Sunday, November 20, 2016

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. September 6, 2016. Harper-Collins. 384 pages. Teen & up.

Sixteen-year old Pen (short for Penelope) has always been different from other girls. She prefers to wear her brother's clothes, cuts her hair short, and is just one of the guys with her friends Colby and Tristan. But though she may prefer to look more like a boy, and is attracted to other girls, she doesn't want to be a boy. She knows who she is and how she wants to be, and doesn't think of herself as "lesbian" or "queer" and definitely not "transgender". She doesn't really understand why other people feel the need to question her about her sexuality or gender and try to label it.

Unfortunately for Pen, her parents are very "Old World" Portuguese, all about outward appearances, traditional gender roles, and showing respect for ones elders by always doing what you're told. They are embarrassed by Pen's appearance and behavior, and try to force her to bend to their will and become a princesa, a girly-girl who is obedient to her parents and will grow up to be a wife and have babies like she is "supposed" to. At the same time things are coming to a head with her parents, Pen's relationship with her friend Colby begins to disintegrate, as he also becomes more and more controlling, pushing the bonds of friendship and loyalty to the breaking point.

Pen's older brother Johnny is a constant source of support, and she begins to develop two new relationships that finally help her realize that to be the kind of person she wants to be, she is going to have to "man up" and push back against those who want to control her.

My Thoughts 
At first I wasn't really quite sure what this book was about, but from reading the jacket summary, Pen sounded like a badass, and that combined with the conflict with old world Portuguese values intrigued me. This is not a "coming out" story or a LGBTQ romance (thought there is an element of romance in it), but really about the conflict between what one person wants for herself verses what everyone else expects, or rather demands, of her. It's also about friendships, loyalty, and recognizing when relationships have become toxic and realizing it's time to distance yourself. I think many people could relate to these themes, regardless of sexuality or gender.

I thought this story was very well-written and relatively fast paced, with characters that are well-developed and believable. Pen is tough and gritty and flawed, but also cares about other people, and has her friends' backs. I loved the relationship between Pen and her brother Johnny; without his love, acceptance, support, and running interference with their parents, Pen probably would have had a much harder time accepting herself and being comfortable in her own skin, and the story might have ended very differently.

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for good books with LGBTQ characters, those who like characters that are somewhat tough and gritty, yet sympathetic, and anyone who can relate to having to deal with reconciling the expectations others have for them and what they want for themselves. 

About The Author
This is M-E Girard's debut novel, though she has written a couple of short stories that have been published in magazines or included in anthologies. Ironically, in addition to writing, she works as a nurse, which is what Pen's mother kept pushing her to do.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Magnus Chase: The Hammer of Thor

The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2) by Rick Riordan. October 4, 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 480 pages. Ages 10-18.

After preventing the release of Fenris Wolf and stopping the beginning of Ragnarok (great battle leading to the end of the world), Magnus Chase is back at Valhalla, concerned about the recent disappearance of his friends Blitzen and Hearthstone and the fact that Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, is still missing, while the giants are threatening to invade Asgard.

Magnus and his friends are joined by a new einherji, Alex, who turns out to be another child of Loki, and is gender fluid. At first Alex is angry about being an einherji and lashes out at the others, but soon becomes part of the group and develops a friendship with Magnus.

Magnus is upset to learn that as part of his latest scheme, Loki has promised Sam's hand in marriage to a giant named Thrym, despite the fact she is already happily betrothed to Amir. After discovering that Thrym possesses Mjolnir, the group decides Sam must pay the dowry and pretend to go through with the wedding in order to retrieve Thor's hammer.

Can Magnus retrieve Thor's hammer and put a stop to Loki's nefarius plan before Sam ends up married to a nasty giant, or worse??

My Thoughts 
I did not find this second installment of Riordan's Norse mythology-inspired series nearly as engaging as the first one, and had a hard time getting into it at first. Part of it was the beginning seemed a little thin, and just didn't draw the reader in as well as the first book, and I think part of it was that it had been so long since I read the first book, plus I had read several others based on Norse mythology in between, so I had trouble remember past events and characters, and confusing parts of the various storylines. I wish I had read a summary of The Sword of Summer first to refresh my memory.

This book is pretty fast-paced, with many of the same characters returning from the first, as well as a new gender-fluid character who I wasn't really sure what to make of at first, and wondered if the character was really going to be integral to the story, or window dressing. I did find I grew to like the character of Alex the relationships she/he (the character seems to prefer gender-specific pronouns) began to form with Magnus and Sam. Like the first book, this story has a great deal of humor, from the character of Magnus' dry wit, and from the way the gods are portrayed. This is definitely not your classic mythology!

I was a little surprised that Annabeth Chase did not have a role in this book as I had expected. We don't see more than a brief mention of her until the end of the book, but she does drop a line that hints we may see a certain other character from Riordan's first series in the next book, The Ship of the Dead, which will be released on October 5, 2017, concluding the series.

Other Works By This Author
This book was preceded by the August, 2016, release of a companion book for the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, titled Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds, which is written in the format of a guidebook commissioned by Helgi, manager of Valhalla, in order to help orient new arrivals and answer common questions.

Rick Riordan has written many books based on Greco-Roman mythology and Egyptian mythology, including the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, The Trials of Apollo, numerous companion books, graphic novel versions of some of his books, and short story crossovers of Percy Jackson and the Kanes.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Some Good Scary Reads!

Since it's almost Halloween I thought I'd put together a quick re-cap of some of the books I have reviewed in the past year that are spooky, creepy, or scary in some way, since I don't have time to do a proper bibliography. These will range from middle grade through teen. Just click on the link for a full summary and review.

