Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Art of Being Kind

Reading my guest-blogger's review of Mistborn the other day reminded me of the first time that I met the Mistborn author, Brandon Sanderson. It was about five years ago at a potluck mingle with a number of other children's authors. I believe this was actually before Mistborn came out and it was before Brandon had reached best-seller status, as well as before he had been pegged to finish Robert Jordan's best-selling Wheel of Time series.

I had no idea who Brandon was and he certainly had no idea who I was, but we started talking. I mentioned that I wrote picture books, but that I had also written some yet to be published middle grade and YA novels. When he found out that some of my novels were in the fantasy genre, he began to give me all sorts of advice and encouragement. He gave me some great insights into the fantasy market. He told me what editors at different publishing houses liked and what they were looking for. The whole time I was wondering how does this guy know all of this stuff? Who is this guy? But the thing that impressed me most was how genuinely nice and friendly he was. What a rare trait that is.

I doubt Brandon remembers that encounter (or me), but his kindness had a great impression on me. Since then I've seen Brandon at book signings and a number of different conferences. Even though he's reached superstar status in the book world, from what I can tell he's still as genuinely kind and helpful as ever.

What a wonderful world this would be if everyone sought to develop that art of simply being kind to not only the people we know and like, but kind to complete strangers as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Guest blogger and teen girl reviewer reviews Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Vin’s brother has taught her all her life never to trust anyone else and do all she can to survive, so when Kelsier, a Mistborn Allomancer (someone who burns metals to gain unnatural powers) offers her a position among his thieving crew she barely accepts, filled with suspicion and doubt.  But as time passes and she begins to discover her true powers, Vin realizes her importance and responsibility within the crew and their mission to overthrow the Final Empire.

Tired of the same old knights and dragons, vampires and werewolves fantasy?  Mistborn, though still filled with the excitement of fiction, reaches beyond the normal and overused common themes of today’s fantasy genre.  Brandon Sanderson has done an excellent job mixing the emotional apprehension into the excitement of battle and a story of true friendship and trust.  One can know that they will be entirely entertained while reading Mistborn.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

5 Tips to Avoid Parental Bullying

I don’t usually use this blog as a soapbox, but it breaks my heart sometimes to see how cruel or impatient some parents can be towards their children in public over some of the silliest things. I know being a parent is tough and it’s often a learn as we go thing, but when I see a father or mother lash out at a child at the grocery store, it makes me wonder how they treat that child in the privacy of their home.

Sometimes it makes me want to speak out and ask the parent to “chill”, but then I wonder if it might make it worse for the child.

 I next think, “Wow. Am I ever like that?” I hope not.

Then I remind myself that as a stranger, I might only being seeing one side of the story. I might not have seen the previous thirty three times where the parent patiently and kindly responded to the child grabbing something off the shelf in the candy aisle and dropping it in the cart or on the floor, and this last time happened to be the one where the parent finally lost it.

I’ve been there before, but I definitely hope I handled it better. Children need to be disciplined, but there’s a difference between discipline and parental bullying.

That brings me to the train of thought that my mind follows next and the main point I want to bring out here. What are some things that I can do to help me avoid ever being a parental bully when a child acts up? As my children can attest, I still need to do a lot of work on all of these. Still, when I remember the following, it helps me be a more loving and patient parent.

  1. Smile always. We usually speak kinder when we smile. It’s hard to lash out with a smile on our face.
  2. Remember how tough it is to be a child. No matter if we had the best or the worst parents ever, being a child can be hard. Showing kindness and patient can make it easier on our own children
  3. Take a deep breath. It helps to take a little “chill” pause before we act or open our mouths, and make sure the punishment doesn’t exceed the crime.
  4. Discipline with love. We can be firm and loving at the same time. A reprimand couched between a gentle hug and an “I love you” can strengthen the parent-child bond while still getting the message across that behavior needs to change.
  5. Say a silent prayer. Sometimes we need a little outside help, and there’s no one better or more willing to provide it.

If you have other strategies or advice to help avoid parental bullying, I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cultivating Strong Reading Communities in Schools

Librarian Booktalk with Cathy Potter
An interview I conducted with Cathy Potter, a K-5 school librarian in Falmouth, Maine. Cathy reviews apps for School Library Journal and serves on the Southern Maine Library District's Board of Directors. She served as a nonfiction picture book judge for the 2011 CYBILS awards and is currently a member of the Chickadee Award committee in Maine. She is also co-founder and blogger for (formerly, which is dedicated to reviewing quality, nonfiction books for children (ages 5-18). 

As a school librarian, what do you see as the biggest challenge to fostering a love for reading in the students?
Cathy: Time. In the school setting, time is that one thing that we wish we had more of. We have a rigorous math curriculum, science and social studies content areas, but there isn’t a lot of time for sustained reading. I know teachers are always looking at their schedules for how they can eke out a little more time for reading aloud to the kids or letting them do silent reading or come to the library.  I think the most valuable time of the day is when all of the kids are engaged with books.

