So Much Happening in the Library!

I haven’t been writing because so much is going on, good and not so good, that I’m just happy to be keeping my head above water. I’m only writing this now because I’m at my desk eating lunch and it’s weirdly quiet in here at the moment.

I have a get together for my Reader’s Rally team scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. This is the group that gets a list of 15 books from the county, reads them all and prepares for a big quiz bowl. Something like 60 elementary schools are descend on one high school in early March to compete in this event. Every year I figure out tips and trick to get my team better. My first couple of teams did pretty badly, but we’ve always had fun. Then they slowly did better each year until last year when they placed in their Division. This year they got 140 more points than last year and got second in their Division. So now the pressure is on to figure out how to do even better than that next year and try to be in the final four teams who go on to the next level.

I think part of why we didn’t do that well for a while is that I didn’t take it seriously. I like reading and talking about books but the whole quiz part seems silly. When I tried to get out of it a couple years ago my principal made it clear she expected us to represent our school well. So I thought, okay if I have to do this I might as well try to do it right. So yeah, it’s not really a reading thing, it’s more of just a challenge to do as well as we can with this particular game but that’s fun too. And the students who find books they love which they might not have read otherwise makes it worthwhile. If team members like a book, they’ll talk it up and get it passed around. This year the best book, in my opinion, was The War that Saved My Life by Bradley.

Then Thursday night we have our school’s big Literacy Night. Since we have a Star Wars theme this year I got the idea to contact the all volunteer, charitable organization the 501st, a/k/a “Vader’s Fist.” These are the folks who dress up in movie quality Star Wars outfits and visit children’s hospitals and such. A few of them are going to make an apperance here in the library Thursday evening. I’m going to ask them to dedicate a pile of new Star Wars books and comics I’ve bought for the library and get pictures with the kids. I hear there is going to be a “Rey” that will read them a story and I just found out the best part. They might be bringing in a replica of R2D2! R2D2 I say!  Just…wow. He’ll be the hit of the night. I promise I’ll get lots of pictures and video.

Then I have to have everything ready for Monday because a) I’m going to the Georgia Children’s Literature Conference in Athens on Friday and Saturday and b) one of the authors, David Biedrzycki, will be here all day doing four big presentations for my students!

So yeah, it’s crazed right now. I have lists of lists of to do lists I’m constantly checking and double checking. Just getting the schedule right fro everyone in a school to have a chance to see the author AND eat lunch AND go to Specials is like getting ready for D-Day, logistics-wise.

But it’s totally going to be worth it. The Reader’s Rally kids will have fun. The Literacy Night thing will be awesome. I love that conference and have high hopes for the author visit. Then after all that? I’ll probably go hibernate…

Babylon’s Ashes

9780316334747I’m not going to write a super long post on this book. You’ve either been reading the whole series since they’ve been coming out in 2011 or you know it’s not your cup of tea. The first book was Leviathan Wakes. I ate it right up and have read the new one as it’s come out every year. There are also apparently a number of bridging novellas but I haven’t read those and haven’t felt like I’ve missed anything.

Now they’ve started turning them into a television series called The Expanse. The first season is available on Amazon if you’re a Prime member. You’d have to have cable or pay to see the new episodes of the second season which are coming out now.

The show has a lot of the same characters and places and basic overall arc but moves some things around and introduces a few things in different ways and lets the actors do a few things differently than in the books but all of the changes make it interesting to watch since it’s different enough to be interesting. It’s an amazing show but I still really like the depth and richness of the books.

This is a long series (Babylon’s Ashes is the sixth so far) but since they’ve made it clear there will be a definite ending in the ninth book, it’s fine. I was just discussing earlier today a dislike of endless science fiction and fantasy series that tend to go on and on and here I am talking up a nine book series. But they introduce different point of view characters in each book and they even have different genres represented at times in some of these points of view. They are also complete novels on their own. Sure, there’s and overarching narrative, but each book does a good job of ending well enough that it’s not like one long tale that goes on and on.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the fourth book but the last two have been excellent. I don’t know how they do it, especially seeing as how they are both very involved in the making of the television show as well.

One of the great things about this entry in the series is the way they handle the final big battle. I obviously can’t spoil it but this is a series that, like the re-booted Battlestar Galactica television series, has violence baked into it’s DNA. Both small but intense firefights as well as full scale battles. It’s a science fiction action series, so of course it does. But this one plays some interesting games with expectations. In an early, smaller battle our main warrior gets taken off the board for purely banal, technical reasons which frustrate her and make for unexpected outcomes. They play with these kind of expectations more than once in this book but it never seems like anything other than organic to the story. A character who may have been involved in some kind of corporate espionage (for purely altruistic reasons) finds himself in a dark and intimidating interrogation room with some less than friendly characters. What does and doesn’t happen is what the scene, and the book in many ways, is all about. It all culminates into a big, important ending. Important in that all the eyes of the solar system are watching how the confrontation will go because it will change everything for all involved.