"Doll Bones" by Holly Black

"The Ghost of Graylock" by Dan Poblocki

"Fuzzy Mud" by Louis Sachar

"In The Shadow of Blackbirds" by Cat Winters

"Sweet" by Emmy Laybourne

Enjoy! I personally loved Doll Bones and In The Shadow Of Blackbirds.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Middle School book Club

Last week I helped the school librarian with the book club at the local middle school. Her goal is to get as many kids involved as possible, not just the avid readers. So she chooses 5 books each year, of various genres and with a range of reading levels, and recruits volunteers to help lead discussion groups. Each month a different group of kids participate, with about 12 assigned to each group, then we meet in the library and break into discussion groups for each book, lead by adult volunteers (most of us work at public libraries). 

The books for this year are Do You Know The Monkey Man? by Dori Hillestand Butler, Heat by Mike Lupica, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan.

The Book
This month I led the discussion of Do You Know The Monkey Man? by Dori Hillestand Butler (2005). This is a good high-interest, lower reading level book that, at only 193 pages, will appeal to both reluctant readers and those who like something they can finish in one sitting.

For as long as 13-year old Sam can remember, it's just been her and her mother. A long time ago they were once a family of four, but her parents divorced following her twin sister Sarah's tragic death, and her father disappeared from her life. But now her mother is getting re-married, and wants her fiance, Bob, to adopt Sam, which brings up old memories and confusing feelings.

Sam likes Bob, and wants her mom to be happy, but she doesn't want him to adopt her when she already has a father, somewhere. She decides to try to find and contact her father, with the help of her friend Coral. But things don't go quite the way she expected, and she begins to have doubts about the story surrounding Sarah's death. She continues to investigate, and when she finally confronts her father, what she finds will turn all their lives upside down.

This book is part self-discovery, part mystery, and part family drama, and is sure to capture the reader's attention.

Discussion Questions 
I looked over some prepared questions in advance, but I just let the discussion progress naturally and let the kids lead as much as possible, proposing new questions when the discussion slowed. Some of the questions/topics we discussed, though not necessarily in order, were:

1. Do you think Sam should have told her mother she wanted to try to find her father first?[All said she should, even though most thought her mother would probably say "No"]

2. How would you go about finding a long lost friend or relative? 
[Ask friends or relatives, social media, internet, private investigator...]

3. Would you consult a psychic like Sam did? 
[Some yes, some no, some maybe] Do you think psychics are real or fake? [Some said yes, some said no, some said not sure, and some said that most are fake but some may be real.]

4. Do you think twins have a special connection?  [Maybe, probably] If so, were you surprised that Sam never felt that Sarah might be alive before now?  [Mixed answers]

5. Would you be willing to help your best friend like Coral and Angela helped Sam? 
[All emphatically said "yes", and this led to a discussion of how Angela should have been more supportive, and how her experiences with her father affected how she saw Sam's situation.]

6. Do you think Joe should have gone to jail? 
[First most said no, then all agreed that he *deserved* to go to jail, but that it was better for T.J. that he didn't, and that was more important.]

7. Do you think Sam and T.J. will be able to forgive Joe? Could you? 
[Mixed answers, very unsure]

8. Do you think Sam's mom will ever be able to forgive Joe for taking Sarah and letting her think she was dead all this time? Why or why not? 
[Most said she probably wouldn't, but would try to pretend to for T. J.'s sake.]

9. Why do you think Sam didn't want Bob to adopt her? How do you think you would feel in a similar situation? Do you think she may change her mind now that she's found her father and learned what he did and what he's like? 
[Most understood that Sam felt like she already had a father, and most commented to the effect that she could still like him and have a close relationship without him adopting her. Several thought she might change her mind now that she knows what kind of a father Joe is.]

10. Do you think T.J. and Sam will ever be close, and really be like sisters? Will she and Suzanne be able to have a mother-daughter relationship? 
[Yes, but it won't be easy and will take time.]

11. Would you want to read the sequel?  [Several already had]  Would these books make a good movie?  [Yes! They all said they would love to see a movie version, a couple said they wanted to e-mail the author and ask her to have it made into a movie and/or write a third book.]

How It Went 
I had about 10 girls, and most were very enthusiastic about the book, and some had even already read the sequel, Yes, I Know The Monkey Man, which continues the story from T.J.'s perspective. About four of them weren't even supposed to participate until next month, but they had already read the book and couldn't wait to discuss it. We had a pretty lively discussion, with all of the kids contributing, though there were 2 or 3 who were on the quieter side and did not say as much.

They all talked about how much they loved the book, and the ones that had not read the sequel already said they really wanted to. One girl happened to spot it on the shelf nearby and jumped up and grabbed it so she could check it out that day. She was one of the two girls who reported that they normally didn't read much, but that they read this book from start to finish in one day. We had a great discussion, and the several of the kids mentioned how much they enjoyed it, and one even gave me a hug, which I expect from the preschoolers, but not middle schoolers.

I had not heard of this book before, and the library I work at doesn't even have it, but I would highly recommend it for this age and found it a great choice for a class read or book club as it appeals to all readers, even reluctant ones. I personally enjoyed it as well, though did not find the sequel to be quite as good as the first one. From the title and the cover, I had expected it to be more creepy and sinister, but it isn't at all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


So I am halfway through my first semester of library school, and I am pretty frustrated. I'm only taking one class, but it's an intro class and pretty boring, plus lots of busywork. I feel like I'm not really learning anything except an occasional fact about the history of libraries and library science, nothing of practical use. I've got an A so far, and it's not that difficult (for the most part), but it feels like a big waste of time, and I don't enjoy online classes at all. There is no instruction, just reading and assignments; I feel like I'm paying a lot of money to teach myself.

