Sunday, November 23, 2014

Old School Sunday: Zooman Sam by Lois Lowry (1999)

Zooman Sam
by Lois Lowry
1999. HMH Books.
ISBN: 9780395973936
At long last, we come to the end of the Anastasia and Sam Krupnik series with Zooman Sam. When Sam's nursery school teacher invites each member of the class to dress up for  the career they might like to have someday, Sam decides he wants to be a zooman. His mother makes him a zookeeper's jumpsuit, and Anastasia's boyfriend lends Sam a collection of baseball caps bearing the names of mascots of animal-themed teams. Quickly Sam realizes that he can't possibly talk about how a zooman cares for every single animal on one day, so he and his teacher devise a plan  to present a few each day until he runs out of hats. Unfortunately, while some of the animals are easy to talk about, others are scary, and Sam isn't sure he'll be able to see his commitment through to the end.

As I read this last book, I couldn't help but think about my intense dislike for the Gooney Bird Greene books. If Lois Lowry can write Sam so well, how is it that she misses the mark so completely with Gooney Bird? I intend to revisit those books now that I've finished this series, in the hopes that my trained eye is sharper now than it was in library school and I might discover that they aren't terrible after all. (As nice as it is to complete a series, I will miss Sam and would love another young character to read about!)

In any case, Zooman Sam is especially impressive because it makes such a great, compelling story out of a small classroom event. Lowry has taken on big things (dystopian societies, the Holocaust, death), but her talent for writing effectively about little things is what has elevated her to a favorite author for me.

There isn't much more to say about this book that I haven't already mentioned in a previous review; children's literature enthusiasts who haven't read the Sam books just need to see for themselves how sweet, charming, and timeless they are.

I borrowed Zooman Sam from my local public library.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Board Book Review: Zoom, Zoom, Baby! by Karen Katz

Zoom, Zoom, Baby!
by Karen Katz

Quick Booktalk

Infant and toddler readers are invited to look for a baby inside various vehicles, where they encounter different animals before finally locating the elusive youngster. 


About the Illustrations

Karen Katz's illustrations are almost always spot-on, even in books where the text is lacking. This book is no different. The animals' inviting faces really motivated Little Miss Muffet to try opening the flaps herself, and I enjoyed the visual reveal at the end of the book that all of the vehicles are really the baby's toys.


Story Time Possibilities

This book would be hard to share in a group setting unless every child/caregiver pair had a copy to play with. Lifting flaps is really the whole point of reading the book, and this is lost when one presenter does the work for everyone. For very small groups, or for one-on-one sharing, it provides great opportunities to explore animal and transportation vocabulary and to understand the concept of asking and answering questions.


Readers Advisory

Zoom, Zoom, Baby! is sure to please families who enjoy Katz's other books. It also pairs nicely with any of the transportation-themed picture books by Donald Crews, as well as those by Jonathan London and Philemon Sturges.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mommy Librarian's Story Time Secret #6: Board Books Are (Usually) Too Small For Story Time!

First I was a children’s librarian. Then I became a mom. As I attend story times with my daughter, I have started to make a list of hints that might be helpful to story time performers and/or story time attendees. Today’s hint is for librarians who perform baby story times: Your board books are too small!

Board books are an essential part of a library’s collection and of a baby’s personal library. They are durable, chewable, and easy for little fingers to grab and hold. However, most board books, unless they are oversized, are inappropriate for story time.

Here are the misconceptions I used to have about board books, and why they turned out to be false:
  • “My story time room is small enough that even the people in the back can see small books.”
    Now that I have been that mom in the back of the room, I can tell you that I can see the illustrations, but most of the time I can’t make out what they are. And if I can’t, babies, the very youngest of whom can't see more than 10 inches away from their faces, definitely can't.
  • “Babies don’t look at the pictures so it doesn’t matter how big they are.”
    My daughter has looked at pictures in books from about 6 weeks old. If the book is large enough and the baby is close enough, he or she will absolutely look at the pictures. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it can never happen if the books in use at story time are consistently too small.
  • “Board books are the only baby-friendly books, so I am stuck with them, even if they’re small.”
    When I first started doing baby story time, I had no real concrete idea of which books worked best for babies. After a lot of trial and error, I realized that some board books are just longer picture books printed on cardboard in order to make more sales, and that likewise some picture books have just the right balance of text to illustration to be a perfect choice for baby story time.
Some libraries have a story time collection which includes enough copies of certain board books that every baby/caregiver pairing can have one to look at. In that situation, the problems mentioned above are resolved, and board books can be a great addition to story time. I have never worked in a library where this model of story time was consistently possible, however, and I imagine many other libraries don’t have the budget to support such a thing for every program.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

YA Review: Get Happy by Mary Amato (ARC)

Get Happy
by Mary Amato
2014. EgmontUSA
ISBN: 9781606845226
When Minerva and her best friend Fin land jobs as children's birthday party entertainers at Get Happy, they meet Cassie, whose blog about sea creatures is read by the Hawaiian marine biologist Minerva suspects might be her father. She has always believed her mother's insistence that she was better off without her dad, but as she learns more about him, she discovers that the truth might be more complicated.

Like most books by Mary Amato, this one has a free, easy-to-read style that makes it appealing pleasure reading. Though the characters are older teens, their concerns and interests are certainly suitable to a middle school audience, and the content is pretty family-friendly for a YA title.

Story-wise, this book takes off in a few different directions, which, at times, seem random and disconnected. The events that take place at the characters' Get Happy jobs are funny, for instance, but it's hard to guess why the author chose that particular round-about way of revealing the identity of Min's father. Min's personal interest in playing the ukulele is a much more effective entree to learning more about her dad, especially since he happens to be Hawaiian. There is also a largely unnecessary secondary plot involving a possible love connection between Min and a Get Happy employee named Hayes that  detracts from the central family story.

Overall, Get Happy is a quintessential middle school book - more mature than most middle grade, but neither as dark nor as hard-hitting as a lot of YA. Recommend this one to fans of Frances O'Roark Dowell's Ten Miles Past Normal and Erin Dionne's Notes from an Accidental Band Geek, both of which also bridge the gap between fifth and ninth grades.

I received a digital ARC of Get Happy from EgmontUSA via Edelweiss.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.