Thursday, December 31, 2015

Today At The Desk....

This week I got to work a couple of extra shifts at the children's desk since my storytime-to-go program is on a holiday break right now and the children's department was really shorthanded due to one staff member on medical leave, another on bereavement leave, and others being in meetings or needing to take vacation time.  I was happy to help out and it was nice to spend some extra time back in the department.

Yesterday morning was the regular weekly storytime, and I was hoping one of our regular families would be there since I haven't seen them in a while.  They used to come to storytime every week until their youngest child started kindergarten; now we only see them during the summer and other school breaks, and I haven't seen them since I started working in Outreach 5 months ago.  But, unfortunately, they didn't come in.  But we did have several nice young families come for storytime and hang around for a while afterwards.  I stayed busy in between questions by looking for materials on the "missing" report, and checking in the ones I was able to find.  The rest are probably gone for good and will have to be replaced.  It's rewarding to find things, but discouraging that so many don't turn up.  Some may be truly lost, but many are unfortunately stolen.

Today it was pretty slow in the morning when I walked through, and when I first started my shift at the desk, but it quickly got fairly busy.  I joked with my co-worker that everyone must have been waiting for me.  Though we had quite a few families, it was relatively quiet and I just had some routine questions, and customers needing checkout assistance or help locating materials.  I also straightened up the shelves and filled displays, shelved one cartful of books and put two more in order since the department is still down a page, and pulled the few items put on hold and took them down to circulation.  It was a relatively quiet New Year's Eve, other than the phone ringing constantly from people calling to see if we were closing early or going to be open tomorrow.

I enjoyed having a week off of storytime duty and getting to spend it at the desk, and getting some collection development done, but I am looking forward to seeing all my kiddos again next week!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Middle-Grade Novels I Gave For Christmas - The Voracious Reader

My 8-year old niece presents a different challenge than her brother, the reluctant reader.  She loves to read, reads well above grade level, and finishes books very quickly.  She also does not have any strong interests like her brother, or specific genres that she likes (and probably has not been exposed to some).  Her mother suggested that she would like classics, but I also wanted to find books with characters she could relate to and identify with as the poor shy, neglected middle child who is always overshadowed by her 3 more out-going, boisterous, attention-seeking brothers, or that might inspire her to break out of her shell.  I originally intended to get her two books, but couldn't make up my mind, so went on and gave her three since I know she will read them.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  December 9, 2013 (originally published in 1908).  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.  224 pages.  Ages 10 & up.

This well-known classic tells the story of Anne Shirley, a spirited 11-year old orphan who has been mistakenly sent from an orphanage in Nova Scotia to the Cuthbert farm on Prince Edward Island.  Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, middle-aged unmarried siblings who still live together on the family farm, had planned on taking in an orphaned boy who could help the aging Matthew with work on the farm.  But, Matthew is immediately taken by the lively, chatty, and imaginative Anne, and Marilla eventually agrees to let her stay.  The story follows over the next 5 years as Anne becomes very close to the Cuthberts and builds a life in Avonlea. 

This was a book the mom had suggested, but I wasn't sure that an 8-year old would be quite ready for it, even a very smart one.  I remember reading it and liking it as a child, but I'm not sure I was that young when I read it.  I also wasn't sure how relatable it would be to kids today.  But I figured it was worth a try, knowing she can always read it when she gets a little older if she's not quite ready for it yet.  And, if she does read it and likes it, then she has five more books in the series to follow Anne throughout her life, as well as 3 books about Anne's children. 

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.  September 1, 1995 (originally published in 1875).  Puffin Books (reissued). 320 pages.  Ages 10 & up.

13-year old Rose lost her mother when she was very young, and has now lost her beloved father as well.  She is sent to live with her extended family of aunts and uncles, and now finds herself the only girl in her generation of the family, surrounded by eight boy cousins.  Rose must learn how to make good choices and grow into a responsible and productive young woman.

My sister had first suggested Little Women for her daughter, which I loved as a child myself.  But, I thought Kat would be better able to relate to Rose, who is surrounded by boy cousins, than Jo March, who has three sisters.  I also like how Alcott promotes education for women, as well as an active, healthy lifestyle, and that women should have control over their assets and finances.  There is a sequel to this book that continues Rose's story into adulthood, Rose In Bloom, as well as the Little Women series, if she really enjoys Eight Cousins.

Matilda by Roald Dahl.  August 16, 2007  (originally published in 1988).  Puffin Books, reprint edition. 256 pages.  Ages 8-12.

In this story young Matilda is a very bright girl, born into a family that is nothing like her and doesn't appreciate her intellect.  Her parents are crass, uneducated, and have questionable ethics.  But Matilda discovers the public library and discovers all kinds of other worlds, facts, and information contained in the books.  She uses her intelligence to play pranks to get back at her father.

Eventually Matilda ends up at a school run by the cruel and evil Miss Trunchbull, who subjects the children and staff to all manner of abuse and ridicule.  Fed up with the Trunchbull, Matilda's anger leads to a wondrous discovery-she can make things move with the power of her mind!  Matilda uses her powers to drive away the evil Trunchbull, who is replaced by a kind and competent headmaster.  Matilda's parents have to skip town, and Matilda takes advantage of the situation and suggests they leave her to live with her beloved teacher, Miss Honey, to which they readily agree.

I felt like this story was probably the best choice of the three for my niece as it is more contemporary and has a very fun, lively story that celebrates a little, quiet girl with a powerful intellect, and it's a bit shorter.  I like the message of taking responsibility for your own education and not letting anyone hold you back; plus who doesn't like seeing the villain get what they deserve in the end.  And it promotes the public library system, another bonus!  Another reason I chose it is that it has just a bit of fantasy to test the waters to see how she likes it.  Roald Dahl has many more books with all different kinds of characters she can read if she likes this one. 

It is definitely helpful to find series with many installments when you have a voracious reader so you can stay one step ahead of them and keep them supplied with books.  Of course, you have to remember to start looking for a new series as they approach the end of the one they are one.  If it's a series that hasn't concluded yet, then it gives them something to look forward to with excitement as they wait for the next book to come out.  But of course you shouldn't overlook the many one-of gems that are out there, as well.

If you'd like to see what I chose for her older brother the reluctant reader, see my previous post, and if you'd like to see the zombie picture books I choose for her little brothers, see my post on my other blog, Adventures In Storytime.

