Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year in Review Post #6: 2011 Reading Statistics

To my utter shock and amazement, I have managed to read over 1000 books - 1014, to be exact - in 2011. Of these, only 13  were books written for adults. All the others were books for kids, broken down as follows:
Here are some interesting statistics I uncovered as I gathered these numbers:
  • I read 46 books electronically, using my Nook. Most of these came from NetGalley, and two came from Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab.
  • I posted reviews for 402 different titles. (This number doesn't include reviews for books read in 2011 that will post in 2012.)
  • I read one less young adult novel this year than last, but 23 more middle grade books, and 35 more chapter books. (I didn't keep track of picture books, board books, or easy readers for all of 2010, so there is no fair way to make a comparison for those.)
  • I read over 100 books in the months of December (149), October (106), March (102), and May (102), and less than 50 in only one month, January (49)
  • Overwhelmingly, with 576 books, the genre I read most was realistic fiction.
I hope you have enjoyed following my blog for the past year as I figured out my way around the kidlit world and settled into the blogging habit. Follow this blog in 2012 for reviews of contemporary middle grade and young adult realistic fiction, as well as weekly Themed Thursday and Old School Sunday posts. Follow my story time and early literacy blog, Story Time Secrets, for reviews of picture books and easy readers, as well as outlines of my library programs, including flannel boards, rhymes, and songs.

Tomorrow, the count goes back to zero, reviews start up again, and I dig in to some more good books. Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Year in Review Post #5: Secrets & Sharing Soda's Books of the Year

Today, I’d like to present my favorite books published in 2011. I have sorted this post according to category, focusing only on those categories that I regularly review.

My criteria for selecting these books were:
  • literary quality
  • kid appeal
  • personal enjoyment of the book
  • potential use in story time (for picture books) 
Though I have made some remarks on this page, my full reviews provide more detailed reasons that these books are my favorites. Access my reviews by clicking on the titles below.

    Favorite Young Adult Contemporary Novel
    (Dutton Juvenile - Penguin Group)

    An original style, gorgeous descriptions, and an important and hard-learned lesson make this book stand out among others of the genre. Some bloggers have criticized the book’s protagonist for being too needy and modeling clingy behavior when it comes to boys, but I think this realism and emotion are precisely what make the story work so well. Readers who decide not to let main character Joy’s initial mistakes turn them off will find a well-written and wonderful story about overcoming unrequited love.

    Honorable Mention:
    Shine by Lauren Myracle (Amulet Books - Abrams)
    Past Perfect by Leila Sales (Simon Pulse - Simon & Schuster)
    Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Atheneum - Simon & Schuster)

    Favorite Middle Grade Novel
    (Amulet Books - Abrams)

    This quiet novel about the impact of an orange tree on a California neighborhood is filled with poetics turns of phrase and memorable characters. It’s not an action-packed novel by any means, but the artistic story telling and sensory descriptions give it a unique place in the world of children’s literature. If I could have any book win the Newbery this year, it would be this one.

    Honorable Mention:
    Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press - HarperCollins)
    Ten Rules for Living With My Sister by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends - Macmillan)

    Favorite Chapter Book

    Toys Come Home

    by Emily Jenkins
    illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
    (Schwartz & Wade - Random House)

    Carefully selected language and a warm, nostalgic tone are the hallmarks of this prequel to Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party. A girl’s toys come to life with their many philosophical questions and concerns about their role in her life, resulting in an emotional and bittersweet tale of love, loss, and change.

    Honorable Mention: 
    The Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

    Favorite Easy Reader

    by Dana Meachen Rau
    (Random House)

    Sunny summer illustrations and simple language make this book a fast-paced and fun read for beginning readers. The dual meaning of “flip flop” as both shoes and indecisiveness works exceptionally well, and the illustrations offer so much extra detail not mentioned in the text, creating a lovely portrait of summer freedom.

    Honorable Mention:
    Aggie Gets Lost by Lori Ries, illustrated by Frank W. Dormer (Charlesbridge Publishing)
    Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend by Herman Parish, illustrated by Lynne Avril (Greenwillow Books - HarperCollins)

    Favorite Picture Book
    Grandpa Green
    by Lane Smith
    (Roaring Brook Press - Macmillan)

    I have yet to meet a Lane Smith book I didn’t love, but this one caught me off guard by making me cry! Grandpa Green has recreated his entire life in a garden of carefully pruned bushes, which his grandson uses to help him remember his past, even as old age begins to rob him of his memories. The book strikes just the right balance between bitter and sweet and manages to capture the poignancy of aging without becoming maudlin. Just a beautiful book.

