Friday, January 11, 2019

What this story needs is a munch and a crunch by Emma J. Virj√°n book review

As a high school librarian, my life is dominated by YA books. While I love them, they are just as long as adult books and take and an hours long commitment. And sometimes you just need to delve into something different for a change or a break. I have found myself choosing to review more picture books and middle grade books, just because it’s fun. I also have a built in audience at home that give immediate feedback.

So, I just discovered A Pig in a Wig books. They are super cute and a quick read. I was a little slowed down by having to read it 5 times by request. I would say that can be interpreted as a high recommendation from a 3 year old.

A Pig in a Wig elicited giggles (probably because of the rhyme) but I had to explain what a wig was. Pig was preparing for a picnic and a picnic is a 3-4 year olds favorite activity. I think some of the new vocabulary will include wig, punch, and breeze. The major attention grabber was the 2 page spread with the impending storm and the words whoosh, boom, plop, splash accompanied by looks of panic on the character’s faces. They rush to pack up their picnic, but instead of being disappointed by the rain, they just set up a picnic in the living room and continue their fun.

My little reader was especially enthralled by the bees found on several of the pages. She was concerned when they followed the characters into the living room, but then decided it was ok. The illustrations are bright and fun. There are lots of details on the pages, but they are not cluttered so I think it’s great for emerging readers. The rhymes really grab the listeners attention and it’s something that the little ones can identify with. You might need to be prepared for an immediate picnic after reading this book. I think any preK-2 grade will enjoy this book. It’s a great fit for a school library, is an engaging read aloud and I see potential for a lot of literacy based activities at different stations in the library. If you happen to be an IB PYP school, Pig illustrates what it means to be a thinker and a risk-taker.




Wandmaker by Ed Masessa book review

This is a middle-grade urban fantasy book that is a follow up to the authors 2006 release of The Wandmaker’s Guidebook, which was an interactive book and wand-assembly kit. This is also the 1st book in a 2 book series (according to Novelist). Henry Leach is 11 years old and is the 7th son of a 7th son. He is originally from Arizona. He was born into wandmaking, but does not know much about the magic. He accidentally turns his younger sister, Brianna, into a hedgehog and has to reach out to a more powerful wandmaker to help him. He is thrown into a fight between good and evil. The villain is named Dai She and the destruction of our world is imminent. It is up to Henry and his new friends to try to save the world.

The story is told in the third person from multiple points of view. There was a lot of detail about what goes into wandmaking. I do think it would appeal to fans of Harry Potter, but they need to go into it knowing that this book is a different approach. Coralis becomes Henry’s mentor. He is a grouchy old man, who is a little behind the times. He does decide to come out of seclusion in order to help defeat evil. His language will make readers laugh out loud. There is humor, magic, and adventure. It does end with a lead into the next book but can stand on its own.

I would recommend this book for a school library and have it available for a free choice book. Or for a genre based assignment for fantasy picks. I think this book will go a long way in developing new vocabulary words in younger readers. There are lots of twists and enough action to entice the reader to get to the end. It will appeal to readers who love fantasy, magic, and family.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey book review

This book is the first book in the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. The story starts off with a behind the scenes look at George and Harold, who have been friends since kindergarten, and have been making comic books together. Dog Man was their first comic, but by 4th grade, they had moved on to making Captain Underpants. Then they got nostalgic and wanted to go back to more simpler times with Dog Man.

Officer Knight and Greg the Dog are cops, who are not very good cops and always getting yelled at. They want to be heroic. Officer Knight is tough, but not very smart. Greg is smart, but his dog body holds him back. Petey wants to eliminate them because they might try to be heroic working as a team. Petey makes a bomb and Officer Knight and Greg are hurt. The only way to save them is by attaching Greg’s head to Officer Knights body. The surgery is successful and now Dog Man is the best cop ever. As the story goes on, Dog Man still gets yelled at because he does some dog-like things. But he is determined to be a hero. In the following chapters, there is some silliness, some hot dogs, lots of slobber and lots of good intentions. Evil is thwarted.

