"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Shoo Fly Storytime

    Shoo Fly Family Storytime:
Book Possibilities
  • I Spy Fly Guy! by Tedd Arnold*
  • Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth, Illus. by Stephen Gammell*
  • The Fly Flew In by David Catrow
  • Horsefly and Honeybee by Randy Cecil
  • The Spider and the Fly by Tony DiTerlizzi
  • Soup for One by Ethan Long*
  • Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, Illus. by Kevin Waldron*
  • A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock, Illus by Fritz Siebel
  • When the Fly Flew In... by Lisa Westberg Peters, Illus. by Brad Sneed
  • There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback*
  • Shoo Fly! by Iza Trapani
*Books I used this time

We started with Old Black Fly and I sang the beginning and ending verses to the tune of "Buffalo Gals" and after "Shoo fly, Shoo fly, Shoo" we all gave a big "Swat!" and clapped our hands together.

I used the CD/Book set of There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback along with our Library system's Alma's Design There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly puppet. This was a huge hit, as the kids loved feeding her the animals as they listened to the song.

We also swatted flies along with Hap Palmer's song "Flick a Fly" from his CD Walter the Waltzing Worm. Warning: that song is infectious!

There are some excellent ideas for Fly Storytime on Storytime with Miss Tara and Friends and Sunflower Storytime . Don't miss them!

Friday, August 8, 2014

From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos

From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos, 2013.

This is the hilarious sequel to Dead End in Norvelt and this entry will have spoilers for that book. So be warned!

I will give you some space to avoid accidentally reading things that you don't want to know.

This book picks up with Jack on the Halloween after the events of Dead End in Norvelt . Now that the old lady murders in Norvelt have ended and the killer has confessed, original resident Mrs. Custard moves back home. This means that Miss Volker is no longer the earliest Norvelter in town, so she won't have to honor her promise and marry the dangerous Mr. Spizz. This turns out to be unfortunate for Mrs. Custard, who eats a poison-laced cookie just as Jack and his friend Bunny are trick or treating at her house. Is Spizz back? Who does Jack hear prowling around his former office?

Then Miss Volker suddenly receives word that her sister in Florida has died. Angry Miss Volker, blaming the still- at-large Spizz, sets off on a road trip with Jack in tow. She can bury her twin and also catch and punish Mr. Spizz, who is still in love with her. Things are complicated by two other people trailing along behind them. Will Spizz go to prison? Or to the chapel? Plenty of funny moments and comparisons to Moby Dick make this book a great read.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Stubby the War Dog by Ann Bausum

Stubby the War Dog: the True Story of World War I's Bravest Dog by Ann Bausum, 2014.

Animal lovers will welcome this heartfelt non-fiction title about a loyal dog . Stubby was an amazing canine hero during World War I.  A mixed breed stray, he adopted soldier James Robert Conroy when enlisted men were training on Yale University's athletic grounds. He watched the men as they drilled and he learned how to march in formation and salute, and soon he became the mascot for Conroy's Unit. Smuggled aboard a ship to France, Stubby then participated in 17 battles, keeping close to his buddy Conroy.  He killed vermin in the trenches, warned the doughboys when a gas attack was coming, helped to find wounded on the battlefield, and more. One of his greatest acts was  capturing a German soldier and holding him by the pants until help arrived. The gallant dog survived severe wounding by schrapnel and poison gas and returned to duty each time. Through all of his service he remained Conroy's best friend.

After the war until the end of his days, the wonderful Stubby was honored and led an exciting life. His special uniform was decorated with many medals and he earned three bones a day and a place to sleep at the YMCA. He and his pal Conroy marched in parades, performed vaudeville and promoted the American Humane Society. Stubby & Conroy also met presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. The outstanding dog was always loved and cared for by his friend. Conroy made sure that Stubby would be remembered by donating his memorabila to the Smithsonian Museum.

Bausum's book is a fine read for history lovers, as she skillfully tells the dog's story and gives a view of  the Great War and the life of the American fighting men. The Foreword is written by Conroy's grandson, who shares his memories of his grandfather and his bond with Stubby. The book is full of photos of Stubby, Conroy and military life in the teens. A timeline and bibliography is included.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata, 2013.

In this quiet and unusual story, 12 year old Japanese-American Summer spends the summer helping her family harvest wheat around the country. Her parents have been called to Japan to take care of aged relatives, so Summer is travelling with her strict grandparents, her unpopular and quirky younger brother and her beloved dog. She expects to help her Obaachan (grandmother) cook meals for the harvesting crew, but she doesn't suspect that a boy that she's known for years has become really attractive and she doesn't plan on her Jiichan (grandfather) getting too sick to drive the combine and maybe not get the wheat harvested before the rain comes. Summer's mom told her that a lot changes in the summer before seventh grade, but Summer didn't realize that she'd have to get along with prickly Obaachan, worry about her brother, deal with her fear of/obsession with mosquitoes and malaria and possibly save her family's jobs.

