Posted in book reviews

Picturebook review – Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith



booksniffer1The story is one that most school-aged children with siblings and grown ups can relate to: one person is trying to relax in peace & quiet and another (smaller/younger?) person won’t leave them be because they have no idea they are bothering the other. This would be a great one-on-one read with someone who is perhaps learning to play with others who are different, entering school, or a dealing younger sibling.

I am a sucker for these vintage style tri-color illustrations in picture books. The book, end papers, gutters, and all, are well designed and Frith’s lush illustrations have an eye catching appeal and are evocative of a kinetic jungle environment. The nighttime scene is particularly effective with its teals, greys, and pinks.

The only question I have is- why does the bear, Hector, have a proper name while Hummingbird does not? Most children know what a bear is but hummingbirds are a big more obscure, could that be it?

Posted in book reviews

Book review: The Rosemary Spell by Virginia Zimmerman

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love,
, Act 4, scene 5.

What if Shakespeare created a magical codex that gave power to rhyme? Two teenagers in a small Pennsylvanian town come across such a book and accidentally end up using it to disastrous ends. In order to fix their wrong doings, solve the mystery of the codex, and complete their poetry assignment, Rosemary and Adam turn to library research and an elderly poet whose memory was ravaged by Alzheimer’s. Rosemary even employs the use of a concordance in her research (upon her mother’s suggestion, who also happens to be a Shakespearean scholar), an aspect of the story which is sure to please librarians and English researchers alike. It seems unlikely that most teens get excited about library research, but Rosemary does out of desperation. It also helps that the author is an English professor at Bucknell University, a small liberal arts college in Lewisburg, PA. She’s writing what she knows.

Having lived in small-town Pennsylvania, I can tell you that the story paints a very realistic setting that ironically, considering the theme of memory that is present in the novel, conjures strong memories of my past. When one lives somewhere rather uneventful, oftentimes boredom or curiosity will compel a normally well behaved child to become involved in a situation more dangerous than they can handle, which Zimmerman convincingly portrays in first person through the main character, Rosemary. The idea of a magic codex that causes terrible things to happen seems quite like the kind of story a child or a young teen would compose in response to a major tragedy in his or her life. Actual magic is very minimal in the text, just a touch to make it land in the magical realism genre rather than full-blown fantasy. Will tweens be able to relate to Rosemary and Adam? I’m confident fans of Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, and Seven-Day Magic, titles Zimmerman actually references in the story, will enjoy The Rosemary Spell.


I read this novel as a part of YES WE CRAB reading challenge. I plan to read 10 books (of all sizes!) and blog once a week during the month of February!


Posted in conferences

Reflection on the 2016 Morris Seminar

I missed out on ALA Annual and Midwinter last year because of being pregnant and giving birth to my son, so I was ready to jump back into the saddle and embrace ALA Midwinter for everything it had to offer. I may have been a little overeager yet anxious about socializing with a large group of people but I think I did okay. Having an adorable 9 month old baby in tow really helps break the ice!

The Morris Seminar (aka Librarian Summer camp, even though it’s in the winter)  was the missing puzzle piece my brain needed to wrap my head around book reviewing and discussion. My graduate work at Drexel suffered a distinct lack of reviewing instruction and I’ve been hungry to learn what I missed. KT Horning (subbing for Martha Parravano), Thom Barthelmess, Junko Yokota, and many others, presented the very best practices for book reviewing and how to, well, SURVIVE being on a book award committee.

Read and evaluate beyond a personal response.
Know your biases and favorites, this makes it easier to view the book with a professional mind while reading something you don’t personally prefer.

Always assume the best about a book.
Don’t look for flaws. Make a list of outstanding points so each book rises to its potential.

“Approach the book with a questioning mind.”
Ask yourself questions: Who’s reading the book? How does the book function in the real world– is it reflective of the diversity in which we live?

Educate yourself if you don’t know anything about the topic.
Read other books on the subject and contact experts for more information.

Read the books with adults & children to gain a different perspective.

Select distinguished books: 1st novels, translated books, books by people of color.

Find a place where a comment becomes a real question.
The group doesn’t have time for passive aggression or snarky comments. Find a way to make your comment into a real question that benefits the group.

Make the physical, emotional, and mental space for the amount of books to be read.
Use databases to keep track of your notes and/or corresponding pictures of book illustrations. Clear space in your office and your life so that you may focus on reviewing for a book award committee.

Remember, the group is smarter as a whole than individuals.
Every person comes from a distinct place with a different set of experiences that add something unique to the discussion.

Engage the subjective and objective while reading, as well as the adult mind and the child-like mind.
Professional book reviewing can be contradictory. It’s a fine balance.

“Every book is a clean slate!”
Give every book a chance.

“It’s just you and the book.”
Take it one step at a time, one book at a time.

And most importantly:

Learn something you may not have noticed about the about the book from a colleague.
Personally, I’ve always fancied myself a decent listener, but when it comes to books like most librarians and other book people, I can’t wait to state my opinion. American culture as a whole isn’t great at facilitating or nurturing listening skills, as most of us just listen long enough to form our own retort. There is no time during book award committee meetings for side bars, personal stories, or even agreements. Active listening during discussion, without ego, without self, is key. To listen without ego is almost a Vulcan task and the needs of the many certainly out weigh the needs of the few. Yep, I just outed myself as a Trekkie. Woo!

Lisa Nowlain, a fellow Seminarian, did a great visual wrap up of the Morris Seminar on the ALSC blog. Check it out!