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Archive for May, 2014

May 30, 2014

June: A Whopper of a Tale

by Pat Scales

Most young readers study tall tales and folklore at some point in school. Even those who haven’t actually studied the genre may be familiar with stories about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Blackbeard, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley or Buffalo Bill. Most of these stories have a tall tale element. Since June 28 is Paul Bunyan Day, libraries may take the opportunity in June to have some fun with tall tales. Discuss the following elements of the genre:


• Hero is larger than life and stronger than real people
• The hero has a specific task
• The problem is solved in a humorous or outrageous way
• The details are exaggerated
• The story is difficult to believe

1. Read aloud a Paul Bunyan story (http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/paul-bunyan/). Apply the characteristics of a tall tale to the story read aloud. How do the exaggerated details make the story humorous? Why is the story unbelievable? Discuss why the stories called “tall tales.”
2. Discuss symbolism with readers. Ask them to discuss how Paul Bunyan symbolizes “might,” “a willingness to work,” and “a resolve to overcome obstacles.”
3. Libraries should have books that include many different Paul Bunyan stories. Display them and encourage readers to borrow them for their own personal entertainment.
4. Introduce other tall tales such as American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Michael McCurdy (all ages). Allow readers to work in small groups and read aloud a tall tale other than Paul Bunyan. Have them consider the following questions:

a. Why is the story considered a tall tale?
b. Is the story based on a real person?
c. How is the person a hero?
d. What is the exaggerated element?


5. Have readers read about a hero or heroine of their choice, and write a tall
tale about the person. Encourage them to illustrate their story, placing emphasis on the exaggerated part of the story. Suggestions from Random House include:

The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss & illus. by Andrea U’Ren (picture book)
The Daring Nellie Bly by Bonnie Christensen (picture book)
Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs & illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky (picture book)
New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne & illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (picture book)
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan & illus. by Sophie Blackall (picture book)
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (middle grade)

6. Encourage older readers to create a tall tale from a work of fiction. Let them know that tall tales are traditionally short and often grew out of the oral tradition. For this reason, they should use a specific scene from the book, and plan to tell the tale to the group. Allow them to make the larger than life hero or heroine either the main character or a secondary character from the novel. Ask them to think carefully about the details to exaggerate. What is the outrageous resolution? How does the hero of their story embody the symbolism of Paul Bunyan? Suggestions from Random House include:

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino (picture book)
Chompby Carl Hiaasen (middle grade)
Holes by Louis Sachar (middle grade)
Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale (middle grade)
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (middle grade)
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (middle grade)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (middle grade)
The River by Gary Paulsen (middle grade)
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (middle grade0
Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (young adult)
North by Night by Katherine Ayers (young adult)
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen (young adult)
Nature Girl by Jane Kelley (young adult)
Roy Morelli Steps up to the Plate by Thatcher Heldring (young adult)
Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan (young adult)

May 30, 2014


★ Floca, fresh from his Caldecott-winning Locomotive (2013), lends delicate sun-washed watercolors to this charming story of an unusual elephant seal. Cox, a long-distance swimmer best known for Grayson (2006), a nonfiction adult book about a whale, uses a light hand and a sweet, wondrous, yet unsentimental touch to relate how Elizabeth, fondly named by the townsfolk of Christchurch, New Zealand, prefers to reside in a warm river rather than the ocean. But when Elizabeth begins to sun herself on a busy asphalt road, she’s deemed a potential danger and taken out to live with her brethren at sea. Miraculously, Elizabeth manages to return to her preferred home in the shallow Avon, not once but three times, even though each time she’s transported further and further afield. Cox anchors the story by imagining a small boy, Michael, enjoying Elizabeth and always waiting for her reappearance. Based on a true story—there is a photo of the real Elizabeth in the illuminating afterword—this is superior addition to shelves featuring wild animal personalities. Floca manages to convey Elizabeth’s appeal by focusing on the way her expressive face plays off her tremendous bulk. Her content, happy smiles as she floats in a bucolic world of hazy riverbanks and blue skies will appeal to animal lovers of every age. – Booklist

★ It’s tempting to call this a true fish-out-of-water story, except the eponymous heroine is actually an elephant seal, and she doesn’t see herself as displaced when she parks herself across a two-lane road in Christchurch, New Zealand. “Maybe she liked the feel of the warm firmness under her belly,” writes long-distance swimmer Cox (Swimming to Antarctica), “or maybe it was the sunshine fanning out across her back. But whatever it was, she decided to stay.” After many failed attempts to transport Elizabeth (who weighs “as much as fifteen Labrador retrievers”) to safer, more seal-friendly ground, her adoring but concerned public finally reaches a rapprochement with this sweet-faced force of nature; a photo of the real Elizabeth sprawled in her favorite spot appears in the afterword. The low-key text is beautifully amplified by Floca’s visual narrative, which takes readers from the busy downtown to distant, misty shores. The newly minted Caldecott winner may be best known for his more encyclopedic works, but he proves that whether the subject is trains or stubborn seals, he’s a master storyteller.  - Publishers Weekly

