Nov 30, 2012

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, is an entertaining work of historical fiction.  It centers on the turn of the 19th century in a town near Austin, Texas.  Darwin's theory of evolution is still not accepted among the masses (just like today!), but it's the height of scientific discoveries.  This all happens while men and women are still separated into their distinct gender roles (just like today!).

Young Calpurnia doesn't want to be the typical young lady.  She's fascinated by the observations she makes about the plant and animal life that surrounds her.  Teaming up with her grandfather to discover mutations in species (or as she says moo-tations), she becomes more and more interested in pursuing a life of science, as well as more and more interested in distancing herself from the life her mother has planned for her daughter.

Kelly introduces each chapter with quotes from Darwin's Origin of Species, guiding the reader to apply scientific processes to Calpurnia's everyday life.  She evolves in the same way other organisms evolve, and readers observe her break free from the norm as she studies the potentially new "moo-tant" species.

My favorite part of Calpurnia is that she isn't completely anti-everything expected of young ladies.  She's a bit of a Liz Lemon:

She may put up a fight against knitting, but then she realizes she kind of enjoys it, and that's okay.  Being so completely against all of these things would make her character feel forced and give off a false indication of what a science-serious girl should be.

Bridging the gap between various subjects is a fun task for librarians, particularly school librarians, and Calpurnia Tate offers a lot of potential for English-Science, English-History, and/or History-Science pairings.  If anything, it could be used in a fiction section in a science or history display.  But if you're going for more elaborate programming, it's time to brush off your scientific classification skills, classify characters into different species, and invite students to do the same for other characters, either from Calpurnia Tate or elsewhere.

Friday Five: Books to Give as Gifts this Holiday Season!

Unless you're Dumbledore, what's a better present than a book? Okay, I'm sure this kid disagrees

but others may enjoy a great book as a gift.  A past professor of mine used to give picture books to her friends and family as gifts, and I think that's a great idea.  For starters, classic picture books are beloved and will bring a smile out of even the biggest Scrooge.  Most everyone gets excited when they see Where the Wild Things Are in someone's home.  Also, picture books are pricey.  Not that price is an indicator of a perfect gift (it most certainly is not), but price definitely keeps people (me) from going out and buying all these amazing books when they can't pretend they're buying them for a child.  Even though that's what libraries are for, it's nice to own picture books.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

So here are five potential picture books to hand out - to adults and/or children - this holiday season!

1. The Way Things Work, by David Macaulay and Neil Ardley


A lengthy informational picture book, this book completely captivates children (and adults) with detailed, fun diagrams of how things work, from the simple parts to the full complex machines.  It screams out coffee table book to me every time I see it in a store, but I don't have a coffee table (or a living room).  That won't stop me from giving it to someone else though.

2. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

I might have made it my unofficial mission to get everyone I know and love to read this book.  I'm stretching the term "picture book" for this entry.  It's one of those books that is its own genres.  Is it a novel, graphic novel, or super long picture book?  Regardless, pairing the book with the amazing film adaptation (really, it's one of the few books into movies that I love) would be a great gift.

3. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Like I said above, almost everyone geeks out in a fit of nostalgia for their wild ways of the past.

4. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems

Like number 2 on this list, I've spread the Pigeon books all over the place and I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't find the Pigeon completely endearing and hilarious.  From kindergartners to law partners, everyone loves this guy.

5. A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein

There are three kinds of people: People who like poetry, people who pretend to like poetry, and people who openly hate it.  All three love Silverstein (in my imagination).  These poems are silly, imaginative and can cheer up anyone.  Who could say no to this as a gift?  The kid in the video, that's who.

Nov 29, 2012

November Book Blurbs, Part 2

When you're doing an on the spot book talk (recommendation), most of the time the requester doesn't have all day to stand there and listen to you wax poetic about how the nuances of some character in such and such a book really tie it together. Most of the time, especially if they're a teenager, they want one sentence that answers the question: "what's it about?"