The worst part is I'm not getting that much out of the class, yet the busywork required takes time away from the things I could be doing that benefit me much more professionally. I feel like I get so much more from participating in library-related Facebook groups, reading and discussing various topics, reading other library related blogs, and writing my own. Now I have almost no time for any of that, and worst of all, no time to read anything that is not required for my class! I have a stack of books that I want/need to read, some I'd like to review, but I don't see how I can get to them. 

I think that is the part that frustrates me the most. I enjoy reading, and I try to read as much as I can, for pleasure and for RA purposes. I have the new Rick Riordan book, along with a couple of other new books I pulled at random, books for the tween book club, and the book Hidden Figures about an African-American female scientist who did crucial work for NASA, which I really want to read and will probably have to return before I can :( I don't know if I'll have time to read anything until winter break.

I hate not being able to keep up with my blogging, after I was finally starting to build up some readership, especially on my storytime site. Blogging helps me process my thoughts and keep a record of everything I've done, and I like being able to share with others. I only hope not all the classes will feel this pedestrian and impractical, but I really feel like I could learn so much more on my own. I keep telling myself it will be better when I get past these intro classes, but everyone tells me that's just how library school is.

Which begs the question, if most people feel that the MLIS degree really did not help them much, and they had to learn everything they really needed to know on their own and on the job, then what is the point?? Other than to be a money-making program for the schools?

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Day At The Desk...

The other day I when I covered the children's desk, I was expecting a typical quiet Thursday, completely forgetting the schools were on Fall Break!  I hate it when that happens; I like to be mentally prepared for whatever kind of day it's going to be. Of course, unexpected things can happen anytime, but when school's out I know to expect it to be busier and to likely have to deal with unruly teenagers or unattended children.

So instead of the fairly quiet day I had expected, I ended up having to call security before the first hour was even up! First I had a group of teenage boys come running through, and reminded them to walk, which they did. For about three steps. Then they started jogging again. Later they came back with a couple of friends and it was apparent they had been having a race, two of them taking the stairs, and two of them taking the elevator. I declared the two on the elevators the winners since the other two cheated by breaking the rules and running. Then I showed one of them where books on the Holocaust were for his school assignment.

The next group of teens, a group of girls, crossed the line and got to have a little chat with the security guard. I swear, girls act up less often than boys, but they are worse when they do! First they were just kind of joking around and giggling, then the next thing I knew, they were horsing around and one girl pulled the other's shoe off and threw it across the library into the group of boys! I called security at that point, for two reasons: (1) I expected them to to take off running up and down the stairs from floor to floor, and I couldn't leave my area to chase after them, and (2) I knew a chat with security would have more impact. 

Meanwhile, they continued horsing around, and then suddenly took off at a full run through the stacks. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crash. I decided enough was enough and told them that was it, they were to sit at the table by the desk and wait for security. One was complaining about being hurt when she ran into her friend (just a ploy for sympathy), and being a mom, I of course told her that wouldn't have happened if they had been behaving in a civilized manner. The security guard came and had a chat with them, and I didn't have any more issues with them. Our security guards are really great with kids and manage to handle these situations without being harsh.

Fortunately, the rest of shift passed without issues. I had people coming in and out, helped one young lady find some books about the history of Mexico, and I couldn't help but be a little impressed when she said it was just for her own interest, not a school assignment. A college student came in wanting to interview a library staff member and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed, but I had to decline and explain that she would have to make an appointment through the Book-A-Librarian service after first clearing it with our manager. I put in a couple of requests for another family, straightened up, pulled holds and transfers, and helped several patrons with checkouts and finding materials. All in all, it was not a bad day.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

When Things Don't Go Quite The Way You Hoped

Don't you hate it when programs don't go quite as well as you envisioned?

I recently had the opportunity to expand my repertoire and help plan and present a program on early literacy and storytime. The local school system was hosting an early education "summit" for area preschool and daycare workers to provide the opportunity for continuing education credits. They asked the library to send someone to present a session, and the task fell to my manager and I offered to help. Developmentally-appropriate educational practices is something I'm passionate about, and I'm always glad for opportunities for professional development.

We had less than two weeks to pull it together, and we both already had full schedules, but we managed. We started with a Power Point from a similar presentation someone else had done a few years ago, and re-purposed it to fit what we were asked to cover with some major revisions and reformatting to make it more aesthetically pleasing, and pulled several books and other materials for show-and-tell. I envisioned presenting it to a group of dedicated preschool teachers interested in hearing the pearls of wisdom we would present and benefiting from our experience and the ways the library could help them, asking questions and being engaged.

It didn't quite go that way. First, I didn't deliver quite as stellar a performance as I would like. I wasn't terrible, but I definitely could've been better. Luckily my boss is a better and more experienced presenter & public speaker! I kept forgetting the examples I meant to show or demonstrate, and accidentally did some of the slides she was supposed to do.  <<Oops!>> I also realized as we were doing it that the material was too repetitive and it needed to be streamlined and organized differently, with more audience participation built in.

But, the really frustrating part is that instead of an audience that was engaged and making an effort to get something out of the presentation, we ended up with an audience that seemed largely disinterested. It seemed most of them were just there because they had to get the CEU's, and really didn't care to learn anything. There were two little groups that kept talking and I was tempted to give my storytime spiel about "...listening ears, eyes up front, and catch a bubble."

The worst was 2 girls blatantly *put their heads down on the table and went to sleep!!* I know my part got a little dull and dry in the middle for a bit, but geesh, it wasn't *that* bad! (We did move on to something very interactive that required EVERYONE to stand up and participate.) There were at least a handful that behaved professionally and were really there to learn, engaging and asking questions, and thanking us at the end.

