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Readers Advisory: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18 hardbound, ISBN-10 0316213071, January 2015

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for. Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking. Until one day, he does…

Black is back with a dark and eerie fairy tale reminiscent of her early works Tithe and Valiant but shining with a definite patina of artistic maturity. She’s moved past simply pointing out that the faerie world is full of darkness, backstabbing, and shady deals and gone on to explore what that means for humans who live in proximity to magical, amoral creatures. A great deal of the plot and Hazel’s characterization focus on the fallout from making deals with otherworldly beings. In that respect, it reminded me of the show Supernatural–you think you’re prepared to pay the price of your deal, but you always find out you didn’t fully understand the promise you made, and the human always gets the short end of the stick. Anyway, mystery, romance, powerful writing, and a dramatic declaration of love near the end all roll into another winner from Black. Although it’s a standalone, Black leaves plenty of room for future stories in the same setting, and I hope she will write a few.

Recommend to: Fans of fantasy and of the author

To buy or not to buy: A general purchase

Readers Advisory: Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0385744412, January 2015

When rhesus monkeys are brutally massacred on the dusty streets of Kolkata by a troop of power-hungry langur monkeys, Mico, a privileged langur, becomes entangled in the secrets at the heart of his troop’s leadership and is shocked at what he discovers. He feels compelled to help the few surviving rhesus, especially Papina, a young female he befriends, even though doing so goes against everything he’s been taught. As more blood is spilled, Mico realizes that choosing between right and wrong won’t be easy.

My initial reaction: Wait, a YA novel about monkeys? Not about kids saving monkeys like Endangered or Threatened, but actually about the inner lives of monkeys? That’s insane…which means that either the editor who said yes to it was high at the time, or the book is, in reality, something special.

As it turns out, the “something special” option is correct.

I think the first instinct everyone has when discussing a novel with animal protagonists is to trot out the Watership Down comparisons, most notably “Does for (insert species here) what Watership Down did for rabbits.” May I just say that as far as I can tell, Watership Down did precisely beans for rabbits? Our species is still wearing their species and selling their species quartered and frozen in the aisles of select grocery stores. (Full disclosure: I had a pet rabbit called Basil and loved him very much, and if you wear or eat rabbit voluntarily, I will think less of you and probably tell you so.) I think the compliment is poorly phrased. However, if used to mean that whatever new animal-centered novel is comparable to Watership Down, I don’t think it’s ever true. I cannot think of a single novel with animal protagonists that approaches Watership Down in scope and mastery. Heck, I can’t think of many novels about human protagonists that match up to the adventures of Hazel-rah & Co.

Another comparison I’ve heard in the case of Monkey Wars is that it compares to Animal Farm. That’s a fairer parallel because it does deal with a totalitarian regime. However, Animal Farm is satire. Monkey Wars is serious. It’s genocide. It’s the Holocaust. It’s tyranny and resistance and false flag attacks, families torn apart and innocents tortured at the drop of a hat, or in this case, a mango. It’s the corruptible seeking the corruption of absolute power, and the strong trying to fight their way to the truth. Blood, intrigue, romance, murder most foul… Perhaps the most accurate comparison to make is with Shakespearian tragedy. Getting readers to pick it up may be a challenge, but once they’re in, they’ll stay with it.

Recommend to: Anyone interested in stories of conspiracy, action, and conflicted heroes. Be aware that although the protagonists are animals, this book is on a teen/adult level of interest, and it contains quite a bit of graphic violence.

To buy or not to buy: A first purchase for YA collections and high school libraries.

Cookies Storytime

For our last storytime before Christmas break, we shared stories about Cookie. C is for Cookie! And I backed that up with an actual cardboard letter; I’m not just stealing a line from Cookie Monster.

We read:

Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington

A simple picture book about how bakers make and sell cookies.

Concept: Factual book.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

The ducking gets a cookie (with nuts) and the Pigeon is predictably upset.

Concept: Print awareness (word bubbles!)

The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson

The farmer feeds his animals the appropriate items except the cow, who loves cookies. Cumulative rhyming text, a refrain, and plenty of farm animals to encourage noise-making.

Concepts: Rhyme and animal noises (phonemic awareness). Sequencing.

Cookie Count by Robert Sabuda

Mice sample a variety of tasty treats in this pop-up delight.

Concept: Counting

Flannelboard

Five Little Cookies

Five little cookies in the window today,
Along came (child’s name) with money to pay.
(S)he picked the (color of sprinkles) cookie and took it away!

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The cookies across the top of the board in this photo are the pieces for this set. The photo is of all three sets I made for the Food storytime kit.

Extensions

Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?

We played the classic game with its classic rhyme using a felt cookie from the flannel set. If you don’t know it, you can hear the lyrics in this video. I decided my group was too young to handle the entire “Who, me? Yes, you” part on short notice, so I improvised that part a little and just said, “Not you? Then who?” when a child denied having the cookie.

