A confession.

Have you noticed I haven’t posting a lot this summer? I haven’t been reading a lot this summer. Shocking, I know. The sad truth is that I’m struggling to read because of my eyes.

I’ve been preparing for the two classes on Children’s Lit that I’ll be teaching in August, but in order to bring the newest books to the presentation, I need to read digital advance copies. Ever heard of digital eye strain? I imagine that the human eye is going to have to evolve soon to compensate for the digital world we are living in.

For me, eye strain causes headaches and I’ve been a migraine sufferer for almost 25 years. I can’t spend a whole summer reading when it makes my head want to explode. Even switching to print can be difficult. It’s too much.

I don’t want to disappoint the people taking my classes so I’ve pushed myself to get in a lot of picture books and nonfiction. They are shorter and faster to get through than a novel.

I’d say “it’s ironic,” but I read somewhere once that that’s an often misused word, and I’d probably be the one to do just that. It does remind me of a fabulous old Twilight Zone episode starring Burgess Meredith. It’s called Time Enough At Last. If you aren’t familiar with the plot, the sole survivor of an apocalypse is a lover of books and is overjoyed to finally have time to read in peace. Until he breaks his glasses, that is.

The link above will take you to the Wikipedia entry on the episode. I am sure you can watch the full episode on YouTube as well.

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Getting ready for school to start.

It seems way, waaay too early to be thinking of school starting back up, but the truth is, once the 4th of July passes, the rest of summer just flies by. Since I have a big to-do list outside of school in the next few weeks, I figured it was time to get my projects at school done.

My first, and quickest project of the summer was to update the electrical conduit post on my desk. Five years ago when I started at the school I decided to add something whimsical that was really fun.

I used foam core painted using the Elmer’s Glue crackle technique to look like old painted wood. I borrowed a friend’s Cricut to do the words and attached them to the post with magnets.

This year I realized that I was ready to do something new with the post. I’ve added a lot of bright primary colors to the library over the years and this was too blah for my color scheme. I took inspiration from my table decorations and decided to make a giant truffula tree.

The ones on the tables have been changed slightly, but they still look similar and I love how it came out. Those are plastic leis that I found at the dollar store, zip tied in bundles to the post. Then I cut each loop and they spiral apart all on their own.

Next up was a new bulletin board. I love doing bulletin boards, but I try to make them into art pieces because I want them to last more than a few months.

I decided on the fun theme of 20,000 Reads Under the Sea.

I wanted to show the progression of this board so I took pictures as I worked. To create the background, I bought an ocean waves plastic tablecloth. The edges are a self adhesive border that I cut into “scales”. I stapled them even though they are supposed to stick on their own. The humidity makes everything peel off my walls so no reason to think dollar store border would be any different.

I like the depth that cardboard canopies give to boards but I’m too cheap to buy one. Instead, I took three of the big flat boxes that laminate flooring come in and glued them together to create a large canopy. Attaching the canopy to the wall wasn’t easy. At all. I ended up using a line of hot glue on the wall behind it. Then as extra support, the net hangs from command hooks (reinforced with hot glue), and it holds up multiple points on the outer edge of the canopy.

The seaweed was an easy and cheap part of the project. I bought two green plastic tablecloths, and cut them into long strips — leaving about 6 inches uncut on one end. Each strip then gets irregular diagonal cuts up and down its length. They don’t need to be perfect at all.

I used the overhead projector to trace out a mermaid I found online. I used regular white drawing paper so I could use markers and watercolors on it.

Her tail is colored with permanent markers, then I added a shadow below each one with a dark gold sharpie and highlighted each one with a silver gel pen. Her skin is watercolor and her hair is both marker and watercolor.

The coral reef was created with pool noodles, bulletin board paper, tissue paper and pipe cleaners. I even cut egg cartons to look like barnacles! The finishing touches are the cool fish I got on Amazon and sea shells from the thrift store glued into the upper layer of the reef.

I’m proud of this. It looks very organic and that’s what I wanted. I really love creating art and this will blow the kids away. If you would like to find the pins that helped me create this project, here is the Pinterest board I created for this theme.

Thrift Store Scores

It’s been awhile since I found any great books for myself at the thrift store. Lately I’ve found lots of great books for the school library, but not so much for my personal library. Today I found not one but 4 great treasures!

I love Because of Winn Dixie more than I can say. I recommend it to both boys and girls in 3rd and 4th grade all the time. I haven’t ever owned my own copy so I was excited to grab this beautiful hard bound copy with a pristine dust jacket for 75¢!

Synopsis: One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries – and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie.

The Kitchen Boy is a fabulous Young Adult title by Robert Alexander. I found a perfect paperback copy at Goodwill and I hope someday my daughter will want to read it. Amazon.com says this is soon going to be made into a movie!!

Synopsis: Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov as seen through the eyes of their young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs’ brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder? Historically vivid and compelling, The Kitchen Boy is also a touching portrait of a loving family that was in many ways similar, yet so different, from any other.