    Honorable Mention:
    Shoe-La-La by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
    Blackout by John Rocco

    Favorite Book in Graphic Format
    Nina in that Makes Me Mad
    by Hilary Knight
    (Toon Books - Candlewick Press)

    Nina gets mad in lots of different situations, which are comically drawn by Hilary Knight in a series of panels. This book is great for teaching emotional intelligence to preschoolers in an engaging way, and it also articulates different types of anger for which even an adult might not have found the proper words. This book reminds us that it’s okay to feel angry sometimes, as long as we recognize our anger, tell someone about it, and constructively work to resolve it.

    Honorable Mention: The Meaning of Life and Other Stuff  by Jimmy Gownley

    What were your favorite books of 2011?

    Check back tomorrow for my final post of the year, in which I will reveal the grand total of books I read in 2011.

    Story Time Greatest Hits 2011

    According to my shelves on Goodreads, I have read 332 different titles at story time this year. I don't know off the top of my head how many sessions that covers, since I don't have my stats in front of me, but that is an awful lot of books! And believe it or not, out of all those books, I have managed to select a top ten list of favorites for the year. These books represent my 2011 Greatest Hits - they're the tried and true titles that never let me down that will become part of my regular story time rotation in the years ahead.

    10.
    The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
    The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry,
    and The Big Hungry Bear
    (1984)
    by Audrey and Don Wood
    Read at Baby/Toddler Story Time on 3/15/11.
    This book is just as much fun to read aloud now as it was to hear my mother read it as a child. The tone of the story is perfectly suited to really hamming it up and getting into character.

    9.
    We are in a Book!
    We Are in a Book! (2010)
    by Mo Willems
    Read at a class visit on 6/2/11
    A true crowd pleaser for all ages, We Are in a Book breaks the fourth wall and highlights in a very funny way the best aspects of Gerald's and Piggie's personalities.

    8.
    The Foggy, Foggy Forest
    The Foggy, Foggy Forest (2008)
    by Nick Sharratt
    Read at Preschool Story Time on 11/7/11.
    The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and the feel of the paper very appealing to young kids. Preschoolers love to guess at what each shadow represents and are surprisingly good at guessing even the most difficult ones!

    7.

    The Babies on the Bus
    The Babies on the Bus (2011)
    by Karen Katz
    Read at Baby/Toddler Story Time on 8/16/11, 8/23/11 & 12/6/11.
    Read at Baby Lap Time on 8/19/11, 10/19/11 & 10/20/11.
    This song has been a story time favorite for my groups since I started here, and this book makes it go down easier (for me) than the long-winded recording we have. Karen Katz is one of the best illustrators for babies and toddlers, and the fresh take on the song keeps everyone engaged, even those (like me) who are sick of it.

    6.
    A Good Day (2007)
    by Kevin Henkes
    Read at Baby/Toddler Story Time on 2/22/11 & 10/4/11.
    Read at Baby Lap Time on 5/27/11.
    This is such a feel-good story, and the simplicity of the text and boldness of the illustrations are just perfect for babies and toddlers. I think of it mainly as a Spring book, but also included it in the Fall because of the squirrel.

    5.
    Big Fat Hen
    Big Fat Hen (1994)
    by Keith Baker
    Read at Baby Lap Time on 4/8/11, 9/28/11, and 9/29/11.
    Keith Baker's huge illustrations make this a perfect book for babies. They are drawn to the thick, bold lines, and since their parents know the nursery rhyme (One Two, Buckle My Shoe) it often becomes an interactive experience for everyone.

    4.
    Baby Faces (Look Baby! Books)
    Baby Faces (1998)
    by Margaret Miller
    Read at Baby Lap Time on 7/29/11.
    Who can resist these adorable baby faces? Not any of my lap time babies, that's for sure! This will make a re-appearance at lap time in just a couple of weeks!

    3.
    Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)
    Princess Hyacinth, the Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated (2009)
    by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Lane Smith
    Read during a class visit on 2/12/11.
    Read at family story time on 3/14/11.
    I am not a princess girl, or even a fairy tale girl, but I adore this book. I like  the spunky tone of voice, the fact that the happily ever after ending isn't saccharine-sweet, and most of all, I love the universal appeal of the story. Boys and girls of all ages love this story.

