Saturday, January 21, 2017

What They're (Really) Reading: January 2016

By keeping a pulse on what our students are checking out at our middle school library and keeping a close eye on which books are circulating heavily, I feel that I can spend the small budget I have more wisely by choosing books I know will have a greater likelihood of circulating widely.

Each month I'll feature some fiction & nonfiction books that are on the "heavy rotation" list at our middle school library. They're not necessarily new, shiny, or covered with awards -- they're just what the kids want.

This Month's Selections:

by Donna Jo Napoli
Chapter book (Retelling)

Orasmyn is the prince of Persia and heir to the throne. His religion fills his heart and his mind, and he strives for the knowledge and leadership his father demonstrates. But on the day of the Feast of Sacrifices, Orasmyn makes a foolish choice that results in a fairy's wretched punishment: He is turned into a beast, a curse to be undone only by the love of a woman.
Thus begins Orasmyn's journey through the exotic Middle East and sensuous France as he struggles to learn the way of the beast, while also preserving the mind of the man. This is the story of his search, not only for a woman courageous enough to love him, but also for his own redemption.

Tarantula Scientist 

by Sy Montgomery
Narrative Nonfiction

Yellow blood, silk of steel, skeletons on the outside! These amazing attributes don't belong to comic book characters or alien life forms, but to Earth's biggest and hairiest spiders: tarantulas. Here you are invited to follow Sam Marshall, spider scientist extraordinaire (he's never been bitten), as he explores the dense rainforest of French Guiana, knocking on the doors of tarantula burrows, trying to get a closer look at these incredible creatures. You'll also visit the largest comparative spider laboratory in America—where close to five hundred live tarantulas sit in towers of stacked shoeboxes and plastic containers, waiting for their turn to dazzle and astound the scientists who study them.

Great Ghost Rescue 
by Eva Ibbotson
Chapter Book (Fantasy)

The ghosts of Britain need a sanctuary. Castles with central heating, bogs drained for motorways, dismal forests cleared for car parks-there are few places left for a respectable ghost to haunt. Humphrey the Horrible (actually his name is simply Humphrey-he added "the Horrible" to help himself become horrible) is a small, mostly unsuccessful ghost in a family of ghastly ghouls. His mother worries. But Humphrey has enough pluck to befriend a smart, politically aware schoolboy, Rick Henderson, who is willing to take the ghosts' cause right to the top, to number 10 Downing Street-home of the Prime Minister.

Spy School 

by Stuart Gibbs
Chapter Book (Mystery)

Ben Ripley may only be in middle school, but he's already pegged his dream job: C.I.A. or bust. Unfortunately for him, his personality doesn't exactly scream "secret agent." In fact, Ben is so awkward, he can barely get to school and back without a mishap. Because of his innate nerdiness, Ben is not surprised when he is recruited for a magnet school with a focus on science—but he's entirely shocked to discover that the school is actually a front for a junior C.I.A. academy. Could the C.I.A. really want him?

Actually, no. There's been a case of mistaken identity—but that doesn't stop Ben from trying to morph into a supercool undercover agent, the kind that always gets the girl. And through a series of hilarious misadventures, Ben realizes he might actually be a halfway decent spy…if he can survive all the attempts being made on his life!

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
by Dave Roman
Graphic Novel

Hakata Soy's past life as the leader of a futuristic super team won't stay in the past!
The former space hero is doing his best to keep his head down at Astronaut Academy. Things aren't going so great, though. The most popular girl in school has it in for him. His best friend won't return his calls. And his new roommate is a complete jock who only cares about Fireball.

Hakata just wants to make a fresh start. But how will he find time to study Anti-Gravity Gymnastics and Tactical Randomness when he's got a robot doppelganger on its way to kill him?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Books By Theme: Secret Lives of Superheroes

Marvel Comics originated in 1939, when publisher Marvin Goodman reluctantly expanded his pulp magazine business into the new field of comic books. But the brand didn't really take off until 1961, when writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko helped create Marvel's most well-known characters. In this in-depth, meticulously researched, and "scintillating history" (Publishers Weekly), Entertainment Weekly editor Sean Howe delves into the tangled and contentious personal relationships among Marvel's talented stable of editors, writers, and artists; also taking center stage are their creations, like golden-boy Captain America and lovable (if nerdy) Spider-Man.

by Stan Lee, Peter David, and Colleen Doran

Unsurprisingly, when comic book legend Stan Lee writes a memoir, he does it in graphic novel format in his "inimitably jaunty style" (Kirkus Reviews). Here, he shares his role in creating some of the most iconic comic book creations -- Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, and many more. But he also writes of his childhood, his early years in a comic book industry dominated not by superheroes but by cowboys, and his co-creators. Fun and quirky, this is a great read for fans. 

by Jill Lepore

Deeply researched and offering an engaging story, this cultural history of enduring icon Wonder Woman deviates from standard comic book history by concentrating on the rather unusual circumstances of her creation -- especially the unorthodox living situation of her creator, and the controversy that Wonder Woman's appearance inspired. Drawing on both interviews and archival research to unveil the role of feminism in shaping Wonder Woman's existence, historian Jill Lepore's study offers a different yet tantalizing perspective that readers of Tim Hanley's Wonder Woman Unbound (or comic book history in general) may appreciate. 