Middle-Grade Novels I Gave For Christmas - The Reluctant Reader

Since I work in early literacy at the public library, it's only natural that I tend to give books for Christmas.  Especially since I know my nieces and nephews have too much crap anyway, and their mother doesn't take them to the library.  The younger two got zombie picture books, and the older two got chapter books.

My older niece and nephew are complete opposites.  My 8-year old niece is a voracious reader and reads above grade level, while her 10-year old brother is an extremely reluctant reader and will only read shorter books at or slightly below grade level, only if they are about one of the very few things that interest him.  He tends to be a bit obsessive and hyper-focuses on one or two subjects for long periods of time, which for the last couple of years has been (1) The Civil War, and (2) survival skills and preparedness (brought on by the family's obsession with "The Walking Dead").  So for him, I chose these two books:

Brian's Winter, by Gary Paulsen.  March 12, 2012 (Originally published in 1996).  Ember (reprint edition).  144 pages.  Ages 10 & up.

This is an alternate-ending sequel to Paulsen's classic novel Hatchet, the story of 13-year old Brian's survival in the Canadian wilderness after being the sole survivor of a small plane crash.  Hatchet ends with Brian recovering an emergency signaling beacon from the wreckage of the plane submerged in the lake and activating it, which leads to his rescue.  Brian's Winter answers the question of what would have happened if Brain had not been rescued so soon and had to figure out how to survive the ensuing harsh, Canadian winter.

I had given my nephew Hatchet last Christmas thinking he would like the survival aspect of the story (the previous year I gave him a non-fiction book about survival), and though he put off reading it for months, when he finally did he admitted he liked it and asked for the sequel.  I preferred the idea of Brian's adventure continuing a little longer in a harsher climate, so I chose to go with Brian's Winter, which leaves the other three books in the saga if my nephew wants more:  The River, Brian's Return, and Brian's Hunt.  I like to find books with sequels for reluctant readers so that if you do manage to find something they like, they will then have a more positive attitude about reading the next book.  Sometimes it just takes finding the right series to hook a reluctant reader in and turn them on to reading.

I chose a second Paulsen book for my nephew as well.  Paulsen has long been known as a great choice for young reluctant readers (particularly boys) due to the short length, moderate reading level, and high interest of his books.  Some are more serious than others, but most are about tween/teen boys having adventures of some kind.

Soldier's Heart is the tale of a teenage boy who lies about his age to enlist in the Union Army because he doesn't want to miss out on what he sees as a great adventure, but turns out to be a nightmare.  This was a natural choice for my nephew considering his obsession with the Civil War, and I hoped it would help give him a more realistic view of war rather than his glorified one.  [If you'd like to know more, please see my earlier full review of Soldier's Heart.] 

In order to avoid an overly long post, I'm going to present the selections I made for my niece, the voracious reader, in a separate post.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Yesterday At The Desk...

Yesterday at the desk was a bit of a struggle.  First, I we had a major weather change overnight which almost always triggers a migraine.  Then, we had a short meeting late in the morning and some Christmas cookies were served, which for whatever reason, did not agree with my stomach at all.  So I started my shift not feeling well, and it just got worse as the afternoon went on.  It was disappointing, because I missed my desk shift last week to attend a great early literacy workshop, so I was looking forward to working the desk this week.  But I did the best I could to suck it up and put on a happy face and do my job.  I like working the desk and only get the opportunity to once a week, so I hated that I wasn't feeling well and couldn't really enjoy it, but I did try to do my best. 
We did not have a lot of patrons spending significant time in the department, but quite a steady stream of people in and out who needed help.  One patron was looking for Newbery medal-winners that she hadn't read, so I pulled up the list from their website for her and found her a couple of the ones she wanted to read next and didn't already own.  Then another patron needed help finding a book by D. J. MacHale, and though we found another series of his, it wasn't what she was looking for.  After quickly consulting the catalog, I discovered why.  It was a brand new series, so I showed her to the new shelf, explained that that's where all the books that have come out in the last 3 months are showcased, and found the book she wanted. 
I also had a patron who had put some items on hold, but had not waited for the notification they were ready.  Sometimes people think it's instantaneous, not understanding the request reports are usually only pulled 3 times a day, so her items were not ready yet.  But I pulled up her account to see what had been requested and it just took a few minutes to locate them all since some were in another department.  But I found them all and got them checked out to her, canceling the one she decided she didn't want.  Of course there were several simple check-outs and parking validations and a few directional questions, and I helped check Lexile levels for one poor tween who could only choose a book within 200 points of his supposed Lexile level.  It pains me to no end how often I hear this, knowing that Lexile scores are so skewed and that kids are much better off in the long run when they are allowed to read books that they choose for themselves, regardless of reading level.

I always try to stay busy, but today I really wanted to stay busy to distract myself from feeling bad, so in between patrons I worked on straightening the shelves, took care of some work-related e-mails, reviewed some picture books I'm considering for storytime, shelved a cartful of picture books, and pulled all the holds and transfers and took them down to circulation.  By that time, the shift was over and I could thankfully go home and go to bed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Middle School Book Club - Doll Bones by Holly Black

This month at the middle school book club, I finally got to lead the discussion of Doll Bones by Holly Black, after having suggested it for the book club last year.  Don't let the title or cover fool you, Doll Bones is NOT just for girls by any means!  Not only is the story told from the male character's point of view, it has plenty of creepy occurrences, a gruesome story, and some action. A doll made from the bones and ashes of a dead girl who was cut up and burned in a kiln and whose spirit now haunts the main characters?  This is no more a "girl book" than the horror movie Annabelle was a chick-flick.  The characters are also very relatable to all tweens in their struggle to deal with growing up and all the changes that come with it.  For a longer summary, please see my previous review.

