Tag Archives: book reviews

Planting the Wild Garden

Oscar near the weedy garden.

I’m not much of a gardener, most of the things growing in my yard are “wild” even if I did plant them at some time. Recently I spent a sweaty morning trying to pull some of the wildest of the weeds before they could spread to much seed. This made me think of this simple informational picture book: Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith. While many books show how an apple or pumpkin seed becomes a plant and produces fruit, this book places the cycle of seeds into plants in context of the many different ways plants grow and spread. From planting a vegetable garden to catching on someone or floating in the air, this book shows the many ways seeds spread. One of the major points of this book is that all of the creatures in the environment contribute to helping seeds move around to reach as far as possible.

Planting the Wild Garden While this book talks a lot about what are essentially weeds, there is no negative tone. Rather this is a sweet and simple book to introduce very young children to the ways seeds move and become plants. I think this book would work well in a classroom or preschool, or even at home learning about seeds. It is a nice story, which kids would enjoy hearing, and not a dry informational book. The watercolors are delicate and beautiful, if sometimes hard to follow the teeny seeds. After looking at my garden I can curse the spread of weeds, but when I read this book I’m left with a much more positive view of nature.

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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!

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.

Funny Favorites–Booktalks

Readers advisory is huge at my library, and is a constantly developing skill that I and all of the staff are working to perfect. While some kids are always looking for something new, most kids don’t care as much about the date on the book (unless it is the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book) as long as it sounds interesting, has a good cover, and they haven’t read it yet. When kids want funny they could mean a whole range of things, from Captain Underpants to joke books to Bark, George . The most common request is for humorous realistic fiction, which may be because of the Wimpy Kid popularity. Here are three recommendations I make regularly for funny books that are likely to be on the shelf.

Punished! Punished is the story of a young boy who gets in trouble in the library for doing something a lot of kids think they can get away with until WHAM! He wasn’t yelling, or eating, or wearing books as hats in rainstorms. And it wasn’t the librarian who yelled at him–no it was the old man he ran into–quite literally. A mysterious old guy who curses him to only speak in puns until he learns a lesson. This seems fine–people are laughing until he realizes he can’t stop, and people aren’t laughing with him, their laughing at him! Logan has to make this stop–and once he tracks the old man down, he learns he has to complete three tasks to be free. Will he be doomed to pun his life away? Read Punished by David Lubar to find out, and you may just want to not run in the library, just in case.

The second funny book I recommend is Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, but lately most kids have already read it. It is a classic and most kids LOVE it. Recently I found another great read alike for those Wayside fans. As soon as the copies I order come in, it will be a go to recommendation.

The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School Sometimes a class can be crazy, particularly when you and your classmates get into trouble. In the Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary by Candice Fleming, these 4th graders are so naughty that they don’t think they can find a teacher willing to take them on. Just in the nick of time a brave explorer returns to take on the challenge, he’s taught wild monkeys, and visited peoples in far off lands, but can he face this fourth grade class? Join Mr. Jupiter as he takes on this crazy class and has new adventures throughout the year!

Favorite Standby Booktalks

As a librarian, I am always trying to find new books to entice kids to read, something fresh to lure kids into picking up a book. However, I have my favorite books that I pull out to recommend, ones I read as a child, or even that my parents might have read when they were young. While I discard old copies, with dated covers, I gladly plunk down money over and over for new versions, with fresh covers. Today I’m going to tell you two of these books I pull out regularly to recommend for kids who ask for scary stories.

The updated cover is really nice and spooky, but it is only paperback and inexplicably the prebound edition is the 1980's verson.

Vintage 1980s cover

Another classic cover

Ghost stories are perennially popular, and my first recommendation is usually Wait Til Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn, mistress of spooky tales.

When Molly and Micheal’s mother gets married they, along with their new step sister Heather, move into the countryside into an odd old house. Not only is the house way out in the countryside, leaving them stuck with their bratty new stepsister, but it is super creepy–a converted church, with all kinds of surprises, such as a graveyard in the back yard. If that’s not enough, Heather starts talking about her new friend Helen, a ghost. Molly and Micheal are not sure what to make of this, are ghosts real? Maybe in a spooky place like their new house. But the biggest question of all is: if Helen is real, a real ghost, what does she want from Heather, and how far will she go to get it?

Now many of the kids have already read this one, and if they liked it (most kids still really love it) I recommend another spooky classic, by another master of the children’s gothic genre. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are some similarities between these two, and both have had an assortment of different covers. This one actually has more as it is older and a Newbery honor award winner.

We still have this one on the shelf--kids do check it out even with this cover!

