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.