I really liked this book when I first read it, and though it would be great for a tween discussion group, so I was thrilled to see it on the list for this year's book club [the school librarian chooses 5 books each year].  Today I finally got the chance to lead the discussion for it, after leading two previous discussions for Waiting For Normal that had been rather disappointing, even though it is a great book.  I could hardly get the last group I had to say a word!  I would pose a question that should have opened up some discussion, and I would hear crickets.  The one before that was a little more talkative, but they seemed to agree on everything, so not as much discussion.  So, I requested to lead the discussion for Doll Bones the next time, hoping to have better luck.
Discussion Questions/Topics
This time I did not really prepare questions in advance and write them down, as I really didn't think it would be necessary, but I did look over some before I went.  Some of the questions and topics that we discussed (not necessarily in order discussed or in order they happened in the book) were:
1.  What did you think of the book?  Was it what you expected  [They all loved it, but did say it was way creepier than they expected, but in a good way.]
2.  Who was your favorite character and why?
3.  Why do you think Zach didn't tell Poppy and Alice the truth about his dad throwing away his action figures?  How do you think you would have reacted in a similar situation?
4.  Why do you think Zach and Alice each agreed to go on the trip with Poppy to return the doll when they didn't really believe the ghost story at first?
5.  Do you think the doll was responsible for ruining their food and sleeping bag when they camped in the woods, or something else?  If not the doll, what or who?  What motivation would the doll have?  What motivation could someone else have?
6.  Can you identify with having an overly strict guardian like Alice?
7.  Would you be willing to sneak out and accompany your friend on such an adventure?
8.  How were each of the characters struggling with growing up and they changes in both themselves and their friends?  Can you relate to similar "growing pains"?
9.  Do you believe the doll was really possessed by the little girl's spirit, or do you think Poppy was making it up to keep them all together on a new "game"?  [This lead to a fairly long discussion in which each presented her view and events that supported it, including talking about how the power of suggestion can influence one's dreams and how one perceives things.]
10.  How do you think each of the characters were changing in general, and how did they each change specifically over the course of their adventure?
11.  Do you think this is a "girl" book?  [Resounding "No"] Do you think boys would like it if they would give it a try?  [Yes, but they can't get past the word "doll"]  I told them it was their mission now that they've read it to try to convince some of the boys to give it a try.
12.  Do you think this would make a good movie?  [A resounding "Yes!", myself included.]
13.  What other books have you read that you would recommend to someone who enjoyed reading Doll Bones?  [The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, one of last year's book club selections, was mentioned by more than one.  Another girl told us about a book she had read, but I did not recognize it and couldn't find anything with the title she gave that fits the description.  If I figure it out, I will come back and update this post.]
How It Went

This time around, I only had 6 girls show up (no boys, unfortunately), but they were completely opposite of my last group!  They were all very talkative and enthusiastic, and full of opinions!  Yay!  This is what a book discussion group should be like!  They were chomping at the bit, and took off talking about everything.  I occasionally had to reign them back in when they got off topic, or hold some back to let someone else finish what they were saying, but that is SO much better than having a group that doesn't want to say anything! 

They all loved the book, and really got into to discussing the different characters and differing opinions and interpretations of some of the events of the book.  Our discussion was so lively we lost track of time and the librarian had to interrupt us to tell the kids it was time to go.  I really, really wish we had a full hour instead of just 30 minutes.  By the time everyone gets in and settled, we really only have 20 minutes of discussion time.
I really had a great time today.  If only we could convince the boys to read it as well.  My son has also read this book and liked it a lot, so maybe I can get him to convince a couple of the other guys to read it and join the discussion next time.

If you are looking for a book for a class read or a tween book club, I highly recommend Doll Bones!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Today NOT At The Desk....

Today I did not work my usual shift at the desk because I attended an early literacy training workshop.  Which sounds like it would be easy duty, right?  Just sit and take it easy all day, listening to a seminar and taking notes, networking a little, etc.  But even though I actually put in an hour shorter day, I found myself way more exhausted at the end!

I don't know what it was, the sitting for so long at a time without really anything to do, the lack of caffeine or snacks in the afternoon [Seriously, if you have a captive audience for the whole day, you really need to provide caffeine and sugar to get everyone through the afternoon!], or the fact that I wasn't really learning much new, or a combination of the above.

Don't get me wrong, it was a great seminar with lots of good information about language development, early literacy, and storytime, with a good presenter.  It just so happens because of my particular background, I already knew all the information about language development and early literacy and already practiced 90% of the recommended practices.

I have a degree in education and biology, so not only did I have courses in child development, psychology, and communication disorders, I also had anatomy and physiology to understand that part of it, too.  Then on top of that I've raised two kids, so plenty of first-hand knowledge of child development, and over a year of experience doing storytime.  And I think I just have really good natural instincts when it comes to communicating with and reading to kids.

It was good to get confirmation that I am doing everything right and I do really know what I am doing, though.  It was a great workshop for children's librarians who usually have English lit or liberal arts degrees and don't have the background in child development and language acquisition, or anyone just starting out with doing storytime (or hoping to).  But since it was just a review for me, it wasn't as interesting or engaging, and I am just not used to spending all day just sitting passively.

Even when you are "sitting" at the desk, you are not really sitting there the whole time.  I am always getting up to straighten up, pull things for transfer, assist patrons, shelve, etc., so I'm constantly moving around.  And even if I am sitting at the desk, I'm *doing* something, helping patrons with checkout, locating materials, placing reserves, planning storytimes, making props for storytime...  It's amazing how much faster the day goes by when it's busy, and you don't really have a chance to feel tired when you are moving around.

I am certainly glad I had the opportunity to attend a professional workshop, particularly since part-time staff rarely get to, and it is nice to have that reinforcement that I do know what I'm doing.  Plus it will be a nice addition to my resume :)  But, I have to admit, I was a tired puppy by the end of the day!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Today At The Desk...

Today was a pretty quiet day at the desk, which gave me the chance to get a lot of housekeeping done.  There were many display gaps that needed to be filled, and the shelves needed some straightening.  After that, I returned to my roots as a page and shelved 2 cartfuls of books.  I couldn't believe how out of "shelving shape" I've gotten since moving to my new position!  I used to routinely shelve 3-4 carts a day with no problem, but today my back was killing me after just 2 carts.

While I was doing this I had a few routine questions from patrons that trickled in and out, and chatted with a young mom who was there with her 1-year old son.  We didn't really have the busy after-school crowd like normal, but there was one family who came in and asked for assistance several times, finding materials, parking validation, and book suggestions.  Their 6-year old son was interested in something light and humorous, with superheroes, detectives, something adventurous.  Also, the parents were very conservative about the content and illustrations.  He had already read all the obvious series I could think of right away, and the other couple of series I thought might be good did not have the first books of the series in.  After a quick consult with my manager, I managed to find a few possibilities and one spoke to him immediately. 

I have come to realize that while I do really like doing preschool storytime, I enjoy working with families the most.  It is always rewarding to interact with both the parents and kids of different ages and work with them to help get everyone what they need, and especially  when you have families that come on a regular basis and you get to see the kids grow and their reading levels and interests change and develop.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review of Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black.  May 7, 2013.  Margaret K. McElderry Books. 256 pages.  Ages 10-14.

