Monday, June 27, 2016

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, 2010. Amistad, 224 pages. Ages 8-12. Coretta Scott King Award winner, Odell Award winner, Newbery Honor book, National Book Award finalist.

In the turbulent summer of 1968, eleven-year old Delphine Gaither and her two younger sisters Vonetta and Fern are sent from Brooklyn, New York, to spend a month with their estranged mother in Oakland, California. They dream of Disneyland, movie stars, sight-seeing, going to the beach, and most of all, having a mother's love.

However, what they get is completely different. Their mother Cecile has absolutely no interest in being a mother, which is not surprising considering she abandoned them shortly after Fern's birth and they haven't seen her since. Cecile makes it clear she did not ask for them to come and doesn't want them around, and won't be bothered to take care of them, much less entertain them.

So they spend their days at the local center run by the Black Panthers, getting free breakfast, being indoctrinated with their beliefs, trying to figure out what to believe, and struggling to understand and cope with their mother's rejection and odd lifestyle.

My Thoughts 
I read this book out of order, after first reading and loving the third book in the series, Gone Crazy In Alabama, so I was already acquainted with the characters. Even so, I think the characters are so well-written and well-developed, that any reader would feel like they really know them. Each sister has her own distinct personality, and stays true to character throughout the story, from the responsible, quiet oldest sister Delphine; to the selfish, attention-seeking, sometimes shallow Vonetta; to the youngest, precocious Fern. As an oldest sister myself, I readily identified with Delphine, and so wanted to put the often bratty, thoughtless Vonetta in her place!

The often emotional story is well-written and well-paced, and will often leave the reader feeling angry or frustrated with the adults in the Gaither sisters' lives. I found myself angry and disgusted by Cecile's apparent complete disregard for her children, not only not looking after their basic needs such as food and safety, but repeatedly verbalizing that she didn't want them and even alluding to wishing she had gotten an abortion. She is very cold and disinterested, only opening up a little bit at the end and telling Delphine a little bit about her history. I also felt angry with their father for sending them to stay with someone who didn't want them, and obviously didn't have the capacity to care for their emotional or physical needs.

I would recommend this book to fans of Jacqueline Woodson's books such as Brown Girl Dreaming, those who enjoy historical fiction, those interested in the Civil Rights Era from a child's point of view, and those who appreciate stories about complex relationships and family dramas.

Other Books By This Author 
There are two other books in the Gaither sisters trilogy, P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy In Alabama, which were also Coretta Scott King Award-winners.

Rita Williams-Garcia has also written several books for teens and a picture book for preschoolers.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Just Another Day At The Desk....

When you work with the public, in a public place, you run into all kinds of people and find all kinds of strange things. Working in a public library is no different. Our patrons run the gamut from adorable preschoolers to the elderly, and everyone in between.

Sometimes these patrons leave behind some strange or gross things. I have found feces, urine, vials of growth hormone, and marijuana, just to name a few.  Co-workers have found dirty diapers or cups of bourbon stuck in the shelves. And of course there are the ubiquitous food wrappers, pieces of food, drinks, and used tissues.

The other day when I was working the children's desk, the condom fairy paid another visit. It had been awhile since the last visit, when a patron approached me to report that someone was dropping condoms down on him from the level above. Fearing the worst, I went over to investigate and was greatly relieved to find an unused, unopened condom on the floor. I reported it to the manager and security, but by that point the culprit was long gone and I doubt they felt it was worth reviewing security footage. I'm just very thankful it was an unused one!

This time, the condom fairy left a whole packet of condoms on the service desk, along with information about getting tested for HIV. I had no idea who left it, or when. I had been at or near the desk almost the whole time, and there weren't that many people around, so I would think I would have noticed. I'm not sure if a patron had accidentally left it behind, or if this was someone's idea of public health advocacy and they were sneaking around leaving them at random places. So I just let the branch manager know that someone might be distributing condoms inside the library and disposed of them.  

Definitely one of the stranger things to find in the children's department, but certainly not the most disgusting. Thankfully, the rest of the shift was relatively uneventful, just some shelving, helping patrons find books for summer reading, and pulling *10* pages worth of items for holds or transfers.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

"How-To" Festival Program - "How To Ice A Cupcake"

I got to do something a little different last week. While I normally do preschool literacy outreach, i.e. storytime, this week I did a program geared for adults (but kids were welcome, too).

