School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Sat, 01 Oct 2016 04:01:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 New York Libraries To Offer Wi-Fi Hotspots to Needy Students Fri, 30 Sep 2016 20:38:46 +0000 hot-spot

New York City Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña has announced a partnership between Google, Sprint, and the city’s three library systems—the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library (NYPL), and Queens Library—to make free Wi-Fi hotspots available for year-long rental to public school families.

“We’re committed to equity and excellence for all New York City students, and this initiative will help create expanded opportunities for students to complete homework, research, and thrive outside of school,” said Fariña in a statement. “This initiative will be available for all students and families, and we encourage them to take advantage of this resource.”

The program, a one-year pilot, will launch in 47 library branches across the city, all in high-need neighborhoods with low connectivity rates. The branches are also all located near New York City Community Schools, which are neighborhood hubs offering academic instruction and social services.

Photo: Jonathan Blanc (

Clockwise from left: NYPL president Tony Marx, New York City Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, Google chief information officer Ben Fried (at table), and Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson, with students at PS 67 in Brooklyn. Photo: Jonathan Blanc (

“More than 800,000 households in New York don’t have a broadband connection to the Internet, posing a barrier to opportunity for school-aged children who are already at risk of being left behind,” said Queens Library president and CEO Dennis M. Walcott.

To qualify to borrow one of the 5,000 hotspots, applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a fine-free library card, attend an event at one of the participating branches, and report that they have no Internet at home and that they have a child attending a New York public school. The hotspots will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and the devices must be returned at the end of the 12-month period. Those wanting more information should either check one of the three library system websites or visit their local library branch.

The initiative is the second round of the Library HotSpot program, started by the NYPL (which serves the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) in 2014. That pilot also included a Google donation of Chromebooks. But the current pilot program is focused only on providing Wi-Fi service. It’s not so much the cost of devices that’s a barrier to home Internet access as it is the expense of the monthly service, Farina noted at a September 29, 2016, press conference. Also, many of the kids do have smartphones, with which they can access the Internet once they have Wi-Fi at home.

Photo: Jonathan Blanc (

Ben Fried, Google’s chief information officer, with a PS 67 student. Photo: Jonathan Blanc (

Google donated $1 million to the latest program. Sprint is donating the service to power the hotspots as part of the White House’s ConnectED Initiative. The company estimates that the 5,000 lines that they are providing equate to $9.6 million. (The hotspots were paid for with grant money NYPL received for this purpose during the earlier round of the program.)

“In New York City in the 21st century, our kids, our future, must have access to the Internet at home,” said NYPL president Tony Marx. “We regularly see children doing their homework outside of our branches before we open and after we close so that they can access the Wi-Fi leaking from our walls.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, NC, recently started a similar program.




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Island of Misfit Boys (and Girls) | “Miss Peregrine” Movie Review Fri, 30 Sep 2016 18:22:59 +0000 Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and director Tim Burton would seem like a match made in movieland heaven.]]> The residents of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, with Jake (Asa Butterfield), third from the left (Photo: Jay Maidment)

The residents of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, with Jake (Asa Butterfield), third from the left (Photo: Jay Maidment).

At first glance, the pairing of Ransom Riggs’s macabre 2011 coming-of-age novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and director Tim Burton would seem like a match made in movieland heaven: an Edward Gorey–inspired island of lost souls as filmed through the lens of old-school horror filmmakers, such as Tod Browning (1931’s Dracula  and 1932’s Freaks). But curiously, the combination underwhelms.

Mourning the brutal death of his storytelling grandfather, introverted teen Jake travels with his bird-watching father to the remote Welsh island of Cairnholm (population 92) for “closure,” per his psychiatrist’s recommendation. That’s where his grandpa fled from 1940s Poland to find sanctuary at a home run by a Miss Peregrine. (In the book, all of the children living there are Jewish refugees.)

It turns out that the yarns that Grandpa had spun over the years about his fellow orphans, the Peculiars, weren’t signs of dementia. Emma, who could float off into the sky if not weighed down by her shoes; the invisible Millard; and Hugh, who would spew out a swarm of bees when he opened his mouth, are still alive. Jake stumbles upon them in the looming Bates Motel–like Victorian structure, where they remain forever young. They all exist in a time loop, where it is always September 3, 1943. (Unlike Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, the youth don’t complain; for them, it’s a perfect day.) Even the caretaker, Miss Peregrine, is a Peculiar; she has the ability to manipulate time and transform into a falcon, hence her name.

Riggs’s descriptive and cinematic prose easily serves as a storyboard-in-prose for his wide-ranging settings, from suburban Florida to a fog-shrouded isle. Yet the movie’s production design comes off as a literal translation of the book, and little more. Instead of using the novel as a springboard, visually the film looks like a mid-budget movie (though its cost is reportedly $110 million) with a by-the-numbers set design and an anonymous tone. Granted, Burton’s team has to compete against the book’s indelible and plentiful vintage black-and-white photographs Riggs collected at flea markets and swap meets.

Many of Burton’s films have won Academy Awards for their rich, imaginative art direction (Batman, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), and his films can also be a showcase for actors, too. Martin Landau won the best supporting actor Oscar for his heartrending portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. Michelle Pfeiffer set high claw marks as Catwoman in the otherwise misbegotten Batman Returns, and no one can accuse Johnny Depp of playing it safe in his over-the-top turns (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). But in his new film, Burton leaves his juvenile actors on their own, adrift, or more appropriately, orphaned.

Eva Green as Miss Peregrine (Photo: Leah Gallo)

Eva Green as Miss Peregrine (Photo: Leah Gallo).

The proceedings are intermittently stirred by Eva Green as the kind but firm, pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine, decked out in heavy silk—her character has been described by Burton as “Scary Poppins.” Additionally, Samuel L. Jackson provides moments of humor as a shapeshifting villain. But relying on a too-understated, blank demeanor, Asa Butterfield’s blasé Jake saunters throughout without really taking notice of his surroundings. (Jake discovers he’s a Peculiar, too, and no, he’s not a somnambulist, at least not intentionally.) The energy level in most of the interactions with Jake and the Peculiars remains low as they slog through the extensive exposition. Not that the characters have a lot of depth (even if audiences view the movie in 3-D); the orphans are cursorily introduced, known mainly for their traits.

What eccentricities the makeshift family of youngsters may have, they and everyone else running around this island are swallowed up by the expansive machinations of the plot. This includes the story line of the rapacious and murderous Hollows, a renegade offshoot of the Peculiars who are on the search for the ingredient to everlasting life: the ingestion of the younger Peculiars’ eyeballs.

The overstuffed narrative culminates on the boardwalk of modern-day Blackpool, a British holiday destination that has seen better days, for a battle between the Hollows and the Peculiars set within a carnival show. The climax calls to mind the setting of another book-to-film adaptation and franchise launcher that fizzled, though it, too, featured a starry cast: 2009’s Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

Directed by Tim Burton
127 min.
Rated PG-13

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MI Teens Raise Suicide Awareness in Library Project Fri, 30 Sep 2016 18:08:58 +0000 suicide-prevention_branch-display

A “You Matter” suicide prevention awareness display at the Farmington (MI) Community Library. Photos courtesy of Jennie Willard

On the evening of August 22, 2016, 26 teens gathered on the front lawn of the downtown branch of the Farmington (MI) Community Library (FCL), armed with spray paint and acrylic paint, brushes, and duct tape. Some spray paint ended up on the grass and people’s fingers, but most of it was used to decorate and transform 29 old phones. Put on display at the library and around the community, these phones became bright symbols of communication, hope—and suicide prevention awareness.

suicide-prevention_heart-phoneIt all began when Mary Carleton, coordinator of technology at FCL, which serves the towns of Farmington and Farmington Hills, gave me a call. She was deep in the process of upgrading the library’s phone systems, and she had run into a roadblock: the existing phones were too old to be sold or even donated, and she couldn’t stand the thought of them going into a trash heap.  She knows I’m always on the lookout for new and out-of-the-ordinary projects for my teens, and she wondered if I could use the phones for something crafty.

I still don’t know why I said what I did that day. Suicide prevention awareness has been prevalent the past few years, from memes shared around social media to the 2015 Oscar short film winner The Phone Call, about a suicide prevention hotline operator and one of her callers. But none of that was consciously on my mind when I suggested that the teens paint the phones for suicide awareness—just the sense that it was the right decision.

I started researching suicide awareness events and discovered that they occur in September, which is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The timing worked well for our project, and more importantly, I realized just how important suicide prevention awareness is:

  • Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among young people ages 10–24; the second-leading cause among those ages 25–34; and the 10th leading cause overall in the United States.
  • We lose an estimated 22 veterans to suicide every single day.
  • In this past year alone, more than 42,000 lives were lost to suicide, and it’s estimated that for every suicide, there are 25 attempts.

At that point, it became even more important to host this project.

suicide-prevention_writing-messagesMary offered to donate the paint; I picked a day and started advertising the Phone Painting Project to our Teen Advisory Board, as well as on social media. We described it as a volunteer opportunity, but most of the teens who showed up didn’t bother with school-requirement paperwork. They came to be creative, to learn new skills (spray painting needs more practice than you realize), and most of all, to make a difference.

Nearly half the teens who gathered for the project had lost someone to suicide or knew someone who had lost a loved one. They came to boost awareness and to spread the message: You matter.  You can not be replaced.  When that doesn’t seem true, it is 100 percent okay to call for help.

Some teens wrote messages of encouragement on the phones themselves: Live!; You are enough; Life is tough, but darling, so are you; Head up, gorgeous; Speak up; people still care about you.

suicidie_revention_phoenixOthers included the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255. Every single one of them put their energy into creating unique works of art that they hoped would be enough to catch the attention of those who are hurting—and give them a reason to reach out and talk to someone who cares.

Thanks to Ken Massey, the mayor of Farmington Hills and the head of Farmington SAFE (Suicide Awareness for Everyone), a suicide-prevention organization, the phones were displayed in both FCL branches, the Farmington Hills City Hall, the community center, and the four community high schools. Each display included the messages, plus wallet cards and information about national and local resources. Photos of the phones and the displays have been shared far beyond our community as well.

suicide-prevention_proclamationOn September 12, I was proud to be present when the teens and their creations were recognized at the Farmington Hills City Council Meeting. The teens and I were asked to say a few words about the topic. Twelve-year-old Nadia probably summed it up the best: “We designed these phones to show that people are just one call away. You don’t have to really shut everyone out. People still care about you.”

If you think a friend or family member may be considering suicide, there are resources to help you and to help you help them. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has talk, text (741741), or chat options.  Veterans and their families have dedicated support: option 1 at 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat and other resources.

Jennie Willard is a young adult librarian at the Farmington Community Library in Farmington/Farmington Hills, MI. Photos of the phones and their displays are up on the Farmington Community Library Teen Scene Facebook page.

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Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown | SLJ Review Fri, 30 Sep 2016 13:00:45 +0000 BROWN, Box. Tetris: The Games People Play. illus. by Box Brown. 253p. First Second. Oct. 2016. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781626723153.

Gr 9 Up –Brown immerses readers in the complicated origins of one of the world’s most popular video games, Tetris. Its creator, Alexey Pajitnov, was a computer scientist who became obsessed with how games and puzzles affected human psychology. Before long, Pajitnov became caught up in a prototype he’d designed based on a childhood game and shared it with [...]]]> redstarBROWN, Box. Tetris: The Games People Play. illus. by Box Brown. 253p. First Second. Oct. 2016. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781626723153.

tetrisGr 9 Up –Brown immerses readers in the complicated origins of one of the world’s most popular video games, Tetris. Its creator, Alexey Pajitnov, was a computer scientist who became obsessed with how games and puzzles affected human psychology. Before long, Pajitnov became caught up in a prototype he’d designed based on a childhood game and shared it with his friends. Soon all of Moscow was consumed by what would eventually be called “the game that escaped the USSR.” The art style is reminiscent of the Cyanide and Happiness comic but whimsical in tone. It also cleverly mimics the structure of Tetris itself: straightforward and engaging, without any extra bells and whistles. With the recent Nintendo release of the hit cell phone game Pokémon Go, this title is a timely explanation of the origins of the gaming world, particularly when it comes to the rivalries among various gaming companies. The story resonates and will appeal to fans of Jim Ottaviani’s Feynman and Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. VERDICT This quick, thoughtful read will find an audience among teens interested in pursuing a career in video game design or those who wonder just how video games like Tetris have spread like wildfire.–Chantalle Uzan, New York Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2016 issue.

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From Pop-Up to App, “With a Few Bricks” | Touch and Go Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:35:09 +0000 Pat the Bunny was one of the first interactive books to make the leap to the iPad; others have followed. Here's one from Vincent Godeau. ]]>  

SLJ‘s reviewer Chris Gustafson makes an excellent point in her review of Vincent Godeau’s With a Few Bricks: in many ways pop-ups are the ideal books to transform into apps. Godeau’s, of course, isn’t the only interactive book to become an app. Touch and Go’s first review was of the iPad version of Dorothy Kunhardt’s classic, Pat the Bunny. And David Carter, paper engineer extraordinaire, was one of the first to experiment with apps. But interactivity is only half of the story; does Godeau build one that will appeal to kids with his bricks?



