The Glamorous Secret Life of Janitors and Custodians

So janitorial and custodial work doesn’t sound especially glamorous, especially when you’re comparing it to the supposedly glamorous life of secret agents, à la James Bond. So you can maybe imagine my surprise at running across two books this year where custodians and janitors live wild secret lives. Who knew, right?

In Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! by Matthew McElligott, Victor discovers that the benjamin franklinsteinrecently-deceased school custodian who lived in the basement apartment was also a custodian of a secret order. Custodians in the Modern Order of Prometheus, or M.O.P., have charge of scientists from the past who have been put into a suspended state until the future needs them. Unfortunately, no one took over after this particular custodian’s death, and Benjamin Franklin is awakened by a lightning strike. Where does the Franklinstein bit come from? From the bolts in Ben’s neck (very Frankenstein’s monster) as well as the fact that Ben becomes a bit of a monster when he takes in too much electricity. Looks like Victor is going to be a custodian of the more glamorous type! Sequels so far include Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers and Benjamin Franklinstein Meets Thomas Deadison. Aren’t those titles great? They make me want to make an evil mad scientist laugh every time I see them! Besides having great titles, these clever books mix history, science, secret codes, and humor.

The second book I encountered was Tyler Whitesides’ Janitors. The cover art janitorsmakes it quite clear that these janitors are far from ordinary. In fact, it would appear that they are involved in something quite magical. And indeed they are! Apparently elementary school janitors all over the United States work for the Bureau of Educational Maintenance, an organization dedicated to ridding schools of the magical creatures known as Toxites. These creatures feed off of students’ desires to learn and cause such effects as inability to concentrate, sleepiness, and confusion. Fortunately, the janitors are there to protect the students and save their brains and education! While the book requires the reader to suspend belief, it is an entertaining read. Though I’ve not yet had a chance to read it, the sequel, Secrets of New Forest Academy, came out in September.

Janitors made me think about how many elementary school janitors are highly liked by their students. The two janitors at the elementary school I attended for 4th & 5th grades were Mr. John and Mr. Tom. We always used the Mister along with their first names – it’s a Southern thing. We loved them. The school cats who prowled the halls, the classrooms, and the courtyard (yes we had school cats, weren’t we cool?) were named after the janitors, though I don’t recall whether they had the Mr. as part of their names. (I think they did, but it’s been a few years, so I can’t guarantee it.) The custodian at the elementary school where I worked was also loved by the students, and she was always very happy. So my conclusion is that it takes a special person to be a school janitor or custodian. And who knows, maybe all of them are living secret lives?

You can find Benjamin Franklinstein Lives at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and World Cat.
You can find Janitors at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and World Cat.

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This One’s For You, Ginny!

Almost 6 months ago, my good friend and former co-worker, Ginny, got married. The day she got married I walked out into my backyard to find this:

Best Bet Iris

Now this may not be a big deal to most of you, but I have a VERY hard time getting bearded irises to bloom. I can grow quite a few things, but bearded irises (for me) just end up being leaves, not flowers. I planted this one in the fall of 2009. It grew leaves every year, but it didn’t bloom until April 2012. So I’m pretty sure this one was in honor of your wedding, Ginny! Now I’ve got to wait and see if it blooms again.

This is a German iris called Best Bet and is supposed to bloom in spring and then again in August through October. (I’m not holding my breath on the fall rebloom, but we’ll see.) It should at least flower again next spring.

Happy almost-six-months-anniversary, Ginny!

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Have you ever come across the kind of package that leaves no clue as to what is inside it?

My family loves to do creative packaging for gifts – like the time that my parents wrapped a Mariah Carey cassette for me in an empty paint can. I think I was 12, and I was totally baffled. I had no idea what to do with the paint can. Last Christmas, I wrapped a gift card for Dad in the mailing tube for my diploma. Oh yeah, and I stuffed it full of marbles, too. :) So when he opened it, all of the marbles fell into the couch cushions while I sat on the floor laughing. I’m a good daughter, I am!