The library I work at hosted a "How-To" Festival, with informational sessions going on most of the day about all kinds of things: urban chicken farming, jewelry-making, knitting, self-defense, college financial planning, and more. Some were hands-on, most were demonstration. After a presenter from a local bakery backed out, I was asked to fill-in as I used to have a home-based cake business prior to working at the library, and I was happy to do it (I've been dying for the chance to put my cake decorating skills to use in programming).

(Click on photos to see full size images)

The only downside was that I was only slated for a 30 minute time slot, which boils down to about 15 minutes after you allow 5 minutes to quickly set up, 5 minutes of questions, and 5 minutes to clean up. So I had to really pare it down to showing just two of the most basic techniques. I have both step-by-step photos (click on the collages to view them in a larger size), and video segments with verbal instructions and tips (click on the links within each segment, or the complete list at the end).

First, to prep the bag and fill halfway with buttercream icing:

The first technique I call the "Ice Cream Swirl" because it looks like a soft-serve ice cream cone. This is for the icing lover!

Next is the "Rosette", which I prefer. There is a current trend to decorate birthday and wedding cakes by simply covering them with these large rosettes. Looks elegant and fancy, but so easy to do with a little practice! There is also a slow-motion video of this technique so you can really get a feel for the wrist movement and tip angles.

This next one is slightly more challenging, but so impressive! By carefully loading the pastry bag with different colors of icing, you get a rainbow effect! I used three colors here, but beginners should start with two. The rainbow technique works well for both the ice cream swirl and rosette techniques.

I also mentioned several ways to embellish them, with a few examples, such as: colored sugars; rainbow, chocolate, or pearl jimmies, shaped sprinkles, and pre-made icing decorations (these should all be applied as soon as you are finished piping while the surface of the icing is still wet).

And here's a time-lapse video that shows preparing the bag and piping a rosette. I decided not to embed all of the video segments I made, but links to them have been included both in the body of this post and at the end.

I had several families attend, and I think it went pretty well other than being a little rushed and only being a demonstration. I really would have liked to have more time and be able to make it a hands-on activity. I think people would have gotten more out of it that way, but that decision was not up to me. I think I did the best I could in the very limited time I was allowed. I had one little girl come up to me at the end to ask about how to load the different colored icings in the bag for the rainbow technique, and she couldn't have been more than seven, but she was so poised and articulate and sounded so grown up asking her question!

I had expected more questions, but only got a few, and only one person took one of the books I had on display to check-out. I suspect that several people came not so much out of a sincere interest in learning how to decorate cupcakes, but in the hope they would get to eat cupcakes. If that was the case, they were sadly disappointed since our Policies & Procedures prohibits us from giving out homemade food items to the public. So I gave them to my co-workers instead :)

I hope I get an opportunity to do some kind of stand-alone program using my cake decorating skills, but one with more time, hands-on, and marketed a little differently. Some ideas I have are cupcakes, how to ice a cake like a pro, how to reproduce your child's favorite character on a cake, mini-gingerbread houses, or cookie decorating.

**Slight Disclaimer - The photos from my actual program did not turn out very well and missed a lot of steps, so I re-created my demo after the fact in order to get better, step-by-step photos and try to get some video. I decided not to embed all the videos, but links to them are listed below if you'd like to see them and hear the instructions and tips. They are generally about 1-2 minutes in length, and are admittedly pretty amateur.

Piping Bag Preparation
Ice Cream Swirl
Rosette & Embellishments
Rainbow Swirl
Rainbow Rosette
Rosette In Slo-Mo
Spiky Cupcake Time Lapse

Here's a video with highlights of the "How-To" Festival so you can see the variety of programs that were offered.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Today At The Desk....

By Cephas - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Well, this week Summer Reading was in full swing, with several kids already completing their reading logs and we hosted a live animal program, which has always been the program that draws the biggest crowds. Since many people had been in earlier in the week to attend the program, today was a little on the quiet side for much of the day.

When I first took over at the desk, there was just one boy in the department who was already charming my co-worker. He was very cute and funny, but he was one of those little boys who knows that he's cute and funny, so you just have to mess with him a little. He was bragging about his cute fat cheeks that he got from his mom (his words) and I said "You know what fat cheeks are for, don't you?.......Pinching!" Then we started teasing him and telling him that's what the price was for computer time, 1 cheek pinch for every half hour of computer time.

After that I took advantage of the slow spell to try to get some shelving done, as we are still short a page. While I was shelving, "Junior" asked me to give him more time. I jokingly asked if he remembered what that was going to cost, and he said "What?", then resignedly said "oh, okay...". It was so funny, he reminded me of my son who will agree to do just about anything for computer time. So I pretended like I was going to pinch his cheeks, then gave him more time. His mother warned me that he might be a real charmer, but he was also a handful and not to be taken in by his charms, but he definitely was a bright spot in my day.

