Tag Archives: reading

Book Review Tuesday

You might have noticed from our weekly It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? posts, but I read a lot. I don’t typically read as much as I have been during pandemic times, but I have recently thrown myself into reading even more than usual. For a few months, I’ve been interested in writing brief reviews of some of the books I read, but I don’t want reviews to affect my reading pace. I like recording my thoughts about titles that really stand out to me, but I don’t feel a need to recreate a publisher summary for every book I’ve read this week.

Personally, I really appreciate It’s Monday! What Are You Reading posts to find new books that I haven’t heard of, so I don’t want to limit the number of books shared on my Monday posts. This has led me to a new feature for Book Cart Queens–Book Review Tuesdays.

Book reviews are going to be brief, focusing on what I want to remember and books that stand out to me (these don’t replace professional reviews by any means).

Happy reading!

Class Act by Jerry Craft (graphic novel)
Gr. 5-7. New Kid was my dream Newbery winner, and the sequel does not disappoint. Readers get more detailed glimpses into the lives of Jordan, Liam, and especially Drew, with even a touch more character development from Andy. Drew takes center stage here, with a different perspective on his classmates than Jordan. So many real issues are discussed in ways that never feel preachy, with Craft’s appealing artwork balancing humor and reality (race, bullying, class differences, microaggressions, friendship, and more). Hoping for more books in this universe. Read as an eARC.

Amazon.com: Mary Had a Little Glam (Volume 1) (9781454932857): Sauer,  Tammi, Brantley-Newton, Vanessa: Books

Mary Had a Little Glam written by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (picture book)
PreS-K. Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations shine here, bringing young Mary to life. Brantley-Newton sprinkles in details from nursery rhymes and fairy tales, going beyond the written words to add humor and a bit of sass to young Mary’s fantastic outfits (the sheep crossbody purse is my favorite). Between the fun illustrations and the rhythmic beat, there is a ton of storytime potential packed into this title.

I Am Not a Label: 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists  from past and present: Amazon.co.uk: Burnell, Cerrie, Baldo, Lauren Mark:  9780711247444: Books

I Am Not a Label: 34 disabled artists, thinkers, athletes and activists from past and present written by Cerrie Burnell and illustrated by Lauren Mark Baldo (nonfiction, biography)
Gr. 3-5. This gorgeously illustrated collective biography features the stories of 34 disabled individuals who are artists, musicians, athletes, innovators, activists, and more. While there have been a plethora of collective biographies in recent years, this one’s focus on people with disabilities (a group very underrepresented in children’s books) is refreshing, along with its well thought out collection of diverse people from around the world with a variety of types of disabilities.

Nana Akua Goes to School: Walker, Tricia Elam, Harrison, April:  9780525581130: Amazon.com: Books

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker and April Harrison (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. Zura is nervous about bringing her Nana Akua to school for Grandparent’s Day. Nana Akua is Zura’s favorite person in the world, but Nana Akua also has tribal markings on her face from a family tradition from her childhood in Ghana. Sometimes, those marks scare strangers when Zura and Nana Akua go to the park or the store. What will Zura’s classmates think?

Zura’s nerves won’t feel unusual to children hesitant to share their own familial differences with their classmates. The blend of designs and patterns in the artwork make this story shine, helping teach readers about empathy and accepting people’s differences.

Astronaut Training

Astronaut Training written by Aneta Cruz and illustrated by Olivia Aserr
PreS. Astrid wants nothing more than to be an astronaut, but her Daddy seems to think she isn’t quite ready yet. After some bedtime adventures send Astrid to distant planets where the residents are a bit too big or a bit too small, Astrid returns home for a father-daughter space adventure that feels just right.

Brightly colored, playful illustrations capture Astrid’s real and imagined worlds while managing to stay away from standard little-green-alien imagery. A fun read for preschoolers dreaming of the stars. Read as an eARC.

