top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

Review: Ingenue

Ingenue
Ingenue by Jillian Larkin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really want to like these books. I love jazz, I love the flapper era, and I like historical fiction–but Larkin drops the ball several times. With more research, editing, and commitment to the time period, this series could really be something special, but as it stands it’s a missed opportunity.

“Black” is not the term that is most historically accurate, yet it’s the one that Larkin uses exclusively. “Colored” or “Negro” or even “Nigger” would have been used more than “black”. If you’re going to write about a period in history, you’re going to have to use the vocabulary of the time. Using popular slang while avoiding the uncomfortable terms makes me feel like the author is lacking in bravery. Further, having all the white girls in this novel capable of commenting on the handsomeness of the black characters doesn’t ring true. Racism is an ugly facet of American history that I think you have to acknowledge when you’re writing historical fiction. I also think that the Mann Act would have come up somehow in regards to Gloria and Jerome, but it never did. The issue of race is talked about a lot, but we never really see it portrayed in an effective way.

In this installment, we meet Louis Armstrong, and are told he has the nickname Dippermouth because he chews tobacco. I’ve read a lot about Louis Armstrong, and everything I’ve seen indicates that Dippermouth is one of his nicknames because he loved the song “Dippermouth Blues”. His more common nickname was Satchelmouth, which came about because of his wide satchel like mouth (or because he hid money in his mouth as a child, reports vary), and it was often shorted to Satchmo. Louis Armstrong has a very unique voice and way of speaking, and with a little research this could come across even in a brief appearance–yet Larkin has Louis sounding just like the four teenage girls who are the focus of the novel.

People who aren’t as interested in jazz and this time period probably won’t have as many problems with this series as I do, even with the weak writing.

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Review: Bigger than a Bread Box

Bigger than a Bread Box
Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love this cover, which is just one of many wonderful middle grade covers that have been appearing lately. So much better than the severed heads and badly photoshopped models that YA covers have been suffering from. I love a book cover that tells you about the book you’re about to read. The anxious expression on the girl’s face is perfect, and the perspective of peering out from the bread box is intriguing and hints at the slightly strange, magical realism of the story.

Laurel Snyder’s books are a joy to read. Snyder’s writing is clean, crisp, and entirely in service of the story; I never feel like the story has wandered off topic or led me astray as a reader. Her characters are consistently real without being boring, and the interplay of family dynamics in this story especially ring true.

You could hand this book to kids who enjoy gentle fantasy, or to parents who are seeking a read-aloud with a character building message. You could also tuck it inside a vintage bread box for a unique gift this holiday season.

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Review: The Freak Observer

The Freak Observer
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t summarize worth a dang, so if you need a summary, find it here. First up, this cover–this cover, people! On the whole, I think that these days middle grade and chapter books get the better covers–illustrations, significant objects, great color schemes–while YA has become a wasteland of severed heads, torsos, and wickedly photo-shopped faces. But Woolston’s Morris Award Winning novel avoids that sad fate, and has a cover–and back cover–design that give the reader a huge, satisfying clue about what is in store when they begin reading, which is the whole purpose of having a book cover in the first place.

I’ve had this book since I picked it up at ALA following the YA Author Coffee Klatch. Blythe was one of the authors that came to my table and talking with her was really a joy. She was thoughtful, modest, excited, and a steadfast lover of libraries, librarians, and storytelling. In our packet was a note that we could get a free signed copy of her book at the Carolrhoda Lab booth, so following the breakfast I made that my first stop.

I read most of this book while at ALA, mostly before I went to sleep at night, and then finished it on the train ride back home to Chicago. As the cover promised, this book is visceral yet clinical, detached and engaging, tugging equally at your mind and your heart.

I love this book, you guys. I love it because it both filled and created a whole in my heart. I love it because Loa is me, and I am Loa, and Loa is a direct descendant of Meg Murray (sex drive and all–do you realize how many kids Meg Murray O’Keefe ended up having? A LOT And can you blame her, being married to Calvin?? NO, you CAN’T, so don’t even TRY). I love it because it has a family that is lower/middle/working class, a family that makes hard decisions and yet can still get excited about finally living at an address where you can get pizza delivered.

For fans of: Madeline L’Engle’s Time novels, the ballroom sequence in Labyrinth, Blankets by Craig Thompson, Trespasser’s William, walking fast on a cold day so your nose runs and your eyes sting, handwritten letters, agape love, and Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney.

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Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars means “I liked it.” I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it…it was okay. The use of the found pictures seemed kind of forced at times, and not as integrated as they could have been. I think I’d really have preferred the pictures just being described rather than reproduced. Also, some of them just seemed unnecessary–such as sad Dad in his bunny suit, or Grandpa with his gun. Why would someone be taking that picture, from that distance?

But those are just my quibbles. If you’re a fan of this kind of thing, then you’ll really dig this book. And I did enjoy some of the characters and situations. Just overall, it wasn’t a book I’m going to love–but I did like it.

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books to give, books to get

Books to Give

If you need ideas for holiday gift giving this year, and want to give a book, I highly recommend going over to Mother Reader’s site and utilizing her “Ways to Give a Book” series. Quality stuff, and if you have to participate in the craziness of STUFF exchange, you might as well give a book. Since I never have any extra money, I hardly ever am able to give gifts, but even I will break down and buy a beloved classic at the thrift store to share with my nephew or other children I am lucky enough to know.

Books to Get

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

I hate snow. A fresh white blanket of it only reminds me of The Stuff, and if I have to drive in it–ugh. So much unhappiness.

Yet this book, with a layer of fresh snow at its heart, has managed to win me over. The quiet, simple, understated prose is perfectly suited to the topic of what happens over and under a layer of new fallen snow, and the bold lines and clean images of the art are a perfect complement. This book is an ideal one on one bedtime readaloud during the season, and it would work equally well being read aloud in a science classroom during a discussion of seasonal changes or hibernation. Bringing quality literature into all curricular areas–not just during language arts–is critical if we want to keep kids reading and excited about reading.

This book also presents a conundrum–Baker and Taylor suggests a nonfiction number for it, which I suppose makes some sense, especially with the rich author’s note and further reading suggestions, but I also think it would be better served in a public library being shelved with the picture books. What do you think? Where would you put this book?

The Conductor by Laetita Devernay

Somewhere in my childhood I must have had a book that was tall and skinny like this one, because the shape seems so familiar, but I can’t quite place it in my memory. The story–a wordless one, of a conductor conducting a symphony of nature, transforming leaves into birds and back again–also seems familiar, but I can’t tell you why.

The lines and limited color palette certainly bring to mind Caps for Sale and Edward Gorey, and the environmental slant reminds one of The Lorax, but I think this book reminds me of so many other things because it is just a good book–it knows what its saying, but it is also loose enough to allow for many different experiences while reading it. I think it would be amazing fun to play different pieces of instrumental music while viewing this book, and see how the music changes the way the swooping leaves and birds appear to you.

Both books are review copies kindly provided by the publisher.