Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Reviews: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Parsefall and Lizzie Rose work with Grisini, a foreign puppeteer who unbeknownst to them has amazing powers. Both Lizzie and Parse are orphans that he has adopted and is teaching to run puppet shows. One day they go to Clara's house, a rich young girl, to perform for her birthday. Clara is quiet and reserved. She is only surviving child of a cholera outbreak in the Wintermute home. As such you can imagine her parents heartbreak when she disappears the day after the performance. Lizzie Rose is quite sad as Clara was quite nice to them. What follows is an adventure as the children try to break from Grisini only to get caught in someone else's trap. 

I really enjoyed this. The children were interesting and smart. The true villain was very bad (and the witch clearly not as bad as she wanted to be). The descriptions were lovely (or horrible), the author did a wonderful job making you feel like you were there and the historical detail and information on how puppets work were lovely. While I was expecting some things what actually happened to Clara was quite a surprise; along with how strong she really was. I really loved the ending of this one.

My only complaint was an audiobook complaint. I felt like the voices the reader gave Parse and Lizzie Rose were too grown up sounding for them. Clara and practically all of the other characters felt so perfect otherwise that it was almost unsettling.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Crafty Kids: Tie-Dye Butterfly

Since for March Crafty Kids I did a caterpillar craft, for April I decided that it would be fun to make a butterfly.  First I tripped over this and thought it was pretty much the greatest thing ever.  I also found another version that included a clothes pin for the butterfly body which I had left over from the caterpillar craft.  Unfortunately the link for that craft has since been deleted so I can't post that piece of inspiration.  

I did cover the tables with plastic table cloth before hand, had lots of napkins on hand and I was able to get inexpensive spray bottles for tiny fingers by shopping in the travel section at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  The kids loved the project and two grandmothers ended up asking me if they could make butterflies too which was great.  The coffee filters didn't take long to dry although I admit to speeding up the process by hanging clothes pinning them to my desk handles so they would dry even faster.  I had coloring sheets on hand for the kids to work on while they waited for their butterflies to dry.  


Coffee filters
Spray Bottle w/ water
Pipe Cleaners
Clothespin (optional)
Magnet Tape (optional)

1.  Color your coffee filter with markers.  Make crazy patterns but remember that everything is going to blur a little bit.  (Note:  If the markers you’re using are drying out the colors will not run as much later)

2.  Lay the coffee filter on top of a plastic tablecloth or layer of paper towels and spray 2-3 spritzes of water on to the coffee filter.  Allow coffee filter to dry.  (You can leave it laying flat but it dried faster when I hung it to dry.)

3.  (Version 1)  Pinch the coffee filter in the middle and use a clothespin to keep it pinched.  Fluff the wings if they look too scrunched.  Wrap a pipe cleaner around the top of the clothespin leaving the ends free to bend into antennae.  If you want to turn this one into a magnet you can put a strip of magnet tape on the back of the clothespin.  

(Version 2)  Pinch the coffee filter in the middle.  Fold the pipe cleaner in half and stick the pinched coffee filter in the middle.  Twist the top of the filter a few times leaving the ends free to bend into antennae.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: The Heart Of A Samurai by Margi Preus

Manjiro is a young Japanese teen stranded on a deserted island with four fellow fisherman. Eventually they are picked up by an American whaling ship that will not take them back to Japan due to Japan's closed door policy; foreigners and even locals that have traveled too far from Japan will be fired upon when entering the Japan's harbor's and put to death should they reach land. Manjiro proves himself to be a fast learner and endears himself to the ships Captain with his curiosity and intelligence. The Captain takes Manjiro home with him where they become a family and Manjiro goes to school, tries his hand at an apprenticeship, ships out on a whaling ship as part of the crew, becomes a gold miner and even eventually returns home and manages to avoid being put to death and becomes a diplomat. 

I just want to start by saying that I somehow I had gotten it into my head that this book was going to be about a girl breaking gender barriers, so as you can imagine I was a little surprised when I started listening and it was about a boy. 

There was so much to learn about whaling and life on a ship, mid 19th century life in Eastern United States, life for gold minders in California and Japanese life at that time period. The details are incredible. Clearly the author did a lot of research and I found the historical notes at the end of the book really helpful, particularly since Manjiro was a real person. I had never heard of him before but clearly he led a much more interesting life then the average person. 

