Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review of Ivy's Ever After by Dawn Lairamore

Here is the starred review I wrote for School Library Journal. Find the rest of the August reviews here.

*LAIRAMORE, Dawn. Ivy's Ever After. 311p. CIP. Holiday House. 2010. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2261-6. LC 2009043288. Gr 4-6–Princess Ivory has grown up in the isolated kingdom of Ardendale as the only child of an absentminded king. Per the Dragon Treaty, she is locked in a tower when she turns 14, there to languish until the nefarious prince from a neighboring land kills her dragon guard and marries her. But as Ivy has no intention of marrying this prince, she escapes from the tower with the help of the dragon (a runty and peaceful creature named Elridge) and goes off with him to discover a way to foil the prince's plan to destroy Ardendale. They have many perilous adventures and meet some intriguing characters, including a romance-prone fairy godmother named Drusilla and an adorable but hideously grumpy miniature goat named Toadstool. Their fates being intertwined, Ivy and Elridge hit it off right away, and by the end of the story they are clearly best friends forever. This is a fun and entertaining fairy-tale-based fantasy with a nice balance of character development and action. Give it to fans of Donna Jo Napoli's The Prince of the Pond (Puffin, 1994) or Diane Zahler's The Thirteenth Princess (HarperCollins, 2010).–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review of 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison

13-year-old Tanya sees fairies - and she wishes she didn't. There are three in particular who persist in tormenting her, especially when she tries to divulge her strange ability to anyone - or even in her private journal. This leads to some strange behavior and situations, and finally her exasperated mother packs Tanya off to her maternal grandmother, Florence.

Only Florence, the caretaker Warwick, and Warwick's crazy old dad Amos and eccentric son Fabian live in Florence's large old house next to a forest. Tanya and Fabian are somewhat reluctantly thrown together (as the adults don't seem to want them around) and soon it becomes clear that something is very wrong in the forest and the village. A spate of missing children, particularly virulent forest fairies, stories of changelings, and the ghost - or something - of a girl who went missing decades ago are all connected with Tanya's mysterious and startling family history.

This story from a debut author has a fresh voice and an unusual perspective on fairies, for these creatures are far from the exotic, gorgeous, compelling creatures of many a recent teen novel. Rather, they are pesky, odd, sometimes homely, and often downright malicious or even dangerous. Most of the contact between fairies and humans in 13 Treasures is decidedly negative, making it clear that the two realms are separate for a very good reason.

Some of the plot lines are rather abrupt or undeveloped, in particular the fascinating tale of young Red and her mission to aid changeling children (both human and fairy). The "13 Treasures" of the title could have been left out of the book entirely without many readers noticing - they are quite incidental to the plot, although they do make for an interesting story.

Only the characters of Tanya and Fabian come alive (Florence and Warwick remain ciphers, although one does eventually understand - sort of - why they are so cold and unwelcoming) - and luckily they and their adventures are intriguing enough to grab and hold a reader's interest. The old and derelict house, with its unused or boarded-up rooms and secret passages, has a deliciously Gothic personality of its own, although again, not always to a real purpose. No matter - I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the brooding house, the chilly grandmother, the alarming groundskeeper, and the malignant fey creatures.
This is an fine, atmospheric fantasy for all fans of fairy lore. For ages 10 - 13.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review of The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Riordan, Rick. The Red Pyramid. Disney/Hyperion, 2010.

14-year-old Carter Kane has led a nomadic life since his mother died six years ago, traveling with his dad, an imminent Egyptologist. Meanwhile, his 12-year-old sister Sadie has been living with their mother's grandparents in England. During one of their twice-yearly visits with her, their strangely nervous dad takes them to the British Museum, where he destroys the Rosetta Stone, unleashes a bunch of Egyptian gods, and gets himself locked into a sarcophagus by Set, Bad Boy of the Egyptian god siblings.

Carter and Sadie's uncle Amos swoops them away to New York, and immediately the siblings find themselves immersed in a world of magic, gods, and demons. In fact, Carter and Sadie realize that they are an integral part of this world, and soon they are zipping back and forth from America to Egypt and back. Mission? To destroy Set before he allows chaos to destroy the world, while avoiding death at the hands of Set's minions and allies.

