Allison’s Favorite Reads of 2015 (Part Two)

The Hired Girl bhiredy Laura Amy Schlitz. This book reminded me so much of the types I loved to read as a young girl. I loved to read historical fiction about smart, literary girls who go out into the world to make it on their own. You could also use the term Bildungsroman, if you wanted to sound really smart (look it up, you non-English majors!). I don’t read them so much anymore because my interests tend more towards fantasy and mysteries now that I’m older. But I still have a warm place in my heart for Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Jane Eyre, and the like. And so I loved this book about a young girl named Joan who runs away from her cruel father and the grueling work on his farm. She ends up as a maid in a wealthy Jewish household, and a lot of this book deals with the clash between Joan’s Catholicism and her Jewish employers. Joan wants to do what is right and struggles to understand what that is. There are a lot of interesting things in this book about religion and prejudice as well as fun moments with kittens and carousals.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I listened to this audiobook and was very pleased when my book club selected it as our next month’s pick. More historical fiction here, this book takes place during World War II. What I loved about it so much was that the two main characters had very different experiences than you generally read about. Marie-lightLaure is a blind girl who lives in Paris with her father, who is the key master at the National Museum. During the occupation, she and her father flee to her great uncle’s house. Her father is carrying the most prized gem in the Museum, either a decoy or the real thing. A Nazi collector is hunting for the same gem. Then we have a German boy, Werner, who is an orphan in a mining town. He is fascinated by radios and learns to fix them, a sought-after skill in the Hitler Youth. This story follows the two over the course of several years and at the end their lives intersect in beautiful ways.

warThe War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Another World War II book, and another audiobook. This one is for children. It tells the story of Ada and her brother Jamie. They live with their cruel mother in London. Because Ada was born with a clubfoot, her mother has never allowed her to leave their small apartment. When Ada and Jamie hear that they are sending children to the country they seize the opportunity to run away. They are placed with Susan, a reluctant guardian. I enjoyed seeing the development of Ada’s character as she learns about the world and learns to accept the love of Susan and the good changes that have happened in her life.

deepChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. This book is extremely hard to describe. Seriously, just read it! It is about a young man and his struggle with mental illness. The story is told in dual narratives and can be confusing at the start, but that is also kind of the point. If you stick with it it makes a lot more sense. Challenger Deep is a powerful book that doesn’t glamorize or sugar-coat mental illness. The voice is so realistic, which I am sure is in part due to the author’s personal experience with his son going through the mental illness described in the book.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman. I didn’t read as much nonfiction this year, but this was a book club pi12609ck and I am so glad it gave me a reason to read it. Sometimes when there is a book club book I’m not excited about, I’ll start reading fully intending never to finish the book. (I know, I’m terrible. But there are too many good books out there!) With this book, I was sucked in right away and knew it would be one to read to the very end. The nonfiction writing was just that good. And I learned, so, so much. I highly recommend this fascinating book.

Allison’s Favorite Reads of 2015 (Part One)

I really missed doing my favorite reads list last year (what was I doing? Oh that’s right, having a baby). Even though I rarely blog anymore, this is always one of my favorite posts, so here you go! I will not be reaching my goal of 100 books this year (something about the aforementioned baby sucking up my reading time) but I got respectably close. I still struggled to narrow my list down because there were so many good ones!

princessThe Princess in Black by Shannon Hale. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little SMASH!” The Princess in Black is here to save the day! No one would suspect that her alter-ego the fancy Princess Magnolia who always wears a pink dress is also a monster-fighting ninja! I adore this early chapter book that shows girls can save the day but they can also wear pretty pink dresses and both are okay. Even better news, The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party is out now and The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde comes out next year. Read them all!

A Darker Shade final for IreneDarker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. Kell is a Traveler. He can use magic move from his home in Red London to either Gray London or White London. I loved so much about this fantasy novel. The characters are great, there is a lot of action (but not too much), and I found the way magic worked in this universe to be really original and interesting. As I closed the book I was dying to get my hands on Book 2.

carryonCarry On by Rainbow Rowell. I was hesitant about the concept of this one, but I should have trusted Rainbow Rowell to execute it perfectly. Sort of a companion novel to Fangirl, sort of a semi-Harry Potter fanfiction, but really its own amazing thing, Carry On takes all the fantasy and Chosen One tropes and messes around with them in a really fabulous way. Once I got over my hesitations, I loved every minute of this audiobook. And I haven’t even told you what it is about. Simon Snow is the greatest mage, prophesied to save the magical world. It is his final year at Watford and he has his best friend Penny, his girlfriend Agatha, and his arch-enemy/roommate Baz (who may also be a vampire). There are ghosts and Numpties and dragons and lots of fun magic. Give this one a try, you’ll love it!

hoorayHooray for Hat! by Brian Won. This is a charming picture book with lovely bright illustrations. Elephant wakes up in a very grumpy mood but cheers up when he discovers a marvelous hat on his doorstep. He goes out to share the hat and cheer up all his friends. I used this one in storytimes about feelings and sharing and I get lots of smiles every time.

nimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson. Nimona is a girl with mysterious shapeshifting abilities and she wants to be Lord Blackheart’s sidekick. Lord Blackheart is a supervillain with a grudge against the Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, who works for the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics. He and Nimon make plans to take down Goldenloin and the Institute. But this is not a simple good versus evil story. Things are not what they seem. Blackheart doesn’t want to kill anyone. Maybe he isn’t such an evil villain after all. What happened years ago between Blackheart and Goldenloin? What is The Institute really up to? And how did Nimona get her shapeshifting powers?? I highly recommend this fabulous graphic novel!