We also have this one on the shelf, I'm not sure if it really conveys the mood of the book.
Like in Wait Till Helen Comes, this book features a spooky old house, a new step sister and possible ghostly going guests. When the Stanley children’s father remarries they gain a new step-sister and move into a spooky old house. Amanda, the step-sister, is a 12 yr old who seems mysterious and who claims to have studied witchcraft and have powers. She wants to teach the four children, but when the cupid’s head in the hall is removed the children have to face the fact that these powers might be real or there might be other forces at work. Is Amanda a witch, or is there some other force at work in this spooky house? Read The Headless Cupid to find out!

I’d love other spooky recommendations, whether old or new to share with my ghost loving patrons.

Water

For quite a while I’ve been interested in the politics of water, I once tried to explain to a group of undergraduates how important water and the access to it has been throughout history. They were not impressed. Water is the stuff of life, and has always been that way. But living in the United States, children (including undergraduate students) do not comprehend the complexities and absolutely essential nature of water because it is always there when we need it. However, access to clean water is not universally available, and even for those who can access clean water, many have to travel outside of their homes to get it.

This summer, as part of our Summer Reading Program on “One World, Many Stories,” I plan on doing a program on water an its significance world wide. Hopefully this will be more successful then my presentation to the undergrad students in Ohio. To prepare, I’ve been reading non-fiction books about water around the world. Here are a few of the titles I’ve read.

A Cool Drink of Water A Cool Drink of Water, Barbara Kerley, A beautiful national geographic picture book that just talks about how universal water is, by showing people around the world drinking water and highlighting some of the places that they go to get the water. It is a nice introduction for very young kids to the idea that water doesn’t always come from the tap, but that it is something that draws us all together.

Our World of Water Our World of Water: Children and Water Around the World, Beatrice Hollyer. This book goes into more depth about the ways water works in the lives of 6 children from around the world. The pictures really bring the different culture and climates to life, demonstrating that these are real kids dealing with issues of water scarcity. The child from Ethiopia is a good example of how some kids’ lives are controlled and consumed by their need for water.

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, Rochelle Strauss. This book takes the broadest perspective, covering the water cycle, water use, and the need for conservation. One of the strongest points the book makes is that while the amount of water on earth remains constant, the distribution is uneven, and that there are limited supplies of easily accessible clean water. It is a good introduction to the many ways water is crucial to life on earth.

These three books make a nice introduction to the importance of water around the world. I’m still looking for more titles, so any suggestions would be welcome.

Bird in a Box

Bird in a Box Boxing has never been a topic of great interest to me personally. When I was growing up I mostly knew boxing from The Happiest Millionaire and from my dad telling me stories of how he and his dad followed boxers in the late 1950s and 1960s. Even now, my exposure to boxing comes primarily from reading children’s books about Cassius Clay and other famous boxers.

In Bird in a Box, Andrea Pinkney successfully captures not only the drama and excitement of a boxing match, leaving me on the edge of my seat as I followed play by play recounting of boxing matches along with the adults and children who were listening. But she also captures the way that boxing, and especially the boxer Joe Louis, was a focus of depression era African American culture.

The story focuses on three children: Otis, Willie, and Hibernia. Otis and Willie live in an orphanage, though Willie is there escaping an abusive father. Hibernia lives with her father, though her mother is also absent, having left to pursue dreams of fame. Their lives intersect through their love of Joe Louis, but more over through the work of Lilly Wiess, a white woman who works in the orphanage and attends Hibernia’s father’s church. Lilly is an odd character, almost out of place, with ideas that bring her in conflict with those around her. While I like Lily, I wish her character had been explained more fully.

This slim volume would be a nice choice for sports fans and reluctant readers who need a historical fiction recommendation for school. Not a perfect book, but a good choice for public libraries.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae

What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (And Curious Kids) (Expecting Animal Babies) There is something about this title that just reaches out and grabs attention. I added it to my good reads to be read stream and had coworkers outside of children’s services ask me what was up with that title. So I was excited to find it available on Netgalley!

The book starts after the eggs have already been fertilized, which makes it a bit more PG (no insect sex here, the dads leave before the fun begins). The book then poses questions familiar to expectant parents, though I think that it will still be funny for kids, especially those who have had younger siblings they’ve wondered about.

While there is some good information here, this is primarily entertaining and humorous. I could see a teacher using this to introduce an insect theme or a kid reading it for fun. The fun continues with the glossary, which defines the terms, but adds things like “food” or “dinner” to the end of a more technical definition of algae. There is also a great list of further resources, that doesn’t just list books to read, but tells kids a little of what they are about.

Overall a fun book that I will be buying for my library, as I think it will provide entertainment and education for kids.