Book Review – The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

Problim ChildrenBy Awnali Mills

There are seven children in the Problim family—each born on a different day, and each with their own unique gifts and talents.  Toot, for example, (born on Tuesday) has different scented farts, which he uses to communicate with his brothers and sisters.  Sal (born on Saturday) has a gift with growing things, and the twins Wendall and Thea (born on Wednesday and Thursday respectively) have gifts with water (Wendall) and locks (Thea).

Their adventurer parents have left them alone, and somehow their house in the swamp has blown up (it was probably Mona, born on Monday).  Sister Sundae (born on Sunday) remembers that she has the deed to their grandfather’s house, and the children take up residence.  Unfortunately, the town doesn’t want them there, especially their new neighbor, Desdemona O’Pinion.  She’s sure that a treasure resides in the house, and she knows she can find it if she can just get rid of the kids.  But their grandfather has planned for the children to find the treasure, and he has left clues for them to find.  Only if they work altogether can the seven Problims locate the treasure and keep their house.

I love Natalie Lloyd’s work, and was so excited that she had a new book coming out that I put a hold on it before the library even got it.  But, truthfully, I didn’t enjoy it as much as her previous books.  I felt that her previous books were more reality with some magic thrown in for wonder, and The Problim Children was more magic with some reality thrown in.  I had a hard time sorting all seven children out to start with, and couldn’t put them into a time frame to give my mind’s eye something to visualize.  References to things like Velcro felt very jarring.  Okay, so it’s modern day—and the community isn’t fussing about seven children very visibly moving into a house with no adults in evidence?  I was sorely tempted to put the book down (nuanced farts really aren’t my thing), but I continued in hopes that it would get better.

Finally, the children sorted themselves out, and I just had to lean hard into my suspension of disbelief.  The story didn’t resolve satisfactorily, and there are more books in the works.  I’m invested a bit in the storyline now, so I may or may not pick up the others—it all depends on how I’m feeling when they come out.

That said, I can see how children would enjoy the book.  Crazy children living without grownups are a long-standing trope in children’s literature (Pippi Longstocking, anyone?), and everyone knows that children find farts hilarious.  And it’s not all hilarity—Thea and Wendall are trying to figure out who they are without one another, and Thea struggles with how to be brave when she’s by herself.  Children will relate to her struggles.  Recommended for grades 3-5.

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Bedtime Storytime 2/7/18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s theme was bedtime—you know, childhood’s favorite activity!  The books I chose were Goodnight Already! by Jory John and Benji Davies, and Go to Sleep, Monster by Kevin Cornell.

I opened with a teddy bear who’d brought us the letter N.  We talked about N words, and finished with “nap” and “nighty-night!”  The children assured me that they Did Not Like Bedtime, but we read our books anyway.  Goodnight Already! started us off (one of the mothers laughed so hard she snorted, which I found hilarious), and then everyone got up and danced and sang to Five Little Monkeys from Bouncy Blue while I danced around with my five little monkey puppets.  Each time one fell off the bed, I pulled the velcroed monkey off the end, and tossed him over my head.  (I did have to climb a chair after storytime to retrieve one that was hiding in the back of one of the cubbies behind me.)

We settled down to do the fingerplay Here is Baby, which the children did with great solemnity.

Here is a baby       (index finger)
Ready for a nap
Lay her down in her mother’s lap.     (place finger in palm)
Cover her up so she won’t peek.        (curl fingers around index finger)
Rock her till she’s fast asleep.            (rock)
Credit: Library Village

Then we read Go to Sleep, Monster.  I made up a new song, I Put Myself to Bed, set to the tune of Farmer in the Dell.  The children got to tell me what they did to get ready for bed, and I made up the words for the verse.  The only one I hadn’t thought of ahead of time was turning on their nightlight.