    2.
    Bark, George
    Bark, George (1999)
    by Jules Feiffer
    Read at Tales for Twos and Threes on 1/26/11 & 8/26/11.
    I think of this book as my secret weapon. When I feel story time getting out of control, or when a crowd is larger than usual, or when I'm just feeling cranky, this is the book that snaps me out of it. No matter how times I read it, it still gets laughs, and it incorporates all the animal sounds that kids love to make.

    1.
    Monkey and Me
    Monkey and Me (2007)
    by Emily Gravett
    Read at Baby Lap Time on 4/8/11.
    Read at Baby/Toddler Story Time on 8/16/11 & 12/6/11.
    This book takes the number one spot because it's not just perfect for story time, it's also a perfect picture book. The text is basic and repetitive - a girl and her monkey go to see various animals - but each illustration hints at what's to come on the following page, which is a wonderful visual way to help kids follow the action. I love seeing the girl pretending to be a penguin, an elephant, and of course, a monkey! The element of surprise also makes this book really exciting for toddlers,who love the anticipation before finding out which animal the girl and monkey went to see next. Bad grammar aside (it should be Monkey and I), I still love this book and plan to share it many more times in 2012.

    Thursday, December 29, 2011

    Year in Review Post #4: Themed Thursday Rewind

    This week's theme is LOOKING BACK.

    Did you miss a theme? Now's your chance to see them all one more time and find the topics that appeal to you the most!
    Themed Thursday will return to its regular schedule next week. Check back tomorrow for my favorite books of 2011.

      Lessons Learned in a Year of Story Time

      It's been over a year since I started performing weekly story times in a library setting, and almost a year since I started doing them in the new branch library I work in now. Since the year is winding down, and I'm on my first story time break ever, I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on some of what the past year has taught me. In no particular order, here are the ten most significant lessons I have learned from doing story time.

      1. There is no one "correct" way to perform a story time. Some people are very bubbly; some are more reserved. Some like to dance and bounce off the walls; others like to keep things calmer and low-key. Whatever your personality, the important thing is to be yourself and do what you enjoy. Share songs you don't mind hearing over and over again, read books you can get excited about, and present crafts and other activities in the way that makes you the most comfortable. Not only does this remove the stress of trying to fit into someone else's mold, it also relaxes you and makes you more likely to engage your audience.

      2. Combat stage fright with structure and routine. I am sure there are librarians who  feel perfectly at ease in front of their story time audiences all the time. I am not one of those people. If someone had told me two years ago that I was required to get up in front of large groups of toddlers and nannies and dance like a teapot and read in silly voices on a weekly basis, I would have burst into tears. I am not someone who naturally seeks the spotlight, and it has taken a lot for me to feel comfortable even standing at the front of a room full of people. The main thing that has helped me is that I have developed a structure for each type of story time that I do. This is not only great for the kids, who thrive on routine, but also for my planning. I know ahead of time how many rhymes, songs, fingerplays, and books I need to fill the allotted time slot, and I can plug anything into these slots, depending on the season, the theme of the books I'm reading, if there is one, and the age of the kids. I have found great comfort in starting the story time the same way every time. I do still get nervous, especially when I'm introducing something new, but by the end of that hello song, I'm usually calmed down and ready to go.

      3. Have a story time persona. I don't think you have to have a funny name, or a puppet, or a special costume to do a good story time, but I do still think it's important that the kids and adults at your story times feel that they know you. I ask everyone to call me Miss Katie, for example, and when I provide handouts of songs and rhymes, or promote special events, I refer to myself by that name. I also have a very distinct way of speaking in story time - what my coworkers call "story time voice." It's not necessarily a sing-song voice, but it's louder and clearer than my normal way of speaking. I think it works well because my audience can tell when I'm just chatting quietly with one or two children versus when I'm trying to get everyone's attention. And stepping into that persona makes me feel less ridiculous and therefore less nervous.

      4. Gain and maintain control. The hardest thing for me when I did my first story time at my new branch is that every adult in the audience had advice for me on how they would do it differently. And I made the mistake of trying to explain myself and make excuses to every single person who criticized me. Why? Because I was new,  and I forgot that I have been trained for this, and do know what I'm doing. In the intervening months since that first program, I have gone with my instincts on everything, from where I choose to sit, to how I hold the books, to when and if I shush chatty adults. And some of those initial complainers have stopped attending the story time, but many more have complimented me and even provided positive feedback to my manager. You truly cannot please everyone, so it's really important to remember that you are the librarian, and you ultimately decide what's right for you and your programs. Sticking to your guns can be difficult, but it's better to stand up for your decisions than allow people to constantly second-guess and undermine you.

