Monday, August 31, 2015

The Puppet who lived

School is nearly back in session around here and that means it's time to prepare for our after-school programs. For me, that largely means planning our puppet program. I've been working on examples, making sure our planned puppets will work for our standard group. One I wanted to try this year is the Coaster Creature from the book Puppet Mania!, a simple puppet using basic craft foam shapes but with a lot of room for personalization. This is the puppet I came up with.

I'm pretty happy with my Harry Potter puppet and it lead me to two conclusions.
1. We will definitely be making Coaster Creatures. They're easy enough for little kids to make and operate but can be complicated if a kid is willing to put in the time.
2. I will definitely discourage the kids from making recognizable characters. It's very difficult to make a familiar face fit the necessary shape and the curve of the puppet makes a strange distortion in the face. I spent probably half an hour drawing and redrawing my pattern just to get it this recognizable and the features are still out of proportion.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Book review - A 52-Hertz Whale

Title: A 52-Hertz Whale
Author: Bill Sommer and Natalie Tilghman
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
                     Because You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas
Summary: James is a 14 year old with just two interests: whales (especially Salt, the juvenile humpback he sponsors) and trying to understand his peers without actually having to interact with them (Urban Dictionary helps). Darren is a 23 year old trying to get over/win back his ex-girlfriend and survive working on a sitcom in hopes that it will help him in his goal to become a film maker. When Salt seems to be separated from his pod and emails to whale groups aren't helping, James sends a message to Darren. The emails that follow set both on a course that they never expected.

My Opinion: Combine a quirky plot with a tone that is both playful and serious and you have this book. Written as a series of emails, mostly between James and Darren but sometimes including side characters, its a relatively quick read. The email style also means that while we get the complete story of James and Darren, we also get these quick glimpses into the lives of a number of other characters. We see the complications in their lives that affects their actions and how those actions then come into play in the main plot. Most fascinating for me is how this book ends not with solutions and answers but with realizations and a better understanding of the connections we share. That lack of definite answers will frustrate some, but I found it compelling.

More information: A 52-Hertz Whale releases September 1.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pick 6: early chapter books

When I introduced this feature last spring, early chapter books were one of the first lists I shared. At the time I focused on new series. Many of the books on this year's lists are part of ongoing series. Still, they are well worth reading. Here are six books for kids just beginning to read chapter books published in the last six months.

6 new early chapter books

1. Dino-Mike and the T-Rex Attack by Franco Aureliani

2. Frank Einstein and the Electro Finger by Jon Scieszka

3. The Ghost and Max Monroe: The Missing Zucchini by L.M. Falcone

4. Pop Goes the Circus by Kate Klise

5. Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter

6. Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book review - Scar Girl

Title: Scar Girl
Author: Len Vlahos
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters by MJ Beaufrand
                     Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
A pretty nice sequel
Summary: They called themselves The Scar Boys, mostly because of the burn scars that marred the face of their guitarist, Harry. After an accident took vocalist Johnny's leg, the name seemed especially apt. After their first taste of fame and success, their search for direction and purpose leads them to discover that there are many kinds of scars.

My opinion: The first book, The Scar Boys, focused on finding a sense of normalcy while also realizing that none of us are ever truly "normal". It was a fun, sometimes deep, book. This book takes those ideas and builds upon them. It unapologetically explores all of a person's scars. It can be rather rough, emotionally. None of the problems are easily resolved. It's not a perfect read. Some may find the interview style rather distancing, the decisions of some of the characters too simple. If you've read the first book, though, this one is a solid read.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Custom centaur

I've been cleaning house lately and, as is inevitable in a big clean-out, I found a bunch of stuff I had forgotten I even owned. Most of has been packed away to take to Goodwill. A few things, though, I set aside to craft with. Like today's craft.

I blame this one entirely on Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic (see my review dated 8/21). In the book, Desmond talks about altering his sister's Barbie dolls into monsters. I had already thought about trying my hand at frankentoys, so that reference was enough to put me over the edge. Luckily I had a few little McDonalds toys that were well suited to what I had in mind: a centaur.

Metro Man
My Little Pony

It was a pretty simple matter to sever Metro Man at the waist with a hobby knife and pry off his cape. I also cut off the extra decorations on his arms. Removing the pony's head was a little messier and I had to trim her neck afterwards. Once the toys were dismembered, I hot glued Metro Man's torso to the pony's neck. I ended up smoothing that joint somewhat with extra glue.
Now, once I got him assembled, I realized that the legs were a little short so I added a little height with some Model Magic that I had lying around. While the pony's hooves have depressions that helped anchor the clay, I did end up having to glue those additions on with hot glue. 