I Put Myself to Bed
Tune: “The Farmer in the Dell”
(Suit actions to words)
C
I put myself to bed
C
I put myself to bed
F              C
Hi-ho, I’m growing-o
C    G7    C
I put myself to bed

More verses:
I put my pjs on…
I’m brushing all my teeth…
I kiss my parent’s cheeks…
I read my storybook…
I’m turning off the light…
I pull the covers up…
I turn on my nightlight…
I’m drifting off to sleep…

We did the flannel Sleepy Cow, and then I handed out scarves and turned on Brahms’s Lullaby.  We all danced slowly around the room, and one little girl curled up on the floor.  I think she was ready for bed!

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Dance Storytime – 1/31/18

By Awnali Mills

I was a bit floored by the crowd today for Dance Storytime.  Where did all these people come from?  Who knows?  But they sure liked dancing and having fun!  The books I chose were Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont and Dancing Feet by Lindsey Craig.

I opened with my little firefly puppet, and we talked about how fireflies dance during summer nights.  Then I brought out the letter D, and some pictures of D words.  The last was a dancing dinosaur!  Then I read Baby Danced the Polka.  The kid were fantastic at guessing who baby was dancing with, and they all joined me in saying the refrain “But instead…”

Next we all stood up and danced the Tooty Ta, and had the best time making fools of ourselves.  The adults were great about sticking their butts into the air, their tongues out, and turning around!  We followed that with the fingerplay Thelma Thumb.

Thelma Thumb
Thelma Thumb is up! (thumbs up!)
Thelma Thumb is down! (thumbs down)
Thelma Thumb is dancing all around the town! (thumbs wiggle all around)
Dance her on your shoulders, (thumb on shoulders)
Dance her on your head, (thumb on head)
Dance her on your knees (thumb on knees)
And tuck her into bed. (fold thumb in and cover with other fingers)
Credit: Abby the Librarian

Our next book was Dancing Feet, and the kids joined me in doing the motions described in the book.  They also did a good job of guessing who was making all the noises on each page.  I handed out scarves to everyone, and then we danced to Dancing Scarf Blues by Carole Peterson.  To finish, we did the flannel Five Ballet Dancers.  I got the original rhyme from Abby the Librarian, but I didn’t want just female dancers, and I didn’t want to repeat the same rhyme for all five, so I changed some words, wrote four more verses, and used pictures of real ballet dancers of both genders and all colors.

Five Ballet Dancers

Five ballet dancers
Prancing on their toes.
They twirl and spin and jump,
Then off the stage one goes!

Four ballet dancers
Prancing on their toes
They tell a story with their moves
Then off the stage one goes!

Three ballet dancers
Spinning on their toes
One lifts the other very high
Then off the stage one goes!

Two ballet dancers
Spinning on their toes
One chases the other round and round
Then off the stage one goes!

One ballet dancer
Spinning on their toes
The music ends, the curtain falls
Then off the stage they go.

Then one young man shouted “And now there are zero!”  Exactly right.
I pulled out the toys and everyone had a great time playing together.

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Book Review – Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Grandma's PurseBy Awnali Mills

This little girl adores her grandmother, Mimi.  And when Mimi comes for a visit, the little girl is enthralled by her purse, which is full of all the things that make her grandmother herself.  As she pulls things out one by one, Mimi relates each thing back to her granddaughter and their family.

I loved this book.  It reminded me so much of sitting with my grandmother and talking about the things she had stashed in her purse (and my best friend, whose grandmother had a purse full of nothing but Kleenex!)  The illustrations are bright and happy, and filled with sparks of humor.  There was so much love evident between the characters, and the illustrations made me so happy that I immediately started telling my co-workers about it and trying to figure out how to use it in a storytime.  It’s perfect for a preschool storytime, but might be a stretch for toddlers.  Because it’s about a purse, I think it would work for a clothing storytime, but definitely would work for grandparent or family themed storytimes.  Also dress-up.  And anywhere else you can put it.

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Book Review – Toby Goes Bananas by Franck Girard

Toby Goes BananasBy Awnali Mills

Toby is your typical underachiever.  He’s bad at school, his friends aren’t too bright, and his mom is smarter than his father—but he’s happy to tease them equally.  Toby Goes Bananas is a snapshot of one school day that Toby narrates for you with all the aplomb of a born comedian.