Towards the latter part of the shift it began getting pretty busy, with people getting library cards, turning in reading logs, needing help with checking out, or their accounts, and I had to scramble to get all the items pulled and processed for holds and transfers, but I got it all done in the nick of time. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Beyond Junie B. - Intermediate Series With Spunky Female Characters

"My daughter loves the Junie B. Jones series, but she just read the last one and I have no idea what else to get for her!"   I hear some version of this lament from parents fairly frequently at the library where I work. Junie B. Jones is a staple in classrooms and school libraries across the country, and is often one of the first chapter book series young kids get hooked on. They are really drawn to the spunky, outspoken character of Junie B. whose voice is authentically child-like (improper grammar and all), who says and does the things they think, but might not dare to do. 

If you have a child who has read all of Junie B. and wants something similar, try some of these series, which all feature spunky young female characters (ranging in age from 5 to 9) with quirky personalities dealing with everyday problems all young children can relate to, like school, making friends, sibling rivalry, change, jealousy, etc.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, 1950, 158 pages, ages 5-10.

I have to start with my childhood favorite spunky, quirky girl, Pippi Longstocking! This series does differ from all the others in that it is not truly realistic and is more silly and non-sensical. Nine-year old Pippi lives alone with her horse and her monkey (her mother is in heaven and her father lost at sea). She is unusually strong, very eccentric, smart, and self-sufficient, but often finds herself in the middle of unusual situations and adventures, with her friends Tommy and Annika.

There are several Pippi stories, and several different versions have been published over the years, using different translators and illustrators.

Uh-Oh, Cleo by Jessica Harper, illustrated by Jon Berkeley, 2008-2010, 65 pages, ages 6-8.

Eight-year old Cleo and her twin brother Jack are part of a large family with the ironic last name of "Small". There are six children altogether, including two sets of twins! But being a twin is not the only think that stands out about Cleo; she also has the uncanny knack for finding herself in the middle of one mishap after another.

In the first book she has to get stitches, in the second the family gets caught in a freak August snowstorm, and in the third she barfs on her friend's mom!

Violet Mackerel by Anna Branford, illustrated by Elanna Allen, 2010-2015, 112 pages, ages 6-10.

Violet Mackerel is more sweet and charming than spunky, but she deals with problems by thinking outside the box to come up with possible solutions rather than whining or dwelling on them, with some creative and imaginative ideas.

Each book is short and focused on one particular problem, some small, like how to get the trinket she likes at the market; others are big, such as having have her tonsils out or having to move when her mother re-marries. There are a total of 8 books in the series.

Amber Brown by Paula Danziger, (later by Bruce Coville & Elizabeth Levy) illustrated by Tony Ross (later by Anthony Lewis), 1994-2004, 2012-2014, 100-200 pages, ages 5-10.

Amber Brown is a very spunky 9-year old whose parents are divorcing and best friend is moving away. While these books are short with a lower reading level and large print, they deal with some more serious issues at times, such as divorce, a parent moving far away, friends moving away, jealousy, parents dating and getting re-married, growing up and all the changes that come with it.

There are 12 books in the series, with the last three being written after the death of the original author.  A good hi-lo series for reluctant readers, but the reading level would be too low for many 9-10 year olds.

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon, 2014, 160 pages, ages 6-8.

Six-year old Dory, otherwise known as Rascal, is a little girl with a very BIG imagination! She tries to play with her older brother and sister, but they tell her she acts too babyish. Her imaginings begin to wear on everyone's nerves, and her siblings concoct a plan to scare her straight, which totally backfires.

I love the primitive illustrations that almost look like a child drew them. The second book is due out June 7th, with the third to follow this fall (of 2016).

Lola Levine by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela N. Dominguez, 2015-present, 96 pages, ages 5-9.

Second-grader Lola Levine is a soccer star, until one day she accidentally hurts a classmate during a match and everyone thinks she did it on purpose. In the second book she deals with stage fright after being cast in the class play, and in the upcoming third book, she learns about getting along with others.

Lola also happens to be from a multi-cultural family, with a Jewish father and a Peruvian mother, so there are several references to both cultures throughout the books. The second book was released in January of 2016, with the third book due out in July of 2016.

Lulu by Hilary McKay, 2011-2014, 100 pages, ages 7-10.