★ Cox opens this fact-based story on just the right note: “There was once a lovely elephant seal who lived in the city.” A boy named Michael is fascinated with the marine mammal that chooses to live by or swim in the tranquil Avon River that passes by Christchurch’s botanical garden. When the seal, named after the Queen of England, narrowly avoids death after relaxing on a warm city street, residents volunteer to move her to an elephant seal colony. After she makes her way back, they try two additional times to relocate her. Finally, knowing that city dwellers were secretly happy to see Elizabeth return to Christchurch, the city erects a “Slow. Elephant Seal Crossing” sign near her favorite sleeping place. The author generally avoids anthropomorphizing Elizabeth’s motivation for continuing to return to the city by suggesting a few possibilities for readers to consider. Some basic facts about these huge marine mammals are woven into the highly approachable narrative, and a few paragraphs at the conclusion further explore more about their habits. A black-and-white photo of the famous seal sleeping on the pavement closes the book and reinforces its factual nature. Floca’s gentle pen-and-ink and watercolor paintings perfectly capture Elizabeth’s watery world. Double-page spreads nicely complement pages that feature smaller vignettes echoing the seal’s rounded body. Especially effective is a page where Michael, who after nearly three months without his friend, wishes on the stars reflected in the river’s water; the page turn reveals the seal’s head poking through radiating rings of water while the boy shouts, “Welcome home, Elizabeth!” Children are likely to request multiple readings of this compelling told and lovingly illustrated true story.–Ellen Fader, formerly at Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR – School Library Journal


May 30, 2014

Oh, the Places You’ll Go… trying to find the perfect gift for your grad!

In the world of graduation gift-giving, one book seems to reign supreme:

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is beloved for its poignant, whimsical look at life’s journey and the many challenges one may encounter. It doesn’t matter if the student is in kindergarten, middle school, high school, or college—a reader’s appreciation of the story’s wisdom will change as they continue to grow and explore. Will they succeed? Yes! They will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

 (We have more than a few ideas for incorporating the story into your graduation festivities. Check them out here.)

Want to try something a little different this year?  We have a few more suggestions that may make a perfect gift for your grad, no matter their age.



By Sally Lloyd-Jones; Illustrated by Sue Heap | Schwartz & Wade Books | 978-0-375-86664-7

Start grads off with a quirky and colorful tour of the job hunting process! With this helpful text, they’ll practice responses to key interview questions (Do you know how to use scissors? Can you dress yourself?), and learn the necessary skills for different industries (teachers need invisible eyes that can see behind them; magicians need someone who won’t mind being cut in half). This corporate heroine and her friends demonstrate that grads should strive to be anything they want, whether it’s Balloon Holder or President of the World.



By Dr. Seuss | Random House | 978-0-679-89477-3

With a mix of insight, humor, and inspiration, this collection of pithy quotes from Dr. Seuss will help business-minded readers get ahead in the one place wackier than anything Seuss himself could conjure up—the corporate world. This New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller makes the perfect gift for graduation that can be enjoyed with friends both young and old.




By Devon Kinch | Random House | 978-0-375-86735-4

Attention finance majors! It’s back to basics with Pretty Penny, a savvy saving guru who knows that if you want something, you’ve got to earn it. Before grads step into the Real World, invite them to join Penny on an entrepreneurial adventure, proving that good things come to those who save!





By Barack Obama; Illustrated by Loren Long | Knopf | 978-0-375-83527-8

There are few things more inspiring than reading the stories of trailblazing Americans. In this tenderly written letter to his daughters, President Barack Obama does just this, exploring the lives of thirteen great Americans who opened up a world of opportunity through their struggles. More than that, though, this beautifully illustrated title also focuses on the future–and the potential we have within ourselves to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths.





By Barbara Park; illustrated by Denise Brunkus |  Random House | 978-0-375-80292-8

Wowie wow wow!  You grad is graduating, and their old pal Junie B. is, too!  Make this a sentimental gift for older students who grew up reading about Junie’s misadventures, or a charming all-too-perfect gift for kindergarten students on their way to elementary school.






By R.J. Palacio | Knopf | 978-0-375-86902-0

This  #1 New York Times-bestselling story of a boy born with a facial deformity attending school for the first time has captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers across the country–and has become a go-to pick for all-school reading programs and class graduation gifts. It’s an uplifting, beautiful meditation on choosing to be kind both in school and everyday life.