I haven’t been a fan of joke books since about 3rd grade.  I was expecting a “graphic novel” and got a joke book in graphic novel form.  Each page was a new joke, and I could almost hear the rim shot at the end of each page.  And almost every joke required that an adult gasp and fall over backward.  So…I was less than impressed.

However!

Kids hit that joke book phase between 2nd and 3rd grade, and then no silly joke is too much.  It might seem old hat to us adults, but not to children.  Generally, when kids ask for joke books in the library, I run them back to the 800s and let them loose, but this will give me a graphic novel to point them to as well.  So, if you have a kid who’s hit that stage, you’ll want to give them Toby Goes Bananas.  Nobody else will probably appreciate it.

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Book Review – The Last Gargoyle by Paul Durham

Last GargoyleBy Awnali Mills

Penhallow is the last of his kind.  He is a grotesque (you would probably call him a gargoyle, but he does NOT spout water) who guards his domain fiercely.  Imps and Netherkin have no chance against him.  But when Hetty and her family move into an apartment in his building, suddenly there are Netherkin everywhere, and they’re not playing around.  There’s a new bad guy they’re answering to called the Boneless King, and who knows what evil he’s cooked up?  And oddly enough, there’s a girl, Viola, who can actually see his spirit form (a young teenage boy in a hoodie), and wants to be friends with him.  What’s that about?  Penhallow doesn’t need any friends, and certainly not one who insists on calling him Goyle (he is NOT a gargoyle, darn it!).  Viola insists on coming along with him as he tries to put a stop to the Boneless King and his hordes of Netherkin.  But she has secrets of her own.  Can Penhallow trust her?  And will his trust cost Hetty her life?

I loved Paul Durham’s Luck Uglies trilogy, and between my fondness for the author and the great cover, I didn’t hesitate to pick this book up.  I was expecting a sarcastic fantasy, but I’d put this more firmly into the “scary story” category (but I would be willing to discuss).  The book is dark and lonely, even though Penhallow is bold and confident.  Very different from The Luck Uglies’ strong friendships, this story is mostly about Penhallow trying to fight evil by himself.  He’s torn between his longing for friendship with Viola and his need to protect her from what he does.  There are some pretty intensely dark scenes that might be a bit much for tender younguns’, but scary story enthusiasts will lap them up.  Recommended for grades 4-7.

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Book Review – Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Just Like JackieBy Awnali Mills

Robinson was named after the great Jackie Robinson, but she’s lousy at emulating him.  She is angry all the time, and can’t seem to help getting in fights, especially with Alex Carter.  Alex is the golden haired bully that grownups adore and children hate.  He is merciless in his teasing of her, especially about her name and her grandfather.  Robinson has blonde, curly hair, and white skin—so why does her beloved grandfather have black skin?  Grandfather is all she has in the world, and she will fiercely defend him against anyone.  And she will never, never tell anyone that he is forgetting things, putting his coat in with the pots and pans, and doesn’t know the way home.  Because it’s just her and Grandpa against the world, and she’s tough enough and strong enough to take care of Grandpa forever.  Or is she?

Robinson is so different from me that it was fascinating to see into her world.  She has zero regard for what anyone thinks of her, and she sees sentimentality and friendship as weakness.  She is an unreliable narrator who keeps telling us how tough she is, without ever admitting that she’s terrified.  Her teachers see through her, but they can only help her as much as she will cooperate—even if she can’t see that.  Even Alex, whom you really want to hate, is shown to be a kid carrying an inordinate amount of pain and suffering.

Bi-racial kids and those being raised by their grandparents may find much to identify with in Robinson’s story—painful family relationships, questions about how she and her grandfather can be related, and feeling misunderstood by the world.  Kids dealing with a family member who has Alzheimer’s will also find connection here, as will kids who have trouble with anger issues.  Just Like Jackie is an important book on many levels, and I know you’ll find lots of people to recommend it to.  For grades 4-6.

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