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been best friends since they were little, engaging in a continuous "game" where they imagine and act out all kinds of adventures with characters they make up.  These characters are represented by dolls and action figures, and headed by The Queen, an old porcelain doll Poppy's mother keeps locked in her curio cabinet.

But now that they are twelve, things are changing.  They are all growing and changing, both physically and emotionally, developing other interests, and they are all dealing with issues at home.  Poppy's parents are never home and her older siblings are known for getting in trouble, Alice must live with her strict, over-protective grandmother after the tragic death of her parents, and Zach struggles with accepting the re-appearance of his father after a 3-year absence.  His father is overly-concerned with what other people will think of Zach hanging out with girls and playing with "dolls", and throws Zach's action figures away.

As all this is going on, Poppy shows the others that she took The Queen out of the cabinet, and since then has been having strange dreams about a dead girl named Eleanor whose ashes were used to make The Queen.  She believes the spirit of the dead girl is attached to the doll and is haunting her, asking Poppy to return her to her home and bury her in her family plot.  At first Alice and Zach think Poppy has made up a new game, but agree to go along because it sounds like a great adventure.  But as they embark on their quest, strange things happen that make them wonder if the doll really is haunted.

Will they be able to complete their quest and maintain their friendships?   Is the doll really haunted?

My Thoughts
I first read this book after it was named a 2014 Newbery Honor book, and re-read it recently in preparation for a middle-school book club discussion group.  This book has a fast-paced plot that is part coming-of-age story, part thriller.  The first time I read it was around the time the movie "Annabelle" came out about a possessed doll, and I would liken this book to a PG version of "Annabelle" for kids.  I really enjoyed this story, that is both character- and plot-driven.  The characters are relatable to other kids around that age who are also experiencing similar "growing pains" as their bodies, relationships, families, and interests change.  The story behind the doll is creepy and a little gruesome, but gives the story a nice edge without being too much.

Another little detail that I appreciated was the references to several other books of children's literature:  Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and The Twits; Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and Rick Riodan's Percy Jackson series. 

Having both male and female characters, and having the story told from the male characters point of view, will make it appealing to both boys and girls.  I think this book would appeal to a large range of readers with it's different layers, but I would recommend it in particular to those looking for something with a little more complexity to the plot, or specifically asking for something spooky or dealing with friendships and coming-of-age.  I would encourage all readers to at least give it a try.

Other Books By This Author
Holly Black is also the co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, and the author of two other fantasy series, Modern Faerie Tales and The Curse Workers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review of Soldier's Heart, Middle-Grade Historical Fiction by Gary Paulsen

Soldier's Heart  by Gary Paulsen.  1998.  Delacorte Press. 106 pages.  Ages 10-15.

June of 1861 finds fifteen-year old Charley Goddard living in Winona, Minnesota as the country prepares for battle.  The state is a-buzz with the excitement of a coming war with the Confederate secessionist states.  Everyone is sure this will be a very short-lived war and that the Union will whip the Rebels into submission in no time.  Not wanting to miss out on what he sees as a great adventure, Charley lies about his age and enlists.

However, it does not turn out to be what he expected.  Initially, the new recruits are disappointed by the boredom of training and the poor quality of the food.  But then they travel in luxury by train from Minnesota to Washington, D.C., enjoying fine dining and the attention from cheering crowds and pretty girls as they pass through towns along the way.

But soon, Charley and the other na├»ve recruits are immersed in the horrors of war as the Union finds the Rebels to be a much more formidable foe that expected.  Charley witnesses death and destruction all around him, and his fear and anger drive him to do things he never would have thought himself capable of before the war.  Though he survives the war, he will never be the same again, physically or mentally, and returns home aged beyond his years and unable to escape the horrors that haunt him.

My Thoughts
I read this book because I was considering giving it as a gift for my 10-year old nephew who is obsessed with the Civil War.  And when I say obsessed, I mean really fixated on it and with a very romanticized view of it.  He talks about it all the time and has a Civil War uniform he wears  All.  The.  Time.  It's really kind of strange, to be honest.  But I don't think he really has much understanding of what is was all about or any idea what war is really like, so I think this book might be good to help give him a more realistic view.  He is also a very reluctant reader, so Paulsen's books are a good choice for him since they are short and fairly easy to read, and high-interest subjects and characters that are particularly appealing to boys.  He previously read Hatchet and liked it.

Soldier's Heart is a fast-paced fictionalized story based on the life of the real Charley Goddard.  It does a good job portraying the real horrors of war and the effects they have on the soldiers in the middle of it in an age-appropriate way, and the author gives it context with the foreword and end notes.  The forward discusses what we now call "post-traumatic stress disorder" through history:  what contributed to it, other names it has been called, and how those who suffered it were treated.  The author's notes at the end also explain how the story is a fictionalized account of the real Charley Goddard, and how he died, with sources cited.

I think middle-school aged readers with an interest in fast-paced stories with lots of action, especially those interested in military history and fiction, would like this book, and it would be a good option for reluctant readers in particular.  It would likely appeal to those who have liked Paulen's other books, (particularly Woods Runner), Harry Mazer's Boy At War series, and the Bloodlines series by M. Zachery Sherman.

Other Books By This Author
Gary Paulsen has written many short middle-grade novels including both realistic fiction and historical fiction, and is most well-known for Hatchet, the story of a boy's survival after being stranded in the Canadian wilderness, which has several sequels.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Today At The Desk...

Today it was pretty routine at the desk.  It started out pretty slow as usual, which gave me a chance to get a lot of "housekeeping" done.  First I made sure all the displays were filled, then I went around and straightened and tightened up the shelves.  After that, a tech from the IT department came to upgrade our computer from Windows 8 to Windows 10, so since I couldn't do much at the desk without the computer, I used the time to sort and shelve a cartful of books.  One of the pages recently quit and the position hasn't been filled yet, so I'm happy to pitch in and do some of the shelving when I can.  While shelving, I came across the book I had been trying to remember either the author or title of so I could use it for an upcoming storytime, so it paid off for me as well.  I also withdrew a cartful of books that had been weeded and boxed them up to donate to the Friends bookstore.