But that isn’t really the kind of packaging I mean. That is more intentional. What cracks me up is the strange packages you get when you buy something odd-sized online. Or even not so odd-sized. I bought my niece a Harry Potter tote bag from Barnes & Noble for Christmas. It came in this box:

Pretty big, I thought, for these contents:

I really wouldn’t have minded if they had folded the bag a bit and put it in a flatter box. Then again, I am grateful that they didn’t send it quite like an unnamed library which returned our library’s interlibrary loan item like this:

I believe some items should not be folded for shipping. Books rank high on that list. Next time, please get a larger envelope. Thank you.

And then you have the odd-sized items which show up in equally odd-sized packages. Maybe it’s just me, but I totally expected a skinny mummy to pop out of this one:

Disappointingly, it was only a curved shower rod my dad ordered from Amazon. However, if you got excited thinking about mummies and packages containing unexpected items, may I recommend Jennifer Bradbury’s Wrapped?

I preferred the original cover, which plainly included a mummy, but the reprint is also attractive:

This entertaining Victorian-era story features an extremely intelligent young lady of high society, an eligible bachelor, and a mummy unwrapping party. At the party, Agnes accidentally ends up with a French spy message which was wrapped in the mummy’s coverings. Apparently the mummy was not the one intended for the unwrapping party but was being used to smuggle a message into London. Agnes quickly discovers that it is up to her to make sure that Napoleon is stopped in his tracks. Well, it is up to her and her new-found and extremely handsome gentleman friend! Possibly not the most likely of Victorian-era stories, but so much fun and very well told. Plus, I am a sucker for stories of Victorian ladies who don’t let the silly expectations of their society stop them.

You can find Wrapped at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.

And if you also like to read about daring young ladies in the Victorian Era, may I recommend Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series, Alyxandra Harvey’s Haunting Violet, or Stephanie Burgis’ very funny Kat, Incorrigible.

And enjoy your oddly shaped packages, but please don’t fold any books you ship. Your library thanks you.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Back in December 2010, two co-workers and I were totally caught up in a contest posted on Books Obsession’s blog. The blogger selected images of eyes from the cover art of 25 different young adult books, and had people identify which book each was from. None of us managed to win a prize – although together we managed to figure out all 25! – but we had a grand time doing it. So I decided to make my own cover art mish-mash. In honor of Valentine’s Day, these books all have hearts on the cover, though some are the main focus, and others just happen to be on the cover. I selected my hearts from a total of 21 young adult novels. I chose quite a few of these hearts a little over a year ago (pre-2011 titles), but a few are brand new releases. If you want to know where they are from, shoot me an email or comment and I will get back to you. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Goodbye, Winter

Well, despite the fact that we never really had a winter, it appears to be over, because spring has arrived. At least the flowers think so! The crocuses aren’t really a surprise, as they will show up in the winter, but the daffodils? I’ve never seen them bloom this early before! Guess I will have to wait until next year for the cold weather to arrive.


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The Snow Queen

In Georgia, we have had a serious lack of winter weather. In fact, in the start of November, I walked outside to find these:

PaperwhitesYes, those are Paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) blooming in my backyard. In most places, you can’t grow Paperwhites outdoors because they can’t tolerate the cold. Here in Georgia, though, I have Paperwhites growing with the other bulbs, and they come back every spring. Except these ones, which apparently thought November was spring based on the ridiculous weather we’ve been having. Now it’s January, and all of the rest of the daffodils are beginning to bud, so I imagine the spring blooms will be coming shortly.

Anyway, the serious lack of winter has not made me very happy. It has definitely made me wish for cold and snow. Even a little! One day when I was grumping to myself about warm weather, I realized that this fall I read 3 books that incorporated the Snow Queen of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale. This was a bit of a surprise. I mean, I’m used to stories like Cinderella or The Twelve Dancing Princesses popping up in books, but the Snow Queen? Never. Maybe these authors just thought it would be a good idea to incorporate a less-well-known (and less-used) fairytale. Or maybe they also wanted some more cold weather. I imagine it’s probably the former, but I prefer the cold weather explanation. :)

The books were: Frost by Wendy Delsol, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, and Invisible Things by Jenny Davidson.