How do you try to address that lack of time or make the most out of what time you have?
Cathy: I try to stay in touch and collaborate with the teachers that I work with. If they’re working on a social studies unit on immigration, there are books I can recommend that they or the students can read. Also, it’s important to continue that conversation with teachers about the importance of reading. I think in the last several years our teachers have really seen the importance of guarding that silent reading time.

Why is it so important to have that silent reading time in a school setting?
Cathy:  During reading classes teachers often give direct instruction and provide guided reading time to help students learn to read, and as they get older they read to learn. But students also need time to practice those reading strategies they’re learning. They need to be able to read at a comfortable level those books that interest them. It is highly motivating for a child when they get to choose the books that they read. I think kids tend to read more when they’re given time and choice. And the more they read, the better they get at reading. That silent reading time is really the time they have to practice and to enjoy reading.

During that silent reading time, the students also are able to look around to see what they’re classmates are reading. Then afterwards they often talk with their classmates about books. Sometimes the teachers will even set aside time after silent reading for the kids to share the books.

How important is that social element of students talking with peers about the books they read?
Cathy: One of the wonderful things about reading is that when you’re with a book it’s just you and the characters. When I’m done reading a book, I often want to talk to somebody about what I just read. I think students are the same way. It’s about being part of a reading community and I think that’s really important.

You’ve done some unique things at your school to cultivate a strong reading community. Tell me a little about that.
Cathy: I try to find different ways to bring the community together around reading. We’ve participated in World Read Aloud Days for the past couple years. We’ve Skyped with authors from all around the country. We’ve celebrated Poem in Your Pocket Day. We do a mock Newbery program that gives the kids an opportunity during the school day to meet with other students at lunchtime and find out what they’re reading and share their thoughts. It has led to some real rich discussions about the books eligible for the Newbery award. This winter I’m hoping to do a mock Caldecott. We’ve also been doing video booktalks.

Tell me a little bit more about these video booktalks.
Cathy: About two years ago, one of our third grade teachers and I showed her students TV clips from some old Reading Rainbow shows where kids share about books they read. From those examples, we had each of her students write booktalks about one of their favorite nonfiction books that they were reading in class. Then we videoed them sharing their booktalks. We put the booktalks up on the library website so when students came to the library they could click on one of the booktalk links to see book suggestions.

This past year we have taken it a step further and let fourth and fifth graders use our iPads to make book trailers of their favorite books. They try to create trailers that are between 30 seconds and 2 minutes that will hook readers.

You mentioned before about the importance of letting children choose their books. Tell me more about that.
Cathy: When parents come to the library, email me or I interact with them at PTO meetings, my big message is that they really need to let their kids choose their own books. Everybody has different preferences. I have kids that love nonfiction. Some are avid fantasy fans. Others love historical fiction. Some are really into graphic novels. There is something for everybody in the library and if kids have a choice, they’re going to read even more. If they’re hooked on an author or a series, that’s great. They’re reading. The more they read, the more successful they’ll be at reading and they’re going to love it. Choice is about getting them excited about reading.

You and Louise Capizzo started a blog called the Nonfiction Detectives. Tell me a little bit about that.
Cathy: As librarians, we were always looking for the best or newest nonfiction books, but most of the reviews or blogs out there focused on fiction. So, we decided to create our own blog with the purpose of providing reviews of nonfiction books to help librarians and teachers figure out which nonfiction books they should purchase for their libraries.

What are some of things you look for in a nonfiction book that you recommend?
Cathy: We really look at is the back matter, such as the list of sources that the author has used for research. That is really important. We also look at the author notes that sometimes explains how the authors did their research. For example, I’m currently working on a review for Puffling Patrol by Betsy and Ted Lewin, who actually traveled to Iceland to do their research. We look for accuracy, and to see what expertise the author has.

We also look at the way the book is presented, if it’s written in narrative versus expository form. We look at the visual elements and how they support the text. We also look at how it will likely be used by patrons. Certain books will be browser books that will get kids really excited. Some books a student probably wouldn’t check out, but a teacher or a librarian might want it as a read aloud.

One of my favorite books last year was The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle. It was written like a mystery, but was about a how certain scientists were trying to discover why a golden frog was mysteriously dying. It has excellent photographs to go with the text.  Students love this book as a pleasure read, but the teachers also use it in the classroom as an example of nonfiction writing and science.

What are some other nonfiction books that you would recommend to students or teachers?
Cathy: One book that I just wanted to read over and over again was Chuck Close: Face Book. We reviewed it this summer and I can’t wait to get this into the hands of my students. It’s an autobiography by an artist written in question and answer format. The kids are going to love it because in the middle it has 14 self-portraits of the book’s artists that is like a mix-and-match flip book for kids, which lets them interact with the book. It’s really well done.

