Skunks (Kids Can Press Wildlife) by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Nancy Gray Ogle

Did you know that the spotted skunk does a handstand before spraying its musk at potential predators? Or that skunks eat snakes? This picture book covers species, habitat, anatomy, feeding habits and more of these black and white nocturnal mammals. Written in simple language and illustrated with vibrant and painstaking detail, the narrative is punctuated by boxed “Skunk Facts” on each page. Illustrator Nancy Gray makes the natural world nearly tangible. Each animal, each leaf has a unique look, and the details of each habitat are authentic. Quantitative data such as size and weight is made relative through comparison to objects a child might be familiar with: apples, cats, city blocks. Figures are given in metric and English measurements.

The book concludes with an examination of people’s attitudes towards skunks, and a reminder of the benefits of these badger-like animals. Occasionally there are teasers that remain unfulfilled; such as the author stating that the scientific name for skunk means bad odor – but not giving the scientific name. Geographic range is only depicted for one species, although over a dozen are illustrated. Such eliminations, coupled with a lack of source notes or further reading materials, make this an inappropriate choice for school reports. As leisure read, however, it is engaging and fascinating.

A page on skunk signs (scat, paw prints), a glossary (only about half of the words defined within the context of the book are included) and index are appended.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 25, 2006.

John, Paul, George, & Ben by Lane Smith

Ever wonder what the Founding Fathers were like as kids? Now you can find out in Lane Smith’s witty and imaginative take on colonial childhood. John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson are treated to a spin in the proverbial “Wayback Machine” as Smith (illustrator of the wildly successful Time Warp Trio series) fantasizes about a day in the life of each man “before fun was invented”. A passel of historical facts and a smattering of tall tales yield some laugh-out-loud results for readers who discover how Paul developed his booming voice (bells, bells, bells) and the reason (cherry trees + axe) George went on to become the only President not ALLOWED to live in Washington D.C.

An appendix entitled “Taking Liberties,” pays homage to Washington’s famous misquotation “I cannot tell a lie,” and separates fact from folklore: Ben Franklin really DID say, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” But John Hancock never wrote his name on the school blackboard in such large letters that his teacher chided him, “We don’t need to read it from space,” (there were no blackboards when Hancock was a boy).

Pen-and-ink illustrations fill the double spreads, which are textured to resemble parchment paper and weathered pulp boards, creating the look and feel of a family album. Museum reproductions of actual photos taken of each man during his presidency serve as endnotes and fitting reminders of their roles in the birth of a nation. Ages 6-up.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 25, 2006.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

It’s Kind of a Funny Story made me understand mental illness the way that Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Doubleday, 2003) made me understand autism. The happiest day of Craig’s life was when he got into a prestigious private New York college prep high school. Studying for the entrance exam gave him something to focus on, and he does well, but once at school he begins to crack under rigorous academic pressures coupled with social stresses. Soon he is rendered incapacitated by the worst case scenario implications of failing academically. Loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and voices in his head drag him down into a deep depression.

In desperation one night, he calls a suicide hotline, and when the voice on the other end tells him to head to the ER, he does–checking himself into a mental ward where a mix of teens and adults with varying degrees of dysfunction become more normal to him and easier to understand than his peers in the outside world. Living with a group of people who have problems to solve aids Craig in dealing with his own issues and help him find an anchor–art–that creates stability. Getting back on his meds helps, too. The drawing of maps is an apt metaphor of finding one’s path.

The voice is pitch perfect, darkly funny, self-deprecating, and straightforward, and the first person perspective lends an confiding air.  These elements create an empathy for Craig and his struggle with typical teen issues on a deeper level than most. A great deal of growth and change occurs in an almost unbelievable short amount of time. The physicality of young romance, earthy language, and drug use (prescribed and unprescribed) add to the authenticity of the story.  The conclusion, while hopeful, is also honest: there will always be a possibility of backsliding, but now tools to cope are in place and there are options.

Highly recommended for public and school collections serving ages 14 and up.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog May 4, 2006.

I’m a Pill Bug by Yukihisha Tokuda, illus. by Kiyoshi Takahashi

Part of the Nature: A Child’s Eye View series, this unique book about the habits, life cycle and behavior of pill bugs is informational but also a bit … odd. Told in the voice of the pill bug, the tone attempts to be cheery and childlike, but it sounds a bit condescending to this reviewer. This is a translated title, and it could be this is a style we are simply unused to seeing.

