Reading while waiting

IMG_0178.JPGI’ve had a bit of extra reading time over the past couple of days as I’ve mostly been stuck in a jury waiting room.  I didn’t really think about my reading choice for the first day of jury duty; I just grabbed a book from my library stack.  How was I to know that I’d grabbed a road trip novel that typifies a wandering spirit on a day when I was confined to an underground room?  Despite the circumstances, I did enjoy the story.  And I had plenty of time to read it. ;)

Let’s Get Lost had several elements that I tend to like in a book.  It was a feel-good story of self discovery with a little bit of romance.  Not to mention a connection to the Twin Cities and references to music I like.

To celebrate a cute book and getting through my first two days of jury duty, I thought I’d share a musical connection to the book.  Here is Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Oh Comely,” which has a small but significant place in the story:

As a side note, when I got home from my day of jury duty during which I finished this book, my partner had Neutral Milk Hotel playing.  Weird, right?  I bring this up because I just read a book that focused on coincidences, and I’m seeing them everywhere these days.  If feel-good road trip romances aren’t your thing, maybe the thought-provoking suspense of She is Not Invisible is more your style.

Either way, don’t forget your book if you have jury duty.

 

On the week’s events

SecretHum_cover_FINALIt has been a long and difficult week for many people.  My news feed for the past week has been full of difficult topics–stuff that we don’t often want to talk about.  Mental illness, suicide, race relations, violence.  A lot of people seem to be feeling raw and angry over these things.  I don’t blame them.  Parts of me are raw and angry too.

This week I read The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.  It is a middle grade novel about a girl who is in her own difficult spot.  After years of living a here-and-there life with her mother, Grace is grieving her mother’s loss and trying to figure out where she belongs now.  It is a lovely story about grief and identity that made me tear up several times. Mostly I felt like the novel was about hope.

Whenever Grace had to start at a new school after yet another move, her mother would tell her, “You can do this.  You are brave, and you are loved.”  I want to repeat those words to so many people right now.

You are brave.

You are loved.

I can’t change the world with those words, but perhaps if we keep talking and keep changing our own small worlds, things will get better.

Trends in Teen Fiction

A couple of weeks ago, a librarian colleague asked for some input on the trends in teen fiction for the year. Since I am getting ready for my team’s big Best New Titles Booktalk this fall, I have been knee deep in teen fiction.  Here’s what I’m seeing:

  • wewereliarsSecrets, Lies, and Unreliable NarratorsWe Were Liars has been one of the most anticipated and talked about titles this year, but it isn’t the only one that will keep you guessing.  Just a quick scan of the ARCs on my desk shows Little Blue Lies by Chris Lynch and Little White Lies by Katie Dale.  There are secrets in We are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt and What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn.
  • Fish Out of Water – I have a small running list of teen fiction on this theme, and I’ve added three books to it already this year: Wild by Alex Mallory, Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor, and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock.
  • Multiple Perspectives – Of course there are the dual perspective romances following the popularity of Eleanor & Park, but there are also books that use multiple narrators to tell the story, like The Art of Secrets by James Klise, The Truth about Alice by Jennifer Mathieu, and A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall for example.

I’ve also seen at least three teen novels in 2014 or early 2015 that are about the rapture, which strikes me as an odd little mini trend.  That said, I did like the two rapture books I’ve read so far.  I’ll be curious to see what my colleagues come up with for #YAlittrends.  Watch the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox for updates.

Our National Night Out

nno-masthead-logoYesterday was my first ever National Night Out Block Party.  The intersections were blocked off, and the neighbors had set up a couple of grills in the middle of the streets.  Kids were running around, and adults were milling with drinks in hand.  It turned out that we were the newbies among mostly long-time residents of our block, and we felt quite welcomed.  Here were the highlights for me:

  • I may have convinced a woman who lives across the street from me to give bus commuting a try.  Hey, if I can commute from Minneapolis to Burnsville on a bus, then anyone can, right?
  • When a neighbor expressed interest in putting a Little Free Library in front of her house, I enthusiastically agreed to help keep it stocked if she does it.  You all know that I will make good on that promise.  :)
  • I discovered another Unitarian-Universalist family on my block.  We chatted about our kids’ RE classes and about the why we chose UU.  Great to have that connection.

National Night Out started in 1984 as a crime prevention program aimed at creating the community camaraderie needed to enhance safety  for everyone.  One night isn’t going to solve all crime issues, but it certainly represents a beginning.  I was very happy to finally be able to be a part of that in our new home.

Want to keep the sense of community going?  Here are some links:

A Visit to Clifford’s World

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Everyone knows Clifford the Big Red Dog.  He has been around for over 50 years–first as a very popular series of picture books and then as a television show.  Now he’s an interactive museum exhibit too.