Kadohata's strong characterizations make this book a great read. Summer is a thoughtful girl who loves her family, who makes mistakes and learns to face her fears. Summer's brother Jaz is an unusual boy who has had three different psychological diagnoses, but to Summer, he's just her intense brother and she hopes that he can find friends. Obaachan and Jiichan, while funny when they quarrel, are multi-dimensional people and not just comic relief.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked

Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, 2013.

This fun read is like a mild version of your favorite cop show with all of the characters played by animals. Immediately after young Rick Zengo joins the Platypus Police Squad he and his older partner O'Malley are drawn into a case with a missing frog, Professor Hopper, and a possible illegal fish buy gone bad. Suspects range from Pandini, the son of a former crime kingpin who seems to be improving the city in every way, to rich high school sports hero Blake Cameron (who also happens to be dating O'Malley's daughter) to club bouncer and boxer Joey. TV stereotypes abound, but are given a tongue-in-cheek, child friendly twist. Expressive greyscale illustrations add charm to the story, but don't always match text descriptions. The second book in this series, The Ostrich Conspiracy is already available.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, 2013.

In a small farming community, in an undetermined time, a young couple find a boy asleep on their porch. He seems to be about six to eight years old and is unable to speak. There is a note in his pocket that says that his people will return for him, but when? John and Marta quickly become attached to the special boy, but how long can they be a family?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer Family Storytime: Keep Healthy!

Our library teamed up with Public Health and did a program on staying healthy, focusing on being active, eating well, hygiene, dental health, etc.

Book Possibilities:

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page: shows how animals get around, can be used with this action rhyme to get kids moving:


Can you hop like a rabbit? (hop on one foot)
Can you jump like a frog? (jump up & down)
Can you walk like a duck? (waddle, arms like wings)
Can you run like a dog? (run in place)
Can you fly like a bird? (flap arms)
Can you swim like a fish? (swim with arms)
And be still and listen, just like this? (sit down, hands folded)

Gorgonzola: a Very Stinkysaurus by Margie Palatini, Illus. by Tim Bowers: Gorgonzola is the worst dinosaur of them all, but that is because he is the dirtiest.

Get Well, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas, Illus. by Jennifer Plecas: The three little dragons are sick and need care to get better. Good Knight to the rescue!


Whose Teeth are These? by Joanne Randolph: Kids must guess what animal has the teeth shown in each photo.

Clarabella's Teeth by An Vrombaut: Clarabella the crocodile takes so long to brush her teeth that there's no time left to do anything else!

Music & Activities:

I  used some songs from Jim Gill's CD The Sneezing Song and Other Contagious Tunes, "Silly Dance Contest" and "Spaghetti Legs." These are always popular, even among scoffers who want "cool" music.

I also found a good activity from http://www.k-3teacherresources.com/action-words.html . They provide 42 action words and this game:

 'Well we walk, and we walk, and we walk and STOP (freeze), and then we stomp, and we stomp, and we stomp and STOP (freeze), yes we hop, and we hop, and we hop and STOP (freeze), and then we wave, and we wave, and we wave and STOP (freeze)... and so on.

I made flash cards of the words to hand out to the kids.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, Illus. by Theodore Taylor III, 2013.

In a few sentences per page, Hill tells the story of music-loving Little Clive, a Jamaican transplanted to New York City. As a teen, he had ambitions to become a house party DJ  like his childhood hero DJ King George. So, he and his sister threw hot parties in the Bronx. He became DJ Kool Herc.  This led to him developing a style in which he would use more than one turntable to make seconds-long breaks in songs last at least twenty minutes. He chanted over the music and called out his friends' names.  His music became super popular, and people, including members of street gangs, began to do athletic break-dancing. He started Hip Hop music, which spawned rap and launched performers such as Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow.

Hill has included a time line from 1973, when DJ Kool Herc deejayed at his sister's birthday party, to 1986, when the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill came out, marking the release of mainstream hip hop. There is also a bibliography of books, film and websites for further exploration.

The information is delivered in a picture book format, with lively illustrations by Theodore Taylor III.

Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg, 2013.

In this novel in verse, readers meet Serafina, an eleven year old who lives in a poor rural village in Haiti and dreams of becoming a doctor. She wants to go to school like her friend Nadia, but her Manman is expecting a baby and depends on her help at home. Serafina hopes she can convince her parents that she can keep up with her chores and also get an education. She knows that she can find a way to earn enough money to buy a uniform and schoolbooks. In spite of her determination, the young girl will face monumental challenges including natural disasters that have devastating impact on her neighborhood and family.

Readers will care about Serafina and marvel at her spirit in the face of tremendous hardships.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein, 2013.

For kids who like puzzles, reading and libraries, this book is a sure winner. Kyle loves playing the games invented by his hero, Mr. Lemoncello. He's not much of a reader, but when he learns that a new public library designed by Lemoncello is opening in his hometown, he'll do anything to be part of the grand-opening lock-in. He'll even write an essay about why he finds the library exciting. Soon, he and eleven other twelve year olds are spending the night in the fantastic space playing games, competing for prizes and watching Mozart play music with Metallica in the building's IMAX theater. In the morning, the kids know that the lock -in is over, but why won't the doors unlock? Kyle and his friends have a chance to be part of a Lemoncello game with a very cool prize, but to win it they need to figure out how to get out of the library. Kyle is going for it, but so is his best friend Akimi, bookworm Sierra, library fans Miguel and Andrew and smarmy, privileged Charles Chiltington, among others.