I am nothing if not a zombie fan. I don’t watch The Walking Dead anymore (too much humans killing humans) but I do enjoy Kirkman’s writing. I read his book Rise of the Governor but never got around to this one. Again, it is a hard bound copy with a perfect dust jacket!

Synopsis: The first book explained how the Governor was created; this thrilling sequel to The New York Times bestseller further reveals his ruthless, inhuman conquest of Woodbury.

Plucker written and illustrated by Brom is creepy-cool. I haven’t read it yet but I couldn’t put it down after I flipped through it.

Synopsis: This story takes place in the shadowy land of make-believe, where Jack and his box are stuck beneath the bed with the other castaway toys. When Plucker, a malevolent spirit, is set loose upon the world of make-believe, Jack is thrust into the unlikely role of defending Thomas, the very child who abandoned him.

Dragon Rider

I’m crossing another classic middle grade book off of my long reading list. Cornelia Funke published Dragon Rider in 2005. The story follows Firedrake, one of the last silver dragons as he searches for the fabled dragon homeland, the Rim of Heaven. A place where he and his brethren will forever be safe from humans.

Firedrake is accompanied by his friend Sorrel, who is a brownie. I was expecting a little elf-like creature, but Funke’s version of a brownie is much more cat-like.

I looked up brownie on Wikipedia, just to see if I was entirely wrong, but this is what I found:

But that’s one of the great things about beings from folklore, they grow and change with each retelling and each new story imagined.

The pair is joined early in the story by Ben, a homeless human boy who is more than willing to help them.

The oldest of the dragons was able to describe his memories of the homeland. It lies in the midst of the tallest mountains in the world, and is carpeted in blue flowers. His memory is diminished and the only other clues he has to offer are “the eye of the moon” and “beware of the golden one”.

Sorrel is slower to trust than Firedrake, but Ben becomes a natural third companion. The three learn that the golden one is a gigantic golden armored dragon that hunts other dragons. His name is Nettlebrand and he has spies everywhere. It doesn’t take long for the secret mission to be discovered.

Nettlebrand by Mollish on DeviantArt

Firedrake, Ben and Sorrel meet many fabulous creatures and wonderful humans on their adventure, and more than a few evil minions of Nettlebrand. Their peaceful disposition and accepting nature prove that fighting isn’t always necessary, at least until the final showdown with Nettlebrand.

The reason I listened to this book -while crocheting- was that Funke has a new book coming out about Firedrake, Sorrel and Ben.

I’m sure more of their friends will come back for the sequel, but until I get my hands on it, I can’t tell you much more.

I did want to show you some alternate cover art though:

Enchanted Stories

I’m guilty of having a very, very long list of books that I’d like to read. Most of the great middle-grade books that I write about are books I did not read as a kid. I found them first as an adult. I missed so many great books as a kid that I’m forever trying to catch up now. Ella Enchanted has been on my list for years, but for varying reasons, I’ve just never gotten to it. But this week I knew I had to read it.

The reason? In the process of choosing books to present in What’s New In Children’s Literature, I discovered that Gail Carson Levine is releasing a new book, a prequel to Ella Enchanted.

Ella Enchanted is about Ella, a young teen who has lived her life cursed to be obedient. Ella must do what she is ordered, but being spirited, she finds ways to outwit the curse without breaking it. Her curse was a gift from a meddling fairy named Lucinda. Lucinda likes to give these gifts at proposals, weddings, births and funerals.

Ella Enchanted is actually a retelling of Cinderella, though how I missed this escapes me. (If ever there was a moment to slap my forehead and say “duh!”, it’s now.) Ella’s enchantment has been a secret all of her life, but because of her father’s greed, she must face life with evil stepsisters and an awful stepmother.

Ella is a fabulous character. She has strength, resilience and courage that allow her to befriend Prince Char. Her adventures teach her how much she is capable of, and the question comes to her: is she strong enough to break her own curse?

Ogre Enchanted is a prequel, taking place one generation before Ella’s story. In this story, we meet Evie, a teenaged healer who says “no” to her best friend Wormy’s marriage proposal. Unfortunately, Lucinda is present and decides to turn Evie into an ogress unless she can find love and accept a proposal within 62 days.

This is a monumental task, ogres eat people. Ogres stink. Ogres are not accepted in human company. Sounds a lot like a Beauty and the Beast retelling to me! Evie realizes that while she only wants to heal others, she can’t help people without learning how to be an ogre first.

Her adventures take her to the marshy Fens to live among the ogres. While there she meets a young man that she is sure loves her. Master Peter is perfect! But he disappears on a day that she chooses to stop the other ogres from killing a giantess. While looking for Peter, Evie finds friends at a manor house and eventually within the capital city where she saves the king and his subjects from a killer plague.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I want you to read the book! What I can tell you is that Evie’s true friends stand by her despite her outer appearance and we learn a lot from this generation. (If you hated Ella’s father in Ella Enchanted, you’ll know why when you read this!)