Here are some more quick, to the point blurbs for books I've read this past month:

Keeping You A Secret, by Julie Anne Peters
Summary: A high school senior realizes she has feelings for the new girl, but they live in a place where the School Board won't approve of an LGBT group.  She has to keep her new relationship a secret, but at many costs.
About: LGBT, relationships, coming of age,
Genre: Drama
Audience: anyone interested in LGBT rights, people who like reading about relationships

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake
Summary: A teenage boy kills ghosts, but finds it difficult to kill the legendary Anna Dressed in Blood.
About: Paranormal, ghosts, vengeance
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Audience: Horror fans, obviously.  Boys! It has a male narrator, which usually helps pull in male readers (stereotypical, I know, I hate that.), Buffy fans, Twilight fans (the cover is white, black and red - it'll be easy to trick them into reading something well written and similar to the genre)

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool
Summary: A young girl moves to a small town for the summer and ends up unearthing Prohibition-era town history that someone wants kept secret. 
About: Prohibition, Depression, coming of age, family
Genre: Historical Fiction, mystery
Audience: Historical fiction fans, middle schoolers, people who like the music video to Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's "Say, Say, Say" because that's all I could picture while I read this, people looking for a solid, well-developed story

Anya's Ghost, by Vera Brosgol
Summary: A teen depressed with her lackluster social status enlists the help of a ghost to help her gain popularity, but the ghost has other plans.
About: Coming of age, immigration, assimilation
Genre: Supernatural, Graphic Novel (yes, it's a form, not a genre, but libraries still shelve them separately)
Audience: someone looking for a story on outcasts, graphic novel fans, anyone who likes supernatural shows would love this

UnWholly, by Neal Shusterman
Summary: A sequel to Unwind, this book continues the fights against the Unwind system (Unwinding is the process of your parents signing you over to have all of your organs donated - your spirit lives on while you do not. It's like a retroactive abortion). 
About: Abortion, rights, teenagers vs. adults, decision making
Genre: Dystopia, action
Audience: Angsty teens, dystopia fans, civil rights activists, unelected Republicans (would learn a thing or two), action fans

Nov 28, 2012

November Book Blurbs, Part 1.

When you're doing an on the spot book talk (recommendation), most of the time the requester doesn't have all day to stand there and listen to you wax poetic about how the nuances of some character in such and such a book really tie it together.  Most of the time, especially if they're a teenager, they want one sentence that answers the question: "what's it about?"

"Aboutness" is a subjective term, of course.  Is Harry Potter about magic or overcoming adversity? Trick question, it's about friendship! Maybe.  There's no correct answer. 

Regardless, because I've been reading far more books than I can review, I decided that was actually a good thing, because that's not what the patrons need for on the spot, no time to wait requests.  So for all of the books I've quickly read this past month (in my attempt to reach my goal of 100 books a year), here are some quick, to the point blurbs.

Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin
Summary: A teenager dies and must come to terms with her departure from Earth during her afterlife in "Elsewhere." 
About: Acceptance, death, love
Genre: Drama, Romance
Audience: Teens who like some sappiness in their books.  Someone looking for a quick read.  Future Jodi Piccoult readers.  If you can pick those patrons out (and I can), then give them this book now.  That is to say nothing against Piccoult, she just writes for a very particular audience. 

The Future of Us, by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Summary: It's 1995 and after a teen girl downloads AOL, her future Facebook page comes pops onscreen. She and her neighbor attempt to make decisions to lead to their future lives as seen onscreen.
About: Facebook, present and future decisions, teen angst
Genre: Dramedy, Romance
Audience: Teens (or adults) who like some emotion with their comedy.  People who like multiple narrators. People who are starting to get annoyed with the fake/overdramatic personalities encouraged by Facebook. 

