Category Archives: Waiting on Wednesday

Meme for posts reviewing books before they are published.

From Chalkboards to Computers: How Schools Have Changed

There is no doubt that schools have changed over the past fifty or so years, but the changes are not universal. Some schools have few remnants of the past, while others are relatively unchanged. I had high hopes for the book From Chalkboards to Computers: How Schools Have Changed to show this evolution. However, this book demonstrates a serious problem from page one where it defines what a school is in the most basic of terms, the sort of terms one might use to discuss with a child going to preschool. In fact, this book seem s to be aimed at the pre-k-1st grade audience, which means that the real changes have to be simplified to the degree where the before and after blend. Many of the old vs. new are either indistinguishable or point out things that have mostly not universally changed. For instance cafeteria vs lunchroom where kids bring lunch from home or money vs lunch from home or money on account, or saying that teachers now write on white boards or smart boards and not chalk boards anymore. I still see a lot of chalkboards in classes, and I work with classes in a well-off district.

Basically the problem with this book boils down to the attempt to take a complex topic and simplify it down to a series of dichotomies that mask the actual changes that have taken place over the years. I don’t know that children in this age range are interested in this topic as much as older children who would better be able to digest the subtleties.


Adult Fiction–New Releases

Since I work in a small branch, I do readers advisory for anyone who walks through the door. Some libraries may not get a lot of requests for book suggestions, but we get a TON. At least three or more times a week an adult asks for suggestions for a “good book” to read. When I’m lucky they are willing to give me more information on what they like, but very often they want to know is if I’ve read any good books lately. Here are some of the adult fiction books I’ve read lately.

Saint’s Gate, Carla Neggers, Saint's Gate This is the kind of book I both enjoy to read and to recommend to patrons. Emma, the main character, works for the FBI, but previously she had been a novitiate at a small convent. She is drawn back there by a mysterious message from one of her former companions, which she is unable to receive before her friend is murdered. While she has tried to put her past behind her, this mystery draws both aspects of her world together and forces her to face who she is, was, and wants to be, all the while making her confront her feelings for Colin a fellow FBI agent. I enjoyed the mystery and the relationship, as well as the details of the art history and restoration. While typically I like more romance, and books that are not in a series, this book will appeal to people who like more of a light helping of romance. I look forward to recommending this book to patrons at the library.

Good Girls Don't (Donovan Brothers Brewery, #1) Good Girls Don’t, Victoria Dahl. The library where I work only adds a limited quantity of Mass Market Paperbacks to the collection, but Dahl is a local author, so I’m making a point to add some copies. I’ve really enjoyed this Donovan Brother’s Brewery series and think the library patrons will also like it. Tessa’s greatest desire is to keep her family together, which means she feels she must do whatever it takes to keep her two brothers from fighting. This desire is brought into tension when she begins to develop a relationship with a cop. The local brewery and local atmosphere (it is set in Colorado, but this could be my back yard) will appeal to local readers.

The Ideal Man Some of my favorite books are Julie Garwood books. She is an author I recommend at the library quite a bit. Romantic suspense is popular and these books are not too intense on the sexuality or violence, something that is very popular in my community.
In The Ideal Man, Garwood takes us on a whirlwind trip from an accidental encounter in the park that plunges our heroine into a world of danger that she thought she had escaped. I found the relationships and suspense to be convincing, but not too intense. I still miss the family drama of some of the earlier romantic suspense, but I felt this was stronger then Sizzle. This book will definitely find a place on our shelves!

Ashfall–or the world is still ending!

Ashfall (Ashfall, #1) Continuing the apocalyptic theme, I recently read an engaging story called Ashfall by Mike Mullins. Alex, a nerdy 16 yr old boy who loves World of Warcraft and karate, stays at home in Iowa for the weekend while his parents and sister go to visit an uncle on his farm in Illinois. He settles in for an uneventful weekend of computer games and junk food when his house is hit by something and starts on fire, trapped under his desk, Alex has to climb out to save himself. This is just the beginning of the action, as Alex is thrown into one bad situation after another. He discovers that a giant volcano has erupted under Yellowstone, but the ash interferes in all communication and Alex is left alone. Determined to find his family in Illinois, Alex sets off on his own–most of his supplies are destroyed in the initial blast. Unprepared and slogging through a drift of ash feet deep, Alex encounters numerous dangers, both starvation, dehydration, violent weather, and violent people.

This is a quick and engrossing read, that caught me from the beginning and didn’t spit me out until the last word. I found myself willing to believe all kinds of crazy things because the story moved so fast and with so much action, only after the story was over did some of the issues start to emerge. Alex is freakishly lucky, he should have died pretty much every chapter–something terrible would happen, and somehow he’d miraculously survive. Just when he was about to starve food would turn up–to such a great degree that I stopped really worrying about if he was going to die. In some ways this is an unusually optimistic apocalyptic vision, people take him in and help him, food turns up, he doesn’t get infections from grievous injury or die from horrendous exposure.