Vincent Godeau’s With a Few Bricks was originally published as a pop-up book (L’Agrume). It’s now an app (Cléa Dieudonné, iOS, Free; K-Gr 5), and it’s an elegant idea. Fragile pop-ups beg to be touched and are easily damaged by young readers, while apps are all about touching and transformation. Bright colors and simple shapes welcome users to this story and navigation is easy: children can choose to read it in a linear fashion or skip about. Each of the 10 chapters includes a few lines of text, an image, and a clear description of how to interact with the image, plus coaching should users make mistakes. Ambient sounds and a pulsating track enhances the experience and heightens the tension.

However, the story may be a hard one for children to grasp. It begins with a boy eating bricks, reveals a metaphorical castle inside the boy, which he floods with his tears, and includes a rather alarming section describing the boy’s heart growing so big that it becomes difficult for him to breathe. Translation of the story from the French original seems hurried; in the English language version incorrect grammar and misspelled words abound. (A Dutch versions is also available.)

The interactions on each screen vary in difficulty.  On the opening screen, viewers must draw a rectangle quite precisely; a four-year-old test user was quickly frustrated, although able to successfully complete all the other tasks in the app. A nine-year-old was intrigued only by all the ways that the bricks could be drawn incorrectly so that the story could not continue, while a six-year-old  managed all the tasks but did not connect them with the story.

Children may enjoy using this app a few times but it will not engage their interest for long.— Chris Gustafson, formally of Whitman Middle School, Seattle School District, WA.

Screen from With a Few Bricks (Cléa Dieudonné ) Vincent Godeau

Screen from With a Few Bricks (Cléa Dieudonné) Vincent Godeau




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Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet | SLJ Review Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:00:09 +0000 SWEET, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White. illus. by Melissa Sweet. 176p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544319592. POP

Gr 3-7 –Throughout his life, E.B. White (1899–1985) divided his time between New York City and Belgrade Lakes in Maine. He drew inspiration for his books from the bucolic setting near author Sweet’s own home and studio. Readers and writers will relate to stories of White’s childhood—he was “scrawny” and “fearful” [...]]]> redstarSWEET, Melissa. Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White. illus. by Melissa Sweet. 176p. bibliog. chron. index. notes. photos. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544319592. POP

some-writerGr 3-7 –Throughout his life, E.B. White (1899–1985) divided his time between New York City and Belgrade Lakes in Maine. He drew inspiration for his books from the bucolic setting near author Sweet’s own home and studio. Readers and writers will relate to stories of White’s childhood—he was “scrawny” and “fearful” but in love with words. As a child, he contributed short pieces to magazines, winning awards for his studies of nature, dogs, and his family. Some of his youthful creations, such as essays, poetry, and a handmade brochure, are included. Readers may be surprised to find that “Andy” spent his adult years at The New Yorker working with writers like John Updike and James Thurber and that his most ubiquitous book may actually be The Elements of Style. Much of the information on White’s adulthood is organized in the volume by his major children’s publications. Portions of handwritten and typed drafts of Charlotte’s Web will serve as inspiration for young writers. The book is illustrated in Sweet’s signature watercolor and collage, which incorporates wood and hardware, vintage office supplies, and quotes from White. Detailed tableaux invite careful inspection and reward readers with connections to the subject’s work. Photos of the author and the animals upon which he based his stories will delight readers. In addition to providing carefully chosen words and beautiful illustrations, the biography serves as a stealthy introduction to primary source material, and for the teacher librarian, the text is a rich source of nonfiction features, including a how-to on using a manual typewriter. An afterword by White’s granddaughter is an added bonus. VERDICT Drop everything and share widely.–Deidre Winterhalter, Niles Public Library, IL

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2016 issue.

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SLJ Controversial Book Survey: Data and Findings Wed, 28 Sep 2016 19:59:30 +0000 RETURN TO THE SELF-CENSORSHIP LANDING PAGE


Read SLJ‘s 2016 Controversial Books Survey report, exploring self-censorship among school librarians.

Please fill out the short form below to download this report as a PDF.


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At the Intersection of Libraries and Museums Wed, 28 Sep 2016 19:54:33 +0000  

Holzweiss and her students getting ready to explore their "footlocker"

Holzweiss and her students getting ready to explore their “footlocker.”


Libraries and museums…what a perfect combination! Both are established to educate patrons with curated resources. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums in the United States. Access to authentic documents and artifacts can transform lessons into rich, engaging learning experiences for students of all ages. Presenting history, science, art, music, and other subjects through immediate contact with objects that they can touch helps students develop emotional connections to learning. Facts and figures become tangible when we understand the human stories in our history. Seeing Susan B. Anthony’s alligator purse, standing in the cellar of Edgar Allan Poe’s home, and touching the inner framework of the Statue of Liberty are indelible moments that I will never forget, even if the dates in history and specific lines of poetry escape my mind.

Who could forget show-and-tell day in kindergarten? That simple exercise supports storytelling, presentation, listening, and questioning techniques. Field trips to museums and cultural arts presentations, though often cut from school budgets when funds get tight, are integral to personal development, empathy, and the appreciation of creative expression. For librarians promoting information literacy and evaluation of resources, these places are fertile grounds for incorporating primary sources in lessons and activities.

Visiting your local museum

One of Holzweiss's students makes a friend at Beaverwood Farm.

One of Holzweiss’s students makes a friend at BeaverWood Farm in Swan Lake, NY.

The best, albeit most expensive, way to enjoy all that cultural institutions have to offer is to visit it, of course. Schools in metropolitan areas are fortunate because of their proximity to art galleries, planetariums, botanical gardens, children’s museums, and even aquariums and zoos. Many places have group rates and special prices for schools, while some even have free visiting times. However, sometimes a similar learning experience can be found in your own backyard. Consider your local historical society, newspaper plant, factory, pet store, and even supermarket. Two field trips that my students enjoyed were to a friend’s farm in upstate New York and to an “automotive teaching museum.” Our students, from a diverse suburban district, were as excited to ride a horse and milk a cow as they were to see an original DeLorean from the ”Back to the Future” franchise.

Once you arrive, how can you maximize your visit? This past summer, I brought my three young children to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY. I can appreciate seeing Charles Lindbergh’s first plane, the first postcard delivered by airmail, and aeronautical toys from my childhood. With iPads in their hands, the students explored the exhibitions through an impromptu scavenger hunt to discover propellers, jet engines, historical maps, and newspaper clippings. What did they do with those pictures when we came home? They made videos using ChatterPix and Animoto apps. Older children can use photos as backgrounds in green screen movies with the Do Ink app. What did I do with my pictures? I created a Google album and shared them with teachers to make history of flight-themed Breakout EDU games.

Holzweiss's class enjoys a demo from an expert at the Autoseum on Long Island.

Holzweiss’s class enjoys a demo from an expert at the Autoseum on Long Island.

Bring the museum to your school

If you can’t take your students to a museum, there are a variety of ways for you to bring the experience to them. While visiting one on your own, imagine yourself as a tour guide for your students, taking pictures and videos to share with them. Using a 3-D imaging app, you can take pictures that they can view in Google Cardboard for a virtual reality experience. Stop by the gift shop for books, postcards, kits, and toys related to the museum. Don’t forget to ask for multiple copies of free brochures, flyers, maps, and guides. Attend any professional development seminars and classes the institution may offer for additional resources and photo opportunities.

Museum websites are also rich in information. For instance, the Anne Frank Museum Amsterdam has an interactive website that includes images and videos. Download educator and student guides for lesson ideas, hands-on activities, and worksheets. Some institutes have virtual field trip and video conferencing programs. With Google Hangouts and Skype, you might also be able to connect with artists, scientists, and authors. Or, you might even be fortunate enough to have a curator or a representative from a nearby museum visit your school. Holocaust survivors visit schools on Long Island to tell their stories through an outreach program of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County. Consider participating in the Take a Veteran to School Day program by HISTORY to acknowledge the sacrifices of your local heroes, while experiencing their stories firsthand.

Another worthwhile way of bringing an institution to your class is the Operation Footlocker program, through the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. For $75, they will send you a trunk filled with 15 authentic artifacts from World War II and a prepaid return shipping label. For an entire week your classes may examine (with white cotton gloves, à la Nicolas Cage in National Treasure) fascinating relics such as ration books, dog tags, and sand from the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. Our footlocker included a cardboard license plate and a pair of U.S. Army-issued boxer shorts! A teacher’s manual that describes each object is included.

What’s old is new again

With the growing interest in manufacturing, “autopsies” and “dissections” of appliances are giving new life to old objects. Through taking unwanted appliances apart, students can learn about the mechanisms that make things work. Visit garage and estate sales, browse through Craigslist ads, and walk the aisles of Goodwill and other thrift stores to find VCRs, sewing machines, film projectors, and toys. A display of these items will be sure to attract your curious students. A rusting typewriter and a cassette player are popular among my students, and a vintage camera transforms a lesson about turn of the century technological inventions into a teachable moment. There are enough places where artifacts are kept pristine under glass. Our library collection is a “Please Touch” exhibition for all to explore with wonder.

Denny Daniel and his traveling Museum of Interesting Things exhibit. Photo by Norman Blake

Denny Daniel and his traveling Museum of Interesting Things exhibit. Photo by Norman Blake

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Denny Daniel, curator and exhibitor of the Museum of Interesting Things, a demonstration of vintage toys, technology, and ephemera that travels to schools and events. He was kind enough to lend us a suitcase full of artifacts for our Students of Long Island Maker Expo. With a ballot from Lincoln’s election in his wallet and a piece of a World War II enigma machine in his pocket, he acquires items from antique shops, Internet auctions, and flea markets. “Many donations are from sweet people who wanted their family heirlooms to teach kids forever. Sometimes my neighbors will leave things at my door for the museum collection,” says Daniel.

His organization’s mission is to teach kids to be curious about the world around them and, therefore, to tinker. It is another resource for bringing the “museum” directly to your students. Daniel visits libraries as well as school, and he found his first presentation at one to be an enlightening experience. “Through the media, we are told that the digital revolution has made libraries obsolete. Because of this, I was expecting a few senior citizens,” admits Daniels. “But there were more people in that library than I had ever presented to in all my life! Nine years later I have visited dozens of libraries, and have seen the same thing. I also saw that libraries have incredible programming, from lectures to lessons to movies and more. Libraries today are the incubator, educator, babysitter, and almost the parents to the next generation. I realize now that libraries are more important today than they ever were before.”

Kristina Holzweiss is the school library media specialist at Bay Shore (NY) Middle School and SLJ‘s 2015 School Librarian of the Year. 

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Banned Books Are Often Diverse Books. Check the Stats. Wed, 28 Sep 2016 19:16:50 +0000 knox_headshot

Emily Knox

This year’s Banned Books Week theme, diverse books, has been on my mind for some time.  As Jamie LaRue, director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, has noted, defining diversity is difficult.  However, the definition used by the organization We Need Diverse Books is succinct and inclusive: “We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”

A new report from PEN America also explores book challenges and the lack of diversity in children’s literature. My own research  focuses on intellectual freedom and censorship and, as I noted in an SLJ post last September, around half of the news alerts I receive about book challenges concern titles that center on diverse characters.

The trend of targeting diverse materials has continued in 2016, with challenges to books such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower (MTV Books, 1999) and Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress (Groundwood , 2014). The high number of challenges to these books is notable because there so few diverse books published in the first place. Data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center shows  that titles by and about people of color constituted only 25 percent of the 3,400 books received by the center in 2015.

A study conducted in 2014 by Malinda Lo, an author and co-founder of Diversity in YA, showed that challengers often target diverse boWoks in public institutions. Over the past year, I began researching why these books are subjected to more challenges than non-diverse books.

One of my research questions focuses on the stated reasons for challenging diverse books and the relationship of these reasons to the diversity of the characters. I decided to start with the ALA’s annual top 10 challenged book lists from 2001–2015.  Twenty-nine diverse books appear a total of sixty-three times on these lists.

I found that many of the reasons given for the challenges centered on topics that were essential to the diverse characters in the titles.

knox_160930_webFor example, of the 63 challenges, 10 were because the title in question depicted “racism.” These included I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Bantam, 1969), Fallen Angels (Scholastic, 1983), Whale Talk (Laurel Leaf, 2001), and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, 2007).  Twenty-five challenges targeted books for depicting “homosexuality,” including The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Alyson, 2000).

These  were challenged for reasons intrinsic to their subject matter.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou’s well-known memoir, describes her childhood in the Jim Crow south.  Revolutionary Voices is a book that will, by definition, include homosexuality. This is a somewhat obvious statement, of course, but the fact that these books were challenged for being about diversity implies that these topics are inherently controversial.

I also found the three most frequently stated reasons for challenging diverse books: for containing offensive language (36 instances), being sexually explicit (35 instances), and being unsuited for age group (36 instances). As I wrote in my own book on challenges, Book Banning in 21st Century America (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), these familiar reasons seem to be related to the nature of truth and realism in fiction and to what extent fiction, especially fiction for youth, should mirror the human experience. These challenges ask us to consider the place of naturalistic fiction in the juvenile and teen sections of the public library or in the school curriculum.

Diverse books, by definition, center on the experiences of people who are not dominant in society, and it is not surprising that these stories will often include experiences that may make the reader uncomfortable in some way. It makes sense that a coming-of-age novel that centers on a teenage, Native American boy, such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, will include racism, offensive language, and sex. These books speak to the human condition.

I plan to continue researching why diverse books are targeted for challenges. An upcoming book I am editing about trigger warnings will touch on this topic, as I am concerned that media about diverse characters will be disproportionately given such labels. It is often difficult for people to express how the practice of reading affects them. My hope is that this research will help us understand why challengers target certain books and enable us provide the best possible responses when this happens.