The language sounded beautiful and almost lyrical sometimes. Unfortunately the narrator had a very nonfiction quality to the way he read the book that could sometimes be distracting.   However it wasn't all bad, he also did a great job with the japanese and how Manjiro would speak. Several days later I'm still torn between whether this serious matter of fact tone makes sense since it was based on a true story or whether it was in fact too distracting for me. 

About half way though the book I started thinking about this book and that it didn't feel like a children's book. It didn't even really feel like a middle grade or teen book. Both the tone of the book and the time span it covers make it feel more like adult literary fiction. It's an adventurous story but the adventure feels toned down by the language and the amount of introspection.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Personal: Reading Goals and Book Awards

As a Youth Services librarian that works with children and teenagers I feel a need to keep up with new work that is coming out for that age group in addition to reading the award winners each year.  For me that includes the Printz Award and Honor Books, Newbery Award and Honor Books, Caldecott Award and Honor Books, and the Pura Belpre Award and Honor Books.  I also always try to read a couple of winners from the time period before I was a librarian (or before I decided to add the particular award to my reading goals) in an effort to play catch up.  I also tend to look through the Great Graphic Novels for Teens list and read a mountain of those (although I don't keep track) and take a glance at the Orbis Pictus each year and read the winner if sounds interesting.

All of these awards are given by various branches of the American Library Association except for the Orbis Pictus which is given by the National Council of Teachers of English.  The Caldecott, Newbery and Printz are all awards for books that were considered the best in their field.  These are not necesarily the books kids will find most interesting but they will end up becoming school assignment books and every library will try to have a copy of them on shelf. I feel like it's important to read these books because they are supposed to be the best of the best, it's good for professional development and more often then not I do find that a number of the books were on my to be read list anyway because they sounded interesting.  The Pura Belpre award is given to authors and illustrators that do an excellent job of illustrating or writing about hispanic life and culture through their work.  Since my family is all from Spain I always felt like this level was important on a personal level.

However I am beginning to feel torn about this decision.  It's beginning to get a little overwhelming having 16 books added to my to be read list each year, not including the ones I am trying to read from years past.  I don't always enjoy the books.  Sometimes I am not enjoying the particular award winner and it becomes a struggle to finish the work.  I also already have other books that I HAVE to read for library programs that are not necessarily my cup of tea.  I feel like I haven't read anything I've wanted to read in a while now.

What award winners do you try and read every year?  Do you struggle through the books you don't like or let yourself skip that particular one this year?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review: Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan

Jake Stemple is considered one of the ultimate bad boys. He's been kicked out of every school he's ever attended. Then he ends up at Wit's End. Wit's End is where the Applewhite family lives. The Applewhite children are all home schooled and Jake's grandfather has decided that Jake will be joining them. Jake moves in with the Applewhites and realizes that they are all crazy artists (except for E.D.), but he is eventually sucked in and joins the family for a massive project that will take everyone's skills.

I liked watching Jake find his place in the Applewhite family. He gets sucked in so subtly he clearly doesn't realize it at first. I also like that you get into Jake's brain as he realizes how many of the things he's doing weren't about him but were in fact about how he wanted others to perceive him.

I like the insight into E.D. as well. She is clearly the odd one out but she still plays a vital role in the family. The play could not have been pulled off without her, and in her own way I think she is just as creative as the other Applewhites', it's just in a way that we are not used to thinking of as creative.  

I guess I've been reading too much fiction where relationships play a heavy role. I was totally expecting E.D. and Jake to end up in some kind of relationship and that never happened and it felt so much more right because of it.  It would have made the novel too busy as there was already a lot going on and I don't think it would have felt genuine.

There was lots of humor and lots of hard work. Destiny is a great example of that. He's a funny kid but he takes a lot of work, which also made the book feel more honest and genuine. It was also interesting to see the amount of work that went into putting on the play.  There was just enough technical detail to make things interesting but not so much that it felt overwhelming or taxing to figure out what was going on.  I really enjoyed reading this and when I have time will definitely consider reading the second one.