A Tried and True Storytime Plan

At my location, I am the teen and baby programmer so I don’t often get to do preschool storytime. I really lucked out this week though, because we had3 outreach events scheduled so I got to do a preschool/family storytime 3 whole times! Of course, being the Summer-Reading overloaded librarian that I am, I planned one great outline and used it at each event. Which is a really great idea unless, you know, the same family happens to show up at two of them! That did happen to me, but luckily they didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they seemed rather pleased to already know the words to the songs. And so, without further ado, here is my tried and true storytime plan, used 3 times in one week to great success!

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Sing: The More we Get Together (with ukulele!)

Read: Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Sing: Mary Wore Her Red Dress

Fingerplay: Open Them, Shut Them

Read: Jump! by Scott M. Fischer

Sing: Mmm Ah Went the Little Green Frog

Mmm ahh went the little green frog one day
Mmm ahh went the little green frog
Mmm ahh went the little green frog one day
And they all went mmm mmm ahhh!!

We all know frogs go shanananana
shanananana shanananana
We all know frogs go shanananana
shanananana shanananana
They don’t go mmm mmm ahh.

Little blue fish: blup blup, kissy kissy kiss

Flannel Board: Little Mouse, Little Mouse

Read: Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett

Rhyme: 5 Little Monkeys

5 little monkeys sitting in a tree
hold up five fingers
Teasing Mr. Alligator, “Can’t catch me!”
put thumbs in ears and waggle fingers
Along came the alligator quiet as can be
put palms together like an alligator mouth and weave back & forth
And SNATCHED that monkey right out of the tree!
open palms wide and clap loudly on “snatched”

Read: I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

Sing: If You’re Happy and You Know it (with ukulele!)

There was no theme to this storytime, just books I love to read! The first time I did it, I used Oh No! by Candace Fleming, but afterwards I decided I didn’t like the way that flowed as a read aloud and I wanted something more interactive. So I swapped it for Count the Monkeys, which was a GREAT decision.

It was my first time using a song I learned from Jbrary’s AMAZING youtube channel and the kids loved it! They are a super great resource for storytime songs, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to check them out! I’m also getting so much better at playing my opening and closing songs on the ukulele. I think I’m ready to start branching out and adding more ukulele songs to my plans!

Celebrate Teen Literature Day

My husband is so awesome. He draws and writes his own comics and this week for National Library Week he has done a whole series on libraries and librarians! I thought this one on Celebrate Teen Literature Day was too good not to share! Visit his website to check out more of his stuff.

mini dove comics

teen literature day 2014 327

Teen Literature is a lot of fun!  What are some of your favorite teen books?  Some of mine are Winger, The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

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The Hub Reading Challenge

2014_hub_reading_challenge_logo_participantThis year I am participating in The Hub Reading Challenge. Now, I am not much of a reading challenge person. I’ve considered doing various challenges, like the Shelf Challenge or the 48 Hour Book Challenge. They always sound awesome and fun to start out with, but then I realize I just want to be able to read whatever I want and I don’t want to read books I’m not in the mood for!

But the Hub Reading Challenge is doable, I think. The challenge is to read 25 books between February 3 and June 22.  Not just any books, but books off a list of 2013 YALSA award winners and honors. There are something like 60 books to choose from, and a great variety of adult titles for teens, graphic novels, audiobooks, etc. So it comes down to a little more than one book a week, which I should theoretically be able to do and still read other books if I want do (and oh do I want to).

The hardest thing about this challenge is that I already read so many of the books on the list last year as they were coming out! For them to count towards the challenge, I would have to re-read them during the Feb-June period. And really, who has time to re-read books when there are always new books coming out every day? But that means most of the books left on the list are books I would not normally read on my own, so I do have to go out of my comfort zone and push myself to try reading new things. But hey, isn’t that the whole point of a reading challenge anyway?

The funny thing is that I consider myself a fast reader, but whenever I go to the weekly Hub Reading Challenge Check In I am SHOCKED, shocked I tell you, at how many books my fellow readers have read. Like some people have already read over 30 books, or more! It astounds me. As of today, I am at 12 books. But hey, I guess that means I’m halfway done! (Also, I tried this challenge last year and I only got to 10 books, so I’m already doing better than I did before!)

So now I’ll finally get to the good part and talk about a few of my favorite Hub Challenge books I’ve read this year.

13221769Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills

Gabe was born a girl and his name was Elizabeth. But he has always known he was boy. This story takes place as Gabe is transitioning and going public as identifying as male. But what makes this book so great is that it is so much more than a story about transgender issues. It is about music and friendship and identity and the courage to live and speak your truth.