Emily Knox, an assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of Book Banning in 21st Century America, was awarded the Illinois Library Association Intellectual Freedom Award and was named a WISE Instructor of the Year in 2015. She is on the board of the Freedom to Read Foundation and the National Coalition Against Censorship.

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Why toys should be in every children’s department—and how to make it happen | First Steps Wed, 28 Sep 2016 16:28:26 +0000 I never thought that toys would be a polarizing topic, yet here we are. Librarians either love them or strongly disagree with their placement in children’s rooms. Today’s children’s librarians have the challenge of catering not only to school-age children but to their younger siblings as well. Large oak tables and straight-back chairs are not going to say “Welcome!” to a toddler, but a well-placed wooden puzzle, or blocks set out in a corner, will.

1609-firststeps-playThe value of toys

Early-learning research over the last 20 years has revealed staggering concepts. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education, 90 percent of the brain’s capacity is developed by age five, with the most significant development occurring from birth to three years old. Reading, talking, and singing to young children are key components of brain development. Writing, or in the case of toddlers and preschoolers, scribbling, also fires brain synapses.

What about play? It imparts cognitive, physical, and social skills to children. The Association for Library Service to Children and the Public Library Association agree that play is as important as reading and writing to brain development. Playing is one of the five main components of their joint initiative, Every Child Ready to Read ( That’s a strong argument to bring to administrators who say toys and libraries don’t mix.

Easy ways to support play

You can integrate play and early learning in several ways. Certainly play-based programming alongside the more traditional storytime sessions signifies to the community that play is important. Adding a table small enough for preschoolers to your department shows that little ones are welcome. Rotated puzzles or cookie sheets with magnetic shapes or letters on top are inviting to tots and caregivers. Just make sure that loose pieces aren’t choking hazards. (They need to be too big to fit through a toilet paper tube.)

We routinely create spaces for specialized users, such as teens. We need to make sure that we have a space, even if small, for families with young children.

Ideas for small spaces

No room for a puppet theater? Find a spot in which a small tension rod will fit, perhaps between rows of picture book shelving, and clothespin a dish towel to either side for theater curtains. Put puppets in a small basket. Voilá!

Take half of the books on a lower shelf in the corner of the board or picture book area and display them. (Bonus: increased circulation.) Fill a clear bin with toys, such as soft blocks, push toys, stacking cups, or recycled plastic containers, and stash it on the shelf. You can also use those bins to create themed take-home learning kits. STEM is a good theme. Another one? Nature. Fill a bin with child-friendly binoculars, a sketchbook, chunky crayons, and a shovel and pail. Tie reading and play together by tucking in related titles already in your collection. Dinosaurs are always a hit. Many catalogs sell soft dinosaur toys.

Mess minimizers

A big objection to toys in the library is cleanliness. I get it. Libraries are fairly rule-based institutions, so when a collection is added, guidelines are expected to come with it. Who’ll pick up the toys? Clean them? How? Who’ll redo puzzles each night and hunt for missing pieces? It’s hard to create rules at the outset. Instead, live with the toys for a bit, and notice patterns of use. Hang a sign that reads, “Thank You for Tidying Up” to signal the expectation to patrons.

A little dirt never hurt anyone. Yes, toys that are visibly grimy should be washed. But when patrons—or staff—question the cleanliness of public toys, remind them that picture books are no different. Books can carry germs just like toys do, but I’ve yet to work in a facility where book covers are cleaned regularly.

Now excuse me while I go play with empty Tupperware, 1978-style.

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A Gallery of Artists’ Biographies | Focus On Wed, 28 Sep 2016 13:00:48 +0000 1609-fo-gallery1

Teachers and librarians know that if they provide students of any age with art supplies, they need only observe what happens next. Kids instinctively understand what to do when given paper, crayons, markers, paints, scissors, glue, stickers, and the like. Even very small children seem to have an innate need to create art. Some adults may be incredulous that little ones possess “artistic vision.” These grown-ups also may not realize how important it is for young children to develop those all-important small muscles in the hands and fingers; manipulating art implements allows this to happen. Making art at any age promotes creative thinking, problem-solving, visual literacy, and hand-eye coordination, and develops understanding of spatial relationships—not to mention an aesthetic sense and appreciation of color, composition, and style.

Encouraging students to create their own art is a great idea; indeed, research shows that youngsters who make art improve academically. Children also need to develop an appreciation for great artwork through museum visits and books about art and artists. Learning about the lives and personal and artistic challenges these people faced can be eye-opening and might also suggest readers’ kinship with these creative individuals. For many artists whose biographies are cited, love of art and the passion to engage in it blossomed in childhood. In numerous cases, genuine skill was evident early on; in some happy instances, parents and others recognized the young creators’ aptitudes and supported their ambitions. For others, the development of artistic talent and/or opportunities took longer; amazingly, some made their first artistic forays well into adulthood, even old age. These books tell important, inspiring stories for readers of all ages. Moreover, the nature of these artists’ works and/or their media will provide excellent springboards into students’ own creative explorations.

Elementary Grades

BENSON, Kathleen. Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews. illus. by Benny Andrews. HMH. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544104877.
Gr 2-4–Dynamic, life-affirming paintings represent Benny Andrews as a “people’s painter” interested in capturing the true African American experience. Andrews’s story is uplifting and inspiring; born in 1930, he began making art in childhood, drawing upon observations of real people and life events and, later, on memories, to create elegant, idiosyncratic, and deeply personal works.

BURLEIGH, Robert. Edward Hopper Paints His World. illus. by Wendell Minor. Holt. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805087529
Gr 3-5–In a graceful narrative text, Burleigh notes Edward Hopper’s passion for art from earliest childhood. Throughout, readers are helped to understand that the artist’s atmospheric paintings raise intriguing questions. Appealing illustrations are reminiscent of Hopper’s, as Minor acknowledges the master’s influence. A few reproductions of Hopper’s works are included.

EHLERT, Lois. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. illus. by author. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442435711; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442435728.
Gr 1-4–Ehlert presents a scrapbook brimming with her signature eye-popping colors, illustrations, and photos and the odds and ends she uses to create her brilliant collages. The artist explains how she finds and develops her ideas and brings them to fruition. A masterly invitation to spark students’ creativity.

1609-fo-gallery2ENGLE, Margarita. The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist. illus. by Aliona Bereghici. Amazon/Two Lions. 2015. Tr $17.99. 9781477826331.
K-Gr 3–In this picture book biography, lyrical free-verse poems, presented in Louis Fuertes’s imagined voice and enriched by delicate watercolor-and-ink illustrations, embody the artist’s constant state of awe in the presence of birds. Inspired by John James Audubon, Fuertes became a painter of birds, but he immortalized them without taking their lives. The accurate bird illustrations are labeled.

FRIEDMAN, Samantha. Matisse’s Garden. illus. by Cristina Amodeo. The Museum of Modern Art. 2014. spiral. $19.95. ISBN 9780870709104.
Gr 1-3–
The creative processes Henri Matisse employed creating his cut-paper artworks are charmingly explained. Vivid illustrations, fittingly rendered in cutout style, exude sheer joy, and three brilliant gatefolds reproduce a few of the artist’s masterpieces. For another early-grade look at Matisse, see Jeanette Winter’s Henri’s Scissors. Winter makes “drawing with scissors” exciting and incorporates her versions of some of Matisse’s cutouts.

HILL, Laban Carrick. Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. illus. by Bryan Collier. Little, Brown. 2010. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316107310.
K-Gr 4–Earthy illustrations capture the painstaking endeavors of a talented, enslaved 19th-century craftsman and poet; one foldout highlights clay-stained hands. This remarkable account, based on fact, focuses on artistry, not enslavement, affording Dave long-withheld dignity. Though some pots survive, much of his history is lost. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

HOPKINSON, Deborah. Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig. illus. by Charlotte Voake. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385373258; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780385373265.
Gr 1-4–To paint a guinea pig, Beatrix Potter borrowed a neighbor’s prized specimen. Sadly, it died after feasting on paper, string, and paste. Hopkinson’s whimsical tone is enlivened by Voake’s breezy watercolors in this “picture letter” that recalls how Potter’s early stories took shape. Also see David McPhail’s Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box. Child-appealing anecdotes and cozy watercolor-and-ink illustrations enhance this portrait.

MACLACHLAN, Patricia. The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse. illus. by Hadley Hooper. Roaring Brook. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596439481.
Gr 1-4–The illustrations brighten as the text—two lengthy sentences about Henri the boy—proceeds, foreshadowing the vibrant paintings and cutouts the adult artist would produce. Given the colorful themes and patterns he encountered in youth, his development into the mature Matisse was inevitable. A dreamy quality suffuses the prose.

1609-fo-gallery3MARKEL, Michelle. The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. illus. by Amanda Hall. Eerdmans. 2012. Tr $17. ISBN 9780802853646.
PreS-Gr 3–Children’s innate fairness will have them rooting for Henri Rousseau, who was often critically reviled yet eventually succeeded. Told in present tense, this lyrical, comical tale is a cheerful introduction to an artist who “starts painting” at age 40. Gorgeous watercolor-and-acrylic paintings, excellent versions of Rousseau’s own, are filled with delightful details to savor.

RODRIGUEZ, Rachel. Through Georgia’s Eyes. illus. by Julie Paschkis. Holt. 2006. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780805077407.
Gr 1-4–Acrylic-print collages, teeming with vivid colors, patterns, and shapes, translate Georgia O’Keeffe’s style and reflect the openness and majesty of the desert. Enlivening the lyrical, present-tense text, the illustrations convey the idea that “paint [spoke] for her.” For O’Keeffe, beauty and wonder were everywhere—a powerful message for budding young artists.

ROSENSTOCK, Barb. Dorothea’s Eyes: Doro­thea Lange Photographs the Truth. illus. by Gerard DuBois. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781629792088.
Gr 2-5–Spare, heartfelt text reveals that even as a girl, Dorothea Lange believed herself an outsider. Her respectful, unobtrusive curiosity, as well as a physical impairment stemming from childhood polio, made those she captured on film feel at ease and helped her immerse herself in their world. The illustrations have a dreamy, old-fashioned quality.

ROSENSTOCK, Barb. The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art. illus by Mary GrandPré. Knopf. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780307978486.
Gr 1-4–Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky “heard” colors. Whimsical illustrations, even typefaces, dance and soar to demonstrate how he experienced sensory stimuli in more than one way simultaneously. The lively text clarifies that the artist painted abstractly in order to hear his vibrant colors in the most delightful, musically satisfying way.

STEPTOE, Javaka. Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. illus. by author. Little, Brown. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316213882.
Gr 1-4–Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Steptoe drew inspiration from NYC streets, blending his own style with that of the 1980s wunderkind. Re-creating the famed street artist’s methods, materials, and free-spirited graffiti look, Steptoe’s paintings are robust, dynamic, and filled with color and action; his dynamic present-tense text evokes a sense of urgency.

TATE, Don. It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started To Draw. illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Lee & Low. 2012. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781600602603.
Gr 3-5–Considered one of the most important self-taught artists of the 20th century, Bill Traylor (1854–1949) began drawing—at age 85—while destitute and homeless in Alabama. Using rudimentary supplies, he relied on his vast store of memories to create art. Traylor’s quotes and Christie’s folkloric illustrations enrich the telling. Poignant and unforgettable.

TONATIUH, Duncan. Diego Rivera: His World and Ours. illus. by author. Abrams. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780810997318.
K-Gr 3–Diego Rivera would have rejoiced at Tonatiuh’s pre-Columbian-style paintings, reflecting both artists’ love of Mexican history, heritage, and culture—and their mutual passion for blending traditional and modern artistic styles and motifs. The straightforward, informative text asks readers these questions: What would Rivera paint today? How would he depict contemporary society?

TONATIUH, Duncan. Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. illus. by author. Abrams. 2015. Tr $8.95. ISBN 9781419716478.
Gr 3-6–Pre-Columbian-style art befits this account of José Guadalupe Posada, engraver of calaveras, the images of skulls and skeletons that remain iconic Day of the Dead symbols. Explanations and illustrations of Posada’s techniques, inclusion of Spanish words, and details about the holiday make this title an important artistic and cultural touchstone.

1609-fo-gallery4WHITEHEAD, Kathy. Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter. illus. by Shane W. Evans. Putnam. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399242199.
K-Gr 3–Evans’s charming, mixed-media, folkloric paintings evoke Clementine Hunter’s self-taught style. A conversational tone conveys the inspirational story of this gifted woman who lived on a Louisiana plantation and made art from the 1940s to 1980s. Shockingly, Hunter was once barred from attending one of her own exhibitions.

WING, Natasha. An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers. illus. by Julia Breckenreid. Holt. 2009. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780805080728.
Gr 3-6–The imaginative cover will draw readers in, and they’ll stay for this well-told story, enhanced by quirky illustrations, about an unusual artist whose experimentations with color interactions and squares will inspire students’ creativity. Concepts are clearly explained through diagrams and text, and five activities in the back matter will surely excite readers.

WINTER, Jeanette. Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes. illus. by author. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442499003.
PreS-Gr 2– Born in 1903, Joseph Cornell, a reclusive salesman, lived much of his life in Queens, NY. In shadow boxes, he fashioned miniature worlds based on dreams, memories, and observations. Cornell regarded children as his primary audience, and his final exhibition welcomed a child-only guest list. Simply, sweetly told and illustrated.