Lulu is in Class 3 with her cousin and best friend, Mellie. Mellie is known for losing things, while Lulu is known for jumping out of swings, but most of all for her love of animals. Fortunately her parents are okay with all the pets she brings home as long as she takes care of them. In the first book, she rescues a duck egg from getting smashed and returns the duckling to its mother.

There are six books in the series, each story featuring a different kind of animal in need:  duck, dog, cat, rabbit, hedgehog, and hamster.

Ruby Lu by Lenore Look, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf & Stef Choi, 2004-2011, 112-176 pages, ages 6-10.

Ruby Lu is an almost-eight-year old Chinese-American girl who loves putting on magic shows, her little brother Oscar (well, most of the time), and her best friends Emma, Tiger, and Ruby. In the first story we meet Ruby and her family and friends, and see the ups and downs in her relationship with her brother. She also deals with a bully, learns to drive, and starts Chinese school. 

In the second book she has to adjust to having her recently-emigrated cousin living with her, and in the third book her parents reverse roles after her father loses his job. There is also a glossary at the end to explain some of the Chinese words and cultural references.

Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper, 2007-2015, 136-208 pages, ages 6-9.

Eight-year old Grace Stewart came by the unfortunate nickname "Just Grace" because there were 4 girls named Grace in her class and she didn't want to go by "Grace S." She loves cats and heroes, and secretly writes her own "Not So Super" comic strip. Her small superpower is being able to tell when people are sad, even when they try to hide it. She is often moved to try to help people, but her good intentions sometimes backfire. Grace also has a knack for describing situations and grown-ups in a way that is humorously spot-on. There are currently 12 books in the series.

Judy Moody by Megan McDonald & illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, 2000-2014, 176-208 pages, ages 6-9.

This 12-book series begins with Judy in a very bad mood as she starts third grade, not looking forward to change and having to adjust to a new teacher, new classroom, and new classmates. But, things begin to look up as she and her best friend Rocky work on their projects, and she makes new friends.

There is also a series about Judy's younger brother Stink, and another series about their adventures together.
Amelia Bedelia Chapter Books, by Herman Parrish & illustrated by Lynne Avril, 2013-present, 160 pages, ages 6-10.

Amelia Bedelia has been a favorite of young children for 50 years. Now independent readers can continue to enjoy the fun in a relatively new chapter book series by the nephew of the original Amelia Bedelia author, Peggy Parrish. 

In this series Amelia is a young girl, dealing with the same everyday problems as all kids, which are humorously complicated by her inability to recognize idiomatic expressions and taking everything literally. I particularly like how there is a list of the idioms from the story at the end, with their meanings. There are currently 9 books in the series, with the 10th due out in July of 2016.

Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows & illustrated by Sophie Blackall, 2007-2014, 120-136 pages, ages 7-12.

With Ivy + Bean you get two spunky girls for the price of one!  Ivy and Bean have very different personalities and at first they have no interest in the other, but once they meet they find opposites attract and become best friends.

There are 10 books in this series, and this is a good series to grow with, as the suggested age range changes from 7-9 with the first book to 8-12 by the last book.

Frankly, Frannie by A. J. Stern, 2010-2012, 128 pages, ages 6-8.

Frannie Miller is a very ambitious young lady with lots of enthusiasm, but who is sometimes lacking in good judgement. She is eager to have a career and work in an office, and already has her resume and business cards all ready. Unfortunately, her enthusiasm and eagerness to prove how capable she is often gets her into trouble when she misreads situations and tries to take on adult responsibilities.

There are nine books in this series, with each exploring a different career interest of Frannie's.

Nancy Clancy by Jane O'Connor & illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, 2012-present, 128 pages, ages 6-10.

Another popular picture book character continues as a chapter books series. Nancy Clancy is now a third grader and, while still stylish, has toned down her fanciness slightly. In the first book she and best friend Bree solve a mystery just like their favorite book character, Nancy Drew. In the following books Nancy deals with everything from secret admirers to playing soccer.

There are currently 6 books in the series, with the 7th due out in a matter of days (June 7th, 2016).

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee, 2006-2015, 143-192 pages, ages 7-10.

Poor Clementine manages to get herself into all kinds of trouble, but she only has the best of intentions and is very misunderstood. She also doesn't like being named after a fruit, and insists that it's only fair that she call her little brother vegetable names, like "Broccoli" and "Rutabaga". Kids will find Clementine entertaining and relate-able.

There are 7 books in the Clementine series, but she will make an occasional appearance in the Waylon spin-off series debuting in 2016.