StorkBreadcrumbsinvisible things

Both Frost and Invisible Things are sequels to other Young Adult novels that I really enjoyed, although I didn’t love these as much as the original books in the series. The Snow Queen plays a major role in Frost, but only shows up near the end of Invisible Things. Of the two, I preferred Frost.

Breadcrumbs, on the other hand is a standalone middle-grades novel. And it is fabulous. Definitely my favorite of the three. The story of the Snow Queen is the basis for the entire story, although other other fairytale characters from Andersen and Grimm are also incorporated as Hazel searches for her friend Jack. (Incidentally, the lost boy in Frost is also named Jack. He’s a descendant of Jack Frost. Funny, huh?)

I definitely recommend Breadcrumbs to anyone, recommend Frost to fans of Stork, and would only recommend Invisible Things to those who have read The Explosionist. But I certainly enjoyed all of the appearances of the Snow Queen. Now if I could only get her to visit my house!

You can find Frost at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.
You can find Breadcrumbs at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.
You can find Invisible Things at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.

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Illustrations Over Photos

I was amused again last week when two picture books I had placed on hold arrived on the same day and were remarkably similar. I don’t usually request books on a theme – I just request new books I’ve read reviews of – but when they arrive on the same day and have similar themes, you would think I had put some effort into my selections. (Oh, not so!)

My two books are Emma’s Journey by Claire Frossard and Etienne Frossard and Ollie & Moon by Diane Kredensor and Sandra Kress. And what do they have in common? Well, the most obvious similarity is the mode of illustration. Both books use photographs as a background, with illustrated characters in the foreground. This has been done before, of course, as in Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny books, but it isn’t terribly common, so it was surprising to see two on one day. The other thing both have in common, is Paris:

Ollie & Moon live in Paris, while Emma makes a journey from New York to Paris.

Despite their artistic similarities, however, I didn’t much like Emma’s Journey. For starters, I didn’t think the illustrations meshed as well with the photos. Ollie and Moon look right at home strolling down the streets of Paris, but Emma and her friends look very strange on the streets of New York.

More importantly, however, Emma’s story is really kind of boring, while the other story is cute and funny. I might have felt differently had I not read them back-to-back, but I don’t think so. I think Ollie & Moon is a standout, while Emma’s Journey is just a so-so effort. Still, the photographs of New York in Emma’s Journey are quite lovely, so the book may gain some fans for its art rather than the storyline.

You can find Ollie & Moon at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or World Cat and
Emma’s Journey at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or World Cat.

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One Word Picture Books

I have “read” plenty of wordless picture books, as well as a number of nearly wordless picture books. Recently, I had the privilege of reading Shutta Crum and Patrice Barton’s adorable picture book Mine. This adorable title features only one word: Mine (well, okay, the dog says “Woof” at one point, but I don’t know if that counts.) The word mine is said as a matter-of-fact statement, an upset protest, and a happy exclamation, with the word’s emotional content changing through the size of the text as well as varying the punctuation. Patrice Barton’s illustrations are adorable, and the message is clear as these two tots learn that sharing is much more fun than being selfish. After reading this book, I tried to remember other “one word” picture books, or possibly two words, as this one does have that Woof, after all.

Arthur Geisert’s Oink is the only one I can come up with with only a single word. The word is Oink, of course, but the emotional content of the word ranges from calm to excited to nervous to angry.

Jez Alborough’s Hug almost features just one word (Hug), but ends up with three words when you count “Mommy” and “Bobo.” Still, it has the same quality of the previous two, using the same word to evoke different feelings. The use of Hug evokes excitement, worry, great upset, and even joy as Bobo looks for Mommy and a hug.  And finally, Jeanette Winter’s Mama uses two words – Mama and Baby – to express emotional content.

I am still on the lookout for more of these “one word” picture books in which the meaning of the word changes through font size or the use of punctuation. Suggestions and recommendations are always welcome!

You can find Mine at Amazon, Barnes& Noble, or WorldCat.