WINTER, Jonah. Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! illus. by Kevin Hawkes. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. 2012. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780545132916.
Gr 2-5–Bold paintings, some of which are versions of Pablo Picasso’s, complement energetic text and embody young Picasso’s defiance and adventurous creativity. Unusual design elements—e.g., Picasso bursting through a page and his steady glare on the title page and back cover—enhance reading fun and help the artist spring to life.

Middle School & Up

BURLEIGH, Robert. George Bellows: Painter with a Punch! Abrams. 2012. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781419701665.
Gr 5-8–The first-person text is as vigorous as the paintings by this early 20th-century artist who found beauty in New York City reality—tenements, city streets, and, most notably, the boxing ring. This energetic portrayal and the gritty, action-packed paintings will encourage students to scour their own environments, seeking exciting artistic inspiration in everyday life.

PARTRIDGE, Elizabeth. Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning. Chronicle. 2013. Tr $50. ISBN 9781452122168.
Gr 8 Up–Partridge, Dorothea Lange’s goddaughter, introduces the famed chronicler of the Great Depression in an excellent biographical essay. Compassion pervades Lange’s groundbreaking photos, taken mid-20th century. Her illuminating captions set the photos in context; some also feature commentaries taken from copious notes she recorded on jaunts around the United States and the world.

PLAIN, Nancy. This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon. University of Nebraska. 2015. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9780803248847.
Gr 7 Up–Exquisite reproductions from John James Audubon’s The Birds of America enrich this excellent account of the naturalist’s life, career, and techniques. Readers will come away with real respect for all that this French immigrant accomplished and what a massive undertaking his book was. Audubon was a visionary and a pioneer in more ways than one.

1609-fo-gallery5REEF, Catherine. Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life. Clarion. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780547821849.
Gr 7 Up–Inextricably linked, these icons flourished together; their artistic and emotional impact on each other was enormous. This wonderful dual biography compares and contrasts the artists and explains how social, historical, and political forces influenced their lives and output. Superb reproductions of their paintings are included.

RUBIN, Susan Goldman. Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People. Abrams. 2013. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9780810984110.
Gr 5-8–Love of and pride in Mexican history and culture shaped Diego Rivera’s outlook on life, politics, and art. This well-written account establishes Rivera as an artist of enormous impact in his own right and includes excellent reproductions of his and other artists’ works. Attractive design elements add to the visual appeal.

RUBIN, Susan Goldman. Everybody Paints: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family. Chronicle. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780811869843.
Gr 6-9–Opening with the accomplishments of patriarch N.C., this account describes his influence on son Andrew, then establishes the impact of both artists on Andrew’s son Jamie, all among the most gifted painters America has produced since the end of the 19th century. Numerous quotes and excellent reproductions are highlights.

SAY, Allen. Drawing from Memory. illus. by author. Scholastic. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545176866.
Gr 5 Up–Say embarked on his career as a young teen during World War II. Mentored by Noro Shinpei, the most renowned Japanese cartoonist of the period, he developed as an artist and person. Illustrated with Say’s marvelous drawings and cartoons, often displayed comic book–style, this is a must for graphic novel– and manga-loving readers.

goldman-carol-contrib-webCarol Goldman is Children’s Librarian at the Forest Hills Branch of Queens (NY) Library.

Digital Picks

Art for Kids Hub. Art for Kids Hub. Pleasant Grove, UT. (Accessed 7/21/16)
PreK-Gr 5– Kid-friendly videos, featuring the site host Rob (Mr. Hubs) and his three children, provide instruction on easy-to-replicate art projects using various media. Searchable by category or age level. An ad-free version is available for a monthly fee.

Color with Leo. Silva Animation Studio, Inc. (Accessed 7/21/16)
PreK-Gr 3– A “young Leonardo” guides students through interactive games and activities as they learn the principles of art. Parents and teachers can download free lessons, activities, and coloring pages. Also includes many artists’ biographies.

Exploring Leo. Museum of Science. Boston, MA. (Accessed 7/21/16)
Gr 5 Up– Through extensive and fascinating online activities, students learn about the life and career of Leonardo da Vinci as well as his paintings, inventions, and scientific studies. Includes a collection of lesson plans with classroom activities.

NGAkids Art Zone. National Gallery of Art. Washington, DC. (Accessed 7/21/16)
Gr 4 Up– Students can explore the National Gallery of Art collections, create an assortment of artworks online, and even furnish a Dutch “dollhouse” straight out of a 17th-century painting. Also available as a free iPad app, “suitable for all age groups” but “optimized for ages 9 through 11.”

Smarthistory. Smarthistory. (Accessed 7/9/16)
Gr 7 Up– Cofounded by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, both former deans of art and history at Khan Academy, this not-for-profit website is an excellent, browsable resource for the study of art history and cultural heritage. Videos and essays cover art from prehistory to the present day and include numerous eye-popping close-ups of many artworks.

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Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler | SLJ Review Wed, 28 Sep 2016 13:00:32 +0000 HOEFLER, Kate. Real Cowboys. illus. by Jonathan Bean. 32p. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544148925.

PreS-Gr 3 –Hoefler takes readers into the daily lives of cowboys. Almost every page turn reveals a different personality trait or behavior, from being “quiet in the morning, careful not to wake the people…in the hollow” to being “strong, and tough, and homesick at the same time.” Her portrayal shows skilled and sensitive caretakers who sing to calm the cattle or help them [...]]]> redstarHOEFLER, Kate. Real Cowboys. illus. by Jonathan Bean. 32p. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544148925.

real-cowboysPreS-Gr 3 –Hoefler takes readers into the daily lives of cowboys. Almost every page turn reveals a different personality trait or behavior, from being “quiet in the morning, careful not to wake the people…in the hollow” to being “strong, and tough, and homesick at the same time.” Her portrayal shows skilled and sensitive caretakers who sing to calm the cattle or help them sleep. Always alert to danger and environmental cues, they communicate with other cowhands and their dogs to try to keep their herds safe and to prevent stampedes. When they lose an animal, “real cowboys cry.” Bean employs stylized, hand-stenciled shapes in muted, digitally composed scenes. Various shades of brown, depicting the cattle, soil, and other elements, are worked (along with white) into a controlled palette of turquoise, mustard yellow, and orange-red; these colors appear individually or in combination. The moods range from tense—when a dust storm pelts the fleeing animals—to cheerful, when, in a red-and-white Escher-like cattle crossing, an aspiring cowboy waves from the backseat of a car. The language is lyrical, with one or two sentences per page describing the patience and consideration exhibited by these professionals, who “are as many different colors as the earth” and “are girls, too.” VERDICT This subtle, expressionistic view may not hold the attention of children who prefer realistic art or constant action, but it provides a fresh, multidimensional glimpse at those who make their home on the range.–Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2016 issue.

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Hook Them with Historical Fiction | Adult Books 4 Teens Tue, 27 Sep 2016 19:40:12 +0000 At my library’s most recent teen service meeting, the YA librarians and I had to decide on the genres to include in our new and updated “Teen Reads” brochure—a trifold listing of book recommendations for young adults. The most overwhelmingly agreed upon genre was historical fiction—we all continue to get requests from teens who have been tasked with reading the genre by their teachers and seem to have little to no understanding of what that entails. Not all of the titles below are necessarily teacher approved—many educators would probably look askance at the alternate history, for example—but all are fantastic novels, and at the very least, they should provide some recommendations for any teen whose interest is piqued by a historical fiction assignment.

For those seeking more traditional historical fiction, we have a novel set partially in 1970s Brooklyn, a fictional runaway slave narrative set in 1850 America, a rip-roaring pirate tale based on the life of Henry Morgan, and—because how can we write about historical fiction without one?—a World War II story. Jacqueline Woodson’s 2016 National Book Award long-listed title Another Brooklyn picks up in a fictional world where her award-winning verse memoir Brown Girl Dreaming left off—and focuses on the young adulthood of a very Woodson-like character growing into a woman in Brooklyn. Expect everything we’ve come to love about the author: poetically beautiful prose, pinpoint accurate attention to detail, and starkly honest portrayals of herself and the lives of young black women. Robert Morgan’s Chasing the North Star features Jonah, another young African American coming of age, but in the much more harrowing situation of 1850s America, as he escapes from slavery and travels to the North. Fans of this new novel should take a look at Morgan’s other historical fiction, including stories of Revolution-era South Carolina and Depression- and World War II–era Appalachia.

On a more swashbuckling note, we have pirates. Robert Hough’s The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan follows the fictional Benny Wand as he is exiled from England to Jamaica, where he makes the acquaintance of one of the most famous pirates. Benny is a chess wizard and con man (not as distantly related occupations as you might think), and he uses both skills to get in good with Morgan. Hough’s close attention to the details of the 17th-century Caribbean should make this one of the more teacher-friendly titles on this list, while the high seas adventures should make it among the most teen-friendly—in other words, a perfect recommendation.

Despite my snarky comment about World War II stories, Sarah Domet’s The Guineveres is an excellent entry into that subgenre of historical works, looking at the war from a relatively new angle. Domet’s protagonists are four residents of a convent. Each young woman (named Guinevere) has a different, tragic reason for entering the convent. The war connection comes as the four tend to convalescent soldiers being housed at the convent and begin to imagine where their lives might lead if they stayed with “their” soldiers. This is a different sort of World War II story, a different sort of romance, and an intriguing debut from Domet.

Those are the straight historical novels: our other three titles include an alternate history, a time travel tale, and a mystery. Dan Vyleta’s Smoke takes place in an alternate Victorian England, in which evil thoughts have begun to physically manifest themselves as wisps of “smoke.” A fantastical premise to be sure, but Vyleta focuses less attention on fleshing out this premise and more on deep characterization of his boarding school boy protagonists. Needless to say, in the style of many a boarding school novel, adventures are thick on the ground, and the three heroes soon have more than they can handle. Fantasy, history, adventure, and a bit of philosophy mingle in this wonderful volume.

Depending on how you feel about the science of time travel, fantasy may be the central element in Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another as well. Taylor’s novel was already a hit as a self-published ebook (and already has several sequels), but now that it is finally in print, we have the chance to review it here. Fans of Connie Willis (especially The Doomsday Book) should be clamoring for this one, in which historians study the past by means of time travel. Several historical periods are visited, and much mayhem ensues. And of course teens with less than love for their history class will be tickled to be introduced to Arnold Toynbee’s famous quotation about history, quoted in Taylor’s title.

Finally, mystery fans who need to read a historical novel for class may be able to get away with reading Elly Griffiths’s Smoke and Mirrors, a novel set in 1951 England but more properly regarded as a mystery than historical fiction. This second volume in a series follows DI Edgar Stephens on a search for two missing children during Christmastime. The emphasis on England’s pantomime tradition may be at once the most confusing aspect and the best way for teens to convince their teachers they are learning something. Regardless, this is a dark, fascinating tale for mystery fans everywhere.


theguineveresDOMET, Sarah. The Guineveres. 352p. ebook available. Flatiron. Oct. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250086617.

Four teenagers, each named Guinevere, find themselves under the strict guidance of the nuns at Our Lady of Perpetual Adoration. Although they share a common name, Gwen, Ginny, Win, and Vere all have different and equally heartbreaking reasons for coming to live at the convent. The girls are guided by the dogmatic and controlling Sister Fran and the spiritually inept Father James. Sent to the convent’s convalescent wing as punishment, the young women must take care of five unidentified and comatose World War II soldiers. When one of the soldiers awakens and another girl is sent home with him to help with his recovery, each friend imagines a future with “her” soldier outside the constraints of the religious community. The Guineveres (as the girls call themselves) navigate the liminal spaces between childhood and adulthood, and faith and skepticism through the lens of broken families and intense friendships. Although those used to quick beach reads might find the pace slow, Domet’s debut will lure readers in with well-developed characters, rich language, and small miracles. VERDICT Recommended for students who are looking for weighty romance novels.–Krystina Kelley, Belle Valley School, Belleville, IL

smokeandmirrorsGRIFFITHS, Elly. Smoke and Mirrors. 352p. (Magic Men Mysteries: Bk. 2). ebook available. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $25. ISBN 9780544527959.

Tweens Annie and Mark are missing, and DI Edgar Stephens is charged with leading the search in Brighton, England, in the winter of 1951. It is just before Christmas, and that means pantomime play season in England. The “panto” plays are intertwined with the grim fairy tales that young Annie writes and stages in a lonely neighbor’s garage. The girl has been mentored by her primary school teacher, and she enlists the help of her many brothers and sisters and her best friend Mark, who shares a working-class upbringing. It’s lucky for DI Stephens that it is play season, because that means his close friend from the war, magician Max Mephisto, is in town performing. Though very different, Max and Edgar forged a tight friendship during World War II, when they were assigned as “Magic Men” in a covert operation. There are so many trails to follow and so many possible suspects, and as time runs out for the missing children, another victim emerges. While the British colloquialisms about the “panto” will be new to American readers, the focus on child victims; the dark, fairy-tale aspects; and the engaging characters will draw students into this second in the series. Hand this one to fans of Mary Higgins Clark. VERDICT An excellent addition to larger mystery collections.–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey

manwhosavedredstarHOUGH, Robert. The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan. 304p. ebook available. Anansi. May 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781770899452.