Okay, so it sounds a bit familiar. Ancient gods, magical kids who must learn to handle their powers while on the run, goofy modern manifestations of ancient personages - and of course plenty of one-liners and humor-under-pressure. However, this tale is a bit darker and a bit more complicated than the Percy Jackson series. Egyptian gods are rather more enigmatic, as a rule, than the like-humans-but-more-so Greek gods, and their aims are not so clear. The minor gods and demons, however, can be downright simple-minded, with ludicrous names and b-movie dialogue that Carter and Sadie mock shamelessly and hilariously.

The action moves quickly, the various characters we meet (Khufu the baboon is a stand-out) are intriguing, and the elements of Egyptian mythology are exotically bizarre. The spells that are cast always include hieroglyphs that float in the air, and these are reproduced in the book, much to my fascination. Best of all, Riordan does a wonderful job meshing the ancient world with our modern one, so that any pyramid (including the Pompidou center) and any obelisk (including the Washington Monument) become objects of power, and places like Phoenix, Arizona and river towns like El Paso have huge significance. This reminded me of Tim Powers' excellent books, particularly Anubis Gates, Last Call, and Expiration Date, as well as Neil Gaimon's American Gods.

The first 5 pages or so had me worried. I wasn't sold on the Indiana Jones-type adventure or on the fact that the chapters are supposedly narrated into a microphone by an alternating Carter and Sadie. Carter and Sadie are mixed race, by the way - their dad is African American and their mom was a white woman from England. Carter looks a lot like his dad, while Sadie is much lighter, with straight hair and blue eyes. Both siblings get annoyed when strangers can't believe they're siblings.

Despite my misgivings, soon enough I was not only sucked into the story but hugely enjoying the irreverent tone. This is a really funny book, folks - sure to be a winner with young readers. Highly recommended for Percy Jackson fans and all those who want an action-packed adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously (even when the situation is earnest indeed). Ages 10 to 14.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dispatch from the Reading Institute - part 2

Day 2 of the US Department of Education's 2010 Reading Institute proved to be as valuable as day 1.

Dr. Michael Kamil opened the second day of the US Department of Education's Reading Institute with some discussion of the Common Core State Standards, which were released last month by the National Governors' Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. These aren't a federal mandate and it isn't required for states to adopt them, although many have. Dr. Kamil also recommended this website on "Doing What Works," which is an online resource for research-based education practices.

The break-out sessions I attended were eclectic, informative, and even entertaining. Dr. Perri Klass, the National Medical Director of Reach Out and Read (and a renowned author and pediatrician) presented the amazing Reach Out and Read program, in which doctors are trained incorporating children's books into the care and advice they give infants, toddlers, and their families. Starting at 6 months, babies receive developmentally appropriate books to take home, and doctors demonstrate how to share them and what to expect. The doctors share all that good information about why it's so important to read with kids, and they emphasize that it's as important as making sure your child has clean teeth.

What is so fabulous about this program is that doctors see SO many different kinds of families. We librarians mostly just see the families that take their kids to the library - we're NOT seeing the millions of families who don't go to the library. But doctors not only see rich and poor alike during Well Child visits, but they see many of the families who most need early literacy information.

Their reach is tremendous - much more than what even the most energetic outreach librarian could accomplish - and so you can bet I'll be getting information about the LA Public Library into the hands of my local Reach Out and Read coordinator. And I'll make sure that I include information about our Adult Literacy Program and its Families for Literacy component, because some of the parents are partially or totally illiterate.

During the session on Play: The Science Behind Its Importance to Literacy Development, we played with sticks and pipe cleaners and household objects while we learned from Linda Hassan Anderson, Senior Director of the NAEYC Academy for Early Childhood Program Accreditation, how different kinds of play are crucial parts of early literacy. We all know that for kids, learning is play, but I didn't know about constructive play, symbolic play, socio-dramatic play, and more. What Ms. Anderson made clear is that not only do children learn through play itself, but that play is such a strong motivator ('cause it's fun!) that it should be built into any good early childhood program.

I thought about the early learning areas we're adding to our libraries, with their toys and comfy seating, and am happy to have more arguments in my arsenal about why libraries need toys as well as books.

In the last session of the day, Janice Im, senior director of programs for Zero to Three, discussed the vital importance of quality daycare programs for infants and toddlers. In particular, she stressed that it's important that babies and toddlers be able to forge relationships with their caregivers. It's not enough that babies are read to, for instance. The meaningful interaction between the baby and a caring person during the experience is just as important as the book, or more. Toddlers need to feel a connection as well - it's not enough to be warm, dry, well-fed, and have lots of toys and books around. We're hard-wired to forge bonds with people, and babies and toddlers learn through their interactions with others.

Interestingly, almost every presenter over the two days of the Reading Institute showed this famous chart from the 1995 Hart and Risley study "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children", which demonstrates that children in the lowest socio-economic group are exposed to many fewer words than in middle and high socio-economic groups. This corresponds directly to the number of words the child knows; the gap starts before age 1 and just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

All the more reason to keep giving parents the tools and information they need to raise kids who will enter school ready to learn. Doctors, teachers, caregivers, and librarians - we can all help, but it's the parents who really make the difference.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review of Found (The Magic Thief) by Sarah Prineas

Prineas, Sarah. Found (The Magic Thief, book 3). Harper, 2010.

In the third part of The Magic Thief series, Conn is a hideaway in his own city of Wellmet, from which he was exiled in book 2. More desperate than ever to find a new locus magicalicus now that the dread magic Arhionvar is coming to destroy the magic of Wellmet, Conn tries out a new finding spell with the help of his mentor Nevery. Not only does the rather dramatic outcome get them both into more trouble, but the spell leads Conn away from Wellmet and into the clutches (literally) of some dragons.

Conn does find his locus magicalicus and in doing so, discovers a fascinating truth about magic and cities. Will his new knowledge and his locus magicalicus be enough to save Wellmet and its people from disaster?

Although I was delighted with the first book in the series, the second was rather disappointing due to the grayness of the setting and the apparent depression of our hero, who seemed uncharacteristically listless. Good news - Conn gets his fire and verve back in Found. Perhaps we can thank the dragons, which (like Tapatio hot sauce) add a welcome spice to anything. And these dragons are particularly enigmatic and uncuddly - there is none of that bonding or getting to know each other business going on here.

We don't get much Nevery, Benet, or Rowan, but that's okay - Conn, his obsessive search for his locus magicalicus, and the dragons are more than enough. The spell-line that Conn creates and then follows unerringly to his locus magicalicus, is an inspired idea. Wish I could create a spell-line to find the Perfect Pair of Jeans that I know is out there waiting for me somewhere...

Oh, and there is the looming danger of Arhionvar, but actually there isn't much tension there - not nearly as much as you'd think there would be. In fact, when the big Battle of the Magics begins, it has hardly heated up before Conn gets a good idea, executes it quickly, and voila, saves the day. Sure, there are some repercussions - but really, Conn makes it all look so easy that one wonders what all the fuss was all about.

The series could end here - the problem with the magic has been creatively resolved, the two parts of the city of Wellmet have a newly harmonious relationship, and all is well. But I do hope that another crisis comes crashing down on Conn, because I want to find out how he and his mobile, fire-breathing locus magicalicus are getting along, and how Rowan is coping with her new job.

Ages 8 to 12.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dispatch from the Reading Institute - part 1

I've just spent a happy, inspiring day at the US Department of Education's 2010 Reading Institute, where I'm attending sessions and programs focusing on the early learning/development strand.

This feels a bit like an ALA conference in that we're in a large, over-air conditioned convention center (Anaheim, home of the 2008 ALA) and the "we" in question are about 90% female, being mostly teachers and educators. However, there are no vendor bags (because there are no exhibits), no award banquets, no books, and no authors. Phooey. Still, the vibe is positive - perhaps because most of my fellow conference attendees are on their summer vacation and so have brought the whole family with them in order to visit Disneyland. Shorts and sundresses are the attire of choice.

My big question was whether this conference would be relevant to my work as a librarian, and it was abundantly answered in the affirmative today. Here are some highlights:

Differentiated Parenting - Dr. Patricia A. Edwards, President of the International Reading Association
  • We all tell parents "read to your kids!" They say they do (because obviously that's the right answer). But Dr. Edwards' observations of parents demonstrated that in fact, many parents don't read to children, can't read to their children, or just don't know how to do it effectively. Also, they don't necessarily know how important it is to read with and actively engage their children from birth.
  • Convince parents of their crucial role in their child's learning, then show them how to do it right. Model techniques and behaviors; let them know it's as easy as singing to their kids, playing with them, asking them questions, and reading to them. If parents can't read, they can tell them stories and read wordless books.
  • Parents must hold some responsibility for getting their kids ready for school/reading. Parents only have a few kids and they have them from birth and during their most crucial brain development - teachers have at least 25 or more at a time, and they don't get them until they're 5 years old!
  • All families have their own strengths; parents can learn new skills; parents know their own kids better than anyone
  • Parents want their children to succeed, so make sure they have a vision of that success. What do they want for their kids? What is the vision and the mission? How do you get there?
  • Schools (and libraries!) serve many different kinds of parents and families - one size does NOT fit all. Teenaged moms, homeless families, grandparent caregivers, foster families, rural/urban poverty, homeschooled kids, single-parent families, working moms, low-literate parents, unemployed parents, every kind of culture and ethnicity.
  • So realize that what works for one family may not work for another. Parents' situations and capabilities differ, even though their goals (to help their children succeed) are usually the same.
  • It's important to stress that you don't need money or education to have meaningful and crucial interactions with your children. It's just that many parents don't realize how important it is or how to do it. They don't talk with their young children, but only to them "do this, don't do that" or about them.
  • Factors over which parents exercise authority - absenteeism from school, reading materials in the home, and television watching. Families that take an active role in these three factors have 8th graders who do better on math scores - and numerous studies have shown that families who are involved have kids who do better in school in general.
  • You can't separate home life from school life. Parents expect that kids will learn in school; teachers expect that kids have a home environment that encourages learning
  • To work effectively with parents, teachers can find out their values and details about their parenting - Edwards calls this "parent stories." It's gaining info from parents about traditional and nontraditional early literacy activities and experiences happening in the home - and both supporting and building on these. The "stories" parents tell add a cultural context.
  • Parents learn through this that they have much to teach their kids - they remember "teachable moments" and their kids' early literacy milestones. When they realize their own value as their child's first teacher, they are more likely to be receptive to more ways they can help their child succeed in school.
  • Teachers ask questions like "Can you describe something about your home learning environment that you feel might be different from the learning environment of the school?"
So - clearly this was meant for teachers, and yet there is much here for librarians to ponder. It's been shown over and over that socioeconomic status is a big factor in how ready for school a child will be; these kids have a much smaller vocabulary and much lower language skills because their parents don't interact with them as much, don't read to them, and aren't speaking to them with as big a vocabulary or complex a sentence structure.

We can help spread the word about the why and how to get kids ready for school. We know it's as simple and as fun as singing, playing, talking, reading, and writing. We know that what parents do makes a HUGE difference. We have to get the word out to all parents through effective outreach in the library and out in the community. We need to get to parents where they are - at clinics, in churches, at parks, in schools.

And when the word gets out and parents come flocking to the library, we'll be ready with storytimes, parent workshops, and most of all - books!!! Free books!!! Wonderful books with which to nourish their kids.

Ahem. So that was just one program today!

I also got some early news from John Cole, Director of the Center for the Book, about their new program Read it Loud, which will attempt to get 5 million parents to commit to reading with their kids 10 minutes a day by 2014. There's LOTS more to it than that (it will use the Marsys Digital Platform to deliver the message about reading to a "multiplicity of digital endpoints" - meaning cell phones, signs, kiosks, etc). Not quite sure I understand the details, but I gotta love the idea of a huge national campaign - hope it catches fire. Libraries will be involved with this for sure.

By the way, Wally Amos (of Famous Amos fame) is part of this campaign, and he spoke for a few minutes. The man is one fabulous storyteller!

I also heard about the various Early Childhood Advisory Councils that are being set up in most of the states by the governors. This is part of the Head Start Act of 2007 that mandated creation or designation of collaborative state bodies that would coordinate early childhood services, bridge existing programs, address program quality, and advise on unified data infrastructure development.

The problem, of course, is that currently there are so many different early childhood programs at all levels, and they aren't working together effectively. Anyway, the states have until August 1st to apply for ARRA stimulus funds to create and run these governor-designated councils. Here is California's ECAC website (which we call ELAC - Early Learning Advisory Council) and these are the members. Some good folks, but no librarians, I can't help but notice. I'd like to see someone from the California State Library or California Library Association on that council. For more info on these ECACs and various projects go to the National Governors Association early childhood website.

Monday library service? Not!

Today was the first day in the LA Public Library's history that every branch and Central was closed on a non-holiday. And this is the way it's going to be for the foreseeable future - no Monday service. Naturally, LA is not going to take this lying down:

The LA Weekly reported on the protest, as well.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review of Falling In by Frances O'Roark Dowell

After Isabelle, a slightly odd loner of a girl, falls through a closet into another world, she and her new friend Hen meet a nice old lady in the woods named Grete. Grete teaches the girls about the properties of herbs while Isabelle's sprained ankle heals - but then the girls discover that Grete is apparently the child-killing witch of whom every villager for miles around is terrified.
Grete, though a bit magical, is actually just a woman with a tragic past and an extensive knowledge of herbal lore. Although Hen can't quite shake the idea that there is no smoke without fire, Isabelle finds it ridiculous that the children in five nearby villages have been galloping about in mindless and pointless fear for so many years. She is determined to get them to understand the truth - that there is no witch. Isabelle has a stake in the matter, too, since she has rather a strong connection to Grete herself.
This is a curious hybrid of a fantasy. It's part modern-girl-visits-fairytale-world, a la the Narnia books or Alice in Wonderland, and it's part a rustic witch-and-woods fairytale. The plot and magical happenings are quite humble and old-fashioned, with some herbal lore, a magical book, and a bit of low-grade mind reading, and yet the tone is quite modern, with the narrator addressing the reader directly in breezy, colloquial language. Here's an example:
"Here's the deal: One day a beautiful, perfect baby is born, and his mom and dad make a huge fuss, take a gazillion pictures on their cell phones and post them to their website,, and generally behave like they're the only people in the world who ever had a cute kid. Big mistake. There are fairies flitting all around your average maternity ward just waiting for that kind of hubris."

Isabelle seems like a young, unusual, and very lonely girl, and the jacket art, with those red boots (which are described as being woman's witchy-looking red lace-up boots but which look like a little kid's rainboots on the cover), makes this seem the perfect book for an 8-year-old. And while many 8-year-olds will love it, there is that knowing tone to the narration that will be best appreciated by, say, an 11-year-old. Oh, and there's Grete's tragic past, not to mention a whole camp of very sick children plus an accidental but serious poisoning. It's light, fairy-tale fun, but with a slight edge to it. The ending is odd, sad, and (for me anyway) hugely anticlimactic, but perhaps fitting for this kind of quirky tale.
I liked this fantasy for its quiet refusal to fit into a particular niche and for Dowell's lively writing and unusual perspective. Ages 8 to 12.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

LAPL could use some boogie-oogie-oogie

I sure wish some flash mob would come on in to Central Library at LAPL and cheer us up with some funky moves, like this one did in Seattle.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hunger pangs

Tasty posts:

First, there is Susan (aka The Book Chook) and her "Book Chook Cook Book," filled with tasty, easy, kid-friendly treats (oh, and quotes from children's books as well).

Then there is Anna the Red's masterful "The Lorax" bento box. Her creations always look too gorgeous to eat, but she assures us that she and her boyfriend do indeed consume them.

And this is something of a stretch, but Betsy's Fuse #8 post on a couple of out-of-print books that are being resurrected made me think immediately of Hi, Pizza Man! by Virginia Walter and The Big Fat Worm by Nancy Van Laan, both of which are excellent for storytime and shamefully out of print. Oh, and they're both about eating (see the connection there?) Luckily, both make rather fine flannel board stories.

Hoo boy, I must be hungry. I'll be back when I have some food in my belly.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review of Timekeeper's Moon by Joni Sensel

Sensel, Joni. The Timekeeper's Moon. Bloomsbury, 2010.

Ariel Farwalker is back in the sequel to The Farwalker's Quest (my review), in which she is compelled by strange and ominous messages from the moon to leave her beloved Abbey and Vault and journey toward ... well, she's not sure exactly what or why.

Her friend Zeke must stay behind due to an injury, but Ariel's protector and surrogate father Scarl accompanies Ariel as she tries to obey the urgings of both her feet and the moon. Ariel and Scarl have a "map," but readers will agree with them that it isn't much help.

As Ariel and Scarl journey through mostly deserted countryside with only the very occasional village in between, they pick up two fellow travelers - the young, beautiful, and vivacious Flame-Mage apprentice Sienna and a handsome, mute Kincaller named Nace who happens to be just a bit older than 14-year-old Ariel. Ariel and Nace are immediately attracted to each other, adding a frisson of romance to this quest.

As with the first book, the emotions of each character are authentically and carefully described, and it is Ariel's reactions to the people around her - and their reactions to her - that form the heart of the tale. These aren't larger-than-life characters in an epic fantasy, but rather ordinary folks who are just trying to figure out how to muddle through life (while enduring a scary hissing moon, terrible nightmares, and strange visitations from the past).

Kudos also to the author for keeping a rather complex plot mostly under control. While the physical journey is straightforward enougth, time loops in an odd and confusing manner, somewhat like Ariel's map, and although I got lost occasionally, especially during the climactic scene in an intense circle of stones, it made sense - mostly - at the end. I still have some questions, but I think a second reading is required in order to answer them.

One of my dissatisfactions with the first book - that it was hard to get a vivid sense and understanding of Ariel's world - isn't a problem in The Timekeeper's Moon. We get to see a couple of different villages with very different cultures, and I began to understand how Ariel's world operates. I still wonder why there aren't more differences in language if the villages have been so intensely isolated for so long - but that's a quibble!

One more small language quibble is the use of modern-sounding terminology. In Farwalker's Quest, my review noted the use of "geez." In this book, both "cute" (used by teenaged girls to describe not a baby animal but a young man) and "I blew it" (as in someone messing up) grated anachronistically. They just sound too modern to my ears.

This book made me realize how much I had enjoyed the first book despite my questions. Scarl and Ariel are a complicated and interesting team, and it was fun spending more time with them. Although the ending makes it sound as if this might be the end, I'm hoping there will be further Farwalker adventures - Ariel's world certainly has enough mystery and strangeness to keep her busy for years to come.

Recommended for all who have read The Farwalker's Quest. Ages 11 to 14.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Building libraries in the sand

Biked to the beach today to create this corny (but heartfelt!) video for Save the Library (the library being of course the Los Angeles Public Library). There'll be an action at Central Library on Monday, July 19th at 9:30 am (the first of our closed Mondays). Come express your sorrow at those locked doors.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Two very different fairy books

Vampires? Rather wan. Zombies? Okay in small doses. Werewolves? Too hairy and unpredictable.

But fairies and elves, now...! I just can't get enough of them.

Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder is marketed as an adult fantasy, but this would be a perfect choice for teens, especially fans of Melissa Marr, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black. Two fairy sisters, blithe and beautiful, are cast out into the mortal world after they witness - and blab about - their Queen's dalliance with a mortal man.

Separated in a strange and sometimes hostile world, no longer glamoured to look young and gorgeous (and so appearing to be old women - or at least middle-aged), and unable to do more than the most basic, humble magic, Serana and Meteora must figure out how to survive and to find one another again. But the plot, already fascinating as the sisters meet human and non-human denizens of New York City and Milwaukee, thickens when they find out that they have a crucial role in an upcoming epic battle between Seelie and Unseelie.

Teens will love this, as there is not only plenty of fairy lore but love and romance, plenty of menace, and a healthy dose of humor. There are two young and exotic characters, male and female, to balance out the oldsters. And the descriptions of plant magic made me think I should start carrying the contents of my spice drawer around in my pockets - just to play it safe.

Right after I read that one, I dived into Laura Amy Schlitz's The Night Fairy, illustrated by Angela Barrett. This is very much for young readers - it would make a fine read-aloud for ages 5 to 8 or a read-alond for ages 8 to 10. Young Flory is a Night Fairy whose wings are chewed up by a bat during her first week of life. Luckily, she winds up in a walled garden in a tree with an unoccupied wooden birdhouse, where she sets up a cozy house. The rest of the story is how she makes friends with various other garden inhabitants (a squirrel, a hummingbird, a bat) while slowly shedding some of her natural hauteur. By the end of the story, she is a much friendlier, happier, more flexible young fairy.