Readers will enjoy the many nods to their favorite authors and books. They will wish that their libraries also had a Wonder Dome, holographic tigers and authors, a Story Corner with animatronic geese,and all of the snazzy surprises of Lemoncello's library. Librarians will smile over the character of the red headed, red suited Dr. Yanina Zichenko, "...the most famous librarian in the whole world!" And everyone will like trying to solve the challenging puzzles that Kyle and company must work through in order to win!

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman

My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman, Illustrated by Jim Paillot, 2013.

Author of the My Weird School series, Dan Gutman, has put together a kid-friendly guide to writing and sounding less like a "dumbhead."

His honest and humorous voice keeps his writing lively. Section headers like: "You're going to hate this part," "How not to bore people to death," and "Kill the adjectives!" grab readers' attention. Kids will be happy to see familiar characters from the My Weird School books, A.J. and Andrea (drawn by Jim Paillot), comment on Gutman's suggestions and snark back and forth.

From harpercollinschildrens.tumblr.com

Gutman's guide gives suggestions for writing stories and non-fiction, from finding ideas to writing in proper form. He encourages kids that anyone can write a story, even if they are themselves very boring. Using the setting of "your mouth" and the character of a germ, he walks readers through building a story from scratch. He then reveals his "secrets" of revising and perfecting it. In a fun and gentle way, he shows kids how to improve their writing, talking about grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, but never comes off like a grammar textbook. Along the way he inserts short quotations by literary greats such as Kurt Vonnegut, James Michner, Toni Morrison and William Safire.

Young writers will enjoy learning from Gutman's accessible writing guide.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig by Chris Kurtz

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: a Novel Of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz, Illus. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt, 2013.

Flora the piglet is not like her brothers. They may be happy staying in their pen, eating and napping, but Flora wants more out of life. When she learns that the farm dogs are being trained as sled dogs and preparing for expeditions, she realizes that she's found her dream, When men suddenly come and take her to the ship the Explorer, Flora just knows that she's been chosen to be a sled pig, and will do her team proud. So what if she's been put in the rat infested cargo hold? This plucky pig knows how to make new friends and keep herself in shape. With her winning ways and positive attitude, Flora plans to fulfill her ambitions and readers will love and admire her for it.

Reinhardt's adorable black and white illustrations make the book even better. Her expressive pictures show the sled dogs' pleasure and pride, Flora's cat friends' affection and haughtiness and the porcine heroine's many moods, from befuddled to sad and tired to overjoyed.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What the Dinosaurs Really Looked Like?

Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What the Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh, 2013.

After reading this outstanding book by Sibert medalist Thimmesh, I learned that  nearly everything that I was taught in elementary school about dinosaurs was incomplete or just wrong. In pre 1975 class, I was told that dinos were cold blooded, related to reptiles, slow moving and stood upright with dragging tails. I learned about a creature called a Brontosaurus. And I was terrified of the Pterodactyl and had nightmares where one giant eye looked into my window before it carried away my house.

With the exception of my fear of winged dinosaurs, views on all of the above dinosaur "facts" have changed greatly and this book is full of them. Did you know that more than 700 species of dinosaurs have been identified? Or that the Brontosaurus' correct name is now the Apatasaurus? Or that dinos have both bird and reptile relatives and like them, they have no facial muscles? Thimmesh explains how scientists and amateur fossil hunters have made discoveries of bones, fossils and mummified animals that help them make very strong educated guesses about how the creatures moved, what they ate, what their skin was like (T-Rex may have been feathered!) and even what colors they may have been.

The book is dramatically illustrated by current paleoartists Sylvia & Stephen Czerkas, Mark Hallett, Tyler Keillor, Greg Paul and John Sibbick. Fascinating contrast with their work is provided by the inclusion of 19th century dinosaur art by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Charles R. Knight. These pictures underscore the evolution of our knowledge of dinosaurs and their lives. The endpapers show a timeline of the Mesozoic era and a breakdown of the three major dinosaur groups: Theropods, Sauropodomorphs and Ornithischians. Additional reading suggestions and a glossary are included.

Anyone with curiosity and an imagination for dinosaurs will love this book.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wild Boy: the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure

Wild Boy: the Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure, Illus. by Timothy Basil Ering.  2013.

Losure's story of the wild boy begins in southern France in 1797. A lone 9 year old child lives in the forest, summer and winter, taking care of himself. He goes naked, has no tools and avoids the nearby village. A few times he is caught by people and brought into town, but he always escapes until 1800, when he is admitted to an orphanage by a village official. He is unable to speak, but is not "deaf and dumb" as is at first thought. The boy draws the attention of priest, professor and scientist Pierre-Joseph Bonnaterre, who has a mind to study him. So begins years of attention from people who want to examine and educate him, but not necessarily love him.