Clarice Bean by Lauren Child, 1999-2006, 208-252 pages, ages 8-12.

Clarice Bean is a young girl who loves to say the word "utterly", is obsessed with the Ruby Redfort books about a young girl who is a secret agent, and is always caught daydreaming by her teacher. She confronts typical problems kids deal with everyday at home and at school.  

There are seven books in the Clarice Bean series, which spawned a real-life incarnation of the fictional Ruby Redfort series Clarice is obsessed with in 2011, with 5 books currently published.

Mallory McDonald by Laurie Friedman, illustrated by Tamara Schmitz, 2004-present, 150-175 pages, ages, 7-10.

Mallory McDonald is a spirited 8-year old girl who loves to tell jokes, much to her older brother Max's embarrassment. She has a cat named Cheeseburger, lives next door to her best friend Mary Ann, and thinks life is almost perfect. Until her parents announce they are moving 3 hours away!  

Mallory adjust to moving, makes new friends and deals with all the typical problems young girls face with school, family, friends, and change. There are currently 25 books in the series.

Piper Reed by Kimberly Willis Holt, illustrated by Christine Davenier, 2007-2012,160 pages, ages 8-11.

Nine-year old Piper Reed is spunky and resilient; you have to be when you're part of a military family and move every couple of years. But Piper has never minded, and embraces being a Navy family, even calling her father "Chief" rather than "Dad". But then they have to move during the school year for the first time, which makes even Piper upset. She also struggles with being the middle child and having dyslexia.

The 5-book series begins with the family's latest move, and follows Piper and she adjusts to her new home and makes new friends; children of military families would find Piper particularly relate-able.

Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary, 1955-1999, 160-240 pages, ages 8-12.

Of course we can't forget the other classic spunky little girl, Ramona. Ramona is a very energetic, curious, imaginative, and strong-willed girl who frequently gets on peoples nerves, particular her older sister Beezus, and sometimes finds herself in trouble.

Ramona first makes an appearance in the Henry Huggins series, then takes a larger role as a 4-year old in Beezus And Ramona before continuing in her own series.There are 8 books in the series, and Ramona ages and matures as the series progresses, turning 10 by the end of the last book.  A great series to grow with.

These last two are not part of a series (though the first is a spin-off from one), but they are both classics by well-known children's authors and feature a couple of independent girls who overcome difficulties and discover strengths they didn't know they had, and no list of spunky, quirky girls would be complete without them!

Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great by Judy Blume, 1972, 160 pages, ages 8-12.

Sheila Tubman secretly has many fears; she is afraid of spiders, dogs, swimming, the dark, and more. She tries to hide her anxieties and over-compensates by projecting a slightly over-the-top persona that is brave, witty, and outgoing. In the story she must face one of her fears, and eventually overcomes it.

This book is a spin-off of Blume's beloved Fudge series. Sheila is a classmate and nemesis of Fudge's older brother Peter in the series; Peter makes an appearance in this story and a few references are made to him and his brother.

Matilda by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake, 1988, 240 pages, ages 8-12.

Matilda Wormwood is a very intelligent, precocious child who does not fit into the family she was born into. They do not share or appreciate her curiosity and intellect, and she must educate herself by reading everything she can from the library. Eventually they enroll her in a school, with a wonderful teacher, but a truly horrible headmistress. Matilda discovers talents she never knew she had, and saves everyone from the awful Trunchbull.

This book is a little different in that Matilda is a quiet, intellectual child, yet she is also very brave and stands up for herself and it incorporates a little bit of fantasy by giving Matilda telekinetic powers, whereas all the other books are realistic fiction.

Hopefully one or more of these will fill the void left by Junie B. Jones, but also encourage your young reader to explore other genres, perhaps a little historical fiction with the American Girl or I Survived... series, learn about the lives of real people with the Who Was/Is? biography series, some adventure with Gary Paulsen or Jean Craighead George, mysteries with Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew, or fantasy with The Magic Treehouse series.  Happy Reading!

I subsequently came across one other series to add to this list:

Emma by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper, 2005-2010, 98-144 pages, ages 8-12.

Third-grader Emma is an only child of divorced parents, who has recently had to move and start a new school. She is very interested in nature and science, and wants to be naturalist when she's older. In the first book, she has to deal with sharing her room and her mother's attention with 4-year old Anthony, who comes to stay with them for a week when his mother has a family emergency.

There are six books in the series, all dealing with typical third grade trials and tribulations, such as making new friends, arguing with friends, teasing and bullying, etc.