The only bad thing about the book is that I was reading it to escape the news and there are some unfortunate similarities with one ego-driven, narcissistic leader character and other ego-driven, narcissistic folks in the real world. But it’s not that similar and this one has, I imagine, a more satisfying ending.

Social Media Readjustments

132_1338905Doug Johnson over at The Blue Skunk Blog talks about something I’ve been dealing with lately as well. We’ve both been shedding our follows. On Twitter I was up to following near 600 accounts. Over the past week it went down as low as 150. I think it’s gotten slowly back up to about 250 now and seems in about the right place.

Here’s things I did to thin the herd and regain my sanity and social media enjoyment. (I just do Twitter and Instagram. You’re on your own for Facebook.)

Turn off Reweets! Not everyone’s. Some people I follow because they are great retweeters. Jennifer Ouelette, for example is an excellent retweeter giving me some great sciency goodness. But many people hysterically retweet almost everything. Just turning off retweets from most of your follows will tone things down a bit.

Unfollow. The great thing about Twitter is for the most part, no one takes it personally or even knows if you’re following them or not. So if anyone is tweeting too much about sports or politics or whatever it is, even if you agree with them, unfollow.

You don’t have to tell them! Never tweet: “I’m unfollowing you because you post too many cat pictures,” or “I used to like this account but now it’s all about politics!” Even actors and musicians are allowed to have political thoughts. If you started following someone for one reason but are seeing things you’re not interested in, no problem. Click that unfollow button and go on with your life.

Try following them elsewhere. Some of the children’s authors and illustrators I  follow were getting a bit much on Twitter but less so on Instagram.

Now I’m getting a good mix of news, education stuff, and fun things along with a tolerable amount of the political commentary (but that from people I enjoy their commentary).

I also don’t always limit myself to people I agree with. I follow some people who actually liked that Batman v. Superman movie, for example. I even follow some Republicans! But I don’t follow any accounts that drive me nuts anymore. There’s a difference in being informed and overloaded.


Random House Children’s Book Buzz 2017

A Greyhound and a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins and Chris Appelhans looks like a delight. It’s full of wordplay, tongue twisting and spare, stylish illustrations. Should be a fun read aloud if I can handle it!

If you ever get a ride on a time machine, deliver early 2000s me a copy of Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout from Patricia McKissack and Jerry Pinkney so I can have a better repertoire of kid’s songs and such when I was bringing up my little one! As it is, I’ll have to settle for making it my new baby shower go to gift.

Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na. You can’t have too many books about shy folks trying to make friends, especially one with this many excellent reviews.

Lucky for you they’ve pushed the release date of the Wonder movie back to the fall, giving you more time to grab We’re All Wonders, R. J. Palacio’s picture book about Auggie from the super popular middle grade novel.

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh. I’m usually allergic to kid’s books with an overt social/cultural agenda but this collection from the We Need Diverse Books campaign has an amazing lineup and many starred reviews letting me know I’d be foolish to let it slip through the cracks.

If you’re not already on the Hilo bandwagon, grab the first two and pick up this third in the series and you will have happy readers from all grade levels thanking you as well as bugging you for more. Hilo: the Great Big Boom looks as wonderful and as mind-blowingly cool as the first two in the series.

The Explorer’s: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress looks like just the kind of funny adventure book I would have lapped up as a kid. Hand this first in a new series to those Lemony Snicket fans.

That’s all from me when it comes to ALA Midwinter posts, and not a moment too soon. I just finished inventory and they’re about to deliver the next Scholastic Book Fair tomorrow so I’m kind of in the eye of the hurricane right now. (Dang, now I have Hamilton in my head again…)

Macmillan Children’s 2017 Book Buzz

Macmillan has a large, rich collection coming out. These were a few that I really want to grab for my collection as soon as I can.

Noisy Night by Mac Barnett and Brian Biggs is like a modern update of Brown Bear, Brown Bear what Do You Hear? with noisy neighbors in the upstairs apartment wondering what’s making that noise. The layout of the book makes it seem you’re climbing up to each apartment to see what’s next.

Jason Chin is continuing his breathtaking non-fiction nature books with the addition of Grand Canyon. Gorgeous.

Diversity, humor and writing inspiration can be found in Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan. Lots of great reviews for this one.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham look like it’s in the same ballpark as Smile, Sisters, El Deafo and Sunnyside Up. A graphic novel about friendship. By Shannon Hale, people. Shanon Hale!