In her touching narrative non-fiction, Losure shows Victor the Savage of Aveyron as a person of strong emotions, who in spite of his unusual life, is primarily a joyful soul who wants to please the people that take care of him. Readers will feel compassion for the child who was left alone in the woods for unknown reasons and who only knew the outdoor life, but who suddenly lost his familiar world and couldn't understand why. Although Victor's story seems a melancholy one, Losure notes that the methods used to teach him were later helpful for schooling thousands of children who had previously been considered unreachable, as well as influencing Maria Montessori in her famous education methods.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Splash of Red: the Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant

A Splash of Red: the Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, Illus. by Melissa Sweet, 2013.

I had never heard of Horace Pippin, and perhaps I am not alone. This title took care of that oversight. Admired and promoted by N.C. Wyeth, Pippin was an important self-taught African American artist. He was born in the late 1800s and loved to draw with charcoal and paint pictures from childhood until his creativity was temporarily arrested by World War I. He was wounded in the trenches and his right arm was badly damaged. Still, he returned home to the United States, married, and taught himself to draw again by supporting his right hand with his left wrist and using a hot poker to burn drawings into wood. Using this method, and strengthening his arm, he began to paint again. He hoped to sell his works for $5.00 per painting. His art hung in a shoe store window, and soon he was discovered, had his own art show and his public career as an artist was made.

Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet closely collaborated on this book, researching Horace Pippin together and visiting his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. They clearly have love for their subject. Further reading, websites and sources of Horace Pippin's quotes are included. Sweet's watercolor, gouache and collage illustrations are inspired by Pippin's work, and she includes some of his quotations in her pictures. The back endpaper is a map of the places that you can see Pippin's art.

You can also view many of Horace Pippin's paintings here: http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=213

Monday, June 30, 2014

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, 2013.

Although this magnificently illustrated biography is aimed at 4 to 9 year olds, anyone can enjoy it. In the spare 18 pages of text, Nelson tells Mandela's story from childhood until he became the first black president of South Africa. Readers learn that he was the smartest child in his large family and the only one chosen for school. He became a lawyer, and a leader who helped defend those without  voices. The injustice of apartheid is explained very simply. A denser note from the author follows, filling in more details of Mandela's life. Nelson's photo-realistic paintings are outstanding. He received a Coretta Scott King illustrator honor in 2014.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees by Sandra Markle

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: a Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle, 2014.

In its 48 pages, this interesting title gives a lot of detailed information about bees and what could be causing Colony Collapse Disorder. Markle talks about honeybee life and function, how we humans depend on them for much of our food and gives an example of how in 2006 a beekeeper went to check his hives and saw thousands of bees missing, with no dead bees to be found.

 This phenomena has puzzled scientists, and many theories of why the bees have vanished have been explored. Possible bee killers such as changing habitat, overwork, mites, fungus and pesticides are described. On a more hopeful note, ways that people are trying to help our bees are considered, like giving commercial bees a healthier diet, giving them a break from year round pollination, raising special hygienic bees to control the spread of disease and even a general increase of beekeeping by homeowners, and in places such as schools and public buildings.

The book includes a glossary, suggestions for further reading and websites to visit and is illustrated with high quality color photographs.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 2013.

This book is getting a lot of positive buzz and I know some librarians who absolutely love it, but this is not a book for me. Although I appreciate the ideas that one person can have a dramatic impact on others' lives and misfits can come together to make a family, and I am always happy to find another positive book with characters of color, I had many problems with this book that prevented me from really enjoying it. I couldn't willingly suspend my disbelief over many parts of the plot. Things frequently came together in a ways that were almost magical. Since this story seems otherwise realistic, I found that jarring. I don't want to write spoilers here, but  this occurs many times. Also, I always felt at arm's length from Willow and the rest of the characters and I had difficulty believing in her as a child, albeit a genius child. I think that the continual switch of narration from first person to third person contributed to that feeling. Finally, the ending felt false to me and completely changed my opinion of one character. These are just my opinions, so by all means read and judge for yourself.

What it's about:

Twelve year old Willow Chance's life is shaken when she loses both of her parents in a car accident, and there is no next of kin to collect her. Because she is essentially a genius who her school mistakenly views as a cheater, she has been having counseling sessions with Dell Duke, who is intrigued by her abilities, but is seriously unfit for his job. Because of these appointments, she has also met the commanding teenage Mai and her troubled brother Quang-ha.When Willow is informed about her parents' deaths, these people, plus Mai and Quang-ha's mother Pattie, group together to temporarily take care of her. This situation and Willow herself bring about plenty of growth and change for all of the characters, until Willow finds the new place that she belongs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth

Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth, Illus. by Steve Jenkins, 2013.

Valerie Worth's second children's book of animal poetry offers eighteen poems celebrating creatures from a fly to fish to a rat. They are beautifully matched by Steve Jenkins' collage illustrations (see also: Never Smile at a Monkey). The collection kicks off with:

Nearly a
Myth, his
Shady mask,
His flickering
Feet, his
Fiery tail;
Streaking the
Dark like
A fabulous
Famous, but
Seldom seen.
Other animals are wonderfully described, from the cries of birds, to the solidity of a bull to the majesty of a Bengal tiger. This book is a great share with poetry and animal lovers.