The creature is shown actual size, as are the leaves pill bugs eat. The place of pill bugs in the food chain is inferred. It takes nearly twenty pages for the author to reveal that actually, pill bugs are not insects, but are related to crustaceans.

The nature theme and cut paper collage style illustrations are reminiscent of Lois Ehlert, incorporating not just torn colored paper but textures and prints as well. The pages are beautifully composed, and the predators of the pill bug– ants, frogs, lizards and birds–are intricate and lovely.

While a nice introduction to this particular species and the concept of scavengers, this non-fiction picture book is not useful for reports, lacking a bibliography, sources, index, glossary, or map. The theme and subject matter do make a nice fit for the MA 2006 Statewide Summer Reading Program, what’s buzzin’ at your library.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 23, 2006.

Honey: A Gift from Nature by Yumiko Fujiwara, illus. by Hideko Ise

A young girl follows her father to their beehives in the mountains to observe where honey comes from in this picture book in the Nature: A Child’s Eye View series. The text begins on the title page, a bit unconventional. The present tense lends some immediacy to the child’s viewpoint, but the voice lacks some personality.

Using the cycle of the seasons gives the book structure: in the spring, bees awaken from hibernation and gather pollen from blossoms in spring, summer and fall. The process of gathering honey form the hives, creation of honey from nectar, and threats to the bees and the honey are detailed in simple, clear language.

A page where the father speaks in a dialogue bubble with an inked diagram of how nectar turns into honey is a bit incongruous with the style of the book, but it does impart the information. The images in the book are luminous: a breakfast table on a bright sunny morning; fat, butter-colored honeybees; a shimmering veil of rain; richly hued autumn leaves; and honey in tones of yellow, amber, gold and brown. A honey tasting is a natural tie-in for this one-on-one read; lack of bibliography, sources, index, glossary, or maps make this a secondary choice for school reports.

The theme and subject matter do make a nice fit for the MA 2006 Statewide Summer Reading Program, what’s buzzin’ at your library.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 23, 2006.

Tightrope Poppy The High-Wire Pig by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illus. by Sarah Dillard

Poppy is a persevering pig that dreams about a life beyond wallowing in the mud. She joins the circus to walk the tightrope, convinced her days of walking on fence rails insure her success, and when she falls, a heartfelt email from Mom inspires her to dust off her wounded pride and try, try again. Poppy is all heart and sunny personality. Told in rhyming text grouped in limericks with couplets interspersed, the story gathers a rollicking pace.

The illustrations are painstaking – finely patterned dresses, individual blades of grass, a unique face on every audience member in the big top.  The palette of farm brown and greens transcends to soft red, blue, and gold as Poppy’s life changes; the final spread’s all yellow background indicates the achievement of goals. Perspective and the amount of space each illustration takes up on the page varies. This positive book about believing in your dreams is a winner.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 17, 2006.

If Mom Had Three Arms by Karen Kaufman Orloff, illus. by Pete Whitehead

In this whimsical picture book, a little boy imagines that his mom has more than two arms after she refuses to carry his backpack for him. Nine rhyming couplets follow, beginning with “If mom had three arms, she could put on a show/If mom has four arms, she’d make cars stop and go.”  The meter varies (11, 12, or once, 13 syllables) both from couplet to couplet and even within some pairings, making for a perceptible imbalance when reading aloud. The text is ambiguous enough for the pictures and words to tell the story together, and for the artist to have had plenty of creative license with the images. “With seventeen arms, Mom could color the sky” is a particularly poetic line, illustrated with seventeen kites spread over two pages. A warm and fuzzy happy ending wraps up the daydream.

The images are brightly colored, cartoony and full of motion – nearly 3-D, and no static straight-on views. Occasionally the illustrator uses additional lines to indicate motion, and these are for the most part unnecessary. Crowd scenes are multicultural and the boy’s dog is a fun and often humorous addition. Bubbles and wavy wriggling limbs make underwater motion clear when eight-armed Mom befriends an octopus;  dripping paint, flying marble chips and squishy clay show her dexterity when six arms turn her into an artist.