      5. Variety is the spice of story time. With groups of older children, it is often possible to read four or five books and limit the extension activities to a couple of stretches or action rhymes. With very small children, however, it's a whole different ballgame. One of the things I like most about my story times for babies and toddlers is that in addition to books, I can do flannel boards, rhymes, songs, dances, fingerplays, and other activities. Varying the types of activities really helps keep the little ones focused. Moving from one thing to the next keeps them constantly curious, and interested in what's coming up next. The use of props and hand motions also engages them in a visual and tactile way with more abstract ideas, helping them to understand and become invested in what the librarian is presenting. I've also found it useful to rotate much of my repertoire on a seasonal basis, to keep myself from burning out on one particular activity or song.

      6. Teach adults how to behave in story time. It has amazed me to learn how little adults who care for children know about how to interact with them in a story time setting. I'm still working on ways to model story time behavior for them, but so far, using a baby doll prop has worked well for showing lap time parents how to engage their babies, and rhymes and songs sheets have helped the adults follow along during story time, as well as to repeat those activities at home.

      7. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself. Children learn from repetition, so there is no shame in doing the same rhymes and songs for weeks at a time, or even all year round. There is also nothing wrong with reading the same book multiple times a year. Most of the time, my audience doesn't realize it's a repeat anyway!

      8. Expect the unexpected. As much as I love routine, it's also important to be prepared to deviate from the plan if necessary. There will always be those days where more or fewer kids show up than you expect, or where a typically preschool story time is suddenly overrun with babies. I am always ready to leave out a story, or add in some extra songs or  rhymes depending on the climate of that particular day. This is where it really pays to know some rhymes and songs well enough that you can pull them out off the top of your head without any preparation. I've also found it necessary to have a back-up plan in case of laryngitis! Audiobooks work well in that situation, and familiar songs that everyone knows are a huge help as well!

      9. Know your books. My first few story times last Fall were very slapdash. I picked books at the last minute and didn't necessarily know the text or illustrations very well before reading them. What I have learned since then is that the more familiar I am with a book, the better job I do reading it aloud, and the more I'm able to point things out in the illustrations and ask leading questions to help the kids see where the story may be headed. I can't say that I know every book this well, since I don't always have the planning time, but when I can, I do my best to read the books the night before the program to refresh my memory and look for interesting things to share with the kids.

      10. Have fun! I know of some librarians who see story time as a chore to be completed each week, and because of that attitude, they dread their story time sessions and don't show the enthusiasm and excitement that grabs kids and makes them want to participate. Our job as children's librarians is to get kids excited about books. Choose books you love and activities that make you happy, and everything else truly will fall into place. 
      Tomorrow, I'll count down my top ten favorite story time books of the year.

        Wednesday, December 28, 2011

        Year in Review Post #3: Blog Resolutions

        At the start of this year, with the help of Top Ten Tuesday, I made some reading and blogging related New Year's Resolutions. This is something I did every year as a teenager, in my journals, and I had a pretty surprising success rate. There is something about writing down promises to yourself that - consciously, or subconsciously - makes you work on those things. I didn't reach 100% of the goals I set out to accomplish, but I still think I did pretty well. Here is how it all adds up:

        First, the Top Ten Books I Resolved to Read in 2011.

        Of the ten titles listed, I finished these three:

        The Tale of DespereauxThe Tales of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
        Finished on May 10, 2011.
        N is for Noose (Kinsey Millhone Mystery)N is for Noose by Sue Grafton
        Finished on October 11, 2011.
        Savor the Moment (Bride Quartet, #3)Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts
        Finished on January 26, 2011.

        These three, I started to read at some point, but never finished.
        • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
        • That Summer by Sarah Dessen
        • Alice on Her Way by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

        And finally, despite my best intentions, I never even looked at these four:
        • Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black & Justine Larbalestier
        • They Called Themselves the K-K-K by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
        • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
        • Untamed by P.C. and Kristen Cast

        I have never been good at making a list of books to read and then sticking with it, so I'm not really surprised to see that I didn't read all ten. What I choose to read depends so much on my mood at any given time, and working in the library means that I am constantly exposed to brand-new books that always appeal to me so much more than books I've read before, or books I've tried and failed to read a number of times. For 2012, I think I'll just read whatever strikes my fancy, and then I won't have to worry about whether I completed my goals or not!