In many ways this is a more action packed variation of Life as We Knew It, but less reflective and less dark. Both feature 16 yr old ordinary kids who face a world that is rapidly changing, but Alex never really has to face the sort of real immediate personal devastation of the destruction. In addition, Ashfall skips right from the blast to a world turned upside down, just vaguely referring to things that happened while Alex is hiding out.

Kids who enjoyed Life as We Knew It will enjoy this as well, but of the two I find Pfeffer’s vision to be more powerful and effective in showing a world falling apart.

Fall Mixed Up

Fall Mixed Up Fall is just around the corner–I fervently hope so. Our fall storytime theme is actually scheduled for August, which happens ALL the time. It is quite hard to talk to kids about seasons changing when it is the hottest days of the year and before school is even back in session. I picked up the e-arc of Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczka to read thinking of the upcoming season change and storytime theme, and I’m glad I did!

All of the traditional things that make up fall stories are mixed together, starting with the months and ending with the holidays. The words have a nice rhyme and rhythm, and the pictures are full of fun and whimsy. My favorite part is the beginning about the weather, such as:

Apples turn orange.
Pumpkins turn red.
Leaves float up into
blue skies overhead.

There are lots of books about fall, but this is a nice addition. If it was only out in August and not September, I’d like to read it to my preschoolers and older kids not yet back in school. They’d all enjoy sorting out all the mixed up things.

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S.

Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. Kiki Kittie is a fashionista. After a disaster with some fashion magazines falling on her, she has the ability to turn into a Fashion Kitty superhero! She saves the day during Fashion Emergencies. In this latest installment, Kiki faces her new nemesis the brother of her good friend. He hates Fashion Kitty and tries various schemes to capture her using his family’s quirky inventions, most notably the Ball of Yellow String. He tries to rally the school for a Catch Fashion Kitty Club, though not everyone realizes he hates her.

This is a fun read, and my first Fashion Kitty book. One aspect I really liked was that though it was a graphic novel, it still had a good balance of text to image. Sometimes there is not much to read, which some people like, but I liked the amount of story that could be expressed with the greater amount of text.

I will be adding this to my juvenile graphic novel collection!

Fish You Were Here

Recently I was ordering some graphic novels for the children’s collection, when I discovered the Pet Shop Private Eye series. This series is a perfect match for our collection, it is funny, easy to read, and doesn’t have any materials questionable for kids. Since graphic novels are told with pictures, it can be difficult to distinguish what is appropriate for children. We had Nancy Drew in our Graphic Novel collection until it became apparent that the written descriptions of crimes were less disturbing then the visual.

In Fish You Were Here the fourth volume of the Pet Shop Private Eye Series, the absent minded shop owner is looking for an assistant. His interviews are silly, with important questions like on a scale of 1 to 10 have you ever ridden a llama? The various animals comment as different candidates come and go. Finally it seems like the perfect candidate has been found. Viola LOVES animals, and seems to be a fount of knowledge, rushing around to help all of the animals and show the shop owner all the things he’s been doing wrong. But when the shop owner leaves, things change and not for the better. The animals must figure out what happened and hopefully get their beloved shop owner back before it is too late!

This is a great entry in a fun series. I’ve only briefly skimmed through the other volumes in the series, and I had no problem picking up this one and starting with little knowledge of the other books.
That is a good feature for me, because it is hard at the library to recommend books if the first in the series is ALWAYS checked out. With this series I feel kids could start at any point. The illustrations are colorful, the text not too complex, and the story is funny. I think this book will appeal to both boys and girls from second grade up.

Dog Gift Books

Now it doesn’t take a genius to guess that books and dogs are both on my top ten list of things in the world. So when I saw a couple of cute photobooks featuring dogs on Netgalley I snapped them up. One of my very favorite dog books is a little photo gift book, by Roy Blount Jr and Valerie Shaff, the poems and pictures are unbeatable. So I hoped these could come close.

If Only You Knew How Much I Smell You: True Portraits of Dogs This is my favorite, it is an older title, but well worth looking up. The photos are incredible and the poems a perfect compliment.

Hot Guys and Baby Animals First I read Hot Guys and Baby Animals, or rather looked at the very small assortment of photos, and was glad I didn’t pay almost 10$ for 40 or fewer shots of animals and men both moderately cute, with mildly funny captions.