Chickenhare by Chris Grine

Chickenhare by Chris Grine, 2013.

Grine begins his story amidst the action as Chickenhare and his friend Abe, a bearded box turtle, are about to to be sold to Klaus, a mad taxidermist who collects exotic animals. Once captive, they meet  Banjo, a smart-mouthed, monkeylike Krampus and brave, horned Meg. They join together to escape and head off into the snow, but Chickenhare is separated from the group when he is distracted by the ghost of a well dressed goat. Tired and cold, the others unknowingly shelter in the caves of the fierce and hungry Shromph and relentless Klaus, along with his butler, his personal thug and two piggy flunkys are coming to get them.Will Chickenhare, "half chicken, half rabbit, 100% hero" be able to get them out of that mess?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, 2011.

Dead End in Norvelt is a big fat award winner, of both the 2012 Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. If that isn't recommendation enough for you, please allow me to add mine. This odd, amusing story will gross you out, make you laugh and get you to love its young narrator.

Set in Pennsylvania in 1962,  Dead End in Norvelt follows a 12 year old boy, also named Jack Gantos, through a summer that he spends mostly grounded, but seldom bored. His community conscious mom has promised his help to a little old neighbor, Miss Volker, who wants him at her house at 6:00 am. Fortunately for the history-loving Jack, his job is to help her write up obituaries about the original inhabitants of their hometown, Norvelt, and Miss Volker knows how to make history lively.

 After a mishap with his dad's Japanese war souvenir and an unfortunate corn mowing incident, his work with Miss Volker becomes his only hope for excitement. He soon finds himself dressing up like the Grim Reaper to investigate a possible death, tangling with a pack of revenge seeking Hell's Angels and undergoing an operation Miss Volker performs with veterinary tools meant to fix his perpetually bloody nose.

Through his adventures, he describes town characters such as Mr. Spizz, an officious, tricycle riding would-be suitor of Miss Volker's, Bunny Huffer, his tough, baseball loving friend, and his scheming father, who plans to build a runway for his army surplus plane, while assuring his wife that he is putting in a bomb shelter instead.

All the while, the town elders seem to be dropping dead at an accelerated pace.

I can't wait to read the sequel, From Norvelt to Nowhere!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, 2013.

Rayburn is a giant monster with horns, fangs, and a dragon-like appearance. The problem is that he just doesn't feel very scary. He's letting down Stoker-On-Avon, the town that he's supposed to thrill and terrorize. Wilkie is a disgraced doctor and scientist who's been drafted by the town fathers to fix Rayburn. Along with street urchin/town crier/stowaway Timothy he talks Rayburn into heading out on a road trip to meet with more horrifying town monsters.They're soon off to see Ray's school chum Tentaculor, who's green, many-armed and fierce. Unfortunately, while Stoker-On-Avon is monster- less, something worse decides to pay it a visit: the Murk, made of grave dirt, old hair and hunger. Now's the time for Rayburn to show his mettle, and with some of Wilkie's edgier inventions,  put a stop to the Murk's rampage and save the town.Will a Green-Thorned Smooshroom, a screaming Psychotree, and the possible loss of Tentaculor stop him?

Kids will enjoy this humorous graphic novel about monsters, friendship, believing in yourself and working with what you've got!

Hansel and Gretel by Michael Morpurgo & Emma Chichester Clark

Hansel and Gretel by Michael Morpurgo & Emma Chichester Clark, 2008.


"Nibble-dee-day, nibble-dee-day. Who's nibbling at my house today?"

This is a nicely illustrated expansion of the Hansel and Gretel story. It keeps many of the tale's motifs and puts the focus on the children as part of their family unit. Hansel and Gretel live with their mother and father, Gabriel and Lisette, and all is good until a wicked witch, Belladonna, becomes jealous of Lisette and sets her sights on Gabriel and the children. She turns Lisette into a weeping willow tree, shape shifts into a beautiful young woman and pretends that she almost died while trying to prevent Lisette from drowning. Before long, she worms her way into the family and wins Gabriel's love, becoming his new bride. When the children cannot accept her, she brings a famine to the land and sets about getting rid of the kids in the usual way. Gabriel only pretends to go along with her demands to lose the children in the forest and helps them with the stones and breadcrumbs. When Belladonna learns of this, she turns Gabriel to stone and carries out the gingerbread house plan. After Gretel dispatches the witch in the oven, the kids return home, taking the hag's formerly fierce wolf-dog and discovering that her spells have been broken: the land is back in plenty and their parents are whole and healthy.

Clark's pictures have a pleasant, homey feel with characters dressed in folkloric patterned aprons and kerchiefs, pages bordered with vines, flowers and birds, and titles suggestive of  cross stitching. The family farm is full of chickens and the un-cursed forest teems with birds and animals. The witch's gingerbread house is cute as can be, surrounded by daisies, but her courtyard is a mess, filled with sticks, stones and bones. In her wifely form, Belladonna has disturbingly electric green eyes and in her full-on witchery she has pink eyes, a bulbous, warty nose, an abundance of facial hair and scraggly grey locks.