Twenty-year-old Benny Wand stands before the judge with 10 seconds to decide: Newgate prison or deportment to Jamaica. Jamaica it is, and he is off to the town of Port Royal to start over. Arriving with nothing but the clothes on his back, Benny continues the life that got him arrested: conning money by playing chess. He lives in the back alleys of Port Royal until the infamous privateer Henry Morgan takes him on as a crew member, and they head out on a raid. Surviving high seas, jungle, and heat, Benny perseveres and, at a crucial moment, realizes that their strategy is wrong. The young man attracts the attention of Henry Morgan, and an unlikely friendship ensues as Morgan, an expert chess player himself, compels Benny to join him regularly in a game. Unable to beat Benny, Morgan recognizes him as a master strategist and relies upon him for tactical insight. The protagonist revels in the attention but becomes increasingly concerned as his inherent belief in the goodness of humanity collides with the growing sordidness of their raids and Morgan’s deteriorating health and sanity. Sophisticated teens will appreciate this excellent tale. The sights, sounds, and smells of 1600s Jamaica come alive through Benny’s eyes. Chess players, privateers, prostitutes, gamblers, and the upper crust create the rich environment in which Benny lives while searching for meaning in his life. VERDICT Chess, history, and the art of the con mingle to create a top-notch tale that many mature teens will enjoy.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

chasingMORGAN, Robert. Chasing the North Star. 320p. ebook available. Algonquin. Apr. 2016. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781565126275.

Jonah becomes a runaway slave on his 18th birthday after his master whips him for supposedly stealing a book. Jonah, who secretly knows how to read, has learned about freedom in the North. His journey from a plantation in South Carolina to freedom in upstate New York is harrowing to put it mildly. In moments of true suspense, this historical novel becomes a page-turner. Along the way, Jonah meets Angel, another runaway slave, and tries repeatedly to leave her behind. Aptly named, this character is an angel of sorts for him, though Jonah also finds her to be a hindrance. Angel’s escape highlights a woman’s perspective and reveals another layer of discrimination. The two characters provide first-person accounts at different points, and the author’s decision to weave these two viewpoints offers readers a full sense of the characters. Young adults will identify with Jonah as he questions this racist system, all the while trying to find some hope in humanity. His odyssey moves him closer to freedom, but he also discovers his life’s meaning and a passion for life. VERDICT A much-needed addition to high school libraries.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

justoneTAYLOR, Jodi. Just One Damned Thing After Another. 348p. (Chronicles of St. Mary’s: Bk. 1). ebook available. Night Shade. Jun. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781597808682.

St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research is not your average research facility. Which is all right, because Dr. Madeleine Maxwell thrives on the unusual, especially if it’s ancient history. Madeleine knows it’s her kind of place. She is thrilled when she learns that the institute studies “historical events in contemporary time.” In other words, it has time machines. Styled as innocuous stone huts, the time travel pods come complete with a kettle for afternoon tea, without which apparently historians can’t function. Going back in time is fraught with hazards, from rampaging T. rexes to rioting medieval peasants, not to mention nefarious humans. The heroine finds herself in impossible situations almost from the minute she steps out the door in the morning. Teens will love the protagonist’s irreverence toward authority, quick wit, and penchant for trouble. She meets day-to-day and historical challenges with riotous aplomb. Though one of only a few women at the institute, Madeleine more than holds her own. And when she is exiled, her circumstances and despair are so well portrayed that readers practically experience them along with her, hoping against hope that all is not lost. VERDICT This clever and audacious tale will leave readers clamoring for more. Fortunately, there are more books in the series. For fans of historical fiction or science fiction.–Gretchen Crowley, Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA

smokeVYLETA, Dan. Smoke. 448p. ebook available. Doubleday. May 2016. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780385540162.

Set in an alternate Victorian England, this novel opens with a late-night bullying scene in a boys’ boarding school à la Robert Cormier or Charles Dickens. But over several hundred pages, the narrative develops into a story of three teenage friends on a mission to save the world from destruction by deranged adults, all while negotiating their own love triangle and questioning everything they’ve ever been told about the Smoke that streaks or puffs or billows out of people who lose self-control in their world. The religious and philosophical beliefs surrounding Smoke, the physical phenomenon of it, and its relatively short history in this England don’t all quite hang together in terms of world-building, but most readers won’t care, because the grubby mystery of Smoke is intriguing. Teens will find themselves wondering what makes humans human. The lush yet accessible writing style is irresistibly engaging. Most important, the three friends—a cheerfully privileged yet compassionate earl’s heir, a mad scientist’s haughty daughter, and a possibly cursed, ruthlessly honest orphan boy—are a heartbreaking, heartwarming pleasure to root for. This thick volume satisfies on its own, but a sequel would be welcome, too. VERDICT Give this to fans of either historical fiction or dystopian fiction who want to read a bit outside their comfort zone.–Hope Baugh, Carmel Clay Public Library, Carmel, IN

anotherbrooklynredstarWOODSON, Jacqueline. Another Brooklyn. 192p.  ebook available. HarperCollins/Amistad. Aug. 2016. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780062359988.

Woodson brings us August, a first-person narrator akin to her own remembered self in her verse memoir for young people, Brown Girl Dreaming. In this novel, though, rather than focusing on how childhood foments a writer’s impulse, the author operates dual lenses in relating another brown girl’s experiences becoming a woman in 1970s Brooklyn. August’s voice shifts easily from a wide-angled adult perspective as she returns to Brooklyn after 20 years for her father’s funeral into a telephoto clarity as she recalls her first sight of a magically joyful trio of neighborhood girls from the window of the third-floor apartment her father forbade her to leave when the family moved from their rural Tennessee home. The adult August’s fierce remembrance makes poignant the isolation and novelty of a city life she must enter motherless, so desperate to be the fourth fast friend, to make a perfect quartet of the three who dazzle and need her. The solemn refrains in this poeticized prose sound like the changing colors and cadences of the borough; her family’s imperfect conversion to Islam, including August’s work to resolve her denial of her mother’s loss with a hijab-clad therapist; and the alluring yet dangerous navigation of the waters of girlhood toward the depths of sexual maturity. Teens of the searching sort, particularly those who have read the author’s works for younger readers, may find this offering evocative of what school reunions can reveal: the talented may fly too high in fame, the privileged may not always embrace their advantage, and some raise themselves up and out while others are lost to obscurity. In the character of August, Woodson brings tidbits of research on the funeral practices of world cultures to bear on this keen examination of her Brooklyn in its many incarnations. VERDICT Something to savor for the nearly grown who have acquired a taste for the complexly bittersweet flavor of memory.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Gwinnett County, GA

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 A NC Library Brings Wi-Fi Hotspots to Students in Need Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:44:12 +0000 Thanks to a partnership with Sprint, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) in Charlotte, NC, is making a big difference in the lives of its local teens who don’t have reliable broadband at home—increasingly, a requirement for kids to do research and complete assignments. This academic year, nearly 150,000 kids in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school districts (CMS) are now being offered the chance to use 150 wireless hotspots with devices they can check out from the library.


“A Pew study found that 85 percent of Americans want to see public schools and public libraries work together more closely, so our community took that to heart,” says Martha Yesowitch, whose position as educational partnerships manager at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library was created for better collaboration. The school system estimates that about 25,000 students are without web access in Mecklenburg County, primarily due to economic barriers including the cost of monthly service, the devices, and their maintenance.

The flagship initiative, ONE Access, allows CMS kids to use their student IDs as library account numbers, giving them full access to the library’s offerings. Last year, the library became part of the White House ConnectED challenge, the program announced by President Obama in 2013 that seeks, in part, to improve K–12 education by connecting 99 percent of American kids with high-speed wireless Internet access. The White House put out the call for communities to apply. An agreement signed by the library CEO, the county manager, and the school superintendent stated that the Charlotte community would work toward the ConnectEd goals.

In order to launch the hotspot pilot program, the library and school system collaborated with E2D, a local non-profit that provides low-cost laptops to families and students in need, and with Communities In Schools, a national non-profit dedicated to dropout prevention, explains Yesowitch. “Five high schools were targeted, and a select group of high-achieving, yet at-risk students, were able to purchase a laptop from E2D for $50 and be some of the first ones to check out a hotspot if they didn’t have the Internet at home,” she says. Sprint partnered with ConnectEd to provide the lower cost devices and connectivity. The library applied to receive devices and service, and was approved for 150 devices for which they paid about $75 each. Sprint provides 3GB of high speed data per month.

The CML system is piloting the lending program, which is mostly promoted to high school students, in five of their 20 locations, though the hotspots can be accessed by any CMS student without Internet at home. Early feedback has been mostly positive, says Yesowitch. “Families are excited by the opportunity to borrow devices for the hotspots and are happy that the lending is set up so students can continue to check out the devices throughout the school year,” she adds.

Students are pleased as well, as evidenced by tales from Frank Blair, the library’s director of technology and operations. “When you see a rising ninth grader walk out of a device distribution fair with a big smile on his face because he now has the solution he needs—a laptop and bandwidth—it’s priceless,” he says. Many kids are finally able to close their personal homework gap that they know was keeping them from achieving more in middle school, he adds.

What advice does Yesowith have for public librarians seeking to start a similar program? A strong partnership with local schools is beneficial, as is being a part of the ConnectED challenge, she says. “We were able to purchase the devices at a lower cost because of ConnectED.”, a national non-profit dedicated to bridging the digital divide, was also extremely helpful to the library, Yesowitch says. “EveryoneOn is a great resource for low-cost home connectivity solutions, especially if a library system doesn’t have the sort of partnership with schools required for ConnectED.”

In addition to supporting the success of CMS students, hotspot lending is an important aspect of the library’s digital inclusion initiative. “The library is part of a community-wide task force working to ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to bridging the digital divide,” explains Blair. The demand for digital resources in Charlotte, and the county at large, is growing—with an expected circulation of 1,000,000 ebooks and other materials this year alone. That means that fast, reliable access to these materials is more important than ever. As Blair puts it, “digital inclusion is just the right thing to do.”

A similar program was recently launched by New York City libraries, Google, and Sprint.

Manhattan-based editor Jennifer Kelly Geddes writes regularly for and 



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Old Dog Baby Baby by Julie Fogliano | SLJ Review Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:00:48 +0000 FOGLIANO, Julie. Old Dog Baby Baby. illus. by Chris Raschka. 32p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596438538.

PreS-K –Those privileged to have known a mild-mannered dog, a martyr to baby love, a dog that will withstand any annoyance from an infant and still adore him, will appreciate this sweet story told in verse. Fogliano’s spare, pitch-perfect rhymes capture the joyful meeting between a blond-haired diapered baby and a shaggy dog on the kitchen floor. Simple [...]]]> redstarFOGLIANO, Julie. Old Dog Baby Baby. illus. by Chris Raschka. 32p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596438538.

old-dog-baby-babyPreS-K –Those privileged to have known a mild-mannered dog, a martyr to baby love, a dog that will withstand any annoyance from an infant and still adore him, will appreciate this sweet story told in verse. Fogliano’s spare, pitch-perfect rhymes capture the joyful meeting between a blond-haired diapered baby and a shaggy dog on the kitchen floor. Simple rhymes create the mood: “Baby hurry/baby wiggle/‘puppy! puppy!’/baby giggle.” The exploration is mutual: “Old dog sniffs/with old dog nose/baby fingers/baby toes” until they are down for the count, sleeping flat out on the floor. Raschka’s illustrations add hilarity and an additional layer to the narrative. He includes different legs and shoes on the periphery of the page, and readers can guess who is entering and who is leaving the kitchen. The illustrator mirrors the minimalist verse with his simple brushstrokes of watery oranges, blues, and greens. VERDICT Great for preschool storytime or for one-on-one sharing.–Teresa Pfeifer, The Springfield Renaissance School, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2016 issue.

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International Awards for Spanish-Language Books | Libro por libro Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:00:20 +0000 1610_libro-opener

We are all still giddy celebrating Matt de la Peña’s recent Newbery win. For educators looking for other excellent titles, specifically those by Latin@ authors and illustrators to add to Spanish-language collections, there are numerous children’s book awards given in Spain and Latin America.

An important caveat to consider is that children’s book awards in the Spanish-speaking world are quite a bit different than what we are familiar with in the United States. There is not an exact equivalent to the Newbery or Caldecott awards. In Spain, many of the awards are given or sponsored by publishers. Other prizes are sponsored by cities or other entities, but not library associations. In Spain, awards are often given to books published in Catalan which, while an official language in that country, is different from the Spanish most often found in the U.S. The same is also true for Basque. Aside from the language issues, books receiving awards in Spain can sometimes be hard to obtain here. The prices of the books from Spain (when available) are often listed in euros. Working through a jobber or distributor who is familiar with the Spanish or Latin American book market can be a huge help. It is also possible to purchase some of these books in digital format directly from the publisher.

You can also find information about Spanish-language book awards by visiting the Spain chapter of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

The following is a selection of prizes given to children’s literature in Spain and Latin America.

1610_libro-cv1International Awards

Hans Christian Andersen Award
Sometimes referred to as the “Nobel Prize” for children’s literature, the Hans Christian Andersen Awards “are a pair of biennial literary awards by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), recognizing one living author and one living illustrator for their ‘lasting contribution[s] to children’s literature.’” Only two Spanish-language writers have been recipients of this prize—José María Sanchez-Silva from Spain in 1968 and María Teresa Andruetto from Argentina in 2012.

ANDRUETTO, María Teresa. Huellas en la arena. (Footprints in the Sand). Sudamericana. 2013. pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-9500740814.
Gr 3-6 A collection of 13 stories that have the feel of myths, legends, and the oral tradition. Andruetto’s tales leave much unsaid, and depend on the power of single images, such as a woman who wears only one glove. What readers will remember from these somewhat elliptical tales is the narrator’s voice, transporting ancient stories from the past into the present.