HarperCollins Midwinter Book Buzz

Kevin Henkes is publishing his 50th book! It’s called Egg and will be perfect as always.

Since I went to Midwinter this book by the late Walter Dean Myers on Frederick Douglass is sounding even more interesting for some reason.

Drew Daywalt has had some super popular recent picture books. Adam Rex has illustrated some of the best picture books of the last decade. Now they’re together with The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Sounds great.

Invisible emmie is a graphic novel hybrid “perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Jennifer Holm.”

This one sounds good and I think I got an ARC of it. Orphan Island by local (to me) writer Laurel Snyder. I’ve heard great things about this one but we’re partial to her here.

I loved Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy summer and need to read the rest in that series. Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is about a kid who wants to be a blues man more than anything and is willing to run away to the city if he has to.

Posted by John David Anderson might be more of a middle school book, but it sounded interesting. Something about a school which bans cellphones completely for some reason and the kids start using post-its on lockers instead. This idea catches on and is a positive thing for all…until some trolling and bulling starts up just like in the online world.

The Goblin and the Empty Chair


Earlier I posted about a dear friend we lost recently. The week following I knew I had to read something about grief but not something so sad I’d be a puddle every time I read it to the kids. Just something that touched on grief that would help me and may be interesting to the little ones.

The Goblin and the Empty Chair was the perfect choice. It’s by the amazing Mem Fox and lushly illustrated by the Dillons. If you click on that link there’s even a full length video of Mem Fox reading the whole story. Wonderful stuff.

It’s written in the style of an old fairy or folk tale. Long ago there was a goblin who happened to see his reflection and was so terrified of his looks, he stayed hidden and covered his face. One day he comes across a family who have obviously suffered some loss and are still grieving. The goblin, in turn, does things to ease the burden of a farmer, his wife and their child. He takes great pains to not be seen, but he is seen and quietly invited in.

It is never obviously revealed who has been lost, who was the former occupant of the empty chair. In an interview Mem Fox has said she imagined it to be a grandparent. If you look carefully at the illustrations, there is one that shows a framed pictureof a family of four on the wall indicating the Dillons took it too mean the death of a child, which is even more tragic.

It was good for me though. I did cry a little the first couple of times I read it but not a big deal. By the end of the week it really had helped me and led to some interesting conversations with the children. I actually didn’t focus on the grief aspect of the book that much. Since I’ve been reading books about kindness for the last few weeks, or at least books with characters having to deal with unkindness (The Invisible Boy, Bootsie Barker Bites, etc.) I focused on how the goblin was doing kind things for this family without even expecting recognition for it. I had the impression that was a new idea for some.

I’m in the middle of inventory but I’ll try to finish up the last three publishers I heard from at the Midwinter book buzz presentations over the next couple of weeks.

Four Feet, Two Sandals


I’ve been reading this 2007 title to some of the classes this week, for obvious reasons. I love that there has been at least one Muslim kid in each class who exclaims “That’s my language!” when I get to the phrase “As-salaam alaykum. Peace be with you.” I always ask if I pronounced it correctly and thank them when they say I did.

A girl from Afganistan is in a refugee camp in Pakistan. She finds a new sandal, her first new shoe in two years. Another girl, new to the camp, finds the other. They decide to share the sandals and become friends. The rest of the book describes daily life in the camp, people they’ve lost and one of them finding out she’s being resettled in America.

Diverse books matter. Representation matters. It matters more than I’d like right now but I’m glad I have books like this to at least get some of them thinking.

More Book Buzz from ALA Midwinter 2017

Two of the standouts for me in the Charlesbridge Publishing presentation was Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education because it’s gorgeously illustrated and because you can’t have enough books about Malala, a personal hero of mine. The other one was about a young Nina Simone but it doesn’t seem to be on their website yet.

I don’t usually discuss board books but Disney Book Group’s Feminist Baby is hilarious.

Feminist Baby likes pink and blue.
Sometimes she’ll throw up on you!

Feminist Baby chooses what to wear
and if you don’t like it she doesn’t care!”

And Mo Willems has a board book called Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals that is his first one written specifically for the format, but again, not up on their site yet.

If you are unaware, there is a popular Marvel series of comics about a new superhero called Squirrel Girl. I am not making this up. Now Shannon Hale (yes, THAT Shannon Hale!) has a middle grade chapter book about her called Squirrel Meets World. I already had a favorite 5th grader read the ARC and she loved it (and she hadn’t heard of Squirrel Girl before this.).

Disney is also going to be putting out Elephant and Piggie “Biggies” which will be hardbound books with collections of five Elephant and Piggie stories each. Kind of like the George and Martha books. These will not be new stories, just collections of the books we already know and love.