Dog Man: Grime and Punishment: From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Dog  Man #9) (9): Pilkey, Dav, Pilkey, Dav, Pilkey, Dav: 9781338535624:  Amazon.com: Books

Grime and Punishment (Dog Man 9) by Dav Pilkey (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-4. I’m a Dog Man fan through and through. Dav Pilkey never ceases to amaze with the themes and messages he can pack into a series that is considered by so many to be slapstick superhero books. Petey’s character progression-from standard villain to caring papa-is a personal favorite, and the newest title doesn’t disappoint with lessons about forgiveness, love, and happiness as well as an ending that left me a little teary eyed. Looking forward to Book 10 and excited to keep recommending this series to young readers.

2020 Mid-Year Review: What Am I Reading?

You might have noticed from those What Are You Reading? posts that I read. A lot. I read a lot of picture books (which I know many people don’t count in reading totals). I also read a lot of graphic novels, which can generally be considered “faster” reads than chapter books. But, even with those considerations, I know I read a lot.

I’m privileged in the time I can dedicate to reading–I only work one job and reading is directly related to that job (though not something I really ever get to do on the job). My job gives me easy access to free books, without having to go out of my way to pick them up or even to track down a list of new releases. I don’t have kids or the responsibilities that come up with taking care of young people. Even though I go through slumps, I genuinely enjoy reading. And I’ve had particularly a lot of time for it during the pandemic.

I pride myself on reading books featuring diverse characters. I didn’t really do this as a child, beyond the books that won awards or were regularly in recommendations from school and public librarians. I didn’t think about what the characters in my books looked like until I started library school. (More privilege. I’m just chock-full of that.) I had some pretty phenomenal professors that pointed my head in the right direction, and since then, especially in that last few years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to read diverse kids books.

I know that I’ve made a specific effort to book talk titles featuring diverse characters–though, now that I look again at my process, 3/9 isn’t as high a ratio of diverse books to white/non-human books as I would like. Especially when I put the research in and discover that two of those three books are written by white authors. I’ve been trying to correct that by focusing exclusively on own voices in more recent video book talks — but I’ve already felt the itch to book talk a non-own voices book, and I’m afraid once I open myself to that, I’ll once again not promote own voices books as much as I should.

I also know that my storytimes do not feature enough diversity. I tend to blame this on my typical age group–babies–and the overall lack of books that I really feel is ideal for those wiggling one-year-olds. While the industry definitely has issues, that lack of diversity in my storytimes is squarely on me, and something I’m looking at.

So what is this post about? I want to look at what I’ve actually read so far in 2020.

If anyone has a recommendation on how to do this that is simpler than creating a spreadsheet and reviewing each title one at a time, please let me know. I mark a lot of these things through Goodreads shelves, though, for reasons I do not understand, Goodreads will not show me all of the books I read this year in a way that was easily sortable–it kept dropping off the last 100, which left me with incomplete data.

My own voices data is particularly questionable, as it is subject to searching for a Google image of an author I wasn’t sure of, and then going to their author website if I still wasn’t sure, or if I was genuinely surprised by their whiteness (more often than not unfortunately). I’m hoping to rectify this by making this a more regular effort instead of trying to quickly sort 720 books in one weekend.

Some of the data doesn’t quite add up the way you would imagine, as some books are in multiple categories. For example, there are some picture books and graphic novels also tagged as non-fiction titles.

The breakdown is below.

Mid-Year 2020 Reading Statistics

  • Format/Intended Age:
    • 329 Picture Books (46%)
      • 129 diverse main characters (39% of picture books)
    • 191 Graphic Novels (27%)
      • 44 diverse main characters (23% of graphic novels)
    • 80 First Chapter Books (11%)
      • 45 diverse main characters (56% of first chapter books)
    • 50 Beginning Readers (7%)
      • 20 diverse main characters (40% of beginning readers)
    • 34 Juvenile Fiction Chapter Books (5%)
      • 13 diverse main characters (35% of juvenile fiction)
    • 8 Teen Fiction Books (1%)
      • 4 diverse main characters (50%)
    • 4 Adult Fiction Books (0.5%)
      • 0 diverse main characters (0%)
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction/Genre:
    • 66 Non-fiction (9%)
      • 29 contain diversity in “characters” (picture books/graphic novels teaching facts), biographies, memoirs, or focus on racism (44% of non-fiction)
    • 19 Biographies (3%) (also included in NF)
    • 653 Fiction (9%)
      • 231 contain diverse main characters (35% of fiction)
  • Author Makeup:
    • 475 Books Written By Female Authors (66%)
    • 238 Books Written By Male Authors (33%)
    • 153 Non-White Authors (21%)
  • Diversity:
    • 260 Diverse Main Characters (36%)
    • 132 Diverse Main Characters Written By Own Voices Authors (18%)
    • 28 LGBT Main Character (4%)