Would I ever do a similar presentation again? Yes, and I hope I get another opportunity. For one, just to prove to myself I can do it better. What would I do differently? 

  • Hopefully have more notice and thus time to plan and prepare properly!!!
  • Pick a more specific focus and purpose
  • Design our own Power Point from scratch rather than try to recycle someone else's that doesn't quite fit our topic or style, with fewer slides
  • Streamline it more and better organize so there is not as much overlap & repetition
  • Incorporate more interaction with the audience
  • Have time to really commit the presentation to memory, so I don't forget to demonstrate, show examples, and do interactive elements when I intend to.
  • Don't bring so much stuff.
  • Decide in advance how to handle talking/sleeping/otherwise distracting attendees.
  • If at all possible, don't have it first thing in the morning (this was out of our control).
  • TRY to be more relaxed

It mostly boils to having enough time to properly prepare. I think I did the best I could considering how little time we had to put it together, it was too early in the morning, and that the last time I presented to a group of adults was 25 years ago for my thesis defense! But at least a few people did seem to appreciate it and get something out of it, and I got some valuable practice and experience.

So, if it were you, how would you handle people talking or sleeping through your presentation??

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Am I Weird?

"So, tell us about your favorite book or author...."

I cannot tell you how much I HATE this question (especially in an interview)! I was reminded of this recently when we were asked this question as an ice-breaker at my MLIS orientation. This question doesn't bother me so much in casual conversation, but in a job interview or any other professional interaction, it really puts me on the spot and causes instant anxiety. Apparently I'm a real oddball, particularly in the library field, because I don't have a favorite book or author.

Everyone else seems to have one particular life-changing book that they loved, and/or an author that they love, but not me. I do love to read, and there have been many books that I have liked, even loved, at various times in my life, but not one stands out as being a singular favorite. Definitely nothing life-altering. There are several authors whose books I have liked, but many have not written a large enough body of work to say they are my favorite, or if they have written a number of works, I have only read or only liked a few.

I don't even really have a favorite genre; it's all relative and situational. I love to read, and I will pretty much read almost anything that's in front of me given the time. I work in youth services, so I read mostly middle-grade and young adult novels for professional reasons, though I do try to read some adult books every now and then. I do find the teen fiction that *I* like tends not to be what is most popular with teens. I gravitate towards realistic and historical fiction, and I'm so over the whole vampire thing, and I don't really care for magical realism in general.

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy or sci-fi, but, if the story and writing are good enough, I can enjoy them. I loved Harry Potter (if I were really pressed to pick a favorite series, that might be it, but I don't like Rowling's adult novels at all) and Ender's Game, and liked Hunger Games quite a bit (once I got past the children killing children aspect). I really don't care for novels in verse or graphic novels; I have nothing against them and do recognize their value, it's just not my thing. But again, if they are well-written with a good story, I enjoy them. For example, Kwame Alexander's The Crossover and Booked, and the graphic novels El Deafo and Roller Girl. 

One book I really liked this year was Echo, with four stories for the price of one, mostly historical fiction, with just a little magic thrown in, but not enough to be annoying. Also, I just read both The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate and felt they were written for my 10-year old self. I loved them, but they still don't outshine everything else, and it's so hard to compare different genres and ages.

As far as adult literature, I don't get to read that much, but some that I've enjoyed in the last 3-4 years were Unbroken, A Higher Call, and The Book Thief (that they all have to do with WWII is entirely coincidental). Some others were the popular Gone Girl as well as Flynn's earlier Dark Places, The Dovekeepers, and being a child of the '80's, I LOVED Ready Player One (can't wait for the movie!).

Some of my childhood favorites were Heidi, Little Women, Pippi Longstocking, The Mouse and the Motorcyle, Socks, and the Little House series. My guilty pleasure as a teen through adulthood is historical romance, mostly by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Johanna Lindsey as they are steamy enough, without being too slutty and sordid, and I just love the historical aspect and being immersed in different time periods. I save these to read on vacation, since they are purely for escape and entertainment.

But out of all of these, I cannot pick any one book as my favorite, and in a few years most will probably be replaced by newer titles in my mind. 

So, am I weird for not having a favorite book? Does everyone else have a favorite? What's yours?

Friday, September 23, 2016

An Update & Excuses

So my regular readers have probably noticed I have not been posting as much, and I have let a fair amount of time pass since my last post. If you do follow me, then you've probably guessed it has to do with my starting an MLIS program this fall.

While I'm only taking one class, and it does not really take up all of my time, I'm finding it's taking up most of my creative energy, and the amount of screen time I can tolerate. Since it is an online program, starting school has meant a huge increase in the amount of time I have to spend on the computer, participating in discussions, doing research, writing assignments, etc. And on top of that, I've got two presentations coming up at work that I've been spending time making Power Points for, so that's even more screen time than normal at work. This huge increase in computer time has taken a tole, causing significant eye strain and frequent headaches (and I did have my eyes checked recently).

So, what this boils down to is that I have less time to read books to review, and have many days I just can't spend another minute on the computer, and if I could, I can't seem to some up with anything to write about! It's a little easier maintaining at least weekly posting on my storytime blog, since storytime is the main part of my job, so I always have that to write about, and it's more straightforward.

I'm going to try to keep this blog going, but will only be able to post 2-3 times a month at most. I'll see how it goes for a while, but if I find I can't post that often I may have to reconsider, and possible switch to putting my book reviews on Goodreads and working some of the other content into my storytime blog, since I have many more readers for that one, and I only do programming for older groups sporadically.

At any rate, I will see how it goes!

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. 2009. Henry Holt and Co. 352 pages. Ages 9-12. Newbery Honor Book.