During all this, there was a steady stream of patrons in and out and I helped several people with checkouts, placing holds, and finding materials.  I also got a chance to use my Spanish a little, with a very friendly little boy who gave me a huge smile and wave with an enthusiastic "Hola!"  to which I responded "Hola, como estas?"  but that was the extent of our conversation as he quickly became engrossed with the Lego blocks.  Then there was the little girl who would not stop growling and roaring and pretending to be a dinosaur after reading a dinosaur book.  I could sympathize with her mother, as it brought back memories of having to hide our video of The Lion King from my daughter when she was that age because she wouldn't stop running around the house and roaring like a lion all the time.

It got busy after school let out, and I finished off my shift by pulling all the books for holds and transfers, and taking them down to circulation.  Just as I was leaving my co-worker called my attention to a new book, Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) by Keith Negley, which is perfect for my "Feelings" theme storytime next week, making it my second find of the afternoon.  I like how this book doesn't just describe different emotions, it makes it clear that it is okay to feel and express emotions, and I'm so glad it came in at just the right time for my program!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review of The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

The Seventh Most Important Thing  by Shelley Pearsall.  September 8, 2015.  Knopf Books for Young Readers.  288 pages.  Ages 10 & up.

It is 1963 and thirteen-year old Arthur Owens is having a hard time dealing with his father's recent death, and is keeping his feelings bottled up inside him.  One day he comes home from school to find that his mother has gotten rid of everything that belonged to his father, and his anger begins to build.  When he sees the "Junk Man" wearing his father's motorcycle cap, he snaps and throws a brick at the man's head.

Fortunately, he only hits the Junk Man in the shoulder, but it does cause him to fall and break his arm, which eventually lands Arthur in court, facing the judge.  But, instead of being sent to juvie as expected, The Junk Man (whose real name is James Hampton) intercedes and asks the judge to sentence Arthur to community service working for him.  The judge agrees, and tells Arthur his is giving him a chance for redemption. 

So every Saturday Arthur has to search through people's garbage along the streets, looking for the 7 items Mr. Hampton has asked for:  wood, foil, coffee cans, cardboard, mirrors, lightbulbs, and glass bottles.  Over time, he gets to know Mr. Hampton and begins to appreciate the project he is working on, and finds support in his new friend Squeak, and his tough-talking, no-nonsense parole officer, Wanda Billie.

But, just when it seems like things are going well, it all falls apart.  Will Arthur find his ultimate redemption?

My Thoughts
This book was inspired by real-life enigmatic folk artist James Hampton and his sculpture he called "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly" (see below).  While the man and the sculpture were real, Pearsall's story about Arthur Owens is entirely fiction.

The Seventh Most Important Thing is a bittersweet coming-of-age story about grief, consequences, friendship, art, and redemption.  While this may sound like a lot of ground to cover, it all comes together quite well throughout the course of the story. This is a character-driven story and a thought-provoking one.  It shows how grief can manifest as anger, but that actions prompted by that anger still have consequences.  It also will lead the reader to think about how we judge people based on outward appearances, or seeing only one small part of who they are, and that many times there is much more to them than we know, if we would only take the time to find out.  The reader will also be prompted to consider what is "art", and who decides?

I think this book would make a great book for a class read and discussion.  For leisure reading, those who typically like fast-paced, action-packed stories probably would not care to read this book, but I would recommend it for those who like more thoughtful, character-driven stories.  While it is technically historical fiction, I probably wouldn't market it as such, since the same story could have taken place in virtually any timeline.  Readers with a particular interest in stories of people getting in trouble and paying the consequences, but learning from it and moving forward would also like this story.

Other Books By This Author
Shelley Pearsall has written several other middle grade/YA coming-of-age stories that often deal with prejudices and misperceptions, some with historical settings and some with modern settings, including:  Trouble Don't Last, Crooked River, All Of The Above, All Shook Up, and Jump Into The Sky. 

Photograph of the real Throne of the Third Heaven sculpture by
 the real James Hampton, now housed in the Smithsonian.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Middle School Book Club

I went to the local middle school again today to help with their monthly book club.  Once again, I was leading the discussion for the group that read Waiting For Normal by Leslie Connor.  It wasn't my choice to do the same book again, but apparently that's how they like to do it, each person just does one book a year and does the discussion for it each month with a different group of kids.  I would much prefer to lead the discussion for a different book each time.  I won't bother with summarizing the book or listing discussion questions because I have already done that in the previous posts:  "Middle Grade Mini-Reviews" and "Middle School Book Club - Waiting for Normal...".

I helped with this same book club last year, and had some really good discussions about A Boy At War by Harry Mazer and Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie Tolan, but for some reason, this year is not going as well.  I don't know if it's the book, or that by chance I just haven't been getting the right mix of kids in my groups, but today was downright frustrating.  I had a group of eight girls, would should have been big enough for a good discussion, but this must've been the most shy, introverted group of kids in the whole school.  I could hardly get a word out of them. 

I would ask a question that normally would lead to several people responding with different points of view, and they would just sit there and look at me.  It was really awkward.  So, since the most I could get from them were raised hands or nodding heads, I had to fall back to asking yes or no type questions for a while.  Towards the end I managed to pull a few words, even a couple of opinions out of them, but it was like pulling teeth!  The only thing they were really vocal about was when I asked if they would recommend this book, and they said yes, but not to boys, and talked about how boys were only interested in action and didn't appreciate books like this one.

Usually I feel like we don't have enough time for the discussion, but today the last bell couldn't ring soon enough for me!  And the worst part?  I had recommended one of the other books, Doll Bones by Holly Black, for the book club and said I would like to lead the discussion of it (but said I was willing to do whichever).  So supposedly someone else really wanted to do it, so I took WFN.  Then, the one who was supposed to lead the discussion for Doll Bones admitted today that she had never even read it and had no clue what it was about and was just winging it!  Needless to say, I was a bit annoyed. 

One thing that was interesting was that this group of girls, unlike the group last time, had a less forgiving and optimistic attitude towards the mother in the book, compared to the group last time.  Today's group shared my opinion that Addie' mother was a horrible mother and would probably not do any better with the new baby in the long run.

I sure hope I can get a good discussion going next time! Hopefully I can get a different book and make a fresh start :)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Today At The Desk....

So today I got stumped, and it was frustrating.  A mom and her two daughters came in, and while they were there she thought of a book they had read a couple of years earlier that her daughters had recently mentioned and wanted to read again, but she didn't know the author or title.  She said it was about a little girl who lived in a village where they only got sunlight one day a year.  She thinks it was in the Himalayas and was a picture book.  The little girl's mother was sick, and they needed to figure out how they could get her mom out of the village and to somewhere that she could be in the sunlight.