This is the Way the Cookies Bake (“Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”)

This is the way we sift the flour, sift the flour, sift the flour,
This is the way we sift the flour, all day long.

Stir the batter…melt the butter…shake the sugar…sprinkle the nuts…the cookies rise…we eat them up

Craft

Die Cut Gingerbread House

house

Always a hit: yarn for icing and sequins for “candy.”

How It Went:

Everyone likes to talk about cookies, so this program went perfectly. Poll results reveal the leading favorite cookie is chocolate chip.

Readers Advisory: The Boy with the Hidden Name by Skylar Dorset

Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade, ISBN-10 1402292562, December 2014

Selkie Stewart has just saved her quasi-boyfriend, Ben, from a fairy prison run by the Seelie Court. If they weren’t the two most-wanted individuals in the Otherworld before, they definitely are now. Along with Ben and the rest of their ragtag group of allies-Selkie’s ogre aunts; a wizard named Will; Ben’s cousin Safford; and Kelsey, Selkie’s best friend-Selkie is ready to embrace her destiny and bring the Court down. Until she hears the rest of her prophecy: Benedict le Fay will betray you, and then he will die. 

Skylar Dorset closes out her Otherworld series (at least, this storyline) with a grand adventure to stop an apocalypse of Fae proportions. Dorset hits all the right notes for an urban fantasy featuring faerie creatures, from a magical clock that keeps its own time to an Unseelie Court visit to cursed objects. Of course, the big question is not so much whether Selkie will save the world but whether Benedict Le Fay will actually betray her and die, and more importantly, whether they’ll wind up together either way. After Ben ditched Selkie at the end of the first book (The Girl Who Never Was), she’s learned not to trust a Le Fay.

As in the last outing, shades of Doctor Who and Alice in Wonderland give the proceedings a delightfully screwball cant. Dorset has a gift for illogical logic and for snappy dialogue. Although the plot is a bit jumpy and the resolution comes out of left field, the characters and pacing more than make up for it, as does the romance. While it’s not conventional these days to write a two-parter–trilogies being the norm with quadrilogies increasing in occurrence–the length feels perfect, and hopefully Dorset will return to the same world with new characters.

Recommend to: Urban fantasy fans, readers who like a bit of silliness

To buy or not to buy: A good choice where the genre is still popular

Boxes Storytime

I had a nice time at YALSA Symposium but was glad to be back for storytime. This week, B was for Boxes! Is anything more fun for open-ended play than a box?

We read:

Happy Little Yellow Box by David A. Carter

This pop-up opposite book made us all giggle.

Concept: Opposites.

 

Thank You, Bear by Greg E. Foley

Bear finds the “greatest thing ever,” a tiny box that he wants to give to his friend Mouse. However, none of their other friends think it’s great at all. Bear gets discouraged, but Mouse turns out to think that the box–just the right size for nesting–is the greatest thing ever, indeed.

Concept: Size. Perception.

The Birthday Box by Leslie Patricelli

A diapered toddler gets a birthday present, and when he unwraps it, he decides the box and not the stuffed dog inside is his gift. Similar to Not a Box by Portis.

Concept: Imagination. Play.

 

Sitting in My Box by Dee Lillegard

Similar to The Mitten, this story shows a little boy getting shoved farther and farther over in his cardboard box as wild animals show up and crowd in with him. Finally a flea hops in and bites every animal, and he gets his box all to himself again. However, he was reading about wild animals the entire time. Were the animals real or imaginary? Who knows?

Concept: Imagination.

 

Action Rhymes:

I Like to Be a Jumping Jack

I like to be a jumping jack
And jump out from a box
I like to be a rocking horse
And rock and rock and rock.
I like to be a spinning top
And spring around and round
I like to be a rubber ball
And bounce right to the ground.
Credit: Perry Public Library

I Had a Little Turtle

I had a little turtle (hands on top of each other, move thumbs)
Who lived in a box (make box)
He swam in the puddles and climbed on the rocks (with hands swim, climb)
He snapped at a mosquito (clap), he snapped at a flea (clap)
He snapped at a minnow (clap), and he snapped at me (clap)
He caught the mosquito (cup hands), he caught the flea (cup hands),
He caught the minnow (cup hands), but he didn’t catch me! (wag finger)
Credit: Storytime Katie/past knowledge

Flannelboard:

We didn’t do an actual flannelboard this week. Instead I filled a cardboard box with puppets and plushies and gave the kids hints to see if they could guess the animal or object before I pulled it out. After storytime, we all played with the puppets.

Craft:

We have a die that cuts out little gift boxes you fold up and glue together. The kids decorated their boxes (one of them made her a ship!) and folded/glued them with a little adult help in some cases.