This comprehensive biography of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster draws on a decade of research and new discoveries to provide the complete story behind the creation of Superman. It details a friendship that evolved into a working partnership, the inspiration for the Man of Steel, and the pair's premature sale of the character to Action Comics. Check it out if you've an interest in the comic book industry or in Superman himself; the collaboration between Siegel and Shuster also inspired Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

As with Brad Ricca's superb biography of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Super Boys), this history begins with two nerdy teenagers who (after six years of false starts and rejections) gave life to a superhero who was everything they were not. But though they deserve the credit for creating the invincible Superman, they sold him to Action Comics for $130 and soon lost artistic rights over him. Over the intervening eight decades, many others have helped influence the changing characteristics of the Man of Steel to better fit the changing times and to let him live on in popular culture. Comprehensive and accessible, this is a wide-ranging history of an American hero.

Monday, January 16, 2017

This Librarian's Quick Picks: How Things Work

How Things Work
by Tamara Resler
National Geographic Kids (2016)
Middle Grade Nonfiction


Explains the science behind a variety of objects, such as erasers, hoverbikes, microwaves, and more.

Why You'll Love It:
  • Revealing looks at the science behind over two dozen vehicles, household appliances, technological gadgets, and recreational challenges.
  • Additional nuggets of information are included in “Tell Me More” and “Fun Facts” sections, while “Try This” invites kids to solve challenging experiments and ponder hypothetical questions.
  • Profiles of scientists, engineers, and innovators responsible for these cool technologies are also found in this full-color book with plentiful photos, graphics, varied fonts, a glossary, further reading, and an index.
Who Should Read It:

Grade for 5th-8th graders.

What Else You Should Read: 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Books by Theme: Women in Science

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly
William Morrow (2016)

In this debut, Shetterly shines a much-needed light on the bright, talented, and wholly underappreciated geniuses of the institution that would become NASA. Called upon during the labor shortage of World War II, these women were asked to serve their country and put their previously overlooked skills to work-all while being segregated from their white coworkers. The author tells the compelling stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden as they navigated mathematical equations, the space race, and the civil rights movement over three decades of brilliant computing and discoveries. The professional and private lives of the ladies of Langley Research Center are documented through an impassioned and clearly well-researched narrative. Readers will learn how integral these women were to American aeronautics and be saddened by the racism and sexism that kept them from deserved recognition. Shetterly's highly recommended work offers up a crucial history that had previously and unforgivably been lost. We'd do well to put this book into the hands of young women who have long since been told that there's no room for them at the scientific table.

Rise of the Rocket Girls
Nathalia Holt
Little, Brown (2016)

We take so much for granted now, but in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, women who wanted a career other than homemaker were mostly limited to becoming teachers, nurses, or secretaries, and there was no such thing as maternity leave. However, a few smart young women who loved math were hired to be human computers for the Jet Propulsion Lab in California. What we think of as computers now hadn't been invented yet. These women spent their days writing equations and computing numbers with pencils, paper, and slide rules to give the male engineers the information they needed to build rockets, satellites, and space shuttles. This selection will surprise and thrill teens not only because it honors the crucial work of these female scientists but also because it shows their individual humanity-their favorite fashions, their personal relationships-within the broader context of the international space race, changes in U.S. society brought about by feminism and integration, and transformations in American daily life brought about by evolving technology. Teen book clubs will enjoy discussing the pros and cons of all-female work groups, the costs and benefits of space exploration, and more. Readers will want to search online for information about the Juno probe, mentioned in the "1970s-Today" section as orbiting Jupiter in July 2016. The extensive notes section details the many first-person interviews conducted by the author, plus the archival materials she used. An engaging, inspiring offering that will appeal to fans of history, science, and feminism.