Breakdown: Format/Intended Audience

  • 329 Picture Books (46%)
    • 129 diverse main characters (39% of picture books)
  • 191 Graphic Novels (27%)
    • 44 diverse main characters (23% of graphic novels)
  • 80 First Chapter Books (11%)
    • 45 diverse main characters (56% of first chapter books)
  • 50 Beginning Readers (7%)
    • 20 diverse main characters (40% of beginning readers)
  • 34 Juvenile Fiction Chapter Books (5%)
    • 13 diverse main characters (35% of juvenile fiction)
  • 8 Teen Fiction Books (1%)
    • 4 diverse main characters (50%)
  • 4 Adult Fiction Books (0.5%)
    • 0 diverse main characters (0%)

I know I read a lot of picture books, and those inflate my overall reading count for the year. I am pleasantly surprised that picture books only make up 46% of my reading for the year (though when I include the similarly-sized Beginning Readers, those types of books make up a combined 52% of my reading so far this year). I’d like to continue to try to keep my picture book reading to under 50% of my overall books for the year, to make sure I am digging into those older age ranges.

Graphic novels have become my comfort zone, particularly for the speed I can read them and their popularity with our patrons. Next time, I would like to break this number down further with the age range the graphic novels are aimed at. I’d like to hold this count steady around 25% of my reading.

During quarantine, I made a particular effort to increase the first chapter books I read, particularly diverse titles. I think that is reflected here. Even with first chapter books being only 11% of my total reading for the year that is much higher than previous years (based on my knowledge of my reading not any formal stats).

These three areas are my weakest reading age ranges

  • Beginning Readers: I struggle with these because I love a good story, and these are not written with the “good story” angle in mind.
  • Juvenile Fiction: I knew my juvenile fiction chapter books have been weak this year, but ouch. Only 5% of my reading has been traditional chapter books–I’m going to work on that.
  • Teen Fiction: If I thought my middle grade reading was low, teen books are abysmal. Though, I will try to defend this a little because at least 30% of those graphic novels are for teens. I don’t program for teens, and we don’t get as many reader’s advisory questions, and…I’ve let this age range slip. Badly. (Michala go write a teen book blog post!)

The second piece of this category I wanted to examine was diverse main characters at the format-level.

While the wait for census numbers will probably take much longer than usual due to the pandemic, the projections for 2020 have remained the same for years: the expectation is that of children in the US (under the age of 18), 49.8% will be “non-Hispanic White.” My reading reflects the books I talk about and share, and my reading needs to, at a minimum, reflect the races of kids today too. I would like to have each of these categories be comprised of at least 50% books featuring diverse main characters.

That isn’t going to be easy–the majority of books published are very white-centered or animal-driven, and while that has been improving a little, it hasn’t improved to the point of enough new titles to necessarily let me increase my reading across these categories without intentionally not reading any other books in those categories. I also need to realistically consider what my reading will look like post-working-at-home. Fifty percent in each category is not likely to happen this year–but maybe it can happen in one or two categories this year, and more over the next few years.

Next Steps:

  • Continue reading any diverse picture books and first chapter books I can access.
  • Actively look for more diverse beginning readers and graphic novels. These are two areas that I’ve always felt are weak proportionately in diversity, at least in my library. Dig harder here.
  • Read more juvenile fiction chapter books, focusing on diverse titles. There have been 10 beside my bed for a week. Actually read them.