Another one that I really like that came out last year was The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter. The Watcher really looks at Goodall as a young child to present day and the impact she has made on the environment, and not just with chimpanzees but with deforestation .The artwork works so well with the text. And it it’s highly accessible from kindergarten right up to 6th grade. That’s one my students really enjoyed.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Cathy: I love that every day is different. I never know what the day will bring. I might be helping students find information for a project they’re doing. I might be recommending books to a reluctant reader. I like being able to interact with everybody in the school, including kids, teachers, parents. I really love that. I love working with the kids over times, watching them blossom and evolve as readers. I love the relationships.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Right Children's Book Might be a Graphic Novel

Librarian Booktalk with Eva Volin
An interview I conducted with Eva Volin, Supervising Children's Librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, California. Eva currently serves on ALSC's Notable Children's Books committee. She has served as the chair for YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee in 2009-2010 and as a member of the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award committee. She also served as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards in 2008. Additionally, Eva blogs for School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids and reviews graphic novels for No Flying No Tights and Booklist.

How do you hope to make an impact as a librarian, a book reviewer and with your involvement with different children’s book committees?
Eva: I want to do for other kids what teachers and librarians did for me when I was a kid, which was understand that not every book is for every child, and to keep handing them things until we discover what it is they are interested in. Just because a child might not be a reader now, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t ever be a reader. They just need to find that book that clicks. I want to be the one that hands them that magical book that flips on the switch for them. 

What do you say to the teacher, librarian or parent who is trying to find that right book for a particular a child?
Eva: The strategy that works best for me is to gently remind the parent or the teacher that this isn’t about the parent or the teacher. This is about the child and the child’s interests. You can’t necessarily hand every single third grader Captain Underpants and figure that’s the one that’s going to be the hit. Some kids don’t like Captain Underpants.

You have to ask questions and get to know the kid. You don’t necessarily need to take them to coffee or anything, but you need to be ready and willing to spend the time to find out what the child is interested in, and then start recommending books. Sometimes you can go to the best-seller list or the greatest hits lists, but often you need to take the time to find out what the kid likes and doesn’t like.

What are your thoughts about the social interaction between a child and a parent as an aspect in developing a love for reading in a child?
Eva: I think parent involvement is key. Sometimes that parent involvement means getting out of the way. :) Reading aloud to a child is step number one in the early years when kids are pre-readers, Step number two is having the child see that you also read. Even if a parent isn’t a big reader, they need to fake it. Read magazines. Read milk cartons. Read the newspaper. You don’t necessarily need to sit there reading James Patterson’s latest novel. You need to show your kids that reading is not only important, but that it’s important to you. And that will get the child to start thinking that maybe reading is okay.

The next step is to never turn your nose up at what your child wants to read. If you aren’t necessarily a big horror reader, but your child is on fire for horror stories, don’t hold the book by the corner and wrinkle your nose and say, “I don’t understand how you read this nonsense. Put it back.” Say, “That’s fantastic! Tell me what you think. When you’re done with that, let’s see what else is out there.” Don’t try to pigeon-hole your child’s reading into what you enjoy. (Can you tell this issue has come up over and over again this summer? Gah!)

You focus quite often on graphic novels and comics. Why is that?
Eva: Sometimes a graphic novel is the perfect book to turn somebody into a voracious reader. That doesn’t mean that graphic novels are just for reluctant readers. Sometimes they turn regular readers into voracious readers too. And because the pictures help kids decode the words, graphic novels can help advanced readers become even more advanced readers. So having graphic novels in my collection has become a gateway to grabbing the interest of even more kids and turning them into readers.

In some people’s minds there sometimes seems to be a stigma about comics and graphic novels. What are your thoughts about that?
Eva: Many people my age and older still tend to think that comics are just for little kids, that they dumb down reading. As librarians, teachers, and parents, we need to realize that all reading is good. It doesn’t matter what you’re reading. Reading is good. If graphic novels are what a kid wants to read for his free reading, let him do it. I’ve never met a kid who, after reading 20 comics, absolutely refused to read anything else. She may continue to have a preference for graphic novels, but that doesn’t mean the graphic novel will dumb her down or turn her off of prose. All reading is good.

Do you see the stigma associated with graphic novels and comics changing?
Eva: Absolutely. Teen librarians are already on board. No question. They got the message 5 to 10 years ago that graphic novels are in fact a type of literature and should be treated with the same respect that you treat any other form of literature. Children’s librarians are definitely on the road to accepting graphic novels as good and worthy of our attention and promotion.