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. 2015. Henry Holt and Co. 320 pages. Ages 9-12.


Eleven-year old Calpurnia Tate is a budding scientist. She first observes a kind of grasshopper she's never noticed before, that is larger and more yellow than the smaller emerald green grasshoppers she's familiar with. She asks her grandfather, who has become a naturalist after retiring from the family cotton business, about it, but he tells her to figure it out for herself. She does, and that spawns not only her interest in nature and science, but also a special relationship between her and her grandfather, who gives her copies of Darwin's Origin of Species and later, The Voyage of the Beagle. 

Her interest in science and nature continues to grow under her grandfather's tutelage and she even discovers what might be a new plant species. She dreams of going to college and getting a degree, thinking she might even like to be a veterinarian after gradually worming her way into becoming the new town animal doctor's assistant. She has a knack for it, and is not squeamish about blood and guts, unlike her younger brother Travis, the animal lover known for taking in all kinds of orphaned and stray animals, but who can't stand the sight of blood.  

Unfortunately for Calpurnia, it is 1900, and girls are expected to learn to cook, sew, clean, and run a household in preparation for being wives and mothers, not become scientists. The older she gets, the less time she has to spend with her grandfather and the more time her mother makes her spend on the "womanly arts". She becomes increasingly aware of how her parents treat her and her six brothers differently, and begins to realize that females are not full citizens and do not have the freedom or choices that men do.

My Thoughts 
I'm going to have to be up front about my possible bias here, as historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and my first career was as a scientist. As a kid I was much like Calpurnia, always exploring the outdoors and doing "experiments", and I can relate to her struggle against her parents' limited expectations of her based on gender. I also read several of Darwin's works in high school and college, and I own a copy of Origin of Species.

So in light of that, it's no surprise that I loved these books; I felt like they were written for my 10-year old self. I thought they were well-written and that the main characters were well-developed, particularly Calpurnia, her grandfather, and younger brother Travis. I loved seeing the relationship develop between Calpurnia and her grandfather as they shared their love of nature and how he nurtured her inquisitiveness and intelligence. Along the way there are plenty of dramatic, humorous, and touching moments for Calpurnia and her family. I also really like how each chapter begins with a quote, from Darwin's Origin of Species in the first book, and Voyage of the Beagle in the second.

I think this story could appeal to a number of readers: those who enjoy or are at least open to historical fiction, those who are interested in nature and science, those who also struggle against their parents' and/or society's expectations of them, and other girls surrounded by brothers. Readers who enjoyed Jennifer Holm's Our Only May Amelia, which is set in the same time period and has a protagonist that shares Calpurnia's struggle with gender roles and having many brothers, or Amy Timberlake's One Came Home (set slightly earlier and is a mystery/adventure, but also has a female main character that doesn't fit into the typical gender roles of the time and incorporates a little science) would likely enjoy Calpurnia's story. Some parents might object to the emphasis on Darwin and his theories of evolution.

My only complaint is that even at the end of the second book, we still don't know what became of Calpurnia. Was she ever able to follow her dreams of a higher education and scientific pursuits, or did she give in to the weight of her parents' and society's expectations and allow herself to be married off, as her parents seem to have in mind? I sincerely hope there will be another book or books to answer that question, but I was not able to determine if that was in the works or not.

Review By My Nine-Year Old Niece 
"This is a story about an 11 year-old girl who doesn't like piano or knitting, but likes science and nature. I like that Callie Vee doesn't want to be a debutante. I also think it's funny how Mr. Grassel, the postman, acts when Callie Vee [says], "I need a stamp." Another thing I like about her is that she loves nature.

What I didn't like about this was that there was hardly any action. That's all.

I would recommend The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate to girls from 9-15."

Other Books By This Author 
Jacqueline Kelly also wrote a sequel to Kenneth Grahame's beloved classic Wind In The Willows, entitled Return To The Willows and beautifully illustrated by Clint Young. She is also incorporating the characters of Calpurnia and Travis into a new series of beginning chapter books for younger readers (ages 7-10) called Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet, with more of their adventures caring for injured or orphaned animals. The first book, Skunked!, is due to be released on October 4, 2016, with Counting Sheep to follow on April 4, 2017.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Slow Day At The Desk...

Yesterday was a really slow day at the desk since summer reading is over and school has started, but there isn't a lot of homework, projects, and assigned reading yet. While it's nice to have some slow periods every once in a while when you have programs to plan and prep for, I hate having a whole shift that is slow. While I don't like to be so busy that I'm overwhelmed and people have to wait very long, I do prefer a nice, steady pace, and find it to be energizing to stay busy and engaging with people. Those slow days just wear me out and make me so tired!

I thought I would have a lot of straightening up to do since we'd had a fairly large school group in that morning, but surprisingly there really wasn't that much of a mess, just books to reshelve. I did have a storytime to plan, so I was initially glad for some down time so I could review the books I had pulled and make a final decision on what to use, but after that I needed something to do! 

I had already straightened up and filled the displays, so I started shelving, since we had all the books the school group had pulled but not checked out, and we are once again down a page. I don't know why we are having such a hard time with that position; I would think there would be people who need the work or library students who want to get their foot in the door. But after the long-time page had to quit for medical reasons, we had one that stayed only 4 months, and this last one was only there about 2 months and quit with no notice. Each time the position has had to be posted more than once to even get enough applicants to interview. I don't get it; this is a great department to work in with great people!