SÁNCHEZ-SILVA, José María. Marcelino, pan y vino. (Marcelino, Bread and Wine). Andres Bello. 1996. pap. OP. ISBN 9789561309180.
Gr 3-5 –An orphan appears at the door of a monastery. Named Marcelino, he is raised and cared for by the friars. A statue of Jesus on the cross that Marcelino finds in the attic of the monastery comes alive and takes the bread and wine Marcelino brings him. This is a beloved story that is much better known as the 1955 Spanish film Miracle of Marcelino, which is readily available on DVD. It is also a prime example of how religion, especially the Catholic faith, can be a driving force in much of older Spanish literature for children.

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award
The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature with a SEK 5 million prize (almost $6,000) awarded annually. Sponsored by the government of Sweden, and administered by the Swedish Arts Council, the award bears the name of author and activist Astrid Lindgren, the beloved creator of Pippi Longstocking. It is a lifetime achievement award, the object of which is “to increase interest in children’s and young people’s literature, and to promote children’s rights on a global level.”

The only Latin American writer and illustrator to win this award is Isol, an Argentinian who has always been one of my favorite Latina authors for storytimes and for programs for adults. The universality of her work is particularly notable. It is not culturally specific but celebrates the doubts, fears, and foibles of children everywhere. There are numerous English translations of her work available, primarily from Canadian publisher Groundwood. Isol blogs at

ISOL, Petit, the Monster. illus. by author. tr. by Elisa Amado. Groundwood. 2010. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780888999474.
––––. Petit, el monstruo. illus. by author. Serres. 2009. Tr $15.96. ISBN 9788478716654.
K-3 Petit is a child who can’t decide exactly who he is. He’s a good boy because he plays with his dog, but he’s a bad boy because he pulls girls’ hair. Is he nice or mean? Petit is confused, and comes to the conclusion that he must be some sort of good-bad boy—a monster. Isol’s distinctive illustrations are particularly good at portraying Petit in all of his goodness and badness. This is a perfect example of how Isol captures the universal doubts and worries of childhood.

spanish and latin american awards

Cervantes Chico Prize
According to the prize’s website, “The Cervantes Chico Prize honors a Spanish-language writer whose creative career has excelled in the field of children’s literature. In addition to the writer’s literary merits, criteria such as popularity and use of the writer’s work as an educational and teaching resource are taken into account for this designation.” This is a lifetime achievement prize awarded by the City of Alcalá de Henares, a World Heritage City and birthplace of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes.

Author Ana Alcolea was announced recently as the 2016 Cervantes Chico winner. She is published in Spain by Anaya.

ALCOLEA , Ana. Castillos en el aire (Castles in the Air). illus by Mercè López. Lectorum/Anaya. 2015. pap. $13.99. ISBN 9788467871128.

K-3 –When Santiago was young, he liked to go to the beach and make drawings in the sand. But every day the waves would come in and erase what he had drawn. He dreams of being able to create something that cannot be erased. As an adult, he travels and comes to a place where he decides to build an indestructible castle in the air. This is a book that is ideal for adults to share with children, and is an example of how books from Spain are not always about children, but rather childhood itself.

1610_libro-cv2Premio Lazarillo
The Premio Lazarillo is the oldest Spanish-language book prize. It was originally given by the now-defunct National Book Institute in Spain. Since 1986, the award has been under the care of La Organización Española para el Libro Infantil y Juvenil or OEPLI (The Spanish Organization for Infants and Juvenile Literature). OEPLI is the Spanish section of IBBY. Awards are given for picture books and “literary creation.” This prize is the closest to the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Many of the recent prizes have been given to books in Catalan.

ARBOLEDA , Roberto. Prohibido leer a Lewis Carroll. Anaya. 2013. ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9788467839739.
Gr 6-9 –Eugene Chignon is a governess from France who has come to New York City to care for a child named Alice who is obsessed with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books, to the extent that her parents have banned them from the house. The governess has to hide the fact that the real Alice, 80-year-old Alice Liddell, is going to visit New York. This is a tale as quirky as Lewis Carroll’s original.

Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil
The Premio Nacional is a Spanish prize sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Recent award-winner Laura Gallego García’s work in fantasy, such as The Legend of the Wandering King, rivals that of Lloyd Alexander and others.

GALLEGO GARCIA, Laura. Donde los árboles cantan. (Where the Trees Sing). SM. 2011. ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9788467557763.
Gr 7 Up –Viana has grown up with legends of the Great Forest, which is the place where the trees sing. She, the only daughter of the Duke of Rocagrís, has been betrothed to Robian of Castelmar since she was a child. Their nuptials are interrupted by the threat of the barbarians of the steppes. Robian is forced to go to war, and Viana has to wait for his return. This is when the legends of the forest come into play.

Premio Boolino de Narrativa Infantil
The Boolino prize is a fairly new children’s literature award that is designed to discover new talent. It is given in collaboration with Penguin Random House Publishing Group, Ediciones B, and Bruño. The most recent winter is Cristina Alfonso Ibañez, whose Entre todas las estrellas was a unanimous choice of the award jury.

IBAÑEZ, Cristina Alfonso. Entre todas las estrellas. (Among All the Stars). Blok. 2015. pap. $12. ISBN 9788416075713.
Gr 5-8 –Once in while you find a gem that you wish was published in an English translation. This is one of those books. One by one, three kids—Natalia, Pedro and Lucía—find their way to a seemingly abandoned house in a remote area. Each of them has left home for various reasons. They are joined by mysterious figure Iván, who says that this house belongs to his grandfather. Through the course of the evening, they each reveal their stories and their reason for estrangement from their families. News of a horrible accident on the freeway and a trip to the hospital reveal that Iván is not exactly who he seems. The threads are tied together in one of the most satisfying conclusions that I have recently read. It is distinguished by gorgeous writing with lyrical passages that readers will want to keep as quotes.

Premio El Barco de Vapor
SM is a publisher based in Spain that has a global reach with offices throughout Latin America. The SM Foundation has given the Barco de Vapor (Steamboat) awards since 1978. The award is presented to “promote the creation of a literature for children and youth to foster a taste for reading and transmit, with literary quality, human, social, cultural or religious values.” Besides Spain, the Barco de Vapor awards are also given in Peru, Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Colombia. The 2016 winner in Spain is Roberto Santiago.

SANTIAGO, Roberto. Los protectores. illus. by Paula Blumen. (The Protectors). SM. 2015. Tr $12.50. ISBN 9788467586145.
Gr 7 Up –Victor Friman is old and new. He and his family return to what was once his home and find that everything has changed. Victor meets an irresistible girl named Barbara, who turns out to be a member of a secret group known as “The Protectors.” There is also a gang on the streets known as Los Apaches. Victor is drawn into a situation where nothing is familiar and he has to figure out what inner resources he truly possesses.

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Celebrate Banned Books Week with Nonfiction Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:00:19 +0000 Considering what qualifies nonfiction as nonfiction, it’s no surprise how unlikely the connection between the words nonfiction and banned are in most minds, yet works of nonfiction are contested quite regularly. Four out of the 10 titles on the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom’s (OIF) 2015 list of the top 10 most challenged books were nonfiction. What happens to collections when communities routinely challenge, and in extreme cases petition to ban, works that are based in fact? Does it skew or shape how children and teens encounter history, science, and the world in general?

In keeping with Banned Books Week’s 2016 theme of diversity, here is a selection of high school nonfiction titles from the SLJ (and in two cases Library Journal) archives that have been banned or challenged at one time or another—and in most cases repeatedly.

Likely the most contested work to be featured in this list, high school curriculum mainstay Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, has been widely restricted throughout the 40-plus years it has been in print. In the 2000s alone, the title makes the OIF’s challenged list four times (2001, 2002, 2004, and 2007). Below is the original 1970 review of the title from our sister publication, Library Journal.


Photo scan of LJ‘s review of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. (LJ 3/15/70)

ANGELOU, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. 288p. Random. 1970. $6.95. LC 73-85598.

This autobiography covering the childhood and adolescence of a black girl in rural Arkansas, St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco has many strong points. The story of Maya and her brother Bailey is horrifying and painful to read; yet the strong and sensitive young woman who endures and overcomes is fascinating. Angelou is a skillful writer; her language ranges from beautifully lyrical prose to earthy metaphor, and her descriptions have power and sensitivity. This is one of the best autobiographies of its kind that I have read. Especially recommended for public libraries.Elizabeth M. Guiney, Department of English, North Hennepin State Junior College, Osseo, Minn.

This review was published in the Library Journal March 15, 1970 issue.

Despite its ongoing commercial and critical success, including its adaptation into a Tony Award–winning musical, Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic was number seven on the OIF’s 2015 list. While this is a work better suited for mature readers, a surprising number of college students have led challenges against it. In 2015, a group of incoming Duke University freshman publicly vocalized their objection to the work on social media, calling for Duke to remove the book from the voluntary summer reading list. Other objections from students have occurred at the University of Utah and the College of Charleston. Here is Library Journal‘s starred review of it in their Collection Development feature “Developing Definitions” by Lisa N. Johnson (LJ 3/1/14).

bechdel_fun-homeredstarBECHDEL, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner. 2007. 232p. ISBN 9780618871711. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780547347004.

Bechdel, author of the award-winning comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, paints her own story in this stunning graphic memoir. Her black-and-white line drawings, brushed with a blue wash, bring to life her childhood with her distant actress mother and her mysterious father, the proprietor of a funeral home. Bechdel’s coming-out process is stifled when her father commits suicide, and she realizes that he, too, was gay. One of the best graphic memoirs to date, this book was the basis of a long-running off-Broadway play. (LJ 7/06)

This review was republished in the Library Journal March 1, 2014 issue.

Juno Dawson’s This Book Is Gay was such a source of a contention in the Wasilla (AK) Public Library in 2015 that a city council meeting was flooded with angry parents over the book’s depiction and exploration of gay sex. According to Hank Reichman’s article in the Journal of Intellectual Freedom and Privacy‘s spring 2016 issue, the entire YA nonfiction section was moved to the adult stacks, with plans in the future to house all nonfiction in one section permanently.

DAWSON, Juno. This Book Is Gay. illus. by Spike Gerrell. 272p. glossary. websites. Sourcebooks Fire. Jun. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781492617822; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781492617839.

Gr 10 Up–This witty, no-holds-barred look at the LGBTQ experience provides information that parents or school friends often can’t or won’t give. The book covers dating, religious perceptions of LGBTQ people, bullying, coming out, and more. Employing occasionally snarky, informal language, Dawson provides very direct, frank guidance (among the subheadings are “Doing the Sex” and “Why Are Gay Men So Slutty?”), including sexual advice (complete with labeled anatomical cartoons). However, these are all topics about which teens are curious. Though the book has an intended audience, a variety of readers will appreciate it. VERDICT An insightful option for those with questions about what it’s like to be LGBTQ.April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

This review was published in the School Library Journal June 2015 issue.

kurklin_beyondmagentaSusan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out was the fourth most contested work of 2015, according to the OIF. Curiously, one of the many reasons the book was challenged was to “ward off complaints,” signalling that not just patrons but librarians themselves were uneasy about the presence of this lauded work. For more about this title, check out SLJ‘s interview with Kuklin from February 2014.

KUKLIN, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. photos by Susan Kuklin. 192p. Candlewick. Feb. 2014. RTE $22.99. ISBN 9780763656119; ebk. $22.99. ISBN 9780763670351.

Gr 9 Up–Extended interviews with six very different transgender, genderqueer, and intersex young adults allow these youth to tell their stories in their own words. Author-interviewer-photographer Kuklin interjects only briefly with questions or explanations so that the voices of these youth—alternately proud and fearful, defiant and subdued, thoughtful and exuberant—shine through. While the interview subjects do occasionally ramble or become vague, the power of these 12- to 40-page interviews is that readers become immersed in these young adults’ voices and experiences. The youth interviewed here do not uniformly share “It Gets Better”–style happy endings, but their strength is nonetheless inspirational as they face ongoing challenges with families, sexual and romantic relationships, bullies, schools, transitions, mental health, and more. The level of detail about their lives, and the diversity of their identities—including gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, and geography—provide a powerful antidote to the isolation and stigma that some transgender youth experience. Photographs of four of the subjects, including some before-and-after transition pictures from childhood and adolescence, help tell their stories and bring their transitions to life. Extensive back matter includes an interview with the clinical director of a health program for LGBTQI youth, a glossary, and books, media, websites, and organizations of interest to transgender youth. While this book’s format and subject matter are probably never going to attract a broad audience, there is much here that will resonate with and hearten the kids who need it, and will foster understanding and support among those who live and work with transgender teens.Sarah Stone, San Francisco Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2014 issue.

Mark Mathabane’s 1986 memoir Kaffir Boy was banned from a middle school in Burlingame, CA, back in 2007, as reported by the Washington Post. Another challenge came to the book in 2010, but a review committee for the San Luis Obispo High School (also in California) voted to keep the book despite the anonymous letters sent to the school board objecting to its content.

mathabaneMATHABANE, Mark. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. 354p. photos. index. Macmillan. Apr. 1986. ISBN 0025818007.

Gr 7 Up—Those needing graphic confirmation of the harrowing experience of growing up poor and black in apartheid South Africa will find it in Mathabane’s autobiography. His earliest memories were those of violent midnight visits from the dreaded black police, looking for those without the crucial passbook. His parents lived illegally in Alexandra; his father went to jail for a year because he had no job. Daily life was a struggle for food, shelter, and existence. The fact that he was at the top of every class, plus his newly discovered ability in tennis, gained him local recognition. American tennis star Steven Smith was instrumental in pushing for his journey to America, where he attended college and where he is now a writer on his homeland. Mathabane writes with compelling energy, and the details of his struggle will grip readers with immediate intensity. His story, while only one side, is a microcosm of the black African’s fight for independence.Diana C. Hirsch, PGCMLS, Md.