        Next, here are my Top Ten Bookish Resolutions.
        1. Return to YA.
          I read more than 40 YA novels this year. While the bulk of my reading was still for children, considering I don't even work with teens in my current job, I think I've done well with keeping up. I also discovered some new realistic fiction authors I love, such as Courtney Sheinmel and Melissa Kantor.
        2. Read more broadly.
          I think my intentions in making this resolution were good, but ultimately, there are genres I am not interested in and trying to make myself read them doesn't really work. I did introduce some historical fiction into my bookshelves this year, which I enjoyed, and I read a handful of fantasy titles and adult books, but I actually think for 2012, I'll be working more on establishing exactly what it is this blog focuses on, and part of that will be filtering out those books that don't really interest me, that I only read because I think I should.
        3. Catch up on Newbery winners.
          This was another great intention, but maybe not a project to tackle in one year. (Especially given my poor success rate trying to read assigned lists!) I did manage to read a few Newbery winners  - The Tale of Despereaux, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, and Moon Over Manifest - but what wound up catching my interest were other older titles that haven't necessarily won awards, like Swallows and Amazons, The Saturdays, Half Magic, and Ballet Shoes.
        4. Read more than 100 books. I feel almost stupid for putting this on my list to begin with, considering I wound up reading over 800 books this year.
        5. Read more picture books. I had no idea when I made this list last year that I'd be doing as many as ten library programs in a week. Had I know that, I would have realized I don't need to promise to read picture books. I have to do it whether I want to or not!
        6. Review as many titles as possible.
          A year ago, I was expecting to write two reviews a week. By the middle of the year there were some weeks where I did more than 7 and had to post twice a day. I think of all the items on this list, this one is where I really exceeded my own expectations.
        7. Blog.
          I stuck with it for a full year! And I think it's become such a significant part of my professional and reading life that even with upcoming changes in my personal life, it will continue in some form for years to come.
        8. Learn how to talk about picture book art.
          I didn't seek out a lot of formal training on this topic, but I did start paying more attention to illustrators and the materials they use to create picture book art. And what a difference it made! I started noticing things I would have missed completely in the past, and even read a few wordless picture books, which previously I shied away from.
        9. Read every day. I have been reading almost every single day, usually on my lunch break, sometimes before bed.
        10. Go back to writing fiction.This is the only resolution I didn't keep in any way. I have wanted to be a writer since I was in first grade, but I keep hearing that writers "have to" write, that they can't resist the urge. Since I don't do any writing, I feel like I must not have that urge. But I still get inspiration from so many places, and stories pop into my head all the time - it's just never enough of a story that I feel like I can write it down. I'm not ready to say I will never be a writer, but I have to admit it seems less and less likely with every passing year.
        I don't think I'll make any resolutions per se for 2012, but check back on Sunday when I'll outline where the blog is headed this year.

        Tomorrow: revisit my Themed Thursday posts from the past year!

        Tuesday, December 27, 2011

        Year in Review Post #2: 2011 Reading Challenges Round-Up

        Yesterday, I began a series of posts wrapping up 2011, with a look back at all the titles I reviewed thanks to NetGalley. Today, I'm focusing on my 2011 reading challenges.

        I participated in four reading challenges this year. As I was new to blogging in January, I wanted to make sure I would stay motivated to read, and that I would also make some connections in the blogging world and gain some traffic. I tried to choose challenges that I thought would suit my reading interests, and that I had a reasonably good chance of completing. I am proud to say that I did finish them all, and that I think my blog has been better off for it. Here are my results.


        Finished June 3, 2011


        Finished August 8, 2011


        100+ Reading Challenge 2011 hosted by My Overstuffed Bookshelf
        Finished June 26, 2011
        Click to see my book list in a Google Doc.

        I don't plan to participate in any reading challenges with this blog in 2012. I found the record-keeping very difficult to keep up with, and I realized, after seeing the huge number of titles I read this year, that I don't really need challenges to keep me reading. But I definitely plan to keep reading and blogging in the new year.
        Check back tomorrow to see how well I fulfilled my 2011 blogging resolutions!
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