Between Shades of Grey*, by Ruta Sepetys
Summary: In 1941, Lina's family is imprisoned by the Soviet Secret Police in labor camps in Siberia and the North Pole.
About: Survival, love, death
Genre: Historical fiction
Audience: Anyone interested in the Holocaust period would enjoy this book.  People who aren't afraid to feel all the feelings. Someone looking for historical fiction.
*NOT PART OF THE FIFTY SHADES TRILOGY - a woman grabbed my arm on the T when she saw me reading this book and eagerly asked if another book had come out. NO.

Ten Cents a Dance, by Christine Fletcher
Summary: Set in 1940s Chicago, a young girl leaves her low paying factory job to take up "taxi dancing"* in a nightclub to help support her family, but it ends up turning her life upside down in ways she could never have imagined.
About: Taxi dancing, the mob, racism, post-Depression era
Genre: Historical fiction, drama
Audience: Historical fiction lovers, people who are interested in dance, people who love movies about the depression
*Taxi-dancing does not equal prostitution, although it did in some cases.  Basically, it was like a strip club minus the stripping, where men paid to dance with the ladies and you could earn a lot more doing this than factory work.

The Boy Who Dared, by Susan Bartoletti
Summary: A boy in the Hitler Youth illegally listens to the BBC news to find out what is really happening in WWII.
About: Holocaust, Hitler Youth, courage
Genre: Historical fiction (the author, a noted YA nonfiction author, used her book on Hitler Youth to create this story)
Audience: Students learning about the Holocaust (only because some of the information seems heavy-handed and takes away from narrative flow - she is a nonfiction writer after all)

More tomorrow!

Nov 27, 2012

#TheList, No. 495: The Twenty-One Balloons

If I wanted to give an honest description of this book, I would say: Picture the movie Up, but put the sad montage near the end and subtract the dog.

The Twenty-One Balloons: A man who just wants to be left alone and get some peace and quiet decides to take a balloon trip for a year.  His plans go astray thanks to a sharp beaked gull, and he ends up across the world in a record 40 days.  The entire country is freaking out about this, including the President, and they can't wait to hear his story (this was before Twitter).  A press conference is held in San Francisco, and he tells the tale of his incredible journey.  

It is great.  Written in 1947 by William Pene du Bois and apparently very similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, an eerie similarity that is referenced in an author's note prior to the novel.  It's suitable for all elementary school ages, either as a read-aloud for those tots who don't quite have a grasp on multiple syllables, or as an independent read.  The story is adventurous, humorous, and all about the descriptions.  Semi-spoiler: he lands on a secretly inhabited island and all of the colony's inventions are described in detail.  ALL of them.

But I'd definitely put this out there as part of a movie/book display. If I was feeling really ambitious, I would make it a Disney themed display (kids LOVE Disney) and pair books with all of the movie and TV show hits.  Plunk this one right next to Up. Enjoy.  

Nov 20, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'm Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving week!  If you have some time off and you aren't one of those crazy midnight shoppers, read a book over the holiday!

Top Ten Authors I'm Thankful For

1. JK Rowling.
Duh.  Series books have always been popular, but she took it to a whole new level that authors have since tried to emulate.  Midnight release parties for books?! Thank JK for that one.

2. Maurice Sendak
He gave the best interviews and never saw children as innocent people in need of protection and shielding from life. 

3, Judy Blume
If I see a group of young students crowded around a table in the library, I know they're doing one of three things: a group project, watching a video on an iPad, or hovering over a copy of Blume's Forever and reading the sex scenes.  Times have not changed.

4. Lois Lowry
I couldn't get enough of her books when I was a child, and the fact that a new addition to The Giver story just came out and the students at the library are all putting holds on it completely warms my heart.

5. Jay Asher
I just finished The Future of Us and I absolutely loved Thirteen Reasons Why, so I'm hoping for some more awesome YA books from this author in the future. 

6. Sherman Alexie
I will forever be thankful for his heartfelt response to the WSJ's huge critique of the current state of YA novels. 

7. Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak changed my life.  It still affects me emotionally when I reread it today.

8. Mo Willems
The Pigeon books have been one of my best discoveries in the world of picture books and they introduced me to the other amazing picture books he has written.

