Sunday, November 22, 2009

Science Fiction in Victorian England

Some books don't fit into the usual genres.  Historical fiction, science fiction, humor, and fantasy are all easy enough to recognize, but what do you do when all four collide in the same book?  Philip Reeve wrote just such a book (and then wrote two sequels for good measure).

 Reeve, Philip (2006). Larklight. (Grades 6-8)

Arthur Mumby and his very proper sister, Myrtle, live in a remarkable house--in outer space.  The year is 1851, and, thanks to Sir Isaac Newton's discoveries about gravity, humans have invented ships that can take them to the moon and beyond.  Queen Victoria's British Empire, for instance, stretches all the way from Venus to Mars, and explorers spend plenty of time around Jupiter.

When Arthur's family receives an unexpected visitor, he and Myrtle are launched into a daring adventure with alien moths, space pirates, and giant white spiders that threaten the Mumbys at every turn.  Arthur tells most of the story himself, but Myrtle's diary entries make regular appearances to fill in some gaps.

Despite the ever-present danger, Larklight and its sequels--Starcross and Mothstorm--are wildly imaginative and humorous books.  You can read an excerpt from the first chapter here!  If it sounds a little strange when you read it, just be patient.  It's supposed to sound like an old, Victorian novel, but it doesn't take long to get used to.  Be sure to pick up a copy of the book itself: the illustrations make the book even more fun to read.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Straight from the horse's mouth

You never know when you'll find a good recommendation at the library.  Today, for instance, the following note was left on a shelf:

The reader has a good point.  Hank the Cowdog is one of the funniest characters out there.

Erickson, John (1983). Hank the Cowdog. (series) (Grades 4-6)

Hank is a cowdog.  More importantly, Hank is the Head of Ranch Security--at least, he's the Head of Ranch Security if you ask him.  If you ask anyone else on the ranch, you'll get a very different answer.  Hank is always getting into trouble with the ranchers and the other animals, despite his best intentions.  He's not as smart or as good-looking as he thinks he is, but he makes up for it in determination.  When a mysterious adventure arises, he's the first to run into it.  For instance, he stands his ground in the face of a plane (a "silver monster bird" trying to steal a steer, according to Hank) and almost manages to catch it before it veers away.

Hank's gruff way of talking and hilarious misunderstandings make these books fun to read aloud or alone, and the series is extensive enough that you'll always have your pick of books.  Although the first book is a good place to start, there's no need to read the series in order.  Each book stands well on its own and doesn't need anything more than Hank's own introduction: "It's me again, Hank the Cowdog."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Crafts for Keeps: Thankful Turkeys

Thanksgiving is almost here!  You can start the celebration early by making a Thankful Turkey to show all of the things you're thankful for.  Click here for easy instructions.  You'll need some colorful construction paper, scissors, glue, and a pencil or marker.

Once you've made your turkey, use the feathers to write in everything you're thankful for this year.  The more thanks you give, the more feathers your turkey can have!  You can glue your turkey to an empty toilet paper tube to help it stand up on a dresser or table.  Put it somewhere special to remind you of all the good things around you.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Audio Books: Now for your own MP3 players!

OverDrive, a new audio and e-book service through the Minuteman Library Network, allows library users to put audio books and e-books onto their computers and MP3 players.  You can use these electronic books whether you have a Windows computer or a Mac, so iPod users can finally download audio books from the library!

These books work a lot like the physical books that you check out at the library: you "borrow" an item and get to listen to or read the book during that loan.  When the book is due, it's automatically "returned" to the library--no overdue fines!  If the title is available after the due date, you can always check it out again.

Books for kids are conveniently set aside in their own "Juvenile Fiction" collection for you to browse.  There are 26 titles right now, so check one out today and see how the new service works!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wordless Picture Books

Although most picture books have written text to accompany the illustrations, some books rely entirely on the pictures to tell the story.  As with most genres, wordless picture books range from very simple stories to complex plots.  They can help new readers acclimate to left-to-right reading and context clues, and they're equally useful in teaching older students about plot, setting, character development, and general storytelling.   Readers have the opportunity to tell the story using their own words and ideas.

Here's a short list of titles to get you started.  Stop by the children's room for more suggestions!

dePaola, Tomie (1978). Pancakes for Breakfast. (Ages 2-6)

A little, old lady attempts to make pancakes for her breakfast, despite a lack of ingredients and the interference of her two pets.

Lehman, Barbara (2004). The Red Book. (Ages 4-8)

A girl in a dreary, wintry city finds a red book in a snowbank.  When she opens the book, she sees a boy on a tropical beach, holding another red book and looking back at her.  The adventure continues as she buys balloons and floats to the island, dropping the book along the way for another person to pick up and explore.

  Lehman, Barbara (2006). The Museum Trip. (Ages 4-8)

When a boy's class takes a trip to the art museum, he finds himself magically transported into the books and exhibits around him.  Was his experience real?  Or was it part of his imagination?

Wiesner, David (2006). Flotsam. (Ages 5-10)

During a trip to the beach, a boy finds an old camera that has washed up on the shore.  The photographs inside reveal other children who have found the mysterious camera as well as snapshots of incredible, mysterious underwater worlds.

Tan, Shaun (2007). The Arrival.  (Ages 12+)

A man leaves his home and family and travels to a new land where everything is unfamiliar and impossible to understand.  Readers will share in his bewilderment at the foreign alphabet, strange-looking plants and animals, and new customs.