Breakdown: Fiction/Non-Fiction/Genre

  • 66 Non-fiction (9%)
    • 29 contain diversity in “characters” (picture books/graphic novels teaching facts), are biographies or memoirs, or focus on racism (44% of non-fiction)
  • 19 Biographies (3%) (also included in NF)
  • 653 Fiction (91%)
    • 231 contain diverse main characters (35% of fiction)

I don’t like non-fiction. Sorry world. I never enjoyed reading non-fiction as a child, and I very, very rarely do as an adult.

Since I struggle with non-fiction (and biographies) so much as it is, I’m going to try to make sure that the books I do read include diversity. I have a tendency to only read non-fiction books about animals, and I want to shift that towards more biographies and memoirs. Poetry is wrapped up in non-fiction too, and while I don’t think I will ever actively enjoy poetry, it is very easy for me to commit to reading diverse poets and generally avoiding white ones.

I can’t even out all of my reading percentages, and this is one that, while I know it is an issue from a reader’s advisory perspective, I am going to set aside for now, though keep it in the back of my mind. I will keep an eye out for reading lists containing great diverse non-fiction for kids, and try to focus on those.

Next Steps:

  • Keep an eye out for more diverse non-fiction titles.
  • Read more biographies – increase biographies read during the year to at least 6%.

Breakdown: Author Makeup

  • 475 Books Written By Women Authors (66%)
  • 238 Books Written By Male Authors (33%)
  • 153 Diverse Authors (21%)

Again, I have to choose what I want to work on, and I’m going to let my female-male breakdown go. I’m reading more books by female authors than male authors. I would like to dig into non-binary authors and authors that identify as multiple genders (and, honestly, some of the authors on my list may do that–this was not the best researched spreadsheet).

I do need to focus on reading books by diverse authors. I’ll get into this more in the next section, but the disproportion between books I’ve read written about diverse kids and books written by own voices authors is alarming. (Only half of the diverse main character books I read this year are by own voices authors! Half!) Having 21% of my reading reflect books written by diverse authors is a start, but it is far from where I would like to be. I want to focus heavily on that number during the second half of this year.

Next Steps:

  • Read more books by authors who are non-binary or identify as multiple genders. Not really examined here, but read more books by transgender authors too.
  • Read more books written by diverse authors. Aim to get that percentage to at least 33% by the end of the year.

Breakdown: Diversity

  • 260 Diverse Main Characters (36%)
  • 132 Diverse Main Characters Written By Own Voices Authors (18%)
  • 28 LGBT Main Character (4%)

These were the numbers I was really looking for. I’ve been actively seeking out books with diverse main characters, so I’m glad this number was a bit higher than I expected when I started looking at titles (but not as good as I secretly hoped). This is exactly why I need to actually look at the data though–because if I had to make a guess a month ago, I probably would have said that 40-50% of what I read is diverse, and that is not the case.

The real rude awakening for me, particularly over the last few weeks, has been how many books featuring diverse main characters are written by white authors. That hurt because, in the fake world in my head, I had assumed that the increase in books featuring diverse characters, that I was seeing and reading each year, also meant more diverse authors were getting published. This has never been true, and while the information was right there for me to find, I naively believed otherwise for far too long.

I’ve noticed the own voices dilemma in my own reading and book talking as I’ve started to make virtual book talk videos, focusing on own-voices titles. So many books I recommend regularly or put on displays–Bad Babysitters, Sanity and Tallulah, Zoey and Sassafras, Molly Lou Melon, Lola and Leo, Jabari, Emma on the Air, Katie Woo, and so many more–are all by white authors. Some have connections to the community they write about–the author of Emma on the Air is married to a man from the Dominican Republic and has two mixed children–but it isn’t the same.

I need to do more research when selecting books to read, and make more of an effort to read those books actually written by own voices authors. The other books can be good too, but the own voices books need to take priority.

Next Steps:

  • Prioritize–in reading, book talking, and dispalying–books by diverse authors featuring kids that look like them.
  • Increase the amount of books read by own voices authors to at least 25% by the end of 2020.
  • Increase the amount of books featuring LGBT characters to at least 8%.

Final Thoughts

Overall, these numbers weren’t as bad as I expected but also weren’t as good as I secretly hoped.