9.  Rick Riordan
I was late to the Percy Jackson party, but I love mythology and I love books that incorporate it into the plot, so yay Riordan!

10. Maureen Johnson
I've only read two of her books (The Name of the Star, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes) which I enjoyed, but her Twitter feed is hilarious and spastic and I love it.

More at The Broke and the Bookish!

Nov 14, 2012

Review: Chopsticks

This book was recommended to a class on YA Literature, so I had to pick it up when I finally saw it on the shelves of the library that I recently found out is a 10 minute walk from my apartment.  I was so excited to find it and not surprised to find out that I loved it.

Chopsticks, by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, is a graphic novel in the nontraditional sense.  That is, iIt's not presented in panels with thought and speech bubbles and drawn out characters.  Instead, it is a collection of photographs, letters, Youtube videos, mixtapes, iChats, artwork, etc. that detail the relationship between Glory, a musical prodigy, and Frank, a boy who just moved to NY from Argentina. 

The concept is simple and the entire book can take about an hour to complete.  However, throughout the novel, there are hints that their relationship isn't all that it may seem.  A closer examination of items like letterhead and wine bottles show cracks in their story and the reader has to make his own decision on who to trust. 
I tend to spend a lot of time reading graphic novels, despite flying through prose novels.  I think Chopsticks is best appreciated when you take the time to examine all the details, but even if you don't, the photography and artwork can be pretty breathtaking. 

#TheList, No. 703: Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare

Here's the gist of the story: There's a boy, Darren, and he's telling the reader his story.  He likes spiders.  Like isn't a strong enough word.  He enjoys spiders so much that he decides to steal a super poisonous one from a vampire.  Alright, that sounds like it could get interesting.  He finds this vampire at Cirque de Freak, an illegal freakshow that of course he has to attend.  The remainder of the book (and the entire series, I presume), deals with the consequences of his actions.  What if he hadn't gone to the show? What if he left while he still had a chance? What if he, you know, HADN'T STOLEN A SPIDER FROM A VAMPIRE?  Ah the little choices that we make as kids and grapple with all the time when we're adults.

The plot is interesting and I'm sure the rest of the series is as well.  There's suspense, a circus of "freaks," a vampire, different takes on vampire mythology, and spiders.  But I'll be honest; I was not a fan of this book.  However, I think if about half of the exclamation points were removed, I would give it another shot.  Seriously, it felt like every other sentence was pocked with an exclamation point. Maybe it's intended to sound like a child excitedly shouting his story at you, you know in that way that only a five year old who's talking about taking in the mail can accomplish.  But to me, it just makes events that should be dark and spooky, more like a fun pony ride.  "I saw the coffin!...I was scared!...I couldn't believe it!"  Those aren't actually quotes, but they could be.

Punctuation problems aside, I think 5th and 6th graders would really enjoy this book/series.  To be stereotypical for a moment, it has all the elements that would get a boy to pick up a book.  Okay, stereotypical moment complete.  This book is also excellent to recommend to children interested in vampires, but whom you want to keep away from Twilight.

Nov 13, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Would Want with Me on a Deserted Island

For this Top Ten Tuesday, we're pretending we're in a real life Gilligan's Island/Lost situation and I apparently had room for 10 books to pack on my three hour tour/flight from Australia (true story: I once overheard someone say that with his Kindle, if he ever got stuck on a deserted island, he would have all the books in the world.  Yes, maybe for 3 hours.  Then you'd be out of luck, mister).

So here are my

Top Ten Books I Would Want with Me on a Deserted Island

1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Being the last in the series, it's the one I've read the least.  I'm being practical here (yes, I know being practical would actually mean choosing a survival book).

2) Harold and the Purple Crayon

I would want something to cheer me up and help me remember to use my imagination while I have all the time in the world.  Or at least when I'm not hiding from the smoke monster.

3) The Princess Bride

It's just the best book.  And movie.

4) The Westing Game

Because nothing wows me as much as this mystery.  It's really one of the most clever mysteries out there - including adult mysteries.