After shelving one cart, I pulled the materials for holds and transfers, which didn't take terribly long. People started slowly trickling in, but nobody really seemed to need much help, just a few checkouts and computer passes. I can't stand just sitting there, so I started working on shelving again. I would normally do shelf-reading when it's that slow, but I try to avoid it if I am the only person in the department as I'm afraid a patron might need help but not see me back in the stacks, and I might not see or hear them come in. Shelving doesn't require quite as much extended, focused attention, and you move along quickly, so easier for patrons to spot you, and vice versa.

Next week, I'll have to remember to bring a flannel board set to cut pieces out for or something similar to do, just in case!  Now, where's my coffee.....

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Non-Traditional Student

So that's what I am now, a "non-traditional student," also known as the "returning student," "adult student," "life-long learner," or other euphemisms that we all know are code for "old". Some, like my husband, took a while to grow up and didn't get around to finishing college until later, some took time off to raise a family, some are getting an advanced degree to further their careers, and some of us are starting a second career.

I'm somewhat of a combination, I suppose. I have two degrees already, and worked in a previous career for a few years, then took a number of years off to have a family, during which time I volunteered and had a small home business. When the kids were older, I got a part-time job in the library and fell in love with it. So now I'm starting an MLIS program to get my degree so I can hopefully become a professional librarian.

What's it like being back in school after 25 years? Well, it's no picnic. First of all, there are constant reminders of how much older I am than many of my classmates. Some of them are barely older than my daughter, many don't really remember what life was like pre-internet. While on the other hand, the last time I wrote a research paper (my master's thesis) was in 1991, and all research was done in the library the hard way, using printed abstracts and indices to find articles in printed and bound professional journals. I did use a computer, but only for word processing, all of my charts, graphs, tables, and figures were done by hand using stick-on graphics tape, numbers and letters, then photographed and printed. I did all the photography myself, developing my own negative and prints, and making my own slides for my defense presentation (I actually think it's kinda cool I got to do all that).

So I feel like at least initially, having to re-learn how to do that kind of research using digital resources and materials will put me at a slight disadvantage; working in children's services doesn't really require any more in-depth reference than Google 99% of the time. Also I have not done any scholarly writing since my thesis, either, so I'm quite out of practice with using a more stuffy, scholarly writing style and remembering to cite everything properly.

Physically it's different this time around as well. My poor old eyes are having a hard time with the increased amount of computer time, and trying to read the teeny-tiny print in our rather dry and dull reading assignments, and I certainly can't pull all-nighters anymore, unless I don't have to work the next day. Even when I have free time in the evenings, I find I am too tired to stay focused on reading or put a reasonably coherent thought together to write anything. School is definitely going to be a little more challenging and require much more careful time-management than the first time around!

I am not typically a vain person, but I have to confess when I went to my orientation and looked around, realizing I was probably the oldest person there (other than some of the professors), it really bothered me and made me doubt myself. Is it too late? Am I just wasting my time and money getting a library degree? Will it ever actually pay off, with all these much younger people competing with me for jobs? After all, we all know how crappy the job market is in general, but it's even worse once you're over 40. 

Oh well, at least one good thing about being in an online class is that I don't have to see people face-to-face and be confronted almost daily with their young shiny faces and reminded that I am old enough to be their mother. Online I can forget, and pretend we are all the same age. 

Until another "mature" student makes a movie reference to "Field of Dreams" and I'm the only one who gets it, that is.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid. May 15, 2016. Tu Books. 384 pages. Ages 12 & up.

Andrea Faraday seems to have it all. She is successful and seemingly well-liked by teachers and students at her exclusive private school, she lives in a mansion filled with fine art in a posh neighborhood, and is the daughter of successful, high-society parents.

But all is not as it seems. Drea's family is not nearly as good and perfect as the rest of the world perceives them to be, and this deception eats at Drea and causes her to act out, though her brother Damon is luckily able to keep her out of trouble. One day her parents leave on an art-buying trip in Europe, and don't return, with the occasional brief, cryptic text as their only contact. 

Drea begins to fear that her parents are in trouble and that it is somehow connected to a major theft the year before, and two juvenile delinquents that keep crossing her path. Drea begins to connect the dots, and finds herself developing some unexpected allies who help her with her plan to set things right.

My Thoughts 
This story starts out well, drawing the reader in as the surprising truth is revealed about the Faraday family, then the intrigue begins to deepen. The story moves along fairly well at first, then starts to seem a little slow. It's like most of the book is an introduction, building up to a story that never fully develops, and then all of a sudden all the action takes place and it's over, yet much is unresolved. I found that aspect very unsatisfying as a reader.

This would have been a great book if it had moved along a little faster in the middle, then built a little more detail and suspense into the ending. The ending wasn't even a real ending, as much was left unresolved, which leads me to believe the story is going to continue in a series, but I could not confirm this. If you don't like rushed endings without real resolution, I would not recommend this book, at least for now. Once the whole series has been published (assuming it is going to be a series) so that the whole story can be read from start to finish in it's entirety, it might be a worthwhile read.

There were things about the story I did like, the developing romance between Drea and Xavier, as well as how Drea and Jason began to trust each other and start building a friendship. It would be interesting to she if she and Gigi would ever really become friends if the story does continue in another book. I would possibly suggest this to a tween or teen interested in mystery and intrigue or crime drama, with the caveat that the ending is a little weak and unsatisfying. One big plus for this book is that it does have multi-cultural characters, though they aren't always portrayed in the most positive light.

Other Books By This Author
Kimberly Reid is also the author of the YA series The Langdon Prep Mysteries, and is currently working on the YA thriller Pretty Boy Must Die. Ms. Reid is the daughter of a cop, who was always intrigued by her mother's cases, and often writes about juvenile
delinquent characters who then use their criminal skills for good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. April 12, 2016. Candlewick Press. 272 pages. Ages 10-13.