This exhibit, designed by the Minnesota Children’s Museum, happens to be at my old library (the one I grew up going to) for the summer, and we stopped there briefly when we visited recently. My six-year-old could have played for hours in Clifford’s World just like she has in the Our World exhibit at the MN Children’s Museum.  She served us lunch at the restaurant (while I pointed out the sign that talked about teamwork) and delivered mail all around Birdwell Island (which gave me the opportunity to point out the other signs about being kind, playing fair, and more).

clifford1It’s hard not to like Clifford.  He always has good intentions even if things don’t always go right the first time.  He might be a lot bigger than the preschoolers who love him, but he’s not so different from them.

The exhibit will be back in Minnesota in September at the Rochester location of the MN Children’s Museum and in the Twin Cities in October.  It’s well worth your time if you have a young Clifford fan in your family who would enjoy exploring Birdwell Island and seeing a nine foot tall Clifford statue up close.

The words you’re not supposed to say

Most of us learn from a pretty young age that there are good words and bad words.  The “bad words” might be hidden from us at first, but eventually someone slips.  Probably while driving.  Or maybe a big kid shares them at school.  Eventually they come out from the shadows, and parents freak out.  Or at least, it seems like most parents do.  I don’t.

Frankly, I don’t swear very much myself.  But I know that other people do, and I don’t expect that I can keep such words hidden from my daughter for long.  Well, in all honesty, I haven’t even tried to keep them from her.  I shrug when my child-free friends apologize for dropping a “bad word” in front of my six-year-old.  Sometimes I’ll even say I’m less concerned about those words than I am the words that hurt people’s feelings.  If any words are bad, it’s the hurtful ones.

Maybe that sounds like some kind of hippie-tastic idealism, but this article echoes my opinion on it pretty well, and I have no doubt that my daughter, a word lover from a very young age, will continue to expand her vocabulary to include all sorts of words, inappropriate and otherwise.  From the article:

“Obviously, Shawn and I don’t want Gracie to walk up to her kindergarten teacher and ask where the bleep she can put her bleeping backpack. But we’re unconvinced that, say, when she gets to high school, she should get grounded for describing a bad day to us with words that help her to express herself.

Hopefully, Shawn and I will instill an expansive vocabulary and love of words in our daughter so that she won’t often need to resort to swearing.”

Turns out, there’s a picture book for this very situation (Isn’t there always?): The Very Inappropriate Word by Jim Tobin.   When Michael learns a new word on the school bus–never used in the book–he loves using it.  He loves words in general, and this one seems especially good.  How does his teacher handle the situation when the word gets around the classroom?  Some kind of punishment?  Washing his mouth out with soap?  Nope.  She send him to the library to find more words.

In the end, it was just one word among many.  That’s all.  No one was hurt in the speaking of the word.

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There’s a more detailed write up about the book at Kirkus, and there’s a book trailer here. No matter how you decide to approach curse words in your family, give this book a chance.  It’s an opportunity to explore why words have the power they do in a way that doesn’t talk down to kids.  And that’s important no matter what words you’ve decided to use or not use.

If you liked… Cosmos

downloadI suppose a better title for this post would be “If your kids liked Cosmos” because I really want to share some of my favorite science titles for the families who have been watching Cosmos together and want to keep the awesome science education going now that it’s over.

  • Gravity by Jason Chin – I love the way that Jason Chin’s picture books take an unusual approach to science, and his newest book does that with gravity.  It is very simple and visually striking.  Well worth sharing with young children to talk about what keeps us to the earth, what makes things fall, etc.   (Ages 4-8)
  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Dominic Walliman – This grand tour of space is guided by Professor Astro Cat in a fun and friendly way.  It’s stylishly designed and easy to understand. Even kids who aren’t as interested in science will likely be drawn in by the infographic style illustrations and funny asides in the text. It is also worth noting that the author holds a PhD in Quantum Physics, so he knows his stuff.  (Ages 8-10 – Though my 6 year-old loves to browse through it too)
  • How to Make a Planet by Scott Forbes – Start with the Big Bang and follow the steps that led to the earth we know today.  This is a fact-filled science book with the twist of being a “how-to book” for kids interested in having a planet of their own.  (Ages 8-12)

Not to mention some of the books I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past. You are Stardust and Older Than the Stars are two of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite science books for kids?

My Summer Wonders

We ushered in our summer with a busy weekend that was full of sun.  After several days (weeks?) of rain, it was much needed sunshine–at least, it was much needed by me.

IMG_2009IMG_2012 IMG_2014We celebrated the solstice on Friday evening at our Unitarian-Univeralist church, caught a puppet show on Saturday morning at the library (highly recommend catching one of the many performances of Molly and the Magic Boot this summer; my daughter is still singing the “hootenanny” song–though perhaps that’s not a selling point. . .), and joined ten thousand other music fans for Rock the Garden on Saturday night.

While Matt and Kim stole the show for me (even though I was not previously familiar with them), Best Coast deserves a mention for singing “Why would you live anywhere else?”  Of course, they were referencing California, but on the first day of a Minnesota summer, there is no better place to be.  Why would you live anywhere else right now?

Our summer has just begun, of course.  In the weeks to come we will be camping, swimming, grilling, and more.  What will your summer bring?

If you need some inspiration, try a picture book: Summer Wonders by Bob Raczka is a good place to start. It celebrates summer with simplicity and ice pops.  What more could you want?