How It Went:

I had a very small, mostly very young crowd, so the guessing game was a little hard for them. They liked the rhymes but mainly wanted to jump up and down a lot in the first one and clap a lot in the second one. All the books went well, but I wound up having Sitting in My Box and Thank You Bear back-to-back, so we did animal noises two books in a row. We have read so many books involving animal noises this season, I think we’re all getting worn out on the mooing and the roaring.

Next week is my zero-program Thanksgiving week, but the week after that I’ll be back with Before and After!

Favorite Songs Storytime

F is for Favorite! If singing is one of the crucial five early literacy practices, then how better to implement it than with a sing-along storytime? For this plan, I chose picture books based on songs that the storytimers would find familiar. I did not intentionally set out to choose only the works of Jane Cabrera, but despite pulling in many materials to evaluate, hers stood out above the others time and again because of the quality of the illustrations and because her versions of the song lyrics encourage movement.

We read (sang!):

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Anthropomorphized puppies go through their day from getting ready to going to school to coming home and playing before bed.

Concepts: Singing. Sequence.

 

 

Row, Row, Row, Your Boat

A puppy and a kitten row through a rainforest, with noises and actions fitted to the many animals they encounter on their journey.

Concept: Singing. Animal sounds.

 

 

Over in the Meadow

In this traditional counting song, meadow dwelling species teach their babies species-appropriate behavior.

Concept: Singing. Animal sounds. Counting.

We sang (book free):

If You’re Happy and You Know It

We sang the traditional “clap your hands, stomp your feet, shout Hooray!”, and then I asked the storytimers what else we could do to show we are happy and added three of their suggestions into the song: jump up and down, shake your head, and hop like a frog.

Finger Puppets: Little Bunny Foo Foo

I will not reproduce the words as surely we all know some version of them, whether you sing “Rabbit” or “Bunny”, or “bashing” or “bopping.” However, here’s my first shot at making my own finger puppets. The bunny and goon are two sides of the same puppet, so when the Good Fairy does her magic, you can just rotate the puppet and POOF! insta-goon.

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Craft: Good Fairy Wands

These were just paper stars taped to straws and decorated with sequins. I told the kids that with their own magic wands, they could turn any bad bunnies they saw into goons!

How It Went

We enjoyed this plan because of all the movement. The kids giggled through the whole program. My voice started to go on the third book, though. Singing for an entire storytime may sound like a great idea, but be sure to take into account whether you physically can sing that long without getting scratchy.

My favorite part of this plan was getting to introduce Little Bunny Foo Foo to a new audience, since only two of the storytimers already knew it. They seemed to enjoy it; they all talked about turning mean bunnies into goons with their wands all through craft time. I helped one little girl put an extra star on her wand, and she told her mom, “I have a double one! I gonna find TWO bad bunnies an’ turn ’em into goons!”

This week: N is for Not Doing Storytime. I’ll be in Austin attending YALSA conference, and our storytimers will get the special treat of a storytime from our outreach coordinator. I’ll be back the following week.

Readers Advisory: Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Disney-Hyperion, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1423168321, November 2014

Seventeen-year-old Cassie Hobbes has a gift for profiling people. Her talent has landed her a spot in an elite FBI program for teens with innate crime-solving abilities, and into some harrowing situations. After barely escaping a confrontation with an unbalanced killer obsessed with her mother’s murder, Cassie hopes she and the rest of the team can stick to solving cold cases from a distance. But when victims of a brutal new serial killer start turning up, the Naturals are pulled into an active case that strikes too close to home: the killer is a perfect copycat of Dean’s incarcerated father—a man he’d do anything to forget. Forced deeper into a murderer’s psyche than ever before, will the Naturals be able to outsmart the enigmatic killer’s brutal mind games before this copycat twists them into his web for good?

Book 2 of The Naturals, a CSI-type series about five teenagers with extraordinary natural gifts for criminal investigation, is here. Readers can join Cassie and Dean the profilers, Michael the emotion reader, Lia the human lie detector, and Sloane the statistician/savant as they track a new killer. This time, the murders seem connected to Dean’s father, an incarcerated serial killer. To complicate matters, a new agent has taken Locke’s place, and she wants the Naturals to take a step back from investigating for their own safety. If they don’t toe the line, she might recommend the FBI disband the program altogether.

Barnes keeps the focus on chasing the killer, so while fans looking forward to more of the Cassie-Michael-Dean love triangle will get a small fix, don’t expect the romance angle to overwhelm this story. Pulling Dean’s father into the plot provides an organic in-road to keep developing Dean’s character without taking away from the plot. Secondary female characters Lia and Sloane feel more sympathetic this time and add some humor. Hopefully the next book will focus more on these underutilized characters.