I am not quite finished with the series though. Goodreads lists another book in the set:

I’m going to read it (or listen as I crochet, like I did with Ella Enchanted) and I’ll let you know. I’m betting it’s a Snow White retelling.

Unexpected Authors – George A. Romero

I am an unapologetic fan of zombie movies. I know, I’m a librarian so I should love film adaptations of Jane Austen books, and pine over Shakespeare’s plays, but I don’t. I love bad movies–movies so bad, that they’re good. If you know anything about the modern zombie genre (it encompasses movies, video games, graphic novels and books,) then you probably know the name George A. Romero.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Romero essentially created the modern zombie. Most writers, game developers and screenwriters follow the rules Romero created with his iconic classic, Night of the Living Dead. In the Newsflesh series by Mira Grant, an entire generation of children are named for him: Georges, Georgias and Georgettes are the norm.

But what does any of this have to do with books?? Well, have I got a surprise for you! Twenty years ago a publisher from Belgium asked Romero to write a children’s book. Romero jumped at the chance — after being typecast as “the zombie guy” in Hollywood.

The Little World if Humongo Bongo is an illustrated story about a humongous creature named Bongo. Bongo is tired of waiting for something to happen and so he decides to travel to the edge of the woods he lives in with his friend, Pongo. Bongo meets a new type of creature, tiny as ants called the Peanuts. They are scared of him, and then they worship him and eventually, they resent and attack him.

We find out in the story that Pongo, had a similar experience with the Peanuts before Bongo hatched from his egg. Bongo faces the grim choice of destroying the Peanuts or allowing them to take whatever they want. In the end, he realizes that Pongo was right, they should stay within their own Wood and wait for the next thing to happen.

I loved this book. I’m ecstatic that it is finally being published in English. Romero’s story and illustrations — he studied art in college — make his themes of tolerance and intolerance easily understood. He also brings to mind the issue of overpopulation. These seem like complex issues for children, but they understand a lot more than we give them credit for.

I found the book making me think of our own overuse and abuse of our home planet. Bongo’s explorations of the three parts of his planet made me think of mankind’s aspirations to colonize space. I hope we take tolerance with us and find it in return as we explore the vastness of space.

So, before you pass a book by because of who the author is or because of their latest scandal, think twice and hopefully grow as a reader and a fan.

Other unexpected authors of children’s books:

  • Madonna – I really loved Mr. Peabody’s Apples
  • Jason Siegel – I have his Nightmares series at school
  • Neil Patrick Harris – besides being an actor, he’s a magician and has started writing a middle grade magic-themed series
  • Sarah Ferguson – I have quite a few picture books by the former Duchess of York
  • Rob Reiner – love his book Tell Me a Scary Story…but not too scary
  • Steve Martin
  • Brooke Shields
  • Keith Richards
  • Derek Jeter
  • John Travolta
  • Tori Spelling
  • Whoopie Goldberg

I could go on for ages! But I’ll stop, ’cause I want you to read a book instead.

Time Travel Guides

Though I don’t think I have Norse in my ancestry, my daughters do.  I married into a family that it primarily Norwegian and Danish.  We live in a part of the country that was settled by a lot of Scandinavian immigrants, and so I find Vikings very interesting.  Today I want to share a new book by Linda Bailey in her Time Travel Guides series: Stowing Away With the Vikings.

9781771389877_fda41 The Time Travel Guides isn’t a new series.  I looked online and some of them were published back in the early 2000s, but it looks like she’s writing new books and re-releasing some of the older titles.

These books are great! They are written in Graphic Novel format, with a fictional storyline about the three Binkerton children.  The children manage to get sucked into a Time Travel Guide in the travel agency run by Julien T. Pettigrew.  The kids travel through time and experience life in that particular time period– in this case, the Viking Age.  The Guide’s pages appear at the bottom of each page in the graphic novel giving nonfiction information in a fun and interesting format.  The kids are able to return home only by reading the entire guide.  After the Binkertons’ story is finished, the book finishes out with even more nonfiction information.  All of the writing is done in a way that kids will love.  I think that students who want to read graphic novels could easily be taught to love nonfiction with this combo style.  I’d compare them to the You Wouldn’t Want To Be series.

There are more titles in the series:

 

Hot On the Trail in Ancient Egypt is listed as new on my purchasing site, and some of the older titles are still available.  I’m hoping they all re-release or that I can find them on Thriftbooks.com.

Bailey has quite a few titles in picture books, like the Stanley series, and middle grade chapters as well.  I’m excited about another upcoming title she has:

9781770495593_20cdf

I’m sure you all remember that Frankenstein  is one of my all-time favorite books.  I can’t wait to read this!  I wasn’t able to get a review copy so I’ll have to wait until August like everyone else.