Seek this book out for a great longer read aloud with kids who already know the usual story.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hansel and Gretel by Ian Wallace

Hansel and Gretel by Ian Wallace, 1994.


  • Setting is by the sea on the edge of a forest
  • Does not mention God
  • Children drop pebbles but say they're turning back to wave goodbye to the cat on the roof
  • Hansel drops breadcrumbs but says he is turning back to wave goodbye to a pigeon on the roof
  • Children follow a white bird to the witch's house
  • House was "made of sweets with a roof made of cake and pure sugar for windows."
  • Witch promises no harm will come to them
  • Hansel is kept in a pen rather than a cage

"Nibbling, nibbling like a mouse.
Who's that nibbling at my house?"

Ian Wallace made his illustrations in pastel pencil on black paper. The witch's head appears on the horizon on the book's cover, but Wallace does not show her "human" face inside at all, although she does appear in a surrealistic, ominous form as the forest and in a creepy visual postscript as a witch-shaped cloud of smoke rising from the oven chimney. Like Anthony Browne's book, (Picture books: Hansel and Gretel), this Hansel and Gretel has a more modern setting than most. The family's shabby  home appears to have a drop tile ceiling and a 70s vibe lamp, the father wears a baseball cap, the kids wear casual pants and the stepmother reads a scandal sheet of the "Batboy found!" variety. The art has dark overtones, from the literally dim and engulfing woods to the children's reunion with their father near the cemetery by their home. Wallace's version of the story is not your typical one, and is worth a look.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

The Lost Boy written and illus. by Greg Ruth, 2013.

In Greg Ruth's deliciously creepy graphic novel The Lost Boy, we first meet young Nate, reluctantly moving into his family's new house. He has no sooner than picked out his bedroom when he finds the tape recordings of a boy named Walt, telling of unusual activity in the woods in the 1960s. Walt describes insects dressed in evening wear, talking squirrels and eerie life sized doll people. Before long, Nate's usual world intersects with the Kingdom, home to the crazy things that Walt has described and Nate learns that not long after he made his tapes,Walt permanently disappeared. When Nate and a neighbor girl named Tabitha are attacked by a monstrous Tree Man, the Vespertine, the kids are dragged into an adventure in the Kingdom. Aiding them are Tom Button, a doll boy, Pettibone, a brave and sassy squirrel, and Haloran, Walt's former mentor. Pleasingly spooky in art and storyline, hinting at the possibility of more to come, this title will leave readers hoping for an entire series about Nate, Tabitha and the Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Camp Read-a-Lot 2014 Reading List

I will once again be a "counselor" at Camp Read-a-Lot, this summer held in West St. Paul on August 7. I will be among the librarians leading the book discussions for the 4th-5th grade books. This year's author is Jack Gantos!
 More information here

4th and 5th Grade Reads:
1. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:
  • Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg
  • Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan
2. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  • The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein  
  • The Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
3. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  •  Doll Bones by Holly Black
  • Jinx by Sage Blackwood

4. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  •  The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson  
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

5. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •  Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

6. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •  ChickenHare by Chrise Grine
  • Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell
  • The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

7. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •  Dead End In Norvelt (Norvelt Series #1) by Jack Gantos
  • From Norvelt to Nowhere (Norvelt Series #2) by Jack Gantos

Camper’s Choice

8. Camper’s Choice – Any title of your choice (fiction or nonfiction) that meets the following criteria:
a. You have not read it before this summer
b. Original copyright is no older than 2012
c. Ideal for classroom use or free reading
d. Avoid highly popular titles, books recently made into movies, major award winners


9. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  •  Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch
  • Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh
  • The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle

10. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  • Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
  • Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure
  • Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty by Russel Freedman

11. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •   Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant
  • My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman
  • When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laben Carrick Hill
  • Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hansel and Gretel by Beni Montresor

Hansel and Gretel by Beni Montresor, 2001.

    The details of  Montresor's concise story deviate quite a bit from the Grimms' version. The children are sent into the woods by their mother to pick strawberries, but they get lost on their own. Their parents worry when their offspring don't return, because the woods are infested with an evil monster, terrifying devils and witches. As the children spend the night in the forest, they dream that heavenly angels watch over them, and when they awaken, a castle has taken the place of the woods. This is the witch's home, and she wastes no time in throwing Hansel into a cage and forcing Gretel to prepare the cooking fire. Gretel uses the witch's magic wand to free Hansel, and together they push her into the fire. Other children imprisoned by the crone are now freed and the children are heroes. The tale ends there, with no reunion of the children and their parents.

Verse: none

Montresor uses dramatic silhouette art to tell his adaptation of the story. Bold backgrounds of colorful green, royal blue, red, etc. contrast with the white profiles of the children. The evil creatures are readily identifiable: red devils carrying pitchforks, green witches riding brooms, and a yellow eyed monster with a face like a Puffer fish. Likewise, the host of angels,  colored mauve and yellow, have crowns, wings and outspread arms. Though I personally don't care for what I feel are unnecessary changes to the story, the art makes this book stand out.