Teens who like forensic investigation shows and books will welcome the latest in this series.

Recommend to: Procedural mystery fans

To buy or not to buy: For public library YA collections.

 

Readers Advisory: Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little

HarperCollins, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062194976, November 2014

In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart. Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying. With a forbidden romance blossoming in her heart and her family’s survival on the line, Jayden must embark on a deadly journey to save the ones she loves—and find a true love for herself.

While the plot breaks bupkis in the way of new ground in historical fiction–girl meets boy, boy and girl fall in love, but girl is already betrothed to a giant jerk–Forbidden boasts an unusual location for YA historicals, a romance you’ll root for, and plenty of belly dancing. Little uses just enough historical detail to set the scene, keeping it to more of a pleasure read than a deep exploration of another time and place. No boring politics here, just brutal desert conditions, camel rides, and sexy dancing in goddess temples. The heroine, if somewhat of a hand-wringer, is thoroughly developed and caught in a genuinely tough situation.

On the downside, Jayden’s betrothed makes for a rather one-note villain, cruel and power-mad. Little missed a chance to flesh him out, although making him too sympathetic could have turned this into yet another love triangle in a saturated market. Likewise, the female character Jayden begs to nurse her little sister after their mother dies in childbirth is sour and unsympathetic. A couple of quickie plot devices at the end steer what feels like a standalone into a cliffhanger ending, and the reader can see the ghost of a more permanent ending floating behind the setup for volume two.

Recommend to: Romance and historical fic fans

To buy or not to buy: A great choice for public library YA collections; probably a bit thin to pair with any social studies units.

Readers Advisory: A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Harper Teen, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062278967, November 2014

Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him. Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

Multiverse/parallel universe stories look like the next hot trend in YA scifi, first with the release of Dissonance by Erika O’Rourke, and now with this new series from the popular Claudia Gray.

Gray gives readers plenty to like: mystery/conspiracy, a love triangle, an intriguing technology that lets characters jump between vastly different worlds. Those who like their stories plot-driven and escapist will think it’s heaven. However, readers looking to connect with realistic, developed characters will find the cast falls flat. Also, the large span of plot devoted to Marguerite’s stay in a parallel universe where she’s royalty in Tsarist Russia will enchant or annoy readers depending on how much patience they have for princess fantasies.

One concern about character ethics, and this is a spoiler: the heroine has sex with a parallel universe version of one of the other points of the love triangle while she’s inhabiting the body of that universe’s version of her. Now, each different universe’s version of a person is a different person. You might be in a body that looks just like yours, but it is not yours, and the person it belongs to has no control over it. The fact that the heroine uses someone else’s body for sex with no way of getting the owner’s consent and then has no guilty feelings beyond “Should I feel guilty for sleeping with him since she liked him first and missed the experience?” is more than a bit rapey, methinks.

Recommend to: Fans of quick ‘n’ easy scifi

To buy or not to buy: Gray has a big following. Good choice for public library YA collections.

Readers Advisory: The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, (price currently unavailable) hardbound, ISBN-10 031624077X, November 2014

To Master Thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it’s her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation. With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere–but they aren’t the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if they can’t beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!

Do you have readers searching for a great getaway book? One of those stories that lets you immerse yourself in a world and step into the lives of the people there? The kind of story you don’t so much finish as fall off of, suddenly waking up in shock that the real world is still out there? Something complex and challenging to the imagination but fun and satisfying at the same time? Found one!

Although the hefty length may deter some reluctant readers, the fantasy world, colorful characters, and quest/villain-thwarting plot will engross any who choose to enter into this adventure. Especially endearing is Fin, probably the youngest Master Thief in any world, his career blessed by the fact that no one can remember him for more than a couple of moments. He can even steal the same pawned object and return it to the person who pawned it, who will then pawn it again and so on–although this point stretches credulity; wouldn’t the pawnshop owner and the owner of the object remember their transactions even if they forgot Fin? Perhaps his blessing is just that strong, although in the rest of his life, it’s a curse. Fin has no family and can’t make friends since everyone forgets him. He’s completely isolated until he stows away on the Kraken, ship of the good-natured and absent-minded wizard Ardent, which happens to also carry Marrill, a feisty girl from our world who doesn’t forget Fin. Their friendship grows as they face life-threatening magical dangers including a literal forest of gossip, a sob-inducing soothsayer, and a prophecy forecasting the end of the world.

Co-authors/spouses Ryan and Davis make a fabulous team, and their creation is filled with friendship, adventure, and a lot of laughs. The Map to Everywhere is the first in a planned series of four novels, and the wait for the next book is going to feel endless.

Recommend to: Fantasy fans, adventure fans

To buy or not to buy: A first purchase

ARC from Netgalley/Edelweiss, honest review, no money exchanged, etc. Final art not seen.