I tried everything I could think of, determined to find it.  I searched our catalog for juvenile books with all the keywords I could think of.  I tried Google, figuring if I searched the description, surely I could find a title, but nothing.  Thinking maybe it wasn't in the Himalayas after all, I tried searching for a town or village than gets very little sunlight, but all I found were towns and villages in the far north that are in the dark for up to six months of the year, but nothing about any area that only gets sun for 1 day each year.  I asked the patron and her girls if they could remember any other details about the book, like the child's name, or part of the title or author's name, but they couldn't.  I kept trying to think of other keywords to search for, and asked an online group of children's librarians, but still no luck.  I think it was likely a folk tale, but not sure.  Eventually the patron left, and I apologized for not being able to figure it out, but they didn't mind and thanked me for trying so hard.  I asked the librarians when they came back from lunch, and they had no idea either.  It still bugs me I couldn't find it; I pride myself on being able to figure these things out.

But, despite their having stumped me, this family was the highlight of my day.  The children's department is doing a "wall of gratitude" bulletin board, giving each patron a piece of paper to write and/or draw something they are thankful for, and these two girls wanted to participate.  And guess what they were thankful for?  The Library!  And I promise I didn't prompt them at all ;)  They were so sweet, and even let me take their picture.  It's so nice to see people who truly appreciate all the library has to offer, and take time to tell you.

In addition, we had a school group of 6th graders visit with an assignment requiring them to check out a book that was historical fiction.  Since one of the librarians had already pulled a selection of books for them to look at, it was a breeze.  They came in, and it was super busy for about 20 minutes as I helped them all check-out with a flurry of activity, then they quickly left, and all was quiet again.  Then I had the usual routine tasks of straightening up, filling displays, pulling and processing holds and transfers, and I sorted 3 carts of books and started shelving one since one of our pages just quit (due to medical issues).

It was overall a good day, but I am still determined to figure out what that darn book was....

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Today At The Desk....

I actually got to use my degree today!  Of course I use my education degree when doing storytime and programs, but I got to make use of my biology/chemistry degree today.  A patron approached the desk looking rather desperate.  When I asked how I could help her, she explained her 12-year old niece had called her in tears because of a school project.  As a parent who has been through many school projects, I could immediately empathize.  Then she went on to explain that her niece had to make some kind of model of a neon atom and had no clue where to begin, the school library had no resources, and the child's family did not have internet access at home.  She didn't realize it, but she had definitely come to the right person!  With a major in biology/education and a minor in chemistry, this was right up my ally!

I had some ideas of my own, but first we looked through the science books in our collection to see if any showed ideas for building molecular models and/or information about Neon's structure in particular.  Lo and behold, I found a book specifically on the Noble gasses (the elemental group Neon belongs to) which showed a simple Bohr model of a Neon atom and gave some additional information on neon, and Noble gasses in general, then I found a second book which showed 2 or 3 different ways of constructing molecular models.

Next, I did an internet search for "how to build a molecular model" to show her several different ideas for putting one together, the most common being colored styrofoam balls to represent the protons and neutrons in the nucleus, and smaller balls on wires to represent the electron shells.  There were also models using pompoms, beads, skewers, and cardboard rings.  We discussed the methods and I told her all the supplies we had seen used could be found at Michael's Crafts in the floral and/or jewelry sections (possibly at Wal-Mart as well) and that I had even seen a molecular modeling craft kit there at Christmas time.  Then I searched specifically for models of neon so she could get a better idea of what it would look like, and since the aunt did have internet access, I explained all she had to do was Google "how to build a molecular model of neon" if she needed to refresh her memory or print out pictures.  She was very relieved and was glad to have information and a plan for her niece to work with!

I also got to issue a little boy his first library card, which is always a privilege, and helped him find some picture books with Frankenstein-type monsters.  Then his mother explained he was going to have a baby sister soon, and asked for a book about being a big brother, and we found the perfect one.  I think he was more excited about Frankenstein, though ;)

I did have to call the big guns in to help one patron.  A mom came to the desk explaining that her 3rd grade daughter was auditioning for the local performing arts school, and had to prepare and deliver a monologue.  However, she did not like any of the books specifically about monologues, and felt they were a little dull and predictable, and geared more for older kids.  She wanted help selecting a picture book or middle-grade chapter book that she could use instead, something with a spunky character, and lots of expression.  I have to confess I was at a bit of a loss on this one.  I can recommend books to read for that age or reference, but knowing what would be good as performance art, I really didn't feel I could judge as the performing arts are not in my realm of expertise at all.  So I had to ask the librarian to come out and field this one, and she was able to pull several good suggestions and the patron left very pleased, which is what's important.

And of course there was the usual cleaning and straightening, filling displays, pulling and processing holds and transfers, answering routine questions, and check-out assistance.  I also had a chance during a slow spell to cut out some decorations and props I had printed and laminated to use with a new "Feelings/Emotions" storytime kit I'm developing for the "Storytime-To-Go" program I do the other 3 days of the week, and look up the ISBN numbers for books I'd like to order for the same program.  All in all, a very productive day, with both a chance to use my science background, and to help with something totally out of my comfort zone. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Review of In The Shadow Of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In The Shadow Of Blackbirds by Cat Winters.  April 2, 2013.  Harry N. Adams. 400 pages.  Ages teen & up.

1918 was a terrible year for much of the world.  Between The Great War and the Spanish flu epidemic, disease, destruction, and death where everywhere.  In a time filled with fear and loss, people were desperate for comfort and security, which led to a renewed interest in Spiritualism, often turning to questionable sources such as seances and so-called "spirit photography".  There was also a pervasive fear and distrust of anything German or remotely "un-American".

It was during this horrible year that sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black, named after the Frankenstein author, found herself escaping Portland following the arrest of her father for treason, and fleeing to San Diego, to live with her aunt. Coincidentally, her childhood sweetheart's family had also relocated to the area previously, though Stephen was now gone to fight in the war.  Stephen's older half-brother Julius remained, and was now engaged in the questionable business of spirit photography, which provided desperate people some comfort.  Mary Shelley does not like or trust Julius, and believes his supposed photos capturing the spirits of deceased loved ones are a result of tricks of photography, not actual spirits.