After a quick base-coat of white, I painted his features in acrylic. I finished him with clear acrylic sealer.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Summer Reading

As part of our summer reading program, my library hosts presenters one night a week for five weeks. Here's a photographic recap of this year's performers.

Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers - Everybody Loves Pirates

Mad Science of Maine

Magician Peter Boie

Juggler and stunt artist Steve Corning


After the presenters, we have our end of summer reading party. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book review - Desmond Pucket 1&2

Title: Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic
         Desmond Pucket and the Mountain Full of Monsters
Author: Mark Tatulli
Genre: humor
Similar books: The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett
                     The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon
wicked fun
Summary: In book one, we find Desmond trying to get through the sixth grade without getting expelled. It would be easier if he could stop pulling pranks, a vice he can't seem to resist. If he can't stay out of trouble for the rest of the year he'll be banned from the class trip to Crab Shell Pier. And he must ride the Mountain Full of Monsters!

In book two, Desmond has made it to Crab Shell Pier at last. He has a plan to go on his favorite ride with the girl of his dreams. If only he could get away from Mr. Needles. Matters are complicated when he gets bad news about his favorite ride.

My opinion: Because Tatulli is primarily a comic strip artist (he's the creator of the largely wordless surreal strip "Lio") he has an excellent sense of visual timing. Thus, Tatulli uses the illustrations in these books to full effect. While Desmond is a prankster with a fondness for the macabre, his pranks come from a sense of fun and pleasant fear rather than anything truly malicious (excepting those he plays on his older sister), making him a likable, if somewhat odd, character. I liked the emphasis on planning and design before Desmond pulls any stunt, encouraging the same process thinking from readers .The plots are a little silly but in an entertaining way. Desmond Puckett is a solid choice fore young, fun-loving mischief makers.

More information: Currently available in hardcover, both of these books will be released in paperback August 25.
Advanced Reader copy provided by NetGalley.

Book review - Icebreaker

Title: Icebreaker
Author: Lian Tanner
Genre: sci-fi/distopia
Similar books: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
                     The Lost Prince by Matt Myklusch
rather unique
Summary: Ever since her parents committed a serious crime and were cast overboard, Petrel has had to fend for herself aboard the Oyster. None of the three warring tribes aboard ship will accept her. She spends her days hiding from bullies, stealing food, and speaking only to two intelligent grey rats. When a boy is found out on the ice, it upsets the balance of the shipboard culture and might just reveal a secret that has been concealed for three hundred years.

My opinion: This may well be the first dystopian novel I've seen aimed at middle grade readers. The focus is a little different than your standard dystopia. While it does delve somewhat into the way the society works and Petrel's place (or lack thereof) in it, the larger focus is on Petrel and her sense of self and value, her desire to belong somewhere. Like many preteens, she wants just one friend and sees the mysterious boy as her chance. That exploration of value and acceptance is far more typical of middle grade fiction than any other dystopia. The portrayal of the characters is somewhat simplistic but with the complexity of the world that's understandable. Overall, its a solid read for 5th-8th graders.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

It's interesting enough to read that a giant squid's eye can be 12 inches in diameter. We don't realize the full implication of that fact until we're looking at it and realize that said eye is larger than our heads. And that's what gives this book such broad appeal. Little ones will enjoy comparing the size of their heads, hands, and more to the animals in this book. for older readers each page has a few animal facts. Jenkins has also written a similar book for dinosaur fans: Prehistoric Actual Size. I've used both of these books with my preschool storytime and they are always a hit, even drawing older siblings who usually ignore what we are doing into the conversation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Non-fiction Book Review

Title: Terrible Typhoid Mary
Author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti

I'm familiar with the phrase "Typhoid Mary" of course and I knew that she was a real person, an uninfected carrier. I knew what we learned about disease from Mary. I had never before considered what this experience was like for her. That's what this book was about more than anything else: the dehumanization of Mary Mallon. We're used to having rights, medically. Rights to our own information, to refuse treatment, to keep our medical history private. These rights didn't exist for Mary. She was treated more as a lab specimen than a person. I was expecting more about Typhoid itself. If you're interested in medical history or social justice, this book is likely fascinating. I found it a little too clinical and distant at times. I'd have preferred something a little more personable. Still, well researched and solidly written.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book review - The Marvels

Title: The Marvels
Author: Brian Selznick
Genre: historical fiction (if you count the early 90s as historical)
Similar books: Hold Fast by Blue Balliet
                     The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg
So different, but so nice
Summary: Following an accidental fire, Joseph runs away from his boarding school in search of his uncle's house in London and his missing friend, Blink. The house, when he finds it, is a fascinating mystery, seemingly frozen in a moment in time. With the help of Frankie, the kid next door, Joseph will ferret out the truth about the Marvels and their connection to his own family history.