The more reading we do, both professionally and just as readers, the more librarians and teachers realize that there’s a lot more to sequential art than anybody gave it credit for in the past. So, I think the ball is really rolling. Nowadays, the people who say that comics aren’t legitimate literature tend to be people who haven’t done their homework.

Are there certain graphic novels that you tend to recommend over others?
Eva: I’ll always ask questions to find out what the child is interested in. There are so many different kinds of books covered by the graphic novel format. Since graphic novels are a format, not a genre, you can have all different kinds of genres within that format. Once I figure out what the child is interested in reading, then I start making recommendations.

Some of the graphic novels that have been very popular in my library lately include Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Jeff Smith’s Bone, which is a perennial favorite. Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl series is always fun. Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures are fantastic books that make history fun. The Olympian series by George O’Connor is never on my shelf. It is always checked out. Faith Erin Hicks’ graphic novel, Friends With Boys, is a new one I expect to be very popular with tweens. The Toon Books line is great for younger kids. They are graphic novels written for the easy reader reading level and they’re all lovely. Stinky by Eleanor Davis won a Geisel and is one of my favorites. The books in Geoffrey Hayes’ Benny and Penny series are always great.

What are some good resources for people who are new to graphic novels who want to learn more or find out what might be appropriate for their children or student?
Eva: Booklist and School Library Journal have started reviewing graphic novels more regularly, but for the broadest look at what is being released, you still need to go online. Good Comics for Kids is a School Library Journal blog where I and other reviewers review kid’s graphic novels from ages 4 to 16.

Another good place to start is It’s a website where teens and librarians, including myself, review books with collections in minds. We review books for kids, teens, tweens, and adults of all interest levels. If you’re looking more for superhero stuff and more traditional comic books, is a great place to look for reviews. If you’re limited to trade journals, the main ones you probably want to look at are School Library Journal, Booklist, and VOYA.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
Eva: It’s probably the light bulb that goes off over somebody’s head when you’ve said exactly the right thing to get them to want to take the book home. There’s nothing like seeing an 8-year-old’s face light up because they found the perfect book.

Also I think it’s something that happens when I’m not at work, maybe at the supermarket or walking through the park, when a child runs up to me and says, “You’re the library lady. Do you remember me?” And then I get to say, “I do, I do remember you.” That’s a really special moment where I know that I’ve connected with somebody, that I did something right enough that they remember who I am.”

Are there any unique or interesting experiences you’d like to share?
Eva: My favorite story is when a girl with her mom came to me at the reference desk and asked about a certain Manga volume. I said to her, “Yes, we have that volume. Let me put that on hold for you. This is a really good series. I think you’re going to like it a lot.” The girl did a double-take. She looked at me, looked at her mom, looked at me, looked at her mom. Then she said, “See, mom, even old people read these.” The sense of self-satisfaction on this girl’s face was fantastic!

Any last words?
Eva: I have this theory that the librarians who love to read things and who love to recommend books are the ones who become children’s librarians. So, I guess it’s just keep reading. Keep reading new things so you can keep recommending the perfect book to the right kids.

To read more about graphic novels and reviews from Eva Volin, visit her blog at

The Alameda Free Library serves those who live, work, play, and learn in Alameda by providing materials, services, and programs to advance their recreational, educational, and professional goals. The Library offers a wide range of services to support community priorities, including answering reference questions, staging story times, providing summer reading programs, hosting class visits, and offering free public programs and displays for all ages and interests. For more information about the Alameda Free Library, visit

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review: Death Cloud - Young Sherlock Holmes

After receiving a recommendation from a librarian about it being an interesting read for middle graders, I read the first book in the Young Sherlock Holmes series called Death Cloud by Andrew Lane. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and thought it might be a bit stuffy and slow moving, but I was wrong. Death Cloud has fast paced action that begs the teenage Sherlock to decipher a trail of intriguing clues to solve his first mystery. In Death Cloud, Lane presents Sherlock as a likeable teen full of curiosity and with a desire for adventure that often gets him into more trouble than he can handle on his own. But with the help of his friends and his own overactive brain power, Sherlock manages to escape several close calls with death and solve the mystery.

 In addition to making the English countryside come alive in the reader’s mind, Lane creates a world that most kids can easily relate with – one where adults rule and think they know everything, even though it’s a kid that actually has the right answers to save the day as well as save the adults from their own foolishness. Death Cloud by Andrew Lane is an enjoyable read that will capture the interest and imagination of inquisitive young minds.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brave Little Monster Now Available

For those who have been wanting to get a copy of Brave Little Monster, Scholastic Book Clubs has finally made it available again as a paperback. When logged in to the book club as a teacher or parent, you should be able to simply search for "Brave Little Monster". It should bring up two options; the paperback alone as Brave Little Monster # 11308 Club Shop, or the Brave Little Monster Pack: Book Plus CD # 5 Just Right Books. Enjoy!.