5) Anna Karenina

I've never read this because I have trouble when I can't finish a book in 2 days.  But with all the time in the world, it seems like a fitting choice.

6) Nine Stories

This feels like cheating, but it would give a lot more variety to this extended trip.

7) Annie on my Mind

I've been on a bit of an LGBT YA lit kick lately, and this pioneer in that field is one of my all time favorites.

8) The Invention of Hugo Cabret

It's just too beautiful to live without.

9) Bossypants

I like always having it physically near me, so this is a must.

10) The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection

I have never read a Sherlock Holmes mystery.  I know, crazy right?  This would be the perfect chance.

More at The Broke and the Bookish!

Nov 9, 2012

Friday Five: Picture Books With Horrible Messages

Picture books are many things: educational tools, entertainment, a way to keep your kids busy while you watch your stories, nostalgic items, etc. etc.  They're also a way to teach kids what you think they, and everyone else, should believe.  After looking through some children and YA  political books for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, I came across Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed!  Yikes.

Sometimes these books with a purpose are good (The Lorax, anyone?) other times, they can be hurtful.  So here are five I find to be completely ridiculous and hurtful. Obviously, due to their existence, others disagree.  But such is life.

1. Latawnya The Naughty Horse Learns to Say No to Drugs, by Sylvia Scott Gibson

I think the overall intention of the book to depict some drugs as bad is a good one, but the book holds some thinly veiled racism that is just too much to take.  It also turns alcohol into a superdrug after one sip, which is a little extreme.  You can read the book online here.

2. My Working Mom, by Peter Glassman

I found out about this gem thanks to Tina Fey's Bossypants.  Essentially, the child in the story has a working mother - a witch.  It's social commentary about the horrible things that happen when you have a mother who works.  And no, it was not written in the 1950s.  It was the 90s.  Maybe it was some backlash against the shoulderpads.

3. Votes for Catherine Susan and Me, by Cathleen Ainslie

This is a picture book from 1910 that served as anti-suffrage propaganda.  There's nothing scarier than female dolls with blades for arms wanting the right to vote.

4. Maggie Goes on a Diet, by Paul Kramer

There's nothing wrong with promoting healthy lifestyles.  But when you tell the four year old child the book is aimed at that they shouldn't be fat anymore, that's where the problem comes into play.  At that age, it's the parent who should be making health decisions, not the 4 year old gaining an image problem.

5. Alfie's Home, by Richard Cohen

This book.  There are really no words.  Read it for yourself here.  It's horrible on so many levels.  Can picture books be sad? Of course, some of the best ones are.  But this one is heavy in so many ways.  The wrong ways.  It treats homosexuality as a symptom, portrays unrealistic solutions to fighting, and the pedophile doesn't get punished.  KIDS: ALWAYS MAKE SURE THE PEDOPHILES GET PUNISHED!

Nov 7, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Children and YA Books to Read During Election Season

Woooo! Election season! Emotions running high, everyone hating everyone on Facebook, etc. etc.  It's a stressful, exciting time.  I can say this because it's actually Wednesday and I am happy with the results.  Yesterday, I was a nervous wreck.  But enough about that.

Here are some politically themed children and YA books (fiction and nonfiction) that are informative, entertaining and/or thought-provoking. 

10 Children and YA Books to Read During Election Season:

1. Hero Type, by Barry Lyga

2. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

3. The President's Daughter, by Ellen Emerson White

4. Nothing But the Truth, by Avi

5. Freedom Walkers, by Russell Freedman

6. Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the Civil War, by Steve Sheinkin

7. Election, by Tom Perrotta

8. The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis

9. Max for President, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

10. Vote for Larry, by Janet Tashjian

Obviously, there are many many more options out there and I definitely limited myself to American politics.  Why, I even forgot to mention Katherine DeBrecht's  Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!

Bonus Adult Books that are also applicable:

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

America: The Book, by Jon Stewart

More at the Broke and the Bookish!