I’m interested to revisit this at the end of the year and see where these numbers end up. I like creating specific steps to move toward my goals, but I also tried to ground my goals in smaller increases because, once I go back to in-building work full time, my amount of reading overall will decrease. I can also tell that I am starting to hit a reading roadblock–I keep trying to push through, but I can already tell it is much harder for me to get through a chapter book than a faster picture book or graphic novel right now.

There are so many more elements of my reading I could examine. How does my reading breakdown over typical genre lines? How does diversity breakdown over genre lines? How about male vs. female main vs. non-binary main characters? I really didn’t dig into LGBT characters and authors as much as I could have here. This list focuses on the books I’ve read this year–can I examine what I used in storytime? What books I book talked or used in programs? All the books I’ve ever read?

This is a new process for me, and a daunting one, though necessary. How do you examine your reading? How do you keep track of what you do–and don’t–read enough of?

Reader’s Theater

I am not a theater person. That isn’t entirely true–I love watching productions. However, I am not a fan of performing in them, nor do I have any background in theater or drama club beyond that one play in middle school and a scattering of elementary full-class productions.

For unknown reasons, within days of starting my current job, I was told I would be the partnering librarian for the monthly reader’s theater program. Fifteen kids ages 8-12 attended a one-hour weekly rehearsal for three weeks followed by a performance for family and friends during the fourth week. We would take a two week break, and restart the cycle with a new set of scripts and (potentially) a new batch of kids.

This program has grown on me, and evolved, over time. It is still quite bare bones for a theater/acting program. I only see the attendees for three hours ahead of performance day, and this program has no budget beyond the folders that hold their scripts and a roll of masking tape. However, the kids enjoy the program, the simple structure works for me, and the low budget makes this easy to replicate.

Before the Program

Most of my work takes place before I see the kids the first time. Personally, I don’t use standard “reader’s theater scripts” that you can find on Google–they often feel forced or aren’t as fun for my 3rd-5th graders. Instead, I look for funny picture books that can be adapted to a reader’s theater style performance. I also have a stash of old Zoom Playhouse Scripts. The Zoom website is no longer available, but some of these can be transcribed from YouTube videos.

Some of my favorite picture books I’ve adapted over the years include:

I’ve also been creating a jokes script that all the kids can perform in at the same time (mostly pulling from the Just Joking series).

I plan for a full group of 15 kids. Not every kid is in every play. I select scripts that allow for 60 parts total (four per reader). Many picture books allow for multiple narrator roles, allowing me to tweak scripts to fit the number of parts I need to reach 60.

Once I have all of my scripts, I print them all out and highlight the appropriate lines for each part. Then, the sorting begins.

I sort scripts into folders before the first rehearsal. Kids then randomly select a folder without knowing what parts are inside. This doesn’t let me control which performers get which parts, but it does allow for scripts to be more evenly distributed and leads to less arguments from kids (and parents) about favoritism.

To break scripts down into folders, I try to aim for the following:

  • 4 scripts per folder
  • At least 1 script that is a “lead” role (more lines)
  • Not all parts in one folder are narrator roles
  • Folders generally stick to one “gender”. I try to use gender neutral names when possible, but if I am stuck with a few more obviously gendered parts I try to keep them together. (I was so proud of my group this last round–this was the first time that we had boys as Cinderella and girls as Princes and not one complaint or argument about switching parts from kids or parents.)
  • If possible, spread scripts out based on the chosen performance order (not all scripts are at the beginning or end)

After (or during) the script organization process, I create the performance order. Once that is set, I create labels that list which scripts are in a particular folder as well as a second label listing the performance order. Both labels are put on the front of each folder, and then the folder is filled with the appropriate scripts, in performance order. I use three-prong folders, so scripts are hole-punched and inserted into the prongs.

Some other practices to make script assignment smooth:

  • Scripts are all labeled with a letter.
  • I create a master sheet for me, organized by play, labeling which scripts have which parts. Eventually, I change script letters to the name of the performer. This helps a ton when 15 8-11-year-olds are paying zero attention to which play comes next.
  • I have a jar on hand with the names of each kid inside on a separate slip of paper. If someone is absent, I pull a name out of the jar to evenly distribute extra parts.