I think this book will appeal to a large range of readers. I think this book is the perfect book for kids who say they do not like to read. I think it will take readers who have been labelled "struggling" feel like they can read a book. It will engage readers from both the visual and artistic aspects because it is a graphic novel. I think it will make kids who like to doodle in school feel like what they like to do is valuable. It will connect students who get in trouble at school with the author and make them feel like they are not alone. Every school library should have the whole series in their library. They will be widely circulated between the students who say they love to read and students who say they are not readers. Having heard Dav Pilkey speak about his challenges with school and with being assigned various labels, I can see where that influences his work in this book. For example, the teacher letter getting Harold and George in trouble for not following the directions exactly. There are students who need to connect with these stories. As educators, if we truly want to give readers a choice in their reading material, we will allow students to read this book. Some of the challenging vocabulary in this book is accompanied by visuals that readers will be able to infer meaning from. This book is quite lengthy, so readers will feel accomplished by getting through a longer chapter book. This book is also just fun.  There is nothing wrong with reading a book for pure enjoyment.  If you don’t already have this book in your elementary or middle school library, you should get it right away! It also makes for a good gift.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Mesmerist by Ronald L. Smith book review

What a great middle grade book! The author has more recently written a Black Panther graphic novel so you might not even realize you already have his work in your library. The Mesmerist is set in Victorian England. It contains secret societies, faerie magic, a sinister evil creature and the power of family and friendships. Jessamine and her mother run a business for themselves communicating with the dead. It is mostly a ruse, until Jessamine discovers that she really does have some supernatural powers. She unknowingly writes out “ashes, ashes, we all fall down” and her mother freaks out. Most readers will be familiar with this song and will find that it appears throughout the book.

Jessamine soon finds that her power is getting stronger and she has to decide with path her future will take. Jessamine’s mother takes her to a family friend named Balthazar, where Jessamine will stay. As the adventure unfolds, readers will get to know a faerie, werewolf, Mephisto and an angel. This complex story is told in such a way that middle grade readers will be introduced and understand this tale of good and evil. The Victorian London underground will come to life through detailed descriptions and dialogue that is not too over the top for younger readers. The story is engaging and suspenseful. The cover art is attractive and will want to make you read the book right away. There are a few grisly scenes about the plague, but consistent with the time period and a some supernatural deaths. It is appropriate for a school library.

I really loved this book. There were some familiar characters like Balthazar, Mephisto and Malachai that I knew right away as an experienced reader and science fiction fan, but it may be the first introduction for younger readers. The author explored the theme of good and evil in such a way that it will not be overwhelming for the intended audience. I was impressed and how good of a job he did. I should have seen a couple of things coming, but I didn’t! It made the story that much better. There must have been a lot of research that when into this story. Get this book for your school library and push it. Your readers will thank you. Oh, and the vocabulary - when a 4th grader busts out the word “malevolent” you’ll know it is from this book.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine book review

Julian and his family have just moved to Main to run a B & B. Julian has two moms and a sister is always grouchy. Julian is nine years old and wise beyond his years. He has quite the vocabulary and consistently posts his FARTs (Facts and random thoughts) throughout the book. Julian loves astronomy and part of the reason he was ok with the move is that Maine has a lot more space where he can look at the sky. His mother is very overprotective, so it’s hard for Julian to do what he wants. His sister is Pookie, and she is beginning to run with a crowd that adults do not approve of. Pookie does not get as much attention as Julian does, so she has had to be more self-sufficient. Pookie is on a mission to try to figure out who her dad is and thinks life would be better with him. Part of the reason Julian moved is because he was being bullied at his previous school. His mom wants to homeschool him, but Joan thinks he is better off going to school.

Julian believes he is a uni-sensor, which means he can sense things going on in the universe. Julian believes there is magic in the universe that connects us. He is also very against burning marshmallows. When they arrive in Maine to pursue a new life, their new neighbor, Mr. X, is very crabby and slaps them with a lawsuit. He says that their house blocks his view of the lake. Julian is determined to get him to change his mind. The story unfolds with an unlikely friendship. I think this book holds a lot of appeal to middle-grade readers.