Tragically, they soon receive word that Stephen has been killed in battle, and Mary Shelley finds herself overcome with grief.  Worse, she begins to be haunted by visions of Stephen and sometimes hears his voice whispering in her ear.  At first she believes these are dreams or hallucinations brought on by grief and fears she may be losing her mind, since she does not believe in ghosts.  However, she is soon convinced that she really is being visited by Stephen's spirit, and that he is very troubled and needs her help to find peace.  Stephen does not seem to understand that he is dead or how he died, and is terrified of horrible bird-like creatures that are torturing him.

The more Mary Shelley is visited by Stephen's spirit, the more she begins to question what happened to him and if the version of his death they were told is really the truth.  Will she be able to help him find peace, before she falls victim to the flu epidemic?  What is the truth?

My Thoughts
I  initially chose this book because the name of the main character caught my attention, first thinking "Mary Shelley...wasn't that....?", then realizing once I started reading that this was not a coincidence.  I really enjoyed this relatively fast-paced novel that is part history, part ghost story.  It had so many components, the historical point of view reflecting the fear and grief of the times and the interest in Spiritualism, the love story of Stephen and Mary Shelley, photography, and mystery.  It made for a good story that had just the right degree of spookiness for a good pre-Halloween read (as I'm not a fan of horror).  I loved how smart, strong, and independent Mary Shelley was, believing in science and not superstitions.

Another thing I appreciated was how the book tied the realities of WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic together.  Although I was aware that each had happened around that time, I had always had them compartmentalized them in my mind, always thinking of them singularly, never really thinking about them going on simultaneously, and what that world would be like.  I would imagine not one family escaped being touched by death from one or the other, or both.  I also like how it incorporated actual photographs from the era, including some alleged spirit photos.  They added another element of spooky to the book.

I think this book could appeal to a wide range of readers, having something to offer fans of historical fiction, romance, mysteries, and ghost stories alike.  I would encourage anyone looking for something subtly-spooky or something a little different to give it a try. 

Other Books By This Author
In The Shadow Of Blackbirds was Cat Winters' debut novel.  Her second young adult novel, A Cure For Dreaming, was released October 14, 2014, followed by her first novel for adults, The Uninvited, in August of 2015.  She has two novels due to come out in 2016, a young adult novel titled The Steep And Thorny Way, and a second novel for adults titled Yesternight.   She is also a contributor to the 2015 horror anthology Monster Girls and Slasher Boys.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Middle School Book Club - Waiting for Normal, by Leslie Conner

Last week I helped with the book club at the local middle school.  The school librarian selects 5 or 6 books each year and each month different kids sign up to read and discuss one of the books.  Various adults (parents or public library staff) volunteer to each lead one of the discussion groups.  I led the discussion of Leslie Conner's Waiting for Normal, which tells the story of 12-year old Addie who has had to grow up too fast and assume adult responsibilities too soon due to her mother's erratic and irresponsible behavior, which the book seems to imply may be caused by bi-polar disorder.

At the beginning of the book, Addie and her mother move into a small trailer, after losing their house due to her mother spending the mortgage payments on her latest harebrained scheme.  Prior to that, their family was split up when Addie's mom divorced Addie's step-father and lost custody of their two younger daughters due to severe neglect.  Throughout the book Addie must deal with her mother's eccentric behavior, while she yearns for a normal life with her sisters and step-father.  She is befriended by Soula, who owns the convenience store across the street, and Elliot, Soula's clerk and best friend.

In the end, Addie's mom leaves her to fend for herself for several days, after announcing she is pregnant by her latest boyfriend.  Addie accidentally starts a fire while trying to make cocoa that destroys the trailer, and finally draws the attention of CPS.  She is sent to live with her paternal grandfather, and after several months, he mother finally agrees to give her up and let her step-father adopt her, finally giving her a normal life. (I reviewed this book in a previous post, Middle Grade Mini-Reviews).

Discussion Questions
These are some questions I prepared in advance, though we didn't necessarily get to all of them, and I just let the discussion flow naturally.

1.  Do you think "Waiting for Normal" is a good title for this book?  What does "normal" mean to Addie?  How would you define normal?

2.  Addie says her family has "many twists and turns".  What do you think she means by this?

3.  Addie comments that she is good at getting used to things and has been doing it all her life.  What do you think she means by this?  Do you think this is a good thing?  Why or why not?

4.  Besides Addie, who was your favorite character and why?

5.  What do you think Addie's mom meant by the "love of learning" and why did she think she had it, but Addie didn't.  Would you agree?

6.  Addie describes her mother's behavior as "all or nothing"; what did she mean by this?  How would you explain her mother's odd and eccentric behaviors?

7.  Who do you think behaved more like a responsible adult, Addie or her mother?  In what way?  Do you think it's fair or appropriate for a 12 year old to have to be so responsible?

8.  Addie, Soula, and Elliot discuss heroes, how everyday people need heroes and can be  heroes for someone else.  Do you agree?  Who are your heroes?

9.  Why do you think Addie didn't tell anyone how bad things were at home with her mother?  What would you do in her place?

10.  What do you think about Addie's mom having another baby? 

11.  Do people have to be related to be a family?  What from this story shows that?

12.  Did you like the ending?  Was it realistic?  Why do you think Addie's mom finally gave her up and let Dwight adopt her?

13.  What do you think happens after the book ends?  Do think things will work out for Addie's mom and Pete?  Do you think she will do any better with her new baby?

How It Went
This is the second year I've worked with the book club, and in the past had some very good discussions.  But the group today just didn't seem as into it for some reason.  It was a smaller group than expected, with only 6 of the 13 signed up actually showing up, so I think we were just below the "critical mass" needed for a good discussion.  Two of them admitted they hadn't finished the book and a couple of them didn't seem like they were interested at all.  It was also unusually noisy and harder to hear and be heard than usual.

The discussion didn't get as deep and cover some of the nuances, or have as many varied opinions, as I would have hoped, but we did manage to cover the main parts of the story.  One of the biggest surprises to me was how different their perception of Addie's mother was from mine. Almost all of them said Addie's mother was their favorite character, and while they admitted she was very irresponsible, they were much more forgiving of her mistakes than I was.  Also, they were all much more optimistic about the future and felt that she had learned from her mistakes and would do better with the new baby.

My perception was very different.  I found Addie's mother to be selfish and irresponsible, and a terrible mother, and despite the allusions to bipolar disorder, I had no sympathy for her.  I found myself feeling very angry and disgusted with the things she did.  I also felt that she only gave Addie up because now she had a new boyfriend and a new baby, and was tired of her old life, and wanted to simple walk away and start with her shiny new life, and I have little hope she will do any better in the future.