During the Program

Each Reader’s Theater session follows the same 4-week structure:

  • Week 1: Intro to Reader’s Theater, Basic Stage Terminology, Random Script Distribution, Rehearsal of First Half of Scripts
  • Week 2: Script Folder Exchange (optional), Rehearsal of Second Half of Scripts, Practice any scripts from week 1 that now involve props or a lot of entering and exiting
  • Week 3: Full Rehearsal
  • Week 4: Performance for Parents

Before the kids arrive, I set up our stage, by running a piece of masking tape to block off a chunk of the room. This is the easiest “stage” creation, and everyone understands the distinction.

The first three weeks begin with a theater game, normally either Bippity Bippity Bop or Splat. I’ve never been too successful with other theater games. Normally only 2-3 kids out of 15 are actual current or future “theater kids”, and at least a few will shut down if I try to get them to dance in front of their peers or do something that could be seen as embarrassing. The kids are generally already full of energy after school, so I also avoid any game that encourages running as it is hard enough to get them to not do that on their own.

We only rehearse one script at a time, so the kids who are not currently practicing are welcome to watch and give feedback, or they can explore some busywork packets–mad libs, dot-to-dots, kawaii coloring sheets, Captain Underpants Name Changer, etc.

On performance day, kids enter our Activity Center first for one last talk through before we invite friends and family inside. I give them a hodgepodge of cheap dress up items we have on hand to help them get the theater vibe and feel a little bolder when performing in front of a crowd. I introduce the performers to the room, and we run through our scripts for our audience.

Once the initial work is complete, this program is easy to setup and roll out each week, with little prep needed week-to-week. I currently run this program once a year (instead of monthly), and while I don’t see this as strongly with the less frequent programming, there is a notable improvement in the kids reading skills and confidence reading out loud over the course of the month. It also fills a gap in our programming–we regularly offer tech programs and quite a few art programs, but there isn’t an alternate offering that fits that “performing” space. Between helping interested kids test out their stage skills on an easy audience and the direct connections to reading fluency, Reader’s Theater is always a winner.

ALA Midwinter Book Haul

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the ALA Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia. This was my last required conference as chair of the 2020 Notable Children’s Recordings Committee. I spent most of the conference in long meetings, but during my few hours of free time I wandered the exhibit floor.

I love books–they are what started me down the library path, even if my love of helping people kept me there. I wander the exhibit floor with committee members who talk about how they are over the free books, and my brain isn’t able to process that (even if my back understands preferring a lighter suitcase). The books ultimately go to our patrons, but I want to read them too (and first darn it because my back is the one that lugged them home). I am also the person who has approximately 150 holds at any given moment–because I am genuinely excited to read the books and to be able to regularly recommend new, exciting, awesome books to my patrons. I read about 600 books a year–and maybe a fifth of those come from conferences.

I am thrilled to share the load I brought back with all of you! All titles are linked below the pictures, roughly sorted by age.

Picture Books

I tend to not pick up that many picture books as the ARCs are typically quite flimsy, making it hard to give them to patrons. Everything I picked up this round were already released titles (plus the Golden Girls book).


There typically aren’t too many non-fiction titles at conferences, but I was surprised that I only picked up two.

Beginning Readers & First Chapter

These lean much more “first chapter” age than “beginning reader” age. I’m particularly excited for Pizza and Taco and Fox & Rabbit.

Kids Graphic Novels

My favorite finds! I was hoping for an ARC of When Stars Are Scattered, but I am also quite excited for Doodleville (by the same author as Cardboard Kingdom) and Primer.

Kids Chapter Books – Upcoming Releases

Lots of middle grade at this conference! Especially pumped for the Twinchantment sequel, Something to Say, and Fly on the Wall.

Kids Chapter Books – Already Released

I love the last conference day, when the publishers pack up the exhibit floor, and attendees get a chance to get their hands on some fantastic brand new hardbacks of amazing upcoming and recent releases. I scored my personal copy of New Kid that way at Midwinter 2019.

Middle School Titles

Those books are listed as “10+” inside the cover and are bordering between elementary school and middle school readers.