Hansel & Gretel by Lisbeth Zwerger

Hansel & Gretel by the Brothers Grimm & Lisbeth Zwerger, Trans. by Elizabeth D. Crawford, 1979.

  • Mentions God
  • Hansel drops pebbles but says he is turning back to look at a white kitten on the roof
  • Children think that their father is nearby in the woods, but he has fixed a tree branch to strike a tree to sound like an axe cutting wood
  • Hansel drops breadcrumbs but says he is turning back to look at a dove on the roof
  • Children follow a white bird to the witch's house
  • House was "made of bread and roofed with cakes, and the windows were of pure sugar."
  • Witch promises no harm will come to them
  • Gives detail on the witch, including her keen sense of smell
  • Hansel is kept in a kennel rather than a cage
  • Children ride a white duck across the water to get home

"Nibble, nibble, munch, munch.
Who is gnawing on my house?"

"The wind, the wind,
The heavenly wind."

"Duckling, duckling,
Help Hansel and Gretel.
There's no footbridge and no track.
Take us on your little white back."

Zwerger's watercolor illustrations  are done in neutral colors and put the focus on the children and their reactions. The woods are really a brown blur and the stepmother, a plain but normal looking woman, is only shown once. Even the witch is fairly subtle. Her robe has an absence of color and her skin a very faint green tint. Her most striking features are her amber eyes, that put one in mind of a snake or a toad. The overall effect is dreamy and melancholy, until the happy ending.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thing 23: Evaluate 23 Mobile Things

I had a great time doing 23 Mobile Things and I do feel that I learned a lot. It has definitely made me more willing to explore apps and not fear adding and subtracting them from my phone at will. I would absolutely participate in another 23 Things!

Apps added during 23 Mobile Things still on my phone:
  • Apps Gone Free
  • Bee Kind
  • Blogger
  • Candy Crush (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Farm Heroes (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Free Fall (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Going Out
  • Instagram
  • Mediation Timer Free (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • MyGarden
  • Pill Monitor Free (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Project Noah
  • Springpad
  • Zite
Top 3 Favorite for Personal Use:

  • Springpad
  • Bee Kind
  • Farm Heroes
Sadly, Springpad, which I find I use a lot, is shutting down on June 25. However, they provide for migration to Evernote, which I just did and it went smoothly. Now, we will see.

Top 3 Favorite for Possible Work Use:
  • Vine
  • Audioboo
  • Pinterest

Favorite Mobile Things: (Pinterest definitely would have been on this list, but I was already using it)

  1. Thing 22: Discovering Apps (Very happy to have found Quixey, but I did use it on my computer, rather than iPhone)
  2. Things 10 & 9: Sharing Photos & Taking and Editing Photos (just fun!)
  3. Thing 19: Hobbies

Least Favorite Mobile Things:

  1. Thing 15: Infographics
  2. Thing 6: Creating and Editing Documents (not practical on tiny iPhone)
  3. Thing 13: Presentations (ditto and love my PowerPoint)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Thing 22: Discovering Apps

Apps Gone Free:

"Apps Gone Free is a great way to discover apps from the App Store that have gone free for the day. To get the word out, apps will occasionally go on sale for a day or a week and this app lets you know about them. You’ll find five to ten apps of all different kinds highlighted per day."

I added this app today (actually 5/28), and it advertised the following free (temporarily) apps:
  • Tube for YouTube- "Get the full YouTube experience"
  • Gridplay-"Turn your everyday videos into framed masterpieces"
  • Fairway Solitaire by Big Fish Games, Inc. -"The highest and rated and most popular solitaire game in the app store"
  • Game of War- Fire Age- "An addictive strategy game with a fun social aspect"
  • Atomus- "Take control of thousands of particles with this relaxing entertainment app"
  • Pocket Scanner -"Turn your iPhone into a powerful mobile scanner"
  • Tadaa SLR -"Take fantastic SLR quality photos"
  • Uface- Unique Face Maker -"Create hand-drawn versions of yourself"
  • Pocket Scanner HD - turn your iPad into a portable scanner
  • SalaryBook HD -"Freelancers, consultants, and professionals can keep track of their working hours and earnings'
I am going to pass on these. But, for kicks I went back a week to see what else had been offered, and this one seemed interesting.

IncrediBooth- "...Create awesome photo strips using your iDevice's front-facing camera"

In truth, I don't know how much I will actually check this app. I don't feel I'm really lacking apps, and I probably wouldn't pay for one unless it's really outstanding, but I guess it's a nice option.


"Quixey is the app search engine and it’s a great way to discover apps. It allows you to search for the type of app you’re looking for and it gives you great suggestions. It’s a much better way to do some keyword searching to find apps than you’ll get in the Apple or Android stores."

Puttering around on Quixey and searching for brain games, I turned up this app:

Fit Brains Trainer:  "Fit Brains Trainer is a brain training & fitness app with more than 360 games & unique training sessions that are designed to enhance your Memory, Processing Speed, Concentration, Problem Solving and Visual skills."