Glass Universe
by Dava Sobel
Viking (2016)

When we think of computers, we usually think of devices that perform processes to store and process data. In the mid-19th century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as computers to calculate distances and interpret spatial data. Award-winning science journalist Sobel (Longitude; Galileo's Daughter) tells their story. Relying on letters, memoirs, and diaries, she describes their significant contributions to the emerging discipline of astronomy at a time when stellar photography had begun to have a tremendous impact on how data was gathered and interpreted. Sobel provides details of the persistent work inequities these women confronted. They earned less pay than their male counterparts and were not properly acknowledged through membership in professional societies or with available awards. Sobel's book records the impact of women such as Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system adopted by astronomers across the globe. Though this title isn't intended as a discipline-specific monograph, at times, it bogs readers down in scientific minutiae. Readers who enjoyed Sobel's previous work will welcome this new title. It is a terrific catalog to match the exceptional work these women created in the course of their careers.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone
Candlewick (2009)

Stone adopts a tone of righteous indignation in chronicling the quixotic efforts of 13 women to win admission into NASA's initial astronaut training program in the early 1960s. The women were all pilots (one, Jerrie Cobb, had more hours in the air than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter), earned high scores in preliminary tests, and even counted a senator's wife among their number. But resistance came from all directions-including NASA regulations, which were weighted toward men; media coverage that reflected contemporary gender expectations; political maneuvering by then vice president LBJ and other officials; and the crushing opposition expressed by renowned aviatrix Jackie Cochran in a 1962 Congressional hearing. Properly noting, however, that losing "depends on where you draw the finish line," the author closes with chapters on how women did ultimately win their way into space-not only as mission specialists, but also as pilots and commanders. Illustrated with sheaves of photos, and based on published sources, recently discovered documents, and original interviews with surviving members of the "Mercury 13," this passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.

Monday, January 9, 2017

This Librarian's Quick Picks: The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

The Friendship Experiment
by Erin Teagan
HMH Books for Young Readers (November 2016)
Middle Grade Realistic Fiction


Future scientist Madeline Little is dreading the start of middle school. Nothing has been right since her grandfather died and her best friend changed schools. Maddie would rather help her father in his research lab or write Standard Operating Procedures in her lab notebook than hang out with a bunch of kids who aren’t even her friends. Despite Maddie’s reluctance, some new friends start coming her way—until they discover what she’s written in that secret notebook.

Why You'll Love It:
  • Teagan offers a smart, breezy narrative that is both clever and approachable, offering a fresh twist on the familiar topic of middle school angst.
  • Science-minded readers will cheer to meet their match in Maddie as she conquers her demons and learns what exactly it means to have—and be—a friend.
  • Her characters are realistic and funny as they fumble through early adolescence and grapple with the reality of change. 
Who Should Read It:

Great for 4th-7th graders...and here's an interview with the author, Erin Teagan!

What Else You Should Read:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Books by Theme: It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a...Yeti!!!

Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends!
by Jill Esbaum; illustrated by Nate Wragg

Cryptid life can be lonely, and in this quirky tale one isolated bigfoot named Elwood embarks on a campaign to befriend the birds whose chirping brings him so much joy. The birds, however, are reluctant to approach Elwood, even when he dresses like them, invites them to a party, and builds a birdie amusement park. Kids will quickly spot why Elwood's efforts go astray, but they'll also root for the kindly sasquatch as he bumbles his way toward success. Fans of Elwood and his (eventual) feathered pals may also want to pick up Nadia Shireen's The Yeti and the Bird for a different take on a similar friendship.
Dear Yeti
by James Kwan

"Dear Yeti, We're searching for you. Sincerely, Hikers." If you want to find the elusive yeti, it can't hurt to let him know, right? That's the logic employed by the two young hikers in this book, who venture out into a snowy landscape to look for the yeti, who shyly shadows their journey and reads each of the notes they leave behind. With sweet, stylized illustrations that portray the mythical beast as fuzzy and friendly-faced, this gently suspenseful story is sure to be a crowd-pleaser among kids who are fascinated by imaginary creatures. For another appealing pair of cryptid hunters, try Mary Ann Fraser's No Yeti Yet.
Yeti, Turn Out the Light!
by Greg Long; illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan

After a long day and a tasty spaghetti dinner, a tuckered-out yeti switches out the light and snuggles into his bed for a good night's sleep. Except…what's that scary shadow? "On the light goes, and to Yeti’s surprise, he sees only bunnies, and their big bunny eyes." Yeti's bunny buddies (who naturally decide to cuddle up in his bed) turn out to be just the first of many friendly but unexpected nocturnal visitors, each appearing in comical page-turn reveals. How is a Yeti supposed to get any shut-eye? Find out in this rhyming tale of bedtime jitters featuring stylish, retromodern illustrations.
The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot!
by Scott Magoon

This book begins with a little boy named Ben telling a big fat lie: “LOOK EVERYONE, IT’S BIGFOOT!” At first people believe Ben’s tall tale, but when no Bigfoot materializes, they start to get frustrated. Kids will chuckle as Ben (aided by his long-suffering dog) deploys increasingly outrageous tactics to get his skeptical family and friends to believe in his Bigfoot sightings. And when Bigfoot finally does appear…well, we don’t want to give away the surprise! Expressive, playfully retro pictures help to balance the underlying lesson about honesty in this lighthearted and quirky retelling of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”
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