting help