Thursday, March 15, 2018

Printz Award Winners & Honor Books

2018 Printz award winner and honor books

I finally got a chance to finish the last of this year's Printz honorees a week or so ago, but it took me at least another week to have time to sit down and reflect on all of them. 

I don't get a chance to read a ton of YA since I try to keep up with picture books and middle grade as well, so I wasn't surprised that I had only read one of the honorees, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, but I did have Long Way Down by Aaron Reynolds on my to-read list, and had started Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman. I'll give a mini-review of each, and link to any full reviews I've done.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour was the medal winner this year.
This is the story of a teenage girl dealing with shock, grief, and depression,
 prompted by the death of her grandfather and the revelation of the secret he was hiding, which causes her to completely cut herself off from her old life. We follow as her former best friend's visit helps her finally begin working trough all her feelings. Much of this story takes place in the main character's head, or in dialog with her friend, and deals with serious issues, but is hopeful, not depressing. 

This could be a good book for a teen who has experienced loss to relate to, as well as good for friends of someone who may be grieving to help them better understand, and see that everyone grieves differently, and some ways are more healthy than others.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was one of the darlings of the YMA's this year, winning multiple honors, and rightfully so. This is one of the rare books that made me thing "wow, this is really amazing" as I read it. A young teen is grief-stricken when his older brother is killed, and feels compelled to go after the person he believes did it. He gets his brothers gun, and gets on the elevator down. But this will be the strangest ride of his life, as each person that gets on is someone Will knew, when they were alive. And each gives Will a new perspective on what he's about to do.

I was not as happy with this book as a Newbery Honor because in my opinion it is clearly for teens, not children, but I was very happy to see it as both a Printz and CSK honoree. If it were up to me, I might even have given it the Printz medal. I like a lot of books, but it is rare that a book wows me like this one did.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is another darling of the awards this year, winning the Morris Award and CSK honors in addition to being a Printz honor book. I'm sure this was one of the few surprises, as this book was talked about by everyone all year long.

Starr leads a double life, living in a poverty-stricken, gang-riddled inner city neighborhood with her family, but attending a private school in a gated community in the suburbs were the vast majority of the students are from affluent white families. When she witnesses the death of a close friend in a police-stop gone wrong which casts the community in turmoil, she feels torn between loyalty to her friend and wanting to stay safe, and questions her own identity and friendships. A very compelling with story with well-developed characters, particularly Starr and her family.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a beautifully written, epic fantasy, that has the feel of a fairy tale or mythology.

Lazlo Strange is a young librarian, who has always been obsessed with the legend of the lost city of Weep, a city long forgotten by most people, whose existence is doubted by others. Then one day, he gets the unbelievable chance of a lifetime, when visitors from Weep, a city there's been no contact from in 200 years, suddenly show up, recruiting scientists, engineers, and other technological experts for a mission to Weep. Lazlo manages to impress the leader, with his knowledge of Weep and the ability to speak their language, and is invited to join them. What he finds there is beyond his wildest dreams... 

This story deals with terrible choices and the overriding guilt, vengeance, mercy, and love, and is the first of a series, so don't expect a real ending. It is also VERY long at over 500 pages, so might be best saved for a summer read when one has enough time to devote to getting lost in such a long book.

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman was the one Printz honor book I could not read. I was actually looking forward to it, since I generally like biographies and I am a HUGE fan of Van Gogh's art; plus I liked the cover art. But much to my surprise, I just could NOT get into this book, and I really tried. I read several chapters, but it just did not engage me at all.

It seemed as though the author wasn't quite sure who her audience was, because in some ways the writing was patronizing and seemed aimed at lower ages, but the content was definitely more teen/adult. It also was not told in a real narrative, but a series of many very short (3-4 page) chapters and was very choppy. It just did not flow. I finally had to give up, because I had too many other books to read, but I was very disappointed.

All in all, I'm pretty okay with this slate of honorees (though I would bump Long Way Down up to medal winner), with one exception. The first four books were all very different, but all very good and I could see appealing to teens. The last one, Vincent and Theo, I just do not get why it was chosen at all, and I do not think that it would be very appealing to teens. I do know that many people really like it, but it is so rare for my to DNF, I just don't see what they are seeing. Maybe someday I'll give it another try.

So what did you think? Are you happy with the medal winner? The honorees? Would you have picked something different? 

Leave me a comment!

Monday, March 12, 2018

2018 Caldecott Winner & Honor Books

As I've said before, I don't really spend any time speculating on what books will be recognized by the Caldecott committee because we are never on the same wavelength. Since 90% of my job is doing outreach storytimes (I did about 500 last year, and will do even more this year), I am looking for highly engaging and interactive books that will work well in storytime, so the kind of books the committee recognizes generally don't even register on my radar. So it was no surprise that I wasn't very familiar with most of these.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell was the medal winner.

This is a nearly wordless picture book about a girl and a wolf pup who are both lost in a snow storm. The girl helps the wolf pup back to his pack, then the pack helps the girl back to her family.

This is very cute, though it bugs me that the little girl just looks like a red triangle, and would be a good one-on-one shared read, letting the child tell the story from the pictures. Some say they've used it successfully in storytime, but I personally find these kinds of books rather awkward to use. It's okay, but as usual, I'm not blown away by it.

Crown by Derrick D. Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James is one Caldecott honor book that actually had caught my attention before the awards because of the eye-catching cover and the use of something as everyday as a haircut to portray cultural diversity, and encourage positive self-image. I really like this book, both the text and the illustrations, but I'm not quite sure who it's real audience is. 

I certainly wouldn't use it in my preschool storytimes because of the amount of text and I don't think it would be as meaningful at that age. I think older elementary kids would appreciate the subject matter more, but might feel a picture book is "too babyish". If you've used this book, please tell me about your audience and how it was received in the comments!

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin is a beautiful non-fiction book full of information and scenic landscapes. 

While I personally liked this book, again, I'm not sure that it will find an audience. It has way too much text and advanced information for kids that typically like picture books, and older kids would probably prefer photographs to paintings or drawings. This reminds me of Locomotive, a Caldecott winner from a few years ago, that several patrons reported their kids just had no interest in.

I'm afraid this is a very niche book that will not circulate much, after all the librarians and teachers had looked at it following the awards announcements.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui was inspired by the author's early morning fishing trips with his father. It is a simple story that alludes to so much more, and is illustrated in graphic-novel style, though there are fewer panels and many full-page illustrations. Both the author and illustrator immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with their families as children.

Like most Caldecott books, this one seems intended for an older audience, perhaps K-3rd grade. While I like the illustrations overall, I think the illustration chosen for the cover is too dark and the characters and title too small, to be very appealing or attention-getting. I have discovered that kids, particularly the younger ones, equate dark covers with being scary, even when they are just depicting nighttime, or early morning in this case.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper is probably the one that disappointed me the most, and here's why.

As I started looking through it, I really liked it, being a cat person myself and having had a similar situation where the new kitten ended up growing up to be bigger than the older cat. It was such a simple, but cute and charming story, watching the kitten grow up, and the cats becoming best friends (though mine never really did) and doing everything together. 

I got excited at the small amount of simple text, simple illustrations, and cute story, thinking this would be the rare Caldecott book I could actually use in storytime! Until I got to this spread, that is:

(Click to enlarge)

What?!? The older cat leaves and never comes back? Now, unlike some of my co-workers, I never get emotional reading picture books. Novels always make me cry, but not picture books. But having had to euthanize my cat just over a year ago, and another one 4 years ago that was THE best cat I've ever had, this got to me and made me tear up 😭.

While I know others have said they used this in storytime, there is NO way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks I am ever using it in storytime. Though I think I could control my emotions, there is no way I'm going to attempt to answer all the questions it would prompt: "Where did the big cat go?", "Why can't he come back?", "What happens when you die?", "Why?"..... Plus I do outreach in daycares, so no parents to help answer the questions consistent with their beliefs. Nope, not touching that with a 10-foot pole!

BUT, this would be a wonderful book to help a child prepare for the loss of an aging pet, or cope afterward, as well as gently introducing death in general, along with Ida, Always, a beautiful picture book inspired by a true story that gently portrays death following a long illness.

So, my impression this year is pretty much the same as every year. Yes, I can see these have either impressive art work, or art that tells the story on it's own, but I will not be able to use any of these in storytime, and I question how much appeal most will actually have to children. On the other hand, I think Big Cat, Little Cat would appeal to kids, but I feel for the parents who might be in the uncomfortable position of answering questions they aren't prepared for if they don't know where the story goes.

What did you think of this year's slate of Caldecott honorees? Any that you think got snubbed that should have been recognized? Have you actually used any of these with children? 

Please leave a comment and tell me your opinion and experience!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Suspenseful Storytime

Today's storytime didn't really have so much of a theme as a mood. The class I visited today really needs highly engaging books to keep their attention, with lots of interaction, drama, and/or humor. I LOVE reading very dramatic books, so I decided to go with that since I really needed a fun day after the last couple of weeks!

picture book with suspense, drama, surprise endingWe started with our welcome and story songs, and then I read one of my current favorite books from one of my favorite storytime authors, The Doghouse by Jan Thomas. This books is SO much fun to read out loud to a group! Cow, Pig, Duck, and Mouse are playing kickball, when the ball rolls into...the doghouse (cue thunder and ominous music). One by one the animals go in to retrieve it, but they don't come out! 

I love building up the drama and suspense as each animal disappears, and hearing the audible gasps when Dog says Duck can't come out because he's "...having Duck for dinner!" But of course, when we peak inside the doghouse we see all is well and that Dog is just having a everyone over for a dinner party. I also take this is an opportunity to talk about how some dogs may look scary, but most of the time they are friendly (though you should always have your parent's and the owner's permission to pet them).

After that we pretended to be doggies with this cute action rhyme. I don't remember where I first saw the first verse, but I wrote the second verse myself:

Some Dogs

Some dogs bark, (bark)
Some dogs growl. (growl)
Some dogs yip, (yip)
Some dogs howl. (howl)

Some dogs beg, (beg & whimper)
Some dogs play catch. (pretend to catch frisbee)
Some dogs sit, (sit down)
And some dogs scratch (scratch behind ear)

But all dogs wag their tails! (wag tail)

After that we sang a quick verse of "B-I-N-G-O":

There was a farmer who had a dog,
And "Bingo" was his name-oh.
B - I - N - G - O,
B - I - N - G - O,
B - I - N - G - O,
And "Bingo" was his name-oh!

Alligator story, books with suspense, surprise ending, Snip Snap!
I had originally wanted to do Wolf's Coming by Joe Kulka for our second book, but, alas, our copy has been lost 😭 So I chose another book I had not gotten around to using before, Snip Snap! What's That? by Mara Bergman & Nick Maland, which is clearly inspired by the rumors of alligators living in the sewer systems from being kept as illegal pets. As the story opens, we see an open manhole cover, then the alligator slinking up the stairs of an apartment building, getting closer, and closer! This is another book that is fun to read very dramatically. Just when you think the children are doomed, they turn the tables on the wayward alligator.

Of course we had to follow that with everyone's favorite rhyme about monkeys and an alligator:

"Five Little Monkeys"

Five little monkeys, swinging in a tree.
(hold up 5 fingers, move back and forth)

Teasin' Mr. Alligator, "You can't catch me!"
(waggle hands, shake head)

Along comes Mr. Alligator, quiet as can be,
(whisper, move hands like alligator)

And SNAPPED that monkey right outta that tree!
(move arms like jaws and clap loudly)

[Repeat, counting down to zero]

They love the suspense, knowing the alligator is going to snap! After that, I introduced another rhyme about an alligator that also has a dramatic part that one of my former volunteers taught me:

"There Once Was An Alligator"

There once was an alligator, laying on a log.
(lay one arm on top of other)

Down in the water, he saw a yummy frog.
(make alligator's head look down)

DOWN dived the alligator!
(say "down" loudly and quickly dive down)

Around spun the log!
(roll arms)

SPLASH! went the water!
(fling arms out)

And away swam the frog!
(make swimming motions)

They liked that one so much, and since it was new, we did it twice. Then we sang our closing song and passed out stickers.

How It Went
I had a lot of fun with this storytime, and the kids really seemed to enjoy it, too. They liked both books, but they really LOVED The Doghouse with it's simplicity of text, bold graphics, and almost unbearable suspense. I never get tired of hearing them gasp when they think Dog is eating everyone. Jan Thomas books are great for storytime (and I'm really not happy that her publisher is changing them to the smaller early reader format that doesn't work as well for groups).

The loved the song and rhymes, with a good mix of new a familiar. They were so cute wagging their little tails like puppy dogs, and shrinking in suspense, knowing Mr. Alligator's jaws were about to SNAP!

I'm glad we had such a good day, as this class is particularly challenging. This is the 4th year I've been coming to this same classroom, and this group has definitely been the most difficult to get, and keep, engaged. They are sweet kids and are always glad to see me, but have trouble sitting reasonably still and listening, and require the most highly engaging books to keep their attention, and I'm running out of ideas!

If you've seen any really good, super engaging new books in the last year or so, let me know in the comments! They like things that are very dramatic, or very silly, and highly interactive. But, they are only 3, so not much text, and simple, bold illustrations.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Rough Week...

Rough week? Who am I kidding, it's shaping up to be a rough next few months. I had fully planned to write a post about my impressions of the Caldecott Award winners and honor books now that I've finally gotten a chance to see them all, but honestly, I just couldn't muster the creative energy.

Everything seems to be hitting at once. I've got major assignments due every week for the next 9 weeks (in addition to regular homework), and it is challenging to keep up with two classes while working and dealing with family stuff. The classes are going well, I'm actually liking Reference, which I dreaded, and while Public Libraries is a bit of a bore, it's not difficult, but it is still a lot of work to do.

Home life has been extremely stressful and unsatisfying the last couple of years, and work has always been my escape. I loved working in the children's department, and I've loved my outreach position. It was very low-stress, fun, and fulfilling, if a little isolating and repetitive, but I did have opportunities to do other things. But now that is changing. There is a major restructuring going on (that's always fun, right?), a shift in focus from quality to quantity, and I know my job description is changing. Though I don't yet know the full extent of these changes, I do know that I will no longer be working one shift a week in the children's department, and will have to do even more storytimes.

I am really trying to get on board and be a team player, but some of these changes are hard to take. Though I understand why I won't be working in the children's department anymore (they are getting additional staff), it is a huge disappointment to me personally and professionally. I really needed the variety to keep from burning out doing 12-15 storytimes a week. It gave me a chance to work with kids of all ages, families, and adults, to stay up on middle-grade and YA literature, to stay in practice with reader's advisory, customer service, and the ILS; and to interact with colleagues that I rarely see otherwise. My ultimate goal is to be a children's librarian, so it was great being able to keep a toe in the pool, so to speak.

So I've been feeling a bit demoralized, frustrated, and stressed, but trying to move on. Any advice for embracing the change, fighting the burnout from the increased monotony, and how to make my already strained voice last for even more storytimes every week?? 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cabin-Fever & Storytime - Not a Good Combo!

As you might have guessed from the title, today's storytime did not go so well. But that's okay, it happens, and is often not under our control. It started off great, with kids running up to hug me, and one boy saying "I love you, Miss Jennifer!" 💗, but kinda went downhill from there.

It has rained here almost every day for the last two weeks it seems (though we did get ONE glorious day of sunny, 79-degree weather Tuesday), plus it is still February, and everyone is sick of it. The kids have not been able to go outside at all because even when it's not raining the ground is either too muddy or covered with standing water. So I knew they would likely have tons of excess energy, and I tried to plan accordingly, with a slightly shorter session, movement, and what I thought would be very engaging books and activities.

When I got there, they weren't quite ready as they had apparently forgotten it was my day to come (our schedule has been so disrupted the last 3 months by holidays and illness, it was totally understandable!), but quickly got the kids settled on the rug. We started with our welcome song, and I tried to give an introduction to today's storytime, but I could tell I was losing them, so went right on to our story song, adding a couple of extra verses, hoping to settle them down.

Music & Movement StorytimeFor our first book I chose I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison & Frank Morrison. It features an African-American girl walking through the neighborhood, presumably with her mother, sensing the rhythms around her. I love the illustrations and that the audience can join the main character in sniffing, clapping, stomping, etc. I thought it would be highly engaging and they would enjoy it, but to my surprise, it really fell flat. They just weren't interested or couldn't focus, and did not participate consistently.

I followed that by back-to-back movement activities that I thought they would enjoy and would help burn off some energy. The first has been around so long I have no idea where I first heard it or who to attribute it to.

"Knickerbocker, Knickerbocker"

Knickerbocker, Knickerbocker, number nine;
I've got the rhythm and I'm feelin' fine.

I've got the rhythm of the head (ding, dong).
Now you've got the rhythm of the head (ding, dong).

I've got the rhythm of the hands (clap, clap).
Now you've got the rhythm of the hands (clap, clap).

I've got the rhythm of the feet (stomp, stomp).
Now you've got the rhythm of the feet (stomp, stomp).

I've got the rhythm of the hips (shake, shake).
Now you've got the rhythm of the hips (shake, shake).

I've got the rhythm of the fingers (snap, snap).
Now you've got the rhythm of the fingers (snap, snap).

I've got the rhythm of the eyes (roll, roll).
Now you've got the rhythm of the eyes (roll, roll).

Knickerbocker, knickerbocker, now let's put them all together:
(Ding-dong, clap-clap, stomp-stomp, shake-shake, snap-snap, roll-roll.)

There are many variations to this out there; a good indication of just how long it's been around! For the next one, I chose something similar that's also been around for a long time, a song that incorporates various movements into a "dance". I don't know where it came from originally, but I know it from appearing multiple times on Sesame Street. There are at least 4-5 Sesame Street versions of it on YouTube, but this one is believed to be the first, dating back to about 1974 by David:

A Very Simple Dance

Come on and do a dance with me; it's just a little step or two.
I'll teach you how; we'll start right now! 
It's a very simple dance to do.
First you clap your hands, (clap, clap, clap).
Then you stomp your feet, (stomp, stomp, stomp).
It's a very simple dance to do.

Wait, I forgot to tell you, there's another little step or two.
Now you turn around (turn), and you touch your toes (touch).
It's a very simple dance to do.
Put them together now:
Clap your hands, (clap, clap, clap), then stomp your feet (stomp, stomp, stomp);
Turn around (turn), and touch your toes (touch).
It's a very simple dance to do.

Wait, I forgot to tell you, there's another little step or two.
Now you pull your ears (ouch, ouch, ouch), and you flap your arms (flap, flap, flap).
It's a very simple dance to do.
Put them together now:
Clap your hands, (clap, clap, clap), then stomp your feet (stomp, stomp, stomp);
Turn around (turn), and touch your toes (touch).
Pull your ears (ouch, ouch, ouch), and you flap your arms (flap, flap, flap).
It's a very simple dance to do.

Wait, I forgot to tell you, there's another little step or two.
Stretch real high (stretch), then all fall down (carefully fall to floor).
It's a very simple dance to do.
Put them together now:

Clap your hands, (clap, clap, clap), then stomp your feet (stomp, stomp, stomp);
Turn around (turn), and touch your toes (touch).
Pull your ears (ouch, ouch, ouch), and you flap your arms (flap, flap, flap);
Stretch real high (stretch), then all fall down (carefully fall to floor).
It's a very simple dance to do.

[Repeat the last part as many times as desired, getting faster each time:]

They did like this one, though I didn't do as many repetitions as I'd have liked because there was so little space I was afraid someone would get hurt.

Souds, city life storytime
After that, they were *a little* more ready to settle down and listen to the second and final book, Noisy Night by Mac Barnett & Brian Biggs. Some were afraid it was going to be scary because of the dark cover, and I explained that no, it's just dark because it's night time. I set the scene, describing living in an apartment building (which I'm sure some of them do) and that we were going to guess what all the noises were that people heard from their neighbors. The clues give too much away for older kids, but it's perfect for 2-3 year olds, maybe younger 4's, and they really liked this one. At the end, one of the kids had the idea that we should count all the floors, then all the windows, in the apartment building, so we did. 

After that, we did our closing song and passed out stickers.

Thoughts On How It Went

It was definitely a rough start, but the latter part went better. Although the first book didn't work very well, I really don't fault the book; it was just a matter of the wrong book at the wrong time, I think. I will try it again with a different group soon and see how it does.

I won't deny I was slightly frustrated in the beginning, especially when I thought I had taken circumstances into consideration and planned an engaging storytime that would work for kids with cabin-fever. But, sometimes things just don't go as well as we'd hoped, and that's ok. I tried some of the tips and tricks I described in my "Sometimes It's Just a Hokey-Pokey Day" and did finally manage to corral them enough to finish.

I will definitely be using the "Very Simple Dance" again, now that I've remembered it. I'm feeling very nostalgic for the classic Sesame Street days, back when Mr. Hooper was still alive, Mr. Snuffleupagus was still invisible, and it was still mostly real people and real puppets, not all the CGI crap they've ruined it with now. And to show my age, can anyone else remember when Maria and David were a couple?? Sesame Street was ahead of it's time!