Sorry I Pooped in Your Shoe: (and Other Heartwarming Letters from Doggie) Sorry I Pooped in Your Shoe: (and Other Heartwarming Letters from Doggie) by Jeremy Greenberg. Funny letters are paired with pictures of different dogs. Each letter tries to offer some explanation for some silly dog behavior. They are fun letters and cute pictures, but not terribly memorable.

In conclusion, look for the Blount and Shaff collections and if you can’t find them, check out the Greenberg volume for some smiles and laughs.

Ocean Story

The Ocean Story (Fiction Picture Books) Even though this is already out, I thought I’d post my review of this delightful informational picture book. I requested a copy off of Netgalley, because I am more hit or miss with longer juvenile fiction, but I usually like picture books and informational picture books. I’m also interested in how books like this are divided between fiction and non-fiction.

In Ocean Story, John Seven tells a familiar story emphasizing the connected nature of oceans and water supply all over the world. It is written in a story format, so good for preschool classes wanting to learn about water and oceans, but it does have some good information about the importance of recycling and taking care of our water supplies. I would probably put it in the non-fiction section, even if goodreads calls it a FICTION picture book.

Recommended for public libraries who want to beef up their water cycles, ocean, or ecology books.

What a Team!

#03 What a Team! (Mr. Badger & Mrs. Fox) This week I read What a Team!, by Brigitte Luciani, illustrated by Eve Tharlet, it is #3 in the graphic novel series Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox. Juvenile Graphic novels can be tricky, they have to be simple and age appropriate, while retaining interest. In many ways this series is everything one could want in a graphic novel series, and yet it lacks something important.

In this series, the vocabulary is easy enough for newly independent readers, just beyond early reader level. Certainly the subject matter is above reproach. This installment features new step-siblings struggling to get along, and balance bossiness, with their new relationships. These struggles play out while the badger and fox children, and their friends, decide to build a boat. The illustrations are lovely water colors that nicely evoke the woods and forest animals.

This said, the tale was extremely confusing, because I couldn’t tell the characters apart. Now, I know that starting with the third book in a series might lead to some confusion, but a reader should be able to distinguish which character is talking, what the character’s names are, and what the relationships are. Admittedly, I’m not a huge graphic novel person, but I was a big series reader in my day. I remember the first chapter of every Babysitter’s Club was going over the back story and introducing the characters. While children like to read series with continuing characters, it is important that they be able to pick up who the characters are and to have this reiterated in each book.

Someday I’d like to read the first two to put them in context, but based on this on volume, I am hesitant to add it to the library’s collection.

Review copy received from Netgalley.

Aliens on Vacation

Aliens on Vacation The summer in between his sixth and seventh grades could have been awesome. It could have been basketball camp. It could have been lounging by the pool. It could even have included winning the ultimate challenge with his best friend, and kissing a girl.

But no, instead David (aka Scrub) is sent by his mostly absentee parents to spend the summer with the grandmother he’s never even met, in the middle of nowhere, with no cel reception or internet access. His grandmother who dresses like a hippie, only cooks things made of soy or grown in her garden, and worst of all, runs a bed and breakfast for crazy people who want to dress up like extras from Star Trek. His parents, his grandmother, and all the guests must be insane.

At least that is what David thinks. But the evidence that meets his eyes on arriving at the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast makes him wonder if he is the crazy one. A nearly seven foot tall ashen skin man sniffing the mailbox. A family of four of unusual proportions walking on all fours down the hall. And things just get stranger from there. The house rules, posted in his room, are as following:

  1. Leave nothing behind
  2. Take nothing with you
  3. Dress appropriately
  4. Two arms, two legs, one head
  5. No harming the natives

David’s suspicions are confirmed when his grandmother reveals that her guests are all tourists from around the universe, and she needs him to help her keep things going. Can he keep the tourists from revealing their origins to the suspicious town? Will his summer suck as badly as he thought? Well you’ll just have to pick up a copy of Clete Barrett Smith’s Alien’s on Vacation.

Somehow, in this science fictiony story, Smith has managed to capture more realism and humor then are found in many supposedly realistic fiction books. Rather then trying to write the next Harry Potter, or the next Percy Jackson (sort of the same thing really), Smith writes a book that will resonate with boys and girls, make them laugh, and look at the people around them a little different. The afterword refers to the author’s critique group criticizing this as having too much Narnia in it, but unlike most fantasy this book isn’t about entering or discovering a strange world, but about looking at the real world and discovering that, if we let it, the strange things will come out. And that most of the really strange things are us.

I’d recommend this book for middle grade kids. It isn’t violent (though Scrub does have things thrown at him, including rotten fruit and someone’s elbow), and has less of the potty humor of Wimpy Kid books. There may be a first kiss, but it is pretty innocent. In many ways this is The Strange Case of Origami Yoda on summer vacation.

Reviewed from Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from NetGalley.