I had to enter my identifying information, including age, and the app began to "train" me with appropriate games. In session 1, I counted blocks for speed, then completed number patterns for problem solving. Ick, numbers. Things resembling math make me nervous. In session 2, I identified shadow shapes for visual improvement, counted more blocks, and spotted hidden shapes for speed. You get the idea. I think that I will use this app. Well, maybe not. Apparently you only get five sessions for free and after that it's ten dollars a month.

I also tried the keyword "kindness" and found:

Random Act of Kindness: Which suggests compassionate things you can do and lets you share them on social media. Some examples: "Help someone get their GED," "Document your family tree," and "Donate clothes to a woman's shelter."

Acts of Kindness: Which does pretty much the same thing, with additional suggestions of good causes to donate to. For example, "You could donate to Africare" and all you need to do is push "Learn More" to be connected to Africare's website. Other good deeds: "You could lend advice to someone with a problem," "You could donate to National Children's Leukemia Foundation," "You could donate to the American Brain Tumor Association," and "You could donate to the Animal Legal Defense Fund."

Bee Kind: Is more visually fun than the other two apps, more child friendly and probably more likely to be used by me. To get your kindness To Do List, you spend the bee's wheel and it gives you a suggestion, which you either accept or reject, such as "Be kind to the planet, shut the car off if stopped longer than a minute," "Be very kind to yourself, forget the past and let go of your guilt," "Be kind to animals, donate pet food to a local animal shelter," and "Be very kind to others, buy groceries for an elderly friend." All the ideas that you accept are compiled into a list and you can check things off when you have finished them. Then you can share on social media if you want. For extra cuteness and fun, there are also levels to the game. You start as a lazy bee and progress to a super bee!


Kindness Free Guided Meditation for Inner Peace:

As promised, this app talks you through a brief (approx 6 minutes) lovingkindness meditation. You can choose whether you want a male or female voice, English or Spanish and if you want background music, no music, or forest or beach sounds. It also offers written quotes about kindness that you can flip through.

And finally,

Kind MindQ:

This is a collective consciousness app that appears to be a work in progress. The idea is for beings the planet over to focus on love, kindness and world peace. I'll stay tuned for the next generation of this app.

The bottom line is that Quixey is a winner.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Little Critter Hansel and Gretel

Little Critter Hansel and Gretel: a lift-the-flap book by Mercer Mayer, 2010.
Not surprisingly, this book has the most radical changes to the story that I've yet seen. Of their own volition, Hansel and Gretel happen to be taking a walk in the woods, when they are warned by a black bird to turn back. They ignore him and go to the witch's sweetie house, but instead of eating it, they ring her doorbell. She feeds them enchanted food and later puts Hansel into the dungeon with the usual plans to fatten him up. Gretel tricks her into helping retrieve a bucket from the well, and pushes her in. The evil witch emerges grumpy and dripping, but here comes the children's father, who has been searching for them all along. They go home, leaving the witch stuck in her well. There is no verse used and the bird provides brief running commentary on the action.
This book uses the heavier cardboard pages appropriate to a lift-the-flap title. Hansel and Gretel are cute, bucktoothed furry creatures readers will recognize from any of the Little Critter series books. The red-eyed hag in the woods appears to be an alligator or a dragon in a typical black witch's outfit, including peaked hat. Kids can lift the flaps to find things like the witch's candy house, Hansel sleeping in a sack, a mouse and a crumb in an otherwise empty breadbox and more. 

Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Dorothee Duntze

Hansel and Gretel by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Anthea Bell,  illustrated by Dorothee Duntze, 2001.


  • Mentions God
  • The one who wants the children taken to the forest is their mother, not a stepmother
  • Hansel drops pebbles but says he is turning back to look at a white kitten on the roof
  • Children follow a white bird to the witch's house
  • House is "built of gingerbread and roofed with cake, and the windowpanes were made of clear sugar."
  • Witch promises no harm will come to them
  • Hansel is locked in a shed instead of a cage
  • Children ride a white duck across the water to get home
  • Mother has died

"Nibble nibble mousie,
Who's nibbling at my housie?"

"The child of the sky,
the wind blowing by."

"Here by the water, little duck,
Hansel and Gretel are out of luck.
There is no bridge, a boat we lack,
Carry us over on your white back."

"That's the end of my tale --look there goes a mouse!
If you catch it in your lap it will make a nice fur cap."

Duntze's surrealistic illustrations provide a dramatic and interesting interpretation of the tale. In the first scene when the starving woodcutter and his horrible wife try to decide what to do, the woman's head covering is bread and she is forcing her husband to look at four miniature caskets. The father's cap is sprouting twigs or trees and he cradles his tiny children surrounded by ferocious forest animals. His actual children look on in dismay. The children are led into a forest featuring what looks like large slices of bread. When the kids return home, the father's hat is growing flowers.

Hansel and Gretel, with golden shocks of hair like dandelions, are first shown innocently playing a hand clapping game. The crotchety witch is dressed like an old peasant woman with too much rouge and sparse and stubby teeth. She looms over a crying Gretel disconcertingly. Her oven has devilish features, and Gretel shuts her into its open maw.