Raymie Clarke's father has just abandoned her and her mother to run off with a dental hygienist. But, Raymie has a plan to get him back. She decides that she must enter and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant. Surely if her father sees her picture in the paper as Little Miss Central Florida Tire he will be so proud of her that he will come home.

But to win, she needs a talent, which brings her to Miss Ida Nee's house for baton twirling lessons where she meets two other girls, Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. The three girls couldn't be more different! Louisiana is very girly, a bit spacey, and prone to fainting. Beverly is tough as nails, has a bad attitude, and is surprisingly skilled at baton twirling. Raymie is a bit shy and serious, but determined, and has a unique skill that comes in handy in the end.

Each of the girls has a very different reason for being in the competition, but despite their differences the three become friends through a series of misadventures and rescues, eventually revealing their secrets to the others.

My Thoughts 
When I first read the blurb on the jacket, my first thought was 'Oh, great, another "Little Miss Sunshine", but it turned out to be a very different story after all. Although it seemingly starts out about family with Raymie's decision to enter the contest being spurred by her father's running off with another woman, it is really about friendship and finding your inner strength.

The story is fairly fast-paced with alternately bittersweet and humorous moments as each of the girls gradually reveals the darker truths of their lives as they bond during their series of misadventures. I liked how they gradually became friends, growing to appreciate their differences and realizing that they complemented each other perfectly, despite their first impressions. I also appreciated how in the end, two of the girls realized that their agendas were not realistic and that the third girl had a very real need to win the contest.

I would recommend this book to fans of the author's previous books, though they are all quite different, and for any younger middle-grade readers who enjoy books about unlikely friendships and adventures, or who might be looking for something that has to do with divorce and/or parental abandonment. Fans of the Fancy Nancy and Ivy + Bean chapter books would be likely to enjoy this one as well.

Other Books By This Author
Kate DiCamillo has written several other well-known and award-winning middle grade books, such as Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tales of Despareux, and Flora And Ulysses, as well as the beginning chapter series Bink & Gollie and Mercy Watson, and more.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Today NOT At The Desk....but, On A Plane!

Today would normally be my day to work the children's desk in the afternoon. Since school started yesterday, it probably would be very quiet for the first couple of hours, then maybe a few families trickle in after school.

But instead, I am on my way to the beginning of a new endeavor that is a bit of a risk financially, but I hope it will pay off in the long run. No, I haven't left my job; I am going back to school to get my MLIS! Though the program is online, there is an in-person orientation, and that is where I'm off to today. 

And the bonus? To get there (Valdosta, GA), I have to fly into Jacksonville, so I figured it would be a shame to be so close and not go to the beach, so after the orientation I am staying an extra two days at a beachfront hotel in Jacksonville before flying back to give myself a much needed mini-vacation!

I'm looking forward to starting on my MLIS, but I'm a little nervous, too. I was always a good student and I've already got one master's degree, but I'm not particularly excited about the online experience. I've never taken an online class, and I just think I'd get so much more out of an in-classroom experience and being able to talk to classmates and professors in person; I'm particularly concerned about doing group projects online. How does that even work?? But, online programs are about all there is in the field anymore, with a few exceptions, so I'll just have to adapt.

I'm also a bit concerned about whether it will pay off in the long run. Let's face it, graduate tuition isn't cheap and the job market stinks! I go into it knowing that there is a very good chance I may not live long enough to get a librarian position (this is my second career and I'm a bit older than the typical MLIS student), but I'm hoping it will at least get me something full-time, like a programming specialist in youth services or outreach. I definitely want to stay in public libraries and work mostly in youth services.

Now that I'll have more on my plate, I probably won't be able to post as often, but I hope to keep both my blogs going. I'll just have to see how it goes...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorn. July 31, 2016. Arthur A. Levine Books (special rehearsal edition). 320 pages. Ages 8 & up.

Nineteen years after the defeat of Voldemort, Harry Potter is enjoying a rather mundane life as a husband and father of three, and working at the Ministry of Magic, where his old friend Hermione is now the Minister. 

However, his middle child, Albus, is having a much harder time dealing with the legacy of being Harry Potter's son than his older son James ever did. After Albus starts Hogwarts, he feels even more than he can never live up to the expectations put on him. He begins to become sullen and withdrawn, and angry at his father. To further set himself apart from his father, he chooses Slytherin House, and to his father's dismay, he becomes best friends with Draco Malfoy's son, Scorpius. 

Deep in his angst, a very mis-guided Albus decides he will right a perceived wrong of his father's in order to make a name for himself and convinces Scorpius to join him. After his first attempt not only doesn't work, but has unintended consequences, he insists on making a second attempt, which has catastrophic consequences that threaten all those he cares about, and his very existence! All the while, his father senses a dark presence, and begins to feel a familiar pain in his scar. Has the Dark One returned?

My Thoughts
So, after previously saying she was done with the Harry Potter world, J. K. Rowling has in fact returned to milk her cash cow, perhaps because of a less than stellar response to her adult fiction? But this time it comes in the form of a play written with the assistance of a theatrical writer and director, resulting in a book that is a script, rather than a novel [some bookstores/libraries may have it with the other Harry Potter books, others may have it shelved with other plays]. This format results in a book that is a littler harder to read, and probably a little less appealing for some, particularly kids.

The plot moves along at a very brisk pace, whizzing through Albus' first two years at Hogwarts in just a couple of very quick scenes before slowing down for the main action during his third year. Some parts of the plot are somewhat predictable, but there are some surprises, and overall, I enjoyed it, despite some of the story weaknesses. Perhaps not as much as any of the original 7 novels, but it wasn't bad, and I think most Harry Potter fans would be satisfied with the ending. As cynical as I am about Rowling's motivation for writing it, I must confess I had always secretly hoped there would be some kind of follow-up that would resolve Harry and Draco's conflict in a similar fashion and I was very happy with the ending.