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 1986 issue.

In 2013, the Chicago Public School system ordered the district-wide classroom and curriculum removal of Satrapi’s wildly praised and beloved autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. While the book was allowed to remain on library shelves, the news still came as a shock.

SATRAPI, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. illus. by Marjane Satrapi. 153p. Pantheon. Apr. 2003. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780375422300.satrapi

Gr 9 Up–Marji tells of her life in Iran from the age of 10, when the Islamic revolution of 1979 reintroduced a religious state, through the age of 14, when the Iran-Iraq war forced her parents to send her to Europe for safety. This story, told in graphic format with simple, but expressive black-and-white illustrations, combines the normal rebelliousness of an intelligent adolescent with the horrors of war and totalitarianism. Marji’s parents, especially her free-thinking mother, modeled a strong belief in freedom and equality, while her French education gave her a strong faith in God. Her Marxist-inclined family initially favored the overthrow of the shah, but soon realized that the new regime was more restrictive and unfair than the last. The girl’s independence, which made her parents both proud and fearful, caused them to send her to Austria. With bold lines and deceptively uncomplicated scenes, Satrapi conveys her story. From it, teens will learn much of the history of this important area and will identify with young Marji and her friends. This is a graphic novel of immense power and importance for Westerners of all ages. It will speak to the same audience as Art Spiegelman’s Maus.Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA

This review was published in the School Library Journal August 2003 issue.


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Even More Awards for Spanish, Latin American, and Latin@ Kid Lit Tue, 27 Sep 2016 12:58:28 +0000 Banner_horizontal.jpg_Looking for more award-winning titles to add to your Spanish-language collections and to include more Latin@-focused acclaimed children’s and young adult books?  Here are other book prizes that are given in Spain, Latin America, and in the United States that can help fulfill that need.

City of Málaga Prize for Children’s Literature (Spain)

In its seventh year, this award is given to aspiring children’s authors with an opportunity for publication by Anaya, a Spanish publisher. Juana Cortés Amunarriz won the 2016 Premio de Literatura Infantil “Ciudad de Málaga” for her Esmeralda, una mula y un buey.

barcanovaPremio Barcanova

The Barcanova Prize is a literary prize from Spain for children’s and young adult novels written in Catalan. It’s sponsored by the Editorial Barcanova imprint, which is part of Grupo Anaya.

The 14th Premio Barcanova de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil was awarded in December 2015 in the children’s category to Juan Bustos  for his Fina Ensurts, and to Aina Sastre in the young adult category for her Quan arriba el moment.  Each author was given a publishing contract with Anaya and 10.000 euros.

Premio Edebé de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil

This is a prize given by Editorial Edebé, a Spanish publishing group based in Barcelona. The 24th prizes were given to Jordi Sierra i Fabra for his El aprendiz de brujo y Los Invisibles and Luis Leante for his Huye sin mirar atrás.

Premio Hispanoamericano de Poesía para Niños

A Mexican prize for children’s poetry given by the Fundacion Para las Letras Mexicanas (Center for Mexican Letters).

The most recent winners of the Fundacion .....

The most recent winners of Mexico’s Premio Hispanoamericano de Poesía para Niños.

Premio Luna de Aire

The Luna Air Award is a literary prize for poetry written for a young audience. It is organized by the University of Castilla La Mancha, specifically CEPLI Cuenca, in Spain. Beatriz Berrocal won the most recent award with La revolución de las perdices, published by Ediciones SM, and illustrated by Raquel Saiz.

BOP – Bologna Prize Best Children’s Publisher of the Year

At the recent Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy, Editions Ekaré received the award for Best Children’s Book Publisher of the Year for Central and South America.  According to the award jury, Ekaré “has established a bridge between old Europe and the New World. Its rich catalog contains important works from Europe, and great attention to culture, the traditions of the entire continent of South America.”  Take a look this publisher’s online catalog as a great source for collection development.  Ekaré’s books are known for their quality. Besides Venezuela, Ekaré has a strong presence in Chile as well.

Other Latin@ Book Awards in the United States

NF_Tonatiuh_FunnyBonesThere is a bit of crossover between these awards and the Pura Belpré award, as they are drawing from the same eligible titles.

Américas Award

The Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States, and to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use. CLASP offers up to two annual book awards, together with a commended list of titles.

In 2016, the Américas Award review committee recognized 16 books. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo and Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness were the 2016 winners and Matt Tavares’s Growing Up Pedro: How the Martinez Brothers Made it from the Dominican Republic All the Way to the Major Leagues and Duncan Tonatiuh’s Funny Bones. The authors and illustrators will be honored on September 22, 2016, in an award ceremony at the Library of Congress that is free and open to the public.

International Latino Book Awards

YA_Perez_outofdarknessThe 18th International Latino Book Awards finalists were announced earlier this year. The largest awards in the U.S. celebrating achievements in Latino literature, the event is organized by Latino Literacy Now in partnership with Las Comadres para las Americas and the Instituto Cervantes.   With the 257 finalists this year, it has honored the greatness of 2,171 authors and publishers over the past two decades.   The2016 awards will be presented on September 8 in Los Angeles.

Tomás Rivera Book Award 

The Texas State University College of Education developed the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.  The 2016 winners were Perez’s Out of Darkness and Tonatiuh’s Funny Bones.

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Creepify Your Library: Molly Wetta Curates SLJ’s Halloween Pinterest Board Tue, 27 Sep 2016 11:00:50 +0000 witch-lanterns

DIY Enchanting Halloween Lanterns from Adventure in a Box.

All Hallows’ Eve is fast approaching, and the holiday is prime time for bringing teens into the library. In need of some inspiration in advance of Halloween? Look no further than School Library Journal’s Halloween Library Ideas Pinterest board. Blogger and collection development librarian at the Lawrence Public Library, KS, Molly Wetta has curated SLJ’s board, showcasing displays, program ideas, YA lit picks, and more.


Edgar Allan Poe display. Saved from

“My favorites for programming are the candy science (teens love this as much as kids, and can do more advanced projects) and the pumpkin book art,” says Wetta. As for the books, she feels that a combination of classic horror and new titles are just right for highlighting scary events in October. “For display, I love doing an Edgar Allan Poe theme and including all the recent YA inspired by him, classics, and Edgar Award winners.”

The member manager at YALSA’s blog “The Hub,” Wetta has pinned her favorite selections of book displays, program ideas, and signage for the yearly event. She will continue to pin new ideas as the holiday approaches. (She’s really looking forward to adding more Stranger Things–related suggestions.)

In addition to reviewing YA titles, Wetta blogs about YA book trends, feminism in teen literature, and how librarians can use social media to reach their students and patrons at “Wrapped Up in Books.”


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Middle Grade Xpress Reviews | October 2016 Mon, 26 Sep 2016 19:15:50 +0000 Quantum Leap–type romp for middle graders. These and more in this month's crop of online-only reviews.]]> 1610_mg-xpress

For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Arato, Rona. Sammy and the Headless Horseman. 230p. Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Sept. 2016. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781554552696.

Gr 4-6 –Sammy, a Polish immigrant to New York, is sent to stay with his aunt and awful cousin Joshua at a hotel in the Catskills, just after World War I. His newly remarried dad thinks he’s sending his son on vacation, but Aunt Pearl has other plans for the boy—she has signed him up to work at the hotel to earn his keep. This is fine with Sammy, as he soon befriends 15-year-old Adam, who also does odd jobs around the property. Adam tells Sammy about the Hermit, an escaped slave from Georgia who lives on the hill overlooking the hotel. During their first encounter with the Hermit, they learn that several instances of vandalism have occurred on his property and that he’s seen a black horse with a headless, cloaked rider during each event. The kids form their own sleuth squad and set out to find out who is really haunting their friend. As a mystery, this book lacks tension and is not that successful, but as a historical piece, it’s unique in its portrayal of a time period about which little middle grade fiction is written. It’s also an interesting look at the culture of Judaism and the practice of cooking and keeping kosher. The jacket art and text don’t accurately represent the story, so kids who pick it up hoping for the spooky tale the cover promises might be disappointed. VERDICT For larger collections looking to increase multicultural or historical fiction sections.–Mandy Laferriere, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

Brallier, Max. The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade. illus. by Douglas Holgate. 304p. ebook available. Viking. Sept. 2016. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780670016624.

Gr 3-6 –Readers met 13-year-old abandoned foster kid–turned–monster slayer Jack Sullivan and his adolescent makeshift army in The Last Kids on Earth. In this excellent sequel, the zombies are mysteriously disappearing. As the zombies walk in droves toward a shrieking sound, their brains are being sucked out of their skulls. While no fan of the undead, Jack and his squad set out to solve the mystery. New alliances are formed and trusts are broken, culminating in an all-out monster brawl to save their world. The continuation of this hybrid series capitalizes on gross-out fun. The realistic writing style keeps the narrative moving at a fast pace, while the frenzied pencil artwork supports its humorous tone. But what distinguishes this adventure is the character development. The members work through their fears of loss, abandonment, and loneliness to unite as a family. The language is sophisticated, geared toward readers who enjoy rousing adventures. The open-ended conclusion allows for the possibility of more exciting exploits. A gallery highlighting various nefarious creatures is an added treat. VERDICT For fans of the first book, this sequel does not disappoint. This series is a must-have for middle grade collections.–Sada Mozer, Los Angeles Public Library

Heede, Sylvia Vanden. What Dog Knows. tr. from Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke. illus. by Marije Tolman. 124p. Gecko. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781776570362.

Gr 3-6 –Dog and Wolf are cousins. Dog is smart, while Wolf is curious and loves talking in rhyme. This illustrated import from the Netherlands centers on their friendship, with a healthy dose of nonfiction information as the canines investigate high-interest topics such as robots, dinosaurs, mummies, skeletons, pirates, and more. Occasional hands-on projects are showcased for readers to make and create, while sporadic quizzes check comprehension of vocabulary. Some topics are dished up with a slice of dark humor, but the entire book exudes a quirky charm. Spot and full-page images add to the volume’s zany presentation and make it a great choice for reluctant readers. VERDICT This companion to Wolf and Dog is a beautifully illustrated and unusual book sure to tickle the funny bone of independent readers.–Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego

Joseph, Lynn. Dancing in the Rain. 200p. Blue Moon. Sept. 2016. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9789769543690.

Gr 5-8 –Two families marked by the tragic events of 9/11 come together. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth lives in the Dominican Republic with her mother and aunt. Her father works in a restaurant at the top of the tallest tower in New York City and sends money home to his family. Eight-year-old Brandt lives in New York with his Dominican mother and older brother Jared. Brandt’s mother is a lawyer working at a firm in the World Trade Center. The plot unfolds in alternating chapters narrated by each child. Readers learn about imaginative Elizabeth and her love of her father, who is so far away yet seems closer than her no-nonsense mother. Meanwhile, Brandt’s home life is tense, and he must bridge the gap between his mother and brilliant but difficult brother. When the Twin Towers fall apart, so do the two families. In a state of depression and having lost friends, colleagues, and her place of employment, Brandt’s mother moves the family to her father’s home on the Caribbean island. There the two children meet and team up in an effort to bring joy back into their mothers’ lives. But can joy be given to others, or must it come from within? As the children figure out, there is no clear-cut answer to that question. Though the narrative is centered on the fall of the Twin Towers, in a broader sense it is a book on loss and grief. VERDICT Through the two narrators, Joseph presents a look at grief that is very real and relatable. Read this along with Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Towers Falling. Recommended for school and public libraries.–Lucia Acosta, Children’s Literature Specialist, NJ

Lee, C.B. Not Your Sidekick. 294p. Duet. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781945053030; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781945053047.

Gr 5-8 –Although her parents are the local superheroes, it looks like Jessica Tran is merely “normal.” Taking an internship would be another normal thing for her, except it turns out she’ll be working with her biggest crush as well as for her parents’ nemesis. Can she work alongside Abby without making a total fool of herself? And what is the truth about heroes and villains in this superpowered world? This is a light romp of a middle grade adventure/romance, but the real strength is in its matter-of-fact representation of LGBTQ and first-generation American identities. While the meanings of these identities are explored, they are not the focus of the book and are simply part of the character- and world-building. Coming out has already happened, friendships based on immigrant identity are complicated, and there are many primary and secondary characters who fall into these categories so that no single character has to stand for everyone. It’s unfortunate that the use of the third person is so clunky throughout and that the twists are so obvious, but these are minor issues. VERDICT A good addition to any middle grade library concerned with LGBTQ and racial diversity representation across all genres.–L. Lee Butler, Hart Middle School, Washington, DC

MacHale, D.J. Curse of the Boggin. 256p. (The Library: Bk. 1). ebook available. Random. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101932537; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9781101932544.