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Perhaps at the end of the summer we will be able to make our own book of wonders.

A Weekend in Chicago

On our way out of town on Friday, I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw a headline with the words “This might be the biggest Twin Cities weekend of the summer.”  That is not what you really want to see when you’re leaving for a weekend getaway.  We already knew we were going to miss Northern Spark and the launch of the Green Line, but we kept our eyes on Chicago.

It seemed that city was also having a pretty big weekend, and we were right in the middle of it.  Most of our fellow commuter train passengers on Saturday appeared to be headed to the Blues Festival .  We were there to play tourist.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and a part of me will always consider Chicago to be “my city” no matter how Minnesotan I feel these days.  It’s always fun to share my memories of Chicago, especially now that my daughter is old enough to get excited about it too.  I love that she showed as much enthusiasm for some of the more iconic scenes as she did a random playground we happened by.

That evening we made our way to the Wicker Park neighborhood (after the six year old was safely deposited at Grandma’s) for the reason we were willing to leave town on one of the best Twin Cities weekends of the summer.  Braid and the Smoking Popes at the Double Door’s 20th Anniversary celebration.  As soon as we saw that these two old favorites were playing, we jumped on the tickets and made our plans.

braid2014I grew up listening to these bands.  I mean that specifically: I listened to them in my late teens and early twenties.  They were, along with a few select others, my coming of age soundtrack.  Braid, in particular, was perfect coming of age music.  With lines like “let’s stop clapping / let’s start doing / a dream for the teens and in-betweens / and twenties yet unseen” the teenage me was conscious of the fact that these were guys just a couple of years older than me.  They often sang about finding your way, and it had a strong impact on me as I sorted out my ideas about life and love.  I saw them live a few times before they broke up in 1999.

In 2004, I caught the reunion tour. By then, I lived in the Twin Cities, and I was dating my now-husband.  I was in my mid-twenties, which meant that the band members were pushing thirty. My youthful optimism never considered that the show might disappoint, and it didn’t.  It actually made my Top Ten Favorite Shows even though it made me feel older than my years to have a reunion show on my Top Ten list.  I still consider myself an optimist, but I have to admit that it did occur to me, how ever briefly, that ten years might make a difference.

They opened with a song I didn’t know–the new record comes out next month–and then launched into a series of older songs from Frame & Canvas and other records I know so well.  There was no need to worry.  Funnily enough, lines like “a dream for the tweens, and in-betweens, and twenties yet unseen” can still resonate several years past one’s twenties.

The show could have ended there, and it would have been worth the trip.  It was already on my Top Ten Favorite Shows of all time–no matter what having two reunion shows on my list might mean about my age or taste.  But the Smoking Popes were up next.

smokingpopes2014The Smoking Popes were the first local band I listened to. They were the first band I saw play live so many times I lost track of when and where I saw them, and eventually it became no-big-deal in that way that local bands can sometimes get even to their super fans.  After a while, they didn’t play as much, and I moved away anyway.  I did catch them at the Triple Rock a few years ago.  That was a good show, but it doesn’t compare to the one I saw this weekend.  Saturday’s show was a reunion of the super fans.  It seemed like every song was a sing along in a crowd that knew every word.  No one yelled out “Pretty Pathetic” even though we all wanted them to play it.  Probably because we knew they were saving it for the end of the show with the stripped down beginning and dramatic end.  It was far from no-big-deal.

Here’s to the past for the memories and the music.  And here’s to what is still unseen.  Let’s stop clapping and start doing.

 

If you like… Mo Willems

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This post is for my daughter and her kindergarten class, who have all fallen hard for Mo Willems.  It is also for all the people who say “Do you know Mo Willems?” when I say I work in children’s books.  I have never met the man behind the pigeon, but I am very familiar with his books.  Mostly, though, this post is for the parents who need something to read with their kids when all the Mo Willems books are checked out of the library (as they always seem to be).  Perhaps one of these alternatives will suffice for the day.

If you like the way that Knuffle Bunny captures a universal childhood moment in a way that appeals to both kids and adults, try Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein.  As a bonus, the book also features a dad/daughter combo.

If you like the interactive nature of the Pigeon books, try Cat Secrets by Jeff Czekaj.  It has been in regular rotation at our house recently since we have a new kitten, but it’s fun even without a feline family member. Other potential titles: The End (Almost) by Jim Benton or You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt.

If the funny friends in the Elephant & Piggie books are your favorite, try When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude for another set of animals navigating friendship with a touch of humor.  I also like the dry wit of Maxwell Eaton in The Adventures of Max and Pinky: Best Buds.

Need more suggestions?  Here are a places to find more reading material for your Mo Willems fan:

  • KDL Recommends Mo Willems Readalikes – More books in the spirit of Mo Willems
  • The Geisel Award – Willems has won this award for beginning readers more than once.  Check out some of the other winners and honors.  Might I recommend The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli.
  • Storytime Skit: Mo Willems – Everything you need to know to plan a Mo Willems event for your library, classroom, or whatever.