Instead of color or line to move the reader from page to page, Whitehead incorporates numbers into each page, reinforcing the counting, propelling the book, and creating a find the figure game for readers, most cleverly when the number is disguised as a piece of coral or sculpture. Children will also turn pages to see what the dog is up to next; as the child observes the action, the dog is an eager participant.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 17, 2006.

A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart 

This environmental book about the threat of extinction to numerous butterfly species in North and South America focuses on things humans can do to foster the growth of local butterfly populations. Each two page spread narrows in on one specific species, such as the Karner Blue or Schaus Swallowtail.

The primary text is a generality, such as “some butterflies are harmed by X. When people stop X, butterflies can live and grow.” A sidebar gives more information on the particular species. No book about these winged creatures would be complete without a  depiction of the life stages of a butterfly, and Stewart and Higgins don’t disappoint, providing a clean description illustrated with clear images. The conservationist message isn’t subtle, but it is effective and accessible to young audiences. A bibliography of resources for young explorers includes books and a government website. A teaching guide is available on the publisher’s website at

Lushly decorated pages capture the climate and topography of southern Florida, the Pacific Northwest, the eastern woodlands, and nine other locations. Plants and animals indigenous to each area are carefully detailed. The endpapers are decorated with maps showing the habitat of each of the 12 species covered in the book. MA librarians will especially appreciate some of the localities in the book (Worcester MA’s butterfly friendly fields are featured) and that the title fits nicely with the 2006 statewide summer reading program theme, what’s buzzin’ at your library.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 9, 2006.

A Day In the Life: Thursday February 3, 2022

7:30am alarm – snooze

7:39am alarm – snooze

7:40am scroll Facebook instead of making breakfast or tea or packing lunch

7:50am drag self out of bed, throw on comfortable shoes, a dress too long for the rainy weather, and a zip up fair aisle cardigan – no bun today!

8am hit the road! Traffic. Delayed about 5 min. Listened to Conan O’Brien interviewing Justice Sotomayor

8:55am enter library building

9:00am Zoom Staff meeting / materials selection policy review

10:10am checkin with staff member

10:25am relocate a plant, leaving a leafy trail behind me to the delight of the custodian who lives to vacuum (not really)

10:30am tea & email

10:40am check in about Construction issue (scheduling painting – do we have an extension ladder)

10:45am Wordsmith a quote for a construction press release

11:00am start compiling the weekly report

11:30am respond to town accountants RFI – pull state aid info

12:00pm collection development – added requested new NYT bestseller to Nonfiction order

12:10pm interview prep

12:30pm check in with technician

12:35pm Interview prep

1:00pm question about bills

1:10pm email

1:20pm meeting with a patron regarding mask altercation

1:30pm interview

2:40pm approve weekly warrant for bills to be

2:43pm check a patron account

2:45pm apple & almonds for lunch in my car on way to school pickup

3:15pm OT (kid not me)

5:00pm Wegmans run

6:30pm dinner prep, mail, email

7:00pm dinner (Wegmans noodles, dumplings, egg rolls & sushi, too wiped to cook)

7:30pm webinar on grass roots activism to counteract book banning

8:00pm Discussion with multiple people regarding tomorrow’s weather derails attempt to finish webinar

8:15pm Delegating of closing tasks

8:30pm Laundry folding, Italian ice for dessert

9:45pm wrangle kid to bed, Diary of a wimpy kid read aloud, 3 minute living kindness meditation & bedtime routine

10:45pm Back to work! Need to go post on website & social media regarding inclement weather closure

note: this accounting was in response to this McSweeney’s article, How Non-Librarians Imagine A Librarian’s Typical Workday by John Howard Matthews

The Quail Club by Carolyn Marsden

The announcement of a talent show becomes cause for concern for Thai-American Oy. Torn between pleasing her parents by doing a traditional dance of her culture, or by keeping the friendship of her clique (specifically, Liliandra) by performing a raucous American dance, Oy spends most of the book making herself miserable trying to please everyone. Should her loyalties lie with her family, or her friends? Thai words and customs add depth and authenticity to the story.

The story is a quick read; like it’s prequel The Gold Dress the themes of peer pressure, fitting in and adapting are strong. Although Liliandra’s bad behavior seems to stem from underlying issues, Oy comes off passively — not a strong message for readers dealing with bullies or mean girls in their own lives.

This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog April 2, 2006.