This "special rehearsal edition" was released to coincide with Harry Potter's fictional birthday, which just happens to be J. K. Rowling's actual birthday, and just following the theatrical preview performance. Another edition, the "Definitive Collector's Edition" will be released in 2017 in order to squeeze a few more profits out of it, er, I mean incorporate all the revisions that occurred after the script's initial publication. I would have preferred a novelization of the script for easier reading and broader appeal, and I'm sure others would as well. Dare I predict we will likely see this script released in novel form in 2018 to further capitalize on the story?? Perhaps coinciding with a film adaptation??

I would recommend this to fans of the original Harry Potter books. While it may not be quite as good as the novels, I don't think many people really expect it to be, so some may even be pleasantly surprised. It might be possible to enjoy the story without having read the original series, but I think one really needs to know all the history preceding it, especially the relationships between Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the rivalry between Harry and Draco, and the Battle for Hogwarts to fully appreciate it.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Day At The Desk...

Yesterday was my last official shift at the desk of summer reading, though things won't really quiet down until after school starts in two weeks. It was pretty dead when I first started my shift after lunch, but steadily got busier as the day progressed.

I had several people turn in reading logs, and even one take one to start with just three days left, but no procrastinators looking for books to fulfill their required summer reading for school (which was a bit of a surprise). I got slightly flustered when I accidentally closed the circulation software and couldn't get it to open again, but our wonderful IT tech came down right away and saved me within a few minutes, thankfully. 

My little chubby-cheeked friend I made a few weeks ago came in, and was having a much better day that the last time I saw him. The last time, he had checked out some teen superhero graphic novels, which his father didn't approve of and dragged him back in and made him return. I wouldn't want a kid of mine checking out the teen books that young, either, but I hated the way the father handled it, lecturing him and embarrassing him in front of me and making him check out stuff he had absolutely no interest in instead of letting me help him select something age-appropriate that would interest him.

But yesterday I was happy to see him cheerfully returning a whole stack of juvenile superhero chapter books and graphic novels that he had read; fortunately he had been able to find something superhero that his father would allow. He proceeded to check out a new stack, and has gotten pretty good at navigating the catalog and the shelves by himself, with just a little help. He is normally so cute and cheerful, we all like having him around.

I also noticed a couple looking all around, and then taking pictures. I had my suspicions about who they were, which were confirmed when I asked them if they needed any help. The woman somewhat sheepishly said they were from out-of-state and were in town on vacation, and as I suspected, she was a librarian! I laughed and told her I was just about to ask her if she was, because only librarians go sight-seeing at libraries when they're on vacation, and she certainly wasn't the first. We chatted a bit and I answered their questions about some of our programs and the building, and suggested that they might want to check out our local/regional history room on the reference floor. It's always nice to talk to librarians from other systems and find out how they do things in their library.

And so Summer Reading 2016 comes to a close, and everyone can take a month or so to catch their breath, and then start planning for next year!

Monday, July 25, 2016

37 Things I Love by Kekla Magoon

37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon. October 15, 2013 (originally published May 22, 2012). Square Fish. 240 pages. Ages 13 & up.

Ellis is approaching the end of her sophomore year, but unlike her classmates, her thoughts do not revolve around making fun summer plans. Instead, Ellis has spent the past two years dealing with her father being in a permanent vegetative state following a fall at a construction site, and now she is reeling at her mother's suggestion that it is time to remove life support and let him go.

Ellis finds herself unable to talk about what is going on with her two best friends, the pretty, popular, and self-absorbed Abby, and the sometimes too loyal Collin, who is besotted with Abby and lets her take advantage of him. Ellis is growing more and more disgusted by Abby's selfish, insensitive, and sometimes downright mean, behavior and with Collin for putting up with her abuse and letting her use him. As she begins to distance herself from Collin and Abby, she begins to renew her friendship with Cara, a childhood friend she and Abby had seemingly just drifted away from.

As Ellis' relationships with Abby, Collin, and Cara change and she struggles to accept her father's death, she turns to Cara for comfort more and more, and discovers the real reason their friendship was interrupted.  

My Thoughts
To be honest, I can't quite decide what I think of this coming of age story, or whether I liked it or not. In some ways, the writing and dialog are really good, but in other ways parts of the story just didn't seem to be integrated smoothly and there really wasn't any resolution to much of the conflict.

I found Abby to be a very unlikeable character, and I really would like to have seen Ellis and Collin finally get fed up with her crap and be done with her. I can't believe how much they put up with from her. Then adding in Cara turning out to be gay and Ellis suddenly becoming sexually confused, just seem to muddle things, especially since nothing was really resolved. The book just stopped.  Did Abby and Cara manage to remain civil so Ellis wouldn't have to choose between them? Or did Ellis and Collin finally tell Abby to take a hike? Are Ellis and Cara friends, or girlfriends? I like books to have more of an ending than that. I felt there was no real closure.

The other thing that annoyed me a bit, though certainly no fault of the book or it's author, is that I read it because I thought it was a recent book by the author of our community read this year, How It Went Down, which I enjoyed and found very powerful, because it was labeled as a "New" book. But as it turns out, it was only newly purchased, having actually been publish 4 years ago. 

I would recommend this book to teens interested in coming of age stories, particularly those interested in difficult and changing friendships, and interested in or open to LGBTQ storylines.

Other Books By This Author
Kekla Magoon is the author of several young adult novels, including the award-winning The Rock and the River and the above-mentioned How It Went Down, as well as non-fiction books on social issues and historical subjects that interest her.