My opinion: It is fascination to me how with each of Selznick's books he uses full page  illustrations as a storytelling element but they serve a different purpose in each book. In my opinion, this book is the most innovative of the three, especially with it's use of images which serve two purposes. The plot is strong and delicately written. The characters are realistic and likeable. While I'd have preferred a little more resolution in the ending what Selznick provides is largely satisfying. Without dabbling in spoilers, know that this book is a gentle exploration of the dissolution of the nuclear family in the late eighties and the damage done to kids by wealth, privilege, and Yuppie culture.

More information: The Marvels releases September 15.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Not your grandfather's vest

Today's craft is something I finished a couple of years ago. I'm rather fond of sweater vests and I had a pattern for a classic cabled vest and I wanted to do a unique twist on it. I found a variegated yarn that seemed to fit the bill. This is a worsted weight yarn from Hobby Lobby (their yarn brand is called "I Love this Yarn"). The colors remind me of Fruit Stripe gum. In every way but color it's a standard fit sweater vest. The armholes and neckline are a little off but I'm pretty pleased for this first vest attempt. The pattern came from an old knitting book and I bet there are some other vest patterns I could play with...

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book review - The Boy Most Likely To

Title: The Boy Most Likely To
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi
                     The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
a pleasant read
Summary: Tim used to be a major partier. In fact, his friends declared him the boy most likely to find the liquor cabinet, drive his car into a house, and drink himself to death. After getting kicked out of his prep school, he vowed to turn himself around. He's two months sober, living in a garage apartment, and working towards his GED. And he might just be falling in love with his best friend's sister, Alice. His chance at a better life is endangered, though, when his partying comes back to haunt him in a big way. 

My opinion: The Boy Most Likely To is actually a sequel (first book entitled My Life Next Door) but you don't really need to read the first one to understand this one. There were a few moments where I got the sense that Fitzpatrick was referencing something from the first novel but for the most part they didn't impede my understanding of the plot. While the general plot is familiar territory (former wild child finds out he has a baby with a kid he barely knows) the conclusion is fresh. The characters are solidly developed and likeable. While the plot arc is rather predictable, it's pleasant. This is a good book for an afternoon, light and entertaining.

More information: The Boy Most Likely To releases August 18.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Books on screen


A young Shia LaBeouf stars in this story of the seemingly cursed Stanley Yelnats who's sent to a work camp for a theft he did not commit. To my mind, this is Shia's heyday, fresh from relative success in the Disney channel series Even Stevens. The plot of the movie follows that of the novel fairly closely, even matching may of the small details (apart from the novel's description of Stanley as overweight). More importantly, the tone is spot on. While the details of the plot are rather ridiculous, the intent is fantastic and the way the stories of different generations weave together and meet up in the final scenes is marvelous. It's masterfully written by Sachar and solidly portrayed on the screen. In addition to LaBeouf's well-acted Stanley, this movie also features Sigourney Weaver as the menacing warden, John Voight as the blustering and cruel Mr. Sir, and Tim Blake Nelson and the bumbling "Mom". This movie doesn't get much attention anymore which is really a shame. It's one of the better film adaptations I've seen and well worth the viewing time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book review - Mechanica

Title: Mechanica
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Genre: fantasy
Similar books: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas
                     Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
An interesting twist on a familiar tale
Summary: Since her father's death, Nicolette has essentially been a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters. When she discovers her mother's secret workshop her world opens up and for the first time a future apart from the steps seems possible. With the help of some mechanical creatures (a fusion of clockworks and magic created by her mother years ago) Nicolette begins to create devices that may be the key to her independence. If only she can invent something amazing and sneak out in time for the royal exposition. All she wants is a little shop and a life of her own. Is it possible that she will discover more?

My opinion: A lot of people are comparing this book to Marissa Meyer's Cinder but the two books really couldn't be more different. Cinder is solidly sci-fi. Mechanica is high fantasy. Nicolette is not the Cinderella we all know. she may be a dreamer but she's no soft girl waiting to be rescued. She's had a hard life which has left her somewhat rough around the edges, angry and closed off. While there is a "love at first sight" element, Cornwell also suggests that such "love" is likely simple infatuation. That real love takes time. Mechanica is a slower, contemplative read with technical and political elements. That slower pace will not appeal to everyone.

More information: Mechanica releases August 25.
Advanced Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Upcycled buttons

If you're anything like me, you probably have half a dozen promotional buttons hanging about in a drawer or a box somewhere. We get these buttons from politicians, movie theaters, or even from work. I'm not a big button wearer so I never know what to do with them. A couple of years ago I rounded up a bunch of these buttons and restyled them for a craft fair with fabric, wire, sequins, card stock, and Mod Podge. These two are the only ones I have left. They are, ironically, my favorite of all the buttons I made.