That's not to say that there is anything at all too precious or preachy about this story. The language is simple and a bit old-fashioned as befits the timeless plot, and the detailed color illustrations are magical indeed. The small size of this volume makes it a book for kids to hug close and cherish - I can imagine it becoming a favorite.
In fact, it reminds me a tiny bit of a book I used to love as a child, Tatsinda by Elizabeth Enright (published in 1963 with illustrations by Irene Haas - it's LONG out of print and I can't even find the cover art), although Tatsinda is not a fairy and there is no similarity in the plot. Hmm - it might be the personalities of the girls, or perhaps the tone of the narration.
So - Except the Queen and The Night Fairy. Good fodder for your fairy jones, whatever your age!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Converse goes Dr. Seuss

How cool is this?! Unfortunately, this design is only available in kid sizes, but don't worry, there are plenty of other designs.
Thanks to Jacket Copy for the link.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How does this make sense?

So - the City of Los Angeles would rather lay off library employees than expend a bit of effort on making people pay their parking tickets - or so an accountant has discovered.

And apparently we have $2.53 million dollars lying around to pay to TWO fire captains who just won a civil case!

Oh yeah, and in yet another example of our society's penchant for punishing the non-powerful, Schwarzenegger has ordered that all CA state employees be paid at minimum wage until the State budget is finalized.

It sure would be nice if we could get our priorities straight.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Back to reality

Post-ALA doldrums! It's a common phenomenon. One attends programs, workshops, and events at ALA, gets all fired up with wonderful new ideas - and then comes back to one's library with the realization that it's going to be a tough fight to actually implement many of them.

With dozens of children's and YA librarian vacancies due to our 18-month hiring freeze, early retirement incentive package, and lay-offs, big change (unless it magically both improves services and takes less money and staff time) ain't gonna be easy. It's going to be hard to get approval from administration for anything Major, and buy-in from staff may be difficult as well.

(And it's unlikely that things will get better any time soon. Unless, that is, we can get a parcel tax measure on the November ballot - and it passes! That will give LAPL its own steady source of revenue that is not tied to City Hall. But in the meantime, we've not only laid off some amazing new librarians but won't be hiring any that have graduated this year. It's looking grim for next year's grads as well. Here's an insightful "letter to Mayor Villaraigosa" from a UCLA library student.)

So I need to remember that baby steps are okay. There are small changes I can bring about that will both simplify and improve our services to young people. For example, our tradition for summer reading club has been to distribute the same reading folders and other collateral to all of our branches, but then to let each branch determine how kids will measure their progress (# of minutes read; # of books read; weight of books read), when they earn prizes, and what prizes they earn. This is both confusing and lots of work. By creating one uniform system in which every kid at every library knows that when they read for x number of minutes, they get a sticker and when they read for y number of minutes, they receive a book - this should not only create a more fair and consistent program, but will make life easier for librarians as well. I also want to implement an online method for keeping track of our stats system-wide, which we don't currently have. Will we create this ourselves? Subscribe to Evanced or another product? Lots of discussion and research in my future...

These are simple ideas, and the need to improve our SRC has been brewing in my brain every since I was appointed to this position. But this ALA gave me the chance to attend programs on the topic, to question librarians and vendors, and to collect examples of SRC materials from around the nation. Which is why I love ALA - it can make my mind spin with way too many ideas, but it can also allow me to focus on particular timely topics as well.

And I do plan to report on highlights soon, I swear!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review of Pickle Impossible by Eli Stutz

I wrote this review for School Library Journal - see the rest of the Grade 5 and Up reviews here.

STUTZ, Eli. Pickle Impossible. illus. by C. B. Canga. 208p. CIP. Bloomsbury. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-464-1. LC 2009035313.
Gr 4-6–Aurore, 12, helps her pickle-farmer grandfather Zacharie Borsht kidnap young Pierre La Bouche, the grandson of his greatest rival, but then she helps the boy escape and together they make their way from France to Bern, Switzerland, where an international pickle contest is being held. The grand prize is $100,000 which should be enough to save the La Bouche farm–unless the Borshts can either steal Pierre’s pickles or prevent him from entering the contest. Narrated by vivacious and conceited Aurore, the story has a lively tone but the language is oddly stilted. The plot speeds along until it gets hung up in a twist involving a plant that bestows eternal youth, a particle accelerator that causes premature aging, and Pierre’s long-lost grandmother. There are many other strange occurrences and coincidences that aren’t explained or strain credulity, distracting from the plot and making this a light yet unsatisfying and confusing adventure.–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library