One of the girls said her mother also read the book, and felt exactly the way I did, and the librarian did as well.  I found it very interesting that other adults, who all happened to be mothers themselves, were much harder on Addie's mom than the tweens were.  I would have expected them to be a littler more outraged on Addie's behalf at all the unfair situations and responsibilities she had to deal with because of her mother's bad decisions and behavior.  I wish we had been able to discuss that aspect further, but unfortunately we were out of time.  I think this would be an interesting book for a mother-daughter book club to discuss and see if the trend is universal.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Today At The Desk....

Today I felt I scored a small victory in the battle against reading levels, or should I say the misuse of reading levels.  If you're a parent or a children's librarian, I'm sure you know what I mean.  On the off chance someone reading this doesn't, I'm referring to programs such as "Accelerated Reader" and "Lexile" which claim to use computer algorithms to accurately evaluate and rank the reading level of any book. 

The problem with these programs is two-fold:  first of all, as any children's librarian can tell you, these programs are too simplistic and take only limited factors into consideration, thus the numbers they spit out are easily skewed.  For example, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, an intermediate level chapter book probably read most often by 3rd graders scores a 1070 on the Lexile scale, which would be considered high school to college level, and works of Shakespeare only score around 700-800, which would be considered lower middle school level.  So you can see how inconsistent these systems are, and how they often fail to take into consideration the complexity of the language, difficulty of understanding outdated language, and complexity and maturity of the content.

The second problem is that too many schools, and sometimes parents, are hyper-focused on these levels, telling children they may ONLY read books in a narrow range that is supposedly their level.  Too many times this results in children not reading some really good books that they would like to read because it does not score a certain Lexile or AR level (or because their school doesn't have the AR test for that book), and having to read books that are too hard, too easy, or simply not what they want to read.  In the end, this does the opposite of what these reading programs are supposed to do, it discourages kids from reading and they find it a negative and frustrating experience.

So today I was helping a family with children of varied ages find books, and the older child selected a book and his mother asked what the level was, and was going to make him put it back because it was supposedly below his grade level.  I quickly told her those levels should be taken with a grain of salt because they are determined by a computer and fail to consider all aspects of the book and are often skewed one way or the other.  I also mentioned that most literacy experts agree that any reading benefits a child, and reading books that they select for themselves has a much better long-term payoff.  And she let him keep the book!  Now if only we could convince the schools....

Also, I  should mention I was the *only* staff person in my department the whole shift, with both librarians out for emergencies and the manager being at another branch for a meeting.  Which wasn't a problem, but is a bit unusual.  It was pretty busy after school let out, but I handled it just fine.  One small issue came up when I had a couple of families come in with the new student cards that were being issued in a special pilot program to a couple of schools in the area.  They were just given out recently, and this was the first time they had been used in our department, to my knowledge.  However, I had not seen any info sent out to staff about how they were to be used, if there were any differences between them and a regular card, so when I had a question about them and I wasn't sure of the answer, I simply called one of the children's librarians at another branch, and found out where to find that info.

So it was a busy, but satisfying day, and I was glad to be able to successfully defend a child's reading choice and have him leave with a book he wants to read, which will hopefully lead to him reading even more books!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review of Rick Riordan's Latest Book, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, The Sword of Summer

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1) by Rick Riordan.  October 6, 2015.  Disney-Hyperion, 512 pages.  Ages 10 and up.

Magnus Chase has been living on the streets, hiding in plain sight, every since his mother was killed 2 years ago trying to protect him.  Before she died, she warned him not to trust his uncles, so instead of turning to his family after his mother's death, he chose to live among the homeless where he was befriended by Blitz and Hearth, who look out for him.

One day Blitz tells him people are looking for him, passing out flyers with his picture and name.  Magnus goes to where they are, without revealing himself, and realizes that it is his uncle Frederick and his cousin Annabeth.  Curious as to why they are looking for him now, after two years, Magnus decides to break into his uncle Randolph's house to try to figure out why the sudden interest in his whereabouts.  Unfortunately, Randolph comes home and catches him, and tries to persuade him that he is in grave danger.  Randolph reminds him that today is Magnus' 16th birthday, and says that "they" will be coming to kill him now that he is a man and that it has something to do with his father, who Magnus never knew.  Randolph begins talking about Norse mythology, something he has long been obsessed with, and claims that Magnus' father was none other than Frey, a Norse god.

Randolph tells Magnus that he must retrieve the powerful sword that one belonged to his father, a sword Randolph believes sank on a Viking ship right there in Boston 1000 years earlier.  The sword is very powerful and must not fall into the wrong hands, and that he, as Frey's son, has the power to summon it.  Much to Magnus' surprise, he is actually able to summon the sword, but as soon as he does, he finds himself in a battle with an unknown enemy who can produce fire.  Magnus fights valiantly, trying to save innocent bystanders from harm, but in the end Magnus dies.

And that is only the beginning!

My Thoughts
This is a very fast-paced, action-packed adventure/quest and fans of Riordan's other series should not be disappointed.  Percy Jackson and the Olympians was based on Greek mythology, Heroes of Olympus was based on the corresponding Roman myths, The Kane Chronicles were rooted in Egyptian mythology, and now Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard introduces Norse mythology.

I liked the Percy Jackson books, but being something of a Greek/Roman mythology buff, the inaccuracies in the books always bugged me, whether they were from lack of research or artistic license, I'm not sure.  However, being blissfully ignorant of Norse mythology, I was able to enjoy the story of The Sword of Summer without being distracted by such inaccuracies.  While the story is primarily action and drama, it did have a lot of humor sprinkled throughout, often when revealing the gods' interest in and knowledge of human pop culture.  It's been a while since I read Percy Jackson, but I don't remember it having quite as much humor.

I would recommend this obviously for fans of Riordan's other series, but also fans of Harry Potter, Charlie Bone, The Blackwell pages  (all of which have to do with seemingly ordinary kids suddenly discovering they have unusual parentage and special powers), those with an interest in mythology, and readers looking for a fast-paced adventure story who don't mind a little fantasy.

The next book in the series, The Hammer of Thor, is due out in October of 2016.

Note:  children of the 90's will likely note in the cover art that Magnus Chase bears an uncanny resemblance to Kurt Cobain.  This resemblance is intentional and is referred to on more than one occasion in the book.  And yes, his cousin Annabeth is the same Annabeth from the Percy Jackson series.  She has a very small part in this book, but I suspect her role will be expanded as the series develops.