It will make readers think about their place in the universe and what family means. This book may be controversial to some because Julian and Pookie have two moms, but it is a story that needs to be told. It would be an important book for students who have 2 moms and need a feel-good story with lots of hope in it. It’s realistic fiction with just a bit of magic in it. It’s about family and friendship and I think that will bring lot of readers in. It’s a must have for a school library. I think it would be a great choice for classroom libraries, independent reading, book clubs and just for fun. There is good dialogue and different points of view to explore as a reader. Enjoyable for all ages.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Thoughts on name changing...

I think that as school librarians, we have done ourselves a huge disservice with the changing of names. (in both the space and our titles) A library is a library no matter what label you give it (information commons, learning commons, media center, information center, etc) The public and university libraries have not messed with the word "library" and they are not losing their jobs left and right. Public and university libraries have created community spaces to include all of the changes to the library world, but their label has remained the same. It's like when Bill Schutte had that quote in the paper about schools having designated reading centers. The general public has no idea what a media center is. The school libraries have been closed and now the "common reading area/center" is missing from school life. AASL has gone back to school libraries and school librarians.  (in 2010!!!) I am following their lead as that is our national professional organization.

I think we need to re-educate parents in our schools. Starting with going back to" the library". We do have a lab in our library, makerspace activities on certain days, but it all centers around reading/research. So, we are a library.

A library encompasses all the "things". In my mind, media = tv, journalism, radio, video, photography, etc.  I think inconsistency and misunderstandings tend to confuse our students, administrators, other staff and parents. "getting kids to love reading" specialist would have been better for our profession than media specialist and media center. So for all of the above reasons, I use the terms library, librarian and teacher.  To me, those clearly signify what I do and where I work.  I know there are a lot of opinions out there and I have spent a lot of time thinking about these things, but these are my reasons for making the professional choices that I make.

On MakerSpaces in my high school library

During a recent professional conversation on FaceBook the question was posted about the value about makerspaces and what we do with them. I am not convinced that my library is the place for it. I have long held this view and it might not be very popular.  BUT, I can be pretty confident that my students will be ready for university/college life utilizing the library and going higher level research.  I get that makerspaces can be tied into inquiry or project-based learning.

 I would argue that we DO inquiry through research in a rigorous IB MYP and DP curriculum. My library is filled with books and access to online research databases. I am preparing them to be ready to research at the university level and teaching them to be lifelong learners by thinking through their sources of information, knowing how to find good sources and being safe online.

I DO believe that making is important and that has been the role of shop/home ec/life skills/industrial arts/engineering technology/coding classes. When schools cut those programs, they realize something is missing. It is not my job to make up for that huge curriculum gap. On the other hand, children's and teen librarianship has long provided opportunities for literacy-based crafting and "making". You make a project/craft that goes along with a book. It is fun and it comes back to reading. Librarians have always done this. I have coloring sheets, puzzles and some tabletop games available for my high school students, but I would not consider that "making." I would consider that stress relief or brain breaks or community building. I push reading, literacy, books and anything to get high school students to read. If students are not good readers, they face many challenges in life because of it. I have a degree in library science. I do not have an industrial arts degree. My library reflects my professional training and it changes and adapts and it IS a community space. But students are in here as inquirers selecting topics of interest, creating inquiry-based research questions and finding a variety of sources.

My library is filled with 100s of students every day.  They are collaborating on projects, writing speeches, working on their Personal Project, researching for their Extended Essay and so many other things.  We are a GAFE school - I've got a variety of Google Sites, lots of Google Classrooms, 1000s of collaborative GoogleDocs, sheets and presentations.  We subscribe to NoodleTools for citation help.  Follett Collections has transformed my curation of resources for staff and students. My social media library accounts on Twitter, FaceBook and Instagram see a lot of traffic.  Marketing books, literacy and library services is important to me.

I see some schools who have a separate space for MakerSpaces and it is run by a STEM teacher.  I can see that.  I can see stations in an elementary setting (with a literary twist) and I understand that librarians work in many different types of communities. However, I am not sold on changing the mission of my high school library.