By R.J. Palacio | Knopf | 978-0-553-49904-9

In Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. Simply put, precepts are principles to live by, and Mr. Browne has compiled 365 of them–one for each day of the year–drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate kindness, hopefulness, the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills.







By Diane Muldrow | Golden Books | 978-0-307-97761-8

This humorous guide offers advice for getting the most out of life, the Little Golden Book way! Gleaned from The Poky Little Puppy, We Help Mommy, and many more classics, observations such as “Remember to stop and smell the strawberries,” “Don’t forget to enjoy your wedding,” and “Be a hugger” are paired with iconic images by Richard Scarry, Eloise Wilkin, Mary Blair, Garth Williams, and more.


May 01, 2014

May: Awards Galore

By Pat Scales

Most schools have an Awards Day at the end of the school year, and some public libraries grant awards to children and teens that have been active in their programs.  And, later in the summer most public libraries recognize kids that have participated in their summer reading programs.  Since May marks the special celebration of Young Achievers Leaders of Tomorrow, it seems appropriate to have young readers focus on what it means to be a good leader, and how working hard in school leads to greater opportunities in the future.  This international and national recognition considers students in grades 5-11, and the focus includes: Positive Role Model; Success in a Variety of Areas; Good Citizenship; Competent Scholar. These criteria are often used for single awards granted by schools.  For example, there is usually a Good Citizenship Award; Outstanding Scholar in each grade; Top Scholar Award in the school; and Best All Around Student.  In addition to these awards, there are ones in the area of sports, art, music and drama, specific academic subject areas, perfect attendance, and there is usually An Outstanding Student Award that is based on multiple criteria.  There is a perfect opportunity here for school and public librarians to engage young readers in some “critical thinking” about the characters in the books that they read.

  • Begin by asking readers to name the awards granted in their school.  Start them off by suggesting such awards as Good Sportsmanship, Outstanding Science Students, etc.  How many different awards are granted? What are the criteria for selection?  Who makes the decision about the recipient?
  • Allow them to work in groups, and ask them to name criteria for a set of specific awards. (Each group may deal with three or four specific awards like Science or Math). Display the Awards and Criteria so that readers can refer to them as they read. Then have them think about books they have read, and decide in which school subject might the main character receive an award.  Such main characters may include:

Brendan in Brendan Buckley’s Universe by Sundee Frazier (ages 9-12)

Deza in The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (ages 9-14)

Harriet Welsch in Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (ages 9-12)

Hollis Woods in Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff (ages 9-12)

Macey Clare in Burning Up by Caroline Cooney (ages 12-up)

Mena in Me, Evolution and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (ages 12-up)

Zach in Road Rash by Mark Huntley Parsons (ages 14-up)

  • Talk about what it means to be a good citizen and serve the community.  Then have readers write a citation for an award called Best Citizen and Most Caring about the Community to present to a main character in a book.  Suggestions from Random House:

The boy in A Chance to Shine (picture book) by Steven Seskin

The young girl in Something Beautiful (picture book) by Sharon Dennis Wyeth & illus. by Chris Soentplet

Autumn in Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell (ages 9-12)

Juli Baker in Flipped (ages 9-12)

 Nick and Marta in Scatby Carl Hiaasen (ages 9-12)

Leon in Pirates of the Retail Wasteland by Adam Selzer (ages 12-up)

Nina Ross in The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (ages 12-up)

  • Discuss the definition of courage.  As a group develop the criteria for a Most Courageous Award.  Then grant the award to a main character in a novel.  Write a presentation speech that states all the reasons why the character is getting the award.  Suggestions from Random House include:

The boy in Fish by L.S. Matthews (ages 10-up)

Brother in Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry (ages 9-12)

Brian in The River by Gary Paulsen (ages 9-12)

Clare Silver in Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (ages 9-12)

Ivy June Mosely in Faith Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (ages 9-12)

Shabanu in The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples (ages 12-up)

Armpit in Holes by Louis Sachar (ages 11-14)

Jerry Renault in The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (ages 14-up)

  • Finally, have readers pick a favorite character from a novel and create a new award to honor the character.  Introduce the award to the class or group, and then state why this award has been created for the character.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Brian in The Invisible Boy (picture book) by Trudy Ludwig & illus. by Patrice Barton

Rosie in Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine (easy to read) by Allison Wortche & illus. by Patrice Barton

August in Wonder (middle grade) by R. J. Palacio

George in Liar and Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

Janie in The Face on the Milk Carton (ages 12-up) by Caroline Cooney

Simone in A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (ages 14-up) by Dana Reinhardt




FIVE starred reviews for WE WERE LIARS!
May 01, 2014

FIVE starred reviews for WE WERE LIARS!

★ Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the oldest grandchild of a preeminent family. The Sinclairs have the height, the blondness, and the money to distinguish them, as well as a private island off the coast of Massachusetts called Beechwood. Harris, the family patriarch, has three daughters: Bess, Carrie, and Penny, who is Cadence’s mother. And then there is the next generation, “the Liars”: Cadence; Johnny, the first grandson; Mirren, sweet and curious; and outsider Gat, an Indian boy and the nephew of Carrie’s boyfriend. Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are a unit, especially during “summer fifteen,” the phrase they use to mark their fifteenth year on Beechwood—the summer that Cady and Gat fall in love. When Lockhart’s mysterious, haunting novel opens, readers learn that Cady, during this summer, has been involved in a mysterious accident, in which she sustained a blow to the head, and now suffers from debilitating migraines and memory loss. She doesn’t return to Beechwood until summer seventeen, when she recovers snippets of memory, and secrets and lies, as well as issues of guilt and blame, and love and truth, all come into play. Throughout the narrative, Lockhart weaves in additional fairy tales, mostly about three beautiful daughters, a king, and misfortune. Surprising, thrilling, and beautifully executed in spare, precise, and lyrical prose, Lockhart spins a tragic family drama – Booklist  

★ Cadence Sinclair Eastman, eldest grandchild in a Kennedy-esque clan, narrates this story about her wealthy family, one that’s rife with secrets and is broken under the hood. Cady begins the book by divulging an unspecified accident that happened during her fifteenth summer on the family’s private island—where the heart of this novel takes place—that left her with debilitating migraines and memory loss. Although her mother demands perpetual stoicism (“Be normal…Right now…Because you are. Because you can be”), Cady takes comfort from her close relationships with her cousins Johnny and Mirren and from her sweet, tentative romance with family friend Gat. As the intriguing, atmospheric story goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the protagonist, beautiful and emotionally fragile, is also an unreliable narrator, and what follows is a taut psychological mystery marked by an air of uneasy disorientation. And this angst snowballs, even (especially) as pieces of that fifteenth summer begin to fit together. The ultimate reveal is shocking both for its tragedy and for the how-could-I-have-not-suspected-that? feeling it leaves us with. But we didn’t, which is Lockhart’s commendable triumph. katrina hedeen – The Horn Book

★ Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic. Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. – Kirkus Reviews

Cadence Sinclair Eastman, heiress to a fortune her grandfather amassed “doing business I never bothered to understand,” is the highly unreliable narrator of this searing story from National Book Award finalist Lockhart (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks), which begins during her 15th summer when she suffers a head injury on the private island Granddad owns off Cape Cod. Cady vacations on Beechwood every year with her mother, two aunts, and—most importantly—the other liars of the title: cousins Mirren and Johnny, and Gat Patil, the nephew of Aunt Carrie’s longtime boyfriend. The book unfolds two summers later, with Cadence trying to piece together the memories she lost after the accident while up against crippling headaches, a brain that feels “broken in countless medically diagnosed ways,” and family members who refuse to speak on the subject (or have been cautioned not to). Lockhart’s gimlet-eyed depiction of Yankee privilege is astute; the Sinclairs are bigoted “old-money Democrats” who prize height, blonde hair, athleticism, and possessions above all else. There’s enough of a King Lear dynamic going on between Granddad and his three avaricious daughters to distract readers from Lockhart’s deft foreshadowing of the novel’s principal tragedy, and even that may be saying too much. Lockhart has created a mystery with an ending most readers won’t see coming, one so horrific it will prompt some to return immediately to page one to figure out how they missed it. At the center of it is a girl who learns the hardest way of all what family means, and what it means to lose the one that really mattered to you. – Publishers Weekly

★ Cadence Sinclair Easton comes from an old-money family, headed by a patriarch who owns a private island off of Cape Cod. Each summer, the extended family gathers at the various houses on the island, and Cadence, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and friend Gat (the four “Liars”), have been inseparable since age eight. During their fifteenth summer however, Cadence suffers a mysterious accident. She spends the next two years—and the course of the book—in a haze of amnesia, debilitating migraines, and painkillers, trying to piece together just what happened. Lockhart writes in a somewhat sparse style filled with metaphor and jumps from past to present and back again—rather fitting for a main character struggling with a sudden and unexplainable life change. The story, while lightly touching on issues of class and race, more fully focuses on dysfunctional family drama, a heart-wrenching romance between Cadence and Gat, and, ultimately, the suspense of what happened during that fateful summer. The ending is a stunner that will haunt readers for a long time to come.–Jenny Berggren, formerly at New York Public Library – School Library Journal