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Optimists Die First

With such an attention-grabbing title, how can I NOT blog about it?  Plus it received starred reviews in School Library JournalPublishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and just about everywhere else you can star reviews.

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Vancouver teenager Petula de Wilde is aware that her personality is the very opposite of her last name. Since her sister died two years earlier, Petula constantly washes her hands, avoids construction sites (lest she get killed by falling stray metal), and scours the Internet for articles on random and accidental deaths to add to her scrapbook. She no longer pursues her many (more optimistic) craft projects, nor does she speak to her former best friend. Things begin to change after a new boy with a prosthetic arm shows up in her mandated art therapy classes. Jacob is gregarious, confident, and determined to make Petula come out of her shell. His enthusiasm for life and his ability with a camera pull them together and allow them both to heal, but is Jacob all that he seems? Will Petula and the other art therapy students be able to help Jacob as much as he has helped them? Nielsen has created a compelling, precociously paranoid protagonist and a bevy of wisecracking, heartwarming characters. But perhaps the novel’s greatest strength is its handling of the characters’ very real burdens with sympathy, wit, and not an ounce of melodrama. Nielsen excels at depicting troubled, clever teenagers in familiar environments. VERDICT Readers who are looking for a darker, more urban, but similarly hopeful Sarah Dessen novel will find it in this poignant book. (School Library Journal)

Target Age: 
Katiem's picture

The Plot Thickens

The Last of August is the second adventure in the Charlotte Holmes series by Brittany Cavallero.  I really enjoyed the reimagining of modern teen descendants of Holmes and Watson in the first book, A Study in Charlotte.  Let's see what the sleuths are getting up to this time around.

"Jamie and Charlotte are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.  So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other."

Target Age: 
Katiem's picture

Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song

February is Black History Month, and Hoover Public Library has everything you need to commemorate the occasion.  The Kid Zone has pulled many of our favorite titles onto a central display kiosk, to make it easy for you to find what you want.  We're also doing this blog, which highlights some brand new titles that focus on African-American music and musicians.

  • Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song by Cynthia Grady, art by Michele Wood (September 1, 2016)
    J  782.25  GRA
    This was one our favorite nonfiction books of 2016.  
    "Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart." These words by Frederick Douglass are offered in an endnote to provide context for the 13 spirituals included in this volume. Readers will learn how the book began, with Wood's acrylic paintings inspired by the songs; the author then studied the paintings and researched the songs before writing the text. Each spread features a painting on the recto and one or two paragraphs of text along with the music and verses on the verso. There is also a full-spread painting of a group of slaves riding a metaphorical railroad conducted by Harriet Tubman preceding the spread for the song "Get on Board—the Gospel Train," which also includes an archival photo of Tubman. Some of the songs will be familiar, such as "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," while others, like "Ain't Gonna Study War No More," "Go Down, Moses," and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," will resonate with older readers. The vibrant paintings often incorporate quilting motifs and historical events. Original lyrics are featured in the back matter. An archival photo of the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University in Nashville, TN, who popularized the spiritual as a musical form in the 1870s, appears in the introduction. VERDICT This is an excellent resource for music and art teachers as well as for social studies and U.S. history lessons. (from School Library Journal)
  • The Legendary Miss Lena Horne by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (January 24, 2017)
    JB  HOR
    A lyrical biography from award-winning author Weatherford (Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement). The narrative follows Horne throughout her life and highlights her talent, activism, career highs and lows, love of reading, and lifelong dedication to civil rights. While the format is that of a picture book, the text, which alternates between short phrases and longer narrative paragraphs, may require a sophisticated reader. Complex concepts (studio contracts, blacklisting, lynching) are neither glossed over nor extensively addressed. Where this volume truly shines, though, is in its straightforward but multifaceted approach to the complicated realities of Horne's stardom, from segregated venues to skin-darkening makeup, contract negotiations to civil rights rallies and parenting. Weatherford celebrates Horne for her skill and for changing the game for those to come ("Because Lena refused/to darken rear doors,/black stars now gleam/on red carpets"). Zunon's paint and collage illustrations fill the pages with rich colors and remain true to the glamor of Horne's performances. Occasional text boxes featuring song titles or quotations work to varying success. Back matter includes an author's note about Weatherford's own connection with Horne and a list of further reading (however, the two print suggestions are written for older students). VERDICT Though it will likely need some selling on the part of librarians, this is a carefully crafted offering for thoughtful readers interested in the intersection of music, stardom, and civil rights. (from School Library Journal)
  • Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of the Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb (February 1, 2017)
    JB  HOL
    Lynching: a strange and difficult but important topic for a song—and for this picture book.Golio crafts an honest biography of African-American jazz singer Billie Holiday, whose light skin, penchant for improvisation, and commitment to social justice often made her the center of heated controversy. As Holiday once said: "Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what's more than enough." As "one of the first black singers to work in an all-white band," Billie excelled until her handlers asked her never to talk with customers or walk alone, to use service elevators, and to stay upstairs until performance time—all to convince white patrons that the venues where she sang remained racially segregated. When Jewish songwriter Abel Meeropol wrote "Strange Fruit," about the lynching of blacks, for Billie to perform, Meeropol's rendition of it failed to move her. Once she made it her own, however, she stunned audiences with her performance. This picture book emphasizes that the arts not only entertain, but can also be powerful change agents. Riley-Webb's moving, richly textured illustrations, rendered in acrylics with tissue collages on canvas paper, reflect the constant motion of jazz and the striking excitement of improvisation. The informative backmatter expands upon Holiday's biographical details and offers narrative explanations of source quotes. A must-read, must-discuss that will speak to children and linger with adults. (from Kirkus Reviews)

We started our annual collection for Valentines for Children's Hospital TODAY!  Let me remind you how it works.  From February 1-9, 2017, people can drop signed valentines at the desk in the picture book room.  They can be handmade or storebought, whichever you prefer.  Children's Hospital does request that they do NOT include candy or anything with choking hazards (such as rubber bands).  When you give us your cards, we will give you a special valentine surprise.

If you are 10-14 years old, you can create your valentines at our Tween Scene event this Friday, February 3, 2017 at 4 p.m.   We provide all of the supplies for you to make some truly amazing cards.  We also provide the snacks.  Sign up online or by phone (444-7830).  And everyone is invited to meet this month's Crafty Character on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at 10:30 a.m.  Cupid will be here to help you create a jeweled box and a cupid dust necklace.  There will also be a Valentine story and sweet treats to share.  You do not have to register for this event ahead of time.  Both Tween Scene and Crafty Characters will take place in our programming room.  Simply follow the stars to find the fun.

Loving vs Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case by Patricia Hruby Powell (2017)

This title, depicting the individuals and events surrounding a watershed moment in U.S. civil rights history, is immediately relevant today. In 1950s Virginia, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter fell in love and wanted to marry and raise their family where they were brought up. This was a problem: Loving was white, Jeter was considered "colored," and there was a law prohibiting interracial marriage. Still, the couple married in DC anyway, and after returning to Virginia, they served jail time. After years of separation and fighting the ruling, they connected with ACLU lawyers, and in 1967 their case was heard by the Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the previous judgment against the Lovings in a landmark ruling. Written in free verse, this docu-novel alternates perspectives between Richard and Mildred. News clippings, maps, and archival photos add immediacy and context, as do Strickland's moving illustrations, in the style of "visual journalism," which she explains in an appended note. The volume also features a time line of relevant events and an appended summary of the Lovings' lives after the case. The bibliography displays the author's extensive research, which included interviews with those who were connected to the couple, and the free-verse style personalizes the historical events, which reach directly into today's headlines. (from School Library Journal)


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