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Sometimes I will read two books back to back that have an awful lot in common. This is usually not on purpose, so it is always entertaining to me when it happens. I love reading these duos that share a major theme or element, although it is sometimes confusing when they are read back to back because I have to remember whether a plot detail is from the previous or current book!

In September, I read Rick Detorie’s The Accidental Genius of Weasel High followed up by Donna Gephart’s How to Survive Middle School. What do these two have in common? Filmmaking, bullies, girl best friends, and lots of humor.  Both of these books feature boys (one 14, one 11) who seriously enjoy filmmaking. Larkin wants to be behind the camera, and is saving up to buy his own, while David wants to have his own talk show. Both boys are also having friend troubles, each losing a best friend to a bully – Larkin’s best friend (girl) has a crush on the bully, while David’s best friend (boy) seems to have joined the bully to avoid being bullied. (In the meantime, David makes a new girl best friend.) Both books are also frequently hilarious, but also have some very serious moments. And, of course, I loved them both.

Find The Accidental Genius of Weasel High at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat. Find How to Survive Middle School at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.

In October, I read an advance copy of Caroline Starr Rose’s May B followed by Joan Bauer’s Close to Famous. And what do these two have in common? Well, besides very determined young women trying to beat some really impossible odds? They both have reading problems! May has dyslexia, while Foster has a learning disorder which has prevented her from learning to read. But as in all of their other challenges, these two girls emerge as willing to tackle their reading problems head on. Frankly, I also liked the fact that having a reading problem was not the main issue. May’s main problem is trying to survive a blizzard on her own with almost no supplies, while Foster’s current problem stems from life in a new town after fleeing her mother’s abusive boyfriend. So in both cases, reading difficulties are addressed as subplots, rather than taking over the whole story.

May B. comes out in January 2012. Find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.
Find Close to Famous at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.

Of course, there are many other “duos” I have read. These are just two of the pairs that really stood out as being highly similar.

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I am not a major shoe buyer (picky feet), but I can understand the attachment to a favorite pair of shoes. Last week I checked out two very enjoyable picture books which were both about shoes. These books would both be great additions to a shoe-themed storytime.

Dog in Boots

Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley and Roberta Angaramo is a cute story about an equally cute dog who has just finished reading Puss in Boots. Dog decides he must have a pair of his own and promptly goes to the shoe store. Unfortunately the boots are not so good for digging and get very muddy, so Dog goes back to exchange them for rain boots. The rain boots are no good for swimming, though, so Dog is quickly back at the store for another shot. He goes through flippers, skis, and (my personal favorite) high heels – which are great for scratching but not running. In the end, the shopkeeper helps Dog realize that his paws are better than any shoes, and Dog happily trots home. He is satisfied with what he has – until he reads Little Red Riding Hood. The story is clever enough on its own, but the illustrations are just perfect. Dog is a happy-looking character, often grinning with his tongue hanging out, and his mishaps are depicted in a way that is both funny and easy to understand. Although the story ends with Dog reading about Red, the endpapers show Dog in a variety of hats and other headgear.

Find Dog in Boots at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.

A Flock of ShoesA Flock of Shoes by Sarah Tsiang and Qin Long features a little girl named Abby who has a favorite pair of sandals. Despite her mother’s protests that it is too cold and she is outgrowing the sandals, Abby continues to wear them into the fall. Then, one day at the park, Abby’s shoes flip off her feet and begin to fly south. Mom provides her with a brand new pair of boots, but Abby can’t stop thinking about her sandals. She wonders where they are and if they miss her. Fortunately, she begins to realize the many great things she can do with her boots. By the time she begins to truly appreciate her boots, spring arrives. One morning, Abby’s boots race out the door and catch a northbound train. Luckily, her sandals come flying back into town, well-rested and having grown enough to fit her feet. You don’t have to have a favorite pair of shoes to enjoy the book, but you do need a sense of humor and a bit of an imagination. I loved the idea of shoes having lives of their own and of seasonal footwear needing to migrate.

Find A Flock of Shoes at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or WorldCat.

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