Relish by Lucy Knisley15786110

I had heard a lot of good things about this foodie graphic novel memoir and they were all true. Lucy Knisley writes (and draws) about her life growing up surrounded by gourmet chefs, food critics, and all around good food. Each section tells a different story from her growing up years and of course ties it all to food and ends with a recipe. I expected the book to be a little snobby but found it to be just the opposite.  I loved the stories about relationships and growing up and found a lot to relate to even though my upbringing did not have nearly so many fancy cheeses!

16231347The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks

I am a huge fan of Faith Erin Hicks. I even got to meet her at ALA last summer! I totally wish now I had bought a copy of The Adventures of Superhero Girl and had her sign it because I really loved this book! The comic was originally posted online as a webcomic and I am so glad it has been compiled and printed in paper to reach a wider audience. The story follows Superhero Girl, a girl with your average superpowers just trying to get by. It is very charming and very funny and a really great read.

Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn 16045088

There is no real way to talk about this book without giving too much away. The story alternates between the present and the past. Andrew Winston Winters used to go by Drew. Back then he was a nine-year-old tennis star with anger issues. Now he goes by Win, attends a New England boarding school, and tries to avoid other people. As the story progresses and more and more is revealed, this book will break your heart.

16151178The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Milljay

Apparently I’m really into books that pack an emotional punch right now, because this one is another hard-hitter. Nastya and Josh are two teens with tragic histories. Nastya has just started at a new school and is doing everything she can to keep people at a distance. She has taken a vow of silence and has not spoken in nearly two years. But she finds herself drawn to Josh, a young man in her woodworking class who also keeps people at a distance. Can their relationship save both of them?


Angry Birds

Angry Birds game

My Teen Tech Week turned out to be not very techie. Also, who’s crazy idea was it to plan PLA during Teen Tech Week anyway? But hey, Angry Birds is a tablet/smartphone game so there is some kind of technology connection, right?

Mostly I just thought a Life Size version of Angry Birds would be really, really fun! And I Ball and Balloonswas right! I spent all of $5.00 on this program for the two balls and some paper plates for the craft. All the other supplies we had on hand. It took a little prep work decorating the boxes and everything, but it was certainly doable.

I got most of my ideas from the awesome Teen Librarian’s Toolbox. I altered things a bit to make them easier. I painted several boxes to make them look like pieces of wood, then covered smaller boxes like shoe boxes or tissue boxes with grey or white construction paper to look like ice and stone. The green pigs were just balloons with Sharpie faces drawn on and the angry birds were blue and red playground balls I found at Walmart (and they were both the right size! Perfect!)

Teens (and a few younger kids who were too excited, I couldn’t bear to turn them away) took turns launching the birds with a towel held between two people. If you’ve ever played water volleyball, you know what I mean. It took a lot of coordination and teamwork to do it this way. The teams started out farther back and advanced closer to the set up to see if they could knock the pigs down. Popping one of the pig balloons got you extra points!

CraftThe craft was simple and easy but kept the kids engaged while they waited for their turns. We had some young engineers who got really into rebuilding the game in more and more challenging ways. I will definitely do this program again, in fact we’re already thinking about incorporating it into our Summer Reading kickoff, especially since the younger kids were even more into it than the teens!

Winter is OVER!

So far it looks like my spring is going to be filled more with administrative duties and committee work than fun programs with the babies and teens. Oh the joys of being in management! Just one more reason to be looking forward to Summer Reading time! I am on two committees this spring. Our director is retiring in the summer and I am on the hiring search committee for our new director. I’m also on the strategic planning committee, so lots of exciting changes are coming this year for my library! That rash of librarian retirements they promised us back when I was in library school is actually happening now (in my library anyway). We have had 4 positions retire in the past year, with probably about 4 more planned in the coming year. And yes, we are filling those open positions! So it has been fun to welcome great new people with new ideas and new energy.

In other news, I was able to attend PLA several weeks ago. I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about it yet. That week in Indianapolis was one of the most fun I’ve ever had! And I learned so much. My favorite sessions were Tinker With Technology and PlaySpaces in the Library. The Tinker Group is a group of librarians in the Chicago area who were all doing technology programs for kids and teens in their libraries and decided to have monthly meet-ups to share their ideas. Now they were taking their ideas to PLA to share with us all! I was so excited to leave the session with several ideas that I felt confident that I could implement, even with my limited money and skill!

The PlaySpaces session was equally inspiring. The Barrington Public Library staff shared pictures of their AMAZING new children’s room with us. It was really great and helped me think outside the box and dream big for my own children’s department. Then, thankfully, there were other presenters as well who talked about adding play to your library space on a smaller scale. I hope I have a chance to implement a lot of these ideas soon. But honestly, the best thing about PLA was the people.

Sherlock Holmes

I loved meeting and just being around so many public librarians from around the country, all of them as passionate about what they do as I am. It was such a great feeling! I am now dying to go to the next PLA in Denver in 2016! Here is a picture of me and my best library school friend hanging out with Sherlock at the Innovative Party Friday night. I also saw my boss dancing at that event – what moments to remember!