Gr 4-6 –Feisty Marcus O’Mara isn’t afraid to do what’s right. He takes a stand against his bullying teacher and earns himself several days of detention. While in detention, Marcus spies a ghostly man clad in pajamas and, more disturbingly, a raging bull trashing the school’s trophy cases. Unfortunately, his principal cannot see the bull, nor is there any evidence of the damage that Marcus witnessed. Instead, he earns himself more detentions and the wrath of his adoptive mother, who really seems to hate him lately. After a second sighting of the pajama-clad ghost and being told to “surrender the key,” Marcus intends to solve this mystery. He is a self-described outsider with just two good friends, Lu, who is into roller derby, and Theo, who is “straight-A smart.” Once Marcus gets his hands on the key, he discovers it leads to a mysterious library curated by an odd, old librarian, filled with unfinished stories of the dead. The boy is tasked with finishing the story of a man in pajamas who happens to have a connection to his birth parents. Middle grade readers eager for horror will find many scary thrills in this cinematic page-turner with a diverse cast of characters. MacHale knows how to ratchet up the suspense as the likable narrator and his best friends pool their talents in an effort to fight an ancient enemy. VERDICT This spine-tingling series starter is sure to attract a quick following of fans eager for the next installment.–Brenda Kahn, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ

MacLachlan, Patricia. The Poet’s Dog. 112p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062292629.

Gr 3-5 –Nikel and his sister Flora are caught in a blizzard. Left in a car by their mother, who went to get help and did not return, they are saved by Teddy; it’s a heroic act for a human but all the more impressive for a dog. Teddy was once rescued himself, taken from a shelter by a poet named Sylvan, who surrounded him with words and read him Shakespeare, James Joyce, and C.S. Lewis, as well as his favorite book, Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man. Though Teddy comprehends words, only poets and children can understand the canine. Nikel, Flora, and Teddy spend several days together at the dog’s cabin while the blizzard rages on, and Teddy tells the children about his life with Sylvan and how Sylvan recently passed away. Similar in length to a beginning reader, the novel has sophisticated vocabulary and sensitive subject matter that make it better suited for mature young readers; it would also work as a classroom or one-on-one read aloud. MacLachlan writes with a quiet cadence readers will savor, as the book alternates between the present and Teddy’s life with Sylvan, with italics alerting readers to the shift in time. VERDICT Though this contemplative fantasy explores grief, it is also about overcoming loss and is resolved in a way that will comfort sensitive readers. A strong purchase for larger fiction collections.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR

Matthews, John. Henry Hunter and the Beast of Snagov. illus. by Nick Tankard. 240p. (Henry Hunter: Bk. 1). ebook available. Sky Pony. Sept. 2016. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781510710382.

Gr 4-6 –The first installment in a new middle grade series about two English schoolboys who could not be more different. Sheepish Adolphus Pringle, known as Dolf, narrates as he follows the trail of the bold and brilliant Henry, a “twelve-year-old millionaire genius,” to solve a Transylvanian mystery. A strength of the story is the bewildered voice of Dolf, who would have never gotten into any of this drama had it not been for his friendship with the quixotic Hunter. This is a fast-paced and humorous spin on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Matthews is a folklorist, so it is no surprise that the tale is filled with “revamped” myths of vampires, including a secret society, the Count’s motorcycling daughter, and the mysterious slimy beast referred to in the title. It could be paired with the classic to learn more about the textual references or with a nonfiction book on folklore or Romanian castles. Some readers may find it funny that in this novel Dracula’s daughter, Bella, shares the same name as Stephenie Meyer’s protagonist in the “Twilight” series. That is about where the similarity ends. The vampire Bella frequently saves the two 12-year-olds from danger and despite her cool spiky hair never becomes a romantic interest. The stylized pen-and-ink vignettes by Tankard are atmospheric and playful. Like the author, he consistently portrays these characters with equal amounts of danger and humor. VERDICT An action-filled middle grade adventure series debut with a unique pair of protagonists; may also spark interest through its plays on literature and folklore.–Jennifer Gibson, SUNY Cortland

redstarSands, Kevin. Mark of the Plague. 544p. (Blackthorn Key: Bk. 2). S. & S./Aladdin. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481446747.

Gr 4-8 –This follow-up to The Blackthorn Key places readers right in the middle of the nastiest event the 1600s had to offer—the Black Plague. Not only are Christopher and his friends tasked with avoiding the deadly disease but they must also contend with the prophets, zealots, and frauds who seem to attach themselves to all tragic events. Sands’s writing is gripping and expertly paced. The action spins with breathless twists and turns. The characters react logically without appearing clairvoyant. The deep understanding of herbs, mixtures, and remedies will inspire some and astound others. Christopher and his companions are relatable tweens. This story would make for a great fictional pairing in history class. VERDICT An excellent sequel. Readers who haven’t yet discovered this series are in for a treat.–Chad Lane, Tulip Grove Elementary School, MD

Scott, Kate. Boy in Tights. 192p. (Spies in Disguise: Bk. 1.) Sky Pony. Apr. 2016. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781634506892.

Gr 3-5 –In this fluffy opener of what promises to be an engaging series for transitional readers, tween Joe discovers that his “cup-of-tea-and-a-cookie-in-front-of-the-TV” boring parents are actually international spies. After their covers are blown, Joe’s parents must assume new identities and start over in a new place. Because their enemies are aware that Joe’s parents are traveling with a boy, Joe must pose as a girl in order to throw off their pursuers. Joe balks at the gender switch, a feeling that deepens when his parents insist that he wear all things pink and sparkly so as to appear convincingly feminine. Initially preoccupied with sexist stereotypes, Joe (now Josie) sees his female peers as makeup-obsessed and frivolous. Gradually, his perceptions shift as he gets to know tomboy Sam, who isn’t like any of the other girls. Though this title may grate on adults, young readers will definitely comprehend that Joe’s understanding of gender performance is narrow. Joe tolerates the role-playing by immersing himself in his favorite spy books, which focus on a character named Dan McGuire. Life imitates art when Joe finds out his teacher is embezzling school monies; the tween decides to catch the culprit with high-tech gadgets pilfered from his parents. While the caper element occasionally stretches credulity, it hardly detracts from the solid pacing and silly humor. VERDICT A suitable addition to collections needing more light mysteries that will resonate with a wide range of readers.–Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA

Scrimger, Richard. Downside Up. 272p. Tundra. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781770498457.

Gr 5-8 –Fred’s dog Casey died two months ago, and the Toronto sixth grader has been carrying around Casey’s tennis ball ever since. Fred drops the ball one day, and it rolls through a sewer grate. When he jumps in to retrieve it, he discovers that Casey is alive and ready to play on the other side. At first, the upside-down world seems almost the same as the one left behind, with upside-down Fred (called Freddie on this side of the sewer) going to the same school with the same students. Freddie and Fred live in identical houses, and each has an older sister named Izzy. Everyone seems happier than Fred remembers. Soon, however, dragons and newfound athletic powers make Fred suspect that there is more to discover in this alternate reality. When Fred’s Izzy follows him through the sewer to the upside-down world, his unnamed but growing feelings of dread and discomfort creep into this idyllic parallel reality and we discover that Casey isn’t the only loved one Fred has recently lost. What initially appears to be a story about the struggle to accept the death of a beloved pet slowly reveals itself to be a sad, sweet, and unexpectedly complex examination of the grieving process, the balance between choice and inevitability, and the power of belief and remembrance. VERDICT A thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful work. Fred’s authentic voice provides a balm to those struggling to understand loss and inspires all to view the world with fresh eyes.–Alyssa Annico, Youngstown State University, OH

Shull, Megan. Bounce. 384p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062311726.

Gr 5 Up –It’s Christmas Eve, and 12-year-old Frannie Hudson’s parents left her at home with her two older siblings in order to jet away on a Caribbean vacation. Carmen and Teddy are throwing an out-of-control party, exiling Frannie to her bedroom. She falls asleep, thinking things can’t get any worse. Instead of waking up in her room the next morning, Frannie has “bounced” into another person’s reality. She is thrust into the body of a country girl with a loving family who accept her without question. The preteen is totally confused but feels so much more at home than she ever did in her real life. At the end of each day, Frannie “bounces” into another person’s life, from a pop star, to a girl sailing around the world with her father and little brother, to, most surprisingly, a girl she has seen being bullied at school. Each time she wakes up, the protagonist has to adjust to new surroundings and expectations. Instead of feeling alone and helpless, like she does in her normal life, Frannie rises to the challenge, and through being in other people’s skin, she discovers the truth of who she is and what defines her. Shull uses the surreal narrative to explore the dynamics of family conflicts, taking Frannie on a journey in which she experiences emotions and situations that ultimately teach her to accept her situation but not let it define her. A somewhat unsympathetic narrator in the beginning, she grows more likable and even funny throughout. VERDICT Inspirational without being overly didactic. Hand this empowering novel to readers that need a boost of self-confidence.–Tara Kron, formerly at School Library Journal

Towler, Grayson. The Dragon Waking. 288p. Albert Whitman. Aug. 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780807517048.

Gr 5-7 –Thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher shares only one thing in common with her dad: an interest in rock hunting. When she discovers a rare stone in the Nevada desert, she doesn’t expect to find a shape-shifting dragon as well—and there’s no way she can tell her dad about Jade. With the help of her late mother’s friend, Mrs. Jersey, Rose is able to communicate with the green dragon. She, along with Mrs. Jersey and best friend Clay, learns that Jade is the first of her kind to awaken millions of years after the comet that killed the dinosaurs—and, it turns out, drove the dragons into an enchanted sleep to survive. The rare stone is a fragment of that comet, known as the Harbinger, and it can be used to awaken all of the sleeping dragons, which is what Rex Triumph, the sinister casino king who is actually a dragon, desperately wants. Rose and Jade bravely face a fierce battle in the skies of Las Vegas to keep the Harbinger out of Rex Triumph’s hands. This fast-paced, imaginative fantasy adventure will appeal to Percy Jackson fans, who will likely demand a sequel. VERDICT A strong choice for middle grade fantasy collections.–Laurie Slagenwhite Walters, Brighton District Library, MI

Wiseman, Eva. Another Me. 240p. ebook available. Tundra. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781770497160.

Gr 5-7 –A heartbreaking account of a young Jewish man, Natan, who defies death in order to save his people. The Jewish inhabitants of Middle Ages–era Strasbourg face daily persecution, intolerance, and even physical violence. They are forced to pay high prices to ensure a tremulous sense of safety and are segregated from the general population, and their way of life becomes even more difficult as the Black Death falls like a shadow over the land. Natan, in the wrong place at the wrong time, stumbles across an active plot to falsely accuse the local Jews of poisoning the town’s water and finds himself the mortal victim of paranoia and hate. While his body lies prone at the feet of his killers, Natan’s consciousness miraculously moves to inhabit the body of a young Christian man, and romantic rival, Hans. Granted a second chance, Natan seeks not only to bring justice to his murderers but also to save the Jews of Strasbourg from further plots. While the historical element of the writing is, at times, a bit heavy-handed, the simple narrative and unique story line serve to engage readers. Although this tale centers on heinous acts, the actual violence is glossed over, making the text palatable for more sensitive readers. VERDICT More broadly approachable, if clunkier, than Karen Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy and with a fast-paced narrative reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793, this offering will engage reluctant readers—even those who are normally averse to historical fiction. Recommended for general purchase.–Rose Garrett, Cliff Valley School, Atlanta, GA

Woodfine, Katherine. The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. 320p. (The Sinclair’s Mysteries: Bk. 3). Kane Miller. Sept. 2016. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781610674379.

Gr 4-7 –Inspired by the real history of London’s Selfridges, which opened in 1909, this is the tale of Sinclair’s department store and a mystery involving the disappearance of Mr. Edward Sinclair’s jeweled ornament, The Clockwork Sparrow. The heroine, Miss Sophie Taylor, is lucky to work as a shopgirl in the millinery department and gets caught up in the mysterious drama as she stumbles across the valuable ornament the night before the grand opening. The narrative takes place in a time when ladies wore hats, papers were sold by newsboys, and children played with crafted wooden toys. It is a classic whodunit with criminals, gangs, top secret documents, and old-fashioned detective work. The setting is London’s lively Piccadilly Circus, which becomes a character itself as it evokes the grandeur of Harrods and Fortnum & Mason. Sophie teams up with a new friend, Miss Lilian Rose, to clear her name and solve the mystery. This was no ordinary robbery, and the girls uncover a very wicked and evil plan with the help of a colorful cast of characters. VERDICT A truly exciting novel that will appeal to lovers of historical fiction as well as adventure and detective stories. It may also entice readers who enjoy fashion history and city life.–Christina Pesiri, Michael F. Stokes Elementary School, Island Trees-Levittown, NY

Yoder, Eric & Natalie Yoder. One Minute Mysteries/¡Misterios de un minuto: More Short Mysteries You Solve with Science/¡Más misterios cortos que resuelves con ciencias! tr. by Esteban Bachelet & Nadia Bercovich. glossary. photos. 224p. Science, Naturally! Aug. 2016. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781938492150. BL

Gr 3-6 –In the tradition of Encyclopedia Brown and “Solve Them Yourself” mysteries comes this STEM-friendly book filled with very short science-based mysteries. Each of the stories presents a “how” or “why” question that can be resolved through the application of scientific principles. The short, breezy, and fun entries range in topic from the colors of the rainbow to how to tell if eggs are fresh or hard-boiled. The authors give each tale a familiar and realistic setting—home, school—so that young readers will have an easier time grasping the concepts, which include general, physical, life, and earth science, with a bonus section on math. Each tale is presented in English, with the Spanish translation on the opposite page. At the bottom of each page is a reminder to think/piensa before turning the page to read the solution. The bilingual solutions are also on facing pages. Photos are sprinkled throughout, and a bilingual glossary is also included. VERDICT In a STEM-conscious curriculum environment, this book is a boon for teachers, who can use it to create interest in the subject matter.–Tim Wadham, Children’s Literature Consultant, WA

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